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Barley Soup

Monday, February 28, 2011
Barley Soup

Happiness only real when shared.
(E. Hirsch [written in a book], Into the Wild)

According to you, is there THE recipe for happiness? Or is it overrated, such as oysters, tofu, and Julia Roberts? I mean, does anybody know the perfect formula, quantified as eggs in the sponge cake, or is it absurd to insist on looking for that ultimate goal, unattainable as the raising of a soufflé? And then, is it true that to achieve happiness we must be inflexible and stubborn, endure fatigue, arm ourselves with patience and fold the dough a thousand times almost like a croissant? Who said that Rumtopf can be enjoyed only at Christmas? What if, instead of waiting for days and hours, we took a peek into the jar as early as September, inserted a finger into the syrup, and tasted strawberries and cherries?
Maybe happiness has nothing to do with the pâté de canard en croûte that no one can replicate; perhaps it's not so difficult to make the shopping list, decipher the ingredients, and find suppliers. Maybe you can even steal a piece of happiness in a cup of blueberries with whipped cream on any given Tuesday; or in a stick of cotton candy at Sunday's roundabouts. Perhaps a piece of happiness is also a walk in the moonlight under falling snow, the smell of freshly cut grass, a run in the rain through desert streets, a smile stolen to a stranger on the bus. Or a distant memory, come back to the surface by accident.
And maybe a bit of happiness can also be found in a bowl of barley soup, exactly the same as you used to eat when you were a kid. Possible?

Barley Soup
for a hungry army of people

pearled barley 200 gr
white onion 1
garlic 2 cloves
carrots 2
celery 1 stalk
smoked pork shank
(or a prosciutto bone with some meat on it)
bay leaves 2
sage leaves 2
bouillon cube 1/2
medium size potatoes 1-2
olive oil, salt, pepper, water, milk as needed

Finely chop the onion and sauté it for a few minutes in a little olive oil, along with the peeled garlic cloves. Add carrots and celery cut into small cubes and cook for few minutes. Combine the barley and toast it, then add bouillon cube, smoked pork shank in one piece (or the prosciutto bone), bay and sage leaves, and cover with about 2.5 liters of water. Cook gently for one and a half hour, adding more water if necessary. Peel the potatoes and cut them into cubes. Add them to the soup along with a couple of glasses of milk (more or less, depending on how creamy you like it to be), and continue to simmer for another half hour. Add salt only at the end, because the pork bone is already salted. Discard the herbs and serve with a sprinkle of black pepper. If you like, you can take the meat from the shank, cut it into small pieces and add them to the soup.

PS: I also tried a vegetarian version, but it was not the same happiness.

Orange Marmalade

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Orange Marmalade

Citrus Week, Part Three.
On orange marmalade, the world seems to be split in half: either you love it or you hate it, no shades of gray. I belong to the first group, so much that I keep making it again and again more or less every year, as soon as the jars in my pantry start to drop below the alarm threshold.
Say what you'd like, but orange marmalade, made as it should be, with all the pieces of skin in, that thick, stout, and super aromatic marmalade, besides giving you the illusion of being a bit British, it also makes you happy that it’s still winter.
Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating. Maybe it won't make you forget the cold, but for sure it alleviates some of the pain.

Orange Marmalade
for about 10 medium jars

thick-skinned navel oranges, organic 8
organic lemons 2
sugar depending on the weight of the fruit
water as needed

The recipe comes one more time from the forum of La Cucina Italiana (oh, hi forum!), it was the first jam I've ever tried, and I always make it in the same way because I find it really good. I admit you must arm yourselves with a bit of patience, as the process is quite long, although actual working time is the same as any other jam. Basically you just need to leave the oranges to soak in water for a few days, and they do everything by themselves. You can sleep sweet dreams.

First of all weigh oranges and lemons, whole, and pour as much water as their weight in a large pot. Wash fruit thoroughly, remove the colored layer of their skin with a potato peeler, cut it into strips and add it to water. Do the same with the white part. Remove the seeds, cut citrus in small pieces, and add them to the water as well. Cover the pot and let macerate for 24 hours. After this time, put on the stove and cook gently until the orange peel becomes very tender (it'll take about an hour and a half). Turn off the heat, cover again and let macerate for another 24 hours.
Now weigh the fruit-and-water mixture, and add 70% of the weight in sugar (the original recipe calls for an equal amount of sugar, but to me less than that is fine). Cook over low heat, stirring frequently and skimming if necessary. When marmalade reaches the desired consistency, pour it into clean, sterilized glass jars. Close them tightly, place them in a large pot full of water, and let them boil for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars cool in the same water to create the vacuum.

Almond Cake with Blood Orange and Olive Oil

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Almond Cake with Blood Orange and Olive Oil

Well, I mean... it may be Citrus Week in my house, but a small treat fits in as well, definitely. I got the idea reading here (which in turn refers to this article, recently turned into this paper thing - and for those who are curious, no, I didn't buy the book, in fact I haven't even looked at it (oh well, only a peek), because to me, the dining section of The New York Times and its bookish extensions mean exclusively one thing, aka Mark Bittman; but I promise to return on this soon, I hope very soon, given that these days - apart from citrus - I'm hooked on M.B., and I feel compelled to share...), ok, where was I? ah, yes, Citrus Week. Just to make it a little less healthy, I thought I'd sneak in this cake. The suggestion came to me through the streets of the ether that I mapped above, but then I ended up changing the recipe and adapting it to my taste, and I added the almonds to make it a lot less light and vitamin-loaded. Or much more energetic, take it as you please. :-)

Almond Cake
with Blood Orange and Olive Oil

for a 9" loaf pan

flour 225 gr
almonds 100 gr
sugar 185 gr
eggs 3
extra-virgin olive oil 125 ml
plain yogurt 120 gr
organic blood oranges 3 large
baking powder 1/2 package (= 8 gr)
almond extract 1/2 teaspoon
salt 1 pinch
butter and flour for the pan as needed

Grate zest of the oranges and mix it with sugar, taking care not to remove the white, bitter part. It would be best to do this somewhat in advance, so that the sugar is well soaked with orange aroma. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Toast almonds in the oven for about ten minutes, grind them in a food processor until they're reduced to a powder, and add to flour. Keep aside.
Squeeze the oranges in order to have 125 grams of juice (and please mind the precision with which I've measured it... oh yes, it's a tough life that of a fooblogger; one can never bake a simple cake in full relax!).
Beat eggs with orange infused sugar until the mixture becomes sort of fluffy; add almond extract, olive oil, yogurt and orange juice. At the end mix flour and almonds, stir well and pour the batter into the pan that has been previously buttered and floured. Bake at 350 for about 60-70 minutes, or until the classic toothpick stuck in the center comes out nice and clean.

Octopus Salad with Citrus and Fennel

Sunday, February 20, 2011
Octopus Salad with Citrus and Fennel

With this post I inaugurate Citrus Week (blog or not blog, you should know that behind the scenes I now have some difficulties closing the fridge, due to an undefined quantity of navel oranges, kara kara oranges, pomelos (hey, you know pomelos? they're as big as basketballs!), lemons, sweet lemons, blood oranges, yellow and pink grapefruit, tangerines, and tangelos. And I'm not kidding, which is nothing short of alarming...., but this uh .. well let's call it professional deformation would be subject for another post, and here I prefer to ignore it, even if the space for comments is always available below, in case you want to offer advices and suggestions on so-called infallible therapies, relieving mantras and/or DIY remedies.
We were saying, Citrus Week, in order to inflict oneself 7 days full of vitamins and to resign more or less happily to a winter that doesn't want to go away. To make things a little more classy (yes, I mean, I have a reputation to defend...), I went and fished out - I mean, literally - an old friend. Same fishmonger, same frozen octopus, same nightmare.
Winter is back even at these latitudes, demanding some justice. Let's surrender this way.

Octopus Salad
with Citrus and Fennel

for 4

whole octopus, cleaned 1 of about 3 lb
onion 1
carrot 1
celery 1 stalk
bay leaf 1
fennel 1 large or 2 smaller ones
mixed citrus as needed
(I've used a yellow grapefruit and 3 different types of oranges)
olive oil, salt, pepper, fennel leaves to taste

For the octopus, first I'd like to tell you that the second time around is much easier: you go to sleep and you almost forget that you left a shapeless creature to thaw in the sink. In the morning, with a little effort, it's even possible to feel the tentacles and check their tenderness while sipping coffee. And with the second cup you even get to chat, with the octopus, just like that, talking about the weather, taking the opportunity to apologize and to feel at peace with yourself. But we're digressing, this is material for another post, or even another blog (how about The Adventures of Superblogger? or The Spaghetti Chronicle? or perhaps The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?)... HELP!!

Bring to a boil a large pot of lightly salted water, season it with a bay leaf, the carrot, the onion and a stalk of celery, all cleaned and cut into large pieces, then put in the octopus perfectly thawed (btw, if you find it fresh, go ahead, and then maybe you'll tell me how to clean it while drinking coffee...). When it returns to boil, cover the pot and simmer for about an hour (cooking time varies depending on the size of the octopus; to check if it's ready and sufficiently tender, just lift it from the water and stick a tentacle with a knife, it should give up easily). Turn off the heat and let it cool in the same cooking water.
Meanwhile, clean the fennel and cut it into thin slices using a mandolin. Peel the citrus fruits , removing the white membrane, cut them into wedges, and collect the juice in a separate bowl. For the dressing, to the juice of oranges and grapefruits add few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper, and some lemon juice if you'd like.
Mix fennel, citrus and octopus, cut into pieces, season with the dressing and sprinkle with a pinch of minced fennel leaves.

Carrot, Orange and Red Bell Pepper Soup

Monday, February 14, 2011
Orange, Carrot and Red Bell Pepper Soup

Since...um... it happens to be Valentine's Day, I thought about making something red myself. Close your eyes and ta daaaaaa! Here it is, a beautiful soup, or rather - what am I saying? - a good cream of vitamins. Very much orange and very little red, I think that's what I see. But trust me, or at least let go of your fantasy. It's February 14th after all, and the world around us tells us that for one day we can all be romantic, dreamers and idealists.

And for those of you who don't want to undergo this orangy-pureed version of Valentine's Day, hold on, I have another gift ready. And now don't go around saying that your girl in the kitchen has a heart as hard as Borlotti beans:

Orange, Carrot & Red Bell Pepper Soup
for 4

carrots, net 600 gr.
red bell pepper, medium size 2
oranges 2
white onion, large 1
olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley, stock (or water)

Peel carrots and cut them into thick slices. Clean red peppers, remove seeds and white membrane, and cut into pieces. Chop the onion and saute it in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add the vegetables previously prepared, let them cook for few minutes, then cover with water or vegetable stock. Bring to boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the juice of two oranges and the grated zest of one (or a good pinch of orange powder). Remove from heat, puree everything with great pleasure using an immersion blender, and bring back to boil, adding more water or stock if needed to adjust the texture. Sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley or, as I did here, with a spoonful of light pesto, made by blending a handful of arugula and few almonds, half clove of garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Chocolate Walnut Cake by Pellegrino Artusi

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Chocolate Walnut Cake by Pellegrino Artusi

About Pellegrino Artusi you probably know everything, and I'm also sure that unlike me, you've already tried a hundred of his recipes. For me, this would be... uh... the first time. After giving the go-ahead to Donna Hay, I thought to devote myself to another celebrity. And I must say, I like this Artusi, not only because this cake is delicious (plus it has no butter, and this makes it much less violent than the caprese, which is actually vaguely similar); but also because, reading here and there, I've learnt that he devoted himself to the culinary art only after he retired, and that he published his famous recipe book at his own expense at the tender age of 71 years. Which is to say, hope revives for all, whatever the road that everyone chooses to follow.

Chocolate Walnut cake
by Pellegrino Artusi

for a round cake pan of 9" diameter

dark chocolate 140 gr.
sugar 140 gr.
walnut, shelled 140 gr.
eggs 4
vanilla extract 1 tablespoon
candied lemon (or citron) 30 gr.
butter and bread crumbs for the pan as needed

Coarsely chop the nuts with some of the sugar (of course Artusi says in a mortar, but if we modernize everything and use a mixer instead, it'll be all right...), and pour them in a large bowl with the rest of the sugar. Coarsely chop the chocolate too, then the candied citron or lemon (yes yes... green light to the mixer!), and combine them with the nuts as well. Add vanilla extract and egg yolks, and stir well until the batter comes together. Whip the egg whites until firm, then add them to the nut-chocolate mixture, stirring gently from top to bottom. Grease a round baking pan with a dot of butter and sprinkle it with bread crumbs, pour in the dough (which should be not higher than one inch), and bake at 350 for about half an hour.
It's the classic Sunday cake, which is also well accepted today, although we're only on Wednesday, what you think?