Insalata di arance

It’s time to lighten up a bit!

The Thanksgiving meal is now behind us, but December being the season of winter parties and holiday baking, more hearty, rich food awaits us.

We’re not complaining, of course.  We love this time of year and can’t wait to blog about some of our favorite seasonal foods – polenta con funghi e salsiccia, tozzetti, and panettone are a few of the recipes on deck at Due Spaghetti for the coming weeks.  We just think it’s a good idea to celebrate a few light and refreshing winter recipes, too.

Our inspiration for insalata di arance came from Luigi Vitali, baker-in-residence for Cossetta’s in St. Paul, recent recipient  of the Best Focaccia award in Minnesota Monthly.  Luigi, who comes from the village of Acquaviva delle Fonti in the Apulia region of Italy, was our guest for Thanksgiving dinner.

Serving such a traditional American meal to international guests inevitably leads to conversations about typical foods from their part of the world, and about half-way into our third wine, while musing over the presence of blueberries in our salad, Luigi told us how salt, pepper and olive oil are added to oranges in Southern Italy for a refreshing salad.

Oranges are a common winter food in many parts of Italy.  Each December, the citrusy smell of oranges and orange peel reminds us of Christmas time at Stefano’s mom’s house.  Two days following Thanksgiving, we still could not stop thinking about that orange salad! Ignoring the left-over mashed potatoes, wild rice, turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin and pecan pie in the fridge, we set about researching insalata di arance. 

Like so many recipes, there are variations on this one.  The one we settled on calls for oranges, fennel, anchovies, fresh oregano, black pepper, salt, and olive oil.  It is spectacular – the freshest, most aromatic salad you will ever enjoy, and the perfect break from the heartier foods of the winter season.

Ingredients for 2-4 servings
2 oranges*
Fennel, 1 small bulb or 1/2 of a medium bulb
2 anchovies
1 sprig fresh oregano
Olive oil

*Dark red Sicilian blood oranges would be spectacular, if you can find them.  If not, any orange will work fine.  We couldn’t find blood oranges, so we used one naval orange and one large, firm tangerine in order to have some variety in color and flavor.

Use a paring knife to cut away the peel of the orange.  Slice past the white of the peel just into the flesh of the orange to remove all of the the bitter pith.  Slice the orange lengthwise into round discs, and then cut each disc into halves and then quarters, removing any white pith from the center.  Place the orange pieces into a bowl.

Cut the stems and fronds off of the top of the fennel bulb.  Remove any damaged outer layers from the bulb of the fennel.  Remove a thin slice off of the base of the fennel and discard.  Turn the fennel on its side and cut the bulb into thin slices.  Chop the slices into smaller parts, and add it to your salad.

Cut the anchovies into small pieces, and add them to the oranges and fennel.  Chop the oregano and add it, as well.  Salt and pepper liberally, and drizzle with 3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir, and serve.

Download the recipe Insalata di arance.

Wine Pairing
Cusumano Insolia 2010

We wanted a wine that would not interfere with the zesty citrus of the oranges and the variety of flavors in the salad, but that instead would emphasize and highlight them.  Cusumano Insolia, a bright and lightly sparkling white, is produced in the same land where oranges grow under the warm Sicilian sun.  It was the perfect compliment to our insalata di arance.

Lasagna alla boscaiola

Things are coming together.  We moved into our new, temporary home last weekend, and finally we have a kitchen to cook in!  It is still a little under-equipped and we miss our favorite tools and utensils, but it is definitely an upgrade from cooking in a hotel room.  Our landlords agreed that their old electric coil stove was ready to be retired, and they installed a new gas stove.  There are wise and good people in our world.

Yesterday, our Nikon SLR camera was returned to us.  The flash doesn’t seem to be working, but since beautiful photos are taken with natural light and we’ve found the rooms of the house that are the best lit throughout the day, we don’t really care all that much.  It even snowed in Minneapolis, the sparkling white outdoor surfaces reflecting the sunlight through our windows.  There are no more excuses; it’s time to get cooking.

We put the kitchen through a rigorous set of tests this past week – 12 pans of lasagna over 4 days, to be shared with people who work hard and do their jobs well.  Classic lasagna alla bolognese; a vegetable-packed lasagna vegetariana; lasagna con ricotta e spinaci; and the crowd favorite, lasagna alla boscaiola.

Boscaiola comes from bosco, which means “woods” in Italian.  A boscaiolo (masculine) or boscaiola (feminine) is a woodsman or woodswoman.  Italian dishes with the -alla boscaiola descriptor are often mushroom-based recipes with a rustic, woodsy flavor.

This lasagna recipe is perfect for fall.  Wild mushrooms give it an earthy, nutty quality, which is balanced by the trinity of fontina, asiago and parmigiano cheeses and a creamy besciamella sauce.  It is the perfect rich and hearty meal to serve to hardworking men and women.

Ingredients for one 9×11 pan

For the lasagna
4 sheets of egg-pasta*
8 cups assorted mushrooms, thinly sliced**
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
3/4 cup diced fontina
3/4 cup diced asiago
3/4 cups grated parmigiano
1 batch besciamella (see recipe below)

*Homemade pasta is ideal.  Alternatively, use store bought fresh egg pasta.  Oven-ready, no-boil dry pasta, such as Barilla’s lasagna, will work, too.

**We used Porcini, Shiitake, Oyster, Portobello and White mushrooms.  The Porcini and Shiitake were dried, and in that case need to be rehydrated before use.

For the besciamella
100 g flour (just a bit more than 3/4 cup)
100 g butter (about 4 and 1/3 Tablespoons)
1 liter whole milk
1 dash of salt
1 dash of nutmeg

Prepare the besciamella in advance: Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat, taking care that the butter does not brown.  When melted, remove from heat and stir in the flour, mixing with a fork until it forms a paste.  Heat the milk gently until warm.  Add the milk a little at a time, stirring well after each addition until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  When all the milk has been added, return the saucepan to the stove over medium-low heat.  Add the salt and nutmeg.  Stirring continually to prevent the formation of lumps, allow the mixture to thicken and come to a boil.  Remove from heat and let cool.

If you wish, you can prepare the besciamella a day or so in advance.  Store in the refrigerator in a air-tight container.

Prepare the lasagna
Wash and thinly slice the mushrooms. Add olive oil and butter to a large saucepan, and place it over medium heat. Mince the garlic and chop the parsley, and sauté them in the oil and butter. Add the mushrooms, white wine and salt. Let cook over medium heat until the mushrooms release their juices and become dark brown and tender, and the liquids concentrate.

In the meanwhile, dice the fontina and asiago, and grate the parmigiano. Mix the cheeses together in a bowl and set aside.

When the mushrooms are cooked, it is time to assemble the lasagna.

Spread a thin layer of besciamella on the bottom of the pan, and place a layer of pasta on top of it. Add another thin layer of besciamella, followed by a layer of mushrooms. Sprinkle a handful of cheese on top of the mushrooms, and then begin the process all over again with a new layer of pasta. Add another layer of besciamella, a layer of mushrooms, and a sprinkling of cheese. You should have enough for four layers of pasta, finishing with the besciamella, mushrooms and cheese on top.

Bake at 350° until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 45 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

If you wish, the lasagna can be prepared and kept for 2-3 days in the refrigerator before baking. Or, it can be frozen to be baked at a later time.

Download the recipe for Lasagna alla boscaiola.

Wine Pairing

We paired our lasagna alla boscaiola with a Pinot Grigio by Kris, a producer from the mushroom-rich region of Alto Adige in Northeastern Italy.   It is a crisp and refreshing wine, with a bright acidity that complements the creamy cheese in the lasagna.

Pasta e ceci

Tonight we needed comfort food.

Since the fire there have been a few too many unknowns, some surprises, and a disappointment or two.  Last night we packed up everything in our hotel room and loaded it into our cars, and this morning we checked out of the hotel, eager to move into the rental that we will call home while our house is being rebuilt.  A few hours later, we learned that there were complications and it the rental is not ready for us yet.

So, we are back in the hotel again, gearing up for week four.  Unpacking won’t be hard, because we don’t have very much with us.  Our other belongings are in the care of people hired to pack, clean, inventory and store it for us.  It’s all a good exercise in relinquishing control, and living in the moment.  Ghandi said, “I do not want to foresee the future, I am concerned with taking care of the present.”

We actually disagree with him on that first point – we’d welcome foreseeing the future right now.  But since we cannot, we’re going to find the positives.  The kids have one more week of hotel waffles for breakfast – with whipped cream.  They’ll get to swim in the pool a few more times.  Someone will make our beds in the morning, and bring us fresh towels when we need them.

To commemorate our return to room 710, we took out our two knives and two pots and prepared a wonderful pasta e ceci.  It was perhaps the best we’ve ever made it.  This pasta soup, as our boys call it, is nourishing and soothing.  Garlic and rosemary provide a fragrant base to the broth, while pureed chickpeas and pasta all’uovo,  (egg-noodles) give it a hearty texture.  There is hardly a more simple and delicious dish.  Our stomachs are full and our minds are at peace.

Olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary
2 16 oz. cans of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans)
6 cups water
1/3 cup pureed tomatoes*
2 cups egg-pasta fettuccine, cut or broken into pieces
Black pepper or crushed red pepper

*For convenience, we used Pomi strained tomatoes.  Alternatively, you could puree whole canned tomatoes.

Quarter each clove of garlic lengthwise and sauté it along with the entire sprig of rosemary (do not remove the needles) in olive oil over medium heat until the garlic is golden brown and the rosemary has turned a sage green color.  Remove the garlic and rosemary, and discard.

Rinse the chickpeas and add them to the seasoned olive oil.  Let them cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Add the water and tomato puree, and stir.  Turn the heat up to high and let it come to a boil uncovered.  Add salt and black pepper to taste.  We like a bit of heat, so instead of black pepper we used a dash of crushed red pepper.  After a few minutes, spoon out approximately 2 cups of chickpeas, crush them or puree them in a food processor, and return the to the pot.  When the soup boils, add the pieces of fettuccine and cook until al dente.

Remove from heat and serve in soup bowls with a drizzle of olive oil on top.

Wine pairing
We recommend you try a Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno with your pasta e ceci.  This organic blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese is a well-balanced and earthy wine with nice spiciness and acidity.