Ahhhhh Italy

Italy is Eataly

We traveled to Italy in October. The food was fabulous and the scenery was spectacular.

Bay of Fegina Monterosso del Mare

The Cinque Terre (the five lands) was our favorite destination. Monterosso del Mare has the most beautiful beach of the five towns on the Italian Riviera. We stayed at the Hotel Pasquale, a small family-run hotel in the heart of this ancient village overlooking the Liguorian Sea.

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We were treated to a homemade Italian meal by Felicita, daughter of the original owners, and current co-owner with her husband and children.

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A personal demonstration of homemade pesto using a mortar and pestle.

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 The pesto was very fresh and bright.

lasagne al forno

Lasagne al Forno. Can you believe the amount of pesto atop?

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Our fellow travelers.

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Felicita and me.

The Fearless Cooking Club members gathered and made some of the Italian recipes. Barb and Cindy had been to Europe this past summer and stopped into Italy also.

Fearless Cooker w/fancy oven mitts

We tried our hand at mortar and pestle pesto.

Porchetta

Barb and Joe made this beautiful porchetta, they ate in Italy. It was a WOW!

mortar and pestle

The one in the foreground is marble with ribbed inner edges of the bowl.

presto pesto

Presto Pesto!

Felicita’s Pesto Sauce Recipe

Two servings pesto sauce

Ingredients

  • 80 Basil leaves
  • 1 garlic close
  • 2 TBSP pine nuts
  • Parmesan cheese grated

Directions

Only wash basil leaves and dry on the tea towel.  Add 1 garlic close. Grind. Add 2 TBSP pine nuts. Grind. Mis with two heaping tablespoon parmesan cheese grated. Add olive oil until creamy consistency.  Have a good meal! Felicita.

Patty’s Points

1. Felicita’s pesto had a very loose consistency more like a sauce then a thick paste. We think it had to do with the moisture in the leaves from being so close to the sea nearby. We live in dry Colorado so our pesto was more like a paste.

2. Her recipe differs from most pestos I’ve made. She added no salt and very little garlic. You are tasting the freshness of the basil.

3. Our tour guide, Jamie, a Brit who has a home in Lucca, was quite the foodie. He advised us about only buying pine nuts from Italy and to stay away from the ones from China. My olive oil was from Italy but the pine nuts I found were from Spain. Sorry Jamie.

4. We used two different types of olive oils in each pesto recipe we made. We noticed a big difference in the taste from the olive oils. I pays to taste your olive oil and find one you like. Have you heard of the bug that has destroyed many of the olives in Italy? Olive oil prices will rise over the next year. Eeek!

5. We had two mortar bowls that were quite different. One had ridges on the bowl lining and one without. The combination of the pestle grinding and ridges in the bowl made the grinding process go quickly.

6. You’ll notice in the recipe it calls for 80 leaves of basil. If you have really large leaves then count it as two leaves. The amount of leaves accounts for the pure taste of the basil also.

7. Eataly.com is a global company that promotes Italian products worldwide. When you go to Italy you see  authentic products in local towns. But when you are at home you don’t have access to those authentic products. Eataly.com is one way to find specialty pastas and probably pine nuts too! I saw a pasta in Monterosso that I should have bought. It looked like a communion wafer. When we went out to dinner that night, one of our fellow travelers had that pasta Croxetti. It is specifically made in the the Liguorian areas of Italy. It would take awhile for me to hunt it down and see if it exists in the Italian sections of my city.  So I would have to either make it or buy it through Eataly.com.

8. Lastly, Jamie our guide, said that when we all go home and try to recreate the Italian food, it won’t taste the same. I have to agree. The ingredients may be basil, olives, pine nuts, oranges, or lemons but they are grown in a different location of the world with different sun, water, soil, bugs, and weather conditions.

9. By the way, the lasagne al forno was homemade lasagne pasta sheets with a parmesan besciamella sauce through each layer. With that substantial amount of pesto atop it melted in my mouth. Delizioso! I could never recreate that sensation ever again at home.

10. Lastly, according to Felicita, the true term pesto only refers to the basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese and nuts (pine, walnuts) combination.

Until we meet again Italy! Arrivederci!

Garden Variety

The produce from our garden has been busting out all over.chard in the basketI love Swiss Chard and it grows so easily in our garden. Within a week after trimming out 1/3 of this bed, it grew right back.

Swiss ChardI had to search for recipes that would be a challenge for me other than sautéing chard in olive oil and shallots.

I furrowed out a Bon Appétit  magazine from May 1999 profiling Provence, France. It was a Special Collector’s Edition. The main article profiled 20 essential ingredients of the region: fresh produce, herbs, dairy, meats, seafood and breads.

Bon Appetite May 1999In France, Swiss Chard is called blette. It has white or red stem varieties. The leaves need to be trimmed away from the stems before using in a recipe.

I have never made gnocchi before so I chose the recipe Swiss Chard Gnocchi (Gnocchi aux blettes) to prepare. On top of this, I have never even eaten gnocchi before!

Swiss Chard Gnocchi (Gnocchi aux blettes)  8 servings

1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 large)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 1/4 pounds Swiss Chard, stems and ribs trimmed

1 large egg

1 TBSP olive oil

1 3/4 C all-purpose flour

1 stick butter (1/2 Cup)

4 C homemade or purchase tomato-herb sauce

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Steam or boil potatoes, about 50 minutes until tender. Cool potatoes, slightly then peel . Mash potatoes in large bowel until smooth, add the salt and pepper.

Steam or boil the Swiss chard until wilted, about 3 minutes. Once it has wilted, drain, until cool and then squeeze out as much water from the chard as you can. Finely, chop the chard by hand or with the food processor.

Mix the chard in the mashed potato mixture add egg and oil. Gradually add the flour until combined, forming a slightly sticky dough.

sticky dough

Dust a board with flour, I used pastry fabric. Working in batches and with floured hands, roll 1/4 cup of dough and form a 12 inch long rope. Cut the rope into one inch pieces.

rolling and cutting the rope

Roll each piece between palms forming a ball. Using a whisk, roll each ball down the length of the wires to make a ribbed impression.

ribbed impressions

Transfer gnocchi to a baking sheet with parchment paper to rest.

gnocchi on baking sheet

Place the gnocchi, in batches of 10-12 in a large pot of boiling salt water cooking for 6 minutes, until the gnocchi rises to the surface of the boiling water and are tender.

boiling gnocchi

Using a slotted spoon transfer the gnocchi to a large bowl.

Gnocchi cooked

Melt butter in large heavy skillet over med-high heat. Add the gnocchi and sauté until coated with butter and cooked through for about 3 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi atop hot marinara red sauce or white sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

red sauce

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1. The gnocchi can be frozen up to 1-2 months in the freezer after boiled. When ready to serve, thaw, then cook with butter in a sauce pan before serving.

2. I used all-purpose vinyl gloves to mix and roll the dough. It was way to sticky not to!

3.  I enjoyed the white sauce better than the red sauce with the gnocchi.  The white sauce gave it a richer taste. If using a red sauce, it would be best to pick a light one, nothing heavy. Of course the shaved parmesan atop made the flavors pop.

4. Okay, I have to say it. The green-ness of the gnocchi was visually off-putting. It reminded me and my daughter of insect larvae.

5. When produce comes out of the garden I have to wash it two to three times. Dirt and bugs hang onto the leaves pretty easily.

Sorry if talking about bugs grossed you out.

Enjoy your meal – Bon appétit!

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Mangia Pasta!

The July meeting of  The Fearless Cooking Club takes us to Barb’s home. Barb has been to Italy and I’ve seen her fabulous pictures. Barb dusted off her pasta maker, drying rack and pulled out Beard on Pasta cookbook and taught us a thing or two about making homemade pasta.

Barb did her homework and studied the master James Beard. There were several key points that Barb noted.

1. Plan in advance. Chef Beard recommends that the dough rest for 30 to 120 minutes after mixing (the actual recipe is at the end of this blog).

2. It takes time. Homemade pasta is labor intensive. It took two or three of us to hold the dough above the pasta maker, turn the crank and pull dough out for flattening. It takes 3-4 cranks through with the pasta maker to get the thickness for the dough correct. We talked about how the TV chefs make it look so easy. They can hold the dough, crank it through masterfully, and get beautiful flattened dough and  noodles on the other side.

3. Take a break. Whew! That was hard work. Pour the wine and have a snack.

4. Make your sauces. While the pasta is drying on the rack make your sauces. We had four to sample:

  • A basic basil pesto using pine nuts from The New Best Recipe – Cook’s Illustrated (2004)
  • Pesto Trapanese all Anna – A Lidia Bastianich recipe from her website
  • An easy Puttanesca – aka “the way a streetwalker would make it” from The Denver Post Make It Fit series (2010)
  • A creamy alfredo sauce made by Sarah. She used cream cheese and parmesan cheese in it. Interesting twist!

5. Prepare salads and desserts. I made a homemade Caesar salad from my standby cookbook The New Best Recipe – Cook’s Illustrated (2004) We had homemade puff pastry made by Barb. She said they were so easy to make. The filling came all the way from Pat-A-Cake, a cake decorating store in 316 W Norfolk Ave, Norfolk NE 68701, Phone:  (402) 379-2061. And lastly, Char made her famous Pizzelles.

4. Cooking the pasta. Beard recommends to boil the water furiously; the water does not need salt, but a splash of oil is a good idea. I found this to be an interesting tip because most TV chefs I’ve watched only salt the water and never add oil. But they are not making homemade pasta I guess.

5. Fresh pasta cooks quickly. It does not need the standard 8 – 10 minutes; after placing pasta in the boiling water, it is usually ready by the time the water returns to a boil. Test by biting into a piece of the pasta – it should be pliable with no hard core. Drain pasta when done. It is best not to let pasta sit while sauce finishes. Try to have sauce ready to coat the pasta as soon as it comes out of the water.

Voila!

We made fettucine and spaghetti. Turning out the spaghetti was interesting. It was so thin we thought it looked like angel hair pasta. But it plumped up in the water.

The table is ready! We even had pasta bibs to wear!

Clockwise from top left spaghetti with pesto;  fettucine puttanesca; fettucine alfredo, spaghetti al pesto trapanese alla Anna.

Of course, we must have dessert. Plated is fresh cherries, a pizzelle and a cream puff.

And to top off the weekend, celebrating all Italian culture, Joy, my husband and I went to mass at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church in the Highland neighborhood of Denver. The first Sunday of each month, the mass is said in Italian. It was amazing.

James Beard’s Basic Egg Pasta (serves 3 – 4)
Using Food Processor and Manual Pasta Machine

1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 TBSP oil

Put metal blade into food processor. Measure in the flour and salt, and process briefly to blend them. Drop the eggs and oil through the feeding tube, and let the machine run until the dough begins to form a ball – around 15 seconds. If too sticky, add a tablespoon or more of flour. If too dry add a few drops of water or part of an egg.

COOKS NOTE: Barb misplaced the dough blade for her food processor, so she used the regular blade. She ran the processor 15 seconds per instructions – it did not form a ball. She poured the mixture onto a floured surface and was easily able to form it into a ball.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface. Dust your hands with flour and continue kneading. Work for 3 – 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until you have a smooth ball of dough.

Set to rest under a dish towel or in plastic wrap for a minimum of 30 minutes, but 2 hours is preferable.

After dough has rested, cut it into four pieces. Put three back under the dish towel and flatten the fourth with a rolling-pin or with your palm. Set the manual pasta machine so that the rollers are at their widest opening. We ran it through each setting twice, then narrowed the opening, until we completed setting 5. You’ll know when it is rolled enough because the dough will become smooth and satiny. Pasta dough is not delicate and can not be overhandled – if it tears, you can fold in half and run it through again.

Lay the ribbon of pasta on a dish towel while you roll out the other three pieces of dough.

The dough should rest another 5 minutes after rolling; typically the first ribbon will be ready by the time you finish rolling all 4 pieces of dough.

Place the hand crank into the cutting slot of your choice. Run the ribbons of pasta dough through; it helps to have one person crank and a second person feed and catch the pasta.

Place the pasta on a drying rack of some kind – if you don’t have a pasta rack you can use the back of a chair, a clothesline, etc. Let it dry.

**See you all next month when The Fearless Cooking Club will be celebrating the Spanish culture and making Paella.**