Category Archives: Recipe

Lentil Tales of Autumn (And Sausage Sunsets)

Salsiccia con Lenticchie (Sausage with lentils), a guest post by Gillian Nevers

I used to wonder why I started to crave sausages and lentils in the fall, just as the leaves on the trees began to change color. For a while I thought it was because of their palate – lentils range in colors from yellow to red-orange to green to brown and, even black – or their earthy taste. Then, one day while looking through photos taken on one of many trips to the Abruzzo, I came upon several taken at an autumn picnic next to a small, wetland refuge near Capestrano. I think it was the day after Emily’s birthday, but I’m not sure. However, I am sure that among all the wonderful things we ate that day, my favorite was the salsiccia con lenticchie, prepared by my dear friend, the late Linda Mantini.

Linda and Dan near Capestrano, 2010 picnic

We worked off a wonderful lunch of party left-overs, with a stroll around a little lake, attempting to identify a variety of water birds. Then we drove into Capestrano for cafe and gelato. While the rest of the family sat outside the bar soaking up what was left of the afternoon sun, Silvia and I walked across the square to a small shop. It was one of those dark little places you enter through a swinging tile curtain. An unmemorable place, except for the calendar of Mussolini displayed along with pope and kitten calendars, and a bushel of brown lentils on the floor in front of the counter. Silvia insisted on buying five kilos of the lentils for me. Knowing I was flying home in a few days, and worried about luggage weight restrictions, I protested. When Silvia said she would keep half, I agreed. Now, I regret not having taking all five kilos, as those lentils were some of the best I’ve every eaten and would have been worth the extra baggage charge!

Emily below CapestranoBack home, I searched through my Italian cookbooks for a recipe that came close to Linda’s. Everywhere I looked, the ingredients were things I could source locally, except for the sausage—it’s hard to find a coil of luganega, especially on short-notice, in Madison, Wisconsin. So, I substituted Italian sausage—a mix of hot and mild—from Fraboni’s, a family-owned Italian deli that’s been in Madison as long as I can remember (when I gave birth to Joshua forty-plus years ago, my friend Kathy smuggled prosciutto, crusty bread and gorgonzola into my hospital room, so I wouldn’t starve)! I served my version of salsiccia con lenticchie to friends who would later join us on a hiking and cooking trip in the Abruzzo.

Linda-inspired pasta & lentils

Every fall, when I get the urge to make salsiccia con lenticchie, it seems to strike me on the day I MUST eat it. So, I have to use what sausage is close at hand. In addition to Italian sausage, I’ve tried American brats, local pork sausage, and Spanish Chorizo. All add their own character to the dish, but no matter the sausage I use, my version never comes close to Linda’s.

Here’s my improvised version:

  • 3/4 pound brown lentils
  • 2 ounces chopped pancetta or smoked bacon
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finally chopped
  • 4 to 8 pure pork sausages – If you can find luganega, that’s the best.
Soffritto

Soffritto

Soak the lentils for about an hour. Fry pancetta or bacon until the fat melts. Add onion, garlic and celery and cook until soft. Add the drained lentils and cover with water. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until tender. In the meantime, roast, fry or grill the sausage.

Serve the sausages on a bed of lentils.

(Editor’s note…if you want it spicy, add hot peppers, and if you want to prepare long before serving, cut the sausage into inch-long chunks and mix into the pot of lentils, cover and keep warm until serving).

Carbonara and Muse

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/JoshuaLawrence

Oh, by the way, hospital food is not good the world over, Silvia and I snuck prosciutto, good bread and gorgonzola into the hospital when Sofia and Emily were born, it’s still my ultimate comfort food, 42 years on. – Joshua

Lentils, Sausage, Fall Sun and Abruzzo Mountain Air Are Good For You

A Plate of Salsiccie e Lenticchi and il Gran Sasso

Carbonara and Muse

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Scaloppine al Marsala, al Limone, and all’Amore

Real Italian Cooking is Often Simple, But Not Easy.

Guests and fish both stink after three days – the saying is the same in Italian as in English. But unlike aquatic creatures guests can buy a few more days by cooking a special meal or two. This is in part how a very un-italian family like mine (especially my mom) got its first lessons on how Italians really cook. My Grandfather took a trip to Italy almost every Spring and invited the waiters, cooks, doormen and anyone else he got along with to come stay with him in Milwaukee (which included a few days with us in Madison) when they every travelled through America. Enough did to change us.

Emily, Silvia, and the Scaloppine

I was thinking about this as I was organizing my pictures from the last few months. In a few of them there were some pictures of Linda, my mother-in-law who passed away this Spring. It’s impossible to list the many parts of our daily lives that remind us of her. My first instinct to write about food and how it passes through my life came when I watch her make her famous lasagna and I started taking pictures. I needed to ask her how she made the ragout for it before I could write it and now it’s too late to ask her directly. Italians use recipes at home, but for those dishes that they have made their own they follow more memory, sensation and whims than specific measurements.

Scaloppine di Tacchino Generation Transfer

Other pictures were of this Summer, when Silvia prepared our goodbye dinner for my parents and close family in Madison this summer. Emily helped, keeping her eagle eye on every move her mother made and tucking it always for the next opportunity the same way she learned to make her famous crepes. The main dish was scaloppine di tacchino al marsala. The original version are veal filets flavored with marsala fortified wine (or lemon juice). We usually use turkey or chicken filets.

The choice of entree made the evening a bit more emotional. Linda was famous for her scaloppine and it was one of her favorite things to prepare for us at Sunday lunch in L’Aquila – and Emily’s favorite to eat too.

Marcella Hazan, the author of the first cookbook I ever owned, recently mentioned on Facebook that if you have to follow the rules for French cooking but the apparently simpler Italian recipes require that you develop your own sense of it all. I usually don’t print many recipes, but thanks to time spent in the kitchen with my scaloppine provders and Marcella’s books…..

Turkey Scaloppine with Marsala (Scaloppine di Tacchino al Marsala)
loosely adapted from the Veal Scaloppine with Marsala recipe found in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan – Silvia goes my memory and adapts the oils to what’s available..

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoon olive oil (in the original it’s a mix of vegetable oil and butter, ingredients more common in the north of Italy)
  • 1 pound turkey breast filets
  • Flour, spread on a plate
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine (if you can’t find Marsala, use dry port in a pinch)
  • Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill to taste

Flatten the scaloppini (filets) with a meet pounder, hammering from the center of each piece outwards until each one is evenly thin. Put the oil in a skillet and turn on the heat to medium high.
When the fat is hot, cover both sides of the scaloppine in flour, shake off excess flour, and slip the meat into the pan. Brown them quickly on both sides. Transfer them to a warm plate, and sprinkle with salt (and pepper to taste, we usually do not). If the pan’s too small to do them all at once , do them in batches, but dredge each batch in flour just before slipping the filets into the pan to prevent the flour on them from becoming soggy which would make it impossible to achieve a crisp surface.
Once the filets are ready, turn the heat on to high, add the Marsala, and while it boils down, scrape loose with a wooden spoon all the browning residues on the bottom and sides. Add a touch (tablespoon?) of olive oil and any juices the scaloppine may have shed on the plate. When the juices in the pan are no longer runny and have the density of sauce, turn the heat down to low, return the scaloppine to the pan, and turn them once or twice to baste them with the pan juices. Turn out the entire contents of the pan onto a warm platter and serve at once.

Variation: if you don’t like Marsala, you can always roughly squeeze in a half lemon of juice. Most people here in Italy squeeze a slice of lemon on just before eating, to taste, as with any meat dish.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/JoshuaLawrence

Linda, a River Shrimp, and Me

A Summer Take on Italy Most Classic Garlic Dish


Aglio, Olio and Pommodorini

Aglio, olio e pepperoncino (garlic, olive oil and hot pepper) is one of the most sincere and dangerous pasta dishes. Dangerous because so many people shy away from garlic and even I shy away from the hottest of the hot stuff. But also perilous because in its simplicity to make and to devour, a plate of spaghetti doused with these two ingredients lightly simmered in olive oil can tempt more than more complex and expensive pastas.

Simmering Aglio Olio and Pepperoncino


I’m always hesitant to mess with near perfection, but in the summer there’s always another ingredient laying there, calling to you. The heat makes risk taking just that much easier.

Slow-baked tomatoes ready to jump

My friend Fabrizio C was playing with fire a few days ago (and only our tongues got slightly singed). Piccadilly and datterini tomatoes had come into their own on the Abruzzo coast when he invited a dozen friends over to his terrace for dinner. His twist was adding slow-baking breaded piccadilly cherry tomatoes (to dry them out a bit) at the end off the garlic, hot pepper and oil process.

Mixing it up

Slowly baking (about 45 minutes) and breading tomatoes dried them out while keeping just the right amount of juice and sweetness in to keep them slightly chewy but not as much as the al dente durum wheat pasta in which they were hiding.

Friends, tomatos and pepperoncino

This being summer we followed up with local vegetables – roast sweet peppers and above all some of the last great fresh fava beans of the Summer (to be eaten right out of the pod and accompanied by good pecorino cheese) as we washed it all down with some of this years Pecorino white and rich Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosè wines from the valleys between Pescara and Sulmona. The wine kept our conversation and appetite for summer dinners growing well into the night.

Friends, tomatos and pepperoncino

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

Aglio, olio and pomodorini

Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/JoshuaLawrence

Want to try making aglio olio and peperoncino and don’t want to look for it on the web? My first and favourite guide is “The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating” by Marcella Hazan. My hitchiker’s guide to Italian food.

Roast peppers

Also my friend Eleonor’s blog http://www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com/ is inspired.

Garlic on FoodistaGarlic

Navelli, The Town That Saffron Built

Red gold, yellow joy, and what makes Milan’s most famous rice dish so special


Or Saffron Seduction

If you drive from Sulmona to L’Aquila, chances are you’ll pass through the town of Navelli, the historic heart of saffron country in the high rising around the Appennines largest mountain: Gran Sasso. Centuries as the source of some of Europe’s most prized saffron helped build L’Aquila into one of Italy most beautiful but lesser known art cities. L’Aquila is still beautiful today, although devastated and off-limits from the earthquake 18 months ago. Despite this tradition, the hair-thin red threads (the colour changes to yellow in food and dies) have only recently made it into the local culinary culture because it was too expensive for its’ growers to eat – you didn’t eat your livelyhood in these breathtaking but cold mountain valleys.

Some experts say that the variety of bulbs used, soil and specific climate help produce some of the best saffron in the world. At least everyone in Abruzzo says will tell you that – and so would Remy, the mouse chef from the movie Ratatouille if he wasn’t a fictional cartoon character.

Lo Zafferano is still probably the world’s most expensive spice, but it’s now within reach of most of our pocketbooks; the tenth of a gram (a tenth the weight of a paperclip) of powdered Navelli saffron needed for the recipe below can be yours for around ten euros if bought in locally here in L’Aquila or the surrounding midieval castle towns. If it costs much less than that, you know it’s fake.

Given this historical importance the town of Navelli – were my mother-in-law is from and where we still spend much of our summers – it’s not surprising that it’s one of the two local products featured in Navelli’s sagra (local agricultural feast). The other food is the town’s tiny but delicous mountain ceci (chick peas).

Navelli’s Pro Loco association (http://www.prolocodinavelli.it/ ) has been putting on the Sagra dei Ceci e dello Zafferano one the first weekend after Ferragosto (August 15th) for 33 years, even in the aftermath of earthquakes. And the Palio dei Asini, a send-up of Siena’s Palio where untrained donkeys run instead of trained racehorses has been a natural satirical draw for thirty years. My niece was part of the trio – boy, girl and donkey – that won this year.

While saffron helped build L’Aquila and many of internal Abruzzo’s most beautiful cities and towns, the locals never dreamt of eating it. So Italy’s the most famous saffron dish comes from the northern city of Milan. The following recipe, the one used at the Navelli’s “sagra”, is a gem for it’s simplicity and how it draws out the best from it’s ingredients.

Risotto alla Milanese – Risotto allo zafferano.

Ingredients

Risotto allo zafferano (otherwise know as Risotto alla Milanese)
500 g of rice (a little less than half a pound)
100 g of butter (about a quarter pound
1-fifth of a white onion.
50 g parmigiano reggiano, grano padano or another classic Italian grated cheese
1 envelope of saffron from L’Aquila (with a tenth of a gram of pure saffron)
a half pot of broth broth

Instructions
Dice the onion and simmer in a spoonful of butter until lightly golden, then add the rise and stir continuously as you slowly add broth. In the meantime mix the saffron in a small cup of broth. When the rice is almost done (that is, the broth is almost entirely absorbed by the rice), add the remaining butter and pour in the saffron-broth mix. Sprinkle the parmesan on top just before serving. My wife Silvia’s trick is to add a tablespoon full of the saffron liquor that Navelli’s saffron cooperative sells.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

This recipe was also included with four others on a guest post promoting George Clooney’s recent move “The American”, set mostly in some of the most beautiful corners of Abruzzo.
http://www.focusfeatures.com/article/the_cuisine_of_abruzzo?pageref=5

Saffron on FoodistaSaffron


Arborio Rice


Risotto

Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil, Oh My!

Datterini” tomatoes are in season in Italy!

Pomodori datterini

One of my fondest memories, of my paternal grandfather, was roaming Southwestern Wisconsin in search of “perfect” tomatoes for the first BLT of the summer. For those of you unfortunate enough to not know what a BLT is, it’s a sandwich made with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.

Grandpa Miles, bought the bacon from a butcher in the town of Plain, the lettuce came from a grocery store, or someone’s garden –– it didn’t matter where. The bread was white and the more processed the better. But, the tomatoes had to be excellent, and locally grown. Back then, in the rural, sparsely populated Midwestern countryside, tomatoes, as most veggies like sweet corn, peppers and cucumbers were good only when they were in season and grown nearby. Come to think of it, that’s probably true today.

We had other pastimes when I visited Grandpa Miles in Lone Rock. One was fishing off of sandbars in the Wisconsin River for perch and other pan fish. The other was watching “Wheel of Fortune” –– that’s when my grandmother Genny joined us for the fun. But, finding perfect tomatoes for BLT’s is the one activity that means summer for me. Summer and tomatoes and driving from farm stand to farm stand go hand in hand in my memory.

Caprese Salad Ingredients - datterini style

Even knowing that tomatoes originated in the Americas and are relatively new to the European diet, having spread in common use in the 1800s, the variety of tomatoes in Italy is striking. Especially if you grew up, like me, with only two kinds: the baseball or softball sized, roundish tomatoes, or the smaller, cherry tomatoes. I’m still becoming aware of the varieties available here on the Boot.

When it’s hot, as it was in Pescara today, one of the great summer lunchtime fallbacks is insalata caprese – the salad named for the island of Capri, in the Gulf of Naples. An insanely simple salad, caprese consists of sliced tomatoes, alternating with sliced fresh mozzarella, a leaf of sweet basil scattered here and there, and a few lines of good extra vergine olive oil drizzled over. If you really have to, a pinch of salt, to taste, may be added. Which brings me to the tomatoes.

Silvia bought a couple of pounds of pomodori datterini, literally “date-like tomatoes,” the other day. Pomodori datterini are about the same size and shape as dates and as

Lunch today: datterini tomatoes, abruzzo mozzarella, basil, salad

intensely sweet. But, their color, flavor, and aroma are all Ferrari red. They were a great substitute for the larger varieties usually used in caprese. We added a green salad (the “soncino” variety) with a dressing of the same olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Modena. Along with a few slices of local bread, the lunch turned out to be a meal that Sofia, and I agreed, was light, filling and very, very wonderful. Grandpa Miles would have approved.

Pomodori datterini begin appearing in early summer. Buy them up.

– Joshua Lawrence

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts


D&D (Datterini tomatoes & De Cecco olive oil)

Diced datterini tomatoes and basil

Grape Tomato on FoodistaGrape Tomato

Tomato on FoodistaTomato

Basil on Foodista


Mozzarella Cheese


Caprese Salad

Insalata Caprese on Foodista

Artichokes are Spring

Fried, pickled, in salad or alla romana, artichokes are irresistable however they are prepared

Artichoke alla Romana! (Da Oio A Casa Mia - Testaccio)

I’ve always loved artichokes – even when I was a picky eater, who shunned vegetables, despised “wet meat” and was convinced that cookies tasted worse when they were broken. Artichokes were one of the few typically Italian foods we ate in a very un-Italian way. My mom rinsed them, cut off all but a few inches of the stalks, and boiled them in water with a couple of cloves of garlic and some lemon slices, until the stalks were tender. Then, we would strip off each leaf, dipping it into melted butter, or, if I was really lucky, a sauce made from mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice and dill, before scraping off the tender pulp with our teeth. It was a vegetarian equivalent to oysters on the half shell.

I’ve never seen anyone dip veggies in melted butter in Italy, although food traditions are so varied here in the dairy lands in the North of the Boot, someone might be doing it. And, dill (“aneto”) was impossible to find here until just a few years ago. I presume that the influx of people from Eastern Europe must be changing this. Come to think of it, the lack of dill must also explain why those wonderful, king-sized pickles they sold at Italian markets in the US when I was young can’t be found in Italy.

In Rome, artichokes are king. They are everywhere, especially in spring. Carciofi alla Giudea – entire deep-fried artichokes most famous in the Ghetto, and in Trastevere, but popular everywhere are among my favorite. They sure know how to use a deep-fryer in the Eternal City! Linda, my mother-in-law has a talent for artichoke wedges fried in her special batter. They are a mainstay at our Easter Monday picnics. Silvia simmers artichokes, chopped up and mixed in with potatoes, for hours. And, diced pickled artichoke can make the difference between a tuna salad sandwich and an elegant carciofo e tonno tramezzino.

If you want to capture the essence of artichokes in Rome – or anywhere, for that matter– try one of the many variations on “carciofi alla romana”. There are many recipes out there – even my friends in L’Aquila have slightly different ways of preparing them. So, once again, I’m turning to Marcella Hazan, whose cookbook The Classic Italian Cook Book, first published in the early seventies, saved my culinary life when I moved to Italy in 1989 – and many times afterwards. The following recipe – reprinted by Elaine of  “The Italian Dish” (http://italiandish.squarespace.com), one of the best Italian food blogs I’ve ever seen – is simple in both ingredients and description. I strongly suggest reading Elaine’s article before trying it. In part because she wrote a wonderful introduction to Marcella Hazan and how these artichokes were part of the perfect Roman lunch, but mostly because the photos she has included make it almost impossible to mess anything up.

Roman Style Artichokes – 4 servings

  • 4 large globe artichokes with stems attached
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Bend back and snap off tough outer leaves from artichokes, pulling off enough leaves until you expose the central part of the artichoke with whiter leaves at the base.  Slice off tops and then squeeze some lemon juice over the cut parts, so they don’t turn so brown.  Using a paring knife, cut out the hairy choke inside the artichoke.  Trim the sides of the artichokes of any tough green parts.  Trim the end off stem and then, using the knife, trim the tough green outer part of the stem.  Rub with lemon.

In a bowl, combine the parsley, mint, garlic and salt and pepper.  Rub the mixture into the artichokes and over the outsides of the artichokes.  Set the artichokes, topside down with stems facing up, into a pot with a lid.  Add oil and enough water to come one third up the sides of the leaves (not the stems).

Cook over medium heat until artichokes are tender, 35 to 40 minutes.  Transfer artichokes, stems up, to a serving platter, reserving juices.  .  Let cool to warm or room temperature.  To serve, drizzle the pan juices over artichokes.”

The article and the crisp photos that walk you through it all can be found here:

http://italiandish.squarespace.com/imported-20090913150324/2009/1/2/roman-style-artichokes-and-marcella-hazans-perfect-lunch.html

In the end, carciofi alla romana (Roman-style artichokes) are easier done than said. Most classic Italian food is much easier than you would expect; the hard part is finding the best ingredients outside of Italy.

Carciofi alla romana can be served both warm or at room temperature, as a contorno (vegetable dish) or as an antipasto.

– Joshua Lawrence

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

Artichoke on FoodistaArtichoke

Back to Basics – Pasta al Pomodoro

Why Pasta is Always Good in Italy

For all the variety, in the end, Italian cooking is simple. It all seems to boil down to finding good ingredients, and letting them loose. This is why the foundation of pasta dishes – Pasta al Pomodoro (pomodoro means tomato) can be so surprisingly good. If the tomatoes are full of flavor, if the basil is fresh, if you use good olive oil (only olive oil will do) for the soffritto (the diced carrots, celery, garlic, onion or other ingredients simmered in oil before the tomatoes or tomato sauce is added), if you cook the pasta al dente ( http://wp.me/pfkhI-J ) and don’t drown it out with too much sauce, even this, the simplest of Italian dishes will sing.

There are no absolute rules other than to care deeply about the ingredients you choose and care for what you are doing, even if you are whipping up a last-minute spaghetti and tomato sauce (one can be done in less than 20 minutes. For the simplest of tomato sauces, the rules and traditions vary from region to region, family to family. Is it best to simmer bottled sauce for hours or heat up freshly picked diced August tomatoes to get the spices (oregano, basil, hot pepper, whatever) to blend in? There are no absolutes. As long as the end result is good.

Italians, like people from other Mediterranean countries, still try do buy at least part of the the food they eat food daily – and in season. The pressures of busy work schedules, traffic, and the presence of large refrigerators and freezers in most households have cut into this, but most people I’ve met try to fight the temptation, at least a little. Planning your meal from what’s in season locally may be the trend now, but it’s just getting back to the basics over here.

The other rule is that sometimes the recipe’s origin’s count. Pasta alla Puttanesca, legend has it, was a meal prostitutes (puttanea means prostitute) would prepare for their clients – usually with what they had around the appartment. So the original ingredients are canned, bottled, or under salt: canned tomatoes, drained capers and olives, a diced onion, oregano, salt, and a few strips of anchovies. Some recipes say the anchovies are optional. I don’t agree, but if you don’t like anchovies, garlic or onions, by all means leave them out. But for me that would be missing out on three or the world most slandered pleasures.

You can make Pasta alla Puttanesca with all fresh ingredients, but I would be tempted to change the name. Pasta all’Escort?

– Joshua Lawrence

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

Spaghetti on Foodista

Tomato Sauce on Foodista