venerdì 26 marzo 2010

Ready to go? I hope so because today I'm going to post one of the most famous and renowned all-time italian classics namely:

THE TOTALLY HOMEMADE LASAGNA ALLA BOLOGNESE.

It won't be easy but I'm sure you won't regret it!!!

Foreword:

The italian Lasagne are nowadays very common; almost every italian restaurant offers its own version.
There are many different recipes, almost one per region, the ingredients may therefore vary greatly.


Ingredients (4-6 portions):


For the dough:

200g common wheat flour and 200g durum wheat flour;

2 regular eggs (add more if the eggs are small - never ever add water), 1 pinch salt;


For the tomato sauce (ragù alla bolognese):

300g minced beef, 75g minced pork and 75g italian sausage (luganega);

400g chopped tomatoes, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons tomato extract;

1 medium onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk;

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVO) and 1-2 tablespoons butter;

1/2 glass dry white wine, salt, pepper and 1 big laurel leaf;


For the Bechamel:

1 litre milk, 70g butter and 70g flour;

2-3 pinches salt, some freshly grated nutmeg;


Further ingredients:

10-15 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano; some small butter pieces.


Preparation (2-3 hours)

Prepare the dough by mixing together the eggs, the two flours and some salt (this task would be much easier if you own a household kneading machine).
Take care - if you're not able to incorporate the flour in the dough, one additional egg may be necessary.

At the end, the dough should appear uniform and smooth, wrap the dough with a cellophane foil and put in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Now the sauce...

Finely chop the onion the carrot and the celery stalk, put a stainless-steel pot on high heat, add the olive oil and the butter and, once the butter has almost melted add the chopped stuff.
Add the minced beef and the minced pork, cut the sausage and add its pulp to the sauce together with the laurel leaf and some freshly ground black pepper - gently mix the ingredients.

Allow the minced meat to slightly and uniformly cook and the onion to get soft and very slightly coloured (it will take about 5 minutes - always gently stir).
Add the 1/2 glass wine and, after the wine has evaporated add the tomato chunks the extract -and some salt, allow to cook for 20-30 minutes.

Now, let's prepare the bechamel (besciamella):

Heat the milk (it has to be really hot), put butter & flour in a pot on medium heat while continuously stirring, once the butter has melted completely and you've obtained a smooth dough (take care - don't burn it), lower the heat and gradually add the hot milk while stirring.
After a while (some minutes) the bechamel will begin to slowly boil - add some salt and some grated nutmeg, remove from the stove and allow to cool down (if you want to keep the bechamel's surface as soft as possible, wipe it with a small piece of butter ;-).

The dough again:

Take the dough out of the fridge, sprinkle some flour on the table and begin to flatten the dough on the table using the rolling pin (there are of course also other means like e.g. those machines provided with two counter-rotating flattening rollers), remember - the thinner the better!
Once upon a time, the "sfoglia" (i.e. the dough once flattened) was judged to be thin enough only if a written text could be read through it...
Cut the flattened dough into rectangles (ca. 10cm x 12cm) and dispose the rectangles (a.k.a. lasagne) on the table
(don't forget to generously sprinkle the table with some flour to avoid sticking).

Put a big pot filled with hot water (ca. 5-6 litres), some salt (1-2 tablespoons) and 1 tablespoon olive oil (the oil keeps the lasagne well separated during cooking) on high heat.
Once the water starts to boil, plunge the lasagne (no more than 5 or 6 at a time) and let them cook very shortly (less than one minute), take the lasagne one by one out of the water and dispose them on a wet kitchen towel.

Once all the lasagne are done and disposed on the wet towel, take a well greased oven pan (about 40cm long, 25cm wide and 10cm high), cover its bottom with a small quantity of bechamel & ragù and start laying the first lasagna layer. Cover the following layers with bechamel, ragù and some sprinkled Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Cover the last lasagna layer with bechamel, sprinkled Parmigiano and some small butter pieces (no ragù anymore).

Put the lasagna in the oven (ca. 160°C) and bake for about 30 minutes.

Allow the lasagna to cool-down for at least 10-15 minutes (I know you're hungry but please wait - your well gained lasagna is too hot!!) slice & serve...

And as usual.....buon appetito!!!!!

giovedì 25 marzo 2010

The anchovy (engraulis encrasicolus) is renown in all mediterranean countries.
Anchovies are very high in Omega-3 and are therefore quite healthy.
A new recipe for my dear readers:

Spaghetti alla "ghiottona"


Foreword:


When my wife and I invented this recipe we were extremely hungry.
We managed to add almost every "sexy" ingredient we had in the fridge, the end result was however astonishingly good..



Ingredients (4 portions):


400g spaghetti, spaghettoni or vermicelli;

2 teaspoons small capers;

6-8 chopped "Gaeta" or "Taggiasca" black olives;

2-3 tablespoons fine breadcrumb;

1 anchovy fillet (acciughe sott'olio);

1 and 1/2 tablespoons pine seeds (pinoli);

2-3 chopped dried tomatoes in olive oil (pomodori secchi sott'olio);

1 tablespoon dried raisins;

1 garlic clove;

1 small fresh chili pepper chopped, oregano (if you wish), salt;

5-6 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive Oil (EVO).


Preparation:


Since almost everyone is able to cook spaghetti "al dente", I will concentrate on the sauce..

Put the raisins in a cup half-filled with hot water - drain the raisins once they're soft enough (about 5 minutes).

Put a 30cm non-sticking pan on high heat, add the EVO, the anchovy fillet and the garlic clove, after ca. 1 minute remove the garlic and add all the remaining ingredients except the breadcrumb.

Allow the raisins to slightly blow and the pine seeds to get very slightly coloured (it will take about 2-3 minutes - if the mixture gets too dry add some pasta cooking water), always check the salt!

Drain the pasta "al dente" and put it in the pan, turn gently (you may eventually add further 2-3 tablespoons hot water to ease the task..).

Sprinkle some breadcrumb on the spaghetti (just like Parmigiano) and serve immediately...

Buon appetito!!!



Further comments:


Since this recipe is quite tasty on its own, it is not necessary to add any Parmigiano Reggiano.

mercoledì 24 marzo 2010

In order to be forgiven by the non-italian-speaking people...

RISOTTO AL CASTELMAGNO
(risotto with Castelmagno cheese)

Foreword:

Castelmagno is a cheese which has been made for many centuries: the earliest known mention of it dates to 1277, but in all likelihood its origins are much earlier.
The cheese has been traditionally made in the Province of Cuneo (Piedmont), it is strained (like the famous Gorgonzola cheese), semi-hard and seasoned; it's produced from cow’s milk with an addition of small quantities of sheep’s or goat’s milk.
Its aging takes about 6 months in cool and humid caves.
The Castelmagno has a cylindrical shape, has flat upper and lower surfaces and a diameter of about 25cm with a height of about 20cm and a weight ranging from 4 to 6 kilograms.
It's known as one of the best italian cheeses.

Ingredients (4 portions - about 20 min cooking time):

300g "Carnaroli", "Superfino Arborio" or "Vialone Nano" rice;

3-4 tablespoons fresh butter;

1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots;

6-7 tablespoons grated Castelmagno cheese;

2 tablespoons grated parmigiano Reggiano cheese;

1/2 glass dry white wine (also sparkling is OK);

About 1 litre vegetable stock (broth) - you may use a ready product but please without glutamate;

Salt, grated nutmeg, white cayenne pepper.


Special tools:

A 30cm non-sticking pan;

1 wooden spoon (to avoid scratches).


Preparation:

Heat the broth and keep it as warm as possible during the whole preparation; put the butter in the pan and allow to melt on high heat, when the butter is almost completely melted add the minced shallots and after a short while (about 10-15 seconds) the rice.

Turn the rice in the pan for about 1 minute - you will see the rice getting shiny and nearly transparent (take care - don't overheat/burn the butter and the shallots).

Add the wine and let it evaporate; begin to add some stock while continuously stirring and always add enough broth in order to let the risotto gently boil during the whole preparation - you will see that the rice slowly incorporates the liquid.

After about 10-15 minutes add some freshly ground nutmeg, some ground white pepper and the grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Since the vegetable stock and both the Castelmagno and the Parmigiano cheese are relatively salty, it's sensible to add some salt, if necessary, at the very end.

Towards the end of the cooking time (about 20 minutes in total - try anyway the rice from time to time to check if it's already done) try the rice for the last time, if it's almost done - it's anyway a matter of taste - add the grated Castelmagno cheese, eventually some more butter (1 teaspoon) and allow to melt while gently stirring.

Serve hot.

You may add some more freshly grated Castelmagno to give the risotto an additional kick...

Some further notes about risotto:

Risotto with fish can also be prepared using olive oil and garlic instead of butter & shallots;

The broth can also be ordinary and non-vegetable.

A risotto is defined "all'onda" if it's kept relatively smooth and creamy or "al dente" if the rice is kept a little bit more consistent.

Parboiled or basmati rices should never be used for a risotto; these kinds of rices are genetically different from the italian varieties and will lead to quite different results....

Storia della pasta - parte prima

Sorry for the guys who do not understand italian, but this material will be in italian only (it's an old publication I prepared for a conference).
If you only understand a little bit, try to read it anyway and feel free to ask for clarifications.



Introduzione


Stabilire un’origine certa della pasta in senso lato è un’impresa a dir poco impossibile, in effetti, scoprire chi abbia per primo pensato di mescolare due ingredienti così comuni come la farina e l’acqua, non può di certo essere cosa da poco.

Un compito assai meno ambizioso è quello di stabilire le origini della pasta in ambito italiano, anche se esse sono probabilmente da ricercarsi in epoche antiche quasi quanto lo stesso concetto geografico dell’Italia (Antioco di Siracusa - V secolo a.c.).

Possiamo quindi asserire, con buona approssimazione, che la pasta (almeno in Italia) nasca dalla fusione di due culture alimentari, la tradizione etrusco-romana (o della pasta fresca) e quella mediorientale (o della pasta secca).



Le origini della pasta fresca


E’ etrusca la prima traccia “indiretta” della pasta nella storia d’Italia.

Nella tomba “dei rilievi” di Cerveteri, nel Lazio, sono state trovate delle decorazioni che riproducono gli utensili che, ancora oggi, vengono utilizzati per realizzare la sfoglia della pasta fresca: l’asse, il tagliere, il mattarello e la rotella dentata (per tagliare la pasta). Non è una testimonianza diretta e non tutti gli etruscologi sono concordi nel ritenere che si tratti effettivamente di strumenti utilizzati per preparare la sfoglia, ma è certamente un indizio interessante che supporta l’ipotesi che gli Etruschi, nel IV secolo a.c. , conoscevano qualcosa di simile all’odierna pasta fresca.

II laganon greco e il laganum romano, sono invece considerati i progenitori certi della pasta fresca che in epoca medioevale fonderà le sue radici nelle regioni del centro nord.

La sua diffusione toccherà in seguito anche il meridione d’Italia, dove l’impasto comprenderà sia il tradizionale grano tenero, sia il grano duro (come sembra facessero anche i romani).

Ai romani era anche noto un impasto di farina, acqua e formaggio (le lixulae[1]), dal quale si otteneva un cibo molto simile agli gnocchi, che veniva però considerato alimento poverissimo, vero e proprio ripiego alimentare per periodi di crisi nell’approvvigionamento di pane e frumento.

Le lagana, ancora nel I e nel II secolo d.c. , erano costituite da un impasto nel quale era inserito, a volte, anche un trito vegetale[2] (soprattutto lattuga) e che veniva in seguito fritto nell’olio.

Orazio, nel 35a.c. , descrive invece così una cena frugale a base di “porri, ceci e lagana”:

“[...] inde domum me ad porri et ciceris refero laganique catinum” - quindi me ne ritorno a casa (la sera) per mangiare una scodella di porri, ceci e lagana (Satira VI – I Libro).

Nel I secolo Marco Gavio Apicio (De re coquinaria) riporta una sontuoso ricetta a base di sfoglie sottili di pasta intervallate a carni di vario tipo, che ricorda molto da vicino le nostre lasagne al forno con il ragù:

Patina Cotidiana

Accipies frustra suminis cocta, pulpas piscium coctas, pulpas pulli coctas. Haec omnia concides diligenter. Accipias patellam aeneam, ova confringes in caccabum et dissolves. Adicies in mortarium piper, ligusticum, fricabis, suffundes liquamem, vinum, passum, oleum modice, reexinanies in caccabum, facies ut ferveat. Cum ferbuerit, et obligas. Pulpas quas subcultrasti in ius mittis. Substerne diploidem patinam aeneam et trullam plenam pulpae, et disparges oleum et laganum pones similiter. Quotquot lagana posueris, tot trullas inpensae adicies. Unum laganum fistula percuties, in superficiem pones. A superficie versas in discum, piper asperges et inferet.

Ovverosia (all’incirca):

Sformato quotidiano

Prendi pezzi cotti di poppa di scrofa e carni cotte di pesci e di polli. Spezzetta bene ogni cosa. Prepara una padella di rame; prendi delle uova, rompile in una pentola e sbattile. Metti nel mortaio del pepe e del levistico e lavorali; bagna con salsa di pesce, con il vino, il passito e poco olio, getta nella pentola e metti a cuocere.

Quando bollirà lega con l’amido. Getta nel sugo le carni tritate che hai preparato, stendi una doppia sfoglia nella padella di rame e riempila di polpa, cospargi di olio, fai strati di pasta. Quanti strati avrai fai tanti strati di trito.

Spiana con il matterello una sfoglia e tagliatala con un piatto gettala sulla superficie del pasticcio. (Cuoci) Copri di pepe e porta in tavola.

Nessuna di queste ricette prevedeva però una cottura preliminare della sfoglia in acqua bollente, elemento determinante per parlare di pasta nell’accezione attuale.

Bisogna arrivare al VI-VII secolo per ritrovare la definizione di “laganum” come di “un pane largo e sottile, cotto prima nell’acqua e poi fritto nell’olio[3].

Solo nella letteratura gastronomica medioevale, tuttavia, la lasagna verrà finalmente citata come tale.

Tagliata in nastri, fili quadrati o losanghe, essa verrà utilizzata in innumerevoli preparazioni perfettamente aderenti alla nostra moderna concezione di pasta fresca.



[1] Marco Terenzio Varrone, De lingua latina (I secolo a.c.).

[2] Ateneo di Naucratis, Deipnosophistai - I dotti a tavola (II secolo).

[3] Isidoro di Siviglia - Etymologiae.

Hi everybody,
please note that there's a new link concerning a units converter.

domenica 21 marzo 2010

The red mullet (Mullus barbatus) was highly appreciated by the romans.

Nowadays it's mainly used for soups or served deep-fried.

It's a white-fleshed and very savoury fish and it's still very popular in Italy.
Let's start with a first simple recipe:

SPAGHETTI AL POMODORO
(Spaghetti with tomato sauce)

Ingredients (4 portions):

400g spaghetti;

1 and 1/2 cans crushed tomatoes (about 600g) - take care, quality is extremely important, choose italian tomatoes - the better the quality the sweeter the sauce!

4 tablespoons extra virgin italian olive oil (EVO);

1 garlic clove peeled;

4-5 washed basil leaves;

at least 4 litres water;

salt.

History:

Pasta with tomato sauce is nowadays considered as one of the most known and appreciated italian recipes.
There are many ways to prepare the sauce, the version that I prefer is however the most simple. No grated cheese is necessary, especially if high quality tomatoes are used.

The origin of this recipe is not extremely ancient, its first known formulation appears in a neapolitan cookbook, called "Cucina teorico-pratica del Cavalier Ippolito Cavalcanti Duca di Buonvicino" dated 1832, some hundreds of years after tomatoes were first imported from the "New World".

Preparation:

Fill a pot with at least 4 litres water and put it on the fire.

Take a non-sticking pan, put the 4 tablespoons EVO and the peeled garlic clove in the pan and fry the garlic on high heat - take care - the garlic has just to become very slightly coloured; remove the garlic, lower the heat and add the tomato chunks to the oil (take care, chopped tomatoes tend to violently react when getting in contact with hot oil).
Add some salt and allow to slowly cook for further 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are well done, add the basil leaves and finally remove the pan from the fireside.
In the mean time, the water in the pot should have already begun to boil, add some salt (about 1 and 1/2 ordinary tablespoons) to the boiling water and throw in the spaghetti.
A few seconds before the end of the cooking time (see the pasta package instructions), prepare the colander, remove the pot from the fireside and substitute the pot with the pan, so that the tomato sauce gets warm again.
Drain the pasta, throw it in the pan and stir gently in order to evenly distribute the sauce.
Serve immediately and,

Buon appetito!