Blu Aubergine Blog

HOLIDAYS: Passover + Pesce en Saor Recipe

Venice: La Serenissima, the only city in the world with streets of water, where we're made to slow down the pace. It's home to delicious seafood and fresh veggies pulled from and grown in the briny waters of the lagoon. And, it's the birthplace of the term ghetto (based on the Venetian dialect term for foundry, original site of the neighborhood that became the ghetto...also gettare in Italian means to toss aside, throw out, which is essentially what happened to the Venetian Jews).

This ghetto was created for Jews in the 16th century and has morphed into terminology for an area into which a specific ethnic or racial group is pushed, isolated. This original ghetto separated the Jews from the rest of the Venetian population, but it also allowed, on some level, for the city's Jewish population to insulate itself and strengthen its traditions, though perhaps not into a singular Venetian Jewish community -- as evidenced by the five different diminutive synagogues in the neighborhood, catering to Italian, German, Levantine, Portuguese-Spanish, and French Jews practicing in Venice. 

Venice was truly a city at the crossroads of the spice trade and was the hub of trade routes between the east and the west for centuries before the ghetto was created. Jews were a vibrant and integral part of trade and banking for centuries in the middle ages and early Renaissance, and then once the Inquisition started driving Jews out of Spain and Portugal, many settled in Venice, and its Jewish population grew. So, on March 29th, 1516, the Venetian Jewish ghetto was established, more or less to keep the Jews "in check." Their movement about the city was limited and there were curfews set in the evenings, as entry points on the water were blocked and guarded by Venetian security men in boats. And while this was certainly oppressive and limiting, Jewish cuisine in Venice still flourished. So much of what we think of simply as "Venetian food" or "Roman specialties" or "Sicilian cuisine" originated in the kitchen of Jewish Italians. Artichokes, eggplant, and squash and pumpkins are all examples of food items that were not eaten by non-Jews, even up until the 19th century in many cases. Now it's difficult to imagine Italian cuisine without these items.

One of the signature flavor profiles of typically Jewish-Italian dishes is the element of sweet and sour, or agrodolce, in Italian. This comes from the pairing of vinegar and sugar (and honey well before sugar was widely available in Europe). The use of vinegar to preserve food is a classically Jewish one, because no work is allowed to be done on the sabbath, so all the food for sabbath meals needs to be prepared in advance -- and so the dishes are often served cool or at room temperature, having been cooked the day before. This happy coincidence allows for the flavors to develop, resulting in an even-more-delicious dish eaten a day or two after it was prepared. The sugar added to the vinegar is simply to cut the acidity of the vinegar (or citrus juice, or wine). Pesce en saor is Venice's shining example of a practically-conceived dish in the Jewish cuisine canon, going mainstream (pun intended). 

This dish is often made with sardines and called sarde en saor -- it's on most Venetian trattoria menus -- but it can be made with any fish fillets, really, though more oily fish like Spanish mackerel are suited to the sweet-and-sour preparation (they're also good for you, with lots of Omega-3s). A typical pairing would be with polenta, soft if you're making it and serving right away, or made a day in advance, cut into squares, and either served cold or grilled before serving. The addition of carrots and celery is optional, as is the choice of red or white onions. But the raisins and pine nuts are key to matching the sweet and sour flavors of the dish, and add texture and interest. it's the perfect make-ahead dish for Passover, and serves as an interesting substitute for gefilte fish on the American/Ashkenazi Passover table. Try it this year -- you may do as the Venetians have done, and incorporate the dish into your personal repertoire of favorites. HAPPY PASSOVER!

PESCE EN SAOR

 

(6 servings)

1 whole fish (about 2 pounds), cleaned, or 1.5 pounds fish fillets -- Spanish mackerel is a nice choice

½ cup red wine vinegar

3 tbs. sugar

1 onion, thinly sliced into half moons

2 small carrots, thinly sliced into a thick julienne or shavings

1 celery stalk, sliced into thin Vs

½ cup toasted pine nuts

½ cup raisins, plumped in hot water

6 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

 

- In a small bowl, stir together vinegar, sugar, pine nuts, and a little of the raisin plumping water. Set aside.

- Warm 2 tbs. of the olive oil in a large saute’ pan over medum heat. Sprinkle the fish with salt just before placing it in the saute’ pan. Saute’ until golden brown. Flip and brown on the other side.

- Remove fish from pan, add 2 more tbs. olive oil, and saute the onions and carrots an celery in the pan until softened, about 4 minutes.

- Add the vinegar mixture, cover, and cook over medium heat until the fish is done – about 10 minutes for a whole fish and 5 minutes for fillets.

- Transfer to a platter and serve warm or, better yet, the next day at room temperature.

 

* This dish pairs really well with polenta squares, grilled or pan-seared.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Dana Klitzberg at Friday, April 22, 2016

RECIPE: Ethereal Mushroom Soup

It is winter in New York. And while this year has been a much milder winter season than in recent years, it's still February. It's still cold in spells and we're all still starved for sun, birds chirping, and the sun setting after 6 pm. Personally, I was really looking forward to a fantastic 2016...and then promptly got sick on January 1st. And again on January 31st. So, I've had a lot of "down time," as it were, to ponder life, and what to eat. I've had plenty of cozy hours indoors, as a sick couch potato and a binge-watcher and a reader and a daydreamer, and in all of this time, I've been making a lot of soups. This is nothing new for me for the early part of the year, and soups are a very healthy way to warm the bones and fill up with a great bowl of healthy tasty stuff. I've made some of the usuals in my repertoire: Tuscan white bean and kale soup, butternut squash puree, Asian beef broth with noodles and veggies, and of course Jewish penicillin a.k.a. matzo ball soup. But while I was between cold and flu, in mid-January, I had a partial Roman posse over for a dinner party -- they were my ladies who were in from Rome and Boston and Rhode Island and some from the NY metro area, and I of course wanted to feed them well. 

After appetizers and stuzzichini and prosecco in the living room, we started in on the meal with a creamy pureed mushroom soup. This was inspired by an amazing version my friend Jessica ordered in Santiago, Chile, at a very spiffy restaurant called Puerto Fuy (see http://bluaubergine.blogspot.com/2015/01/escapes-santiago-chile.html). It was the essence of mushroom earthiness, but it was also somehow light as air. I wanted to recreate that, not only because it was so delicious, but also because my friend Jessica was in attendance at my dinner party, and it had been pretty much exactly two years since we'd eaten that sublime soup. Also, Jessica declares that she is "over chewing" -- and as a result, she tends to puree everything she possibly can. She appreciated my efforts on behalf of her jaw! But really, I was incorporating two of the healthiest, anti-carcinogenic foods (mushrooms and onions) together in one dish. The recipe is simple because I wanted the soup to be a distilled essence. I wanted to taste the variety of mushrooms that went into the soup, and little else. So that's how I made it. I topped it off with fresh thyme and a gastrique of blackberries and balsamic, inspired by the Italian idea of "frutti del bosco" -- literally translated, it's "fruits of the forest," and that's what blackberries and mushrooms are. In Rome, the old lady in my local market square where I sourced porcini and funghi of all kinds sold only two things: mushrooms and berries, in theory, two items that could have been gathered in one trip to the forest. Frutti del bosco. Here they are, and here is my recipe. This is for you, Jess, and for our trip to Chile, and for the old mushroom lady in Campo de Fiori who is no more. Enjoy it on one of these cold winter nights.

ETHEREAL MUSHROOM SOUP
Serves 6-8

4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 pints white mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 pints mixed Asian mushrooms (shitake, maitake, etc.)
2 pints hen of the woods or oyster mushrooms
4 large portobello mushroom caps
10 cups mushroom stock/vegetable broth (including the water from soaking the dried porcini)  
3/4 cup organic heavy cream  
sprigs of thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste


- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and pour over dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl to soak for at least 10 minutes.
- Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp cloth, cut off stems with dirt attached, and give them all a rough chop so they're all roughly the same size (1/4 - 1/2 inch pieces)
- In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the onion and garlic and saute for 60 seconds to soften. Lower the heat slightly and sweat the onion and garlic for another 3 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms, bit by bit, just so there are enough to cover the bottom of the pan. When they cook down a bit, add another bunch to the pot. Continue this way until all of the mushrooms are cooking (and losing water) in the pot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Remove the soaking porcini from the water with your hands, and ring out the mushrooms so they have as little water content as possible (keep the water!). Chop these and add them to the cooking mushrooms in the pot.
- Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a mesh strainer lined with a paper towel, to catch any sediment, into a bowl.
- Add the mushroom soaking liquid and mushroom or vegetable stock to the mushrooms in the pot. Allow this to come to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, so the flavors meld. You can add a touch of thyme and/or rosemary at this point (but sparingly -- otherwise the herbs tend to taste medicinal).
- Using an immersion blender, puree the mushrooms and stock until smooth. At this point, add the heavy cream and adjust for salt and pepper. Blend again. The soup can be thinned with additional stock if necessary.

Soup can be served with a fresh herb garnish and a blackberry gastrique: simply cook a pint or two of blackberries in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar. Puree in a blender or food processor when done, and strain through a mesh sieve into a squirt bottle. Simply squeeze a swirl of blackberry gastrique onto the top of the mushroom soup just before serving.

QUICK BITE: Bone Broth, Your Way

QUICK BITE: Bone Broth, Your Way

It's the dead of winter, and the entire east coast has just been hit with a major blizzard. This past weekend was, as they say, perfect "cooking project" weather. And it still is: perfect for a good, long simmer of beef bones thick with marrow on the stove, perfuming the air of your home and warming your kitchen. And then, once this broth is made, you can do so much with it. It's great just as is, of course. Much has been made of a "bone broth" revolution of sorts. Really, this is just broth, stock, whatever your want to call it -- that's been the base of soup and sauce recipes for ages. 

Some say to roast the bones and veggies in the oven first; I usually like to keep in uncomplicated when cooking this at home, and just use one pot -- a great big soup pot that's wide enough so that you can first roast the beef bones in one layer. I use a mix of marrow bones and some with a little meat on them, like short ribs or oxtail. I encourage a little caramelization with some tomato concentrate on top of the bones, and roast them on the stovetop or oven first until browned. Then I add the the carrots, onions, and celery (leeks and shallots if you're feeling it), along with lots of water, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. And really, that's it. This needs to simmer slow and low for as few as 6 hours, and as many as 24. Skim the ft occasionally from the top, and when it's done, strain it, cool it down and then place in storage containers in the fridge to completely cool overnight. This allows you to easily scrape the fat off the top the next day.

Now, the fun part. of course, you can sip the beef broth as is, even in a mug like the most restorative cup of coffee and lunch, combined. But the great thing about making a huge potload of beef broth is getting creative with it! You can freeze some in ice cube trays and then store in a ziploc bag in the freezer for use in sauces and individual servings later on. You can add some noodles and some vegetables and have a beef noodle soup. You can caramelize a pan full of sliced onions, sprinkle with flour, and add the broth for a wonderful French onion soup (top with a baguette slice and gruyere cheese for the real deal!). 

Or, make a wonderful, healthy, super-tasty Vietnamese-inspired version, like you see here. I took the basic beef broth and simmered it with a bit of soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, pineapple chunks, chopped lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, star anise, szechuan peppercorns, coriander seed, and chili pepper. The broth was infused with all of these warm and spicy notes over the course of about 2 hours.

Just before serving, I added some rice noodles, thinly-sliced bok choy, fresh cilantro and mint, a healthy squeeze of lime juice, and a bit of sriracha sauce, both blended in and drizzled on top. This is an incredibly fortifying soup-as-meal that's great both in cold weather and in hot. It's both edifying and refreshing. And it's utterly satisfying. You can create your own variations on this Asian noodle soup theme: add some red or green curry paste, a protein of choice, any kind of greens, herbs, citrus, spices. Have fun playing with your food! Keep warm, and keep cooking...

Posted by Dana Klitzberg at Monday, January 25, 2016

RECIPE: Thai-Inflected Turkey Curry Soup

RECIPE: Thai-Inflected Turkey Curry Soup

Soup 2.jpg

There are thousands of recipes for what to make with the leftovers after a big Thanksgiving feast. I always love to make stock with the bones left from the main feast, and I use it to make a collection of turkey broth-based soups that are perfect for lunches and dinners in the days following "turkey day." One of the wonderful things about soup is that it freezes so well; when you get sick of seeing turkey anything, freeze the soup and take it out when it entices again (or when you're feeling lazy and don't feel like cooking yet another meal!).

In this recipe, I've gone in a very different direction from good old American turkey noodle soup. In fact, I've taken Thai spices and flavorings and made a soup that can be anywhere from "lightly Asian-inspired" to full-on Thai spicy goodness. Based on the ingredients you have on hand, and your mood, you decide. Enjoy!


THAI-INFLECTED TURKEY CURRY SOUP

Soup 1.jpg

Serves 6-8

2 TBS. peanut or olive oil
8 cups turkey stock
2 cups shredded turkey meat
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
3 TBSP. Thai red curry paste
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, thinly sliced into rounds
1 kaffir lime leaf
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
16 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1-2 cups haricot vert, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts
2 TBSP fish sauce, optional
1 bunch cilantro, roughly minced
Fresh limes

- In a large pot, warm the oil until it shimmers, then add the diced carrots, celery, and onion. Sweat these vegetables over low heat for about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. 
- Add the red curry paste, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaf, and stir over medium-high heat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the rice wine vinegar and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add the turkey broth and the coconut milk, and bring the soup to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the red peppers and the haricot vert, and the shredded turkey meat, and let the flavors meld, pot covered, for about 10 minutes.
- Taste and adjust for flavor and seasoning, adding fish sauce if it needs salt (alternatively just add salt).
- Just before serving, add the cilantro and the juice of one lime, and serve topped with peanuts and a lime wedge.
   
    

RECIPES: For The Big Apple, 9/11, All-American Apple Pie

I was living in Rome, but was home for my usual late August-early September visit in 2001. On September 10th, having dealt with the bureaocracy and lines at the Italian Consulate as I awaited my visa, I decided to head way downtown to the Financial District to pick up some paperwork from my bank and to do a little shopping at Century 21, literally right next door to the Twin Towers. I don't think anybody could walk anywhere near them and not look up and marvel at such an architectural feat.  The sky was as clear as I'd ever seen it, and it was the kind of day about which people feel compelled to comment: "Isn't it just gorgeous out?" Every New Yorker here that day remembers the weather. Eerily beautiful.

Looking up at the towers, I had a flashback to when my Dad used to have an office there, somewhere around the 95th floor. I remember taking a day off of school to spend the day in the office with him, maybe once or twice a year. I'd amuse myself writing stories and letters on a gigantic electric typewriter (technology!), and we'd watch out of the oversized windows as planes approached La Guardia and were noticeably lower to the ground than we were. Imagine that! We'd ride the elevator down for lunch, and in less than 30 seconds, we'd be on the ground floor -- though I always had to swallow lots of times because my ears popped on the ride zooming through the elevator shaft at lightning speed. There was so much life, so much bustle, in those big buildings and the plaza out front. For me, as a little girl, Manhattan was anchored by Broadway theaters and ballets at Lincoln Center uptown, and the World Trade Center downtown. But really, the Twin Towers were New York City.

The morning of September 11th, 2001, I had an appointment with the Italian Consulate to pick up my visa at 10:30 a.m., before returning to Rome on September 12th. My whole family was coming into the city for dinner before my departure the following day. That morning, my roommate Jessica woke me up around 8:55. She said "you'd better come out here and see this." It did not bode well.

Jessica and I stood frozen in front of our TV, mouths agape, as we watched the first tower burn. We saw the second plane hit the south tower live on television. We were watching a horror story unfold in real time, and our minds were racing, trying to figure out who we knew down there, in the towers, in the vicinity. And my first instinct was to wonder how New York City, its policemen and women and special forces would figure out how to get everyone down from the top floors: incredibly obtuse, I know, but I couldn't accept the reality that we would lose so many innocent lives because of a couple of insane acts of hatred and some random corporate real estate decisions. I thought of all the people who worked alongside my father in the towers, some of them still working there, no doubt. Fellow chefs at Windows on the World. Colleagues and friends and fellow humans of every stripe -- everyone in New York knew someone in the Twin Towers.

And in the midst of all of this, who could eat? Not I, not us. I don't remember anything about food in those days, those weeks. I stayed in New York trying to help, signing up to feed the first responders or bring food to fire houses, but there was no room -- everywhere I turned I was put on waitlists, the excess of volunteers wanting to help actually outweighing the need or the capacity. I felt helpless again, but this time I was reassured by the outpouring of support everyone was showing. I wasn't so anxious to return to Italy on the first flight out -- I was with my people, my fellow New Yorkers, in a moment of great weakness, and great strength.

Cooking brings me great comfort. I realize it doesn't work like that for everybody, but I think cooking -- especially baking, with its methodical processes -- calms the soul. And so, on this September 11th, fourteen years later, the food-related thing I thought to share on my blog is a recipe for the most American of comfort foods: apple pie. (It's not my recipe, but Rose Levy Beranbaum is a trusted expert). My Italian friends love it. Americans can't help but love it. And of course, what's more representative of The Big Apple?

ALL-AMERICAN APPLE PIE

  • 2 1/2 pounds baking apples (about 6 medium or 8 cups ), peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch thick *
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust (makes one single crust):

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon pastry flour or 1 cup bleached All-purpose flour, (dip and sweep method)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, cold
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Instructions

For the crust:

1. Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

2. Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. Set the bag aside.

3. Cut the cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to the flour. Process for about 20 seconds or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter is larger than the size of peas; toss with a fork to see it better. Remove the cover and add the water and vinegar. Pulse until most of the butter is reduced to the size of small peas. The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together. Spoon it into the plastic bag and for a double pie crust divide the mixture in half at this point.

4. Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it from the outside of the bag with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, flatten it into a disk, and refrigerate it for at least 45 minutes and preferably overnight.

6. Remove the dough for the bottom crust from the refrigerator. If necessary, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes or until it is soft enough to roll.

7. On a floured pastry cloth or between two sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap, roll the bottom crust 1/8-inch thick or less and 12 inches in diameter. Transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan. Trim the edge almost even with the edge of the pan. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours.

For the filling:

8. In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and toss to mix. Allow the apples to macerate at room temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours.

9. Transfer the apples and their juices to a colander suspended over a bowl to capture the liquid. The mixture will release at least 1/2 cup of liquid.

10. In a small saucepan (preferably nonstick), over medium-high heat, boil down this liquid, with the butter, to about 1/3 cup (a little more if you started with more than 1/2 cup of liquid), or until syrupy and lightly caramelized. Swirl the liquid but do not stir it. Meanwhile, transfer the apples to a bowl and toss them with the cornstarch until all traces of it have disappeared. 

Pour the syrup over the apples, tossing gently. (Do not be concerned if the liquid hardens on contact with the apples; it will dissolve during baking.)

11. Roll out the top crust large enough to cut a 12-inch circle. Use an expandable flan ring or a cardboard template and a sharp knife as a guide to cut the circle.

12. Transfer the apple mixture to the pie shell. Moisten the border of the bottom crust by brushing it lightly with water and place the top crust over the fruit. Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border and press down all around the top to seal it. Crimp the border using a fork or your fingers and make about 5 evenly spaced 2-inch slashes starting about 1 inch from the center and radiating toward the edge. Cover the pie loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour before baking to chill and relax the pastry. This will maintain flakiness and help to keep the crust from shrinking.

13. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees at least 20 minutes before baking. Set an oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Place a large piece of greased foil on top to catch any juices.

14. Set the pie directly on the foil-topped baking stone and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the juices bubble through the slashes and the apples feel tender but not mushy when a cake tester or small sharp knife is inserted through a slash. After 30 minutes, protect the edges from overbrowning by covering them with a foil ring.

15. Cool the pie on a rack for at least 4 hours before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* I like a mix of Granny Smith and Cortland.

From 

The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

ITALIAN CLASSIC + RECIPE: Vitello Tonnato

The name itself is a puzzling one. It roughly translates to "tuna-ed veal." It actually sounded full-on disgusting to me before I ever tasted the dish, back in my days as a college student studying abroad in Tuscany. Then I tried it. Let's just say it became an instant favorite. Now, if it's summertime, and it's too warm to eat a hot main course, I'll always go for the tonnato -- from Sant Ambroeus in Southampton to Trattoria Ponte Sisto in Rome, this is my hot weather order of choice. And sometimes, if I'm feeling ambitious, or I'm having guests, I'll make it myself. It's always best that way, isn't it?

Vitello tonnato is a dish that the north of Italy can lay claim to, specifically the Piemonte region. It can also be made with pork (as in the photo above) or turkey, but veal is the classic. It's served at room temperature or chilled, which makes it an excellent summertime main course.

It's traditionally prepared a day in advance, to let the flavors really combine well. The cut of veal used is generally the eye round (a cut from the hind leg), sliced thin once it's cooked and has "rested" for a day in the fridge. The meat is braised in water/white wine/vinegar with some herbs and spices, or stock, or if you're really going thorough and old-school, you add olive oil-packed Italian tuna to the cooking liquid, and this braising liquid then becomes the base of the sauce -- this way the flavors of the two star ingredients blend and meld into a tastier whole. A homemade mayonnaise is then prepared by whisking together egg yolks, vegetable and olive oils, and a touch of vinegar as the basic base, to which the tuna is added. There is some argument as to whether or not the sauce gets slathered over all slices so that they may marinate in the sauce for several hours, or it the cooked veal gets sliced and served alongside a slightly thicker sauce for you to dip into or spread on the slices as you like. There is no argument, however, that capers are a must when serving.

VITELLO TONNATO

For the veal:

  • 2 - 2 1/2 pounds lean veal roast, preferably top round, firmly trussed, or turkey breast or pork loin
  • 17-ounce container top-quality Italian tuna, shredded
  • 1medium-size white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1rib of celery, roughly chopped
  • 1carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 1 ½cups dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 10black peppercorns

For the tuna sauce:

  • 2egg yolks
  • 1cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 112-ounce container top-quality Italian tuna in olive oil, finely chopped, with its oil
  • 2anchovies, rinsed, dried and minced
  • 1tablespoon caper brine
  • Lemon juice
  • veal broth (see above)
  • Kosher salt to taste

Preparation

  1. Truss the veal with cotton string, so that it resembles a roast. Place the meat in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven and cover with tuna, onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, parsley, wine, broth, salt and pepper, then heat over a high flame until it comes to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to very low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the veal reaches 130 degrees.
  2. Remove meat to a large, nonreactive bowl, strain the broth over it, cover and allow the meat to cool in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. (Discard the solids.)
  3. While the meat cools, put yolks in a medium bowl and beat with a wire whisk. Begin to add oil as you beat, a thin stream at first, adding more as each bit is incorporated. When a thick emulsion forms, you can add oil at a slightly faster rate.  The entire process should take 5 to 7 minutes, and you may not use all of the oil.
  4. Add tuna, anchovies and caper brine to a food processor, and pulse. Add the mayo and pulse to puree into a thick mixture. Add a few tablespoons of the veal broth to thin the sauce slightly. Add lemon juice to taste, and more broth if the sauce needs thinning. Taste for salt. The sauce should not taste overly mayonnaise-y but should be reminiscent of the best quality mayo.
  5. Remove the cooled veal from its broth, untie and cut across the grain into very thin slices. Smear the sauce on the bottom of the platter. Arrange the veal slices neatly on a platter with the edges of the slices overlapping, and spoon the tuna sauce over the top. You can place another layer of veal and repeat, but don't do more than two layers on one plate. Cover and return to refrigerator overnight or until ready to use. Garnish with capers or fried capers, lemon, hard-boiled eggs, or sprigs of parsley. Alternatively, you can slice the veal and serve the sauce in the center of the plate or on the side.
  6. Return to room temperature before serving.

RECIPE: Saltimbocca alla Romana

It's a classic Roman dish that never goes out of style, though there are many renditions of this cucina romana staple: saltimbocca alla romana. The name saltimbocca literally means "jumps in the mouth," which is what a great version of this dish should do, in terms of flavor. The elements are simple: great quality, super thinly-sliced veal scaloppine (though the dish works surprisingly well with chicken or turkey scaloppine as well -- just don't tell any Romans I said so!). Top-quality prosciutto. Fresh sage leaf. Local white wine. Good quality olive oil and butter, and a spritz of lemon and/or white wine vinegar. And that's it. No cheese, please. And for even cooking and simplicity's sake, I don't roll the scaloppine up. Flour is negotiable: coat the scaloppine in a light dusting of flour if you'd like a more pronounced crust to the meat and a slightly thicker sauce. But really, the beauty of the preparation is also its simplicity, like most great Italian dishes.

SALTIMBOCCA ALLA ROMANA

(4 servings)

4 large slices prosciutto, thinly sliced

4 large veal scallopes, about 3/4 lb. total weight

4 fresh sage leaves

AP flour for dusting (optional)

salt & pepper to taste

6 TBS. butter

2 TBS. olive oil

6 TBS. dry white wine

Juice of one lemon or 2 TBSP. white wine vinegar

- Place a slice of prosciutto over each veal slice, so it’s just slightly smaller than the piece of veal.

- Place a sage leaf in the middle of the prosciutto and secure with a wooden toothpick.

- Dredge in flour mixed with a bit of salt and pepper, if desired

- Heat 2 TBS. butter and 2 TBS. oil in a large skillet.

- When foam subsides, add the meat, prosciutto side down.

- Brown on both sides until golden.

- Remove meat from pan and transfer to serving dish.

- Add wine to skillet, and stir to mix up the browned bits in the pan. Add lemon juice/vinegar here if desired.

- Turn up heat and let the sauce bubble for 1-3 minutes, to reduce to about 1/3 cup of liquid.

- Add the remaining 4 TBS. butter to the pan, a bit at a time, swirling to melt as you go.

- Taste and adjust seasoning, then place veal back in pan to heat through and glaze with sauce. Remove veal and place on a serving platter, pour sauce over meat, and serve.

RECIPE: Lenticchie e Salsiccia

It's a classic central Italian pairing: Lenticchie e SalsicciaLentils and sausage. It reminds me of trips out to Umbria, usually in the fall or winter, and sometimes early spring. We'd spend a Sunday afternoon in Orvieto, enjoying the gorgeous churches and small shops, as well as some surprisingly sophisticated restaurants, in this hill town an hour outside of Rome. Or, we'd head out for a weekend in the country to a friend's house on the Tuscan-Umbrian border, just taking in the view and building fires and looking up at the stars after a full-table feast of simple, local fare. Or we'd visit friends in Citta' di Castello, not far from Lake Trasimeno, sharing a lunch al fresco with lots of local, juicy, dark Sagrantino di Montefalco wine.

Umbria is Italy's only landlocked region that doesn't share a border with another country. Its name echoes ombra, the Italian word for "shadow" -- and it seems to have always been in the shadow of its better-known neighbors, like Tuscany and Lazio. But the region has so much going for it, including the beautiful topography and a history as rich as its cuisine. One of its famous local foods is the Umbrian lentil, which is tawny brown and roughly the size of the tiny green French Puy lentil. Umbrian lentils are often featured in local dishes, and are a great foil for the rich game featured so prominently in this region.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention another great Umbrian contribution to Italian cuisine, which is the concept of the norcineria. There's no direct translation for the word, but it's basically a 'meat emporium,' including and especially pork products, fresh and cured. Norcia is a town in the province of Perugia in Southeast Umbria, nestled between Spoleto and Ascoli Piceno (in the Le Marche region). 

The town is famous for its meat emporiums, and so this kind of shop all over central Italy has taken on the moniker norcineria. I did once make it to "ground zero" in Norcia on a trip to my ex's childhood home near Ascoli Piceno, and we picked up some delicious pancetta and a few other items to cook for dinner at his mother's house. But the important thing is not procuring these meats in Norcia itself, but rather the significance of the quality norcineria, wherever you may find one. I often went to the Norcineria Viola in Rome's Campo de' Fiori, as it was close to home and they had a great selection, offered up assaggi (samples), and the owners were a hoot. 

If you're lucky enough to be cooking the following recipe in Italy, a norcineria would be the prime spot to pick up some delicious, house-made sausages. And if you don't have a go-to 'meat emporium' -- well, a butcher (preferably Italian) or Italian specialty store would be second-best. But anywhere you trust the sausage makers qualifies; the quality is key. And a tip: generally speaking, though Tuscany is the next region over, this dish does not use Tuscan-style sausages, which contain fennel seed. Try and use sausages without that anise flavor...if you're sticking to tradition, that is.

LENTICCHIE E SALSICCIA

4 TBS. olive oil

1/2 large onion, finely chopped

3 carrots, chopped into small dice (1/8 inch)

1 celery stalk, chopped into small dice 

2 cloves garlic

3 cups Umbrian lentils (or Puy lentils), washed and sorted through to clean

2 sprigs rosemary

8 Italian sausage links, sliced in half lengthwise

1/3 cup hearty Italian red wine, Sagrantino if possible

1/2 cup water

Flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Salt + pepper to taste

For the lentils:

- Warm the oil over medium heat in a wide saucepan with some depth (and one with a fitted lid). Add the garlic cloves and infuse the olive oil for a minute or so. 

- Add the chopped carrots, celery, and onion, and cook to soften, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and cook another minute. 

- Add the lentils, stir well, and cover with cold water until submerged and with a bit of water above the lentils. Bring to a boil, add a couple of small sprigs of rosemary, and cover. Turn down the heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes or so, until the lentils are cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*Lentils can be cooked in advance to this point*

- When the lentils are almost ready, or you're reheating them, heat a grill pan or a frying pan over medium-high heat, and add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. - Brown the sausages on both sides, making sure not to crowd the pan (we want them seared, not steamed).

- When sausages are fully browned, toss in the red wine and the water and let the liquid cook down and bubble up for a few minutes. Then cover, an cook for another 10 minutes or so.

- Plate the warm lentils on a serving platter, and then place the sausages on top of the bed of lentils. You can either use the wine gravy as is, or add a spoonful of a dijon mustard and whisk that into the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

- Pour the sauce over the sausages and lentils, and sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Buon appetito!

RECIPE: Ribollita (Tuscan minestrone bread soup)

There are few things better on a bitter cold day, or evening, than a bowl of ribollita, the cool weather Tuscan bread soup. It's made with a Tuscan minestrone base, to which stale bread is added -- preferably the tasteless, salt-free crusty bread that became a staple in Tuscany when an overwhelming majority of citizens refused to pay a steep salt tax. It's even been used to clean precious frescoes in Tuscan churches, as its texture is similar to a sponge (its stand-alone taste is fairly similar, too). 

How is a Tuscan minestrone different from your average minestrone, you may ask? It shares all of the basic vegetables, like celery, carrots, and onions, of course. But Tuscans, like their mangiafagioli (bean-eaters) moniker suggests, often add cannellini beans to dishes, for added heft, starch, and protein.

 

 

Their minestrone is no exception, so they use beans to replace the tiny pasta tubes that the rest of the Italian peninsula uses. They also add Tuscan kale (or lacinato), what in Italian is called cavolo nero (black kale) or cavolo laciniato (fringed kale). This is sliced or hand-torn into strips that get thrown into the minestrone, adding color and great nutrients and fiber to the soup. 

The thing that turns Tuscan minestrone into ribollita (which literally means "re-boiled") is the addition of bread. The Tuscans are a thrifty bunch, not ones to let bread go to waste simply because it's stale. So they have a series of bread-thickened soups in their culinary repertoire to make the most of it. Ribollita is the wintry version, and it's one of my all-time favorites. It freezes well, so you can make a huge pot of it during, say, a February snowstorm. You can eat it until (and if) you get sick of it, and freeze the rest for another blustery night.

 

 

 

RIBOLLITA

(Serves 4-8)

6 TBS. Olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 onion, chopped into medium dice

1 carrot, chopped into medium dice

2 stalks celery, chopped into medium dice

3 cloves garlic

2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans, drained

4 whole peeled tomatoes or 1 15-oz. can peeled tomatoes

8 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 sprig fresh rosemary

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bunches chopped cavolo nero (black kale)

1 small loaf Tuscan (unsalted) or crusty peasant bread, preferably a day old

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

- Warm 6 TBS. of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it's hot, toss in the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper and cook, stirring so the vegetables don't stick, until they're softened, about 5 minutes.

- Add the tomatoes and beans, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth and the rosemary and thyme, and cook for 15-20 minutes, so the flavors meld.

- Add the kale (and remove the herbs if you'd like), and stir to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.

- Tearing the bread with your hands into bite-sized chunks, slowly add the bread to the broth, mixing to absorb the bread every 10 pieces or so. You may not use the whole loaf, but you may. The consistency should be a thick porridge. Let the soup cook another 15 minutes or so, simmering on low, so the bread breaks down and becomes integrated into the soup a bit. Taste to adjust for seasoning.

- To serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle generously with the highest-quality extra-virgin olive oil you can find (Tuscan is most relevant here), and sprinkle with grated parmigiano cheese.

Note: Like most soups, this one is even better the next day, or even the day after that. Since it's ribollita (re-boiled) anyway, it keeps very well for several days in the fridge, or for 2 months in the freezer.