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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Florentine Pancakes: with Soles, Tomatoes and Green Beans

You're warned, I invented this recipe as I had to find a way to use a left-over cooked (pan-fried meunière-style) sole. And it turned out to be really good (nay, a scumptious recipe!) and as I don't want to forget it, I'm writing it down here. Obviously, you can do it starting with a fresh sole and cooking it either whole in a pan meunière-style (as I did, that means it's floured and cooked in a pan with sizzling butter) or filleted in a hot oven with a little white wine.

Here is what my recipe looks like (I asked my husband to take a picture with his smart phone):


Hmmm, not the best of pictures but believe me, it's really good and looks very nice on the place!

Ingredients: for 4 persons


  • 2 soles filletted - you should have 8 nice fillets of sole, cooked.
  • 1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes, each cut in 2 or 4 (depending on size, the pieces need to be small)
  • 1/2 cup of cooked green beans, cut in small bits, about the size of your tomato bits
  • 2 tablespoons of cream cheese (I use Mascarpone because I live in Italy and it's a wonderful, creamy cheese - but any good cream cheese will do. Barring that, use heavy cream!)
  • 1/2 small glass of white wine (this you have to see how much you need, the sauce, at the end, needs to be fairly liquid - in anyc case, not cream-heavy!)
  • 2 spring onions (or any kind of onion) chopped very small
  • herbs to taste - I used basilic but you can use oregano
  • pancake batter to make 2 American-style pancakes per person NOTE: the batter should not be done with sugar but with a pinch of salt instead!
  • grated parmigiano cheese
  • olive oil and butter
  • salt and pepper as needed
Method:

1. Cook the cherry tomatoes in an open pan, with a little olive oil, herbs and the chopped onion.

2. When they have released their juice, turn off the fire, add the green beans and sole fillets broken in small pieces.

3. Add the cream cheese and wine until your sauce is abundant and with the right consistency (fairly liquid)

4. Pre-heat the oven at 200° (hot!)

5. Arrange in a pyrex dish (butter it) ready for the oven: pancakes, 2 per person, interspersed with the tomato-green-bean-sole mixture.

6. Finish with the mixture on top of each pancake and sprinkle with plenty grated Parmiagiano.

7. In the oven, about 10 minutes, until the top turns golden. Serve piping hot!

Buon appetito!

PS: Obviously the recipe would work for any kind of fish or mix of fish and seafood...



Friday, December 5, 2014

Hollandaise Sauce with a (mustard) Kick

Smoked salmon eggs Benedict
Yesterday, I served salmon steaks for lunch and I was looking to do a quick sauce to give them a kick. But not your usual hollandaise. I thought I'd experiment, and this is what I did:

1. Use an egg yolk or two, in a small saucepan;

2. Beat in with a whisk 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of white wine;

3. Cook over a very, very slow fire (it shouldn't burn!), whisking continually and you'll see it turn into foam;

4. Once it's really foamy, take it off the fire and add small pats of butter, about 2 tablespoonfuls.

5. Add one tablespoon of French Dijon mustard (the refined kind - no seeds in it!)

6. Adjust to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of lemon.

Et voilà. Scrumptious with fish or any white meat or over Eggs Benedict, for a nice change of pace, if you served them over smoked salmon instead of ham!


Monday, January 20, 2014

Cottage Pie Italian Style

Cottage pie
Sheperd's Pie or Cottage Pie is done with beef, this one is done with pork! You can use leftover pork provided you chop it up really fine.

Then, the secret ingredients to give it its special Italian flavor are:
  • rosemary, the leaves from one twig
  • 1 cup chopped onion or leek (one)
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms (I use porcini but any tasty mushroom is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons peas (even the frozen ones will do)
  • 2 cups minced pork (roasted - or if using fresh meat, it needs to chopped and stir-fried in the pan where you've started cooking the vegetables - if it's a leftover already cooked, add it only at the very end, just to warm up)
  • mashed potatoes, done the usual way with milk and butter added only after it's nice and smooth (with one whole egg beaten in at the end - optional)
  • left-over pork roast sauce, or lacking it, add Knorr concentrated broth (one spoonful)
  • one small glass of white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt!)
The above is good for 4 persons.

Method: 
  • stir-fry the vegetables in olive oil (one small spoonful), together with the rosemary, in a big pan;
  • add one small glass of white wine
  • add the meat to the pan, early in the process if your meat is fresh and you need to cook it; late if you use leftover meat;
  • flavor with leftover meat sauce from the roast or Knorr meat broth
Now you need to warm it up in the over:
  • In a baking dish, start with a layer of the stir-fried meat and vegetables
  • cover well with mashed potatoes
  • sprinkle with Parmesan cheese - be generous with it!
  • Put in oven, turn on the grill and watch it turn golden.
Serve piping hot, accompanied by a nice, full-bodied Chianti.

Source for image:
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Monday, November 11, 2013

Artichoke Omelet the Florentine Way

virgin oil of aceitunas (IMPERIA)
How about a nice "tortino" Florentine-style made with some tender spring artichokes?

There are lots of recipes for this on Internet but, as far as I can see, most of them are WRONG!

In principle, with this recipe you should obtain a fluffy omelet that rises in the oven like a soufflé and is filled with crisp, flavorful pieces of artichoke.

I've had this only a couple of times in Florence, in one of those old-fashioned trattoria where you just know that you're eating traditional food of the best kind, and it's taken me several tries before I could perfect the recipe.

I could refer you of course to Artusi, the author of the definitive treatise on Tuscan cuisine, but I'll share with you the little secrets that I have discovered that ensure your tortino will come out just right. 

It's very easy to do but it requires some care. AND good ingredients. Of course, that's a general rule: if you want to prepare good food you just can't skimp on the quality of the ingredients. For example, for frying, I ALWAYS use olive oil. Not necessarily the best most expensive quality, but it's got to be real olive oil: it has a great advantage over all other types of oil on the market. Because of the way it withstands heat, it fries a lot better. AND it's the least bad for your health. AND the best tasting.

Now, back to the artichoke tortino. Turn your oven on (especially if it takes time to heat up like mine does): set it at 180° or mark 6 or whatever heat you normally use to roast a chicken. In other words, hot but not too hot.

Then start with the artichokes. You need 2 small ones per person (or a big one/person - but better small). I use the small variety you find in Italy, the ones with leaves tinged with a lovely violet color.

Actually you can use any type of artichoke, provided you prepare them correctly: you have to peel the stem (to get rid of the thick, string-like fibers) and take out all the external leaves that are tough. Then cut off the artichoke tips, leaving only about half the leaves on, or even less. 

Be vicious about it! 

Once you overcome the impression that you're throwing everything away, it is in fact very satisfying to get rid of all those dark green leaves! What you should have left in your hand is just a tiny, tender, yellow-leaf artichoke, maybe half or less of what it looked like before you started hacking at it.

Then cut it in 4 or even 6 pieces lengthwise. And scrape the inside to get rid of that hair which is in the center and is obviously inedible. 

At that point, quickly throw the pieces in cold water to which you've added the juice of 1/2 lemon: the purpose of this is to prevent the artichokes of turning black on you.

Next, lay all the pieces on kitchen paper and pat them dry. Then throw them in a bowl and flour them.

Heat olive oil in a deep pan (at least a couple of inches) and when it's close to smoking (but NOT smoking!) throw your floured artichoke pieces in. 

You should shake off the extra flour and throw them in ONE by ONE. Let them fry until they're a nice golden color and crisp. Take them out with a perforated spoon and set them to dry on paper.

Now prepare the omelet in the usual way, beating together  two eggs per person (but never make a tortino with less than 3 eggs: it won't work!). Salt and pepper to taste, a little grated parmigiano (optional) and throw in the fried artichokes.

Oil (or butter) an oven-going pyrex dish, pour the egg-artichoke mixture in it, sprinkle with a little grated Parmigiano cheese and put the whole thing in your (now hot) oven.

It takes about 20 minutes to bake (or more depending on the size of your tortino). Watch it rise and turn golden. Check  with a toothpick to see whether it's done, but then it's a matter of taste: some people like it real done, others prefer it moist. In any case, don't be disappointed when it starts to come down after you've taken it out of the oven. That's normal: after all, it isn't a French soufflé! It's just an oven-baked omelet...

Ma che buono!


Have a nice glass of red wine ready and warm crusty bread and let me know how you like it!

It's a guaranteed comfort food...
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Mystery Swiss Cheese: Schabziger and What To Do With It

I recently received from a Swiss friend who stayed with me in our house in Umbria a lovely gift: two little forms of green Schabziger, a mystery Swiss cheese made in the Glarner mountains, following a 550-year old recipe.  

And it's not made anywhere else. Today, there is only one manufacturing plant for this cheese, in the canton of Glarus, run by Geska A.G. since 2000.

It comes in very small forms, each only 100g, and here it is, looking smart in its classic green and white box, I remember it from the time I was a kid (and I won't tell you how long ago that was!):



It is a dry, skim cow milk cheese flavored with a special herb called blue fenugreek that is (surprisingly) also widely used in Georgian cuisine. The plant blooms in June and looks very pretty:


Schabziger reportedly was first made by monks in the 8th century. The exact specification on how to make this cheese was laid down during a cantonal assembly in 1463. As noted by Wikipedia, the cheese from that moment, bore a stamp of origin, making it one of the earliest protected brands in the world.

This so-called "green Swiss cheese" is in fact little known outside of Switzerland. The only two countries where it sells are Germany and the Netherlands though it is commercialized in the United States under the brand name of Sap Sago. Nobody knows why, possibly a corruption of the way the name sounds in German or a reference to "sap" as in tree sap, the vital lymph. Apparently it was brought to America in the 19th century and sold in New York pharmacies, thus presumably seen as having a medicinal value - which indeed it has, since it is very low in fats. But that may also be a reason why its use remained limited, since it was associated with medical use rather than seen as a normal food.

It is normally grated, mixed with butter and spread on bread. But I thought there should be other ways to use it. I googled some recipes and the best site I came across is this one run by Geska, click here to see the website and here to download their best pdf brochure. 

But I thought I'd experiment, using Italian products like mascarpone. One obvious use for Schabziger is to sprinkle it over Fettucine all'Alfredo, replacing the grated Parmesan. But I thought I'd try it over boiled potatoes. So here is the dish I concocted last Sunday, really simple to do: 

Ingredients for 4 persons

  • 1 form Schabziger, grated 
  • 5 medium-sized potatoes, boiled and peeled 
  • 150 g Mascarpone (or any other available cream cheese) 
  • butter 
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled 
  • grated nutmeg 
  • breadcrumbs (as needed to cover the dish)  
  • pepper and (optional) very little salt (remember the Schabziger cheese is salty even though the Mascarpone isn't)

Method:

1. Rub a pyrex dish (that goes in the oven) with a garlic clove, then butter it. 

2. Slice the boiled potatoes (thick slices) and lay in the dish

3. Mix the mascarpone with enough milk to make it a little creamier and add the grated Schabziger and a pinch of nutmeg

4. Cover with breadcrumbs and dot with butter

5. In a warm oven for ten minutes, then turn on the grill until a golden crust is formed. 

Here it is, enjoy!





Tastes great, it accompanies beautifully any roast meat and is even good by itself with a nice glass of red wine!


 

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Clear Broth with Clams and Zucchini


This is really very simple to do. The quality of the result will as always depend on the quality of the ingredients... alas, that is an unbending rule of good cooking!

Ingredients for 4 persons:

- one pound clams (vongole in Italy) - the best are the wild ones, straight from the sea but those from fish farming are okay too.
- 2 cloves garlic
- one whole zucchini or two if small, better if from a bio-garden but again, the other kind is ok.
- a couple of fresh tomatoes, as red and tasty as possible, peeled
- a tender celery heart
- vegetable broth: here you can cheat and use the Knorr powdered product, it is wholly acceptable. Or be brave and do your own broth, boiling together all the basic vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, parsley, leeks etc)

Method:

1. As always, you wash the clams well and put them in a pot with a tight-fitting lid, adding a couple of peeled garlic gloves sliced lengthwise so that the flavor spreads out easily (do not salt of course). Set over a high fire, close the lid and wait for the clams to burst open (you can hear them click against the pot's metal). It takes about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile you dice the zucchini in very small bits and slice the celery heart and cut the peeled tomatoes in half or in quarters (depending on size). You can also use unpeeled tomatoes if you prefer but then you will need to pull off the skin once they have cooked in the broth.

3. Clean the clams out of their shells and reserve - throw away the shells and the garlic pieces but keep the broth, making sure there's no sand in it (it there is, strain and use only the sand-free broth)

4. Top off the clam broth with vegetable broth (made from Knorr powder or from scratch using the usual vegetables, see above) in a proportion of two (vegetable broth) to one (clam broth).

5. Bring to a boil and throw in your diced vegetables, they will cook in a matter of two or three minutes. Take off the fire and pour in the clams. Sprinkle some chopped parsley (optional) and you're done!

And excellent, light starter.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gnocchi with Cheese Sauce, Green Asparagus and Fried Speck Slivers


This is the finished dish after it's gone through the oven until it's golden, yummy!

Ingredients
  • potato gnocchi : avge 150g/serving (buy ready-made), 500 g minimum for 4 persons
  •  Swiss cheese: 200 g (half a cup) grated

  •  Parmigiano cheese: 2 or 3 tablespoons, grated
  • green asparagus: at least one dozen asparagus boiled in salted water: reserve one cup of the cooking liquid
  • 100 g of Speck ham
  • One cup milk  (skim milk if your prefer)
Method

1. Make the cheese sauce using one cup of the asparagus cooking liquid and one cup of milk. This cheese sauce does not need to be done with butter (better for your health, fewer calories!)
  • Start with a big tablespoon of flour in one cup of cold milk + one cup of the asparagus cooking liquid - 
  • bring to a boil (keep whipping so it won't attach to the pan and comes out smooth) - 
  • boil 5 minutes to do away with the flour taste - 
  • then add 200 g of grated Swiss cheese, salt and pepper, grated nutmeg to taste. 
2. Prepare the ingredients that go into the cheese sauce:
  • cut the asparagus in small pieces, discarding any bit that is fibrous or hard
  • fry the ham in a pan (use teflon, don't add any oil) until crisp then break it up in small pieces 
  • Mix the above ingredients in the cheese sauce
3. Prepare a pyrex dish (or anything that goes in the oven) for your gnocchi: butter it and spread a little of the cheese sauce on the bottom

4. Cook the gnocchi in boiling water, lightly salted. As soon as they float up to the surface, take them out of the water with a slotted spoon and deposit in the pyrex dish.

5. Cover with cheese sauce and sprinkle grated parmigiano over the whole dish

6. Stick in a warm oven for 5 minutes then turn on the grill for a couple of minutes to brown.

That's it!



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