Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spaghetti Squash Side Dish

Spaghetti squash is a most interesting vegetable and one which I didn't ever see in Italy--not that it doesn't exist there, but it wasn't something Adriana ever presented. With her big family of hearty eaters I think there would have been bloody revolution--those boys needed sustenance!
I was first introduced to it in the Okanagan valley, where a market gardener--likely of Italian heritage--sold one to me and told me how to cook it.
Here's how. Cut it in half vertically. (easier said than done sometimes) Take out the stringy bits and the seeds with your hands or however you can.
Place each half upside down on a baking sheet (covered with parchment paper) and bake for about an hour or until soft when pierced with a fork.
The "spaghetti" part can be eaten just as it is, but is relatively flavourless. Without calories to speak of, but also without taste. So during this time you might want to prepare a simple tomato sauce or roast some halved cherry tomatoes with olive oil and garlic just until they're soft--either or both of these would be delicious mixed with the "spaghetti". Have some grated parmigiano or montasio cheese on hand.
Take out the squash, turn it right side up on a serving plate, and dig into the insides with two forks, lifting and shredding the strands that give it its name. They do look like spaghetti, but in the interests of honesty I must say that once you have it cooked, it will have no flavour unless you doctor it up considerably as per these suggestions.
At the very least, stir in some butter, salt and pepper, and grated cheese, to taste. Add roasted tomatoes or tomato sauce if you like. It occurs to me that if you had some Bolognese meat sauce, it, too, would be delicious mixed with this, and provide some protein.
You may mound up the "spaghetti" in the hollowed shells for a nice presentation, or put it into an attractive bowl.
I think of this as a summer dish, it is lovely as a side dish for chicken or cutlets.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gnocchi, Potato

Gnocchi (nyaw-kee)-delicate little pillows cooked briefly in salted water and sauced, served as a first course in place of pasta, risotto, or soup. Oddly enough, however, I never saw Adriana make the traditional potato gnocchi, as it turned out that no one in her family cared for them. (except me)
What she did instead was a culinary feat of painstaking labour. She made the dough in much the same way as one would make potato gnocchi, but then rolled bits of it into long ropes about the thickness of your index finger, and then cut each rope into lengths of app. 2 to 4 inches. Each length was then twisted into an interesting shape. She would make rings, twists, crescents, whatever occured to her, and each shape was placed on a lightly-floured teatowel to air-dry a bit.
Then, when it was almost time to call everyone to the table, she would set to work frying these in shallow oil (not olive oil--I use Canola) until they were golden and crispy on the outside. Not your traditional gnocchi, not served with sauce but as a side dish for cutlets for example, or chicken or fish. We all loved them, and my own children did as well once I mastered the technique back home in BC.
I know it sounds daunting, but it's kind of fun, especially if the kids help.
So--once again, no specific amounts. You'll get the hang of it.
Boil 4 or 5 potatoes in their jackets. Cool them. Take the skins off. Mash them in a big bowl.
Grated Parmesan or Montasio cheese, plenty of it--probably at least 1 cup. This, and the baking powder, is what differentiates these from potato gnocchi that will get boiled instead of fried.
Two egg yolks or one whole egg and one yolk.
Mix this well, then add a teaspoon of baking powder, then white flour enough to make a pliable dough..not too stiff.
Knead it just a bit on a floured surface.
Now prepare a floured teatowel or sheet of waxed paper to receive the little gnocchi.
When it's almost time to eat, prepare a paper-towel lined plate on which to place the fried gnocchi to blot the excess oil. Fry them in batches.
Arrange on a serving platter and garnish platter with lemon wedges.
Now sit down and rest. Chances are your kids won't eat anything else.

Watermelon Salad!

Not in Adriana's kitchen! She would, I think, have been appalled at the idea of Anguria (Watermelon) Salad, at least until she tasted it, and then, I think, she would have been converted. But we'll never know, and we do enjoy this relatively new addition to our repertoire of summer side dishes. It's very simple to do, colourful and refreshing.
In the hot Friulian summers we'd often buy the biggest local watermelon we could find from a grower out in the countryside, take it home, and place it under the pump outside the kitchen door so that it would be cold when we were ready to eat it after "cena" (supper). This pump ran day and night, forever as far as I know, with water from an artesian well deep underground. Every cortile, even every house, had one. The water ran into a sort of rectangular cement tub which was used to wash all the garden produce, do the laundry, and keep bottles of limonata, orangeata, and beer cool. Adriana was shocked, however, when I washed my (then) long hair under the freezing water, and told me it would surely make me sick. It didn't.

Watermelon Salad
As usual, the amounts and proportions are up to you.
Cube some watermelon and put it into a pretty bowl or on a small platter.
Add some cubed Feta cheese.
Add some Basil. You can do a chiffonade (roll up the leaves and slice) or tear some whole leaves, reserving a few intact for garnish.
Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. (a fair amount)
Decorate (sparingly) with fresh Basil leaves.
That's it! Now isn't that delicious! And pretty! And easy!

So when we were ready to eat the watermelon, someone was sent to retrieve it from the pump, and Nonna (Adriana) set to work cutting it up into wedges. This was no small task as there were often as many as 14 of us gathered around the table. And we knew that we were not to discard the rinds, as Nonna cut them into pieces and put them into a pail as a special treat to be taken out to her beloved pig.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Once upon a time before I was married I travelled to France and had my first culinary experience with Ratatouille. I loved it, it was a perfect lunch served at room temperature in the heat of Nice, but I had no idea then that I would be making it for the rest of my life! That is because the same dish in Italy is known as Peperonata, and it was a mainstay of Adriana's kitchen, particularly as the summer morphed into fall and the vegetables became overly plentiful. Put another way, what do you do with all those zucchini? We have always grown our own vegetables, although eggplant proves very difficult (read impossible) to produce in this distinctly non-mediteranean climate. I do make this dish all year round, though, and if I don't have the ingredients in the garden, I purchase them. This is a vegetarian stew, easy to make and delicious served hot or at room temperature, as a main or as a side.
Goes well with fish or chicken, summer grills or winter dishes.
Assemble the vegetables. Adriana used whatever she had, as follows:
Peppers, any colour or mixed. (Hence the name--Peperonata.)
Onions, 1 or 2 big ones.
Zucchini (unpeeled).
Eggplant (unpeeled).
Tomatoes, 3 or 4 (or 1 large tin Italian peeled Plum tomatoes with juice.)
Get a good handful of Basil, some Parsley, and a few cloves of garlic.
Now stop and admire the beauty of these--the eggplant with their shiny purple skins, the green zucchini, the orange-red tomatoes. Gorgeous! Maybe you should paint them instead of cooking them. Oh, sorry. Just an aside.
Get out a good-sized heavy pot with a lid.
Chop up all the vegetables, not too small, maybe about 2 in. chunks.
Put a drizzle of oil in the bottom of the pot and add the vegetables, the raw ones first,including chopped garlic, as much as you like. Cook and stir a bit and add the canned tomatoes if using. (You might have enough ripe fresh tomatoes.) Add some chopped Basil,and parsley if you like.
Cook and stir until the veggies are soft, and salt to taste.
Adriana cooked this in a cast-iron pot on a wood stove which I swear imparts a special flavour I have never been able to replicate. She would cook the Peperonata until the vegetables were pretty much indistinguishable.
I cook it a bit less than that, and you should take it off the heat when it looks and tastes the way you want it to.
Serve it hot or at room temperature. Adriana always topped it with a good handful of grated Montasio (or Parmigiano), which looks and tastes wonderful and may be the only thing distinguishing this from Ratatouille.
Garnish the serving dish with more Basil.
This is great taken for a picnic, too. Travels well.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Calamari Salad

Here's a colourful cold salad that makes a great antipasto all year round, or a lunch or side dish. Years ago, after sampling fried Calamari for the first time in a fishing village in Italy, I knew I was going to have to learn to clean them myself when I returned to Canada. An Italian friend was more than happy to show me how, and I think of Antonietta every time I do this job. It's not difficult, but it takes time.
I'm happy to report that I have now found a source of already cleaned squid, which makes the whole process, whether you're frying them or making this cold salad, a cinch!
I hope you, too, can be so lucky.
Again, I cannot give you amounts. Use as much calamari as you think you'll need for the number you're serving, and whether or not you're serving this as a main dish at lunch or as an antipasto. It looks great on a buffet, and leftovers taste even better the next day.

Calamari Salad
Cut the cleaned squid into rings about 1/2 inch wide. If there are tentacles, leave them whole. When a pot of salted water has come to the boil, drop in the cut-up calamari and leave them in for no more than 30 seconds, then remove to a plate or bowl with a slotted spoon. Leave them to cool.
While they're cooling, mince a clove or two of garlic and a shallot or two. Put these into the bottom of the bowl or dish in which you will be serving the salad. Now cut up and add a ripe tomato or two, a sweet red pepper (raw), a bunch of parsley and several leaves of basil.(Some recipes call for black olives and scallions or a red onion finely diced.) Now add the cooled calamari and toss together. Add the juice of one lemon and a squirt of red wine vinegar. Add some good olive oil and salt to taste. Some of you will want to add cilantro instead of parsley. Go ahead.
Give it all a good stir and taste. Adjust the salt, vinegar, lemon juice etc. to suit your palate. Remember that it will be much more flavourful once it has had time to sit, at room temperature, so that the flavours can blend before you serve it.
Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grilled Eggplant Salad

Mixed Grilled Vegetable Salad
(Eggplant in Italian is Melansane.)

This is so beautiful on the serving platter, and absolutely delicious.
The fastest way to prepare the vegetables is on the barbeque, but failing that option, use a grill pan on the stove, one that will leave "grill" marks on the veg's.

I won't tell you how many of each type of vegetable to use, the choice is yours, depending on what is available, what you like, and how many you're serving. The last time I did this, 2 days ago, I used two med. eggplants, 3 zucchini, 1 lg. red onion (white is fine), and one bag of my frozen roasted red peppers. (Defrost and reserve the juice.) This made a good amount.
Finely dice garlic, 1 to 3 cloves depending on how much you and your family like it.
Tear some fresh basil and leave a few leaves whole for garnish and/or chop some parsley. We love the addition of the basil.

Heat the barbeque or the grill pan, wipe the veg's with a damp cloth.
Brush (or spray, that's what I do, using cooking spray) one side only of sliced eggplant, just enough to cover the surface of the grill. (If you slice it too much in advance it will turn brown). Slice the eggplant vertically, throwing away the two outside slices with the skin, which is tough, but don't peel it otherwise. Grill until it has nice marks, about 5 minutes per side.
The zucchini doesn't need to be peeled, slice it vertically as well.
Grill all the vegetables you're using, placing them on a platter or dish as you go.
Salt and sprinkle the layers with garlic as you go.
When all the vegetables are grilled,add the chopped parsley or torn basil (or both) and drizzle the dish with red wine vinegar and some of the reserved red pepper juice. Add more salt and/or vinegar to taste. Of course some of you will want to drizzle it with good olive oil. Go ahead. Now garnish with whole basil leaves.

This is a beautiful side dish, good with barbequed or roasted meat, fish or chicken.
Sometimes you could scatter bits of feta or goat cheese over it and call it lunch!

This is a keeper!

Roasted Red Peppers

Now that you have a supply of roasted red peppers, here are some ideas for serving them.
I often serve a dish of dressed roasted red peppers as an accompaniment for chicken, meat, or fish. Here's what I do. Defrost a bag of the peppers. Reserve the juice.
Cut the peppers into strips or rectangles and put into a dish. Add some of the juice.
Chop some parsley and a clove or two of finely-minced garlic and add these to the peppers.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Drizzle lightly with the oil of your choice and then with red wine vinegar.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
If you'd like to cut down on the oil, use the pepper juice instead and be liberal with the vinegar.

These are also great in a sandwich or on an antipasto platter along with marinated artichoke hearts, olives, quartered hard-boiled eggs, and maybe some sliced cheese and/or prosciutto, artfully arranged. Your imagination is the limit.

About Red Peppers

Red Peppers are about as beautiful as anything in nature, I think, and are delicious and nutritious as well. I'm sure you use them raw in salads or toss them into stir-fries. Of course they grew in abundance in Adriana's kitchen garden, along with green and yellow, but here on the west coast of Canada I have to buy them. But red peppers are plentiful in the stores in the Fall and the price is reasonable, so for many years now we purchase one or two cases so that we can roast them in bulk and then freeze them for use during the winter months. How often have you come across a recipe that sounds great but calls for one or two roasted red peppers, and having attempted to roast peppers in the past and scorched your fingers, have abandoned the idea? Despair no more. Here's what you can do so that you always have a supply at hand.

Roasted Red Peppers
First, purchase a case or two of red peppers, and wash them.
Now put on a jacket (if you're in Canada in the Fall) and start the barbeque.
Pour a glass of Prosecco (or whichever wine you like) and find a pair of tongs.
Get out your biggest soup pot with a tight-fitting lid and put it nearby.
Cover the surface of the grill (when its good and hot) with a single layer of red peppers.
Sit in a lawnchair close to the wine, tongs in hand, and turn the peppers until they're blackened on all sides.
As each one blackens put it into the soup pot and put the lid back on. Keep adding peppers to the grill until you've done them all.
Put the pot on the kitchen counter to be dealt with the next day. (Put it in the frig if you live in a hot climate.)
By the time you're ready to deal with them, the hot peppers will have steamed in the pot, finishing the cooking process, and the skins will have started to lift off while the syrupy pepper juice will have collected in the bottom of the pot. They'll be nice and cool and easy to handle.
Peel the peppers, putting them into a bowl and discarding the peels and the seeds and membranes that you scrape out. Do not discard the juice!

Using zip-lock freezer bags, portion out the peppers in the amount you think will be the handiest. Then portion out the juice, pouring some into each bag of peppers.
Seal and freeze.
These are absolutely delicious and require very little time to defrost in a bowl on the kitchen counter when you need them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Curried Chicken Salad

Although this is a recipe I did not learn from Adriana it is never- theless delicious and very handy to have in your repertoire. I think I invented it, and I like to think that Adriana would have served it had she known about it. She was very forward-thinking and open to new ideas. I remember her on quiet Sunday afternoons poring over the recipe section of the "Famiglia Cristiana" magazine which had just arrived, and she did serve "new" things to her family periodically.

Curried Chicken Salad
Use as many chicken breasts as you think you'll need, depending on how many you're feeding.
Poach these until done in water which you've flavoured with some onion, some celery leaves, salt and a Bay leaf. (That is, cook these together in water for a bit before poaching the chicken.)
Remove the chicken and let it cool. You may reserve the poaching liquid for another time, it's a lovely broth.
In the meantime, mix some store-bought mayonnaise with lemon juice and curry powder to taste.
Cut the chicken into dice, not too neatly and not too small.
Cut some green grapes in half, a little fewer than the volume of chicken.
Chop some celery, including leaves.
Mix all ingredients together. Taste and adjust seasonings. You may want to add salt.
This looks really pretty, and if you've used low-fat mayo, it's good for you too!

One of these times I'll tell you about Adriana's "Russian Salad", though why she called it that I don't know. And then there's "Potato Salad alla Russa". I daresay we have the "Famiglia Cristiana" magazine to thank for both these ideas.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Friulano Language

We've just had a visit of several days from old friends who no longer live nearby, and who hail originally from the mountains of Friuli, near San Daniele, where the famous Prosciutto is made. They are actually from Spilimbergo, an ancient city famed for its mosaics. There are many beautiful old buildings up there, churches, a seminary, and municipal buildings, which contain breathtaking examples of both ancient and contemporary mosaic work, and there is now a renowned school where the art of making mosaics is taught. Go, if you can!
I have been enjoying the wonderful sounds of the Friulano language these past few days and while I understand almost everything, I still have difficulty speaking it and there is no one here other than my husband who does.
In all of Italy there are only two provinces which have a separate, written language besides Italian. They are Sardinia, where Sardinian is spoken, and Friuli Venezia Giulia, where Friulano is spoken. Everyone also speaks pure, unadulterated non-dialect Italian (Dante's Italian) and are proud to also be keeping their unique language alive. Imagine my surprise when I first went to my new husband's home, Italian-English dictionary in hand, and found that it helped me NOT AT ALL. His family, needless to say, spoke Friulano among themselves. I was mystified as to why, though frantically paging through, I could not find any of these strange words in my dictionary.
It wasn't until the second or third day that my mother-in-law, the wonderful Adriana after whom this blog is named, finally pulled me aside and in impeccable Italian (I knew it was because I had gone to night school in preparation for this trip!), she explained to me about the Friulano language. Bless her!
Now, I have books of poetry and prose in Friulano, and my husband regularly receives a newspaper from Udine (the capital city of the province of Friuli) which is partly in Friulano and partly in Italian. It is called "Friuli nel Mondo".
And what does this have to do with food? Well, I'll tell you. We tried our darndest to offer our guests the old dishes they would have grown up with, and they were, I think, pleasantly surprised.
We had Musetto, Brovada, Tripe, Salsicca, Prosciutto, and Polenta. Not all at the same time, but spread out over two days. Our cholesterol level is likely sky-high and we'll have to go heavy on the salads for a while now, but it was worth it! Great fun to surprise them, my being Canadian.
I don't have the strength just now to elaborate on that old-style Friulano food, I need to lie down, but I will soon give you some recipes. And if you are someone who has any connection to Friuli, you might want to know how to make these things.
Or maybe, like me, its just fun to read about them.
Mandy! (That's Friulano for Ciao, or Bye-bye, or Toodle-oo.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pasta Sauce with Anchovies

Today is Good Friday and I have a pot of Anchovy Pasta Sauce simmering on the stove. This is traditional in our house and, I dare say, in many others where the tradition of a meatless Good Friday is observed, whether for religious or cultural reasons. Of course we have it throughout the year,it is absolutely delicious (if you're a fan of anchovies) and very quick to make. It smells wonderful. The sauce can be put together and simmered in the time it takes to cook the pasta.
We prefer Spaghetti or Spaghettini, but of course you can use whatever you like.
Here's how to do it.
Put a splash of oil (olive or canola) in the bottom of your pot.
Dice a large onion. Today I used red, but it doesn't matter.
Chop 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, but don't add them until you've simmered the onions a bit, then saute together.
Add 2 tins of anchovies, or more if you like them, along with their oil. The anchovies will rapidly disintegrate. Stir well.
Add half of a large tin of Italian peeled plum tomatoes, squished in your immaculately-clean hand (as Julia Child would say)Add the entire tin if you've used more anchovies.
Simmer for a little while, and at the end add a handful of chopped parsley.
You don't need salt or pepper.
Now drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in some sauce, serve it in bowls, and top off with more sauce and some grated Parmigiano.
You can't miss!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cabbage Salad

We have this often when the cabbages in the garden are threatening to overwhelm both us and the "cabbage patch". But of course you can buy a head of green cabbage and do this as an accompaniment to your main course. It's fast and good, and Adriana served it often. It could be considered a luncheon dish on its own.
1. Finely slice (or shred) as much cabbage as you think you'll need.
2. Crumble in a tin of solid-pack tuna. (We buy water-packed, but packed-in-oil is what Adriana used). Try some imported (from Italy) tuna if you can find it, just for interest's sake. I sometimes think it's more flavourful.
3. Toss in a few capers, if you like them.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste, and dress with oil and red-wine vinegar to taste.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

BACCALA (Or "What the h... is that?")

The last time we purchased a Baccala (also known as Stoccofisso) in one of the few stores in Vanc0uver where they are available, the woman standing beside us turned and said, "What the hell is that?" My husband, somewhat offended, explained that it is a dried codfish, and that it's very good. "Well, it looks terrible," the woman said. And indeed it does. Horrible. An entire dessicated codfish, mouth agape. Imagine her surprise when she observed that it cost $60.00!!
Don't worry, I'm not going to insist that you buy one, let alone cook it, but it was a staple of the north-eastern Italian diet when my husband was growing up. It was very inexpensive then and fed a large family--with polenta, of course, and Adriana wrote out this recipe in her beautiful hand and mailed it to me in Canada. That's how important it was. And is. We still use her recipe.
If you're brave enough to try this, don't worry. You will have plenty of time to make polenta while the Baccala is cooking. Just for interest's sake, here is how we do it.
Step 1...Get your partner to take it outside or into the garage and beat it with a wooden club until it has broken up a bit.
Step 2...Put the broken fish into a plastic tub or bowl and just cover with tap water. Leave for about 2 days.
Step 3...When you're ready to begin cooking it (in the morning) take it out of the water. It will have broken up quite a bit.
Step 4...In a good-sized pot, saute together in oil a chopped onion, a chopped leek (not the dark green tops) and 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, sliced. Now add a can of anchovies. They will break up almost immediately.
Step 5...Add the Baccala, breaking it up as best you can with a wooden spoon. Add a cup or 2 of squished canned Italian plum tomatoes, and a bit of salt and pepper. Add a bit of water, just to cover the fish.
Step 6...Let this simmer on low-med. heat for as long as 4 hours, continuing to break up the fish and adding water as necessary. It should end up being flaky.
Step 6...Near the end of the cooking time stir in some chopped parsley.
Step 7...Just before you serve it, stir in about a cup of milk and let it heat again.
Step 8...Serve it over polenta, just made (soft) or roasted.
This will last for days. I'm warning you, you have to make it if you want to taste it, you certainly can't buy it anywhere.
It's not difficult to do, just time-consuming. But if you know anyone who grew up in that north-eastern part of Italy they'll cry when you serve it to them.
Cooked in this fashion it is known as Baccala alla Vicentina.
Be sure you don't buy salt cod.
In bocca al lupo!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Red Cabbage Side Dish

This is a good side dish on a wintry day, though it can be a lovely accompaniment to a meal whatever the weather. It goes particularly well with pork-- sausages, spareribs or a roast. It is also easy to make and doesn't require that you stand over it. I have been served this or the same thing but made with green cabbage or savoy cabbage by women from different parts of north-eastern Italy. It seems quite universal.

Take out a good-sized frying pan or a dutch oven and put a little oil (canola) into it.
1. Take 2 or 3 slices of pancetta (Italian rolled bacon, not smoked), cut it into dice, and saute slowly in the oil.
2, Add one good-sized cooking onion, diced.
3. Add 3 or 4 chopped or sliced cloves of garlic, more if you like. (I do.)
4. Take a nice big apple, peel and core it, and slice or chop it up as well.
Let all this saute together as you slice the cabbage.
Cut the cabbage in half or quarters so that you can remove the core.
Now slice it into about 1/4 in. slices and add to pan.
Put a lid on it for a bit, to allow the cabbage to steam. Now there's not so much of it.
Now here's the flavour trick--add a few capfuls of red wine vinegar and some salt. The red wine vinegar is essential, and you can add more as you taste, but go easy at can't take it out.
If need be you may add a bit of hot water every now and then if the mixture gets too dry, but it probably won't if you've used pancetta. The fat is still in there.
Cook slowly, uncovered, for at least an hour. Taste. Adjust the flavouring--the vinegar and the salt. I add a sprinkle of sugar, giving the dish that sweet and sour flavour which is traditional in some families, as is a faint touch of clove.
The longer you cook this the less the ingredients will be distinguishable, which is not a bad thing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chicken Cacciatora---Chicken Stew

This is the newest version of Chicken Cacciatora, from Marcella Hazan.It is lighter and has fewer ingredients, but is very easy to do.

Chicken Cacciatora
Marcella says to buy a 3 to 4 lb. chicken cut into 6 or 8 pieces. Then you have a variety of cuts.
But since my husband won't eat any store-bought chicken, if I do this I use chicken breasts only, as I always have them on hand in the freezer.

Chicken pieces( 4 to 6 breasts, left whole or cut in half or thirds) or these plus a few legs and/or thighs.
2 T. oil
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
2 peeled garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine (not too dry)
1 1/2 cups chopped very ripe fresh tomatoes OR canned Italian plum tomatoes, peeled.
1. Choose a pan that will subsequently hold everything.
2. Wash and dry the chicken pieces.
3. Put the oil and the onion in the pan and cook on medium until they become translucent.
4. Add the garlic and the chicken pieces. Cook until they're a nice golden colour on both sides.
5. Add salt and pepper and the wine. Let it simmer until half of it has evaporated.
6.Add the tomatoes , turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, and put the lid on slightly askew. Turn chicken pieces periodically, and if the liquid is getting low, add a bit of water. Should take about 40 minutes.
Serve with polenta, or potatoes if you must.
Buon Appetito
P.S. Someday I'll tell you why he doesn't eat store-bought chicken.

Beef Stew

I've just posted the recipe for Adriana's Pork Stew, which is wonderful, but of course there's always Beef Stew and Chicken Stew, both of which go equally well with polenta.
Here is Marcella Hazan's beef stew recipe, which we also like very much. (See Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) You must follow her recipe exactly, and do not (as I did the first time) revert to making it the way your mother did. This is better! Delicious and even--dare I say it--elegant!

Beef Stew with Red Wine and Vegetables
As always, read this over before you begin.

Oil (Canola) for browning
2 lbs. boneless beef chuck cut into 2 in. cubes (or buy lean stewing beef).
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 onion, cut into about 1 in. pieces, or 1 lb.small white onions
4 medium carrots (I don't add these but you can and probably should.)
4 celery stalks
1 and 1/2 pkgs. frozen peas, thawed (more if you haven't added carrots)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and black pepper.

1.Put some canola (or vegetable) oil into your pot. Choose a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid.
Make sure the meat is well dried, then brown on all sides in the hot oil, making sure to add only enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Do successive batches as necessary, lifting out with a slotted spoon and placing on a plate.
2. Pour the fat out of the pan, pour in 1/2 cup of the wine and simmer for a few moments while using a wooden spoon to loosen the bits on the bottom. Remove pan from heat.
3. Peel the little onions and cut a cross in the root end of each one OR chop the big onion. If using carrots, cut them into sticks about 1/2 in. thick and 3 inches long.
Split the celery stalks lengthwise and cut into short sticks.
4. Now add the browned meat cubes, the onions, the olive oil, and the remaining cup of wine. Cover and turn heat to low.
When the meat has cooked for 15 minutes add the carrots (if you're using them), and after another 45 minutes, add the celery and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Continue cooking until the meat is tender when prodded with a fork. Then add the peas. Let everything cook together for another 15 minutes.
All together this stew should take about 2 hours to cook depending on the quality of the meat.
This recipe, like all stews, will taste even better when prepared a day or two in advance.
Notice that there are no tomatoes in this recipe!

Now serve this with freshly-made polenta as I described earlier, or with slices of grilled or roasted polenta.
This one is a winner!

Adriana's Pork Stew

Winter Stew--the ultimate comfort food. But not your usual beef stew.
I remember telling you that I would give you some ideas for dishes to serve with polenta, something with lots of sauce. This pork stew, which I learned from Adriana many years ago, has been a mainstay in my kitchen every fall and winter when its chilly and rainy or snowy outside. It is very easy, and unusual. Since Adriana didn't measure ingredients, neither do I, so amounts are approximate. But don't worry, you cannot mess this up. Whatever you do, it will be delicious.

Adriana's Pork Stew
Buy some pork stewing meat and trim it well of excess fat, or buy a pork butt roast and cut your own stew meat. You will need about one inch square pieces of meat.
Put a little oil (I use canola) into the bottom of your pot and when it's good and hot, brown the meat. Remember Julia Child's tip--make sure each piece is dried off or it won't brown, it will just sort of boil in its own juices.
Remove the meat and add to the pot one onion and two green peppers, roughly chopped, not too small. Saute until onion is translucent.
Now put the meat back in.
Add a can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes, more or less to your taste.
Put in a couple of Bay leaves (I have a tree in my backyard).
Now here's the kicker! Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, and some salt. Taste it. Maybe it needs more vinegar or more salt.
The vinegar gives the stew a delicious, unusual flavour, and serves to tenderize the meat. I sometimes add as much as 1/4 cup.
Now add 3 or 4 potatoes cut in good-sized chunks, depending on how many people you're feeding.
Simmer for at least one hour. Check for doneness. Continue simmering.
This is a one-pot meal, with the addition of a salad or sliced cucumbers or tomatoes dressed lightly with oil and vinegar.
Isn't it delicious! Thank you, Adriana, wherever you are.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Radicchio, pronounced Ra--dee--kee--o, has been a mainstay of my table for many years, long before I began to see it mentioned in magazines like Gourmet and Bon Appetit, or before one leaf under an appetizer occasionally appeared in restaurants. My husband, along with many other Italians transplanted to the New World, has always grown it, and here on the Pacific coast of Canada it does extremely well. In fact, believe it or not, we had our last Radicchio salad sometime in the week between Christmas and New Years. It was growing in the back yard under a grape vine crawling along the fence. It is, to my taste, better in the fall when there has been somewhat colder weather, and it can even withstand a slight frost. It is a type of Chicory, and the cold makes it better, less bitter. We love a salad of torn leaves with lots of finely-minced raw garlic and a spritz of oil and red wine vinegar. It is an acquired taste, but one which I have long since acquired.
The other thing about Radicchio is that it is so beautiful! Its dark red or maroon-coloured leaves with white veins are a stunning addition to the table, either alone or mixed with greens. Some of my Italian friends (from Treviso, which is famous for the self-named Radicchio) serve it dressed with a few spoons of cooked cranberry beans (fagioli) on top. That's delicious too, and adds a bit of protein.
Radicchio comes in a variety of types, Palla Rosso, Chioggia, Treviso etc., but you don't need to know that unless you plan to grow it. You can't miss those gorgeous dark red heads in the produce department.
Grilled Radicchio is also quite popular these days, where you simply slice a head into segments, probably quarters, brush them with oil, and grill them on the barbeque as an accompaniment to grilled meat or fish. But at my place, we enjoy it as a salad the best.
Do try it soon!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Smoked Salmon

Tonight we had a few folks in for drinks before dinner, neighbours, and as usual, we plied them with Smoked Salmon. Isn't that decadent!
But we live in British Columbia, and my husband the Friulano long ago mastered the art of smoking salmon. He is self-taught, and I've never tasted better.
I well remember the first time I saw Smoked Salmon in a shop window in Lignano, on the beautiful Adriatic coast close to his home, and was absolutely shocked at the exhorbitant price. It was then that I really began to appreciate what I had access to here.
When our son was married my brother and sister-in-law came from Italy for the big event, and I'll never forget the look on Claudia's face when she saw the store of smoked salmon we had on hand. Immediately she set to work and made the most delicious, the most divine, sauce for pasta, one which we have made for each other countless times since.
It is easy, it is foolproof, and you've never tasted anything so good. We take frozen fillets of smoked salmon with us whenever we go "back home" so that they can all make the sauce as well.
You can actually make it in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. We like Spaghettini, but you can use whatever you like.
Put the water on to boil and salt it well. They say it should be as salty as sea water.
Smoked Salmon Sauce
Pour a small carton of whipping cream into a saucepan.
Warm it gently, then add a little squished tomato from a tin of Italian peeled tomatoes and a little juice. This is primarily for the colour.
Thinly slice and then cut again once or twice the smoked salmon. As much as you like.
Stir it into the warm cream and mush it up with a wooden spoon.
Simmer gently until it reduces a bit.
That's it. You don't need to add salt.
Put the drained pasta into the sauce and mix it well, or put the sauce into the pot which contains the drained pasta. Mix well.

There are those purists who say that one should never put cheese on any fish sauce, but Adriana always did, and so do we. Do it if you like it.
Claudia puts a good handful of grated Parmesano or Montasio into the sauce and gives it a good stir before mixing it with the pasta. It thickens the sauce. Then she tops each bowl with more sauce and more cheese.

It drives me crazy when I see chefs on the Food network putting the cooked drained pasta in a bowl and then putting a puddle of sauce on top. I've never seen that in Italy or in any Italian home. The sauce must be mixed with the pasta before it is served in order that the flavours blend, and a bowl of extra sauce is often put out as well to top the individual servings.
I love watching and reading the recipes of Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, she does it right! Look her up. Incidentally, she has vineyards in Friuli and often lauds it for its beautiful cheeses, meats and wines.

Cheese Puffs (Gougere)

These are nice served with drinks, but they'd also be good with the Clam Chowder. I don't know what they're called in Italian, but people of all persuasions seem to like them. Believe it or not, they're fast and easy to make. By the way, I've never seen these in Italy. Have you?

Get out a baking sheet and cover it with parchment paper.
Heat oven to 375.
Cheese Puffs
1 cup cold water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
4 or 5 large eggs
1/2 cup shredded cheese (Gruyere, Swiss, Parmesan, whatever you like, even Cheddar I suppose.)
In a saucepan bring water, butter and salt to the boil. Reduce heat to moderate. Dump in the flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon. Go ahead, it will work. Cook until you have a lump of dough that's quite dry.
Now transfer this lump to a bowl and let it cool a bit. You can do this with an electric hand mixer. Continue to mix, then slowly add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Now fold in the cheese with a rubber spatula.
Drop onto the parchment-lined tray by tablespoons about 1 inch apart.
Pop them into the oven for 30 minutes until they're puffed and golden and crisp.
You may make them ahead and then reheat for a few minutes before serving.
Buon Appetito

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Clam Chowder

There's nothing better on a dark January day than a bowl of Clam Chowder and you don't need to don your wellies and go to the beach to dig clams, though I easily could, as I live a few blocks from Porpoise Bay on the Pacific coast. But its easy to make this soup from a tin of clams, and I always have several in my pantry in case the urge moves me. Clam Chowder around here is usually a thick, white concoction such as that served on our ferries--hearty but a tad stodgy. The recipe I use I stole from The Two Fat Ladies years ago, and it has never failed to garner compliments. I even made it once for my Italian relatives on a fall visit to Italy, though it turned out to be quite a production, as once word got around that the Zia from Canada was making a "Canadian" dish for supper that night, about a dozen people turned up. But I had thought that would be the case and I made a large vat. It wasn't hard, and it turned out to be quite a hit.
Just to remind you, the Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa and Jennifer, had a cooking show on the BBC which was carried by the Food channel and by PBS in Seattle, but these were only made from 1996 to 1999. They were hilarious, two upper-class Brits who travelled England by motorcycle, Jennifer driving and Clarissa riding shotgun, both in leather biker's jackets and helmets. They'd go to private schools and abbeys and rugby clubs and cook huge lunches which always seemed to be well-received, though their food was famous for being very rich, if not downright fatty.
Their Clam Chowder, however, is an exception. We all like it. Even the Italians, when they saw me add the white wine, were not averse to trying it.
Two Fat Ladies Clam Chowder
In the bottom of a medium pot put a knob of butter and a drizzle of oil.
Now chop a large white or red onion, a couple of slices of ham (prosciutto cotto) and one ripe tomato from the garden or a couple of whole peeled tomatoes from a can, squished in your hand.
Saute these three ingredients together for a few minutes.
Next we must add the liquid, about 6 - 8 cups. First, add at least one cup of white wine, I probably add two. It should be a fairly sweet wine such as a California Rhine or a Sauterne type, but any white wine you have will be better than none. Now make up the rest of the liquid as you like--water, or chicken stock, or vegetable stock. I use the latter, but very light. Now add cubed raw potatoes, probably 4 or 5 depending on how big they are. Salt to taste, and a bit of black pepper.Bring the soup to the simmer and continue cooking until the potatoes are fork tender. Now add the can of clams, juice and all. You can do the soup to this point hours in advance, it improves with sitting. At the end, put in maybe half a cup or less of skim milk or whatever you have. Sometimes I don't. Bring the heat up before you serve it. Once you've done it you'll see how fast and easy it is (unless you're trying to feed dozens of people). Jolly good, as Clarissa would say.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year Kids!!

Buon Anno! Today was the first day of 2010 and I am grateful for so many things. We had a lovely family dinner today, and I'm not quite finished cleaning and tidying, but I must tell you about the beautiful platter of meats that was served as the antipasto. My husband, Italo, is the only man I know in Canada who still makes his own Prosciutto, Salami, Capicollo, and Pancetta. Can you believe it? He seems to be keeping this ancient art alive single-handed! He has several nephews in Friuli who still do this, and each time we go "home" he reviews the latest information re techniques etc. with them. The Prosciutto of San Daniele, in Friuli, is world-famous, and if you've ever seen the hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Prosciutto hanging in long sheds being cured by the mountain air, you'll never forget it. Or the flavour. And this is being replicated here in my home on the Pacific coast of B.C.! He has a professional Deli meat slicer, so the meats are beautifully sliced, thin and aromatic. A sight to behold. All you need to serve with them are breadsticks or a thinly-sliced bit of Baguette.
For our first course today I made Crespelle with two different fillings. Crespelle are what the French call Crepes, thin little pancakes about 8 inches in diameter. I use a non-stick frying pan, about 8 inches in diameter, and although the first one always looks like the dog's breakfast, you'll soon get the hang of it.
The recipe is as follows:
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T. melted butter or oil
Whisk together the flour and eggs, gradually whisk in the milk and water. Add the salt and oil or butter, whisk until smooth.
Let the batter rest about an hour in the frig.
Lightly oil or spray the pan between each crepe.
With your pan at medium heat, put about 2 T. of batter in the middle of the pan and quickly lifting it off the heat, rotate it until you have a very thin layer of batter in a circle all over the bottom of the pan.
Let it cook until its golden, then flip it. The second side won't take nearly as long. The first side you cooked is the presentation side. This made 10 crepes today.

Now make a pan of Bechamel, Besciamella, and toss in some Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded, or, as I did, some Friulano Vecchio. You could actually use Emmenthal, Fontina, or any combination of cheeses you like or have in the frig. That's basically a cheese sauce, nothing fancy or strange.
As far as fillings are concerned, your imagination is the limit. I did half with a little blue cheese...Gorgonzola..., a bit of Prosciutto Cotto...that's Ham, and an asparagus spear. Good.
The others I filled with mushrooms sauteed in butter, and bits of pre-cooked scallops. Doesn't take much as these are little crepes. Make them bigger if you like simply by using a larger frying pan.
Now slather a good layer of the sauce in the bottom of a lasagna pan or whatever you wish to cook them in which can be taken to the table.
Place the rolled crepes in the dish, and then spread more of the cheesey Besciamella all over the top. Sprinkle with more shredded cheese and bake at 250-300 for about 20 mins. or until you see the sauce bubbling.
Buon Appetito!