Filetto in crosta with 2011 Cuvée Arlette from Lauren Ashton Cellars

What a delight one recent afternoon when, there amidst the clutter in my inbox, was a note from Kimberly of Lauren Ashton Cellars, a small, boutique winery in Washington state.  Kimberly explained, “We have just started distribution in Minnesota and are hoping to spread the word. I see that you’re based out of Minneapolis and am wondering if you would be open to a collaboration of sorts?”

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Several emails and a phone call later, after weather delays due to the cold in Minneapolis and extra insulation around the package to ensure that the foil and cork seals would not be compromised by the low temperatures, a bottle of 2011 Cuvée Arlette from Lauren Ashton Cellars in Woodinville, Washington was delivered via UPS on a Saturday morning.

Lauren Ashton arrival notice

The bottle was placed to rest in Stefano’s cellar, after confirming its safe arrival with Kimberly and Bill, Lauren Ashton’s Tasting Studio Manager, who so diligently orchestrated the wine’s cross-country voyage from Washington to Minnesota.

Lauren Ashton Cellars

While we carefully considered pairings and waited for the right weekend to cook and blog about it, we learned more about Lauren Ashton, this Washington state winery whose curators contacted us out of the blue and offered us a bottle of their divine 2011 Cuvée Arlette, which boats a 94-point rating from Wine Enthusiast magazine and is worth every penny of its $50 price tag.

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Lauren Ashton Cellars is a newer winery, founded in 2009 by Kit Singh, a dentist by profession with a passion for wine.  The winery is named after his two children, Ashley Lauren and Ashton Troy.  Drawing from his wife Riinu’s Estonian heritage while honoring local pacific northwestern style, Singh quickly produced top-rated wines that blended Old World tradition with Washington state character.

The gifted 2011 Cuvée Arlette intrigued and challenged us.  Its tasting notes state: Cuvée Arlette is a dark and luxurious blend of Merlot (49%), Cabernet Franc (29%), Cabernet Sauvignon (19.5%), and Petit Verdot (2.5%) sourced from the Columbia Valley AVA. It exhibits aromatics of raspberry, black currants, cocoa, and caramel with hints of spiciness and minerality. The tannin structure is focused and elegant. 

The wine’s classic Bordeaux blend recalls an Italian Super Tuscan.  It is a complex, strong wine that desires a robust pairing.  We knew we needed a meat dish, but realized that this wine deserves something nuanced.  Anyone can grill a steak and pair it with a powerful red.  We wanted to create a dish with sophisticated flavors that would capture the elegance of the Cuvée Arlette.  We decided on a filetto in crosta – beef tenderloin wrapped in mushrooms, truffle oil and proscuitto crudo, enveloped in a pastry crust, baked until golden brown.

Filetto in Crosta with 2011 Cuvée Arlette

It worked.  The wine and the filetto balanced each other perfectly.  The flavors of mushroom and truffle were subtle enough to compliment the tenderloin, yet the sum of the parts of this dish were mature enough to stand up to, and exalt, this structured, sophisticated wine.

Filetto in crosta

Ingredients

Beef tenderloin; 1 and 1/2 lb or approximately 650-700 grams
Prosciutto crudo; 7 ounces or approximately 200 grams
Mushrooms; mixed varieties of your choice,  32 ounces or approximately 1 Kilo
Butter; 2 Tbls. or approximately 30 grams
Olive oil; 6 Tablespoons
Garlic; 2 cloves
Dry white wine; 1/2 cup
Truffle oil; two or three dashes, to taste
Puff pastry; one box (two sheets), or enough to cover the tenderloin
Eggs yolks; from 4 large eggs
Salt; to taste

Directions

  • If your puff pastry is frozen, set it out to thaw.  Preheat the oven to 350° F, or 180° C.
  • Chop the mushrooms into small pieces.  Add the butter, 3 Tablespoons of olive oil, and mushrooms to a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Once the butter is melted, add the mushrooms.  Let the mushrooms cook until their liquid has almost cooked off.  Add the wine, and again allow the liquid to cook off, adding salt to taste.  Set the mushrooms aside to cool.

Filetto di Crosta

  • Add the remaining 3 Tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet.  Heat until sizzling over medium heat.  Sear the tenderloin on all sides for about 20 minutes, adding salt as you turn.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Filetto di CrostaFiletto di Crosta

  • Lay out your prosciutto onto a cutting board so that it is ready to wrap around the tenderloin.
  • Blitz the mushrooms in a food processor along with the truffle oil until it becomes a paste.
  • Spread a layer of mushroom paste over the prosciutto crudo, and set the tenderloin on top of it.  Spread the remaining mushroom paste over the sides and top of the tenderloin.  Cove the tenderloin with the remaining prosciutto.

Filetto di CrostaFiletto di CrostaFiletto di crosta

  • Beat together the egg yolks and set aside.
  • Sprinkle flour onto a large cutting board or working surface, and place one sheet of puff pasty on top of it.  Sprinkle more flour onto the puff pastry, and roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch, or 3 mm, thick.  Repeat the procedure for a second sheet of puff pastry.
  • Set the mushroom and prosciutto covered tenderloin on top of one of the pastry sheets.  With the second pastry sheet cover the tenderloin, wrapping the top sheet over the meat.

Filetto di crosta

  • Using a pastry brush, spread beaten egg yolk along the base of the bottom sheet of the puff pastry, where the top sheet touches.  Trim any remaining puff pastry, leaving 1/2 inch, or 1.25 cm, extra on top and bottom.  Pinch the top and bottom pastry sheets together to seal well.
  • Brush the entire pastry-wrapped tenderloin with egg yolk.  If you wish, cut 8 thin strips of puff pastry and arrange them lattice style over the tenderloin for decoration.  Brush again with egg yolk.

Filetto di crostaFiletto di crosta

  • Place the filetto in crosta onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350° F, or 180° C for 30 minutes.  Remove from over and let sit for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to be reabsorbed.

Filetto di crostaFiletto di crosta

Serve with a bottle of 2011 Cuvée Arlette. 

Local Due Spaghetti readers, ask for Lauren Ashton’s Cuvée Arlette in your local liquor store and wine shops.  It’s distributed by Small Lot, MN.

Disclosure: Lauren Ashton Cellars provided a bottle of 2011 Cuvée Arlette free of charge for our sampling.  Cara and Stefano of Due Spaghetti received no other compensation or incentives for writing this blog post.  We share our impressions with our readers willingly and with pleasure, but not for profit or personal gain.

Pollo alla romana (Roman-style chicken)

Pollo alla romanaToday’s post is for my friend and colleague Julius, who cooks for his lovely wife Alexis on Thursdays. I promised him more chicken recipes on Due Spaghetti, as he’s already cooked his way through pollo alla cacciatora, pollo alle olive and pollo alla griglia.  (What is it with guys and chicken, anyway?)

It’s also a tribute to men everywhere who cook, care for children, fold the laundry, and vacuum the rugs.  Many an Italian man lifts not even a finger at home, but I’m fortunate that Stefano is among the enlightened ones. I’m also lucky that he is masterful at preparing chicken, evoking the methods and flavors he recalls as a child, when his mother would butcher a pollo ruspante, or free-range chicken, and cook it on the stove top.  It was one of Stefano’s favorite dishes, and one he still he requests when he returns home to Rome.

The tomatoes, peppers, capers and oregano make this a classic, roman-style chicken dish.  As is so often the case with regional recipes, everyone has their variation.  This version has its origins in the cookbook Cucina Romana by Sara Manuelli.  We’ve adapted it over the years by adding more peppers and tomatoes, and cooking it slower and longer, until the meat comes off of the bone.

It’s not a glamorous dish, but more like soul food, comfort food – rich and hearty, but complex in its flavor also fairly healthy.  It’s a guy’s kind of recipe, but sophisticated enough to serve to his significant other.

Ingredients
1 free range chicken, with the breasts  3-4 cut into pieces.
Olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced.
A small handful of capers, quickly rinsed under running cold water.
Oregano
2 cups dry white wine
1 large can (28 oz. or 1 kg) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
3 red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers, cored, de-seeded and sliced.
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Cover the bottom of a large saucepan (big enough to hold the chicken tomatoes and peppers) with olive oil.  Add the garlic, capers, a few sprigs of oregano (or dashes if using dried oregano), and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the oil, and gently fry the chicken pieces, turning them occasionally, until seared on all sides.  Pour in the wine and let it cook off, approximately 15 minutes.

Pollo alla romana

Toss in the peppers.  Add the canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first to produce a smooth purée.  If you don’t have a food mill, you can blend the tomatoes before adding them.  If you prefer, you can also leave the tomatoes whole.

Pollo alla romanaPollo alla romana

Cover partially to allow some vapor out, and cook over low heat for approximately an hour. Taste for salt after 30 minutes, and add more if you wish.  Stir from time to time to prevent sticking, and add white wine if more liquid is needed.  The chicken is done when or the meat comes off of the bone and the sauce has thickened.

Serve hot with a generous spoonful of sauce on top.

Pollo alla romana

Spaghetti con pesce spada e pistacchi – Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio

For seafood lovers like ourselves, our recent trip to Sicily was culinary nirvana.  At Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi we feasted on one amazing meal after another, each authentically with passione and orgoglio by hosts Cico and Lola.

We devoured:

  • Spaghetti al nero de seppia (Spaghetti with Black Squid Ink)
  • Spaghetti alle vongole (Spaghetti with Clams)
  • Pasta ai gamberi rossi (Pasta with Shrimp)
  • Cozze al pomodoro (Mussels in tomato broth)
  • Ostriche gratinate al forno (Baked oysters with breadcrumbs)
  • Spigola arrosto (Grilled Sea Bass)
  • Grigliata di pesce (Seafood on the Grill)
  • Gamberi rossi al pomodoro (Shrimp in tomato sauce)

One of our favorite dishes, Spaghetti al pesce spada con pistacchi (Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio), captured the essence of Sicily, with the uniting of freshly caught swordfish with ground Sicilian Bronte pistachios.

Cico served the pasta with a Sicialian white wine, Inzolia della vineria Principe di Corleone.  He generously shared his recipe with us to pass along to our Due Spaghetti readers.

Spaghetti pesce spada e pistacchi

Ingredients
one package of spaghetti
2 fillets of swordfish, preferably fresh caught
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
One large cherry tomato, or several smaller ones
One bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
Ground black pepper
Sea salt
Crushed red pepper
Dry white wine
Toasted bread crumbs*
Ground Bronte pistachios**

*Quickly toasted plain, unseasoned breadcrumbs on the stove top in a small amount of olive oil, minced garlic, and grated tuna roe.  Remove from heat, let cool, and store in an air-tight container.  (Tuna roe, also called bottarga di tonno, is expensive and difficult to locate in the U.S..  Bottarga di muggine can be substituted, or it can be omitted entirely.)

**Bronte pistachios are a high quality Sicilian pistachio grown in the region of Bronte. If needed, regular pistachios can be used and ground at home in a food processor.

Directions
Dice the swordfish into small cubes.  Set aside.

Mince the garlic and the parsley.  Add each to a large skillet (big enough to accommodate the cooked spaghetti), along with a few tablespoons olive oil, a half-cup of water, a few dashes of ground black pepper, a few dashes of salt, and crushed red pepper to taste.  Sauté over medium-low heat for several minutes. Add the cubed swordfish and the white wine and simmer for about 5 minutes, adding more white wine only if needed.

Remove the swordfish and set aside.  Slice the cherry tomato(es) and add them to the skillet.  If you have dry grated tuna roe, add a pinch or two.  Let cook for 5-10 more minutes, pressing on the tomato until it deconstructs.  Add more white wine and simmer to make a sort of reduction sauce.  Add a tablespoon or two of crushed pistachios and another tablespoon or two of toasted bread crumbs, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Return the swordfish to the skillet, mix everything well, and turn off heat.

Cook the spaghetti in salted, boiling water according to the directions on the package.  When al dente, remove immediately and drain well, saving one cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti to the skillet, turn the heat to high, and toss the pasta with the swordfish mixture, adding the cooking water gradually if needed to provide moisture.

Serve immediately with a dusting of bread crumbs and ground pistachio.

Spaghetti pesce spada con pistacchiSpaghetti pesce spada con pistacchi

Buon appetito da mammaliturchi!

~Cico e Lola

Insalata di polpo (Octopus salad)

Insalata di polpo

When Stefano was a child, he used to fish for polpi (octopuses) in the summer months when his family left the heat of Rome for their little house near the town of Latina along the Tyrrhenian Sea, a subdivision of the Mediterranean.

300px-Tyrrhenian_Sea_mapIf the boys went with their fathers – Stefano’s padre Andrea and uncle Zio Carlo, they took the car.  If not, they rode the 3 kilometers to the sea on their bicycles.

Because octopuses creep and crawl better than they swim, they like to congregate near rocks.  Thus, Stefano and his cousins used to stand on the pier that stretched out over low cliffs and fish for the eight-tentacled creatures.  To catch an octopus, they used a special lure called a polpara, which had a little weighted body surrounded by fish hooks.  The polpara was attached to a line, which they bobbed up and down to catch the octopus’ attention.

polpara_scatola

When a curious octopus wrapped its tentacles around the lure, they boys pulled the line up to claim their catch.  Back home, Stefano’s mamma, Maria, or his aunt, Zia Elena, cooked the octopus and made a delicious antipasto of insalata di polpo.

Insalata di polpoInsalata di polpo

Here in the land-locked upper Midwest of the United States, we fish for our octopus at the local seafood market, and enjoy the squeals of awe from our friends and family who’ve never handled or eaten this delicious sea creature.

Ingredients
serves 4

Two octopuses, approximately 500 grams or around 1 pound each.
2 carrots, or a handful of baby carrots
2 stalks celery
A bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
Olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic
Salt

Insalata di polpoDirections
Place the octopuses and a cork from a recently opened bottle of wine into a large pot of cold water.  If you don’t have a bottle open, this is a great excuse to uncork one!  No-one knows why, but southern Italians swear that a cork in the water renders the octopus more tender.  Bring the water to a boil, and then let boil gently for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat, and allow the octopus to cool to room temperature in the water it was cooked in.

Il polpo si cuoce nell’acqua sua. 

Insalata di polpoIn the meanwhile, dice the carrots and celery finely, and the garlic super-finely.  Chop about 2 tablespoons of flat leaf Italian parsley.  Place it all together into a medium bowl.

Insalata di polpoRemove the octopus from the water and pat it dry with paper towels.  Cut into small pieces, and add it to the bowl.  Cover with extra-virgin olive oil, stir in the juice of one lemon, and salt to taste.  Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes for the flavors to express themselves, then serve.

Insalata di polpoInsalata di polpo

 

 

 

 

 

Pollo alle olive

This weekend in July has been unusual on two fronts.  First, we’re home with almost nothing on our schedules.  Second, the weather has turned unseasonably cool and crisp – jeans and sweaters weather, reminiscent of fall.  This combination of factors put us into a cooking mood.  As if meant to be, we turned on the radio to listen to a weekly food and cooking program to find the host interviewing a Rome-based food historian and journalist about where to find authentic dishes despite a changing Roman food culture.

Pollo alle olive

Inspired, we began to page through our Italian cookbooks, particularly one called Cucina Romana by Sara Manuelli, pondering what to prepare for Sunday lunch.  We flagged several recipes to make in the coming weeks and months: a pesto from Frascati made with potatoes, tomatoes, almonds and ricotta; oven-baked ricotta with zucchini flowers; ciambelle al vino to dip into a chilled glass of white wine; and pizza, prosciutto e fichi, if fresh ripe figs find their way to Minneapolis in late summer.  We also came across a tried and true recipe –  pollo alla romana, or Roman-style chicken, whereby pieces of free-range chicken are stewed in tomatoes and red bell peppers until the meat separates from the bone.

pollo alle olive

There was a chicken in our freezer waiting to be put to use.  We didn’t have red peppers, but there were black olives in the refrigerator.  A few online searches later we came across several recipes for pollo alle olive.  Similar to pollo alla romana, the chicken is cooked slowly in a tomato sauce rendered tangy and flavorful by good black olives, white wine and and Italian herbs.  It made for a  succulent Sunday pranzo enjoyed outdoors on cool but sunny Sunday afternoon in July.

Pollo alle olive

Ingredients
1 free-range chicken
Olive oil
Three cloves garlic
One 28 oz. (800 g) can of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Approximately 20-30 quality black olives, pitted
One tablespoon capers, rinsed
A dash of dry white wine
Sage
Thyme
Oregano
Salt

Pollo alle olive

Directions
Prepare the chicken by removing the skin and cutting the breasts and thighs into small pieces.  We had an extra package of drumsticks (legs), so we added them for good measure.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a large fry pan.  Slice the garlic into halves or quarters and add it to the oil along with the capers and herbs.  Gently brown the chicken in the oil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all sides cook.  Salt the chicken to taste as it is browning, remembering that the olives will contribute to the saltiness of the dish, as well.  Add the white wine and allow it to evaporate.  Finally, add the tomatoes (ideally pressing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce), and then the olives.

Pollo alle olive

Allow the chicken to simmer uncovered slowly for 45 minutes or more.  It is ready when the sauce thickens and the meat pulls away from the bone.  We served pollo alle olive in piatti fondi (pasta dishes) due to its sauciness.

Pollo alle olive

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Easter food is so good that we’ve been celebrating all week long!

Costolette di abbaccio a scottaditto

The subject of tonight’s meal, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito, is a storied Roman dish that is savored on Pasqua or Pasquetta, and throughout the year. But before we tell that story let’s take time for an Italian lesson, because it will all make much more sense then.

Costolette is a culinary term that means “chops” as in pork chops, lamb chops, etc.  It comes from the noun costola (singular) and costole (plural) which mean ribs – an anatomical term to describe this human and animal body part.  The diminutive suffix -etta, which indicates smallness, in this case distinguishes costoletta (singular) or costolette (plural) as the cooked meat that we eat – i.e. chops.

Abbacchio means suckling lamb.  This is not a common concept in many nations, so bear with us.  Agnello is the Italian word for lamb, and in fact there are many recipes for agnello.  However, abbacchio is something special, especially in Rome.  An abbacchio is a young lamb that has only been nourished with its mother’s milk when it is butchered.  The young lamb usually weighs 4-6 kilos and is just over one month old.

The etymology of the word abbacchio is curious – some have traced it to the Latin expression ad baculum, which means “near the stick” which may represent the stick to which the mother lamb was tied, or which may represent the stick that in ancient times was used to butcher the lamb.  Even today, the slang term abbacchiato is present in Roman dialect, meaning “beaten down.”

Finally, scottadito is a descriptor made up of two Italian words: scotta, and ditoScotta means “hot,” or “scalding.” Dito means “finger.” So, put together, scottadito means “finger-scalding.”  These chops are to be eaten with your hands, while the protruding rib bones are still so hot that they burn your fingers.

So, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito.  Finger-scalding suckling lamb chops.  It sounds better in Italian, doesn’t it?

Whatever language you name it with, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito is delicious – the gamey flavor of lamb is tempered by a rub of rosemary, sage and garlic.  It can be grilled, or pan-seared, as we prepared it.  To be truly traditional, serve them with oven-roasted potatoes.

Ingredients
One rack of lamb chops.  If you can find suckling lamb, this is ideal.  If not, lamb chops will work.
Rosemary
Sage
Garlic
Olive oil
Fingerling or Yukon Gold potatoes
Salt
Crushed red pepper (optional)

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Directions

Carefully cut the rack of lamb into separate chops.  We also chose to trim the excess fat, but that is a matter of preference.  Mince the needles from a few sprigs of rosemary, the leaves from a small bunch of sage, and a few cloves of garlic.  Spread the chops onto a baking sheet, drizzle olive oil over both sides of them, rub the herbs onto the meat, and salt to taste.  Add crushed pepper if you like a little heat. Splash them with some dry red wine, and let rest.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottaditoCostolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

In the meanwhile, heat the oven to 350° F / 180° C.  Peel your potatoes and cut them into small pieces.  If you are using fingerling potatoes, simply scrub them and leave whole with the skin on.  Place the potatoes into a baking dish, drizzle them with olive oil, add the needles from one sprig of rosemary, and salt well.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring them occasionally, until the potatoes are cooked inside and crispy on the outside.

Roasted Potatoes

While the potatoes are baking, return to the lamb chops.  Either grill the chops, or heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and sear them for a few minutes on each side.  If you use a skillet, be sure to preserve all of the oil, wine and herbs from the marinade.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottaditoCostolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Serve the costolette finger-burning hot, with the roasted potatoes on the side.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Scamorza al coccio

Back when we were young, before children and demanding jobs changed the landscape of our lives, we used to go out more often.  Now, evenings are centered around finishing homework, carpooling to practice, and doing laundry, while trying to stay ahead of the emails that stream into our inboxes.  Back then, it was just us, and we’d look at each other at the end of the day and ask, “Vuoi uscire?”  Do you want to go out? 

More often than not, we’d go to Annalisa and Franco’s birreria, Baraonda, in Rome’s Cinecittà neighborhood.  Annalisa and Franco were friends, and Baraonda was a dog-friendly place, which meant that we could bring our Newfoundland, Abby, with us.  After all, Abby was family – her mother was Annalisa and Franco’s lovely dog Thelma.

Abby

Abby

In summer months, we’d grab an outdoor table.  Without asking, Anna would bring us a Peroni and a Moretti Rossa, and a basket of taralli.  Then, she’d ask us, “Ragazzi, cosa vi posso portare?”   Often, we’d order la scamorza al coccio.

Scamorza is a pulled, cow’s milk curd cheese that resembles mozzarella.  While mozzarella is eaten fresh, however, scamorza is hung to dry until it achieves a soft yet firm texture.  Because it slices and melts well, scamorza is highly versatile.  It is often found in recipes for baked and fried foods that have a cheese filling.

Scamorza

A traditional scamorza dish, and the one we commonly ordered at Birreria Baraonda, is scamorza al coccio.  In this recipe, the scamorza is melted in a terracotta pan (coccio) along with sausage, cured meat, anchovies, mushrooms or sometimes vegetables, and eaten hot so that the melted cheese wraps around your fork.  If you don’t have a terracotta pan (we don’t), you can use individual-sized ceramic dishes and melt the scamorza in a hot oven or in the microwave.

Scamorza al coccio

Scamorza al coccio is classic Italian pub-fare comfort food, and it is as delicious now in our hectic lives as it was when it was just the two of us and Abby.

Ingredients
Scamorza
Your favorite accompaniment, such as: Mushrooms, Sausage, Anchovies, Prosciutto, or Speck

Directions
Prepare your accompaniment:

  • Sauté mushrooms in olive oil, salt and a dash of red wine.  Or, you can use very thinly sliced raw mushrooms.
  • Brown ground sausage without seasoning it.  Or, slice a whole sausage lengthwise and sear it on the grill or in a fry pan.
  • Slice your prosciutto or speck into small, thin pieces.
  • Place several anchovies onto a plate.

Scamorza al coccioScamorza al coccioScamorza al coccio

Scamorza al coccio

Thinly slice the scamorza, and layer it into ceramic dishes.  Add the accompaniment, and place it into a hot oven or in the microwave until the cheese melts.  Eat it hot.

Scamorza al coccioScamorza al coccio

Baccalà con patate

Here’s a bit of trivia for you – Italy is second among nations in the consumption of baccalà.  What is baccalà, you might ask?

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Baccalà is merluzzo, or cod, which has been salt-dried, and is later rehydrated, cooked and consumed.  Baccalà is a relative to stoccafisso, or stockfish.  Legend has it that Norwegian Vikings used to air-dry cod and take it with them for nourishment on their overseas travels.  At the same time or shortly thereafter, whale hunters from Spain’s Basque Country devised a similar plan to support their nutrition needs on whale hunting trips.  Due to the higher temperatures in the Southern Mediterranean, though, the Basque people salt-dried their cod instead of air-drying it, to save themselves from an otherwise very fishy-smelling voyage.

Baccalà

Once considered a food of the people, baccalà is now a delicacy across all of Italy, and is prepared in a multitude of ways, in venues ranging from the household Italian kitchens to high end restaurants.  Recipes abound, their names often reflecting an Italian region or city: baccalà alla vicentina, baccalà alla livornese, baccalà alla romana, baccalà alla napoletana, baccalà alla calabrese.  

Photo from http://travelsofadam.com/hipster-rome-travel-tips/

Photo from http://travelsofadam.com/hipster-rome-travel-tips/

Baccalà is also essential to la Cucina Romana.  Filetti di baccalà are reliably found on the menù of all Roman pizzerie.  These batter-fried pieces of baccalà are the Eternal City’s preferred pre-pizza appetizer.  Moreover, entire baccalà stores, called baccalerie, supply any type of baccalà or stoccafisso you desire.  Alimentari Micheangeli, located in the working class Roman neighborhood of Centocelle, is one such baccaleria.

When Stefano was a bambino, his grandmother had a little neighborhood alimentari, where she sold salt-dried baccalà, and also had a large basin of cold water with rehydrated baccalà ready for shoppers to buy and cook.  Baccalà con patate, a favorite of Stefano’s father, Andrea, was a frequent meal in their household during his childhood.

Remember, you need to start soaking the baccalà the night before!

Ingredients for 4-6 servings
One filetto di baccalà (salt cod fillet)
Half of a medium onion
8-12 medium potatoes
1 28-oz. can (in Europe, a 1 kg. can) of plum tomatoes
1/3 olive oil

Directions
At least 24 hours prior, place the salt cod fillet to soak in cold water.  Change the water every 3-4 hours as possible (don’t worry about changing the water overnight).

Baccalà

Chop the onion and cut the potatoes into small, uniform pieces.  Place the potatoes and onion into a large pan with 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first.  If you don’t have a food mill, use crushed tomatoes, or run the whole tomatoes though a food processor or blender.

Baccalà con patate

Add a glass of water, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft, adding water and lowering the heat as needed to prevent it from burning.  You do not need to salt the mixture – your fish will provide enough salt once you add it.

Baccalà con patate

Remove the fish from the water, rinse it and pat it dry.  Cut the fish into portion-sized pieces, and add it to the potato, onion and tomatoes.  Cook covered for approximately another 20 minutes, time for the baccalà to become tender and release its flavors.  After 10 minutes, taste for salt and add a bit if needed.

Baccalà con patateBaccalà con patate

Serve hot with crusty bread and a chilled glass of crisp, earthy white wine that can stand up to the saltiness of baccalà, such as Verdicchio or Frascati.

Baccalà con patate

Fagiano con i funghi

We’re not hunters.  We don’t begrudge those who are.  We simply did not grow up hunting, and it really doesn’t fit into the urban lifestyle we live now.  Nonetheless, we’re quick to accept when a friend of acquaintance offers to share his hunt with us.

Stefano’s parents were among the many who left the countryside after WWII and came to the city, populating neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Rome and rebuilding lives in the big city.  Back in the small towns of Olevano Romano and Rocca Santo Stefano, though, life remained quite unchanged.  Stefano’s compare (a regional term that means ‘godfather’ and that loosely refers to close friends of one’s parents) and other friends and family members were regular hunters, and on occasion they would stop by with gifts of fowl and game.  Pheasant, fagiano in Italian, was an especially special treat.

Our pheasant came from Stefano’s boss, Guido, whose annual hunting trip to the plains of South Dakota yields 50 or 60 birds, a few of which he graciously gives to us.

This recipe was Stefano’s invention. He cut the pheasant into small pieces and cooked it over gas, allowing the juices of the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes give the lean meat both moisture and flavor.  It is a flavorful late fall dish, which we enjoyed with a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso from Villa Monteleone, a lovely winery we visited on our trip back to Italy this past summer.  This wine has enough body, heartiness and acidity to pair with this simple but flavorful dish.

 Ingredients
3 pheasants, cleaned
3 packages of baby bella mushrooms (8 oz. or 225 grams per package).
2 containers of cherry tomatoes (1 pt. or approx. 350 grams per package)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 cloves of garlic
1 chicken bouillon cube
Olive oil
Dry red wine
Salt
Worchestershire sauce
Crushed red pepper

Directions
Chop the pheasant into small pieces, removing pieces of bone when you can.

Roughly chop the garlic and sauté it along with the crushed red pepper in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add the pheasant to the pan and brown it on all sides.  Add the rosemary seeds, the bouillon cube about one glass of red wine, and a dash of Worchestershire sauce.  Salt to taste.  Let simmer uncovered until the wine cooks off.

In the meantime, chop the mushrooms, cutting the larger ones into quarters, the medium sized ones in half, and leaving small ones whole.  Halve about 2/3 of the cherry tomatoes, and leave the other 1/3 whole.

When the wine has evaporated, add the mushrooms and tomatoes to the pan, covering the pheasant.  Cover, and let it cook for 25-30 minutes until the juices from the mushrooms and tomatoes cook off.

Enjoy with a glass of full-bodied red wine, preferably with a fire in the hearth.

Sunday dinner: spaghetti alla chitarra con sugo d’agnello e costolette d’agnello alla griglia

Despite ourselves, the fast pace of American life has swept us into its whirlwind.  We have tried to shield ourselves from it, mainly by honoring mealtime and cooking the food we know and love.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult, though.  It’s not uncommon for one of us to work late or to have evening job-related commitments.    Sean usually eats something before and after his 6 p.m.-8 p.m. football practice, and to complicate matters, 8-year-old Luca has decided to become a vegetarian!  On a recent evening, the four of us sat around the kitchen counter, each of us with a slightly different meal on our plate.  At least we were eating together, though.

We recently made acquaintances with a Bolognese family who recently relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota.  Getting their kitchen set up and learning where to find the staple ingredients of Italian cooking has been a priority for them.  Annapaola, who cooked professionally in Italy, is already working on a pasta madre (a natural yeast used as a bread starter) in order to make homemade bread.  She said she’d share some when she finally gets it right!  Taking to Annapaola has renewed our commitment to not lose grasp of our culinary roots.  We are hopeful for and inspired by her passion, and grateful for a new friend to cook with.

We took a recent Sunday afternoon to cook the way it’s supposed to be done.  Our friend Riccardo and his daughter Veronica came over for a meal of spaghetti alla chitarra with a savory lamb sauce, and costolette d’agnello alla griglia, or grilled lamb chops.

Riccardo learned the art of making homemade pasta from his mom in a small town near Rome.  His specialty is spaghetti alla chitarra, square-shaped spaghetti originally from the Abruzzo region that obtained its name from the metal-stringed instrument traditionally used to make them.

We love lamb and have finally found a great place to buy it locally, so a logical accompaniment was a slow-cooked lamb sauce, and then thinly cut grilled lamb chops.    

In true Italian fashion, it was all done without a recipe.  Cara is usually charged with capturing the correct ingredient quantities and converting them from a metric system to U.S. customary units. However, on this Sunday the Italian men took over the kitchen, and no measurements were made.  Therefore, we’re sharing this recipe Italian style.  Quantities really don’t matter.  Do your best and follow your heart, and if you have any questions, post them up!

Spaghetti alla chitarra
Spaghetti alla chitarra is simply the shape of pasta we used.  It is a standard shape on any pasta maker, such as the Imperia pasta maker we use.  If you decide to try your hand at homemade pasta, here’s our recipe.  You can choose any shape you want if you use a pasta maker, or you can roll and cut them by hand, as we did in our homemade pasta recipe.  You can also just skip it all together and use any store-bought pasta you wish.

Sugo d’agnello
At least two 28-ounce (500 g) cans of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
One or two thin slices of onion
One or two cloves of garlic, sliced lengthwise into quarters
Approximately 1 lb (500 g) of lamb, with bone, chopped into pieces.
Olive oil
One dash of dry red wine
Salt to taste

Sauté  the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the lamb, and cook over medium heat for up to 5 minutes, just until it browns on the outside.  Add the tomatoes, preferably passing them through a food mill first.  Add a dash of dry red wine, salt to taste, and let simmer for an hour or more, until the lamb is tender.

When the sauce is done, cook the pasta al dente, strain the pasta, return it to the pot you cooked it in, and spoon in enough of the lamb sauce to coat all of the pasta.  Serve in pasta plates, and top with another ladle of sauce, ensuring that a few pieces of the succulent lamb find their way onto each plate.

Costolette d’agnello alla griglia
Approximately 2-3 lbs (1-1.5 kg) baby lamb chops.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
The needles of 1 sprig of rosemary
Red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper

Prepare a marinade with the olive oil, red wine, rosemary, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Place the chops on the grill, and brush the marinade on top of them.  Grill the chops, on both sides, adding marinade, salt and pepper to taste.  Serve them hot off the grill.