Friday, August 8, 2014

Wrapping Up, and Up Next

In my heart, I'm not really done with My Calabria. Not even remotely. I've loved six recipes, liked five, and hated one. There was only one in-between take-it-or-leave-it recipe. Pretty strong statistics. There are many more intriguing recipes in this book, but I'm trying to limit my carbs right now, which doesn't really jive well with Italian food. There are plenty of fish and meat recipes left in this book, but I can't crack it open without trancing out, staring at a picture of mussel risotto, or daydreaming about her special doughnuts, made at Christmas, or her family's everyday loaf of bread, or, of course, the pasta.

 No doubt about it, My Calabria is a keeper. It's beautiful to read, and the food knocked it out of the park most of the time. I mentioned in specific posts that I was impressed with the precision with which these recipes correctly claimed that x amount of stuff would produce y number of finished product (meatballs, etc). I trust this book. 

Frankly, focusing attention on any one book isn't really working for me right now. I need diversity in order to keep myself interested in my food plan.

I have non-food-related reasons for hitting the pause button, too. Charlie's home from school, and keeping me busy. Plus, I've enrolled in a photography course, and want to focus more of my free time on that (not that I've been especially consistent at spending my free time on this blog, but that's besides the point. Leave me to my delusions of all the time I'll save!)

So, I'll declare a new book once my head is in the right space for it.

I do, however, want to name another Long Term Project: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. I enjoy The Pioneer Woman as a character. Her children's book, Charlie the Ranch Dog, is a long-running favorite with my Charlie (and with me, too.) Her food always looks delicious and cozy, and her photos are beautiful. I like that she lets us in to see her life at the ranch, and that she's so unabashedly herself, quirks, flaws, and all. I own two of her cookbooks.

I've cooked a grand total of one recipe so far.

Why yes, I would like another biscuit. Thanks, Ree!
See, the thing is, Ree cooks for cowboys. Hard-working, horse-riding, manual labor type of cowboys. They can eat whatever they want and stay rail-thin. If I cooked from her book semi-regularly, I'd puff up like a Thanksgiving Day balloon. There is no moderation in these recipes. Not that that's a bad thing. Butter and sugar make food taste good.

My conscience would never allow me to focus on one of her books, as I do not burn calories like a cowboy.

With its purpose being cooking for holidays throughout the year, A Year of Holidays makes sense as a long-term project. I hope Ree's food tastes as good as it looks. I sure wish I made her hot cross buns last Easter, instead of Nigella's. They're on the agenda for this spring.

Ticking Them Off...FFwD

I don't have this week's recipe for French Fridays with Dorie prepared yet, but I do have a butt-load of recent make-ups to report on.

First, Provencal Vegetable Soup. Lots of veg. I liked the pesto mixed into the broth. Very tasty. I added chicken to make it more filling.
Conclusion: Liked it. Don't know that I'd go out of my way to make it again, but it was fine.

I actually made the Gateau Basque on time, but didn't post about it last week. I really wanted to enjoy this more than I did, primarily because the cherry preserves that I'd bought in April during a trip to Alberobello turned out to be DELICIOUS. I feel like I wasted the preserves, because I really wasn't impressed by the cake. I thought it was dry, and the cake itself didn't have a lot of flavor.
Conclusion: Just okay.

Lastly, the Coddled Eggs with (Pork Pate, not Foie Gras). Ugh. I don't even know what to say. The pate was gross, on its own, so I don't know why I thought it would taste ok in the end product. I cooked this according to Dorie's instructions. The egg appeared to be cooked right, but when I cut into it, the whites were still raw.
Ew. Then, I tried to just make poached eggs with all the same components--pate, tartufo spread, eggs. Again, I undercooked the eggs. I tried to eat it anyway. That pate made me want to puke.
After wasting 3 eggs and 2 spoonfuls of tartufo spread, I called it quits and made bacon and eggs. Classic. Perfect. Ha!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pasta and Zucchini and Booze-ahol

A bout of poor dinner planning paid off when I realized that I was in possession of the three ingredients necessary to make Rigatoni alla Pastora (Shepherd's Style Rigatoni with Ricotta and Sausage) from My Calabria. An added bonus was that all three ingredients (pasta, ricotta, sausage) are things that Charlie will eat.

This recipe was easy. Cook chunks of un-cased sausages. Add cooked pasta to the greasy sausage pan. Mix some of the pasta water into ricotta until it loosens up and becomes saucy. Add the pasta and sausage to the ricotta. Season to taste. Boom. Done.
Not a pretty plate of food.
This was heavier than I would prefer, and it made enough to feed an army. Matt and Charlie both loved it, though, and it was simple.

Conclusion: Liked it.

I served Parmigiana di Zucchine with last week's Dorie recipe. If you have a million pounds of zucchini in your garden, this will use it up. If you're going out of your way to procure zucchini, just go the eggplant route instead. The zucchini is lightly fried in olive oil before being layered with cheese and sauce, but it doesn't take on that same luxurious silkiness that eggplant does. I was aware that what I was eating was inferior to eggplant parm for the duration of the meal. It didn't help that Costantino suggests you serve this at room temp, which is a huge mistake, because the mozzarella is tough at room temp. No bene.
Conclusion: Just okay. A heap of it is still sitting in my fridge.

When the relevant fruits (mandarin oranges, which my landlord has a grove of, and strawberries) were in season this year, I used Costantino's recipe to make Liquore al Mandarino, as well as the Fragolino Variation. Italians, including Costantino, use grain alcohol for their liquore. Too many of my friends have produced undrinkable limoncello with grain alcohol, so I learned last year, using a different "mandarinetto" recipe that using a mid-grade vodka produces a muuuuuuch smoother and more delicious drink. I substituted vodka into Costantino's recipe, too, but used her proportions of fruit, alcohol, and sugar-water/syrup. Both flavors are deeeelicious. Love them.

Friday, July 11, 2014

FFwD: (Cheese) Filled Zucchini Blossoms

Fried zucchini blossoms are near and dear to my heart. Growing up, my Italian-American next-door neighbor fried batches of flowers from her garden all summer long to lure me and her daughter out of their pool. Now, whenever I visit my mom during the summer, Ann makes a point of frying zucchini blossoms for me, because she knows how much I love them. (During winter visits, she inevitably brings over cookies. She's a good neighbor to have.)

Years ago, I asked Ann for her recipe. She gave me a list of ingredients and told me to mix them together until the batter looked right. This will come as no surprise, but my first run at frying my own zucchini flowers was an epic failure. Matt will eat just about anything that's fried, and even he found them inedible. I haven't really tried again since then, so I was very excited to give Dorie's zucchini blossom recipe a try.

Technically, Dorie's recipe is for Shrimp-Filled Zucchini Blossoms. I'm sure that's delicious, but here in Naples, I've only seen zucchini blossoms come with one filling: cheese. In my ongoing effort to learn to duplicate things I love from my time here, I decided to follow Dorie's cheese-filled variation instead of the shrimp one.

Finding zucchini blossoms was easy. Italians are crazy for these things (with good reason). They actually sell fresh packs of them at the supermarket. Or so I thought. I didn't realize until I got home, that I'd actually bought fiore di zucca. Pumpkin. Not zucchini. Oh well, no big deal. I couldn't tell the difference.
I don't know what army I thought I would feed with this many flowers. We wasted quite a few.

Is club soda the same as sparkling water? I don't think so. I used sparkling water, because that is what the lady in my Italian cooking class uses. If it's good enough for Vera, it's good enough for me.

This batter fried up perfectly. These flowers were crispy and delicious. I'll always love Ann's zucchini flowers best, because they're made out of love, but this is now my go-to recipe when I need to fry flowers--or any other vegetable, for that matter--myself. The cheese filling was, frankly, better than a lot of what I've eaten at restaurants around here. Well done, Dorie.
After much prodding, Charlie tasted, then devoured an un-stuffed flower, while skeptically reciting Green Eggs and Ham ("You may like them, you will see..."). Score.

Matt said this was one of his favorite dinners in ages. All hail my beloved zucchini flowers!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Calabria: Ciambotta

Oh boy, do I have a work-horse recipe for you! I flipped through My Calabria last Wednesday and realized that the recipe for Ciambotta (Southern Italy's Summer Vegetable Stew) would use up the ridiculous amount of vegetables that I had in my kitchen. I say ridiculous because we were leaving town for three days, and my bushel of produce would surely be rotten by the time I returned.
Between all the chopping and the individual frying of each component, it took longer than I normally prefer on a weeknight to complete this recipe. However, since it is meant to be served as a room-temperature accompaniment to grilled meats, you could prepare it earlier in the day.

I'm not sure that mine came out exactly as it was meant to. The recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of tomatoes. I didn't have that many, so I supplemented with canned tomatoes. I suspect mine was a bit more "tomato saucey" than it should have been. Oh well. Basically, the peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and potatoes are independently fried, then returned to the pan with onion, garlic, tomato, and basil, and left to simmer in the tomato juices for a few minutes. Then, you let it rest. So, it's uncomplicated, but does take a while.

The first night, I served the glop over pasta.
We had a kitchen at the place we'd rented for the July 4th weekend in Umbria, so I brought the leftovers along as a side dish for steak. I ate the leftover leftovers for breakfast, as a bed for an over-easy egg. YUM.

Conclusion: Liked it, with bonus points because it's the perfect "too-many-vegetables-in-the-garden" dish.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Calabria: Zucchine Ripiene con Ricotta

Well, looky here. Not 24 hours after preparing dinner, I'm posting about it. I don't know about you, but I'm impressed with me.

One of the vegetables I served with last night's dinner was Zucchine Ripiene con Ricotta (Baked Ricotta-Stuffed Zucchini). Zucchini stuffed with a mixture of fresh ricotta, onions, garlic, the zucchini pulp, and parsley? Yes, please.

Rosetta Costantino is a master of precision when it comes to measurements. I love this about her. The recipe calls for "6 small, tender zucchini." Italians around here go for wee little zucchini. They don't let them get very big, because they say they're more tender and sweet when they're small. It goes against my American "let's see how big this squash can get!" mentality. Anyway, 1 cup of ricotta, mixed with breadcrumbs and all the other stuff looked to me like it would make an awful lot of filling for 12 teeny zucchini boats.
I was wrong. Costantino was right. It's remarkable to me how this was the perfect amount of filling for 12 nicely filled zucchini halves--no skimping; no overflow.

This didn't blow my mind, but it was a good, salty, cheesy way to eat zucchini. Matt asked a few questions while he was eating that led me to believe he didn't approve, such as, "So, you liked this??" and "What's in here? Fish?"

FISH? What???

However, when I asked him after dinner if he thought it was good, he said yes. I'm confused.

Unsurprisingly, Charlie wouldn't touch it. Nor would he touch anything else on his plate except for one slice of cheese. It was a go to bed hungry kind of night for him.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Calabrese

Although I've been plugging along and enjoying recipes from My Calabria, I've (once again) been a delinquent blogger. Thanks for putting up with me.

Lo, these many days ago, on June 11, I cooked Tonno alla Menta (Fresh Tuna Pizzo Style with Wine Vinegar, Garlic, and Mint). Coat sliced tuna in flour, then fry briefly in some olive oil before removing it to a plate. Garlic, vinegar, salt, and mint leaves are whisked into the remaining oil, then poured over the tuna. Easy, fast, unusual, and it's meant to be served at room temp. The tuna should marinate in the sauce for at least 30 minutes, and supposedly improves the longer you leave it.
I don't think I've ever cooked a vinegar + mint combo. It was unusual, tangy, and very delicious. I'm a fan.

Conclusion: Loved it.

Unfortunately, that meal wasn't all grand. I'd also prepared Melanzane all'Insalata (Eggplant Salad with Garlic, Mint, and Hot Peppers). I was never much of an eggplant fan before moving to Italy, but I lo-o-ove them here. The eggplants are smaller, thinner, and much more flavorful than the hulking behemoths we get back home.  Not to mention that the Italian nonna's generous, extravagant use of olive oil works wonders when dealing with melanzane. I've often had an eggplant salad as part of an antipasti course in restaurants, and it's always good. I'd hoped that this recipe would turn out similar to those.

It didn't.

This was disgusting.
There's nothing appealing about that.
First of all, the eggplant are left whole, with slits down the sides, and boiled. Once cooked, they dry in a colander for an hour. Then, pour a mixture of vinegar, oil, garlic, hot pepper, mint and salt over the eggplant, and leave at room temp to marinate for 24 hours.

There was nothing good about this. The temperature, slimy texture, and hyper-vinegarized flavor were all totally gross. Neither one of us ate more than a bite. I wasted a lot of eggplant on this one. Not happy.

Conclusion: Hated it.

Another day, I made Pollo con Melanzane (Braised Chicken with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Pancetta). I could do without the chicken in this recipe. The thighs didn't absorb any flavor. They just turned out as your standard chicken thigh. The sauce, on the other hand, was amaze-balls. It reminded me of an easy recipe that an Italian woman that I know here taught me, in which cubes of eggplant are fried in peanut oil, then mixed into tomato sauce, except (shh! Don't tell!) this was even more delicious.
This recipe has you fry the eggplant in olive oil, but I stuck with my Italian's peanut oil. I hate wasting so much delicious olive oil just to fry something.

Cooking pancetta and garlic in olive oil, browning the chicken thighs, pouring in some white wine and letting it evaporate, then adding tomato puree and cooking it down until the chicken is finished takes this sauce over the edge. I want to try this without the chicken. I'm sure the chicken fat adds some flavor to the sauce, but the chicken itself couldn't compete with the sauce. I served mine on cannelini beans, but this would be equally great on rice, pasta, or just on a plate.

Conclusion: Loved it (sans chicken).

Last, but definitely not least, I brought Polpette di Melanzane (Crispy Eggplant Meatballs) to a friend's bbq yesterday. (Can you tell that it's eggplant season?) This is an appetizer that I've had at restaurants, and it's one of my favorite new foods that I've eaten since moving to Napoli. I knew I was going to try this recipe before leaving this book, and this seemed like a prime opportunity.

I was surprised at how easy this was. Boil diced eggplant for 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and squeeze out the water. Then, you just chop it up (it's already pretty mushy), mix it up with breadcrumbs, grated cheese, parsley, garlic, and an egg, roll small balls in more breadcrumbs, and fry in olive oil.
Homina homina homina. FEED MY FACE.
They were so good fresh out of the oil that they almost didn't make it to the BBQ. They were still wonderful at room temp. Two people separately asked me for the recipe. Even Charlie ate one. If my kid will eat eggplant in this form, it'll be a new staple in my house. I had to call them meatballs, but he didn't notice foul play.

It's a pet peeve of mine when I follow the measurements and sizing instructions in a recipe and end up with a drastically different number of items. I am delighted to report that this recipe says it will make 32 1-inch meatballs, and that is exactly the number I got. Bonus points!

Conclusion: LOVED it.