Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trofie al Pesto Genovese

Usually my basil get used up and/or dies out before the end of summer, but this year I was left with a surprisingly large amount as a rainy August ended and a rainy September began.  So what better way to take advantage of my surplus than to make pesto Genovese?
As the name indicates, the sauce originated in Genoa (on Italy's northwest coast) and consists of garlic, basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil and Parmagiano.  The name "pesto" comes from pestare, which means to pound or crush, since in the pre-food processor days it was made with a mortar and pestle.

For this version, I skipped the garlic, substituted walnuts for pine nuts, and poured the olive oil in the top of the food processor as I blended the basil, walnuts, and Parmigiano.  Heating the pesto diminishes its flavor, so I put it in a slightly warmed pot until the pasta was cooked and ready to be added. 

In the region of Liguria, of which Genoa is the capital, pesto is most often paired with trofie, a flour and water pasta with a firm texture and ridges to which the sauce can adhere.  And although my ingredients were somewhat of a departure from tradition, I served my trofie al pesto in the traditional method - over boiled potatoes and green beans.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Product of the Week - Crema all'Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic Vinegar Glaze)

I picked this up at a local market in Grado, Italy, but similar products are readily available at various speciality stores and websites.  When reduced, balsamic vinegar has a thicker consistency and a slightly sweeter flavor, and this "crema" is further enhanced by the addition of some sugar to balance its acidity.

As the label indicates, the squeeze bottle makes it easy to create intricate designs, but even a non-artistic squeeze will provide a nice accent for beef, poultry, pork, and seafood dishes.

I'm looking forward to drizzling it over a Caprese salad, but so far I've only used it on grilled pork loin chops, which were also topped with mushroom and sweet peppers. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grado Travel Diary - Last Day, Sardelada + Dinner @ Trattoria 'Osteria'

"After many a summer dies the swan." - Tennyson

You can only do so much to slow down time, and eventually we found ourselves at the end of our vacation and preparing for a return to reality.  

Oh well, at least the NFL strike was over, and we still had a chocolate brioche and another beautiful day at the beach ahead of us.   

Our trip began with the Festa del Redentore in Venice, and it was going to end with the Sardelada (Sardine Festival), which was being held just outsdie of our terrace at the Fishermen's Cooperative.  As you can see, things started off great - this was about an hour or so after it began - but once the people started rolling in, so did a severe thunderstorm.       

The storm moved through fairly quickly, and we made our way to dinner at Trattoria 'Osteria.'  Not the best name, but it may have been the best meal of our entire trip.  It consisted of the following:
  • a large glass of complimentary prosecco; 
  • an amuse bouche of fried fish with caponata;  
  • scallop carpaccio;
  • a complimentary intermezzo of lemon spoons (lemon whipped cream);
  • spaghetti with clams and shrimp;
  • paccheri with bottarga di tonno (cured tuna roe) - pictured below;
  • filet of sea bass with a potato crust;
  • coda (monkfish) with polenta - pictured below.

After dinner, as we took a final walk through the town  on our way to get gelato, we came across another reminder of the transitory nature of life - the illuminated ruins of Roman mosaics dating back to the 5th century.  At that time, Grado became a refuge for those fleeing, among others, Atilla the Hun, who sacked nearby Aquileia in 452.    

Monday, August 29, 2011

Product of the Week - Brioche con Cioccolato

Technically speaking, this is a cornetto ("small horn"), the Italian version of the French croissant.  But in Italy, brioche is a somewhat generic term that is commonly used to describe any number of pastries.       

Usually filled with Nutella, brioche con cioccolato is an Italian breakfast staple.  During our week in Grado, there was a small bakery where would regularly stop to pick up our brioche con cioccolato or ciambella (a sugary doughnut) so that we could enjoy our breakfast on the beach.  The chocolate version was clearly the most popular, and it usually had to be brought out from the back since the display case was empty.     

I don't do a lot of baking, but here's a fairly straightforward recipe that I found and will try when the craving hits me. 

Nutella filled Cornetti (based on a recipe by Anna Moroni)
Makes 12 small cornetti
Ingredients for the dough:
125 g butter (8.7 TB/ 4.4 oz)*
125 g yogurt (1/2c)*
1 T sugar 
250-300 g flour (2 1/2-3 c)*
2 tsp baking powder
 pinch salt

The filling:
  1. Pre-heat the oven at 200C (400F)
  2. Melt the butter
  3. Add the yogurt  and butter along with the sugar and  blend well
  4. Add  the flour, pinch of salt, and baking powder and gingerly make the dough.
  5. Try not to handle to much, but do combine all thoroughly. I find that at 250g it is quite sticky, so I add the other 50g more or less around the edges of the bowl to make the dough more manageable without losing any tenderness.
  6. Split the dough into 2 pieces and cover with a towel or plastic shower cap
  7. Let rest for 20 minutes or in the refrigerator if it is really warm
  8. Roll one ball out into a circle about 12cm or so (6-7" across)
  9. Cut into 6 slices with three cuts across the circle(triangle shape).
  10. Put a generous dollop of Nutella on each slice  at the wide end of the dough
  11. Roll it to make a little "cornetto" (which in Italian means "small horn" for the shape) or crescent
  12. Repeat with the other dough ball.
  13. Place on baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or till golden brown
  14. Let them cool down and then sprinkle with icing/powdered sugar or cocao powder

Friday, August 26, 2011

Grado Travel Diary - Day Trip to Trieste + Lunch @ Antico Panada + Dinner @ Zero Miglia

Facing the Adriatic Sea, Piazza Unita d'Italia is said to be the largest piazza in Italy as well as the largest  seafront square in Europe.  The surrounding buildings date from when Trieste flourished as the main port of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (1382-1918). 

Trieste has quite an interesting history.  Originally founded by the Romans, it's a unique blend of Italian, German, and Slavic cultures.  Now the capital of the autonomous region of Friuli-Venezia-Guilia, Trieste did not officially become part of Italy until after World War I.  Then, following World War II, it became part of Yugoslavia and later a free terrority before finally rejoining Italy in 1954. 

Here I am with one of Trieste's more famous residents, the Irish writer James Joyce, who taught English for several years at the Berlitz School and  wrote Ulysees during his time in the city. 
Leading up from the Adriatic, this is Trieste's "Grand Canal," where we had lunch at Antico Panada, located on the bank to the left.   

We began with the octopus carpaccio and followed that up with eggplant Parmigiano and squid ink spaghetti with seafood.  
After lunch we caught the bus back to Grado and spent the afternoon on the beach, and later we stopped at a cafe on our way to dinner at Zero Miglia. 

Run by the Grado Fishermans' Cooperative, Zero Miglia was where we had dinner our first night.  Our original plan was to go there for our final dinner the next evening, but the restaurant was going to be closed because of the Sardelada (sardine festival), which was being held outside of the restuarant. 

For my main course, I had the fritto misto, which was probably a pound (or more) of fried fish and seafood. Looking at it now, I'm sure this was meant as a two-person portion.      
You don't usually see seafood served with cheese in Italy, but Elizabeth had a dish that paired chilled burrata cheese with grilled fish.  Having a similar texture to fresh mozzarella, burrata has a thick, liquidy center.  When placed on top of the burrata, the heat from the grilled fish melted it so that it created a thick sauce, with cherry tomatoes adding  a touch of sweetness.   

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grado Travel Diary - "A Day at the Beach," Pizza con Patate Fritte + Dinner @ Trattoria Alla Borsa

"A day at the beach" - what a perfect expression of being carefree and idle.  And when I'm actually having a day at the beach, I can feel Time begin to slow down and move the way it used to when I was a kid on summer break, when it seemed that months would pass in the course of an afternoon.

A similar Italian expression is "La dolce far niente," which literally means "the sweetness of doing nothing."  It's an important part of life in Italy, and to me it's a large part of what a vacation should be about.   

While I was busy experiencing the sweetness of doing nothing, Elizabeth began her "day at the beach" by taking a fitness class - she was really missing the gym at this point.  Notice the kids on the left playing next to their mom so she can watch them while she works out. 

Lunch that day was again pizza and beer on the beach, but this time I was able to get it topped with patate fritte (French fries). While going out for the pizza, I found this fountain, which those of you from Dundalk will recognize as a transplant from the old Eastpoint Mall.  

That night we went to dinner at Trattoria Alla Borsa, a more casual place in the center of town.  Inside, there were several large groups (one included the family dog), and most of the main courses were portioned for two or more people.  According to the local restaurant association's guide, Alla Borsa "used to be a very simple fishermen meeting point but in the '70s it started to raise in quality when, thanks to the exquisite taste of its cuisine, it became a very well-known restaurant."     

Here we are on our way to dinner, almost in the exact same spot where the bad kids disturbed us a few nights prior.   

We began with the grilled capelonghe (razor clams), which we had yet to have during the trip, and that was followed up with a perfect risotto di pesce (see Product of the Week).    

And what better way to end than with the boreto a la graisana, the traditional fish stew of Grado.  The white polenta here really ties into my theme, looking as if it were something that we carried home in our beach bag.   

Monday, August 22, 2011

Product of the Week - Riso Vialone Nano

Rice and polenta are ubiquitous in the Veneto region, and while Grado is more closely aligned with Trieste (the regional capital), it was once part of the Venetian Republic, and these two ingredients are an integral part of its cuisine as well.

Of the many short-grain varieties of rice that are used for risotto, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are considered to be the best, with Vialone Nano being the preferred rice in the Veneto.  In the past, I have always used the more widely available Arborio and Carnaroli, but at a grocery store in Grado I picked up a bag of Vialone Nano. 

Risotto should have a creamy texture but also offer some resistance or bite, and the general consensus is that Vialone Nano is more forgiving than Carnaroli when it comes to achieving the proper texture.  Carnaroli rice has a short window where it moves from being properly cooked to being mushy, while Vialone Nano maintains its firmness for a longer period of time.  Vialone Nano also cooks more quickly and is better at absorbing the cooking liquid.  

On the plate, where it is spread from the center, risotto should be served all'onda (flowing in waves).  Here's a visual example - the seafood risotto from Anice Stellato in Venice.