Archive for the ‘Italian recipes’ Category

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Cruising for some codfish

October 25, 2016

Creamed salt cod is one of those dishes that can take me somewhere else.

Known as ‘baccalà mantecato’ in Italian, it’s a specialty of Venice and although complex in flavour, uses minimal ingredients: salt cod, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and (sometimes) milk. The success lies in adding olive oil slowly as if making mayonnaise while beating the hell out of the cooked fish. A codswallop of sorts.

A recent look through my shoebox of vintage family photos transported me back to a mid 1960s’ shipboard romance.

A family trip back to Italy by boat promised all the fun a gal could dream of if the brochures were to be believed. However, as a kid, my dating prospects were limited so I settled for a relationship with a reconstituted fish.

I was an adventurous eater and looked forward to the daily buffets aboard the Marconi, looking for favourite dishes among butter sculptures guaranteed to make Michelangelo weep. Dinners were dressy affairs and waiters served antipasto selections at our dining tables from oversized stainless steel trays.

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I switched between salami, mortadella and prosciutto, but the one constant was creamed salt cod. From Sydney to Genoa – over 23 days and 10 ports of call in southeast Asia, the middle East and finally Italy – I ate creamed salt cod. I then took a break for a few years, but every time I was downwind of it, our sea voyages came to mind.

The liners SS Guglielmo Marconi and SS Galileo Galilei were purpose-built in 1962 in my hometown Trieste to bring immigrants to Australia. The sister ships were furnished with elegant interiors and collected awards for their innovative design. Shipboard games were simple and included shuffleboard, quoits and horse races with 2-D timber animals that moved along a track on the throw of the dice. Crossing the equator was a big poolside occasion featuring egg and flour initiations of Equator-crossing virgins and wily old King Neptune looking on. Children were encouraged to learn folkdances of the countries visited during stopovers. Our teacher, a heavily accented Eastern European woman, drummed into us an Indian dance routine, because “tomorrow is Bombatom”. I asked my parents if Bombay was a war zone.

Not that I realised it at the time, but what better way is there than enjoying salt cod on a ship, celebrating the important trade of Basque fishermen 500 years ago.

The award-winning Cod: a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (Mark Kurlansky, 1999) is next in line on my bedside table.

This baccalà mantecato recipe by Emiko Davies is great … try it with polenta or eat it as I did on the ship – on nice toasted bread. Piled high.


Image from ‘The Sea Herald’ – Marconi 1965

 

 

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You made risotto with WHAAAT?

October 12, 2015

Another filler in between proper posts, this time for a damn tasty orzotto* developed for my now regular (almost) healthy recipe contribution to the NRMA’s ‘Living Well Navigator’. Give it a go, it’s not bad.

https://www.mynrma.com.au/living-well-navigator/health-wellbeing/barley-risotto-with-pancetta-and-fresh-herbs.htm

 

Orzotto made from pearl barley

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Meanwhile, houseguest cat is happy to wait by the cooktop if it means wolfing down some risotto with extra pancetta. At your service, sir.

 

Ginger cat

 

 

 

 

 

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* Orzotto is a portmanteau of risotto and orzo, the Italian word for barley. The dish is popular in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia region of north-eastern Italy.

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Everything but the strudel

July 22, 2015

Necessity is the mother of invention, so when you haven’t blogged for a while, a story about mothers and food seems apt.

 

Not strictly a blog post

More a link

To a story on my regular contributors’ page at Living Well Navigator’s site

With a recipe to boot

Which is unusual for me

Consider it a bonus

Just add Italian liqueur

 

Baked Apples with a Twist

https://www.mynrma.com.au/living-well-navigator/supported-living/making-the-most-of-winter-apples.htm

 

Watercolour apples by Ambra Sancin

Winter Apples, Ambra Sancin, c. 1981

 

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NUTELLA: World’s favourite bread spread

June 2, 2015

I’m not a big consumer of the world’s most popular chocolate and hazelnut spread – preferring solid goodness like Baci or Ritter Sport, but I’m concerned about the future of NUTELLA and its devotees.

Baci chocolatesRitter Sport chocolate

This timeline shows recent disturbing facts. Perhaps the beginning of No-tella?

1946 – Italian pastry maker Pietro Ferrero creates a solid chocolate loaf, adding locally grown hazelnuts as an extender due to the short supply of cocoa post World War 11. Children decide it’s a great breakfast treat with bread.

1951 – Now a cream consistency, Supercrema Gianduja is a big hit with children when shopkeepers encourage them to visit their stores bearing slices of bread to be topped with the spread. This becomes known as ‘The Smearing’.

1964 – Re-branded as ‘Nutella’ (pronounced ‘Nootella’) by the founder’s son Michele Ferrero, the spread spreads outside Italy, becoming a favourite with French and Spanish children. My parents however offer me a chocolate bar in a buttered sandwich.

1973 – The Italian film Bread and Chocolate is released. The bittersweet story about an Italian immigrant seeking work in Switzerland includes an outdoor scene where main protagonist Nino Manfredi bites into a bread roll filled with a chocolate bar. The crunching noise is so loud it stops the scene’s string quartet mid sonata.

1978 – Manufacture begins in Australia at Lithgow, about 140 kms from Sydney.

1983 – I discover Nutella and cream cheese sandwiches while studying in Florence.

2007 – Chocolate/hazelnut spread aficionado invents ‘World Nutella Day’ on 5 February.

2013 – Chocolate/hazelnut spread aficionado receives a cease-and-desist order from Ferrero-Rocher who claims their permission was not sought to officially celebrate the spread globally. Over 46,000 social media followers express outrage.

2014 – Nutella®, now available in approximately 160 countries, turns 50.

2014 – Unseasonal weather in Turkey, the world’s leading hazelnut exporter, creates a global shortage. My idea (in a previous post) of combining smashed sugared almonds with chocolate to make almond bark seems inspired.

2014 – Warnings issued of a future global cocoa crisis due to crop failure, disease and adding chocolate to EVERYTHING including gin, vodka and potato crisps.

2015 – Michele Ferrero – owner of the Nutella empire and the richest man in Italy – dies aged 89, with rumours his son is not so interested in the business and takeovers could follow.

2015 – French court bans parents from naming their baby daughters “Nutella” after judge rules “it’s not in the best interest of a child because of the risk of abuse.”

2015 – A friend (let’s call him Gus) announces he’s giving up Nutella because of the nasties it contains, including palm oil, vanillin (MSG) and soy lecithin.

2015 – I hear about a healthy, organic alternative called Nocciolata but it’s not available in Australia. Still wanting a sugar fix, I buy a breadstick and chocolate variation instead called Nutella & GO. Close examination of ingredients list reveals breadsticks contain palm oil.

Nutella & GO

If you love Nutella but want something healthier, try David Leibovitz’s recipe. For an adults-only version, do what renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adria does – add salt and an olive oil drizzle to melted chocolate on a bread roll. Or add it to cream cheese in a toasted sandwich.

Start stockpiling now!

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When Only Polenta Will Do

April 30, 2015

The ‘wooden plank/roof tile in place of the dinner plate’ fad has been around for a while, so I thought it safe to venture out into the wide world of inner Sydney pub bistros to test if chefs had done away with it. Not yet it seems.

I’ve eaten croissants, BLTs, toasties, salads and other foods plonked on non-plates. I’ve chased an undercooked egg oozing from a hamburger bun around a bit of treated pine. But after being served a steak with pepper sauce on a wooden board, I’m done. Do you realise how stressful it is to bolt down your meat before the pepper sauce finds its way to the edge of the board and drips onto the table? And the timber shards the serrated knife edge leaves behind aren’t much fun.

polenta illustration

There are times when plates are impractical. As an Italian-Australian growing up on home-cooked polenta I can attest to the tradition of pouring cooked polenta from the pot onto a wooden board, where it doesn’t spread too much. My father would cut it into slices with a taut wire (Jamie Oliver uses dental floss but I won’t go there) and serve it on plates with accompaniments from our Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. We’d have either a brodetto di pesce (cuttlefish or baccalà stew), sausage ragu or even braised borlotti beans.

There are Italian regional variations of the dish and sometimes polenta is served flat on a monstrous wooden board and then topped with rich tomato sauce and meat pieces for everyone around the table to dig into. Diners slowly work their way into the centre of the dish, a forkful at a time. It’s rustic eating and sounds like fun in the privacy of your own home.

I’m seriously thinking of asking for my next café steak/hamburger/anything with a runny sauce to be served on a dinner plate. As a paying customer, I think that’s fair.

While I wait for this trend to pass, I’ll enjoy following @WeWantPlates a tweeter who crusades against “serving food on bits of wood and roof tiles, jam-jar drinks and chips in mugs.” Thirty-six thousand followers feel their pain.

Image: from ‘Friuli e Trieste in Bocca’ by Manuela Busetti.

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Eggplant Parmigiana: Sophia’s Choice

March 31, 2015

When I heard Sophia Loren was visiting Australia in April as the guest of honour for a gala fundraiser, I immediately went shopping. For eggplants.

She was famously quoted as saying, “Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner” and “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti” but to me, she’s all eggplant. She claims to know at least a dozen ways to cook them, courtesy of her grandmother. Now that’s impressive.

Italian actress Sophia Loren

I could almost taste the eggplant/aubergine parmigiana (aka melanzane alla parmigiana) I was about to make. It’s a time-consuming dish, with successive layers of pre-cooked, thin eggplant slices, tomato sauce and two types of cheese: meltable (usually mozzarella) and parmesan.

I was short of time and dusted the eggplant slices with flour – without egging and crumbing them before frying. I’ve always done the three-way dust, dip and coat method and usually set aside a hefty amount of time to do it … like annual holidays. Does anyone else make it this way, or am I the only one with too much time on my hands?

In her 1971 cookbook Eat with Me (full of fabulous fashion as well as the world’s biggest wooden salad servers), Sophia just fries them. As does Marcella Hazan in her Classic Italian Cookbook. In Italian Food, Elizabeth David dusts them with flour before frying, and Italy’s most successful cookbook, Silver Spoon suggests frying, then spreading with beaten egg (making it a bit omelettey I think). And finally, Pellegrino Artusi in his Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (published 1891) goes one better: flouring before frying, then topping with beaten egg, tomato sauce, one spoon of parmesan, two spoons of breadcrumbs.

eggplant watercolour

Ambra, circa 1980 – the ‘eggplant’ period

Then there’s the question: to peel or not to peel the eggplant. The peelers are in the minority, but still, peeling and discarding that gorgeous shiny purple skin is out of the question. It’s the essence of the vegetable.

Not to mention that without the skin, the eggplant slices just look like disappointed kitchen sponges.

Another curiosity is the dish’s name. Many people (including Jamie Oliver) think it’s a northern Italian dish and ‘parmigiana’ refers to the cheese or Parma, the city. But food historians think it’s from Sicily, where ‘palmigiana’ means shutters and describes the way the eggplant slices are overlapped. There are further theories that Sicilians have a problem pronouncing the “l” and it became ‘parmigiana’.


parmigianaEither way, Sophia gets the last word: ‘There are some vegetable dishes, ways of doing aubergines, pimientos, and so on, that sometimes fill me with an enthusiasm that I am unable to work up over the main course.”

Follow the step-by-step Parmigiana video recipe on the excellent Italian food site Giallo Zafferano

For non-Italian speakers, Italian American chef Lidia Bastianichs recipe is the closest I’ve found to the one I make.

Parmigiana photo by Joyosity
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Home-groan Tomatoes: A Labour of Love

January 31, 2015

As a tomato grower, I’m a great root vegetable producer. More on that later.

I’d never bothered growing tomatoes, but after last year’s Sydney Tomato Festival I changed my mind. It was taste-testing the Russian Black Krim and other unusual varieties that got me interested.

I started small, buying three cherry tomato plants (Lady Bug or Sweet Bite?) as I’d heard they don’t attract as many pests or diseases as larger varieties.

I planted them in my mother’s garden bed and watched them grow. On recent visits two-three times per week, I’d touch the parched soil that had gone un-watered for days. “Have you been watering the tomatoes?” “Oh yes of course” she’d answer. Unconvinced, I’d give them a good soaking anyway. 

The first harvest produced seven tiny tomatoes – four with split skins. What could I do with them? Make a sauce for three strands of spaghetti? Chop them up for one small piece of bruschetta? Wizz them into a thimble-full of Bloody Mary?

red cherry tomatoes

I decided on a lunch salad, cutting them in half and dressing them with oil, vinegar, salt and basil and tumbling them into the smallest bowl available.

On the next visit, my mother had already picked seven tiny tomatoes – five with split skins. Just as well then, that I’d bought a punnet of bigger, more attractive-looking relatives that I added to the bowl to plump up the lunch.

I reflected on the growing regime: bringing them home from the markets, making space in the garden bed, preparing the soil, planting and then feeding, watering and staking them. And checking for pests. I calculated that each meal from the crop has cost about $95.

But all’s not lost. I found a recipe I’d archived from the Italian Notes site for pickled green tomatoes (pomodorini verdi sott’aceto). Picking them unripened solves the problem of eating ugly, split fruit with the seeds erupting from the flesh like unwanted intestines.

However, I think my future as a vegetable grower rests with the sweet potato. Not very Italian, I know, but we have a mystery plant that has grown on its own, without love, and produces a bumper crop of sweet potatoes each year. No work required. Last year’s harvest included a potato so big I had to share half with the neighbours. The other half went to a friend who made a sweet potato pie for a dinner party.

biggest sweet potato

I’m really quite happy to let other people be tomato growers. I think La Gina has the right idea.

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The Trip to Italy: Food Capers

June 2, 2014

“We’re not going to do any impersonations are we?” Steve Coogan asks Rob Brydon early on in The Trip to Italy.

The sequel to 2010’s cult hit film The Trip is a delicious excuse to again offer the two comedians an opportunity to outperform each other during a culinary roadtrip. Of course there will be impersonations.

It’s true they can be insufferable at times, but the exchanges reach such levels of absurdity it’s hard not to admire the comic interplay of the mostly improvised script. I guffawed harder than I imagined I would.

Steve & Rob still

 

The premise – that they travel from the northern Piedmont region down to Capri reviewing six fine dining restaurants for the Observer magazinedoesn’t stray from the first film’s successful formula. I desperately wanted to eyeball more Italian food while re-aquainting myself with Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Humphrey Bogart, Woody Allen, Anthony Hopkins, Roger Moore and many more.

Al Pacino and Marlon Brando make a welcome appearance as the Corleones (in Cooper and Brydon’s double act). Given The Godfather is rich with scenes of family dinners, I was craving their dialogue be delivered from mouths packed with ravioli. Coogan suggests that Brydon stuff a bread roll in his mouth for his Marlon Brando impression but Brydon demurs as he has a yeast intolerance.

The summer roadtrip in a black convertible mini continues through postcard vistas down the Ligurian coast through Tuscany, Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Capri. The non-stop banter takes in literature, art, family and the word “cumquat”, with Brydon the perfect alfoil for Coogan.

Dishes incorporating rabbit, quail, guinea fowl, squid, bonito, octopus and something scarily called ‘scorpion fish’ are served. I wanted more lingering food shots – and bigger reactions to those first mouthfuls. On the Amalfi Coast, Coogan tastes the main course and moans in ecstasy “oh, oh my God”. Not as memorable as the Meg Ryan/When Harry Met Sally scene, but not to be sniffed at.

One of the film’s rewarding themes is director Michael Winterbottom’s “homage to Byron and Shelley”. He has Coogan and Brydon retracing the romantic poets’ footsteps to the beautiful ‘Bay of Poets’ in Liguria where Shelley died and Byron’s house in Genoa.

Coogan and Brydon have admitted in interviews they don’t know much about food. Brydon backs this up with this gem on a hotel terrace – “Eggs for breakfast. Can’t top that … except with brown sauce”.

They came, they ate, they cracked jokes.

Black Ink RavioliThe recipe below comes courtesy of Australian distributor Madman who sent me a tantalising selection from the film. 

Pictured left is Black Ravioli stuffed with Mussels on Potato Cream, Candied Tomato and White Tomato Foam. It’s from the two Michelin-starred Ristorante Oliver Glowig in Rome.

 

The Trip to Italy is currently screening Australia-wide.
Images courtesy Madman Entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Caffè Shakerato – with a nod to Frank Sinatra

April 8, 2014

It’s with a heavy heart that I bid a fond farewell to a new-found summer friend.

The Caffè Shakerato has been my drink of choice lately, but is meant for long, hot afternoons rather than our current autumn weather.

Not quite a frappé, and certainly not an iced coffee, the Caffè Shakerato is made from espresso coffee, sugar and ice cubes shaken vigorously to create a chilled coffee with a frothy crema.

The Shakerato has been popular in Italy for a few years but I had trouble finding one in Sydney. There’s a smattering of newish inner-city cafes offering it, but the three old-style Italian cafes I visited had never heard the term and, judging by their baristas’ shrugs of indifference, weren’t in a hurry to embrace it.

Keen to make one myself, I needed to ramp up the sultry atmosphere to accompany all the grinding and shaking.

I remembered a novelty coffee tune with an uptempo beat and absurd lyrics that I first heard decades ago and had stubbornly stayed with me.

The Coffee Song was first sung by Frank Sinatra in 1946 and seemed perfect for exercising my samba legs. Also known as They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil, it lampoons Brazil’s coffee glut and the inventive ways the Brazilians found to consume it. It starts off  …

Way down among Brazilians

Coffee beans grow by the billions

So they’ve got to find those extra cups to fill

They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

 

You can’t get cherry soda

’cause they’ve got to fill that quota

And the way things are I’ll bet they never will

They’ve got a zillion tons of coffee in Brazil

… and The Coffee Song  gets even nuttier further along, ending with signor Sinatra attempting an indistinguishable foreign accent.  I couldn’t help thinking he had an awful lot of Spanglish in his words.

For a Caffè Shakerato, you’ll need:

. 1 espresso coffee – hot

. 1/2 tsp caster sugar (or sugar syrup)

. 6 small ice cubes

~Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker for about 30 seconds until ice is almost ~melted. Strain into a statement glass. (You could add a dash of liqueur too).

This now completes my list of summer coffee favourites including the affogato and granita di caffè con panna (with cream on top).

 

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 6.54.12 PM

 

Here’s a full version of the tune (which was later covered by Sam Cooke and The Andrews Sisters among others: The Coffee Song/They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil 

Any other sightings of the Shakerato are welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

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Panettone: the fruitcake that keeps on giving

January 5, 2014

Festive seasons come and go, but something lingers on, and on, and on …

Every year, the whiff of the Christmas panettone is still in the air long after the decorations have been boxed up and stored away. The Italian celebratory fruitcake from Milan seems to have a longer shelf life than most packaged foods.

I don’t remember eating panettone as a child. My mother and her friends baked traditional northeastern Italian festive cakes filled with raisins, nuts and chocolate and then rolled up strudel-style. It’s only in the last 10 or so years that my family truly embraced the panettone, the long hours of preparation and baking becoming less attractive to my mother as she’s aged.

Mum is 91 now and seeing as her daughter hasn’t picked up the mantle of baking a panettone, she and her 88-year-old friend exchange commercial panettoni every Christmas. Until one of them has the courage to say “basta!” (enough!), they’ll probably continue to feign surprise at receiving one for many years.

Cat and panettone box

 

I have a love-hate relationship with the cake. The first few days after Christmas I enjoy it toasted, spread with thick slabs of butter. But after a fortnight, the novelty wears off. My mother receives many panettoni from family friends and thrusts great portions at me when I visit. Hasn’t she heard of re-gifting? By mid-January, even sandwiching it with sweet ricotta topped with berry sauce brings on an urge to donate the lot to charity.

Italy still loves them and sales in 2013 were expected to better those of previous years. Despite the country’s longest recession in 60 years, cash-strapped Italians refused to give up their expensive cakes baked in upmarket pasticcerie (bakeries). I guess they have to keep buying it to justify the annual film industry namesake ‘Cinepanettoni’ – Italian movies made specifically for the festive season and derided by critics as plotless, vulgar comedies rich with sexual innuendo. 

It seems Australians can’t get enough panettoni either. A delicatessen in Sydney’s inner-west has a panettone display that gets bolder each year. The handful on sale in early December swells to a pre-Christmas Wall of Panettoni, where a heady choice of brands is stacked like concrete blocks, dwarfing all other food aisles.

 

panettone gelato and berry sorbet

 

A straw poll on the online Friends of Italy group suggested most of the those who responded to my “Do you like panettone” question were big fans. And they like it unadulterated. Only a few preferred pan d’oro. (Must be that nasty mass-produced citrus peel in mass-produced panettone!)

If you ever feel panettone ennui approaching, you can do what I do: disguise it! After sampling some lovely I’m happy to have found a clever way of disguising it. After sampling some lovely panettone gelato at Cremeria De Luca in Sydney, I experimented with a recipe for ‘no-churn’ panettone gelato adapting it to include my own candied citron and Mandarinetto liqueur (included in previous posts). I look forward to a new tradition. Happy 2014!

No-churn Panettone Gelato (translated from the original Italian recipe) http://www.flickr.com/photos/plumdumplings/11768965403/

Related posts: 

Candied citron peel – http://tinyurl.com/mq2t6fg

Mandarinetto liqueur – http://tinyurl.com/k2redeq

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