Polenta With Gorgonzola

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polenta and gorg 2 (3) with script

Buon giorno!

Most Italians are familiar with the custom of eating polenta on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, or for Carnevale. (Mardi Gras) However, the most well known preparation is with sauce and little meatballs or even Braciole. This is considered the Southern Italian method.

Northern Italy is also known for their polenta, using more butter and cream than the south. They often serve it with the game that is so prevalent in the woods of the North. POLENTA WITH GORGONZOLA is one such northern recipe. It hails from the Northern region of Lombardia. This is a smooth and creamy version and, even with the sharper cheese, is still a mild dish with subtle hints from the cheese. It is a wonderful dish to serve as a first course or as a side to game, poultry, sausage, or grilled meats. It is simply a beautiful preparation which polenta lovers must have in their arsenal.

Long considered peasant food, polenta is now considered a refined dish, offered in so many ways, by the most accomplished chefs and finest restaurants. These days, the instant polenta, is so good that it is no longer necessary to stir for hours with the “paiolo” – a long handled Italian paddle like tool. I remember, as a child, engaging in the long stirring process by standing on a chair taking my turn at the “paiolo”.

Fast forward to today, I have paired this cheesy polenta with mushrooms, sauteed quickly with butter, vinegar, and a touch of sugar, a kind of quick and easy agrodolce. The idea here is to add a touch of acidity and sweetness to counter the butter and cheese. This coupling results in excellent balance.

POLENTA WITH GORGONZOLA

Serves: 4

Prep: about 30 minutes

Ingredients

8 oz. Sliced Mushrooms – Wild or Button

2 Tbsp. Butter

1 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar

Pinch Sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Package Instant Polenta (approx.9.2 oz.)

4 oz. Gorgonzola Dolce chopped – very mild and creamy (If you like sharper flavor, try Gorgonzola Mountain or a good Blue Cheese)

3 Tbsp. Butter

3/4 C. Heavy Cream, warmed

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped Fresh Basil for garnish

Extra crumbled Gorgonzola for garnish (important to accent the flavor)

Instructions

Saute the mushrooms in the butter, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper until caramelized and tender. Set aside.

Polenta and gorganzola 1

Make your polenta just before serving for best results.

Prepare the polenta according to package directions. Remove from heat.

When polenta is ready and piping hot, stir in the gorgonzola and butter until melted in.

Polenta and gorganzola 2

Then add the warmed cream and stir in quickly until incorporated. It should be very creamy.

Place in bowls and top with a few mushrooms on each serving.

Garnish with chopped basil and crumbled gorgonzola.

POLENTA WITH GORGONZOLA is best paired, in my view, with a light red wine like a Barbera or Valpolicella – both from the North of Italy where this polenta dish is traditionally served.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE

 

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Gnocchetti with Shrimp Sauce

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Celebrate Carnevale!

Shrimp Sauce with Gnocchetti finish 1 with script

Buon giorno!

Carnevale begins in Italy and with it come the hearty luscious and tastefully extravagant dishes everyone loves at this time of year – lasagna, gnocchi, tortellini etc. The heavier the better is expected during this time of revelry and otherwise throwing all caution to the wind especially regarding food. Along with the masks and costumes come the favorite dishes of each region. Everyone is mindful that when Carnevale ends, Lent begins, along with abstinence from the foods we love best. Let’s celebrate this festival season with GNOCCHETTI WITH SHRIMP SAUCE – a both decadent and comforting dish which is wonderful to eat and serve anytime but especially in celebration of Carnevale and the weeks leading up to Lent and its more, shall we say, spartan dining.

Gnocchetti?? Most of us are familiar with gnocchi, but what are gnocchetti? They are simply tiny gnocchi in the shape of little balls. They are made in exactly the same way – using the potato dough. The difference is that you cut them in a smaller size and roll them into little balls instead of leaving them as pillows or rolling them in more of a cavatelli shape as many are used to. This is very easy to do. You can make them ahead and freeze them by laying them out on a tray in a single layer – freezing them and then dropping them in plastic bags  to keep frozen until ready to cook.

For more information on gnocchi making, see this post: Gnocchi – It’s Pillow Talk!

Cooking gnocchi and gnocchetti: If frozen, defrosting gnocchi or gnocchetti before cooking is not only unnecessary but not advised. You simply drop them frozen into boiling water and wait a minute or two for them to rise to the top – then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or strainer. I like to cook them in a shallow pan instead of a big pot – maybe a third at a time. This prevents clumping and sticking together.

The Shrimp Sauce: This is a beautiful sauce – just perfect for gnocchi or gnocchetti. It has tremendous flavor and has a great comfort factor. The best part is that it is easy to make!

This is a terrific way to usher in the joyous Carnevale season, but this is far too special a dish to save for once a year. Serve this one all year round!! A truly beautiful dish!

GNOCCHETTI WITH SHRIMP SAUCE

THE GNOCCHETTI

Makes: About 3 lb.

Prep: 90 minutes

Cook: about 2 minutes

Ingredients

5 Russet or Baking Potatoes (the BEST potatoes for making gnocchi or gnocchetti)

2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour + a little extra for rolling

1 Tsp. Salt

2 Large Egg Yolks

Instructions

Boil the potatoes to fork tender – takes about 30-40 minutes.

When ready – let the potatoes cool for JUST a few minutes. Then peel them. A fork helps, but the skins come right off with little coaxing. I sometimes like to use disposable gloves to keep from burning my fingers.

Once peeled, put the potatoes through a ricer and let the riced potatoes fall onto a board in a mound. This is a very easy and quick step.

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Next add your flour and salt and work into the potatoes.

When partially combined, add the egg yolks and finish forming your dough to a smooth finish. This takes place pretty quickly and is a much easier dough to handle than pasta. No kneading necessary. As a matter of fact, it is discouraged for tender gnocchi. You can add a  LITTLE extra flour if needed  and your dough is too sticky to handle – but do NOT add too much.

Potato Gnocchi dough

Divide your dough into 4 balls. You can divide each ball again for easier handling if you like.

Roll each into a “snake” or rope.

Rolling Potato Gnocchi

With a knife cut the rope into 1/3 inch pieces for gnocchetti – into 1 inch pieces (pillows) for regular gnocchi. It helps to add a little flour to your knife.

Cutting gnocchetti

For gnocchetti, roll the pieces in the palms of your floured hands into little balls and place on a floured surface.

Gnocchetti balls

If freezing, freeze first in a single layer to keep them from sticking, and then place them in a plastic bag to freeze for later use.

For more instructions on step by step regular size gnocchi making like the ones below, visit this post on making gnocchi: HERE

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To cook the frozen gnocchetti or gnocchi, add them to boiling water straight from the freezer. Do not defrost ahead. I have had more success with using a shallow pan to cook them in rather than a large pot – less sticking. They take just a couple of minutes to cook. Once they rise to the top – they are ready for you to remove them. Use a strainer, spider, or slotted spoon. I don’t like colanders for this.

Add your sauce and garnish and enjoy!

THE SAUCE

Serves: 4

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 lb. Gnocchi or Gnocchetti – cooked

3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Chopped Onion

1 lb. Shrimp, cleaned and shells removed

4 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

1 Bay Leaf

1/2 C. Parsley + some for garnish

3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme

1/8-1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste

1 Cup Dry White Wine

1 Slice Fresh Lemon Peel

1/2 C. Crushed Tomatoes (I prefer to crush my own.)

Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste

1/3 C. Mascarpone Cheese

Fresh Parsley for garnish

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the onion for about 5 minutes.

Shrimp Sauce 1

Add the shrimp, garlic, Bay Leaf, parsley, thyme, red pepper flakes, and toss in the pan a couple of minutes to begin cooking.

Shrimp Sauce 2

Dissolve the tomato paste in the wine, and add it along with the Lemon Peel slice to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer about 4 minutes.

Shrimp Sauce 4

Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper.

Shrimp Sauce 5

Cook at a simmer for about 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let sit a minute to cool a bit.

Remove the Bay Leaf and Thyme sprigs and discard.

Turn your heat back on at a low level and add the Mascarpone. Stir in as it melts. DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL – SAUCE MAY SEPARATE!

Shrimp Sauce 6

Garnish with parsley.

You can use this sauce with Gnocchetti as shown or gnocchi.

Shrimp Sauce with Gnocchetti finish 2 with script

Serve your GNOCCHETTI WITH SHRIMP SAUCE with a crusty Italian bread. You might consider frying some of the bread slices in a little olive oil and serving a couple with each dish. BELLISSIMA!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE

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Guanti, An Italian Sweet –

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A Carnevale Dessert –

Guandi Finished 2

Buon giorno!

Growing up Italian taught me many things – but none so true as that things can have many different names and still be the same. Italian dolci tend to fall into this area where the same sweet can be called by any number of names. I have had many conversations with Italian friends where it took 20 minutes to figure out that we were all talking about basically the same thing – but each of us gave it a different name.

GUANTI  are such an example. My mother, Loretta, called these little knotted cookies WANDI. The “GU” wants to be pronounced as a “W”. I have even heard them called “E Wands” . They are also referred to as “Chiacchiere” – which means chatter. My friend, Peggy, remembers them as “Noccatelle”. They are knotted strips of dough – cut with a pastry cutter making a jagged edge – then lightly fried, and sugared.

Guandi finished 1

GUANTI, Chiacchiere, Noccatelle – are usually made at special times – like Christmas but most often at Carnevale – the joy filled weeks prior to Ash Wednesday when Italians celebrate with parades in costume,  joyous festivals, and, of course, special foods. It is the time of Mardi Gras in some places around the world – but in Italy, Carnevale is a few weeks of joyous masked merriment and special rich foods, enjoyed in preparation for the Lenten period of abstinence. 

Mask

GUANTI  is one of those sweet treats that you may remember your Nonna making. When my mother made them, the aroma of the fried dough filled our little house, and I knew something wonderful was in store. I waited for the platter of little knots to appear. She sprinkled hers with powdered sugar, although many families may remember them with honey and nuts – like struffoli. They are best eaten warm, right out of the oil, and freshly made. When you have these, it is not an event you will likely soon forget.

Happy Carnevale!

GUANTI, AN ITALIAN SWEET

Makes: dozens depending on size

Prep: 15 mintues

Cook: 30 minutes

Ingredients

3 C. Sifted Flour

Dash of Salt

1 C. Sugar

1 Tsp. Baking Powder

3 Eggs

1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract

1/3 C. Dry White Wine

Vegetable Oil – enough to make about 1 1/2 inches deep in your pot.

Plenty of Powdered Sugar

Instructions

Place dry ingredients in the food processor or mixer & mix. ( OR place on a board and make a well in the center as in the old days!)

Guandi 1

Add eggs and vanilla – then  process until the dough begins to come together.

Guandi 2

Add the wine and mix until the dough becomes soft. ( You may need a few drops more wine– depending on the dryness.)

Turn the dough out on a board or slab to knead. Knead a few minutes until your dough is smooth.

Guandi 3

Guandi 5

Cut strips about 5/8” wide and about 8 inches long with your dough cutter – or you can also use pinking shears to achieve the jagged edge.

Guandi 4

Guandi 6

Take each strip and make a knot looping one end of strip over, under and through – like the beginning of a square knot – only you will only loop it through once.

Guandi 7

Drop the knots into hot oil in a pan or pot heated to about 375 degrees – a few at a time. Turn them gently and quickly in the oil .

Guandi 8

Remove them as they turn golden and let drain on paper towels.

Guandi 9

Quickly sift powdered sugar (or granulated sugar) over them on all sides. You may want to sugar them a couple more times.

(Some like to drizzle them with honey and sprinkle them with nuts – like struffoli.)

Guandi 10

The GUANTI are delicious dipped in hot chocolate, tea, coffee or enjoyed with espresso!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE

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Carnevale Cake

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Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina

Carnevale Cake

 

Buon giorno!

Carnevale is a festive and happy time in Italy. It is kind of the “last hurrah” before the period of lenten fasts, abstinence, and repentance. Elaborate masks and even costumes are donned, and the celebration begins early and leaves late – lasting for weeks and with the final big splash on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Carnevale brings many traditional dishes with it each year. One of these is a dessert cake, CARNEVALE CAKE  or SCHIACCIATA ALLA FIORENTINA. It is absolutely addictive in flavor and amazingly easy to make.

About Carnevale: Perhaps the most well known festivals are held in Venice, home to many of the beautiful masks we associate with this event, and Viareggio in Northern Tuscany, famous for its parades and beautifully detailed floats. The official mask of Carnevale in Viareggio is “ Burlamacco”, the clown who pilfers pieces from the other character masks and costumes to make one very odd looking and sometimes scary fellow. There is even a hotel named after him. Carnevale is considered a major event in Italy. Everyone, from children to the very old, participates in some way.

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The Food of Carnevale: As with every other feast day or celebratory event in Italy, Carnevale seems to have its own set of foods that are associated with it. Every region has a special dish or dishes that they prepare to mark the celebration and especially on Shrove Tuesday, the last day of fun. As with other regional dishes, you’ll find similarities and differences in some recipes from region to region.

Polenta (a form of cornmeal mush) is a favorite in Italian households on Shrove Tuesday here in the US and in Italy. There will be some variation in how the polenta is made from region to region. Italians prepare it in all sorts of ways. In the south, most notably in Campania, the Napoletanas like to serve it with a beautiful red tomato sauce containing sausage and tiny meatballs. They serve it on a large board or platter and everyone eats from it. This is the way, my family enjoyed it every Shrove Tuesday for as long as I can remember. In my early days, my father, Attilio, would stand me up on a chair and let me stir the polenta with a special endlessly long wooden spoon – one of the most vivid of my childhood memories. For two posts on polenta try these other links on my site:

 POLENTA – IT”S SO CORNY 

and also

SERVING POLENTA

Smashed, crushed, and squeezed: Whatever am I getting at here now? And no, it is not a new way to order hash browns at the Waffle House. Schiacciata translates to “smashed, crushed, squeezed” and a variety of other words of a similar nature. What exactly are we smashing, crushing or squeezing? Not a thing really! This is a very typical stew you find yourself in with so many Italian words and translations. As my mother, Loretta, used to say, “It sounds better in Italian.” She had a point.

The many faces of Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina:  This Schiacciata or CARNEVALE CAKE takes many forms in Italy. It is mainly a Tuscan idea, specifically Florentine. You’ll find it as a bread, a focaccia, a stuffed bread, a cake, and even a pizza. None of these have much similarity in preparation to one another.

Today’s Schiacciata at Linda’s Italian Table is most definitely a cake. It is a beautiful and simple cake to prepare (all in one bowl) and is also an example of the very popular and much requested Olive Oil Cake. The olive oil is not only good for you, but it also makes this cake irresistibly moist – giving it a an almost unique consistency. I have used lemon in this one: both extract and zest to give it a VERY definite citrus flavor. The special surprise is the addition of Candied Lemon Peel.I have long been a fan of the homemade candied peel. It has so many uses in baking and in cooking savory dishes. It also is delicious and different served at the end of a meal with espresso for just a little sweet treat. You can omit the Candied Lemon Peel entirely, if you wish, or use store bought – but OH the difference the homemade version makes to this cake – just can’t describe! I recommend an easy and fun recipe for making your own Candied Lemon Peel just a click away on my post “NO NEED TO PUCKER”.  This beautiful Candied Peel lasts a long time in a sealed container at room temperature or you can freeze it.

Trust me – they won’t be able to stop eating this one!!

CARNEVALE CAKE

(Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina)

Makes: one 9” round cake

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. Flour

1 c. Ground Almonds

1 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 c. Olive Oil

3/4 c. whole milk

Zest of a fresh lemon

1 Tbsp. Lemon Extract

1 c. chopped Candied Lemon Peel (optional) For a homemade version: see my post: NO NEED TO PUCKER

Powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions:

Grease a 9 “ spring form pan.

Put whole almonds through a food processor to grind them finely

Mix together in a large bowl: flour, ground almonds, sugar, and baking powder.

Add olive oil and milk. Mix together until incorporated.

Add the extract and lemon zest and mix well.

Add the chopped candied lemon peel, if using it.

Pour into your prepared pan, and bake at 350 degrees until golden and set in the center – about 35 minutes depending on your oven. Test with a knife – if it comes out clean – you’re done!

Release and remove the side of the spring form pan and cool. Dust with sifted powdered sugar.

Serve: You will love this beautiful lemony CARNEVALE CAKE. You might enjoy it with a glass of Limoncello and an espresso! Believe me – there is nothing lovelier than this cake – especially as your swan song before Lent.

Just one more thing: Don’t forget your mask!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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March: Sgroppino

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Amidst the lively costumes and masks that so fancifully illustrate Carnevale in Venice, hides a smooth and lovely drink that the revelers enjoy even year round. It is called Sgroppino. There are many recipes out there using sorbets, sherbets, gelato, and cream. I have fashioned one that is similar to those but just different enough to note. This is a beverage best served after a meal. It is attractive, dangerously delicious, and sure to cause conversation at your Mardi Gras table – pre-Lent or anytime. I, of course, especially like it On the Patio!

2 ½ c. creamy vanilla ice cream – not vanilla bean (I use Breyer’s Creamy Vanilla for this)
½ c. Lemon Curd – you can make your own but the jarred ones on your grocer’s shelf in the cake and spice department are just fine for this.
1 ½ oz. Vodka (put in the freezer a few hours before)
1 ½ oz. Limoncello (put in the freezer a few hours before)
1/3 c. Prosecco – chilled
Fresh Mint and Sliced Toasted Almonds for garnish

Soften your ice cream and fold or mash in the lemon curd. It’s ok to have little bits of the velvety curd still visible  – in fact it is better to have them, I think. They offer little lemon surprises as you sip!

Put the ice cream mixture back in the freezer until you are ready to use. [Read more…]

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POLENTA–It’s so corny

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Buon giorno!

Since the annual pandemonium and pageantry of Carnevale has begun in Venice, Viareggio, Rio, Portugal, and… my house, I thought it might be fitting to chat about the food most representative of this celebration in Italy – Polenta. Because there is so much to say about Polenta – where it came from, how to prepare it, how to serve it, I will discuss it in two posts beginning today with its origins, use, and preparation. This post will be followed later in the week with some great ways to serve it. So don your mask and costume and yank last year’s parade float out of the garage and  – Andiamo!

What is Polenta anyway? Polenta, a simple cornmeal mush, dates back centuries. Those Nawthern Italians insist on laying claim to it, but you’ll find it in many of the other regions in Italy – though not quite as much in Tuscany. Its origins actually date back to the ancient Romans making theirs as a kind of porridge-like mush which was called pulmentum. When corn came on the scene in the 1600’s, Polenta became more like what we are used to seeing now. It is likened in consistency and appearance to the grits of the American South.

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The source ingredient of Polenta can be found as several different types of flour or cornmeal throughout Italy.  The most common polenta flour is Bramata Fioretto which is very fine and makes a softer polenta. In Venice, the home of Carnevale, cooks most often use polenta bianca or white cornmeal. Along the Piedmont, you will sometimes even find it made with potatoes.  Some areas of Italy use buckwheat or chestnut flour. [Read more…]

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