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

 

 

 

 

 

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Blood Orange, Bufala and Pomegranate Salad

Everything you see, said Sophia Loren, I owe to spaghetti.

Sophia Loren

Beata lei.  Lucky her.  The carbohydrate load of a heaping plate of pasta asciutta doesn’t do quite as much for the rest of our curves.  Every once in a while, especially as the spring arrives and we shed our layers of clothing and begin to think of summer, a salad is called for.This post really wasn’t supposed to be.  We were supposed to be writing right now about Tagliatelle al tartufo.  Except that yesterday evening, Rocky, our new 18-month-old adoptee Great Dane, ate all of Stefano’s hand-made tagliatelle as they lay spread out on the kitchen counter waiting to be tossed into a pot of boiling water.

Rocky1Thus, the salad post.  It’s actually a well-times recipe.  The late winter blood oranges are still around.  The salad’s bright colors and freshness invokes the spring months that are just around the corner.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Ingredients
Mixed greens
Red and green endive
Toasted bread
Blood oranges
Mozzarella di bufala
Pomegranate
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions
Cut slices of rustic bread into cubes.  Toast in the oven until one side is crispy and then turn them over and do the same to the other side.  Let cool.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoChop the endive and place it along with the mixed greens a large salad bowl, or on individual serving plates.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoInsalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoPeel and section the blood oranges, paying attention to eliminate as much as the pith as possible.  Add them to the greens.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Toss the toasted bread on top.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoDeseed the pomegranate and sprinkle the seeds onto the salad.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoDrizzle olive oil, sprinkle salt and grind black pepper on top.  Toss, and enjoy.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

 

 

Carciofi alla romana

Few vegetables are as revered in Roman cuisine as the artichoke.  Late February marks the start of the artichoke season in Rome, and the lovely thistle vegetable makes its appearance in fruit and vegetable markets and on menus across the city.  The variety of artichoke found around Rome and throughout the region of Lazio is called the Romanesco, notable for it’s green and purple hues.  It is more tender than the artichokes we’ve been able to find here in the States, but we make due.

Photo from http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/carciofi-rome-artichokes-rome-delicious-recipe

Photo from http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/carciofi-rome-artichokes-rome-delicious-recipe

In Rome, artichokes are prepared in one of two ways: alla giudia, or Jewish-style; and alla romana, Roman-style.  In carciofi alla giudia, the artichoke is deep fried to a savory crispness.  Too cumbersome to do at home, carciofi alla giudia are on the menu of every Roman trattoria, especially those found in the historical Jewish ghetto neighborhood.

Photo from http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/in-season-and-delicious-artichokes-in-rome/

Photo from http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/in-season-and-delicious-artichokes-in-rome/

An easier recipe to prepare at home is carciofi alla romana.  In this recipe, the artichokes are cleaned, stuffed with a mixture of garlic, parsley, mint and breadcrumbs, and then braised in olive oil and water until tender.  Intended as a side dish, these roman-style artichokes steal the show every time.

Ingredients
4 globe artichokes
1 clove garlic
2 Tablespoons of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
2 Tablespoons of mint, chopped
1 lemon
50 g (1/4 cup) Bread crumbs
1 dl (1/2 cup) olive oil, plus a few tablespoons extra.
Salt

Carciofi alla romanaCarciofi alla romanaDirections
Clean the artichokes by removing the tough, outer leaves until you get to the tender part of the artichoke, notable by the soft yellow coloring at the base of each leaf.

Carciofi alla romanaSlice off the top 1/3 of the artichoke.

Carciofi alla romanaOpen up the artichoke and remove the choke, or the fuzzy white part.  Chop off the longest part of the stem, leaving about 5 cm (2 inches) of it.  Use a paring knife to clean the remaining stem by stripping away its outer layers.

Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a bowl of cold water (the lemon keeps the artichokes from turning brown), and let the artichokes bathe.

carciofi alla giudia In the meanwhile, chop the garlic, mint and parsley.  Mix the garlic and herbs together with the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt.  Add just enough olive oil to form a paste.

Remove the artichokes from the water.  Using a small spoon, stuff the breadcrumb mixture into the center of each artichoke.

carciofi alla romanaSalt the outside of the artichokes.  Place each artichoke head down into a saucepan. Pour the olive oil over them, and let them cook for a few minutes over medium heat.  Add water until the artichoke bulbs are half-submerged.

Cover, and cook over medium heat for approximately 30 minutes.   Check them for tenderness by piercing them with a fork.  Allow them to cook a little longer if necessary.

carciofi alla romanaServe your carciofi alla romana with a little of the cooking liquid spooned over them.  A local wine, like Tenuta Pietra Porzia Regillo Frascati Superiore, pairs well with this regional artichoke dish without overpowering its nuanced flavors.

Carciofi alla romana

Alla salute!

Italian food, we were once told, is the most unhealthy of all ethnic food in the U.S..  Worse than Asian food, worse than Mexican food.  Sadly, in America and other countries outside of Italy, it is true.  Italian food has become synonymous with pasta, cheese, tomatoes and meat.  When we think Italian, we think heavy meals of gigantic portions, and rich desserts.

Insalata mozzarella, tonno e pomodoroAt a recent party, the hostess, holding a plate full of catered Italian-American food and talking to us about Due Spaghetti, asked us how we manage eat Italian and yet stay so thin.  We didn’t know how to answer her.  “This isn’t Italian food.” would not have been polite, despite being true.  We were actually eating Italian-American food.  The difference is substantial.  While Italian cuisine certainly includes some rich dishes, authentic Italian food, especially that originating from the southern Italian regions, is among the world’s healthiest.

Insalata mozzarella, tonno e pomodoroThe much-acclaimed Mediterranean diet was inspired by the culinary traditions of Southern Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco, where olive oil, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains serve as the foundation of people’s diet.  Fish and seafood is also a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), and wine is moderate, while meat and meat products are rare.

In Italy meals are balanced.  A carb-based first course of pasta or rice is followed by a protein-based second course of fish, eggs, or lean meat.  Consumption of red meat is infrequent, portions are small, vegetables are abundant, and dessert is a simple fresh fruit.  Where that diet still prevails, people boast among the highest longevity and the lowest disease rates in the world.  It is a far cry from the Italian-American fare that has become known around the globe as Italian cuisine.

In the warm summer months, meals are often light and simple in Italy.  The piatto unico, or single course meal, is increasingly common for lunch and sometimes for dinner.  One of our favorites is a refreshing summer salad made of lattuga (romaine), fresh corn, tuna, mozzarella and tomatoes.  It is light, yet filling enough to make a meal of.

Insalata mozzarella, tonno e pomodoroDSC_0077

Ingredients
(quantities are all as desired)

Hearts of Romaine
Canned whole kernel corn
Fresh mozzarella
Tuna, in olive oil
Roma tomatoes
Salt
Ground pepper
Olive oil

Directions
Chop the romaine, tomatoes, and mozzarella into bite-sized pieces, and place into a salad bowl.  Drain the olive oil off of a can or more of tuna, and add it to the salad.  Add sea salt, ground black pepper and a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil if desired.  Toss, and enjoy.

oInsalata mozzarella, tonno e pomodoroDSC_0074

Peperonata

Mens sana in corpore sano.  A sound mind in a healthy body.

This Latin phrase, which originates from the 1st century Roman poet Juvenal’s  Satire X and is attributed to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales, reflects the symbiotic relationship between physical health and mental acuity.

Regrettably, Italian food in the U.S. has garnered a reputation for being the least healthy of our myriad of ethnic cuisines.  Worse than Mexican, Chinese, or Middle Eastern.  Italo-American food is too often characterized by pasta, cheese and tomatoes, rich sauces, cured meats and heaping bread baskets.

This is simply not what authentic Italian food is all about.  Each region of Italy specializes in foods native to its land.  Food is locally sourced, and quality is valued.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are staple foods.  Pasta is balanced by rice and other grains, and seafood and legumes are valued sources of protein, while meat is consumed more sparingly than it is stateside.  Processed food is much less common, and homemade meals are prioritized.

With this in mind, this week’s recipe is a healthy, vegetable-based dish that Stefano’s mom Maria often makes.  Although it is a simple recipe, peperonata is a flavorful and beautiful marriage of red and yellow peppers, potatoes and onions, cooked slowly until the vegetables yield and release their lovely flavors.

Ingredients
serves 6-8

1 red pepper
1 orange pepper
1 yellow pepper
3 medium potatoes
1 small onion
1/2 cup strained tomatoes, such as Pomi
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and Pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper, if desired

Directions
Peel the potatoes and chop them into half-inch cubes.  Core and seed the peppers and cut them into one-inch square pieces.  Chop the onion into half-inch to one-inch pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the vegetables and sauté for 5 minutes.  If you like a bit of heat, add a dash of crushed red pepper.  When the onions and peppers soften pour in the white wine and strained tomatoes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and let cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.  If needed, add a little water to the peperonata to prevent it from sticking, and turn the heat down.  Remove the lid for the final five to ten minutes in order to allow any excess liquid to cook off.

Serve hot or at room temperature.  Peperonata stores well in the refrigerator and can be reheated easily for several days.

Download a pdf of the recipe Peperonata

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
Salt
Pepper
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.

Directions
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.

Cherry Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

We just can’t get enough tomatoes this summer.

Big, red beefsteak tomatoes, oblong juicy grape tomatoes, sturdy romas and ugly heirlooms – we’ve had them all.  We had the most delicious yellow tomatoes from a friend’s garden.  Mild-flavored and juicy, with a bit of salt, oil and basil they were perfect.  I thought for a moment that these would be our favorite tomatoes of the summer.

But then we saw these eye-catching little cherry tomatoes in a variety of summer colors at the Minneapolis farmers market, and all bets were off.  “They are too pretty to eat,” stated the woman next to us.  

The mixed-variety basket was fun to photograph – red, yellow, black, orange and green cherry tomatoes, and yellow, red and orange pear tomatoes.

We added little ciliegine di mozzarella (small, bite-sized mozzarella), basil, salt, and ground black pepper.  Dressed in olive oil, it became a quintessential summer salad.  And to the woman  at the farmers market – we had no problem at all eating it.

Ingredients
2 pints mixed variety cherry tomatoes
2 eight-ounce containers of ciliegine di mozzarella
1 bunch basil
Salt
Ground black pepper
Olive oil

Directions
Serves 4-6

Wash the tomatoes.  Quarter or halve the larger size tomatoes and place them into a salad bowl.  Toss the small ones in whole.  Drain the water from the ciliegine di mozzarella, halve them, and add them to the tomatoes.  Wash the basil and using kitchen shears, snip into pieces over the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle olive oil liberally over the salad.  Allow to sit 15 minutes at room temperature.  Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Greens!

No-one could cook up a pot of greens like Stefano’s grandma, or Nonnetta, as she was known to us.

Rapini, sometimes called broccoli rabe, or cime di rapa in italian, were her specialty.  They were mildly bitter and perfectly seasoned from their sauté in olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper.  Served with just the right amount of liquid, she had us sopping up the juices with pieces of bread and then asking for seconds.

In Italy, it is common to boil greens and then sauté them in olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper.  Nonnetta’s secret was to add a spoonful or two of tomato sauce – just enough to add a touch of flavor and color.

Although a staple of southern United States cooking, sadly, greens are not as readily embraced here in the northern states.  Yes, they smell a bit when boiling (Hi, come in. Sorry about the smell, we’re cooking greens), but the pungent smell is quickly forgotten in favor of their deeply satisfying, peppery taste.

Rapini are our favorite green, but we can’t always find them at our local farmer’s markets so we often use mustard greens or turnip greens instead.  They are never quite as good as Nonnetta’s, but almost.

Ingredients
1 bunch of rapini, turnip greens or mustard greens
Olive oil
Garlic
Crushed red pepper
2-3 spoonfuls sauce from whole, canned tomatoes
Salt
Crusty bread

Directions
Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Wash the greens and remove the thick parts of the stems.  When the water boils, toss a handful of coarse salt into the pot, and add the greens.  Boil until tender, approximately 8-10 minutes, and drain.

Sauté 2 tablespoons olive oil, two cloves of garlic diced into small pieces, and a bit of crushed red pepper in a skillet for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is golden brown.  Add the greens and 2-3 spoonfuls of tomato sauce.  Simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature with good bread.

Melanzane e Pomodorini

This is the third of 4 new posts on the Tomato, each an entry in the Washington Post’s 2011 Top Tomato recipe contest.  Our first entry, Pomodori al riso, and second entry, Panzanella, were previous posts.  We also entered our most popular post, Pasta fredda.

It’s late July and outside it hot – hazy skies, drastic dew-points, and soaring temperatures.  The heat was so intense this week that pavements buckled, power outages ensued and outdoor events were cancelled in Minneapolis.  Windows steamed up and pavements glistened in the humidity.  At night, the skies became tempestuous and wild.

Melanzane e pomodorini is just the dish for weather like this.  The artful combination of seasonal produce has the vibrant hues and intense flavors of a deep, hot summer.  Grilled eggplant provides an earthy, nutty taste, kept in balance by the juicy, tangy cherry tomatoes.  Finely diced garlic gives an edginess to the salad, olive oil adds depth and makes it glisten, and flat leaf parsley lends a hint of freshness, like a cool breeze arriving to break the heat.

Ingredients
1 large or 2 medium eggplants
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
1 bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
1/8 C. olive oil
Salt to taste

Cut the cherry tomatoes into small pieces and place in a salad bowl.  Chop the parsley and add it to the tomatoes.  Dice the garlic finely, and add it to the bowl.  Pour olive oil over the tomato mixture, and stir well.  Add salt to taste.  Set aside.

Slice the stem off the top of the eggplant and using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife, peel the skin off of the eggplant.  Cut the eggplant into slices approximately 1/8 inch thick.  Arrange the eggplant slices onto a grill and cook over high heat, turning once until both sides are golden brown.  Watch the eggplant carefully; it will only take a few minutes per side to cook.  In absence of a grill, the eggplant can also be cooked in a skillet on a stove top.  If you opt for this method, simply place the eggplant directly onto a hot skillet.

Add the grilled eggplant to the bowl with tomato mixture and stir well.  The eggplant will absorb the olive oil and the juices of the tomatoes, turning a darker color and curling up in the process.  Allow the dish to sit for a few minutes, and serve at room temperature.

Panzanella

La panzanella is a rustic, summertime recipe from the Italian cucina povera, a style of cooking characterized by tantalizing dishes originally made by the poor and working classes from humble ingredients.  In the cucina povera, home-grown food is put to good use and no left-over is wasted.  True to that value, la panzanella was created as a way to use up bread gone stale.

Originally a Tuscan dish, la panzanella eventually spread to the Umbria, Marche and Lazio regions of central Italy, and as often happens variations emerged.  The original Tuscan recipe called for bread, red onion, basil, olive oil, wine vinegar and salt.  Tomatoes were soon added to the recipe, and over time la panzanella became known as a bread and tomato dish.

Today cucumbers are often included with the tomatoes, while not all recipes call for onions.  Finally, a notable difference exists in la panzanella as a salad with the bread broken into pieces, most common in Tuscany, in contrast to la panzanella as a whole piece of soaked bread with the tomatoes on top, sometimes referred to as la panzanella romana.

Although the bread remains whole in Stefano’s mom’s panzanella, for this post we opted for the salad version, using our home-made left over bread, tomatoes and cucumbers from the farmer’s market, red onion, and garden basil for a touch of color.

Ingredients
4 slices of stale bread
2 ripe tomatoes
1 medium cucumber
2 very thin slices of red onion
1 small bunch of basil
Water
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
Olive oil

Lay the bread into a shallow pan and add cold water up to the top of the slices.  Drizzle one tablespoon of white wine vinegar over the bread, and let soak for 20 minutes.

Cut two very thin slices of red onion, and place them into a bowl of cold water to allow some of the strong flavor dissipate for 20 minutes.

In the meanwhile, cut the tomatoes and cucumber into cubes and place into a bowl.  Chop the basil and add it to the mix.  Toss with salt and mix.

Return to your bread, which will have soaked up the water and vinegar mixture.  Remove the crust, squeeze out the excess liquids, and crumble large pieces of bread into the bowl with the tomatoes, cucumbers and basil.

Drizzle olive oil over the salad, and stir well.  Refrigerate at least one hour, and serve chilled.

Wine Pairing
We drank a 2008 Italian Chardonnay by producer Giacomo Vico with the rustic and earthy panzanella.   This is a classic Chardonnay from the Langhe area of Piedmont, well-balanced with a yeasty, buttery flavor and a nice, clean finish.