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.


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.

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

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






Supplì al telefono

We’ve had this recipe and accompanying photos ready for a week now, but the time and more importantly the inspiration to write a post around them have been missing.

Supplì al telefono

It arrived last night in the form of an 11-month-old bundle of smiles, curiosity and drool named Penelope.  She was our guest at dinner, along with her parents Veronica and Lauren, and our mutual friends Emily and Ben.  It was a brilliant evening to benefit the amazing students and teachers at Cara’s school, with a menu of some of our favorite seafood dishes:

Antipasto misto di pesce (Mixed seafood appetizers)
Riondo Prosecco
Pennette al salmone (Pennette in a creamy salmon sauce)

Lageder Pinot Nero
Pesce spada al cartoccio (Baked Swordfish with seafood)

Falanghina Terredora
Insalata mista (Baby Salad Greens)
Tiramisù al limoncello (Limoncello Tiramisù)

Caffè e Digestivi (Espresso and Digestif)

But, back to Penelope.  She was busy and happy.  She explored the living room, engaged playfully with the adults, and snacked on food from her own little portable, spill-proof bowl. Her parents took turns holding her, and before any of us realized it, 5 hours had passed.

It reminded us of when our oldest, Sean, was a baby.  We still lived in Rome then, and didn’t think twice about bringing him out with us where ever we went.  He was content to observe the world from his stroller or ride along in the baby carrier worn by his mamma or papà.

Some of our favorite spots to take him were Campo de’ Fiori, where we could content him with a piece of pizza rossa, the hill-town of Frascati in the Castelli Romani, or the village of Nemi, perched high above the volcanic lake Lago di Nemi, just south of Rome.  Nemi is famous for its berries, frutti di bosco, and especially the miniature wild strawberries that are bursting with flavor.  In summertime, it was a cool reprieve from the heat of Rome.  We’d take a stroll through Nemi’s narrow streets, stopping for a gelato alla crema with berries on top.  We’d bring along a banana and some Biscotti Plasmon, Italy’s quintessential baby biscuits, and ask the barman to add milk and blend up a smoothie for Sean.

Closer to home, Pizzeria Pizza & Fichi, at Via Alenda, 26 in Rome’s Giardinetti neighborhood was a favorite spot for Roman-style pizzas, filetti di baccalà and supplì, made by our friends Fabrizio, Massimo, Carmela and their mom at the family business.  We’d choose an outdoor table underneath a broad umbrella, order our pizzas, and feed Sean while we waited for our food.  Like clockwork, he would fall asleep by the time our pizza arrived.  We’d recline his stroller seat, place him back into it, and enjoy our pizza while he slept.

Supplì al telefono are a rice croquette fritter found on the antipasti menu in pizzerie all across the city.  The rice is cooked with a bit of tomato sauce, sometimes with ground beef, and let to cool.  Then, it is molded into an egg-like shape, and a piece of mozzarella is pushed into the middle of it before it is breaded and fried.  When the supplì is broken open, the melted mozzarella stretches from one piece to another, resembling the cord on an old-fashioned telephone.

for 8 supplì

500 grams Arborio, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice
1 large can of whole tomatoes (500 grams or 28 0z)
Ground beef, approximately 250 grams or 1/2 lb.
Olive oil
Fresh mozzarella
4 eggs
Vegetable, peanut or olive oil for frying

Prepare the sauce by dicing 1/4 of a small-medium onion, and sautéing in olive oil over medium heat.  Add the ground beef and brown it slowly, using a spatula to crumble the meat finely.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill.  Add a splash of water or red wine if too thick, and allow it to simmer for at least 45 minutes.  Salt to taste.

Cook the rice in abundant boiling water with a handful of salt tossed in, just as you would cook pasta, according to the cooking time on the package.  When the rice is done, drain off the water using a strainer.  Add the rice to the sauce and stir well until it is evenly coated.  Place onto a baking tray or into a large baking dish and spread it out in order to facilitate cooling.

Once the rice is cool, you are ready to assemble and fry the supplì.  Add your oil several inches deep into a pan suitable for frying, and place it over medium heat.

Supplì al telfono

Fill a dish with flour, another with breadcrumbs, and a final one with the eggs, which you will beat slightly.  Cut 8 small pieces of mozzarella to stuff inside the supplì.

Wet you hands to make it easier to handle the rice.  With your hands, scoop enough rice to make an egg-sized supplì.  Mold it into an oblong shape, and using your thumb make an indent in the center.  Fill the indent with a piece of mozzarella, and then enclose the mozzarella with rice so that it is tucked well inside.

Supplì al telefono

Dust the supplì in flour, dip it into the egg and rotate it so that it is well-coated, and then finally roll it in the breadcrumbs.  Some recipes suggest repeating a second coating of egg and breadcrumbs.  We tried it both ways and preferred a single layer, but you may wish to experiment and decide which option works best for you.

Supplì al telefonoSupplì al telefono

Gently place each supplì into the hot oil and fry until it takes on a rich brown hue.  Remove from the oil and set on absorbent paper towels.  Allow to cool slightly, and enjoy with a Birra Moretti.

Supplì al telefono

Torta salata con pomodori, olive e ricotta salata

Cooking in summer is more fun than in any other season.  The flavors are explosive and intense, the days are longer so dinners are later, and everything is more relaxed.

This weekend at the lake we cooked in our swimsuit coverups and we ate outdoors on the patio while watching the Azzurri cheerfully knock England out of the Euro 2012 soccer quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals against Germany.  It was reminiscent of warm Sunday afternoons at Stefano’s parent’s house near the sea, when we’d all sit around the table under the portico of the house with la partita  (the soccer match) playing on a little black and white television that sat upon a table at the far end.
Our cooking inspiration came from a recipe in the most recent edition of Italia, a British magazine about Italian culture, cuisine, and property.  It’s a a rustic tart, but a lighter, summertime version of the one we wrote about this past spring.  Easy-to-use puff pastry makes up the base, which is topped with a colorful mélange of red, yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and black olives.  The flavors are as bright and intense as the colors, and ricotta salata adds to the rustic simplicity of this tart.

for two tarts

2 sheets of puff pastry
250 grams (approx. 1 pint) of red, orange and yellow cherry tomatoes
125 grams (4.5 ounces) pitted black olives*
100 grams (3.5 ounces) sun-dried tomatoes**
50 grams (1.75 ounces) ricotta salata shavings***
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

*Choose a high quality Italian or French black olive, or Greek Kalamate olives.

**You can use dried tomatoes, or sun-dried tomatoes in oil.  If use use dried tomatoes, rehydrate them before use according to the directions on the package.

***Ricotta salata is a dried, hard cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano or Feta will also work, for variation or if you cannot find ricotta salata.

Preheat your oven to 220° C, (425° F), with a baking sheet inside.  If frozen, allow your puff pastry to thaw according to the directions on the package.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a bowl.  Drain any liquid off of the olives, and add them to the bowl,  Cut the sun-dried tomatoes into halves or thirds, and add them to the mixture as well.  Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes and olives, and salt and pepper generously to taste.  Stir together.

When the oven is preheated, remove the baking sheet and carefully place the puff pastry on top of it.  Use a fork to prick holes over the surface.  With a slotted spoon, arrange half of the tomatoes and olives over the tart’s surface, spreading them out into a single layer and avoiding the juices that have developed so that the tart does not become soggy.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool, while you repeat the process for your second tart.  This torta salata can be enjoyed warm or cold.

Fave e Pecorino

We’ve been nostalgic for Rome lately.  Perhaps its recent birthday has gotten us thinking about it.  Or, maybe it’s been on our minds because we’re planning a visit this July and are eager to see friends and family, and to return to some of our favorite places, like this one, or these.

When we miss Rome, we find ourselves returning to some of its best food.  Last week it was the classic Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe.  Today it was saltimbocca alla romana, which we will write about on Due Spaghetti as soon as we can find veal scallopini that make the grade.  (Who knew that good veal would be so hard to come by?)

With May 1st right around the corner, we couldn’t help venturing out in search of another Roman springtime classic, fresh fava beans, to eat alongside Pecorino Romano cheese on May 1st.

In Italy, like in much of the rest of the world, May 1st is a holiday – International Workers’ Day, or Labor Day as it is called Stateside and elsewhere.  In Rome, tradition calls for a May 1st scampagnata (a picnic in the countryside) with friends, and fave e pecorino romano, with a glass of good wine, are always part of the day.

In many towns just outside of Rome, they celebrate the Sagra delle Fave e Pecorino.  A sagra is a town festival, often dedicated to a food that is native to the region, so it is fitting that several towns near Rome hold a sagra for fava beans and Pecorino.

It is the simplest of meals – just fresh fava beans, authentic Pecorino Romano cheese, and a glass of your favorite wine.  Many traditionalists call for red wine, but in our family it’s always been white.  Pop open the pod by running your finger along the seam that runs lengthwise up the bean, or break the pod and scoop the bean out from inside.  There’s no need to peel the bean – just pop it in your mouth, follow with a bite of Pecorino, and conclude with a sip of wine.  Buon primo maggio!


Crostini assortiti

The idea to serve crostini at a party we threw recently came from this LA Times article.

It’s is a nice read.  Journalist Russ Parsons takes us away to Lago Trasimeno in Umbria, one of our favorite regions. As we read, we imagine ourselves right there with him at the frantoio, where extra virgin oil is pressed out of the nuts of freshly harvested olives.

Just like Russ, in our minds we also drizzle the new oil onto crusty bread that has been toasted over an open fire.  (Actually, in the article the bread is toasted in a “beat up electric toaster oven.  What??  Any self-respecting frantoio must have an open word-burning fireplace to toast bread in, so we chose to alter this detail in our mental vacation.) A little sea salt sprinkled on top, and this, dear readers, is the holy grail of bruschette.

Before we write any further, let’s take a moment to clarify a few things about bruschetteComplimenti, Mr. Parsons, for doing the same in your article.

First, Italian nouns have genders, and those that end with an “a” are feminine.  To make a feminine noun plural, change the final “a” to an “e”.  Therefore, bruschetta is singular, and bruschette is plural.  You can make “a bruschetta” or “a few bruschette.”  “Two bruschettas,” though, strikes a bad chord.

Second, the “ch” sound in Italian is the same as the “k” sound in English.  It’s actually a little more complicated than that, but for today, that rule will suffice.  So, all of you who have been pronouncing bruschetta as “broo-shetta,” and you are in good company, have some re-learning to do.  The correct pronunciation is “broo-sketta.”

Just replacing the “sh” sound with a “k” sound is a significant improvement.  However, the over-achievers among you may wish to also try lightly rolling your “r,” making the “e” sound more like “ay”, and hanging a little longer on the double “t.”  “Broo-SKAY-tta.”  Click here to listen to an authentic pronunciation of bruschetta.

Okay.  We now have all of that sorted out.  However, we are not actually going to talk about bruschette today.  We’re going to talk about crostini, instead.

You see, there are really only two authentic versions of a bruschetta – toasted bread rubbed with garlic with olive oil and sea salt on top, and toasted bread rubbed with garlic with olive oil, sea salt, chopped tomatoes and basil on top.  Any other version of toasted bread with something on top is better identified as a crostino.

Crostino: singular masculine noun.  To make a masculine noun plural, change the “o” to an “i.”  Singular, crostino.  Plural, crostini.  Pitfall to avoid: don’t ask for “a crostini.”  Ask instead for “a crostino” or “some crostini.”  You’re picking up on this now, aren’t you?

So, back to the party.  Sometimes we have fun serving our guests elaborate, multi-course meals, each course paired with the perfect wine.  At this party, though, we wanted our guests to mingle and visit with each other, stopping by the dining room to fill up their plates with antipasti and stuzzichini and coming back for more whenever they ran out.

At the center of the spread were crostini assortiti – a towering mountain of crusty bread surrounded by savory spreads, all based on vegetables and legumes, differing in color, texture and flavor. It’s a colorful, tasty and easy to serve option for parties.

Cannellini and garlic spread
Puree one can of cannellini beans, well-drained and rinsed, in a food processor with 1/2 clove of garlic, 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil, and a few dashes of freshly ground black pepper.

Olive tapenade
Puree 2 cups of pitted kalamata olives in a food processor with 1/2 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon capers and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Halve and clean 2 red and 2 yellow peppers.  Place flat down on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and roast in the oven at 425° for 30 minutes, or until the skin blackens and lifts up from the peppers.  Let cool, and then remove the skin from the peppers.  Cut the peppers into 1″ pieces, and set aside.  Sauté 1/4 cup diced onions and half a pint of halved cherry tomatoes in 3 tablespoons olive oil.  As the cherry tomatoes soften, press them flat with the back of a fork, and remove the skin.  When the tomatoes are soft and the onion translucent, add the peppers and 1/4 cup dry white wine.  Salt to taste, and let simmer until the wine cooks off. 

Eggplant Caponata
Peel one medium eggplant.  Slice it in half lengthwise, and then slice each half lengthwise again to make quarters.  Remove any heavily seeded parts.  Cut into 1/2″ slices.  Coat a baking tray with olive oil, and place the eggplant on top of the tray.  Drizzle more olive oil over the eggplant, and salt liberally.  Roast in the oven at 425° for 5 minutes.  Remove, and using a spatula turn the eggplant.  Return to the oven for 5 more minutes, and then take out and let cool.  Puree half a pint of cherry tomatoes, 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, 1 tablespoon capers, and the eggplant into a food processor.

Greens sauteed with garlic, red pepper and olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Wash one bunch of mustard or turnip 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.

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.

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

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.

Pomodorini ripieni di tonno

Friday could not have come soon enough!

With one child at camp and the other staying with grandparents this week, one would think we’d have had ample time to prepare homemade dinners.  But instead, it was a taxing and thankfully uncommon week of 12-hour work days and too little sleep.   Except for our morning espresso and an occasional piece of toast, the kitchen went unused.

Each evening we intended add a post to Due Spaghetti, but each night we ran out of time and put it off until tomorrow.  It got so bad that today when we opened up our blog, we were asked to re-enter our user-id and password.  The “remember me” box had come unchecked; our own blog had unfriended us.

Ironically, we had a post ready to go.  We’d made these adorable stuffed cherry tomatoes, pomodorini ripieni, a few weeks back when we were trying out recipes for the Washington Post’s Top Tomato Recipe Contest.  They didn’t make the shortlist of recipes we chose to submit to the contest, but they are delicious and pretty, and deserved to be featured on Due Spaghetti.

The problem was, we didn’t measure our ingredients while we were preparing the stuffed cherry tomatoes.  This isn’t surprising, as we rarely measure when we cook.  We just add what looks right, feels right, and tastes right.  This, we believe, is part of what we love about cooking; it is not so much an intellectual endeavor, but instead an activity that engages the senses and the emotions.

When Stefano’s mom explains to us how to prepare a dish, she sometimes omits key steps or ingredients and jumps directly to the finer points of execution.  In the early days, we’d make the mistake of backing up and seeking clarification on a basic part of the recipe, only to have her smile in surprise and tell us, “Of course!” revealing that what we had asked was so obvious that it does not need to be stated.

When writing on Due Spaghetti, though, we take the time to list specific amounts for ingredients so our readers are not left guessing and recipes are authentically prepared.  In order to post the cherry tomato recipe, we needed to make it again to confirm the precise quantities of tuna, mayo and capers.

We’ve debated this topic before, with Cara taking the position that our readers deserve an accurate and specific recipe, and Stefano maintaining that through Due Spaghetti we can teach our readers to cook the way his mother and grandmother did – a superior form of cooking which develops from trusting intuition and experience to determine when more salt is needed in a sauce, or when the texture and consistency of a dough is perfect.

In the end, the week passed and we never managed to recreate the pomodori ripieni.  On the positive side, we had a few excellent meals out, including a spectacular dinner at La Chaya Bistro and an engaging conversation with chef/proprietor Juan Juarez Garcia, which we will write about soon. But we need to get back to blogging and as a result we are going to post our recipe without specifying quantities for the ingredients, trusting our readers to make wise and inspired decisions about what looks right, feels right and tastes right to them.

These tuna-stuffed cherry tomatoes are a pretty appetizer or party food.  They can be arranged on an interesting plate or platter, or skewered for easy serving.

Cherry tomatoes
Tuna in olive oil
Flat leaf Italian parsley

Wash cherry tomatoes and slice the tops off of them.  Carefully core the cherry tomatoes with a paring knife and scoop out the seeds and pulp with a small spoon.  Set the hollowed tomatoes upside down unto a baking tray and allow the juices to drain.

Dice the tomato pulp, and add it along with the juices and seeds into a bowl.  Drain the tuna and stir into the tomato mixture.  We used between 1 and 2 cans of tuna for each pint of cherry tomatoes.  Add mayonnaise to the creaminess level of your preference.  Rinse a handful of capers quickly under water, dice them add them to the mixture.  You can use more or fewer capers according to preference.  Chop a bunch of flat leaf parsley finely, and stir it into the mixture.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Carefully stuff the tuna mixture into the cherry tomatoes, taking care not to tear the tomato walls.  If you wish, garnish with a small dollop of mayonnaise.

Pizzette rustiche, the perfect party food

It’s the season of parties – graduation parties, children’s parties, block parties, and, as Stefano reminds me, his upcoming birthday party.  It’s not until September, but we are already planning for it since he is turning 40 and, he says, he wants it to be memorable.

When we threw parties in Italy, we would place an order at our favorite neighborhood pasticceria.  We’d choose an array of cream filled pasticcini mignon, delicate triangle-shaped sandwiches made from white bread with the crusts removed called tramezzini, and an assortment savory rustici salati.  Included in the rustici salati were pizzette, or bite-sized little pizzas with a variety of simple toppings.  Upon arriving home, we could never resist sneaking a few of the pizzette before the party began.

While nothing compares to the pizzette from an Italian pasticceria, very good pizzette can be made, really quite simply, right at home.

Before we jump into the how-to, however, there is a confession to be had.  Not everything in this recipe is made from scratch.  These pizzette are made from puff pastry, which one could try to make, if one really wanted to.  But who really wants to?  One recipe we saw warns that it is a three-day process.  While that sounds like a fun adventure some time, it’s not particularly practical, and we opted instead for the puff pastry that Pepperidge Farm sells in convenient frozen sheets and that work just perfectly for pizzette.

As much as we love to cook and bake, and as much as we appreciate home cooking with fresh natural ingredients, we are also adults with day jobs and other responsibilities.  If you are like us, once in a while it’s okay to accept some help, this time in the form of ready-made puff pastry.

The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten, puts it best in her book entitled Parties!:

“I can’t say enough about assembling food rather than cooking.  I keep telling myself that my friends won’t have any more fun if I spend two days making a daquoise for dessert than if I find a delicious pound cake at a bakery and serve it with store-bought lemon curd and fresh raspberries.   In fact, they’ll have more fun, because I’m relaxed and having fun, too.”

We brought pizzette to our block party tonight, and they were devoured within minutes.  We’ll make them again for Stefano’s 40th birthday party, and undoubtedly the same thing will happen.  We will use store-bought puff pastry each time, knowing that they will turn out great, and that we’ll enjoy each party to its fullest, just as Ina says.

1 box (2 sheets) of frozen puff pastry
1 small can or tube of tomato paste
Olive oil
Optional: fresh mozzarella, anchovies

Allow puff pastry to thaw.  Unfold the pastry sheets onto work surface, and with a small, round cookie cutter with a 2″-3″ diameter, cut out little pizza shapes and set them onto a baking tray.  If you do not have a round cookie cutter, a small glass or a mason jar lid will work fine.

Place a small dab of tomato paste in the center of each pizzette, and with your finger or the back of a small spoon, spread the paste around the center without reaching the edges.  You only require about 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. of paste for each pizzetta, depending on their size.  Too much paste will weigh down the pizzette and not allow the puff pastry to rise while cooking.

Using a cooking brush, spread a light layer of olive oil over each pizzetta, again using caution to not overdo with too much oil.  Next, toss a light layer of salt over the pizzette, and consider how you wish to complete the toppings.

For classic pizzette, sprinkle dried oregano on top.  Alternatively, you may add a small piece of anchovy to the top of the pizzette and then the oregano.  Or, some people prefer to omit the oregano and add a few small pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.  If you opt for the mozzarella, it’s best to use a denser, less liquid cheese, and very small pieces on top of the pizzette, again so that the puff pastry can still rise in the oven.

Bake at 400° F for approximately 8 minutes, or until the pizzette have risen and are golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes; the pizzette will fall slightly.  Use a spatula to carefully remove them from the baking tray.

Makes approximately 20-24 pizzette

Fiori di zucca fritti alla romana

There is not a more delicate, succulent, savory summer treat than the blossoms that arrive with young zucchini.

Zucchini blossoms are considered a delicacy in many part of the world.  In Mexico, the flower is featured in sopa de flor de calabaza and quesadillas de flor de calabaza.  The Greeks fill zucchini blossoms with feta, rice or meat and bake them in tomato sauce.  In Italy there are many different dishes that feature zucchini blossoms, but the best known is fiori di zuccca fritti, or batter-fried zucchini blossoms.

Summers in Italy, when the zucchini harvest is at its peak, there are more zucchini blossoms than one knows what to do with.  Mothers and grandmothers gently fry them in their kitchens for their children and grandchildren, pizzerie and trattorie offer them as appetizers on their menus.  The flower’s mild zucchini flavor and creamy texture, offset by the light and crispy batter-fried exterior, is something you must experience to fully understand.

In Rome, fiori di zucca fritti has become one of the city’s signature dishes.  While the blossom is filled with different ingredients in different parts of Italy – ricotta or prosciutto di parma, for example – fiori di zucca fritti alla romana are filled with a single strip of mozzarella, and a thin anchovy.

Here, zucchini blossoms are not always easy to find.  Like so many good foods, they have made their appearance as peoples from different parts of the world have made the Twin Cities their home and brought with them the cultures and cuisines of their homeland.  We owe today’s flowers to two Hmong vendors at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

A few notes:

  • If you haven’t developed a palate for anchovies yet, you can omit them.  Just don’t admit it to a Roman.
  • This is one time when you want your mozzarella to be more solid and less milky.  It’s best to minimize the liquids when you fry the blossoms to prevent the hot oil from splattering.
  • Some claim that using sparkling water renders the batter lighter and crispier.  The fizzy water has the same effect that beer does in a beer batter, without changing the flavor.
  • Like most flowers, there are male and female zucchini flowers.  The males grow off of the stem of the zucchini plant, and have stamen inside their blossom.  The females grow directly off of the end of the zucchini, and have pistils inside their blossom.  (My apologies, reader. That was more information about zucchini blossoms than you cared to know.)  Both male and female blossoms are edible, and in both cases the stamen or the pistils should be removed before cooking.


For the flowers
12 – 16 zucchini blossoms
2 mozzarella ovoline (1 tub)
6-8 anchovies

For the batter
1 C. water
1 egg
2 C. flour
2 pinches of salt
Vegetable oil

Remove the stem of the zucchini flowers.  Carefully separate the petals of the golden blossoms and remove the stamen or pistils, as well.

Wash the flowers carefully under cold water, and pat dry with a cotton cloth or paper towels.

Cut the mozzarella into strips 1/4 inch wide.  Slice the anchovies in half lengthwise.

Carefully insert a strip of mozzarella and a halved anchovy into each flower.

Close the blossoms around the mozzarella and anchovies and twist the ends carefully to keep the filling inside.

Place ample vegetable oil into a deep frying pan and heat the oil over high gas.

Prepare the batter by stirring together the water, egg and salt in shallow bowl, gradually sifting the flour into the water and mixing with a wire whisk.  The batter should be moderately dense.  You may add flour or water as needed until the batter reaches the consistency of your preference.

Dip each flower into the batter, coating it completely, and place it carefully into the hot oil.  Turn it gently until all sides have fried to a golden brown.  Remove from oil and set on a plate covered in paper towels to absorb the extra oil  If desired, sprinkle a dusting of salt over the fried zucchini flowers.

Fiori di zucca are equally delicious hot, or at room temperature.

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.

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.