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italian

peperonata salad

This is a recipe straight from the restaurant archives. My very first job out of culinary school was at the locally beloved D’amico Cucina in Minneapolis, MN which has since been turned into a downtown parking structure. I remember being so nervous those first few weeks as I learned to slowly stew the peppers, thinly slice the fennel and prosciutto and quenelle the goat cheese into perfect little footballs. The thing about this dish, is that it’s a salad that melts in your mouth. It tastes like Italy and summer. 

Ingredients

for the peperonata:
½ c. olive oil
2 yellow bell peppers, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
⅓ c. sherry or champagne vinegar
1 T. raw honey
salt and red pepper flake, to taste

for the salad:
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (slice and save any fennel fronds)
4-6 c. fresh arugula
¼ lb. prosciutto, thinly sliced
5 oz. fresh goat cheese

Method

  1. Make the peperonata: Heat a large, heavy bottomed pot over low heat. Add the olive oil, yellow and red bell peppers and onion. Cover and cook on very low heat for around 1-2 hours, stirring throughout, making sure peppers don’t brown or stick to the bottom of the pan. The idea is to cook them slowly, so instead of “searing”, the juices melt into the olive oil as they gently cook.
  2. Remove stewed peppers from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Add the vinegar, honey, salt and red pepper flakes and stir together. You can make this ahead of time and store in the fridge until ready to make the salad.
  3. Plate the salad: In a large bowl gently combine the fennel, arugula and peperonata. Build salad in the center of a large platter. Arrange prosciutto slices and goat cheese around the perimeter. Buon Appetito!

Caponata

In this story, the hero is my Aunt Jessie, Grandma, Great Grandma and all my other aunts spread across New York’s boroughs back in the day. This is the cold eggplant dish that was a staple for any special family gathering. This is the exact recipe that has been in my family for years. I have been trying to replicate it but just recently my mom found a photocopy of the actual handwritten recipe and it puts my other versions to shame.

I love that this recipe is completely opposite of how I would typically go about making it if left to my own devices, cooking in aromatic layers of flavor taking into consideration each ingredient. I LOVE how this recipe is like “Oh, you’re a chef? That’s nice. Take a seat and let me show you how an Italian grandma gets it done.” Sometimes it really is as simple as throwing everything in a pot and letting the ingredients and fire do the work.

Caponata is the Sicilian version of ratatouille. You can fill lettuce cups, spread it on garlic toast (my favorite), on sandwiches, etc. You could also go wild and eat warmed up with some pasta. shhh..don’t tell my mom:)

Ingredients
1 medium eggplant, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
1 c. mushrooms, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
⅓ c. olive oil
1 can tomato paste
½ c. water
2 T. red wine vinegar
½ cup pimento stuffed olives, sliced
1 T. granulated sugar
1 t. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Method
1. In a large pot over medium heat combine eggplant, green bell pepper, red onion, mushrooms, garlic and olive oil. cook for around ten minutes, stirring occasionally. season with salt and pepper.
2. Add tomato paste, water, red wine vinegar, olives, sugar and oregano and cook over low heat covered for around 30 minutes, or until eggplant is tender.
3. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.
4. Let cool.

Component in Action
-serve as an appetizer on toast, crackers, along side cheese and/or sliced meats
-make it a salad with fresh greens and a lemon vinaigrette
-caponata sandwich anyone?! yes please. with some fresh mozzarella and bread like toasted ciabatta

Italian Salsa Verde

Italian salsa verde is one of the simplest classic sauces in Italy, not to be confused with the equally delicious but entirely different south of the border version made with tomatillo and jalapeno. This sauce is all about olive oil and parsley. The ingredients are so basic you can kind of whip this up fast and on the fly if you need a last minute dip, sauce or spread.

You can chop it by hand or pulse it a few times briefly in a food processor. Here’s the thing and it just might be my favorite thing, there is no right or wrong way here. What matters is that it makes a weekend night dinner not only delicious but fast. You are not cutting corners or compromising because something in a jar is easier. I guarantee you can make this faster than it takes to heat up a jar of pasta sauce.

I like basil so I use half parsley and half basil. It’s up to you. You could use all parsley or even add mint. Classically this is made with capers. But if I have a tub of olives or cornichons in the fridge I’m gonna use them instead. The last time I made this I didn’t have capers but I did have some gorgeous little red pickled peppers, so I used them and the end results was a zesty and herby treat for our grilled flank steaks a couple weeks ago.

Ingredients
1 c. flat leaf parsley (clean, leaves and thin stems)
1 c. basil leaves
1 lemon (zest only)
1 garlic clove (peeled)
1 T. dijon mustard
1 anchovy rinsed and drained (optional)
¼ c. capers, olives, cornichons or pickled peppers (make sure to pit the olives)
½ c. olive oil
Salt + pepper to taste

Method

  1. If you make using a food processor, add everything to the processor and pulse a few times. Check seasoning to see if you need to add any additional salt and pepper and BOOM you’re done!!
  2. If you want to chop by hand, chop garlic and lemon zest until finely chopped. Put in bowl.
  3. Roughly chop parsley and basil and add to bowl.
  4. Chop anchovy and add to bowl.
  5. Chop capers and add to bowl.
  6. Stir in dijon, olive oil, salt and pepper. Check seasoning.

Component in Action
-a dip for crudite (aka raw veggies)
-a sauce for grilled fish and meats
-add lemon juice and make into a zesty salad vinaigrette
-a drizzle for roasted or grilled veggies
-a spread for croustinis (aka toasted bread slices)
-a delicious pasta sauce

Everyday Pesto

Pesto in itself is a simple beauty from northern Italy, lending a vibrant and luscious punch to everything from a piece of bread to a bowl of pasta. As I was playing around with the recipe this week, it almost became a game as to all the different ways I could use it with what I already had in the house–a perfect sauce with some linguine I found in the cupboard, a delightful spread on some thick slices of toasted bread, an out of the ordinary dip for carrots, celery & cucumber, and with a splash of lemon juice, it made a bright and decadent dressing for a salad of greens and fresh mozzarella.

Traditionally, pesto is made of basil, pine nuts, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and a hard grated cheese like Parmesan. And this in itself is amazing, especially in the summer months when basil is abundant and has the chance to get together with good friends like tomatoes.

For the rest of the year, there is a lot of room to play around with the recipe and make it work in your kitchen for what’s happening in real life, like a half bag of spinach or a bunch of kale hanging out in the fridge without a hope of being used up before it’s too late.

Recently Hans and I had a super rare opportunity for a date night and we spent the evening at one of our favorite spots in San Diego, Ironside Fish & Oyster for one of Chef Jason McLeod’s  incredible Chef’s Catch dinners. This particular dinner featured Sara Gasbarra, the special guest of the evening, who also happens to be a friend from Chicago:) Sara owns and operates Verdura, where she cultivates (from concept to harvest) culinary gardens for restaurants and hotels.

This delightful dinner was all about celebrating the lesser-known or ugly parts of vegetables (and animals) that in fact are full of flavor and culinary possibility. Aside from the novelty in creating a gremolata sauce from citrus pulp leftover from juicing, or a pesto made from vegetable tops, or using the forgotten flowers from rapini plants, a deeper chord ran through all the fun and adventure that could not escape me. There is real, nourishing food that never makes it to the bins at the grocery store. And not only that, but there is real, amazing opportunities in my fridge right now even though it may look like “there’s nothing to eat”.

I could not stop thinking about it as I walked through the grocery store later that week, and I continued to think about it as I wandered through the farmers market on Saturday. Actually, I found myself feeling a lot of emotions about these forgotten foods, like I wanted to stick up for them being bullied by the cool veggies like breakfast radishes, or heirloom tomatoes, or the stunning romanesco.

And honestly, I think it’s a combination of the current political shenanigans and things like the anticipation of EO Wilson’s new book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life where he proposes a plan to save the planet by devoting half of the surface of the earth to nature, but I can’t stop thinking about the unknown future and my part in it. I know I probably shouldn’t be writing about politics in a food blog, but oh well. When I heard Drumpf was running for President, I didn’t give it a second thought. I took it as a bit of fun for the media and hardly credible. But look where we are now. This planet has been so good to us for so long, it feels hard to believe that anything really apocalyptic could ever happen, and yet look at what’s happening to the ice caps and weather patterns. So the thought that has been spinning around in my head is this; when we pluck something from the earth, do we have a responsibility to use every bit that we can? There is also money savings when we buy a bunch of carrots with the tops and use the carrots for snacking and soups and salads, and then use the green tops for something as delicious as pesto. The point is, it’s your kitchen, it’s your grocery store run, it’s your trip to the farmers market, it’s your budget. Make it count, make it fill your table with fun, adventure, and make it yours. <3<3

Ingredients

2 large garlic cloves
1 ½ c. kale leaves
(or other greens like carrot, beet or radish tops, spinach, arugula, ramps, broccoli florets, rapini,etc.)
1 ½ basil leaves
¼ c. raw almonds (or pine nuts, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
½ c. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Wash greens and basil well and dry thoroughly.
  2. Blend everything together until smooth.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Keep in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.

Component in Action

  • sauce for pasta
  • spread for croustinis
  • on sandwiches
  • scrambled with eggs
  • as a dip by itself, or folded into some greek yogurt for a creamy dip
  • leave out the cheese and use as a marinade
  • as a vinaigrette for salads

Meat Pie (Italian Easter Pie)

There are time in life where a specific taste launches you back in time, flooding your heart and mind with memories. Watermelon blow pops remind me of road trips, Constant Comment tea reminds me of my mom, sister, and cold Ohio winters, and Meat Pie reminds me of Grandma Mary.

This is her recipe. She would make one for me on my birthday. Years later with a single bite, I can remember every detail like it was yesterday; the flaky crust holding layers of sliced salami, ham and cheese, her beautifully wrinkled hands holding the white box tied with red and white butcher string, and her aquamarine ring sparkling in sunlight as she presented me this treasured gift.

Now, each year on River’s Birthday, I make a Meat Pie. I feel so many memories and so much love in the simple act of making it. I feel so happy that this family tradition hasn’t been lost. I wonder if someday he will want to learn how to make the pie with me, someday passing this on to his children, making memories and traditions of their own.

This is a perfect example of how food transforms into so much more than just a piece of pie on a plate. You probably have your own Meat Pie’s in your mind, those dishes that remind you of people, places, and moments in time.

You will notice this recipe calls for store bought pie dough. In this instance, I allow memory to trump technique and don’t waste a single minute feeling bad about it. Here it is, Meat Pie exactly like Grandma used to make it.

I should also mention that this pie is decadent and delicious served warm, but Grandma would serve it cold and at this temperature it tastes amazing and slices beautifully. We like to eat it cold for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is also super convenient on the go in a packed lunch, maybe with a little Dijon mustard on the side.

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