Pasticcio of crêpes, zucchini and ricotta to fill the hearts…

and stomachs of your guests, friends and family! Spring and summer offer many occasions to cook dishes that can stand alone as a light lunch, as a side dish at a barbecue, or at a potluck. Zucchini is beginning to abound once again, so here is a dish I have been tinkering for a while – a “pasticcio” of crespelle or crêpes with zucchini and ricotta. The term “pasticcio” literally meaning mess is a term attributed to many baked dishes or casseroles. This recipe is like a lasagna which is made with flat strips of pasta layered with meat, vegetables, cheese, and besciamella (white sauce). But no pasta here! The recipe calls for crêpes instead!

You can make all the components ahead of time, then pull them together and bake quickly.

Pasticcio di Crespelle con Zucchine e  Ricotta

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana (Febbraio 2002)

First, make the crêpes following your favorite recipe or this one I have on my blog. Crepes and follow #2. Set the crêpes aside as you work on the other ingredients.

Filling

4 large zucchini (600 gr) , sliced thinly

1 large onion, cut in half then sliced thinly

½ cup grated parmigiano

1 egg 

1-2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoons chopped parsley

1-2 tablespoons  butter

2 cups ricotta (I prefer whole milk for this recipe, but lowfat works as well)

1/2 – 1 cup milk (depending on the thickness of the ricotta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. In a pan, lightly sauté the garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until slightly golden. Add the zucchini slices, salt and pepper, stir and cook until gently soft for about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, then set aside.

I cut the zucchini in rounds and very thinly.

2.  In another pan,  sauté the sliced onions in a tablespoon (or two depending on taste) of butter (I also added a tablespoon of olive oil).  Season with salt. Add a ¼  cup of water on the bottom of the pan and watch the onions carefully as they can burn easily. Cover if necessary and lower the heat until the onions have softened. Then cool and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, the egg, the milk and stir until smooth. Season with salt and a little pepper. Add 1/4 cup of the grated parmigiano.

The Assembly!

  1. You can use either a 10 inch round glass pie pan or a an 8×11 rectangular pyrex dish. I have use both and either works well. Lightly grease the pan with softened butter. Form the bottom layer of the lasagna by placing one crêpe in the center and working around the dish place the other crêpes so that their edges overflow the dish.
  2. Add 1/2 of the zucchini and onion mixture and smooth it equally over the crêpes. Add the ricotta mixture enough to moisten, but not overwhelm the zucchini. Dust with a bit of grated parmigiano.
  3. Add another layer of crêpes, this time not worrying about the edges. Repeat with the remaining zucchini mixture and ricotta mixture.
  4. Top with the crêpes and the remaining ricotta mixture. You can add more grated parmigiano and a sprinkle of chopped.thyme. I also experimented with a little grated monterey jack or mozzarella. Fold over the crêpes drapped over the edge to finish. Cook in a 350 (F) or 200 (C) degree oven for 30 minutes. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving or serve lukewarm.

The resulting dish is light, yet satisfying. Enjoy at room temperature or even cold from the fridge!

A dish good enough for summer or any time of the year!

Ribollita – a Tuscan Comfort Food

The events in our country on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany no less, have distressed me greatly as so many around the world. The images of the assault on the U.S. Capitol, the swarms of thugs overcoming an otherwise peaceful sanctuary and symbol of our democracy, and nightmarish visions of raging adults acting like out-of-control teenagers sickened me. Stunned and paralyzed, I sat transfixed in front of the television. Many commentators have equated the insurrection to that of 9/11. But at that time I had a family to wake up and care for, a classroom to lead, and students to surround me in solidarity. Here I was alone with the end of the world collapsing before my eyes. To draw myself out of such sorrow, cooking something warm and satisfying, even healthy could do wonders to restore the spirits! I was working on a blog post about the Italian traditional feast on New Year’s Day when I was sidetracked by the sad events in D.C. Somehow the blogpost seemed trivial and I’ve flipped to a recipe that I think can give you hope and warmth.

Ribollita meaning “boiled again” is a traditional Tuscan soup known for this name because it is usually made in great quantities, then reheated or “reboiled”as needed. Also known as bread soup or “zuppa di pane” because it is served over slices of rustic bread, it is a typical rustic soup from the central part of Tuscany or Maremma, although it is common to find it throughout the region in different forms. The star ingredient is black or lacinato kale and then whatever vegetables you have available in your refrigerator (I included in some diced zucchini) or garden depending on the season. Throw together a pot tonight and see it simmer, simmer, simmer your woes away!

Ingredients

1 medium onion chopped

2-3 carrots chopped

1 celery stalk chopped

1/4 of a small cabbage head

2-3 leaves of kale roughly chopped (does not have to be black kale. I have used other types, even spinach in a pinch). Depending on the size of the kale you have, you may want to increase or decrease it. Yield 4 cups of chopped kale should suffice.

1 large potato diced

1 8 oz can of cannellini beans

1 8 oz can of diced tomatoes

3-4 tbl. olive oil, salt to taste

rustic bread sliced

Instructions

Prep all the vegetables so that when you need them, you can add them quickly to the mix. In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil, then add the onions and cook them until translucent and fragrant. Add the celery and the carrots and cook them briefly for a few minutes. Add the greens including the cabbage, then stir. Next, add the tomatoes and the potatoes. Season with salt. After one or two big stirs, add water to cover the vegetables and then some (about an inch or two above the line of vegetables). You can use chicken or vegetable broth, but I find it is not necessary. Some cooks like to add a fresh bouquet of fresh herbs (basil, sage, thyme) – but I prefer to keep it simple. Allow the pot to come to a slow boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half. I went swimming for an hour in the meantime and came back to find the soup just right for the next step. I add the cannellini beans at the very end because they are coming from a can. I barely drain them and toss them in the pot.

Correct the seasoning! If the soup seems too tasteless….add salt! Be aware that the soup on standing will acquire more flavor as it sits from day to day in the fridge and every time you reheat it, “ribollire,” the flavors will meld and strengthen. The texture of the vegetables will soften and blend.

Prepare the bowls by either toasting slices of good rustic bread (or baguettes) or frying them in a bit of vegetable oil, my favorite way. Put the slices on the bottom or sides of the bowls and pour the soup over the slices. The liquid will absorb a bit, but continue to pour more soup. Add a big dash of parmigiano over it all.

I know life delivers many sadnesses, but the joy of a steaming bowl of ribollita, maybe with a chunk of parmigiano thrown into it, saves the day. May this new year be good to you…Stay safe and be well!

Figs! Figs!

“There was an Old Person of Ischia,
Whose conduct grew friskier and friskier;
He danced hornpipes and jigs,
and ate thousands of figs,
That lively Old Person of Ischia.”
Edward Lear (1812-1888)

An English writer known for his ‘literary nonsense’, Lear’s silly limerick captures the moment of where we are today. I have had a bumper crop of figs this year and they keep coming! We keep eating them and finding ways to put them away. All I can say is ….

This Italian expression, not easily translatable in English in a literal way, sums up what enthusiasm we have for anything cool. It is with a certain sense of urgency that I post what I have been cooking with figs as it is September, fig time about to run out. My tree has been most bountiful and the figs keep coming and coming! I’m not too crazy about figs right off the tree, but I do like them when they have matured a bit on the kitchen counter. They seem to pick up in intensity of flavor and versatility. I started the season by experimenting with using figs as an hors d’oeuvre.

This photo was one of the first batches I made this summer. These look a bit of a mess, but other batches came out more bundle-like and neater because I used a full slice of prosciutto.

Barbecued Fig Bundles with Feta and Prosciutto

6-8 ripe figs (I peeled some – others I left intact)

feta (or other cheese of your liking)

8 slices of prosciutto

Make a small slit down the side of the fig and stuff with feta. Wrap the fig in a slice of prosciutto. Do the same for the remaining figs, then massage each with a little olive oil. Place on a heated grill basket and barbecue for a few minutes until the prosciutto begins to soften. Remove right away or they will stick to the grill and fall apart. Serve warm with a little drizzle of honey (optional). These bundles are delicious as a side dish to grilled meats and, I have found, delicious the next day as leftovers. I really like the different flavors – the salty from the prosciutto and feta, the sweetness of the figs. And they are so quick to make!

Another fig recipe that I have been toying with are small individual foccacce with figs such as these I made a few weeks ago.

I had seen the idea on my favorite magazine La Cucina Italiana and thought I could adapt it using ingredients readily available in my kitchen. I used the frozen Bridgford Ready-Dough as a base, thawed and worked it a bit, then cut it into mini pizza sized discs. I put it on a lightly oiled parchment paper, cut the figs as shown below. I added a little honey for sweetness, a very light drizzle of olive oil, let the focacce rise, and put them in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

They came out fragrant and delicious, perfect for an appetizer with cheese.

You can experiment with the concept as I did by tucking some blue cheese under the fig to give it a bit more kick. One of my favorite testers, Luca, my youngest son suggested that using a made-from-scratch focaccia dough might be even more flavorful and a bit crunchier. All points well taken as I will make this again and again as I have figs on the tree.

In my adventures working with figs, I tried a Fig Meringue Semifreddo as a birthday cake for my oldest son, Alex. Again I was inspired by a recipe offered by La Cucina Italiana, but I adapted all of the ingredients because I can’t find the same here.

Fig Meringue Semifreddo Cake

Individual meringues purchased (about 22 depending on size)

Frozen Pound Cake (I used the Sara Lee brand) – half of the package, cut in 1/2 inch slices

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 egg whites

1/4 cup sugar

1/4-1/2 cup grenadine

12-14 figs

  1. Take 4-5 of your more mature figs (I peeled them lightly) and mash them with a fork. Add some sugar if you like. Set aside.
  2. Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of sugar until firm and stiff. In a separate bowl whip the heavy cream until it too has stiff peaks. I added another bit of sugar, but not too much. Then add the mashed figs by gently folding into the whipped cream with a spatula. Add the egg whites and gently fold into the mixture.
  3. Cut a round of parchment paper and place at the bottom of a springform pan. Arrange about 10-11 meringues on the bottom. Take the remaining figs, peeled and cut in half, and place them against the side of the pan.
  4. Add half of the cream/fig mixture and smooth to form the first layer of the cake. Place the pound cake slices on top of the cream layer to form another layer and drizzle the grenadine all over it.
  5. Add the rest of the cream mixture and smooth the surface. Place the remaining meringues on top. Cover with foil and place in the freezer for at least 4 hours.
  6. When you are ready to serve it, take the cake out of the freezer and let it warm a bit until it is easy to handle. Add a few more fresh figs for garnish if you like!

The cake held up well even the next day. Interesting flavors and very good! Speaking of interesting flavors, I was intrigued by Domenica Marchetti’s Brandied Fig and Chocolate Crostata from the June/July issue of Fine Cooking magazine. Oh my! I highly recommend you check it out here

A very delicious conclusion to my adventures in cooking with figs! The chocolate crust is rich and very satisfying. It combines unusually well with the brandied fig jam which has chocolate notes in it as well. I made the jam a few days before making the crostata and thought that letting it sit a bit allowed the flavors to mellow. On this note I leave you with some final thoughts about my musings and journeys with figs this September. Even though after all these trials I don’t quite feel that frisky like the Old Person from Ischia, I do want to be reminded that Romans considered figs to be the food of the gods, a hopeful and sweet sign of the bounty of nature and good times ahead.

Salads al Fresco

It is that time of the summer when we have gone through our usual repertoire of salads, maybe even a few times over, and now it feels right to try something new – even if it is just a twist on an old theme. It seems so luxurious to dine “al fresco” with a varied parade of different salads to highlight the evening. There are myriads of salad recipes one can draw from, but the most fun thing about salads is you can experiment, swap out, substitute, elaborate to your heart’s content…or rather the possibilities your refrigerator or garden may yield.

Whenever I come across beautiful green beans at the market, I can’t resist buying them because I can just taste the classic Roman salad with green beans and potatoes. Boil two or three potatoes in their jackets until tender. Allow to cool, then peel. In the meantime, clean the green beans (I like to snip both ends and make sure there are no tough threads running through the beans). I cook them in boiling salted water until tender, drain, and then allow to cool. Slice the potatoes, slice some red onion and add to the green beans. Make a light vinaigrette with vinegar, olive oil, (dijon mustard if you like), salt and pepper. This salad is good cold the next day…and the next day (if there is any left!).

Another salad I have been toying around with is a “clean -up-your pantry” type in which almost anything goes. Have some canned garbanzo beans you bought during the quarantine hanging around in the back of your pantry? Any bean would matter, but the garbanzo bean beckoned to me mostly. This has been particularly delicious and again, quite versatile.

As you can see, I slice some fabulous cherry tomatoes from the garden, some tender cucumbers, and red onions. I dressed it with a quick vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar or a splash of lemon, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. I have made this without cucumbers and tomatoes and added roasted and peeled red pepper strips instead. You will welcome leftovers the next day which you can add to a green salad. It is a refreshing and cool alternative on these hot days.

Lastly, I have a favorite salad I have been making most of the summer, a spinach-peach-almond green salad that goes well with barbecued meats.

Here I have a mix of spinach and Bibb lettuce, but any kind will do. I peeled and sliced fresh ripe peaches and threw on top a handful of toasted sliced almonds. I added the usual dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, freshly ground pepper…and a tablespoon or two of Amaretto liquor. The Amaretto is barely there to give the peaches a lift. I think if the spirit moved you, you could add some feta cheese or grilled shrimp to make this a one stop dinner on a hot day.

Today is Ferragosto, or Assumption Day, a major holiday in Italy that marks, not only the religious holiday of Mary ascending into heaven, but also the highlight of summer. The feast hails back from Feriae Augusti, the festival of emperor Augustus. Dare not get on the road before this holiday or get sick…..everything stops and beach resorts are packed! I wistfully think of past celebrations, of my family on holiday in Elba or other beach places. I sign off with my own greeting to you of a “Buon Ferragosto” and happy eating!

Some New Thoughts about Cold Pasta Salads

Years ago when my eldest son Alex asked for a cold pasta salad, I thought it was a sacrilege to even consider a dish of pasta served cold like a salad. I would never admit it to my mother or my Italian relatives that I should even consider making such a dish. Stealthy, secretly, I followed Alex’s instructions as to what he wanted in it and made him a dish made with raw carrots cut in matchsticks, black olives, some cubed cheddar cheese and chopped broccoli. Pretty good, I decided for a first try, and so did he.

Since then, however, things have changed and the Italian magazines I read today all offer various recipes of cold pasta salads, lauding the freshness and simplicity of the dishes. I’m astounded by the variety. They are tasty additions to summer buffets, barbecues, and picnics. Above all, during the summer I like to keep some handy in the fridge for a quick lunch or a side dish for dinner. As I experimented lately with different recipes and ideas, I have found some simple truths to avoid common pitfalls which may render the pasta too cloy or inedible the next day.

1. The Type of Pasta

  • The type of pasta you choose does make a difference. Size and shape matters. Avoid a large size such as rigatoni, for example. It requires more sauce with bold flavors. The half-size (if you can find it) is preferable. Regular-sized penne may  work well if the sauce has a kick to it. Any small pasta such as orzo will absorb the flavors more readily. Smaller-sized penne with grilled vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers allow the flavors to meld  and complement each other. Dice the vegetables finely, add julienned basil, maybe some chopped Kalamata olives and a light drizzle of olive oil (see photo below).
  • Choose a good quality pasta. Cheap brands ultimately taste funny and fall apart. Find the best quality possible because you want to taste the grain and the pasta will not become gummy.
  •  Use spaghetti cautiously. Thin spaghettini or linguine become mushy and and have a tendency to either float in the dressing or become too dry. It is often difficult to eat  buffet style or as a side.
  • When thinking about the type of pasta, think of what ingredients you will use with it. Shell pasta, for example, works well with tuna or other seafood. Rotini with slivers of zucchini complement each other.

2.Condiments Matter

What you add to your pasta salad is important, making sure that all the elements work together. Included should be one element (for example, vegetables – even multiple ones) that gives the cold salad its identity and appeals to the palate in a distinct manner. The most flavorful are raw or grilled/roasted vegetables,

Here I grilled thin slices of one zucchini, a yellow squash, a red pepper, and  eggplant on the barbecue. I brushed them with a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic, parsley and basil. I chopped all the vegetables together after they had cooled (a good way to use leftover grilled vegetables). I tossed them in the pasta with some cubed mozzarella, a little more basil and a little drizzle of more olive oil.

cubed ham, diced chicken, slivers of salmon, tuna, anchovies in olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella, gentle dollops of ricotta, Kalamata olives, marinated artichokes….it’s up to your imagination! I always limit to three elements and I pay attention to how they interact with each other. The idea is to enhance the flavors so they dance well together. I also pay attention to freshness, especially when using raw ingredients.

3. Dressing the Salad

It is a salad after all, so what it is dressed with also matters greatly. Bottled dressings kill pasta salads. They don’t have the correct balance of acidity, salt, spice, and fat that only you can create with simple ingredients. Bottled dressings have too much sugar and other favors that disturb  the interaction of flavors imparted by the other ingredients. Good olive oil, lemon, occasionally vinegar, are usually the best. Beware of mayonnaise, use sparingly,  as it is usually too heavy and masks other flavors. Lastly, always taste to make sure the balance of flavors is correct. Sometimes you have to add a little bit of this or a little bit if that!

4. Fruit?

Yes, fruit works well….as long as it pairs with the other ingredients. Mango with shrimp, blueberries with goat cheese and chopped arugola, finely diced apple and a hard sharp cheese. Dried fruit like chopped apricots or white raisins may give a hint of sweetness where you want it. I’m not nuts about nuts in pasta salads. Too much competition with the pasta. Again, the idea is to enhance the flavors, being careful not to overwhelm the palate. Dressing the pasta salads that have fruit in them should be light and refreshing with lemon and one other herb such as mint or basil.

5. Yes, Herbs!

But only one at a time. In all the recipes I have read in Italian cooking magazines and books, only one herb is used. Of course basil reigns supreme. Its aroma lifts the palate and soars. Parsley is also commonly used. I like it chopped finely with garlic, a little lemon peel and basil (I know I said only one – but this acts as one!). This combination becomes rather potent if used too liberally. Thyme, mint, sometimes origano or even rosemary can enhance a salad and bring it to new heights. Generally speaking though….only one at a time and finely chopped.

6. Cooking the Pasta

Cook the pasta according to package instructions, not “al dente” which will make the pasta chewy, or,  overcooked which will render it mushy. When you drain the pasta, dash with cold water to stop the cooking, then lay the pasta out on a clean towel to cool, allowing it to dry out a bit..

Place in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. It is now ready for the other ingredients!

Here is one recipe I developed last month as I was looking for something refreshing, yet satisfying.

Raw Vegetable Pasta Salad

2 cups ditalini (uncooked) (you can use an entire box, just augment the other ingredients)

1 zucchini

1/2 yellow squash

1/2 sweet red pepper

1/2 red onion

1/2 cup  of olive oil + more for dressing as needed

First dice the raw vegetables finely about the same size as the pasta (or smaller). Place in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil and let the vegetables macerate for half an hour to an hour. This way they will give out a bit of their own liquid.

In the meantime, finely chop 5 basil leaves and a small handful of parsley and combine with the zest of one lemon.

Make the dressing by mixing 1/2 cup of olive oil, one pressed garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon of anchovy paste and the juice of one lemon.

Cook the pasta as described above, drain, and give it a quick splash of cold water. Lay the pasta on a clean towel to dry a bit, then add it to the vegetable mixture in the bowl. Add the dressing very slowly while you mix the pasta. You may not need it all and can reserve some of it for later if the pasta dries out too much or for another salad. Add the herb mixture, then salt and pepper to taste.

This salad is versatile as you can add different vegetables, such as finely cut string beans. If you are diabetic or have other dietary restrictions, add more vegetables and cut down on the pasta. Or you can add small shrimp or tuna….It holds up well on a buffet table. It gets better the next day! Pasta salads have indeed changed since my first foray in making them years ago and that’s a good addition to our kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crush the Zucchini Glut!

It’s that time of year again when zucchini abounds and we begin to pull out all our recipes that have lay dormant for a year. Yesterday my friend Eileen dug into her thick file of recipes cut out of magazines and printed off favorite food sites. It was fun to see the vast array of ways to cook zucchini, from breads, salads, soups to enchiladas, pastas…risotto. If you are a vegetable lover, this one never disappoints, it’s so versatile. I wonder how many recipes are out there in the internet?!? Well here’s one more and a few ideas to boot.

The Italian word for zucchini is actually “zucchine” or small squash, the plural form of little “zucca.” One popular way to serve them is breaded and fried lightly…as I did a few nights ago.

A few “zucchine” ready for the frying pan!

But one of my other favorite ways to cook zucchini is to stuff them. Sounds like a lot of work on a hot day? Not really…remember cooking in the kitchen can also be a zen experience in which you forget about the heat outside. It was 103 degrees, 42 degrees centigrade registered on my thermometer hanging in my patio. Hula! It’s hot…let’s make stuffed zucchini!

Zucchine Ripiene (Stuffed Zucchini)

3-4 moderately large zucchini, halved

2 potatoes (I use yukon gold potatoes so I don’t have to peel them) – sliced thinly.

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup grated parmigiano cheese

1/2 – 3/4 cup grated monterey jack (or mozzarella) cheese

1 slice of rustic (such as ciabatta or sourdough) bread

1/4 cup of milk

1 egg

2-3 Tbl. olive oil

2-3 Tbl. tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

basil or other herb like thyme (optional)

Blanch the halved zucchini in boiling salted water for about 3-5 minutes (depending on size). Remove the the zucchini and place face down on a paper towel to cool.

While the zucchini halves are cooling, crumble the bread in a small bowl with the milk. Massage it gently to remove any big lumps, If it looks like you have too much milk, remove some so the mixture is not too soupy.

Scoop out the central portion of the zucchini forming a little boat. Continue to place the scooped out zucchini face down to drain. In the meantime, finely chop the scooped out zucchini, the chopped onion and add to the bread and milk mixture. In Liguria, finely chopped mortadella is also added – I want to try that version!

Add the egg, 2-3 tablespoons of parmigiano, and 1/2 cup of monterey jack.

Here you can see I placed a few strips of roasted pepper inside the boats.

Prepare a pyrex dish by coating it with a  little of the olive oil. Optional (and this is a version “alla ligure” from the region of Liguria: Take the thinly sliced potatoes and place them around the dish, overlapping slightly, as if you were making scalloped potatoes.

Salt and pepper them slightly. Place the zucchini face up on the potatoes and fill each boat with the mixture.I like to dribble some tomato sauce down the middle and then top with monterey jack and a sprinkling of parmigiano. Optional:  some slivered fresh basil or thyme on top.

Salt, pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil, cover with aluminum foil. I baked mine in a Breville oven at 375 degrees – that’s why I didn’t fear a hot kitchen on a hot day!  If using a conventional oven, 350 degrees is sufficient. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and lower the temperature to 350 for another 15 minutes. These stuffed zucchini boats are delicious served at room temperature. But… I also like them cold for lunch the next day! Sono molto gustose!

 

 

 

 

 

What do I do with this? Romano Beans

“What do I do with this?” is a common question I hear shoppers ask when I circulate among the stalls at the Davis Farmers Market.I hear it especially when it is directed towards produce that is exotic or unfamiliar. I often ask the question myself as I eye some of the vegetables used in Asian cooking. Vendors generously offer tips and advice about prepping and cooking. Sometimes, when a question comes up regarding vegetables commonly used in Italian cooking, I like to offer my own tips and recipes. Market-goers are open to new ideas; it is so much fun to see their expressions of surprise and gratitude. So I’m starting a series in which I will focus on my findings at the market, usually about produce whose preparations are not commonly known, but come from the heart of my background growing up in Italy with a mother who is a fabulous cook.

This week I finally found Romano beans, you know – those flat, green beans with a gnarly look!
I love these beans and I wait for them all year long! This year they have taken a while to come to market. When I asked one of favorite vendors why the wait, she said the rabbits kept nibbling away at them. So much for competition! So what do you do with them?

A number of different preparations are possible, mostly simple, from a salad with red onions, cranberry beans, and vinaigrette to a minestrone. Let me show you one of my favorite ways – one preparation my mother used to make when I was a girl. It reminds me of lazy summer luncheons under the olive tree at our beachfront summer villa in Terracina.
Ingredients:

1 – 1 1/2 lbs. green beans ( you could really use any – even the asparagus beans)
1 Cup onion – or one small onion – diced
1 8 oz. can diced tomatoes or 3 fresh and peeled tomatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
8 oz. pancetta or guanciale (optional)
1 7 oz. can tuna, preferably the Italian bran, drained (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the beans and cut them into 1 inch pieces. In a saucepan or skillet with a one inch border, add the oil and the butter. Once it sizzles, add the onion and saute’ until tender and slightly golden. If you are choosing to put pancetta or guanciale, add it at this time and stir until fragrant. Add the beans and stir again until blended. Cook for about a minute or two, then add the tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add approximately a cup of water so that the beans remain slightly submerged as in the photo below.

Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the beans are tender. You have to add more water if the mixture looks a bit dry and the beans aren’t quite cooked through. Cook a little longer if necessary. At this point, it’s done!

But here’s the twist! Add a can of tuna (make sure you drain it!) into the mixture while it is still warm. This is the part of the dish I like so much. The tuna makes it tangy and oh so yummy!

I usually make this dish without the pancetta; I either like it with tuna or simply vegetarian. Experiment with whatever option – all are excellent! We usually serve this as a side dish or as a salad, cold on a hot summer day (my favorite). The favors blend and get better the next day or the next if there is any left! It keeps well for about a week. Serves 5-6

Summer Farro Salad

One of my favorite grains is farro, thought to be the most ancient going back 5,000 years. The Roman legions consumed it in their journeys as it is nutritious and satisfying. It was considered virtually sacred among the Latins, the Umbrians, and other regional people of ancient times. Italians commonly use farro in soups, salads, even desserts. It is nutty, sturdy, wholesome, and utterly delicious! Try this summer salad either as a side dish or part of a buffet.

Summer Farro Salad

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

-1 1/2 cups farro

-2 cups cherry tomatoes

-1 cup pitted kalamata olives

-1 cup crumbled feta (or less if you prefer)

-1/2/cup finely chopped red onion

-1 cup very finely chopped curly kale

-1/2 cup raisins

-1/2 cup olive oil

-1/2 lemon

Directions

1.Cook the farro. You can either cook it the traditional way by adding 4-6 cups of water in a pot. Let it come to a boil, then add a teaspoon of salt. Add the farro and cook it for about 25 minutes or until soft and the consistency you prefer. You can also cook it in the Instant Pot (especially nice to do on a hot day!). The ratio of farro to water is about 1:2. I prefer a bit more water to avoid the farro becoming too sticky. Add a teaspoon of salt , close the lid and set it on Manual for 10 minutes. Allow a natural pressure release of 5-6 minutes, then   a quick release. Drain the farro in a colander and allow to cool. 43162670411_17e3f4bd08_o 2.While the farro is cooling, prep the other ingredients. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. If they are particularly small, leave them whole. 28293328167_b8dafbddca_o Slice the kalamata olives and set aside. Prepare the red onions and kale by chopping them finely. Once the the farro has cooled, add all the ingredients including the raisins. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dress it with olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Start with this amount and then increase to suit your taste. Cover and refrigerate.

-This salad is best made the day before. You may want to adjust the seasoning and the dressing after letting it sit for a bit and the flavors will meld.

-Instead of the “summer” option with tomatoes, try an autumnal option with cubed roasted butternut squash.

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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!

 

 

 

Fruity Salads

With the weather turned on to extreme temperatures, a cool salad with fresh ingredients seems to be the ticket. Italians are not overly fond of mixing fruit with savory notes, but here is a salad I came across as I perused some old Cucina Italiana magazines from the 1990s. Green tomatoes are a favorite in Italian kitchens. It is not uncommon to find firm green or barely turned blushed pink tomatoes in the market as their specific purpose is for “insalata.”  If you can’t find green tomatoes, substitute them with cucumber. The cantaloupe should be at the peak of its flavor to counterbalance the crunchy tartness of the tomatoes. This salad is best with ingredients from the garden or farmer’s market (if you can find green tomatoes!).

Cantaloupe and Green Tomato Salad

2-3 Green medium tomatoes (off the vine) diced (1/4-1/2 inch)

1/2 ripe cantaloupe (diced the same as the tomatoes)

3/4 lb. small shrimp

3-4 basil leaves

1/4 cup (or less) olive oil

1/2 tsp.Worcestershire

several dashes Tabasco

salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the tomatoes and the cantaloupe. Set aside. Rinse the shrimp and pat dry, roll in paper towels to remove moisture. In a blender or food processor place the basil, the olive oil, the Worcestershire, the Tabasco, and a pinch or two of salt. Emulsify at high speed until smooth. Add to the salad and let it sit for at least 10 minutes to allow the dressing to blend. Before serving, add a dash of freshly ground pepper. Serve as an unusual antipasto or a main salad for lunch or dinner.

Insalata con melone, pomodoro verde, e gamberetti – Cucina Italiana – Luglio 1999

Here is another quick idea for a refreshing summer salad using fruit. Take a very ripe nectarine and make a delicious vinaigrette with it! Mash it in a bowl just like you would an avocado.  It will look something like this:

Add a teaspoon of honey, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a teaspoon (or more to taste) of wine vinegar.Select the freshest greens (preferably mixed) and place them in a bowl with some finely shaved red onion. Delicately add the vinaigrette (I hold some back to add to individual salads later), some sliced almonds, and a little feta or goat cheese. The nectarine flavor just shines with brightness! Give it a try when you have some overripe nectarines sitting by!

Beautiful summer bounty!