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Purple Potato Ravioli with Won Ton Wrappers

Friday, December 17, 2010
Purple Potato Ravioli with Won Ton Wrappers

These won ton and I have become best friends. Especially now that the good ol' Imperia took off to new shores, and before I start pulling pasta sheets by hand...
I've already told you, haven't I, that won tons wrappers are easy to use, they don't require any flour because they don't stick to each other, they're so thin that the filling can be seen in transparency that it's a pleasure (and when the filling is purple, they are a such a jewel!), they're delicate and all in all you can even get used to their different texture? Of course, if you really want to commit yourself and prepare won ton dough from scratch, well, we're back to the same problem, but for now I'm quite pleased with the ones I get at Whole Foods, so beautifully squared out and ready to use. And I just found out that you can freeze them right as they come, stacked one on top of the other in their package. If need be, simply take out the freezer the desired number of squares, and they - to my amazement and wonder - won't oppose any resistance, coming off with ease.
I wouldn't go as far as saying that won ton give you the best ravioli in the world, because it's not true and because, despite appearances, I'm terribly romantic and pasta - especially when done by hand - will always hold a special place in my heart. What I can assert with confidence is that won ton will give you the fastest ravioli in the West, and that they will make quite an impression on a Thursday evening dinner of any given week.

Purple Potato Ravioli
with Won Ton Wrappers

for approximately 20-25 ravioli

purple potatoes about 500-600 gr.
goat cheese about 60-70 gr.
grated Parmigiano cheese 2 tablespoons
chives, salt, pepper to taste
won ton wrappers 8 per person
egg white to seal ravioli 1
butter, bread crumbs and garlic for the dressing to taste

For the filling, wrap potatoes in foil and cook them in the oven at 425 for 30 or 40 minutes, until they're soft. Peel and mash them while still hot. Allow them to cool slightly, then add the Parmigiano, goat cheese, salt, pepper and some finely chopped chives. Knead the filling with your hands until the cheese is smooth and well blended.
Place some won ton squares on the work surface (if you wish, cut them out with a ravioli cutter and give them a more proper shape...), and scoop a small amount of filling in the middle of each. Brush the edges with the egg white, slightly beaten (or with cold water), then cover each square with another won ton sheet, trying to eliminate any air bubble and pressing with your fingers to seal the ends.
Cook the ravioli in simmering salted water, and drain them after two minutes or right when they come back to the surface. Dress them with melted butter and a spoon of bread crumbs previously toasted in a pan along with a minced garlic clove.
Et voila.

Walnut, Apple and Raisin Scones - Arizmendi N.2

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Walnut, Apple and Raisin Scones

Long time ago, more or less at the beginning of this blog, I had told you about this bakery with the strange name, and I had talked about its scones, its buttermilk brioches, and maybe even about its special cooperative management structure, a unique experiment in the local scene, where each employee becomes an equal partner, and enjoys the same pay as any other.
Well. Now I can imagine that the news I'm about to give will not make you scream of joy, but it's with great pleasure - mine and of everyone living in the southern neighborhoods - that I can finally announce the opening of the second Arizmendi in SF, tucked between a wine bar and a yoga studio on Valencia Street, envied by all the Pupuserias and Panaderías of the Mission district. And if that still doesn't mean anything, just think that from now on I can literally walk there. Because Arizmendi and I are now neighbors!
To celebrate this joyous event, I went and grabbed from the shelves an old acquaintance of mine, masterfully escaped from the massacre of few months ago. If I remember correctly, at the time of the first Arizmendi post, I had also promised to try all the scones in the book, one by one (and very wisely, I had also avoided giving myself a deadline for the project). Hence, after 15 months, 10 days and 9 hours, here they are, Walnut, Apple and Raisin Scones, aka Arizmendi No.2.

Walnut, Apple & Raisin Scones
for 10 small scones or 6 large ones

all-purpose flour 1 3/4 cups (225 gr.)
sugar 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (75 gr.)
baking powder 1/2 tablespoon
baking soda 1/4 teaspoon
salt 1/4 teaspoon
butter, cold 1 stick (115 gr.)
dried apples 1/2 cup (50 gr.)
walnut 2/3 cup (50 gr.)
raisins 1/4 cup (30 gr.)
buttermilk 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (75 gr.)
whipping cream 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (75 gr.)
sugar and cinnamon to dust the surface to taste

Sift the flour and mix it with sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add the cold butter, cut into small pieces, and mix quickly until the butter is fully covered with flour and it's broken into small bits. Add raisins, apples and coarsely chopped walnuts, and mix. Make a well in the middle of this mixture and pour in the cream and buttermilk. Mix quickly, just until the ingredients are sufficiently blended together. Shape the dough in small rounds of about 2 inches diameter for smaller scones, or about 3 inches diameter for six larger scones. Place the scones on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, leaving them quite apart from each other, because they widen and flatten out during baking. Sprinkle the surface with 3 tablespoons of sugar mixed with some cinnamon and bake them at 375 for 20 or 30 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer them on a rack and let cool off. Right out of the oven, scones are very soft, and they will get firmer after cooling down. But they will still be very soft inside, thanks to the buttermilk.
You can make them in a second, and if you mix the dry ingredients the night before, you'll have them ready for breakfast in just about the time you can say Coffee! However, they should be consumed the same day.

Pear Jam with Chestnut Honey & Sage

Thursday, December 2, 2010
Pear Jam with Chestnut Honey & Sage

It's been a while since last time I made jams and marmalade. This year, summer inexplicably went by without leaving any trace between my cupboard's jars. An unforgivable mistake, indeed.
Inspiration magically came to me when I laid my eyes on, ehm...no, when I took possession of this thing here. Finally a book on jam making worthy of Christine Ferber, a 372-page volume full of irresistible colors and fragrance, a true ode to fruit, with a slightly retro style that won my heart.
Blue Chair Fruit is a fairly famous name here, some sort of cult for all those who happily hang out at farmers markets and specialty bakeries on Saturday mornings, a love song for the simplest of all breakfasts, a celebration of local and seasonal products, and yet another embodiment of the American dream.
Ok, I have to admit I'm a little biased, but trust me for now, and then, when you happen to be around here, I'll reward you with a tour de force on the streets of San Francisco, hunting for meyer lemons, early girl tomatoes, pluots and cranberries.
It's a done deal!

Pear Jam
with Chestnut Honey & Sage

for 3 medium jars

ripe pears, net 1,300 gr.
(I used Asian pears)
sugar 400 gr.
lemons 2
chestnut honey 1 tablespoon
apple cider vinegar 1-2 teaspoons
fresh sage leaves 5-6

Peal and core pears, and cut them in small cubes. Add sugar and juice of lemons, and mix well. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, pour everything in a large pot and bring to boil, stirring every once in a while. Let it cook for about 20 minutes, then puree about 1/3 of the mixture. Pour it back in the pot and keep cooking for another 20-30 minutes, or until jam reaches desired consistency, skimming when necessary. Add apple cider vinegar and one tablespoon of chestnut honey, stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Turn off the heat, add sage leaves, previously washed and pat dry, and let them sit for about 6-7 minutes (don't worry, their taste will become less intense once jam cools down). Discard sage, then pour the jam in cleaned and properly sterilized glass jars. Cover with lids, place the jars in a pot of boiling water, and boil for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars cool off in the same water to create vacuum.

Inspired by Pear Jam With Chestnut Honey & Sage, The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, by R. Saunders


Monday, November 29, 2010

And so goes another Thanksgiving weekend. And with extreme nonchalance I'll give you a recipe at the very end of the feast.
The thing is, in almost 10 years since I've moved to this foreign land, I've never dared to play around with the dishes of this tradition, also because my friend (the same one that years ago was spoiling us by pulling chocolate chip cookies out of the oven every other day), I was sayin', my friend, moved by compassion, always invites me to her T -Day, and I usually save myself bringing a crostata or a pumpkin pie, bought at the last minute at the French bakery close to my house (I know, these French know their stuff, we have to admit...).

This year, however, I've decided to be a much more polite guest, and with great pride I get down to work and try to contribute myself to the Mission Turkey. Virtually, and sensationally late, but the important thing is to participate, as someone once said... I almost want to commit myself, and promise that in the coming days weeks, when everyone will be thinking of heart-shaped cakes and pink ravioli for Valentine's Day, I will show up candid and innocent with some other dishes that usually never fail to appear on Thanksgiving table: sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, maybe even a pie (um... maybe...). And then, let's admit it, this way I can speed things up and in November 2011 I'll capitalize on it by linking wildly to the past :-)
But don't be fooled, you still won't see me struggling with the turkey (I mean THE Turkey, THE maximum weight, THE 20 Pounder, the perfect one, bloated, juicy, which, along with milkshakes, pompom girls and laundromats, has been in the settings of all our American dreams, from Happy Days to Fame), yes, THAT turkey... not yet. You must be joking, I can't do it. I may be a Girl In The Kitchen, but my name is not Martha Stewart. Preparing that turkey is like getting a green card, and I'm not ready, that's all.

But now no more talking, here is the first entry of my new category, Thanksgiving .
And to you all, thanks for being here.

for a cast-iron skillet of 8" diameter

cornmeal 140 gr.
all-purpose flour 125 gr.
butter 100 gr.
sugar 80 gr.
eggs 2
buttermilk 235 ml.
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
salt 1 pinch

For the record, cornbread is popular all year round and not just during Thanksgiving, and it's very common all over the U.S., although it's more traditionally associated with the cuisine of the southern states. There it's usually made using only cornmeal flour, with no sugar nor baking powder, and it's cooked in a cast iron skillet, thoroughly greased with butter, oil or lard, and heated in the oven before the dough is poured in. The result is a very grainy "bread" that crumbles easily (so much so that it's often eaten with a spoon with the addition of milk or buttermilk), it's not too sweet and has a pretty crunchy brown crust.
In the northern states on the other hand, cornbread batter is more like that of muffins or other quick breads (such as pumpkin bread or banana bread), the bread is soft and sweet for the addition of wheat flour, baking soda and sugar, and it's baked in the oven like a regular cake.
What I'm offering you is the Yankee version, with the addition of wheat flour. I prefer it because crumbs that fall all over are not for me, but at the same time I like it just a little sweet and cooked in a cast iron pan. But nothing against increasing the sugar, varying the proportion of the two flours, and preparing it in a regular baking pan (if square, even better).

Preheat the oven to 350, thoroughly grease a cast iron skillet and keep it warm. In a bowl, mix cornmeal, all-purpose flour and salt, and set aside. Melt the butter in a pan and let cool slightly, then mix it with sugar. Add the eggs, stirring until they're blended, then mix in buttermilk and baking soda. At the end add the flour mix and stir just until you get a sufficiently homogeneous mixture. Pour the batter into the hot skillet (or in a regular baking pan previously greased) and bake at 350 for about 30 or 40 minutes.

Roasted Grapes

Monday, November 22, 2010
Roasted Grapes

Here I am with the lazy recipe of the week. I know this should belong to the column For Dummies, but because of the famous marketing's laws, I decided it's better to introduce it as a minimalist recipe. It's so chic!
I could go on and say that the roasting process intensifies and celebrates grapes' inherent sweetness, at the same time creating a new taste and texture, with sweet and savory notes that make them an unusual but perfect addition to cheese plates, salads, and meat dishes.
Persuaded? Not yet? Well, you're quite difficult today. Just take these cooked grapes, throw them on some cheese, on a piece of bread, in between two rocket leaves, and stop whining.

Roasted Grapes

Roasted Grapes

black grapes, small and seedless about 1 lb.
olive oil 1-2 tablespoons
salt, pepper, fresh thyme to taste

Wash grapes, drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, and few fresh thyme sprigs. Place grapes on a baking pan, and bake at 400 for about 15-20 minutes, until they are tender and wrinkles start forming.
Ehm, yeap, that's it...over and out.

Squash, Bell Pepper & Coconut Milk. Thai Inspired.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Kabocha, Bell Pepper, and Coconut Milk Soup

Soup. One more time. Again, orange. Again, squash.
This time though, no butternut squash. Instead, I chose a kabocha, which may sound like a bad word, but in reality it's the name of a Japanese squash, small (well....of course, it's Japan style), round and very sweet. I'd even say that to me kabocha is no doubt the perfect squash, the real Cucurbita Maxima, the Rolls Royce of all squash.
Stuff that'll make all Cinderellas out there red with envy.

Kabocha, Bell Pepper & Coconut Milk
a (little) Thai Soup

for 4
kabocha (or other squash), cut in pieces about 1.5 kg
yellow bell pepper, large 1
onion, small 1
red Thai curry paste about 2 teaspoons
coconut milk 1 can (about 350 gr.)
lime 1
olive oil, salt, pepper, ginger, lemongrass, pumpkin seeds to serve to taste

My weekly soup is somewhat Thai inspired. Just as I've already experimented here, I started from a base of Thai curry paste, this time red, to which I added extra ginger, lime and lemongrass, just to make sure that the Thai effect be nice and strong.

Place cut squash on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake at 400 for about 45 minutes, until squash is soft. Peel it, cut the flesh in small pieces and set them aside. Meanwhile, roast bell pepper on the stove, peel it, discard seeds and white parts, and cut it in pieces.
Heat some olive oil in a large pot, sauté the chopped onion, about 2 teaspoons of curry paste (the exact amount depends on how spicy and hot the curry is, it's better to start with 1-2 teaspoons, and then add more at the end, if necessary), a small piece of fresh ginger, grated lime peel, and some chopped lemongrass. Cook for few minutes, until curry paste has dissolved, then add the vegetables. Pour in coconut milk and lime juice, bring to boil, and then puree everything with an immersion blender until soup is nice and smooth.
If needed, dilute it with some more water and add a little more curry paste. To serve, sprinkle each bowl with a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds.

Pecan and Fig Stuffed Quails

Sunday, November 14, 2010
Pecan and Fig Stuffed Quails

And so it happened that one fall afternoon Fate gave me four quails, poor them. And pitiless as Agamemnon, I decided to sacrifice them to this blog, like modern Iphigenias bound to propitiate some kind of Goddess' wrath.
But this time, as testified above, no divine intervention came to rescue the victims.

Well...what can I say? There's always a first time. But due to my poor familiarity with such mystical experiences, I'd like to add that most likely this whole thing won't happen very often. But...Oh My Goodness, these quails are really tasty.

Stuffed Quails
with Pecan & Figs

serves 2 (a little hungry) people

quails 4, already cleaned
(...so what? Are you kidding?)
dried figs 7-8
pecans 1 handful
onion 1/4
garlic 1 clove
brandy 2 tablespoons
orange, juice and peel 1/2
bread crumbs 1-2 tablespoons
honey 2 tablespoons
olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh thyme to taste

Rinse quails, pat them dry with kitchen towel and rub them inside and out with salt and pepper. Mince onion and sauté it in a little bit of olive oil with the garlic clove, peeled and cut in half. After few minutes add chopped figs, brandy, 2-3 tablespoons of orange juice and grated peel of half orange. Season with salt and pepper and cook for few minutes until figs gets soft. Discard garlic clove. Let the mixture cool down a bit, then add toasted chopped pecans and bread crumbs. Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper, if needed. If the stuffing is too dry, add a little more orange juice or olive oil. Place about two tablespoons of stuffing inside each quail, without filling them too much, tie their legs with kitchen twine and place them in a baking pan.
In a separate bowl, mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons orange juice and few fresh thyme sprigs. Brush about half of the mixture over the quails and bake them at 400. After 10 minutes, brush them with the rest of the marinade and bake for 20-30 minutes longer, until quails are nice and brown.

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Forgive me, but this post is not going to be translated. Whatever I'm saying in the Italian version makes sense only in Italian, where Butternut Squash becomes Zucca Violina (literally: Violin Squash, due to its particular shape).
Gosh, these Italians! They find the way to be romantic even with a squash.

Oh well, you may not get me ranting about nothing this time, but you still get the soup. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Soup
serves 4

butternut squash 1
sweet potatoes, medium size 3
onion 1
garlic 1 clove
vegetable stock, olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, fresh ginger to taste
yogurt and pecans, to serve to taste

Cut squash in half lenghtwise and discard the seeds. Place it on a baking pan lined with parchment paper along with the sweet potatoes, whole, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 for approximately 45 minutes, or until squash and potatoes are tender. Let them cool down a bit, then peel them and cut them in pieces.
Meanwhile, mince the onion and peel the garlic clove ans saute them with a little olive oil in a large pot. Add the chopped vegetables, season with cinnamon and nutmeg, cover with the stock and bring to boil. Puree the soup using an immersion blender, put the pan back on the stove and adjust the taste with salt and pepper. Add some freshly grated ginger, if you like it spicy, or a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup, if you prefer it sweet.
To serve, decorate each bowl with a little bit of yogurt and sprinkle with toasted and pecans, coarsely chopped.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pomegranate and Hazelnut

Sunday, November 7, 2010
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pomegranate and Hazelnut

What if I started a new weekly column? I could call it Lazy Sunday Cooking, or, better yet, Recipes for Dummies. What do you think?
Yes-yes-yes-yes-yeeeeesssss? Well then, let's begin!

P.S: Before I start ranting about the extremely difficult execution of this recipe, I must confess that I am a sucker for the use of fruit and/or nuts in savory dishes. I'm just telling you, en passant, in case one day you had this great idea of inviting me over for dinner.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
with Pomegranate and Hazelnut

for Dummies

Brussel sprouts about 2 lb.
pomegranate 1/2
hazelnut, peeled 1 handful
red onion 1/2
garlic 2 cloves
salt, pepper, olive oil to taste

Wash Brussel sprouts, cut the hard ends and discard the outer leaves. Cut the bigger ones in half, and leave the smaller ones whole, so that you'll end up with pieces of pretty much the same size. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper (if you'd like, you can also add a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate syrup, and if you're not that lucky to have a Middle eastern specialty store around the block, well, you can always make it yourself; don't worry, it'll still be a Recipe for Dummies).
Place Brussel sprouts on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, add garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half, and the onion, sliced thinly.
Bake at 400 for about 30-40 minutes, until Brussel sprouts are roasted on all sides.
Meanwhile, roast the hazelnuts in the oven for few minutes, rub them with your hand to eliminate the inner skin as much as possible, and chop coarsely.
Mix Brussel sprouts with pomegranate seeds and hazelnuts, and serve.

Orange Roasted Chicken

Saturday, October 30, 2010
Orange Roasted Chicken

Most likely at this point in time you’ve already figured it out yourself. I'm not exactly a kamikaze-foodblogger, ready to do anything to keep fueling the Holy Fire of culinary creativity. Sometimes I need to take a break, and it usually happens when at night I start dreaming of crying tomatoes, who beg me to find them one mozzarella that deserves its name; of lumpy dough growing out of proportion, accusing me of never feeding it with a sourdough starter; of out-of-reach croissants, that first shake their buttery fragrance under my nose, and then run, run far away, and happily jump into a bowl of coffee.

Unmistakable signs that it's time to take a vacation, amuse oneself in the sweetest culinary oblivion, forget how to make pastry dough, how to gut those poor sea breams, or why months ago I had bought a bag full of barley flour. And this time it hit me so hard, that for few weeks I seriously considered giving up and blog-retiring after only one year of (respectable) service. And because I trust you and I know you won't tell anybody, I admit that during the past months I've done crazy things, like selling 22 cookbooks (!!) one after the other, the Kitchen Aid, a clay pot that I had never used, and my beloved Imperia. And, even worse, I didn't even regret it. It was so easy. ZAC! The time to write an online ad, and that's it. Just try it.

And yet, as unexpectedly as it went away, the culinary fervor shows up again, taking over your commuter's fantasies and forcing you to reach for the few books that have survived the massacre. It may have been October's crisp air, that one random day ordered me to lock myself in the kitchen, baking cookies like crazy with the oven in full glory; or it may have been all those pumpkins, slaughtered for Halloween, that begged me to please use them for a risotto. The thing is, one day I simply went and bought a cute new apron, I took out the tools from the bottom of the drawer (what am I talking about? I don't even have a drawer...), and I recharged my camera's battery.

Enough doughs went under the blades, enough chickens went under the broiler to make me understand that it'll be always like that, an on-going change of feelings, an endless love/hate relationship with this insanity called blog. Foodblog, to be precise. That sweet vacation was not the first one, and for sure it won't be the last one either. Take me as I am.

Orange Roasted Chicken
serves 4

chicken, cut in pieces 1
orange marmalade about 1/2 cup
lemon 1
bourbon 3-4 tablespoons
red onion 1
oranges 2
salt, pepper, ground clove to taste

Why the Holy Fire hypnotized me with visions of chickens, citrus, and marmalade, I don't know. As for me, I didn't put up any resistance, quite the opposite, I took it as a good excuse to use one of the countless marmalade jars in my pantry, freeing up space for the next one.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towel and rub it with salt and pepper. In a small pan mix orange marmalade, juice and grated zest of lemon, bourbon, and ground clove, and warm them up. Pour marinade over the chicken pieces, so that they are covered on all sides, and let rest for at least one hour.
Then, place the chicken on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, skin side up, add the onion and one orange, quartered. Drizzle with the juice of the other orange, and bake at 400 for about one hour, or until chicken skin is golden brown.
Place chicken on a serving dish. Collect the juices from the bottom of the baking pan, place them in a small pot and reduce them to a thick sauce. Pour it over the chicken and serve.
It may be unnecessary to say this, but I strongly recommend eating the above dish with your hands. Lick it, people, lick it.

Pure and Simple

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dedicated to all those who have a dream. Those who never gave up, and those who are still searching. Whatever it may be.
...as they say, sometimes they come back.

“I started going to Italy a lot with my family, and once I was old enough I started to go on my own a lot, up to the point where I was going 3, 4 times a year, and I just really became obsessed with baking. It’s such a difficult thing to master, because every time you do it, one little thing changes your outcome: the weather, the way the water is, the flour, every batch of flour is a little different, the way it’s milled, the time of the year, the way the oven is working”.
“I just so got into it, I just kind of got lost in the idea of trying to become good at it. My grandmother was a super big influence on me, and my mother also. And also music, like punk rock hardcore music, mostly. It really spoke to me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone”.
“It’s just doing it with total awareness of every detail, you know it’s just being aware and constantly pushing”.
“I decided to open a place in New York City. When I was younger, that was always my goal. I had been saving a little bit of money here and there, and eventually, after six months of looking around, I found a location in the East Village, and I signed a lease and I started construction”.
“When I was kid and I was going to Naples and eating pizza... there was no pizza like that in America. When you went to Naples and walk down those back alley ways, and you go in there in these pizzerias where they had these beehive-shaped ovens covered in this tiny little tile, this raging fire flying out of the mouth of the oven, and these guys nonchalantly just sliding dough and then pulling it out like no care in the world. It’s like covered in wetness and oil, but not heavily topped, the focus is always on the dough".
“Every book that was written in the 70s and 80s, I’ve read! If it was about baking, Naples, or pizza, I’ve read it from cover to cover like five times! It was so incredible to make something with so few ingredients and have it have so many levels of flavor and be so different every day. And to me that was creative. Instead of having all these other options, to have olives, and peppers, and sausage, and tadatatata... I was like I’m already stresses out and wanna master this one thing that’s constantly evolving every single day and throughout the day, why would I even wanna deal with anything else? It’s so much easier to make anything, including pizza, with the more crap you put on it or the more things that you do to hide the truth of it and the simplicity of it”.
“When you walk into our place, that’s like basically walking into my living room. Everything in there I built with my own hands, everything hanging on the walls is from people that I care about, and beyond all that, the product that I’m serving is everything that I can give”.
“Every day I see new things, I discover new things. I’ve been doing this for 21 years, and I’m still struggling, and I’m still searching. So my universe is always expanding, because I’m lost inside this universe that I’ve created for myself”.

(A. Mangieri, Pure and Simple)

Una Pizza Napoletana

Picture taken from Una Pizza Napoletana website

Lemon Curd

Sunday, August 8, 2010
Lemon Curd

Epiphany n.1: lemon curd is very good;
Epiphany n.2: lemon curd is very easy;
Epiphany n.3: lemon curd is very fast;
Epiphany n.4: lemon curd is already gone!!

Lemon Curd
for two small jars

eggs 3
sugar 3/4 cup (150 gr.)
lemon juice 1/3 cup (80 ml): you'll need 2 or 3 lemons, depending on their size
grated peel of one lemon
butter 4 tbsp (60 gr.)

Straight from The Joy Of Baking, with some changes to the process. Oh, what a lemon joy!

In a small saucepan over a lightly simmering water bath, melt butter with the lemon zest. Add sugar all at once, stir quickly until it's all well blended, then add the eggs, lightly beaten, and the lemon juice. Stir and continue to cook gently until the curd thickens. It will take about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through a fine strainer to remove the lemon zest and any lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and let it cool.
It is said that lemon curd can last in the refrigerator for about 10 days....

PS: for those who were worried, just kiddin', my lemon curd is only "technically" gone. Don't touch it, as I've already decreed its end. Will find out in the next episode.

I wonder how, I wonder why
Yesterday you told me 'bout the blue blue sky
And all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree.

(Fools Garden, Lemon Tree)

Mini Pizzas With Bell Peppers, Anchovies and Capers

Monday, August 2, 2010
Mini Pizzas with Bell Peppers, Anchovies and Capers

I don't know why, this may be just another Manic Monday, but Mondays in August seem less painful. And so I feel obligated to take advantage of this wave of optimism and offer you some smiling little pizzas.

Mini Pizzas with Cream Cheese Dough
with Bell Peppers, Anchovies & Capers

for approximately 30 mini pizzas

flour 200 gr.
cream cheese 200 gr.
butter 40 gr.
red and yellow pepper 3-4
onion 1/2
garlic 1 clove
oil-packed anchovie fillets 10-12
salt-packed capers one handful
olive oil, salt, pepper, basil to taste

It's been a while since I started wandering around these mini pizzas. The recipe of the dough made using cream cheese is an old acquaintance, that has been cruising across blogs and forums for several years now. I don't know who needs to be credited for this creation, but whoever you are, I want to say thank you for such a phenomenal trick!
For the dough: in a large bowl mix butter, cream cheese, flour and a pinch of salt. Work well until the ingredients are perfectly blended (you can also do this by hand). If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Shape it into a ball, wrap with plastic and put it in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Meanwhile, roast the peppers over a gas flame, turning them to roast all sides. Place them in a paper bag for about ten minutes, then peel, remove the seeds and cut them into strips.
Finely chop the onion and sautee it with some olive oil and a clove of garlic cut in half, until it becomes transparent. Add bell pepper strips, season with salt and pepper and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and let cool down.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, dust the work surface with flour, and using a rolling pin, roll it out to approximately 1/4 inch thickness. Using a pastry ring or a cookie cutter, cut out several discs of about 2.5 or 3 inches diameter. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place some bell pepper strips, few capers and half anchovy fillet on top of each one. Sprinkle the pizzas with chopped basil, and bake them at 400 for about 15 to 20 minutes, until they are golden brown. Serve warm.

Salt-Baked Branzino

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Salt-baked branzino

No, my dear sea bass, please don't look at me that way. I've already made up my mind, and let's not argue. And then, what are you complaining about? You'll end up in a classic, everyone will love it. So stop making that face...

Salt Baked Branzino
for 2

whole branzino (sea bass) 1, approximately 2 lb 3 oz
coarse sea salt 2 to 4 lb, depending on the size of the fish
parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, pepper to taste

Clean and gut the sea bass, and rinse it under running water (... in cases like this, it wouldn't hurt to be friends with the fish guy).
Arrange half of the salt on the bottom of a baking pan, place the fish on top of it and coat it well with the other half of the salt. Bake at 400 for 35 to 40 minutes. When ready, transfer the sea bass on a plate, break the salt shell that will have formed and fillet it. Serve with a sauce prepared by mixing oil, pepper, chopped parsley, juice and zest of lemon.
If you wish, before baking you can season the inside of the fish with chopped herbs, a couple of bay leaves, some garlic and/or lemon slices.

Stuffed Eggplants

Friday, July 23, 2010
Stuffed Eggplants

Reluctantly, at some point I had to resign myself and put a right end to my eggplants.

Stuffed Eggplants
for 4-5

baby eggplants about 8
black olives 6-8
salt-packed capers one handful
sun dried tomatoes 3
salt-packed anchovies 2
garlic 1 clove
bread crumbs 1-2 tablespoons
parsley, basil, olive oil, salt, pepper to taste

Wash the eggplants and cut them in half lenghtwise. Scoop out about two thirds of the pulp and dice it. Lightly season the eggplant shells with salt and keep them aside.
Chop garlic clove, capers, anchovies, rinsed from their salt and bones removed, olives, basil and parsley. Add the mixture to the diced eggplant pulp along with the bread crumbs, adjust the taste with salt and pepper, and mix well.
Mound the stuffing in the reserved eggplant shells, place them on a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 375 for about 45-60 minutes, until eggplants are soft. Serve them warm or at room temperature.

Swordfish Orange Tartare

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Swordfish Orange Tartare

And yet I had been so far-sighted! Back in December I had kindly ordered Santa Claus to spare the set of pans by Le Creuset and the latest Kitchen Aid and to send me instead to the Mediterranean aboard a yacht, to be rocked by gentle waves and spoiled by July's sun and fresh fish of the day.
But at this point I honestly think he didn't understand. No sign of the yacht. The sun, he sent it to different horizons to warm some young bathing beauty. The waves are oceanic monsters spitting wind and freezing fog. As for the Le Creuset and the Kitchen Aid, I've given up on them long time ago.

Swept away by the usual fate amidst the greyness of the city in August, I find myself with a piece of fish. Fresh, they say.
Santa Claus, ever tried tartare with oranges?

Swordfish Orange Tartare
for 2 (me and Santa Claus)

fresh swordfish fillet about 300 gr.
orange, small 1
shallot 1
salt-packed capers a handful
parsley, basil, mint a handful each
salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice to taste

Cut off the skin from the fish fillet (if necessary) and dice it not too finely. Mince the shallot, the capers, rinsed from their salt, and a generous amount of parsley, basil and mint. Grate the orange zest. In another bowl, whisk together the juice of the orange, few drops of lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Dress the fish with this marinade, adding the minced herbs and capers. Mix well and refrigerate for few hours. Before serving, drain the fish from the marinade.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

SHUG: More than anything God love admiration.
CELIE: You saying God is vain?
SHUG: No, not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off when you walk by the colour purple in a field and don't notice it.

(W. Goldberg & M. Avery, The Color Purple)

Roasted Garlic

Thursday, July 15, 2010
Roasted Garlic

Yesterday tomatoes, today garlic (... and what do you think, tomorrow basil?). Yesterday I gave you Neruda, today you have to deal with myself. But don't worry, I won't pass you any Ode to Garlic that I wrote, also because, to be honest, I'm not really a big fan of it. To clarify, I find places such as The Stinking Rose, with their best sellers like garlic martini or garlic ice-cream, a little intimidating. What can I do?

Yet, even garlic, usually so harsh, pungent, and even a little fetid, deep in its heart has a creamy, soft, and sweet soul. You just need to know how to rub him up the right way, and you'll see that even if he's mad and furious, you can shut him up.

Roasted Garlic

heads of garlic, whole
olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh thyme to taste
vegetable stock if necessary, to drizzle

Slice off the top of the garlic heads, about 1/4 inch from the top, but without separating the cloves. Place them on a baking pan, season with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme sprigs, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 375 for about 45-60 minutes, until garlic gets soft. If it darkens too soon, cover it with a sheet of aluminum. If necessary, pour some vegetable stock in the pan, so that garlic won't stick to the bottom.
Once cooked, squeeze the cloves one by one and you'll get a sweet and totally innocent cream. It's excellent as an appetizer, spread on top of crostini, along with a slice of brie or other semi-soft cheese.
And if you find yourself eating a whole garlic head, don't say I didn't warn you.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Oda al Tomate

La calle
se llenó de tomates,
la luz
se parte
en dos
de tomate,
por las calles
el jugo.
En diciembre
se desata
el tomate,
las cocinas,
entra por los almuerzos,
se sienta
en los aparadores,
entre los vasos,
las matequilleras,
los saleros azules.
luz propia,
majestad benigna.
Devemos, por desgracia,
se hunde
el cuchillo
en su pulpa viviente,
es una roja
un sol
llena las ensaladas
de Chile,
se casa alegremente
con la clara cebolla,
y para celebrarlo
se deja
esencial del olivo,
sobre sus hemisferios entreabiertos,
la pimienta
su fragancia,
la sal su magnetismo:
son las bodas
del día
el perejil
las papas
hierven vigorosamente,
el asado
con su aroma
en la puerta,
es hora!
y sobre
la mesa, en la cintura
del verano,
el tomate,
aastro de tierra,
y fecunda,
nos muestra
sus circunvoluciones,
sus canales,
la insigne plenitud
y la abundancia
sin hueso
sin coraza,
sin escamas ni espinas,
nos entrega
el regalo
de su color fogoso
y la totalidad de su frescura.

(P. Neruda, Odas Elementales)

Ode to Tomatoes

The street
filled with tomatoes
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it's time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth,
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

(P. Neruda, Elementary Odes)

Arugula and Melon Salad

Thursday, July 8, 2010
Arugula and Melon Salad

A shamelessly lazy post. In order not to lose my face with it, I play the universally valid card of the "With this hot weather, you don't really want to cook anything" (...and you don't need to know that here one would gladly use a wool hat).

Even more shamelessly, I even list you the ingredients:
- arugula;
- melon;
- goat cheese;
- salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.

With an act of extreme generosity, I spare you from the explanation of the difficult recipe. And if you're not convinced yet, take it as an excuse to equip yourself with the famous and super useful fruit baller.

Octopus Salad

Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Octopus Salad

When all of a sudden you long for the Mediterranean, but everything you have in front of you is fog, dense and damp, there are three things you can do to fix this:

1) Open that bottle of Coppertone that for centuries has been lying unused in the back of the drawer, close your eyes and inhale all the way to the bottom of your lungs;

2) Watch this for the millionth time, and be moved;

3) Pay a visit to your trusted fishmonger, he's got octopus for sure.

Yesterday number one and two. Today number three and so be it.

Octopus Salad
for 3

whole octopus, net 1, about 3 lb 5 oz
bay leaves 1
celery 1 stalk
salt, pepper, parsley, olive oil, parsley to taste

I hope you can buy an already cleaned octopus, otherwise good luck with that...
Mine was frozen, which it's not even bad per se, since freezing the octopus before cooking it helps tenderizing the meat. But if you're lucky enough to find a fresh one, but no fisherman has been so magnanimous to bang it against the rocks, you can always try to face it by yourself at the sound of a meat tenderizer. For me, nothing so romantic, I just had to wait for it to thaw. Cleaned and rinsed properly, my beautiful octopus was ready for use.
I brought a large pot of water to boil with a little salt and a bay leaf. I threw in the purple creature, and I cooked it with no mercy for about an hour and ten minutes (but you should adjust the time depending on the size of your prey). When the tentacles gently surrendered to the irreverent fork, I realized it was time to put an end to the torture. I turned off the heat and let the poor octopus cool down in its cooking water.
In the meantime I was able to forget about this whole nightmare and I perfumed my hands chopping up a bunch of parsley and squeezing the juice of two lemons. I made a very simple dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, to which I added the finely chopped parsley.
I then (re)took courage, and caught the octopus from the pot, searching for it in a now dark liquid. I held it for several minutes under running water trying to eliminate the skin as much as possible (ie... I was flaying it!). At this point, I cut it into pieces and put them in a bowl. I then reached for the fridge and took one harmless celery stalk, cut into small cubes and mixed them with the octopus. I seasoned it all with the olive oil and lemon dressing, sprinkled it with another pinch of black pepper and a little more parsley, tossed it one more time and that's that!

Pickled Asparagus

Monday, June 14, 2010

The post is superfluous and the recipe non-existent, they are driven only by the necessity of showing off those three cast iron gadgets, which I bought in a fit of madness an unspecified number of years ago.
All done, now I feel better and the gadgets can fall back into oblivion, as it should be. And if you really care for the asparagus... there you go.

Pickled Asparagus
for approximately 3 jars

asparagus, net 700 gr. circa
white wine vinegar 750 ml
water 750 ml
juice of two lemons
salt 2 teaspoons
sugar 2 teaspoons
coriander seeds, fresh dill to taste

Clean asparagus trimming most of their ends, so that they can stand in the jars up to about 2 cm from the edge (use the cut ends to make risotto or for a vegetable stock). Get the jars and the lids ready, sterilizing them for few minutes in boiling water.
In a large pot mix vinegar, water, salt, sugar and lemon juice and bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.
Put half teaspoon of coriander seeds and a dill sprig in each jar, and then fill them with the raw asparagus, trying to pack them as tight as possible. Cover with the hot vinegar up to about half cm from the edge and then close tightly with the lids.
Let jars boil for about 10 minutes (calculate the time from when water starts boiling again), turn off the heat and let them cool down slightly. Take them out of the water and let stand until vacuum is created.
Place in a cool spot and let rest for about two weeks before opening.

Tartine Bakery Zucchini Bread

Friday, June 11, 2010
Tartine Bakery Zucchini Bread

Just like blueberry muffins, raisin scones and pumpkin pie, zucchini bread is also a very inflated object over here. Every respectable coffee shop has its own recipe, and each variation has its own fans. With raisins, without raisins; with nuts, without nuts; with cinnamon, without cinnamon; with eggs, without eggs (vegan version); with cream cheese frosting or pure and simple.
To make no mistake, I got the recipe from one of my favorite bakeries, of which I had already told you about, here.

Today I made my own, but tomorrow... breakfast at Tartine anybody?

Zucchini Bread
by Tartine Bakery

for a 9" long loaf pan

flour 270 gr.
baking powder 1/2 teaspoon
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon
eggs 2
vegetable oil 125 gr.
sugar 150 gr.
orange marmalade 115 gr.
zucchini, net 285 gr.
walnuts 115 gr.
salt 1 pinch

Grate zucchini. Toast walnuts in the oven for few minutes, chop coarsely and keep them aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, beat eggs with sugar, oil and jam until the mixture is well blended. Stir in zucchini and salt, mix gently (by hand), then add the flour and finally the walnuts. Don't mix too much, it's sufficient that the dough just comes together: just like when making muffins, for a successful recipe it is important not to overwork it.
Grease a loaf pan with butter and dust it with flour, pour in the dough, and if you wish, sprinkle the surface with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes. Let the zucchini bread cool off in the pan for about 20 minutes, then reverse it on a rack and let cool completely. It keeps well in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, up to 5-6 days.

Asparagus, Green Curry and Coconut Milk Soup

Monday, June 7, 2010
Asparagus, Green Curry and Coconut Milk Soup

To start the week right and forget that it's only Monday, a super easy soup that tastes like exotic places, distant horizons and barefoot in the sand. With all the flavor of seasonal vegetables.
That is to say, dreaming doesn't cost anything, half hour in the kitchen at the most...

Asparagus, Green Curry & Coconut Milk
a Soup

for 4

asparagus, net about 1 lb and 5 oz
leeks 2
shallot 1
green curry paste 2-3 teaspoons
coconut milk 1 small can (about 5.5 oz)
lime 1
olive oil, vegetable stock, salt, pepper to taste

Clean asparagus and cut off the hard ends. Cut them into pieces and set aside. In a large pot, saute sliced leeks and chopped shallot in a little olive oil. Add two teaspoons of curry paste and a splash of coconut milk, and cook for few minutes until curry paste is diluted. Add the asparagus pieces (if you'd like, keep some of the tips aside to garnish the soup in the end) and cover with the stock. Season with salt, pepper, lime zest and bring to boil. Adjust the taste by adding some more curry paste, depending on how spicy you want the soup to be. Cook for 25-30 minutes or until asparagus are tender, then mix in a blender until you get a smooth puree. Put it back on the stove, add the lime juice and the rest of coconut milk, cook for five minutes longer and serve with some Thai basil and the asparagus tips kept aside, briefly steamed or sauteed in a pan.

Sweet Pea Ravioli With Won Ton Wrappers

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Sweet Pea Ravioli With Won Ton Wrappers

I made a long list of justifications and excuses for this post. Guilt has plagued me all weekend, no matter if the above ravioli have proved to be a quite respectable dish.

I will limit myself to list a series of facts, it's your task to draw the conclusions:
1) I've worked for years (too many...) in a so called Italian restaurant, run by Greek owners, with a Mexican pizza-maker, a Vietnamese cook, Brazilian waiters and hamburger with fries as the main course. I was the most authentic thing on the menu;
2) I live next to an Indian Restaurant named Zante (...!), famous up until Oregon for its curry flavored pizza;
3) The most popular sushi on the streets of San Francisco is the California Roll, with avocado and crab, but contenders for the title are the Dynamite Roll, with tuna, avocado, and spicy Mexican sauce; the Caterpillar Roll, with avocado, cucumber and unagi; the Philadelphia Roll, with smoked salmon, onion and cream cheese; and the evergreen Rock 'n Roll, with avocado, eel, and barbecue sauce;
4) Around here if you don't have focaccia, you're nobody, and so even the most famous Irish Bakery in the city has one with tomatoes and onions, perfect for a pint of Guinness;
5) Not only focaccia, but even if you don't have pesto, you're nobody. Spread it on chicken breast, slip it in bean soup, or throw it on a bagel with salmon, and you'll rule the streets. Guaranteed;
6) The latest Italian-French Revolution is called ciabaguette, not a ciabatta, not a baguette;
7) About pizza I shall not talk, 'cause my heart is torn, but if you're interested, take a look here, there's something for every taste;
8) And then, Praguese coffee-shops in the heart of the Latino neighborhood, Chinese-Mexican take-aways, triple cappuccinos with no foam, tofu burgers and vegetarian steakhouses, garlic ice cream, Andalusian tiramisu and tea lattes. Boy, some things do leave a mark. Have pity on me.

Although I don't think I got that far (see Number 5 and Number 7), guilt - I repeat - has haunted me for days, and I feel compelled to apologize.
I apologize to all the purists out there, to the Fundamentalists of the Imperia Pasta Machine and the Zealots of the Wok; I apologize to all the ghosts of Sunday lunches, of past, present and future; I apologize to the Brotherhood of the Ravioli and to that of the Won Ton. And most of all, I apologize to all the grandmothers, mother-in-laws and aunts, to those from Ascoli and those from Beijing. Forgive me 'cause I don't know what I'm doing, let alone what I'm writing, but more than ten years in this gastronomic melting pot have spun my certainties. The only one that still remains in me, the invincible fortress of my taste, is Pizza, the one with capital P, in which I'll always have one blind and unwavering faith. Of this I'm sure, and the rest is just a sand castle. Or a deflatable piece of dough. At least until the next post ...

Sweet Pea Ravioli
with Won Ton Wrappers

for 4

fresh peas, shelled about 250 gr.
green onions 2
olive oil, salt, pepper, mint, grated parmigiano cheese, butter to taste
won ton wrappers 32

The idea is not mine, of course. I found it online by accident; if you do a search for "ravioli with won ton wrappers", Google will open up a whole new world.

For the filling, blanch peas for a couple of minutes, drain and set aside. Cut the green onions into thin round slices and saute them in a pan with a little olive oil, add the peas, fresh mint, salt and pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes. Let it cool off, put everything in a blender with two tablespoons of grated parmigiano cheese and puree until smooth.
To make ravioli, place few won ton wrappers on the work surface and scoop a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each. Brush the borders with cold water, then cover each wrapper with another won ton sheet, trying to eliminate all the air bubbles and pressing with your fingers to seal the edges. As ravioli are ready, place them on a platter and cover them with a cloth.
Cook them in salted boiling water for two minutes or until they come to the surface. Dress them with melted butter, grated parmigiano cheese and a sprinkle of pepper.
And so the ravioli are served.

Note: Seriously, I was really curious to see the result. Won ton dough has a neutral flavor, and this works in favour of the filling, may it be made with peas, asparagus, cheese or whatever your imagination suggests. The difference is rather in the texture of the wrappers; I might call it stickier, or a little chewier. Nothing prohibits you from using the pea filling for some ravioli ravioli, or as an appetizer, spread on some toasted bread.