Category Archives: Food History

Fave dei Morti

Le Fave dei Morti

Le Fave dei Morti

When my parents were growing up in Italy, there was no such thing as Halloween.  The goblins, ghouls and jack o’lanterns arrived in Italy relatively recently via mass media and the spread of American pop culture.  For my parents, there was instead La Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints Day) on November 1st and La Festa dei Morti (All Souls Day) on November 2nd.

Yesterday, when I asked my mom what she remembered about these feast days, she gasped with delight.   Her eyes sparkled and for a moment, she was a little girl in Sicily again.  She told me that on the morning of i Morti, children would wake up to trays of intricate and colorful candy bambolette (dolls) and cavallucci (horses) called Pupi di Zucchero as well as lifelike marzipan frutta di martorana.

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Pupi di Zucchero

Legend has it that on the night of Ognissanti, the dead come down from heaven to deliver gifts and treats to the loved ones they left behind.  In the same spirit of La Befana, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, children are promised that if they dutifully respect their elders and pray for their departed relatives all year long, i morti will reward them.   When my Zia Nina, my mom’s older cousin and godmother, became engaged, her future in-laws presented her with gifts on All Souls Day,and as the youngest of the family, my mom received a Pupo with a little gold chain around its neck….a way of saying “welcome to the family” from the other-world.

frutta-martorana

Frutta di martorana

While I would love to share my very own recipe for these extraordinary Sicilian confections, I simply don’t possess the requisite artistry.  Instead, here’s a recipe for fave dei morti – fava beans of the dead – a chewy, little almond cookie prepared for All Souls Day throughout much of Italy.

Wishing you all a happy week of feasting!

Fave dei Morti

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Makes approx. 72 bite-sized cookies

Cookie sheet

  • 2 cups whole almonds, blanched and toasted
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
  • Zest of a small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of grappa

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and position racks in the upper two thirds.  Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

To the bowl of a food processor, add the almonds and pulse until they’re the consistency of almond meal (or slightly coarser if you prefer a bit of crunch in your cookie as I do.  It’s best to err on the side of a coarser consistency – if you grind them for too long and the machine becomes too hot, the nuts will release their natural oils and become almond butter.)  Transfer the almonds to a bowl, repeat with the pine nuts and set them aside.

In a separate bowl or fluted measuring cup, lightly beat the egg, yolks, lemon zest and grappa together and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, almonds and cinnamon and sift the confectioner’s sugar into the mixture.   Add the chopped pine nuts and combine the dry ingredients, forming a well in the center.  Pour the egg mixture into the center of the well and work the mixture with your hands until a compact and malleable dough forms.

Working in batches, cut a piece of the dough, and with your hands, roll it into a thick rope.  Working quickly so that the dough doesn’t dry out, cut the rope of dough into ¾-inch pieces and roll each piece of dough into a ball.  Gently flatten the ball of dough so that it takes on a slightly oval shape (like a fava bean).  Place the ovals, one inch apart, onto the cookie sheets.  Repeat until you’ve shaped all of your cookie dough.

Bake cookies for 10 minutes, until slightly golden and cracked on top.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Buon appetito!

 

Cultivating Diversity in Abruzzo

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Pasticcio di Farro (recipe below) – farro grains baked with late summer vegetables & scamorza cheese

I felt like a culinary explorer in Abruzzo this past summer.  I was privileged to visit many local artisanal producers who have dedicated their lives to safeguarding the region’s agricultural and gastronomic traditions.  I became particularly fascinated by a project spearheaded by the Parco Nazionale della Majella called “Coltiviamo la diversità” (Let’s Cultivate Diversity) whose goal is the recovery, conservation, and enhancement of native agricultural species in the 74,000+ hectares of national park territory.  The project specifically targets the cultivation of local grains, legumes and fruit and vegetables that are indigenous to the wild, mountainous terrain surrounding the Majella.  To facilitate these conservation efforts, the Parco created a network of “custodian farmers” dedicated to protecting the territory’s agricultural biodiversity.  Some examples of products that are cultivated in the area include:

Photo courtesy of Parco Nazionale della Majella

 

Socere e Nore: An oval bean known for its characteristic black and white hue, the bean’s color contrast is said to represent the complicated relationship between mothers-in-law (socere) and daughters-in law (nore).

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Here, farro is ground into polenta and served with a light tomato sauce

Farro:  This ancient grain suffered a period in which it was threatened with extinction. Many farmers in Abruzzo began to cultivate varieties from other Italian regions such as Umbria and Tuscany.   In recent decades, however, interest in farro has resurfaced and some varieties indigenous to Abruzzo have been singled out and reproduced.  Farro is now sold in grains and as flour, pasta and polenta.

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Fresh “corde” made from Solina flour

Farina di Solina:  Solina is the characteristic wheat found in the mountains of Abruzzo.  It imparts a particular taste and fragrance to homemade bread and pasta and resists well in the cold mountainous climates. An 18th century text describes solina as a wheat from which “…one of the best kinds of bread of the Kingdom (of Naples)” was baked.

A bookend to “Coltiviamo la diversità” is an initiative called “Cuciniamo la diversità” (“Let’s Cook Diversity”) which consists of a network of restaurants and agriturismi within the Parco Nazionale della Majella.  Conceived as meeting points between producers and consumers, these establishments offer traditional dishes from Abruzzo that utilize local products cultivated by the Parco’s custodian farmers.

One of the most memorable and inspiring meals I enjoyed during my stay in Abruzzo was at Agriturismo Tholos in Roccamorice.  Tholos is both a custodian farmer as well as a participating restaurant in the Parco’s network.  Its organic farm stretches over 10 hectares and consists mainly of farro, Solina, chick peas and lentils (actually, the same tiny lentils that come from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a village near the Gran Sasso mountain range; Tholos, in partnership with the Parco, is trying to cultivate the delicate legume in the Majella’s territory) as well as an orchard of local indigenous apples and pears.

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These typical “tholos” stone structures were constructed by farmers of the Majella to protect their animals during the hostile winters. This replica can by found at Agriturismo Tholos in Roccamorice, Abruzzo.

I enjoyed creative dishes made entirely from Tholos’ products including zuppa di lenticchie made with lentils that were picked earlier that day, polenta di farro (a first for me as well as for our Abruzzese friends who joined us for dinner),  fresh pasta called “corde” made from farina di Solina and a homey, comforting pasticcio di farro, which I share below.  The food was positively stellar, but even more satisfying was the knowledge that in some small way, I was sharing in the preservation and celebration of the gastronomic heritage of this territory which I love so very much.

My favorite view of the Majella

My favorite view of the Majella

Pasticcio di Farro

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © (inspired by Agriturismo Tholos)

Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as a main course

This baked farro “pasticcio” (literally, a “mess”) is filled with late summer vegetables and gooey scamorza cheese.  Feel free to substitute other seasonal vegetables and cheeses.

Farro

  • 2 cups of farro
  • 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 small zucchini, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 pint of sweet grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/3 cup basil or Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 cups of scamorza cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the farro with cold water.  Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the farro.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.  Add a tablespoon of salt and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the farro is tender but still has a bite. (Adding the salt before this point will make the farro tough.) Drain well, transfer to a large bowl, add a tablespoon of olive oil and fluff with a fork.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a wide sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it starts to shimmer.  Add the eggplant and ½ teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring often to prevent sticking, about 3-5 minutes or until the eggplant starts to color and soften. Next, add the zucchini to the pan along with another ½ teaspoon of salt, and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, until the zucchini starts to color and soften.  Add the red onion and another small pinch of salt and continue to cook until all of the vegetables have caramelized and softened and the flavors have melded together.  Remove from the heat and fold in the grape tomatoes, allowing the residual heat from the other vegetables to soften them.

Veg collage

Adjust the seasonings and add the vegetables to the cooked farro and stir to incorporate.  Next, fold in the shredded scamorza cheese.  Pour the mixture into an oiled baking or casserole dish and sprinkle the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano across the top.  Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the Parmigiano has formed a golden crust on top. Buon appetito!

Extra Two Cents: 

The farro may be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated overnight, tightly covered.  Remove from the refrigerator at least one hour prior to baking and add proceed with the recipe.

Digging for Roots

La donna Abruzzese - the only woman permitted to grace the kitchen of the New Orsogna Club in Queens, NY - For the article, go to http://www.americanfoodroots.com/50-states/men-at-the-stove-at-italian-social-clubs/

I found this bronze plaque of “la donna Abruzzese” in the garage kitchen of the New Orsogna Club in Queens, NY.  She may be the only woman permitted to grace this kitchen that is run exclusively by its male members.  For the article, go to http://www.americanfoodroots.com/50-states/men-at-the-stove-at-italian-social-clubs/

“Why we eat what we eat.”  That’s the mantra of American Food Roots, an online project dedicated to uncovering America’s culinary roots.  The AFR website states, “Through food, we celebrate our heritage – regional, religious, ethnic, political, familial. We cook and eat to connect with family and friends, as well as with ancestors we never knew.”  American Food Roots is led by four talented and experienced journalists whose mission is to share recipes and stories about America’s culinary traditions through articles, interviews, photos, videos and other media outlets.

A few months ago, my friend Helen Free, author of the blog, Hang on to the Vine and one of the co-organizers of the Let’s Blog Abruzzo conference I’m attending in June, urged me to join the AFR community and introduced me to her friend, Italian cookbook author Domenica Marchetti.  Since becoming an AFR community member, I have learned about: using a wok to make sausage and peppers; the Easter food customs of a Moravian-American community in North Carolina; the 500-year history of fusion cuisine in Florida; the beauty of using heirloom cooking tools to recreate old family recipes and so much more.

Domenica and the the AFR team gave me the opportunity to contribute to American Food Roots with a story about my father’s Italian social club in Queens, New York and the men who cook there.  The article also features a recipe for plangozze al sugo, a rustic and hearty homemade pasta dish from Abruzzo.  Happy reading and buon appetito!

Plangozze al sugo

Plangozze al sugo

Join the fascinating conversation about America’s culinary heritage.  Sign up to become a member of the American Food Roots community at www.americanfoodroots.com

Spring Candles

 

Candele from Pastificio Faella in Gragnano, a town south of Naples and purportedly the birthplace of dried pasta-making. Pasta from Gragnano was awarded IGP status in 2010.

Candele from Pastificio Faella in Gragnano, a town south of Naples and purportedly the birthplace of dried pasta-making. Pasta from Gragnano was awarded IGP status in 2010.

Last week, I ventured across the bridge to visit the Bronx warehouse of Gustiamo, a purveyor of artisanal Italian foods sourced from small producers that continue to stay true to traditional methods.  I purchased several bottles of new harvest extra virgin olive oil and a rather intriguing package of 21-inch candele pasta produced by Pastificio Faella, a family business that has been making pasta since 1907.  Candele, named for the long, thin white candles once used in liturgical processions in Southern Italy, are extruded through bronze dies and dried for a whopping 60 hours at a very low temperature.   Prior to the emergence of modern machinery that facilitated the cutting of smaller shapes,  all tubular and strand pasta, including candele and spaghetti, were left to dry in long forms and broken into smaller pieces prior to cooking.

The charming founder of Gustiamo, Beatrice Ughi, informed me that I was the first person to bring home the slightly rough-textured candele and assigned me the task of creating an Abruzzese-inspired recipe for this unique pasta shape. My initial thought was to prepare a spring lamb ragu’, but when I realized I’d forgotten to defrost a package of baby lamb that I had frozen from Easter, I decided to consult the brilliant Encyclopedia of Pasta by preeminent Italian food historian Oretta Zanini De Vita for inspiration:

[C]andele is considered more or less synonymous with ziti or zite [but] the latter is the term most frequently adopted by the modern pasta factories.  In reality, ziti are slightly thinner.  Candele are broken up for the preparation of some typical dishes, such as timballi or pasticci with a crust.”

Artisanal Faella pasta is available at www.gustiamo.com

Artisanal Faella pasta is available at http://www.gustiamo.com

Taking my cue from Prof. De Vita, I foraged my refrigerator and created a baked spring pasticcio (quite literally, a mess) of asparagus, leeks, tomatoes and a blend of cheeses.  Buon appetito!

Pasticcio di Candele agli Asparagi

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

  • 1 pound of candele pasta
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 leeks, trimmed, white and light green parts only
  • 1 32-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed in the food processor or by hand
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb of mozzarella (I used what I’d characterize as a “semi-fresh” mozzarella. The texture and firmness were somewhere in between the processed Polly-O stuff and the still-quivering fresh mozzarella from my local Italian deli.)
  • 3 large eggs (or 2 jumbo eggs)
  • 2 lbs pencil-thin asparagus, ends “snapped” at their natural breaking point
  • 1 pint of grape of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • A handful of torn basil leaves
  • 1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Prepare Sauce and Filling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Slice leeks in half length-wise and rinse under cold water to remove the grit.  Dry with a clean kitchen towel and chop crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces.  In a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat until shimmering.  Add leeks and a pinch of salt and stir frequently, until the leeks are soft and caramelized, about 8 minutes or so.  Add the tomatoes and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil (slosh the bowl that contained the tomatoes with a half cup or so of water and add to the pot as well).  Reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, until slightly thickened.  Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, add the mozzarella and eggs to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture becomes a creamy paste.

Cook Pasta

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Break each candela into four equal pieces.  Add the broken candele to the pot and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  (The candele should be very al dente since they will continue to cook in the oven.)  Thoroughly drain the pasta and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking while you’re assembling the pasticcio.

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Assemble Pasticcio

Lightly grease a 9X13 ceramic or metal baking dish with butter or olive oil and ladle enough tomato sauce to coat the bottom.  Insert an asparagus stalk in each candela and add the filled candele to the dish in a snug single layer, as pictured below, rolling in the sauce as you go.

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Ladle additional sauce onto the candele layer until it is covered. Scatter half of the tomatoes and some of torn basil leaves onto the sauce.

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Next, with a spatula, spread half of the mozzarella cheese mixture evenly over the sauce and sprinkle 1/3 cup of Parmigiano over it.

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Repeat, layering again, first with the asparagus-filled candele, followed by the tomato sauce, then the tomatoes and basil and then the remaining mozzarella and another 1/3 cup of Parmigiano.  Add a final thin layer of sauce and sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano on top.

Place the tray in the middle rack of the oven and allow to bake for about 35 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the top of the pasticcio forms a nice golden crust.  Remove from the oven and let “rest” for about 10 minutes prior to cutting.  To serve, cut along the length of the candele, into rectangular servings consisting of two layers of six or so candele .

Buon appetito!

 

Pasticcio di Candele ed Asparagi

Pasticcio di Candele agli Asparagi

Ordering Information:  You can order Faella candele and other exemplary Italian products at http://www.gustiamo.com.

Lucky Coins in a Hilltop Town

Zuppa di Lenticchie

Zuppa di Lenticchie

Santo Stefano di Sessanio, host to the Let’s Blog Abruzzo conference that I’m attending in June (www.blogaway.org), is a quaint mountain village in Abruzzo that was largely abandoned when its impoverished inhabitants left in search of work in the years following World War II.  In the early 1980s, a Danish developer launched Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, a hotel converted out of historic buildings with the intent of reviving and preserving the remote village and welcoming tourists without sacrificing its physical and cultural identity.

I was first introduced to Santo Stefano in the September 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine, which lauded Sextantio’s preservation efforts and extolled the virtues of the town’s primary crop, lentils.  I finally visited the village last summer and while my middle son, Stefano, was thrilled to explore the labyrinth of narrow streets and tunnel-like passages of the town that shared his name, I was eager to finally sample its delicate lenticchie. I brought home several kilos of the tiny, extraordinarily tender legumes and enjoyed the last of my stash for a feast of cotechino con lenticchie to ring in the New Year (garlicky sausage over a bed of lentils traditionally enjoyed in Italy on New Year’s Eve to bring prosperity and fortune in the coming year. The lentils are said to represent the coins soon to befall all who consume the dish within an hour of midnight.)

The picturesque village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio

The picturesque village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio

My son Stefano climbing the walls of Santo Stefano

My son Stefano climbing the walls of Santo Stefano

The lentil is thought to have arrived in Santo Stefano at the time of the Roman settlement, Sextantia and derives from an old and rare species that is cultivated only in the poor terrain found high in the mountains. These tiny, dark brown legumes are iron-rich and have skins that don’t separate during cooking.  The harvest generally occurs during the last weeks of August and the Sagra delle Lenticchie festival takes place in Santo Stefano every September.

My lentil soup recipe isn’t traditional to Santo Stefano di Sessanio, but is a great vehicle for small lentils. To my knowledge, lenticchie di Santo Stefano aren’t yet widely available outside of Italy, but Castelluccio lentils from Umbria or French Puy lentils are good substitutes.

Zuppa di Lenticchie

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

  • 3 salt-packed anchovies (see notes below for cleaning directions)
  •  2 shallots or 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling at the end
  • 10 cups of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 heaping cups of small lentils such as Castelluccio or Puy, rinsed and picked over
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt and several grindings of freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy-bottomed stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot and set over medium-low heat until the oil is shimmering.  Add the chopped anchovies to the oil, lower the heat and, stirring frequently, allow them to cook until they seem as if they’ve dissolved or become part of the oil.  Add the shallots, celery and garlic and sauté until the vegetables become soft and golden (if the anchovies start to seem too “crunchy”, add ¼ cup of water to the mixture).  Add the water, bay leaves, additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil, black pepper and the lentils and raise the heat to high.  When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low and allow to gently simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 20 minutes, add the carrots and salt and keep simmering for about 15-25 minutes more, tasting as it cooks to check for doneness.  If the soup becomes too thick, add water a cup at a time (lentils absorb a lot of water, even after you’ve turned off the heat, so chances are, it will become too thick before it becomes too liquid.)  When the lentils taste smooth and creamy, turn off the heat, adjust the salt and pepper, stir in the parsley and drizzle with your best olive oil (see notes below).  Buon appetito!

Extra Two Cents:   A peppery oil such as La Quagliera from Abruzzo would add a wonderful finishing touch to this rustic soup – http://www.gustiamo.com/cgi-bin/front_end/prodotto?id=76289).   Also, homemade olive-oil croutons are a terrific accompaniment to the lentils – simply cut day-old bread into small cubes, drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven at 375 degrees until they’re crunchy.

Preparing Anchovies:  Hold the anchovies under cold running water and gently rub off the salt with your fingers.  Pat them thoroughly dry with paper towels and transfer them to a cutting board.  Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, make a small incision along the side and run your knife along the length of the anchovy.  Gently peel back the top portion of the anchovy to reveal the backbone on the bottom portion. With the tip of your knife, gently remove the backbone and cut off the tail.  Finely chop the anchovy fillets.

More Information about Santo Stefano:  Here are a few other articles about Santo Stefano di Sessanio and its tasty lentils:

Torta al Testo

Torta al testo filled with stracchino and arugula

Torta al testo filled with stracchino and arugula

Torta al testo is a traditional flatbread sandwich from Umbria stuffed with vegetables, cheeses and cured meats.   The torta is cooked on a heavy testo, a circular iron griddle placed directly on the stovetop (long ago, the disc was made from clay and placed over coals in the fireplace).

An iron "testo" or "panaro"

An iron “testo” or “panaro”

When I was a student in Perugia with about 10,000 Lira per day to spend on food (about $5 USD back in the pre-Euro days), I regularly frequented a hole-in-the-wall Forno on a narrow cobblestone street near the university that specialized in this savory regional specialty.  Each day after classes, I ordered a torta al testo for lunch and brought it up to Corso Vanucci, the wide pedestrian-only promenade in the centro storico that was ideal for people-watching.  My favorite filling for these fluffy, oiled flatbreads was peppery arugula , sweet pacchino tomatoes and creamy stracchino cheese.  Last summer, during a mini-break from Abruzzo, we visited Umbria, and I returned to Perugia for the first time since 1997.  I dragged my husband and three sons around the maze of backstreets behind the university for nearly half hour in search of my beloved Forno.  I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t find my old haunt, picked up some pizza al taglio for my hungry kids and set off for Gubbio, where we were staying for a few days.  The next day, as we were exploring the lovely medieval town, I asked a local shopkeeper from whom I purchased a testo (called a panaro in Gubbio) where we could enjoy a good torta al testo (which, incidentally, is called crescia in Gubbio) for lunch.  They sent us to Osteria dei Re, a charming osteria and wine bar with al fresco dining in a picturesque piazza, where we were treated to the torta al testo of my memories.

Here’s an easy recipe that you can prepare in your favorite well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.  Prepare the dough in the morning and enjoy them for lunch or refrigerate the dough overnight and simply bring it to room temperature prior to griddling the flatbreads (the uncooked dough stays very well – How do I know this?  Because I was in the process of making the flatbreads for a play-date luncheon when my five-year old broke his collarbone!  The remainder of the dough went in the fridge and I prepared it the following day with his favorite filling of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes!).  Once griddled, the flatbreads should be enjoyed very soon after you prepare them.  They tend to become stale rather quickly.  If you need to wait, wrap them tightly in plastic after they cool off and reheat in a whole oven prior to serving and filling.  When this crazy Northeast weather finally warms up, I’ll try to cook them on the stone piastra I have for my outdoor grill.

Torta al Testo

From Majella Home Cooking ©

Serves 4

For the Torta:

  • 1 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Ideas for fillings:

  • Stracchino or taleggio cheese and baby arugula
  • Sauteed greens (spinach, chicory, chard, broccoli rabe, etc.) with grilled or pan-fried sausage
  • Tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Italian oil-packed tuna and sun-dried tomatoes
  • Speck and fontina
  • Prosciutto and shaved Parmigiano or mozzarella di bufala
  • Mortadella
  • Nutella and bananas (find me something with which Nutella doesn’t pair well!)

In a small bowl, stir together yeast and ½ cup of hot water.  Let it sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Combine flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Stir 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the activated yeast mixture and with the food processor running, pour it in. Process until a dough forms (i.e., when the ingredients no longer adhere to the sides of the bowl – if the dough is too dry, add some additional cool water, one tablespoon at a time until this happens). Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a large oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about 1½ hours in a warm place.

Punch the dough down (the dough should have doubled in size) and divide it into two balls. Lightly flour one piece of dough and, using a rolling pin, roll it into a 9″ disc. Place the disc on a floured baking sheet, poke it all around with a fork (this will prevent too many air bubbles during cooking) and repeat with the remaining dough.

Rolled-out torta dough

Rolled-out torta dough

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a 10-12″ cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, cook each dough disc, flipping occasionally, until light brown on each side, about 8-10 minutes total.

Griddling the torta

photo(36) Griddling the torta

Lay one of the flatbreads on a cutting board,  add your desired filling, place the other flatbread on top, and with a serrated knife, cut the torta into 8 wedges.  Drizzle with a little bit more oil and serve.

Buon appetito!

Torta al testo with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella

Torta al testo with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella

I Heart Saffron

Pasta Con Zucchine e Salsiccia

My take on Ristorante Nino’s pasta with zucchini, sausage & saffron

A few years ago, I enjoyed an incredible pranzo at the lovely Ristorante Nino in Chieti, a small city perched on a hilltop between the mountains and sea. The highlight of my lunch was a riff on the Abruzzese classic, Spaghetti all’Aquilana, a regional specialty which prominently features prized Zafferano Dell’Aquila from Navelli, as well as zucchini and its blossoms. The addition of raw egg yolks and grated cheese at the end of cooking produces a rich yet delicate sauce that beautifully coats the pasta (this technique is found in many dishes in the Central Italian regions of Abruzzo, Le Marche and Lazio). Nino’s version also included crumbled sausage, which gave the dish a rusticity that is perfect for home cooks who wish to serve a hearty pasta dish as a piatto unico for dinner. My take on the recipe is set forth below. Buon appetito!

Additional Information:

The tradition of cultivating saffron in Navelli began in the 13th century and Zafferano Dell’Aquila, named for the region to which the village of Navelli belongs, is considered by many chefs to be the best in Italy. Awarded DOP status by the European Union in 2005, the saffron trade in Navelli consists of a cooperative of families who have been harvesting the spice for generations. My friends at Life in Abruzzo wrote a wonderful article about Navelli’s saffron harvest: http://www.lifeinabruzzo.com/navelli-saffron-queen-the-power-bling/

Saffron threads from Navelli

Saffron threads from Navelli

Pasta con Zucchine e Salsiccia

From Majella Home Cooking ©

Serves 4 as a main course

  • 1 pound pasta (virtually any shape, long or short, will work)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb Italian pork sausage, casings removed
  • 1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound zucchini, trimmed, and cut into one inch discs or half-moons, or, if you’re using a longer pasta such as spaghetti, into matchsticks, approx. 3 inches long and ¼ inch thick
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon of saffron threads, crushed in a mortar & pestle and soaked in 1 cup of hot water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 egg yolks from very fresh eggs, whisked together with 1/4 or more of grated Pecorino (traditional in Abruzzo), Grana Padano or Parmigiano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a wide sauté pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and break up any large pieces with the back of a wooden spoon, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. When the sausage is browned, about 6-8 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove sausage, to a bowl. Add the other tablespoon of olive oil, lower heat to medium low, and add the shallots to the pan, along with ½ teaspoon of salt, stirring often. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the shallots are golden, then add the zucchini, season with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir frequently and cook until the liquid released by the zucchini has evaporated. Add the reserved sausage and its accumulated juices to the zucchini as well as the white wine and turn the heat up to high, stirring often, until the wine has evaporated. Add the saffron-infused water and allow to simmer on medium-low heat until the liquid has reduced by about half. Turn the heat down to low until the pasta is ready. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions minus one minute. While the pasta is cooking, add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water to the egg yolk-and-cheese mixture and whisk rapidly. Set aside. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water, and add both the pasta and reserved water to the zucchini and sausage mixture and stir well. Raise the heat and continue to simmer until the water has evaporated and the pasta and sauce are well-combined. Remove from the heat and add the egg yolk-and-cheese mixture to the pasta, tossing quickly and vigorously until the pasta is fully coated. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese and salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. Buon appetito!

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