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!