Archive | April, 2013

Grilled Fish, Pesce alla Griglia

Fish on the Grill!

Fish on the Grill!

A grill and a fine fish are a marriage made in heaven. To serve four to six as a second course, or two to four as a main course, you’ll need:

  • 1 or more fish weighing a total between 2 and three pounds, cleaned, scaled, and lightly scored, or slices of a large fish, for example swordfish.
  • 1/2 cup of marinade made with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and a few leaves of minced rosemary, bay leaf, or the herb you prefer (optional).
  • A folding grate to put the fish in, if you have it.

Briefly marinate the fish, slipping some of the herbs and lemon slices into the cavity as well.

Preheat the grill or start the fire long enough ahead to let the coals burn down.

Set the fish over the coals, basting it with the marinade as it cooks; the use of a folding grate with a hinge opposite the handle makes the fish easier to flip, and allows you to prepare several small fish at once.

Continue cooking till the flesh parts easily and the skin is crispy; in terms of a cooking time, figure 10 minutes per inch (2.5 cm) of thickness of the fish, measured at its thickest point.

“Grilled” fish can also be done in the oven. Marinate it as above, and set it in a pan with just a drop of oil. Roast in a very hot (450 F, 220 C) oven, flipping carefully when it is half-cooked.

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Asparagus Risotto, Risotto agli Asparagi

This is especially good in June, when asparagus is at its freshest. Though I generally use green asparagus, you could use wild asparagus, or — for a different color cast — either white or purple asparagus.

  • 1 pound (500 g) asparagus
  • 1/2 a small onion, finely sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) short-grained rice along the lines of Arborio
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, or: 1/4 cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine, warmed
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano
  • The water the asparagus was cooked in, topped off with enough beef broth or vegetable bouillon to make 1 quart, simmering
  • Salt and white pepper

Set a pot of water to boil, and while it is heating clean the asparagus.

Loosely tie the bunch of asparagus together, set it upright in the boiling water, and cook it for a few minutes, or until a fork easily penetrates the tip of a spear. Use tongs to remove the asparagus from the water. Trim the tips from the stalks and set them aside. Cut the remaining green part of the stalks into one-inch lengths and set them aside too. Return the white ends of the stocks to the pot, along with the broth or bouillon.

Sauté the onion in half the butter or the oil, and when it’s translucent, remove it to a plate with a slotted spoon. Next, stir in the rice and sauté, stirring, until the grains have turned translucent, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the warmed wine and cook until it has evaporated. Then add the one-inch lengths of green asparagus stem to the rice, and begin stirring in the liquid, a ladle full at a time. Should a white stem find its way into the pot, remove it. Continue adding liquid, and when the rice is almost done, stir in half the reserved tips. Check seasoning and continue cooking the rice till it’s al dente.

Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining butter and half the grated cheese. Let the risotto stand covered for two minutes, then transfer it to a serving dish and garnish it with the remaining tips. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over it and serve.

Yield: 4-6 servings asparagus risotto.

How to make risotto, illustrated.

On Making Orecchiette

Orecchiette, Puglia's Signature Pasta

Orecchiette, Puglia’s Signature Pasta

Orecchiette are Puglia’s signature pasta shape, and while they do vary in size from one part of the region to the next, you can be certain of finding them most everywhere. The name orecchiette means “little ears,” and if you look at them makes perfect sense.

Commercially or artisinally prepared dry orecchiette are about 3/4 of an inch across (freshly made are generally somewhat broader), slightly domed, and their centers are thinner than their rims, a characteristic that gives them an interestingly variable texture, soft in the middle and somewhat more chewy outside.

In discussing them in La Cucina Pugliese Luigi Sada says, “making them takes experience, ability and practice,” an observation that leads to the conclusion that you may want to buy them ready made. This is a much easier proposition than it was even ten years ago – Italians living in other parts of the Peninsula are discovering the Southern Italian cuisines and as a result there is a market for southern specialties; the major industrial pasta producers such as Barilla or Voiello have joined the small artisan shops in making them, and they are therefore readily available throughout Italy, while I have seen them in the United States as well. When you buy them, check the best used before date to be sure they’re still fresh, because I’ve heard that overly old orecchiette can be problematic to cook.

Truth be told, while making Orecchiette will take practice, the demonstration organized by the Masserie Didattiche di Puglia in the course of the 2013 edition of Vinitaly was fairly straight forward. Antonella, of the Masseria Palombara used stone-milled grain of the Senatore Cappelli cultivar they grow; she said it was developed on the one hand to be of uniform height with good grain production and easy to harvest, and on the other to be relatively low in gluten.

Orecchiette and the Ingredients for a Sauce

Orecchiette and the Ingredients for a Sauce

Here we have the orecchiette she made, with the fixings of a simple pesto sauce with which to season them: Sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, arugola, almonds, and (not pictured) olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

Orecchiette: Cutting The Dough

Orecchiette: Cutting The Dough

Orecchietta dough is straight forward: A kilo (2 1/4 pounds) of flour, and slightly less than a half liter (1 pint) water. Mix well, and knead until it is firm and pliable.

Orecchiette: Cutting the Snake

Orecchiette: Cutting the Snake

Once the dough is ready take a piece and roll it into a thin snake; using a knife cut blebs a bit larger than the size of your thumbnail.

Spread a first bleb across your work surface with the knife, then lift the pasta with a flick of the thumb and turn it inside out, as it were; doing so will make the center of the bit of pasta form up into a dome, and the oreccietta is done. Lay the orecchietta on your work surface and repeat the process with the next bleb.

This is one of those cases in which pictures give a better understanding than words, and the photos below will explain the process better than I can.

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife, Another View

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife, Another View

orecchiettaunderknife

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife

Turning an Orecchietta after Spreading It

Turning an Orecchietta after Spreading It

Rolling an Orecchietta Off the Thumb

Rolling an Orecchietta Off the Thumb

An Orecchietta Rolled Off the Thumb

An Orecchietta Rolled Off the Thumb

Orecchiette With Tomato (and More) Pesto

Orecchiette With Tomato (and More) Pesto

A demonstration wouldn’t be complete without a taste, and Antonella prepared a dried tomato pesto sauce for her orecchiette using dried tomatoes, garlic (just a little), arugola, and almonds. She didn’t give proportions, but said to grind the ingredients – go by eye – in a mortar, adding a splash of olive oil to keep the sauce from being dry, and seasoning everything to taste with salt and pepper. The picture will give you an idea of how much of the various ingredients she used; in particular there is enough arugola to add a bitter accent, but not so much as to turn the sauce green.

A couple of things:

Mr. Sada notes that there are large and small-sized orecchiette, and says that if you do not roll the ball of your thumb over the spread pasta, but rather leave it flat, you will have what is called a  strascinato, which is interchangeable with an orecchietta. If you instead just cut the piece of pasta from the snake without spreading it out you will have what is called a megneuìccje, which would (I think) be better suited to soup.

Regardless of the shape you make, let the pasta rest for a few hours before you boil it in abundant lightly salted water.

Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe

If you visit Puglia in the winter months you are certain to be served broccoli raab, probably with pasta, as the combination is extraordinarily tasty. There are many recipes for this signature dish; this one, drawn from the back of a pasta box, is quick and simple.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 1 pound (500 g) orecchiette
  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) broccoli rabe
  • 1 hot pepper, shredded
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Grated Pecorino Romano (not too sharp)

Pick over and clean the broccoli. Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the broccoli, and after a few minutes stir in the orecchiette and cook the two together until the orecchiette are done.

While the pasta’s cooking, simmer the garlic and the pepper in the oil, taking care lest the garlic brown and become bitter. Drain the pasta and broccoli well, turn them out into the skillet with the oil and garlic, cook, stirring, for a few seconds to distribute the seasoning evenly, and serve with grated cheese.

Pasta all’Amatriciana

Pasta all'Amatriciana

Pasta all’Amatriciana

Amatriciana sauce is a zesty guanciale (or pancetta, in a pinch) and tomato sauce, and though it’s commonly considered one of Rome’s signature pasta sauces, it draws its name from the town of Amatrice, which was just over the border into the Abruzzo before Mussolini redrew the maps.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 1 pound pasta, for example mezze maniche (shown here), bucatini, or thick stranded spaghetti (see note)
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) pancetta or guanciale, diced (see note)
  • 1 pound (400 g) ripe tomatoes (4-5 plum tomaoteos), blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Half an onion, minced
  • A hot pepper, seeded and shredded (or leave it whole if you want to remove it)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • An abundance (a cup) of freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Set the pasta water to heat, salt it when it boils, and cook the pasta. While this is happening, heat the oil in a skillet, add the diced meat, and cook until it browns, stirring the pieces about. Remove them to a sheet of absorbent paper with a slotted spoon and keep them warm. Add the onion to the grease in the pan, together with the hot pepper, and when it begins to color add the tomato pieces, which should be well drained. Cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, then return the diced pancetta to the pot and heat it through. Drain the pasta while it’s still a little al dente, turn it into the skillet with the sauce, cook a minute more more, stirring the pasta to coat the strands, and serve, with grated pecorino.

La Gricia, L'Amatriciana's Ancestor

La Gricia, L’Amatriciana’s Ancestor

Several Notes:

  • First, Romans traditionally make Amatriciana sauce with Guanciale, salt-cured pork jowl. It is similar to flat pancetta, but not as lean, and therefore has a richer, more voluptuous feel to it. If you can find guanciale, by all means use it, though in its absence pancetta will work. Bacon is not a good substitute, because it is smoked and also contains sugar not present in either pancetta or guanciale.
  • Second, Amatriciana sauce derives from a much older sauce called La Gricia, which the shepherds used to make by sautéing diced guanciale so gently as to keep it from browning, and adding freshly boiled pasta, a healthy dusting of pepper, and grated pecorino Romano. The Amatriciana sauce, with tomatoes, was initially enjoyed by the nobility, because only they could afford tomatoes.
  • Third, the people of Amatrice prefer to use spaghetti in preparing their signature dish. Romans often use bucatini, which do result in a different texture, but are happy to use other shapes as well, for example the mezze maniche shown here.