MIXED ANTIPASTO

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All Mixed Up !

Antipasto_7

Buon giorno!

There have been some requests for a discussion of traditional Antipasto. Many of you who were born and raised on Mortadella and Provolone might scratch your heads and say “why”? Yes, it comes as second nature to us who may have teethed on pepperoni. However, there are many out there who really don’t know how to create one properly, and also many who might be intimidated by the elaborate designs of the Antipasti they have seen or sampled. Before all of the Italians start yawning and those intimidated non-Italians start to run for the hills  – ASPETTA!! (WAIT!) The Mixed Antipasto of today’s post is not quite what you might expect. It is easy, quick, and beautiful to look at.  So listen up!

A quick tutorial: In Italian, Antipasto is one. The plural is Antipasti. Very simply, it means “before the meal”.

Tradition: The traditional image is that of a platter of several different types of Italian cold meats, cheeses, olives, anchovies, and pickled or marinated vegetables, all lined up and served with crusty bread. Another visual is Antipasto served on a very special “relish” platter with separate compartments for each item kind of like that old Swanson TV dinner container we all remember which creates a kind of deconstructed arrangement. No two items touch or mingle. Other traditional forms include all sorts of elaborate flower or kaleidoscope-like patterns with meats rolled tightly, lined up like little tin soldiers, resembling the choreography of the Rockettes. I think this might be where the intimidation got started. If you didn’t have the time, the“knack” or better yet, a degree in Architecture, why would you bother to pursue it?

Types: Aside from the one described above which is the image we most often conjure when we think of Antipasto, there are other types. There is the one made entirely of fish – all types of seafood including octopus, calamari, shrimp, cuttlefish, sardines, mussels, clams, anchovies – I am out of breath… There is the Easter Antipasto of my youth which was the essence of spring with devilled eggs, basket cheese, spring green onions, olives, orange slices, fennel etc.

Universal item: If someone were to ask me what I thought might be the one item you would probably find in all good Antipasti, I would say… the olive! I can’t even imagine an Antipasto of any kind with some kind of olive. In this arena, there are no limits – ANY olive is great but you MUST have at least one type. Of course, the Gaeta, Cerignola, and the vivid green Castelvetrano etc are divine – but be prepared to pit them. This is definitely worth the trouble, if you have the time. Biting into an olive pit can be dangerous to one’s million dollar smile, and really lets the air out of the balloon, if you know what I mean in terms of an unpleasant experience. However, even pitted Kalamatas or regular old black olives are very acceptable. Just make sure you include the olives.

The Secret: Once again, the secret to making the best possible anything when it comes to Italian food including Antipasto is the ingredients. Always select the best and freshest ingredients, and even the simplest Antipasto will be heavenly. Look for good Italian cold meats. Use aged provolone or fresh mozzarella. Drizzle or marinate with the best of the Extra Virgins and Balsamicos .If you can roast your own peppers as in our post, Sovana and the Mystery Dish (LINK), all the better. Last but hardly least, always use fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice. The ingredients will be the difference between the bad fake and la cosa reale. Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing!

Shake it up, Baby: Keeping all of the do’s and don’ts in mind, the very best in Italian cooking was not carved into tablets and presented on Mt. Sinai. As long as your ingredients are good and true, you can tweak things once in a while and still keep the faith. We’ll take what we know, and just shake it up a little. It is in that spirit, that we will make a MIXED ANTIPASTO today. This is perfect for the cook who doesn’t have a lot of time but wants to serve something that looks like she/he does.  Our ingredients will be good, our herbs and lemons fresh, and our oils the best we can afford. Today, THAT is where we will depart from tradition and “mix it up”.

The MIXED ANTIPASTO feeds a crowd. We don’t have to labor over design with a set of blueprints. We can mix it ahead, and it will make incredible leftovers for sandwiches. Uh – don’t expect much in the way of leftovers. They usually can’t leave this one alone. You won’t have to worry about it sitting out as it does not have a tendency to spoil.  It is a conversation inducer: everyone gathers around talking and eating versus wandering about with a cracker. With just one spoon, you get a little of everything on your plate. It is great for a lunch, a buffet, a first course, an appetizer, and outdoors – On the Patio!

MIXED ANTIPASTO

Prep: 35-40 minutes

Serves: About 10  (just cut in half if you need less- but it keeps well for leftovers)

Ingredients:

Marinated Mushrooms: Marinate 3/4 lb fresh cremini or baby bella mushroom halves several hours ahead of putting your antipasto together. Marinate mushrooms with:  1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, fresh basil chopped, 1 clove garlic chopped and salt and pepper to taste. I like to add a small amount of red pepper flakes. Refrigerate until ready to combine with the rest of ingredients.

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Meats: Any combination of the following meats can be used. Use all or a few. Cut all meats into pieces. I’ll show you some of them.

1/3 lb Genoa or Hard Salami

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1/4 lb Mortadella

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1/4 lb Prosciuttto

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1/3 lb Capicolla

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1/4 lb Pepperoni or Sopressata

1/4 lb Bresaola

 

Cheeses: Cut into edible sized chunks

1/2 lb Aged Provolone ( make sure to use aged – the one that smells like sox!)

1/2 lb Fresh Mozzarella

Other ingredients: Again, use any combination – best using all!

2 c. Cherry, Grape, or Campari tomatoes – cut in halves or quarters

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3/4 c. Peperoncini cut up

1 c. Roasted Red Peppers (can be home roasted or from the jar)- cut into strips

1 c. Olives – Pitted Kalamatas were used for the demonstration here –Gaetas, Castelvetranos, Cerignolas all good – but make sure to pit them.

14 oz can rinsed and quartered artichoke hearts

2 oz. can anchovies cut up – or use just a few – you SHOULD use them – they melt into the dish when mixed, but the flavor they add is incomparable.

1/2 c. capers, rinsed and drained

Any other pickled vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower etc. are always welcome.

Dressing: Mix the following together:

Juice of 1/2 Fresh Lemon

1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

3 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped

Instructions:

Gently toss all of the meats, cheeses, and other ingredients together. Then pour the dressing over and toss together well.

Garnish and mix again:

1/2 c. Chopped Fresh Basil ( or use whole leaves)

1/2 c. Chopped Fresh Parsley

Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes

At this point taste for seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Important: Refrigerate Antipasto until ready to serve. Just before serving taste for seasoning and add more of dressing, salt, pepper if needed. Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Serving: This makes a beautiful and colorful presentation in a large glass bowl. Serve with small plates as an appetizer. The beauty of this is that everyone gets a little of everything quickly by spooning it onto their plate. Find a fresh loaf of Italian bread or Focaccia and have PLENTY on hand to serve with this dish.

Vino: Because of the dominance of meats and the earthy nature of the cheeses, I like a red wine and suggest a Ripassa Valpolicella, a Barbera D’Alba, Aglianico, or even a good Chianti Classico Riserva.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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BABY ARTICHOKES STUFFED WITH RICOTTA

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BABY TALK

Baby Artichokes Ricotta_9

Buon giorno

Oh NO! Not Artichokes! They’re WAY too much work and WAY too difficult. WRONG! I am about to change your life- Well – maybe just the way you feel about artichokes. Baby Artichokes Stuffed with Ricotta is just the way to do it. The operative word here is “baby”. They are delicious and tender and so easy to prepare.

Fact: A Baby Artichoke is not a type of artichoke. It is actually a baby, not mature, and picked from the lower portion of the plant.

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Fact: Baby artichokes have no choke. You know – that nasty little prickly furry thing on the inside of an artichoke that makes everyone want to run and hide?

Fact: While they are available in some areas year round, they are usually found to be more abundant in the month of May.

Fact: You can freeze them cooked but not raw.

Fact: You can grill them, saute them, steam them, roast them, or deep fry them.

MYTH: Artichokes take a long time and much skill to prepare.

Best Fact: I can and you WILL prepare a baby artichoke for cooking in less than 1 minute per “baby”.

Considering all the above facts, are you still thinking of running like a scared bunny rabbit? I think not!

Let me tell you about my recent experience that I hope will inspire you. I was on the prowl for Baby Artichokes as soon as the first micro-speck of pollen hit the air this year. I found some at Whole Foods in late March, but then came up dry for a while. I decided to launch a more aggressive search.

The Lesson: There is a lesson developing here. I strongly urge you to become “friendly” ( NO – not that kind of friendly!) with your produce manager. Let him know you. Let him recognize you in the store. Let him know you like to cook. Really, folks, these fellows (usually fellows) want to serve their customers. They want to bring in different varieties of fruits and vegetables and grow their customer base. Seriously, no one talks to them unless they are complaining about the spots on the bananas. Yes, there have been times that the “Yoda” of produce at Whole Foods has wanted to hide under the Swiss Chard when he saw me coming, but for the most part, it has been a relationship of mutual accommodation.

Getting back to the aggressive search – After scouring the Farmers’ Markets and heard the 20th local farmer tell me how Georgia soil is not forgiving when it comes to artichokes and wouldn’t I rather talk about turnips and lettuce – I went back to Whole Foods AGAIN and stalked the produce manager. We had a long discussion about how he hasn’t been able to get baby artichokes which begged my question: Is it that you can’t get them, or that you don’t think people will buy them? He confessed that the latter had factored in.

What we do for love: I decided to go for it. It worked last year with the figs. Why not try it with the baby artichokes? I BEGGED! Then I PLEADED! I wove a story about how I needed them, longed for them, craved them, not to mention several hundred of my “closest friends” were sitting on the edge of their seats just waiting for a recipe using them. It was when his eyes began to roll backward in his head that  I stared him down and said, “Look, Bucko, it’s almost May – the month for artichokes. Surely you can get your hands on a few!” At this point, I’m sure he considered calling security, but instead, he agreed to try and took my name, rank, and serial number. I thought  – “that’s the last I’ll hear from this guy” on this subject. However, a week later, he called and said he couldn’t get them for Easter, but he would keep trying. The following week he called again with the best words you’ll ever hear from a produce manager: “I’ve got ‘em”.

Happy endings: I rushed to Whole Foods and purchased three dozen. They come in boxes of 12. It may sound like a lot, but they are very small , keep in the refrigerator well, and “slim down” considerably after you prep them. They were so worth the trouble to get – and now my produce manager is much less intimidated by the woman in the baseball cap who calls him “Bucko”. These days, he smiles when he sees me. (Just wait til fig season. We’ll see if he is still smiling!)

THE RECIPE: Baby Artichokes Stuffed With Ricotta will win your heart. It is a recipe based on a Sardinian favorite using salami. My version with prosciutto is a little more delicate, I think. Also, my addition of capers, gives the stuffing a little zip. I absolutely love serving these tender Baby Artichokes as an appetizer – perhaps two halves to a plate – which will only make “them” want more. They are easy and quick to prepare and make such an unusual and delicious presentation. They also make a good side dish. I can almost imagine the  shepherds, who are famous for sleeping in the crevices of the rocks which line the mountains of Sardinia, dreaming of these splendid little gems during the months away from their families and homes. Unlike the shepherds, we don’t have to wait so long!

BABY ARTICHOKES STUFFED WITH RICOTTA

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

6 Baby Artichokes

Juice of a fresh lemon

Water to cover artichokes

1 c. Ricotta

1 egg

3 Tbsp. Grated Parmigiano- Reggiano Cheese

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

4 oz. (1/4 lb) chopped Prosciutto

2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained

1/2 c. Fresh breadcrumbs

Handful of Chopped Fresh Parsley

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling

Instructions:

In a large bowl put just enough water to cover the artichokes and the juice of a fresh lemon.

Remember I said it takes less than a minute to prepare each baby artichoke!

Rinse and brush the artichokes. Take off all outside darker tougher leaves until you are down to the pale almost lime green inside leaves.

Cut off the tip of the artichoke.

Take off a little of the end of the stem.

Scrape the stem with a potato peeler.

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Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise.

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Drop it in bowl of lemon and water immediately which prevents the artichoke from turning brown.

Proceed with the rest of the artichokes.

When finished with the prep of the artichokes drop them in boiling salted water and boil for about 10 minutes.

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While they cook, prepare your stuffing.

Mash the ricotta in a bowl with a fork.

Add the egg, cheese, chopped Prosciutto, capers, ground pepper. Mix together and taste for seasoning. You may or may not need any additional salt depending on how much salt the Prosciutto and capers bring to the stuffing. Just taste and season accordingly as you like.

When Baby Artichokes are ready, place them in an oiled baking dish, cut side up.

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Top each one with a heaping spoon of ricotta stuffing. Add the breadcrumbs over the stuffing. Then top with Fresh Chopped Parsley. Squeeze the fresh lemon juice over all, and drizzle with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Olio Carli is my favorite when it comes to the “Virgins”.

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Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

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To Serve: As an appetizer, serve 2 halves per person. Drizzle again with Extra Virgin Olive Oil just before serving. They are great served hot or cold.

Vino: I like a Pinot Grigio with Baby Artichokes Stuffed With Ricotta. A Zenato Pinot Grigio is nice and also affordable.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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BEST BACCALA SALAD

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Two of the Seven – Part Two: INSALATA DI BACCALA!

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Buon giorno!

Welcome to Part Two of the latest post: Two of the Seven: INSALATA DI BACCALA (Baccala Salad). We left off a few days ago discussing the cherished and renowned tradition of the Italian Christmas Eve: The Feast of the Seven Fishes. This feast brings Italian families to the table to celebrate together the culmination of the season of Advent which is known as Natale. So many fishes – only so much space at the table! This does not deter the seemingly endless courses, types, and preparations of seafood that grace the tables of Italians worldwide on this night.

As we discussed previously, Baccala or Salt Cod traditionally plays an important role at this feast. Presenting it in different ways at this meal is not uncommon. Zuppa di Baccala or Baccala Soup as shown in the step-by-step demonstration from my last post,Baccala-Two Of The Seven , is only one preparation. Another totally different preparation is Insalata di Baccala or Baccala Salad. This is a beautiful, vibrant, and very fresh tasting dish that can be made a day ahead and chilled. It makes a wonderful and unexpected antipasto or first course.

Just as we did in the recipe for the soup, once again, we will soak the Salt Cod for 24-48 hours, changing the water several times to “wash” the salt out and reconstitute and soften the fish. As I have done in the past, I will use my mother’s recipe and add a couple of my own ideas. One addition I have made is to roast the cauliflower, one of the recipe ingredients, instead of steaming or boiling it. I think it gives a richer flavor to the dish as a whole and also gives the cauliflower an almost nutty quality.

Andiamo!

INSALATA DI BACCALA

Serves about 6-8 as appetizer or antipasto

1 lb Salt Cod – soaked in cold water 24-48 hours, changing water several times

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Items for Poaching:

1 qt. water

1 c. white wine

Juice of a Lemon

2 Bay Leaves

Several Lemon slices

After Cod is reconstituted, bring the above ingredients for poaching to a boil in pan.

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Drop pieces of fish into the poaching liquid and reduce heat immediately.

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You do not want to boil the Cod but simmer gently for 5 minutes or more until fish is tender and will pull apart with a fork.

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Remove pieces of fish to a plate to cool.

When cool enough to handle, cut fish into 2 inch pieces. This is very easy as the fish tends to break at the touch. Remove any bones you find but usually the dried fish now comes pre-boned. Set aside in large bowl.

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Cauliflower:

4 c. cauliflower cut into small pieces

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Drizzle cauliflower with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper

Roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes until just fork tender – not mushy or soft

When cool – add to cod in bowl.

Add the following ingredients to the bowl and toss gently to mix:

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3 Tbsp. Capers – rinsed

3/4 c. Peperoncini – chopped

1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley

3 cloves chopped fresh garlic

1 c. Black Olives

In another bowl mix the dressing ingredients and add to the large bowl of salad ingredients – toss:

1/2 c. Olive Oil

Juice of 1 Fresh Lemon

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

At this point you can chill the dish ( a day before serving if you like). The salad keeps a few days in the refrigerator. Before serving, toss gently again and taste to see if seasoning needs refreshing. If you like, drizzle with a good Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

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PARLA COME MANGI!

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September: Beet Carpaccio

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Recipe of the Month — September 2010

Beet-Carpaccio

An appetizer- antipasto, a side dish, a meal in itself!!
Gorgeous and perfect for al fresco dining.

2 Medium-Large Red Beets-Roasted and sliced very thinly
2 Medium-Large Yellow Beets – Roasted and sliced very thinly
Drizzle of olive oil – for beets
Drizzle of honey – for beets
5 c. Baby Spinach
5 Baby Purple Onions sliced very thinly- these are very sweet ( if can’t find use regular Purple Onion)
1/4 c. Toasted Walnuts coarsely chopped – drizzled with a little bit of honey after toasting
3-4 slices Prusciutto chopped in small pieces
1-2 Tbsp capers – depending on your taste
Large Shavings of Montasio Cheese ( From Venezia region,  very rich with grassy, fruity flavor)
If unable to find Montasio, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a fine substitute

DRESSING
Juice of 1 Lemon (Meyer if you can find )
Whisk in 1/2 c. Olive Oil
Add 1/4 tsp Kosher Salt & Freshly ground black pepper ( about 3 twists of the grinder)
1 Tbsp Fresh Basil Leaves cut in chiffonade style (ribbons)
Whisk all together until well blended.

PREPARATION
To roast beets: Peel beets and place on foil in pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil  and a little honey- add a touch of salt and pepper. Seal beets tightly with foil and roast in a 450 oven for about 60 min. When time is up – remove from oven and let beets sit in foil tent for about 20 min. Release steam and set aside. When cool slice VERY thinly and arrange alternately in concentric circles (about 2 circles) on round platter leaving a little room in center.

Toast walnuts in oven til just golden – remove from oven and drizzle with a little honey – toss.

Steps up to this point can be performed several hours ahead.

Just before serving, toss baby spinach in just enough of prepared dressing to coat.
Toss with thinly sliced baby purple onions and mound in center of beets. Drizzle the beets with a little of the lemon dressing.

Top spinach mixture with chopped prosciutto.

Sprinkle capers over beets.

Sprinkle honeyed walnuts over all.

Top the Center mound with shaved Montasio.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8.

TROPPO BELLA!

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