Fresh Garbanzo Beans

I’m inaugurating my return to writing my blog at the beginning of summer with an exciting discovery I made at the market this morning -fresh garbanzo beans! As I approached the bench filled with vegetables, I noticed a huge pile of scraggly weeds looking half wilted and with fuzzy light green pods dangling from its branches. Intrigued, I glanced at the vendor who chuckled saying simply, “Garbanzo beans! Take them out of the pods, boil or eat them raw with a little salt!”At 2.50$ a bunch I took one home knowing I couldn’t go wrong. It took a bit of patience to remove the pods, then shelling them. 

The tender chickpea inside, a green wrinkly thing, tasted earthy and sweet, a bit like edamame.
It took a bit to shell, but it was rather enjoyable….give a gentle squeeze to the pod and it would softly pop open. Plop the pea into the bowl and grab the next one.

This is what it rendered…a chic bowl of emerald gems!

Looking at the two cups worth of chickpeas I had before me, I thought I would make a pasta – pappardelle as they are tender, yet wide enough to sustain a simple sauce with other vegetables. So this is what I came up with…

Pappardelle with Leeks, Zucchini, and Fresh Chickpeas

1 lb. or 250 gr. pappardelle (commercial brand). I made my own pasta with 3 eggs, 300 gr. of flour, and water. This probably yielded more than a pound.

2 cups fresh chickpeas. I roasted these in my Breville oven with some olive oil and salt until they were slightly golden.

1 large leek thinly sliced and sauteed until tender in some olive oil, and 1/2 cup of white wine which was reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper.

3 zucchini finely diced and sauteed in olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. Add  a little water (from the cooking pasta) to keep it moist and a bit soupy. This will form the sauce you will use for the pasta.

While the water is heating up to a boil, prepare the vegetables and cook them separately. I have become fond of layering flavors, cooking ingredients separately with their individual seasonings, then adding them to the pasta after it is drained. Reserve some of the water in case the pappardelle become dry. Once all the ingredients come together, add some butter or olive oil, grated parmigiano cheese and stir. Optional is a little cream which would add to the richness of the dish. I didn’t because  I’m trying to limit the amount of fat I add to meals. And  the pasta was delicious without it!

I even managed to sneak in another little bowl the next day!

 

 

 

Pasta e Fagioli

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I have been asked from a number of my friends to replicate a blog post about pasta e fagioli. This morning  I bumped into a lovely young lady at the farmer’s market who was wondering about how to fix cranberry beans…I realized I didn’t have the recipe on my wordpress blog, so here it goes!

 

 

 

Pasta e Fagioli

The humble cranberry bean reigns supreme in Italian cooking especially in the classic Pasta e Fagioli alla Veneziana. Not to be confused with the pinto bean, which has a different taste, texture, and darker color, cranberry beans have a special quality that makes them highly sought after. When cooked, they are much larger than the dried variety and provide more beanlike creaminess to the dish. They are difficult to find, so you can imagine my joy when they appear at the Davis Farmers Market at the beginning of summer! Only one vendor sells them and for a short period of time between the beginning of August to the beginning of September. With this small window of time in mind, I buy five, six pounds at a time and start freezing them so I have enough to carry me through the winter. Each bean is unique. When you open the pod, you may find pearly white beans with a few delicate striated red marks on them, or you may find entirely red ones. Holding them in your hand they are smooth and pearly. You will find them in an astonishing variety of preparations – some unusual – such as calamari and fagioli, or short pasta such as farfalle with a sauce made with beans and zucchini. Sounds strange, but it does work! I love them cooked in a tomato sauce with sausage served over polenta. The most classic dish, of course, is Pasta e Fagioli, the queen of soups – la regina delle minestre, whose origin is from the region of Veneto where my mother’s family originated. Pasta e fasioi as I heard my mother call it in Venetian dialect, is a simple, hearty soup whose greatness relies on the beautiful texture and creaminess of the cranberry bean.The recipe I have to offer has several options because Pasta e Fagioli, like many Italian dishes, is homegrown – every home cook has a special variation depending on the ingredients at hand. I hardly ever make it the same way every time, depending on my mood!

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3 lbs. cranberry beans (fresh and unshelled) or 2lbs. dry (soak the night before)

1 medium sized onion or 1-1/2 cups onion

1 carrot (optional)

1-2 stalks celery

1 potato

½ – ¾ C guanciale or…

cotiche (outside fat of prosciutto or the heel) (optional)

1 sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped (optional)

1 Tbl. (or 2 ) tomato concentrate from a tube (optional)

2 quarts chicken stock or 2 dadi (Knorr bouillion cubes) – (optional)

1 cup (or 2-3 handfuls) ditalini pasta (or any small pasta like pennette) or     fresh egg pasta such as maltagliati.

1 Tbl. olive oil

1 Tsp. salt

Freshly grated parmigiano or grana gratuggiato to taste

There are two ways to begin – one, a freddo – or cold method, in which you put the shelled and washed fresh or soaked beans in a stockpot with the onion and other ingredients of choice including the potato (but not the pasta!), cover it with water or stock, and let it cook for about an hour or until cooked through, the stock has reduced and beans are tender. This method is fast and produces good results. I often cook this way when I don’t want to spend too much time messing around with the ingredients and I’m short on time.The other day, feeling more patient, I used the other method which begins by sautéing the tris of vegetables in olive oil. The results were, I must say, exceptional!

  1. Prepare the ingredients. Shell the fresh beans, wash and set them aside. If you are using dry beans, soak them the night before, then drain and rinse them for use. Dice the onion, the carrot, and the celery and set them aside. Sometimes I don’t use carrot and celery – these are optional, but do provide depth of flavor. This time I didn’t use rosemary because I didn’t want an “herby” flavor preferring to enhance the flavor of the bean with no masking.
  1. In an 12 quart stockpot or enameled cast iron pot, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil, move the chopped onions, carrot, and celery to the pot and saute’ until slightly golden. Add the beans and quickly give them a stir to pick up the flavors of the vegetables.
  1. Cover the beans with water or chicken stock, about 2-3 quarts. The liquid should cover the beans with about 2 inches to spare. Peel and wash the potato and add it whole to the pot. Bring the pot to a boil and add a tablespoon of tomato concentrate (this is primarily to give some color – not absolutely necessary). Add salt – go easy here if using bouillion cubes and guanciale.
  1. Optional at this point is the addition of the “meat.” Most often I prefer to go vegetarian, but the most classic preparation of Pasta e Fagioli is the addition of the cotenna, or outer fat or skin of a prosciutto. You can ask for it in the deli section of a good grocer. I sometimes buy the heel of the prosciutto and add it to the pot. This time, not having it, I used a chunk of guanciale or jowl bacon cut in three pieces (about one and a half inch blocks) and added these to the soup.
  1. Lower the flame and allow the soup to simmer covered for about an hour and a half. From time to time, stir the pot to make sure the beans are not sticking on the bottom. As the cooking comes to the end, the beans are cooked through and tender, take out the potato and place it on a small dish. With the back end of a fork, mash it, maybe adding a little broth to make it smooth, and return it to the pot. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, then add the pasta.
  1. I add the dry pasta by hand, usually a handful at a time because I don’t want to add too much. Judge it by the amount of liquid you have in the pot. The pasta will absorb quite a bit. This time I had a fresh pasta sheet in the freezer, so I took it out, let it defrost until it was malleable enough to manipulate. I lightly floured the granite workspace and rolled the sheet until it was about an 1/8 of an inch thick. I wanted a little heft to the pasta, giving it a rustic feel. I cut it in long strips and then in diagonal shapes. These are known as maltagliati, meaning “poorly cut”! Add these to the pot, cook them stirring delicately until tender. Fresh pasta will absorb more than the dry; if need be, add a little more water to give the soup a smooth consistency. Correct the seasoning by adding salt if necessary. Cool the soup for about 10 minutes before serving.
  1. Ladle into bowls with a generous sprinkle of parmigiano. Heavenly…and even better the next day!

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Serves 4-6. Pair with a red wine. Buonissimo!

 

 

Mazzamurru

Every cook has, at one point or another, a colossal disaster in the kitchen to talk about. Knowing how to deal with it shows quick thinking, creativity, and experience…and an ability to deal with the disaster with a certain sang-froid. Emblazoned in my memory was the time my mother, hosting and cooking an elegant, multi-course dinner for twelve guests in our apartment in Rome. The table was beautifully laid out with the best china and silver, flowers, crystal glasses, and waiters circulated with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. For that occasion, my mother had brought back from Pisa some beautifully cut and tender filet mignon steaks (Tuscan beef being renowned for its high quality) and had placed them in the broiler to be supervised by the wait staff. In the course of the dinner, she was frantically summoned to the kitchen by a horrified server. The scene is seared into my memory of my mother approaching the stove and beholding the blackened lumpy remains of charred meat. Without missing a beat, she turned to the refrigerator and pulled out some veal steakettes, directed one of the waiters to cut the meat in thin slices, flour them and saute quickly in butter with a little added wine. She returned to the dinner table as if nothing had happened and later received high compliments from her dinner guests for the lovely veal dish, how original and tasty it was!. It was a powerful cooking lesson for me about how to manage a disaster…that there is always a solution in the kitchen. And so it happened a week ago when I forgot the bread baking in the oven. I had timed it so that it would be baked and ready to serve with dinner, but  I got distracted by the cheerful banter around me and getting food on the table. We had dinner outside al fresco as usual and as I came inside to clear the dishes, I smelled the familiar aroma of burnt bread. Oh no! IMG_0116

It may not look like a disaster…but it was pretty toasted! I packed the pagnotta in foil  and threw it in the cupboard in disgust. But one thing I hate the most is to throw away food…so I had to find a solution. And I did in ….mazzamurru! It is a Sardinian dish that hails from the Cagliari area, a poor food to be sure, that makes use of scraps of old bread and turns it into a lovely dish that resembles a cross between a bread pudding, a panzanella, and a lasagna. It is a layered bread dish with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. Use a bread that has some heft, such as a focaccia loaf or sourdough. Cut into slices (I took off the crust which was too burnt for use – that will go to feed the chickens) about 1/4 inch thick and soak in milk.

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Tomato Sauce

4 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped coarsely

3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup small diced onion

salt and pepper

Make a light tomato sauce, preferably from fresh tomatoes (I used 4 large). Scald the tomatoes and remove the skin. Chop coarsely. In a heated pan with olive oil and butter, add the onion and saute lightly. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and about a half a cup of water. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is no longer watery. Place one layer of bread soaked in milk in a well oiled baking dish, top with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

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The original recipes call for pecorino, but I used whatever stumps of cheese lay about in my refrigerator. Grate it coarsely (about 2 cups). Layer with more bread, sauce, cheese. I made three layers, but two will work. Bake in a 350 oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden in top. Let it cool a bit before serving.IMG_0131

Some additional thoughts: I think adding some basil leaves or even black olives would work well in this dish.I noticed that some recipes added it to the layers. I wanted to stay as close to tradition as possible. Substituting broth for the milk would work too.

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As you can see, the layers are pretty pronounced. The dish makes an excellent side to meat, chicken, grilled vegetables…easy on a buffet or an idea to use when you are cleaning out your refrigerator!

 

 

Dining al Fresco

IMG_0455 (1)Here’s to dining on a mild summer evening!

On the Menu

Penne all’Arrabbiata con Basilico

dalla griglia:

Petto di Pollo Marinato al Limone

Bistecca Pepe e Aceto

Hawaiian Brand Sausage

More from the grill:

Fettucce di Zucchine

Patatine con Cipolla

followed by:  Insalata mista con cetrioli e cipolla rossa

                         and ending with….green tea ice cream, nectarines and ollie berries

Crepes “Cannelloni”

Ever thought about making cannelloni with crepes? And fill them with the zucchini or other vegetables that abound at this time? I have tinkered with different crepe recipes, some contain more egg and less flour, others use more flour to achieve a pancake-like texture. I have something in between that works well with the following recipes.

But first, the crepe recipe!

Crepe Batter (pastella per crepes)

Makes 12  (more or less!) crepes

Ingredients

1 cup flour (approximately)

2 eggs

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter

vegetable oil or butter for brushing on the pan

salt to taste

1. Place ¾ Cup flour in the bowl, add 3-4 tablespoons milk to wet the dough. Mix well and add the eggs one at a time, alternating with more milk. Watch the consistency of the batter, if you prefer it thinner – add more milk or thicker – add a little more flour. Melt the butter and add it to the batter, then the salt. Let it sit 30 minutes to an hour. This important step allows the flour to take action with the rest of the ingredients. The batter will thicken and form little bubbles  on top.

2. To make the crepes, use an 8 inch nonstick pan. Heat it until fairly warm and grease it by brushing vegetable lightly all over the surface. Ladle 2-3 tablespoons of batter in the center of the pan and start rotating the batter quickly around the entire bottom. Once the batter begins to brown slightly around the edges, with a spatula, gently flip the crepe. Give it a few seconds, then overturn the crepe onto a paper towel. Usually the first one turns out a mess, so don’t panic! The pan needs to adjust to the right amount of heat and oil. As you get going, making more crepes and getting into a rhythm, the process gets easier.

Here’s a not so perfect demonstration on how to make the crepes!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtsvRs5aGT8

If you notice, I greased the pan with butter, but a better way is to brush a little vegetable oil on the pan. Another better technique is to pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter in the center of the pan and then rotate it.

3. I make four crepes, then layer with a paper towel, make another four, and so on. At this point you can either freeze them or store them in a plastic bag or covered pyrex dish until ready to use.

The following recipe adapted from the Italian magazine Sale e Pepe turned out delicious and provides an easy way to use the zucchini you have in the garden.

I used yellow and green zucchini in the creamy filling for these crepes.
I used yellow and green zucchini in the creamy filling for these crepes.

Crepes “Cannelloni” with Zucchini and Leeks

Ingredients

8 crepes

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon flour

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 zucchini (depending on size), sliced in thin disks

1 leek, sliced thinly

1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated

3 thinly sliced prosciutto (optional)

salt and pepper

Method

1. Make the crepes and set aside.

2. The “besciamella” or white sauce. In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter, add the flour and make a roux. Slowly add the milk and stir until smooth.  Cook the sauce for about five minutes stirring constantly as it bubbles softly.  Add salt to taste. Cool.

3. The filling. In a sauté’ pan, heat the rest of the butter and the olive oil. Add the leeks and cook briefly until slightly translucent. Add  the zucchini and cook for 7-8 minutes until tender. Add the besciamella, 3-4 tablespoons of parmigiano, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Lay the crepes out on a board or counter top and distribute the filling evenly among them. Roll the crepes and place them seam side up in the buttered dish. Drizzle more melted butter over the crepes. Sprinkle with rest of the grated parmigiano.  (Optional)Sprinkle thinly sliced prosciutto for some extra flavor.

5. Bake in a  preheated 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

“Cannelloni” Crepes with Spinach and Ricotta

Another recipe that works very well with crepes is to make a filling using spinach and ricotta. These “cannelloni” are delicious as a a “primo” (first course),  a main or side dish. And it is delicious for lunch the next day!

 

View of the crepes before adding the parmiggiano and baking.
View of the crepes before adding the parmiggiano and baking.

 

Ingredients 

1 lb. chopped frozen spinach

1/2 chopped onion

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 oz. ricotta (low fat is ok)

3/4 cup parmigiano reggiano

Method

1. Make the crepes and set aside.

2. For the filling, begin by dunking  the frozen spinach in salted boiling water, just enough to defrost it. Drain and cool. When cool enough to handle, grab a handful of the spinach and squeeze the water until a ball is formed in your hand. In a saucepan, saute’ the onion inthe butter and olive oil until slightly golden. Add the spinach and cook it briefly until the flavors blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cool.

3. In a bowl break up the ricotta with a spoon, add the spinach and more seasoning as needed. You may like to add a little nutmeg. I like to add a scant 1/2 teaspoon onion powder. Let the mixture to  sit a bit before filling the crepes.

4. Fill the crepes and place in a buttered pyrex dish seam down.

5. Optional: make a quick tomato sauce by dicing 3-4 tomatoes and sauteing them at high heat for five minutes in a saucepan with 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add a little water  during the cooking process if the sauce gets too dry. Spoon the tomato sauce over the crepes, sprinkle with parmigiano and bake for 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until heated through and slightly browned on top.

Buon appetito!

Marinated Cucumbers

Notice the two types of cucumber, yellow and green
Notice the two types of cucumber, yellow and green

With so many cucumbers, tender yet crisp, some yellow or light green, coming into the market right now, I have to marinate them! I remember loving these as a teenager, eating them right out of the jar in the refrigerator. My mother could not keep up with them! This is an easy way to keep a quick appetizer handy, add to a green salad or a sandwich. The process is very simple.

1. Make sure you use a clean jar with a hermetic top that seals well. I use a one quart container that can take 3-4 cucumbers depending on size. And make sure your cucumbers are fresh, preferably just picked or home from the market. That way they aren’t bitter and the skin isn’t tough.

2. Either leave the skin on or lightly peel tough parts. Slice thinly.

3. Thinly slice half of a red onion ( I prefer red for this, but white will do as well).

4. Then begin to layer the cucumbers in the jar, adding a sprinkle of salt, a layer of onion, another layer of cucumber, and so on until you reach the top.

5. Add 1/2 cup of good olive oil and 1/2 of red wine vinegar. If you like you can add more of each as you like. Close the top and seal it. Flip the jar and let it sit this way for a bit, about 5 minutes. Then place right side up in the refrigerator for a day. Every now and then flip the jar to make sure the marinade coats the cucumbers well. Eventually the cucumbers will release their own water and thus settle a bit in the jar. These are soooo good!

Make on open-faced tartina: on a slice of toasted rustic bread, slather a bit of cream cheese, layer with a thin slice of prosciutto (roast beef or lox), a few cucumber slices with onions, a sprinkle of feta cheese topped with a kalamata olive.

Riso Venere

Riso Venere

Riso Venere, or black rice, has been around in China since ancient times. It was a rice meant for emperors and princes because of its rarity. Because it was so difficult to cultivate, it was appreciated and eaten only by the elite in China.  In 1997, thanks to the research and development provided by the Centro Ricerche di SA.Pi.Se in Italy, a similar variety was developed for commercial use. Today it is grown primarily in and around Vercelli and Novara,  great rice growing areas of Piemonte.

Rice fields between Novara and Vercelli
Rice fields between Novara and Vercelli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I found a California brand Hinode carries it as well and so I tried it to see how it held up. It did well….When cooked, the color is more purple than the deep black of the Italian version. Still, good to know I can find it at my local supermarket instead of going to a specialty shop.

Treat it as you would regular rice. Here I made a rice salad (insalata di riso) doing the following:

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a pot. Add salt and then pour 2 cups black rice into the water, stir and let cook for about 45 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool. Add a bit of olive oil just so the rice kernels won’t stick.

Then add whatever ingredients you like best. I added half a red pepper, half a cup of chopped red onion, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a cup or so  of cooked corn, a cup of cooked green peas.  In other words, what I had handy! But you could add chopped green scallions, chopped hardboiled eggs, a can of drained tuna, peperoncini.  Think color….against the dark rice, the colors just pop! The dressing should be simple: enough olive oil (start with 1/4 cup)l to moisten the rice and the juice of one lemon, sale (salt) and pepe (pepper) to taste. High in protein and fiber, low in fat, you would never guess this is absolutely the healthiest, guilt-free eating possible! Serve as a summer salad for lunch or as a dramatic side dish for a BBQ.

Potato Focaccia with Cherry Tomatoes

I made this unusual focaccia several years ago and quite forgot about it until I came across this photo I had made of it. I remembered its light, airy texture and immediately had to remake it.

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Here you see it next to one my pizzas!!

INGREDIENTS:

– 3 1/2 cups bread flour or all purpose is fine too
– 2 medium potatoes (or 1 1/2 cups of cooked, peeled, mashed potatoes)
– 1 package dry yeast + – a pinch sugar
– 2 cups water
– 1 1/2 tbsp. salt
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 20 approx. small cherry tomatoes
– 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) dry oregano

METHOD:

1. Boil the potatoes until tender (about 20-30 minutes). Peel while still hot and put them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have a ricer, mash the potatoes with a fork until fine. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In a mixing bowl, dissolve a package of active dry yeast (fast acting is ok) in 1/2 cup of warm water. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar and let it sit for about five minutes until light and foamy.

3. Add 1 1/4 cups of water and one cup of the flour. Mix well (I use the paddle attachment to my mixer). Add the salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Slowly add three more cups of the flour, cup by cup mixing well after each addition. Add the potatoes and mix until blended. Turn out onto a floured board and incorporate the rest of the flour, judging how sticky or dry it is. Knead it until elastic and firm. Form a soft ball and placed in an lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled.

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4. In a 10 inch pan (I used a springform pan…probably not the best choice – but all that I had), pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil. You may need more to coat the bottom, the sides, the top of the foccaccia. Place the dough inside the pan gently, slightly dimpling the surface with your fingers. Place the cherry tomatoes all over the top. If some are too large, cut them in half. Brush some more olive oil on the surface, sprinkle generously with the oregano and let it rise until the dough reaches the brim of the pan.

5. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45-50 minutes. Allow the foccaccia to rest for about 10 minutes before trying to take it out of the pan. Serve it at room temperature.

 

 

See the high border...it has risen well!
See the high border…it has risen well!
A close up detail
A close up detail

The consistency of the dough is light, soft, and airy. Great for a light dinner with a green summer salad  or as an antipasto alongside some asiago, prosciutto or sliced coppa.

Buon Appetito!