Focaccia Casatiello

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Focaccia Casatiello

Buon giorno!

With Easter almost upon us, it is a joy for me to look back upon past Easter holidays with my family which were much about the food and its preparation, in addition to the blessings of the season. I remember the usual weeks leading up to the holiday with buzzing in the kitchen about getting the milk fed lamb or goat and the greens for the minestra. Bread making was a part of all this. In the Calabrisi household, back in Binghamton, NY, my parents, Loretta and Attilio, often made a rolled bread using pizza dough filled with their homemade Italian sausage (the best sausage ever created!)

Remembering this, a Neapolitan Easter favorite comes to mind  – the Casatiello – which is a brioche-like bread stuffed with meats and cheeses. In the spirit of the traditional long rising and mixing of this traditional bread from Napoli, I enjoy making a shorter version and call it, FOCACCIA CASATIELLO. This is a much quicker easier process which yields a beautiful soft focaccia suitable for any occasion but especially for the Easter season. Focaccia usually has a shorter rise time, and is easier, I think, to make, even for a novice bread maker.

This focaccia is stuffed with cooked sausage, fennel seed, and Pecorino cheese. These additions fill the focaccia with extra flavor and create big flavors for little effort. It is best made the day you plan to serve it. The next day –the leftover focaccia will disappear, as your guests and family realize that this is the perfect breakfast food when slipped onto the griddle with their eggs and whatever. We love this stuff at our house, and it always flies off the serving platter.

Hint: This is the time when you’ll want to use a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle this amazing flavor bomb!

 FOCACCIA CASATIELLO

Makes: 1  9x 13 loaf

Prep: 3 hours

Cook: 12-15 minutes

Ingredients

1 c. Lukewarm water

1 envelope dry active yeast

1 tsp. honey

2 3/4 c. flour – divided (1 cup and 1/1/2 cups)

¼ c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tsp. Kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp. Fennel Seed

1/2 C. Italian Sausage broken into very small bits – a mixture of sweet and hot sausage – cooked, casings removed

1/2 C. Pecorino Cheese + 1/4 to 1/3 C.extra for top sprinkle – coarsely grated

Coarse Salt for a very light sprinkle (Sea Salt, Grey Sea Salt, or Fleur de Sel are good choices for this)

Additional GOOD Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzle

Fresh Chopped Sage for garnish

Instructions

Brown sausage pieces quickly in a pan with a little olive oil. Set aside.

In large bowl mix water, yeast, honey – let sit for about 5 min.

1 Focaccia - yeast

Add 1 c. flour and ¼ c. oil into the yeast mixture – let sit 5 min. more

Add the remaining flour and salt. Mix together with hands and open fingers in a circular motion as for making biscuits.

Knead this mixture on a board for about 5 minutes – not long – it should come together and become a smooth dough. Add a touch of flour if sticky – but not too much.

Spread the dough out a little and add the sausage, fennel seed, and Pecorino – work these ingredients into the dough well.

2 Focaccia rising

Rub the dough with a couple of drops of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and place it in a bowl covered with a towel and put it in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour and a half.

When finished rising, turn the dough into an oiled rectangular cake pan – about 9 x 13 inches.

3 Focaccia Casiatello - 2nd rise

Dust your hands with some flour and push the dough with your fingers until it retains the shape of the pan. Poke dimples all over the top of the dough with a finger.

I like to cover with a towel and  then put the pan aside for about 30 minutes for a second rise. Second rise will not be as much as the first.

Preheat the oven to about 450 degrees. You may prefer to place the pan on an upper rack for nicer browning.

After second rise, sprinkle a little coarse salt on top, sprinkle the coarsely grated Pecorino (1/4 to 1/3 C.),  and drizzle the top with a GOOD Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

4 Focaccia Casiatello - add oil and cheese

Bake for 15 minutes depending on your oven. Top should be golden – not too brown.

5 Focaccia Casiatello - baked

Don’t over bake or your focaccia will be dry. The time will depend on your oven so watch it and adjust if needed!

Turn the focaccia out on a board to cool. Sprinkle on some chopped fresh Sage and drizzle generously with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Cover loosely until ready to serve and slice. Make this  the day you want to serve it.

So hurry and make your FOCACCIA CASATIELLOthe table awaits!  (Also try the Italian Sweet Easter Bread another Easter tradition. )

PARLA COME MANGI!

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ROASTED CAMPARI TOMATOES

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Campari Tomatoes roasted_005

That Little Red Dress

Buon giorno!

A rose may be a rose, but a tomato is definitely NOT a tomato! (…and no you have not just stumbled into a bad poetry blog) The truth is that not all tomatoes taste the same, are interchangeable, and can be counted on for flavor. This brings me to the subject of one of my favorite fresh tomatoes which happens to be in season at this very moment – summer. The Campari Tomato is special in so many ways. It is the very best tomato, in my estimation, for the easy, healthy, and delicious preparation of Roasted Tomatoes as a side dish. Let’s talk about why Roasted Campari Tomatoes are worthy of that review.

What is a Campari Tomato: It is not in any way related to the wonderful tart Campari liquor that is the basis of so many Italian aperitivi . Ah! But that vivid red…yes they do have that bright show-stopping red color in common. That is where the similarity ends. Unlike the tart, biting, liquor, the Campari tomato is very sweet and very juicy. This tomato makes you savor its flavor, taunting you to let it to linger on the tongue, and promising more to follow it. They are small, round, and plump. Unlike its distant relative, the less flavorful cherry tomato, the Campari bursts with sweetness when bitten and packs very little acidity. The name Campari not only defines this special variety of tomato, but also designates a trademark.

Campari Tomatoes roasted_001

The little red dress: To further elevate this tomato, think of it this way. The Campari is a lot like that “little red dress”. You know the one. It hangs in your closet, waiting. It is not selected often or for just any occasion. Instead, it waits patiently.. for that special evening – that singular event for which no other frock will do. It is sassy, ripe, a little siren. You save it when you want to make a statement. The red dress is the one your mother keeps telling you to wrap up with a sweater or shawl. Your girlfriend wants you to adorn it with some tacky necklace. YOU know better! You know that all it needs is a simple pair of pumps – just high enough. You know you don’t have to work that “little red dress” as it does all the work for you. OK – I digress. You get the idea. Similarly, Campari Tomatoes need no elaborate cover-ups, no sauces, no frills. They do it all. Just let them shine. They will work the runway – uh – the plate – in an understated manner while leaving your guests wondering how something so simple just rocked the meal and their taste buds.

Keeping Campari’s happy:  Always, always store your Campari Tomatoes at room temperature. Never refrigerate them as this causes them to lose their flavor as it does with most tomatoes. In this case, it would be a tragedy to lose such sweetness. Try to use them soon after you purchase them to get the full benefit of their flavor and goodness.

The KISS method: You all know this one! KISS as in Keep It Simple Stupid. Such is the way to reap the most success from Campari Tomatoes. My favorite preparation for these little stars is to roast them in halves, simply, with just a few fresh ingredients. They will perform perfectly on the most formal menu as well as on the most casual. As a side to roasted or grilled meats and fish, they serve as the perfect choice always complimenting the other flavors. Another way I love to serve them – is oiled and just lightly roasted whole, still on the vine – served with an oozy cheese like Buratta or even a creamy goat cheese like the one made at Caly Road Creamery.

On the outside chance: It probably won’t happen, but if you possibly have any leftover: throw them over pasta or make sandwiches with them the next day – just killer!

Here’s how to do it!

ROASTED CAMPARI TOMATOES

Serves: 6

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

12 Campari Tomatoes washed and split in half and rubbed on the outside with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped very finely

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Oregano

1/4 c. grated Pecorino Romano Cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

About 1/3 c. Chopped Fresh Basil for garnish

1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice

Instructions:

Oil a baking dish. Place tomatoes cut side up in the dish.

Campari Tomatoes roasted_002

Sprinkle garlic and salt and pepper over the top of tomatoes.

Sprinkle fresh oregano over the top.

Campari Tomatoes roasted_003

Sprinkle with cheese.

Campari Tomatoes roasted_004

Give a generous drizzle of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil over all.

Roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

When finished, sprinkle with Chopped Fresh Basil and Fresh Lemon Juice.

Warning:  The aroma of the ROASTED CAMPARI TOMATOES will be intoxicating!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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June: Linguine Alle Vongole

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Linguine with White Clam Sauce

Clam-Sauce with script

Sounds like a big deal – linguine, clams, vongole. Hmmm… not so much. The only big deal here is the wonderful dish that awaits. LINGUINE ALLE VONGOLE or Linguine with White Clam Sauce is easy, light, and perfect to start the summer menu for outdoor dining. Yes – outdoors – On the Patio – is right where I would go with this one. This dish was just made for an outdoor spread. You are not going to believe how easy it is to create one of the most famous of Italian seafood dishes. I just saw some beautiful Littleneck Clams the other day and thought, “It’s time!”  It is time to share this fabulous dish with you.

Linguine Alle Vongole was pretty ordinary around our house growing up  in Binghamton, NY, because it was a favorite of my father, Attilio, a fisherman at heart, who loved to take to the sea in the summer with his family in tow.  As a girl, we spent many summers on Cape Cod with various wonderful cousins of my mother, Loretta. We all inhabited cottages next to each other. It was the Italian version of the Kennedy compound—without the trust funds!  During the day, when the time was right, the kids would head, with their buckets, to the areas where the clams would be found and commenced to digging up as many as they could carry home to my Dad. He would then prepare two extraordinary sauces with these clams – one red – one white. The aunts prepared homemade pasta while we were all at the beach. Later at dinner time, everyone emerged from the family cottages to  grab a dish and line up  for Attilio’s “red” or “white”  sauce – both delicious and fresh. Such a memory – I can almost taste the pasta, fresh clams, and the the salt air that accompanied.

Today we’ll tackle the simple and fresh preparation of the “white” in Linguine Alle Vongole. Just relax and let the clams do the heavy lifting. They will release flavor from their broth that you will not believe!

LINGUINE ALLE VONGOLE

Clam-Sauce with script 2

Serves: 4

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb. Linguine Pasta (thin, flat pasta)

1/4 c. Olive Oil

4 Cloves Fresh Garlic- chopped finely

1 c. White wine

1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

Littleneck or other small clams (Manilas, cockles etc.) scrubbed a little to clean them. I like 3 1/2 lb for 4 people. Don’t be stingy with the clams. After all, they are the main focus here.

3 Tbsp. Butter

Salt and Pepper to taste.

1/2 c.  Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

1 Lemon for garnish

Extra Virgin Olive Oil  for drizzle

Instructions:

Put oil in pan with chopped garlic

Cook a couple of minutes over med. high heat just to let garlic permeate the oil. Sit and do not brown or burn the garlic

Add the wine and red pepper flakes – Cook a couple of minutes.

Then add the clams turning the heat to high. Cover the pan immediately and cook until the clams open – about 8 minutes. They will release a delicious broth which will flavor your sauce.

If larger clams are used –leave cover on a couple more minutes.

When ready – remove any unopened clams and discard them as they may be dead. Use only the clams which have opened.

TASTE and add salt and pepper as needed

At this point add 3 tbsp. butter. Let the butter melt and stir in.

Add the sauce to the drained pasta and toss. Taste again for seasoning.

Sprinkle parsley over the top.

Slice the lemon very thin into rounds and then cut the rounds in half  – like 1/2 moons and throw around on top of pasta – as many as you like.

Drizzle liberally with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Stick a fork in it – it’s DONE!

To Serve: Have some crusty Italian bread on hand with this dish. You’ll need it. It has great “dunkability”!  My father, Attilio, would surely have a small supply of red pepper flakes on the side to add to his dish – delicious – but not for the faint of heart.

Vino: As with most seafood , I recommend a Falanghina with the Linguine Alle Vongole , but a Pinot Grigio would  be lovely as well.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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PIZZA ON THE GRILL

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GRILLED PIZZA MARGHERITA

SOMETIMES CHANGE IS GOOD

Grilled PIzza_3

Buon giorno!

I have found that sometimes change is a good thing, and sometimes we just need to be flexible and “go with it”. Outside of the Ten Commandments, nothing is written in stone, and that includes pizza.  After making literally scores of pizzas over the years, I have discovered that making PIZZA ON THE GRILL is just my favorite new thing. Of course, this means another excuse for eating On the Patio – which can’t be too bad. I spent years of cranking my oven up to 500 degrees and heating up the whole house – including in the middle of Hot-Lanta summers. I even cracked the inner glass on my oven door when I inadvertently let the pizza stone rest against it while making one of the Linda’s Italian Table specials. I experienced major appliance envy while visiting our good friends, Barbara and Steve, who had installed an authentic state of the art pizza oven, and I lamented my inadequate “equipment”. (Read about this amazing “gadget” in our January blog post. FIRE IN THE HOLE!  Well, times they are a-changin! You, too, have a pizza oven in your outdoor grill, and I bet many of you didn’t know it.

Thanks to the prodding of my husband, Tom, who is always game to try something new – I grudgingly agreed to try making pizza on the grill – something he had heard and read about. After a little research – we tried it. OMG!! Once again, Tom rocked my world – or so he says! Gone are the days of maneuvering the pizza in and out of the oven, turning the kitchen into Dante’s Inferno in mid-July, and sweeping cornmeal off the floor afterward. I am about to change your pizza-making ways forever. Follow my lead and you’ll never cook another pizza indoors.

The keys to the kingdom – the tools: Nothing new here – you’ll use all the same things I recommended in my Pizza Post “THAT’S AMORE” : Cornmeal, pizza stone, large spatula, a pizza peel, the best ingredients – good dough preferably homemade (we’ll chat about this later) fresh mozzarella, good sausage, fresh herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, good olive oil. Last but not least – scissors! My mother, Loretta, always cut her pizza with scissors and did not use a pizza cutter. Thank goodness, or I’d still be sitting in her little kitchen waiting for the pizza to be cut. I’ve never seen a pizza cutter beat the scissors. I have seen people hack away repeatedly at a pizza trying to get a quick and good cut. Some morsel always seems to remain attached. If you like your pizza cutter, by all means use it, but I will continue to use my scissors. Truce declared!

The Secret – HEAT: An actual pizza oven heats up to about 900 degrees. What we realized was that by heating up your grill ahead of time like you would do with your oven – and adding wood chips if you want to achieve the real wood-fired effect – you actually turn your grill into a pizza oven with temperatures way above the 500 in the kitchen oven – or around 800 degrees. This, of course, means that your cook time will be far less than cooking the pizza indoors which is usually about 15 minutes. You’ll want to heat that sucker up with the lid down and with the pizza stone on the grill for about 15 minutes. This pre-heat time is what it’s all about.

The path to enlightenment: While you’re heating up the grill with the stone inside, get all of your ingredients together and be ready to go. Put some cornmeal on the pizza peel. Stretch or roll your dough out to the desired size, and place it on the prepared peel. Now to construct your masterpiece! Always start with a sprinkle of olive oil, and spread it all over the dough with your very clean fingers. This helps to seal the crust and prevent the toppings from making it soggy. Then place your ingredients on top usually ending with the cheese. A last drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oil is nice. Do not leave your pizza sitting there waiting for peace in the Middle East. Get that puppy to the grill as quickly as possible.

Stairway to heaven: Open your very hot grill,and then sprinkle the stone with some cornmeal. Ease the pizza off the peel with a large spatula and a little shake. The cornmeal on the peel makes it slide off easily. Quickly put the lid down. Your cook times will vary, as your grill may take longer or less time than mine. The cooking time I will offer is only a guideline, and yours may be different. However, I’ll testify – experimenting is fun! Once the pizza is on the grill, I cook the pizza for approximately  3-4   minutes, and then I peek at it by raising the grill lid, lifting the edge with a spatula. You should look for a golden brown, crisp bottom and a lightly charred edge. Now you are operating like a true pizzaiolo (the guy who cooks pizzas in Naples). Peeking is good. Here is a peek at the crust of one of my pizzas:

Grilled PIzza_4

If almost there, let it go another minute. Keep peeking. You may want to rotate the pizza a little with the spatula to get an even bake. Usually 5-6 minutes total will do it. Here is one that is almost there:

Grilled PIzza_6

This is totally according to the heat level in your grill. Depending on your grill – going beyond this time may burn the bottom. Watch it!

When you have the desired “doneness”, gently slide the peel under the pizza, and lift it off the stone and onto the plate. DONE! Pizza in 5-6 minutes – see the lovely “fired” edge – Troppo bella!

Pizza-2 with script

A word about the dough: I make my dough using my mother’s recipe which calls for regular flour. I know that many like to use the Italian flour referred to as Double Zero. This is traditionally used in Italy for pizza and pasta making. I always use it for making my pasta fresca. I do not use it for pizza, as I like my mother’s recipe, using all purpose flour, which I offer in my post, “THAT’S AMORE”. It is easy and delicious, and I think more folks would be inclined to make their own dough if they could use ingredients that would be found in their pantry. I have made some adjustments to that recipe recently that I have found to make a better and thinner crust. You might want to take a look on the post!

It Ain’t Heavy: Pizza isn’t always laden with the worst of the worst for you. I am offering you a look at my GRILLED PIZZA MARGHERITA. You know this one. It’s the one given the nod by Queen Margherita “just a few years ago” – in 1889. Back in the old days in Binghamton, my grandmother used to refer to my mother as La Regina Margherita. I can only imagine why!  This pizza is light, fresh, quick and easy. There are many variations of this recipe, but I like this one as most of the ingredients are fresh and healthy. Some of these ingredients can probably even be found in your garden!

GRILLED PIZZA MARGHERITA

Pizza Grilled_0003

 

Makes: 1 large pizza

Prep for grill: 15 minutes

Prep for pizza: 7 minutes

Cook: Approx. 6 minutes

Dough: Follow the instructions for the dough in the post, “THAT’S AMORE”. Suggestion: Make the dough ahead and store it in the freezer, if you like. One recipe will make 4 loaves of dough for a thinner crust. Each loaf  is perfect for this recipe. If you like a thicker crust, just make 2 loaves, and use one of those for this recipe.

Topping:

Olive oil

Several Fresh Campari Tomatoes sliced. I like Campari’s which are in season right now because they are soooo sweet. If you can’t find Campari Tomatoes, use the freshest tomatoes you can find.

Salt and Pepper

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Fresh Mozzarella – sliced thinly not grated

Fresh Basil Leaves –at least 1/2 cup – more if you like. Leave the leaves whole.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Instructions:

Follow the instructions in the preceding text for tools and preparing the grill.

As instructed above, place the dough on the peel topped with cornmeal.

Rub the surface of the dough with a little olive oil.

Lay the Tomato Slices on the top of the dough.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Top with sliced Fresh Mozzarella.

Add the fresh Basil Leaves.

Drizzle with a nice Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Grilled PIzza_2

Follow the directions in the portions of the above text called The Path to Enlightenment and Stairway to Heaven for grilling the pizza.

The long and short of it is: In approximately 6 minutes total -  you’ll be eating it!

VINO: With this one, I’d say go alla Napoletana, as they know the most about pizza in any form. For white – I’d suggest Fiano di Avellino or Falanghina. For red – try an Aglianico. Just sayin…

PARLA COME MANGI!

** I love receiving your comments! Don’t forget – you can leave comments at the end of each blog post. If you receive your post in your email, just click on the post title and go straight to the blog on the website where you can leave your thoughts! Looking forward to hearing from you.

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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.

Antipasto_1

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

Antipasto_3

1/4 lb Mortadella

Mortadella-1

1/4 lb Prosciuttto

Antipasto_4

1/3 lb Capicolla

Antipasto_5

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

Antipasto_2

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.

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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.

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May: Capellini w/Tomatoes, Basil, & Goat Cheese

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May is the perfect month to begin thinking about al fresco dining. Capellini with Tomatoes, Basil, and Goat Cheese is just the dish to kick-off this merry month when all eyes  turn to bright new blooms and chirping birds. This is always my “go-to” spring pasta dish when I want something fresh, fresh, fresh! It is easy, quick, and requires very little cooking. The freshness of the ingredients makes me want to quickly RUN outdoors with a chilled white wine to enjoy my first experience of the season dining On the Patio. So grab a nice Sauvignon Blanc and follow me to my Italian Table!

CAPELLINI WITH TOMATOES, BASIL, and GOAT CHEESE

Serves: 4

Prep: 10 min.

Cook: 15 min.

Ingredients:

1 lb Capellini Pasta (very thin long pasta) cooked according to directions

3/4 c. Olive Oil

2 large cloves of FRESH Garlic – chopped finely

2 c. Grape tomatoes cut into halves – grape tomatoes are so sweet and will sweeten the dish  (The equally sweet Campari tomatoes cut into quarters are fine as well – cherry tomatoes can also be used but usually are not as sweet)

Juice of 1/2 FRESH Lemon

1/2 c. White Wine (preferably the same as the wine you will serve with it)

1 tsp. Kosher Salt – or to taste

Freshly ground Black Pepper

1 c. FRESH Basil – chopped

3-4 oz Goat Cheese crumbled in bits ( do not use pre-packaged crumbled goat cheese)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling at finish

Instructions:

Use all FRESH ingredients where indicated.

Heat olive oil and add chopped garlic.

Cook  a couple of minutes to tenderize the garlic – do not brown it. Just let it infuse the oil.

Add tomatoes and stir.

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Add lemon juice and stir

SEE MY VIDEO HERE! –> Linda’s Capellini VIDEO

Add wine  – then salt and pepper

Cook on medium high a few minutes until reduces by 1/2.

Sauce will thicken slightly and turn a beautiful golden color.

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Add Pasta and toss.

Add Basil and Goat Cheese.

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Drizzle with a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil before serving. I like Olio Carli – It is sweet and seems to make every dish perfect.

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Fish with Potatoes and Fennel

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Baked Cod with Potatoes and Fennel

Nothing Fishy About This Dish!

Fish_10

Buon giorno!

Nothing fishy about this, folks! The importance of fish (pesce) on the Italian Table cannot be underestimated. The story of Italians and the sea dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times. Surrounded by the bountiful Mediterranean, Italy has given birth to a legacy of some of the oldest preparations of seafood which have repeated through the ages. Today’s subject, Fish With Potatoes and Fennel or Pesce Con Patate e Finocchio is one such preparation – shining in its simplicity, showcasing the taste of the sea, using a handful of fresh ingredients. It is similar to a recipe used in the Grosseto area of Tuscany. You can only imagine this dish, which oozes fresh flavors, going from the boat to the table in a matter of minutes. This is what all Italian fish dishes are meant to be – simple, easy, fresh, and healthy.

About Fish and Italians: Fish has been a staple of the Italian diet for centuries – in part, because of the long coastline giving 15 of the 20 regions access to the sea, and also because of the vibrant trading ports all along the coast – most specifically Venice and Genoa. Read more about this from “Eating Fish in Italy” by Martha Bakerjian. Every region had its specialties. Every family had its legacy of recipes handed down for generations. In the Calabrisi household, fish played a prominent role at our Italian table. Like most other Italians of the time, we did not eat meat on Fridays or on other days of abstinence, especially during Lent. In addition, my father, Attilio, loved to fish – in both fresh and saltwater. As a result, we always had many different types of fish stocked in the freezer from his fishing trips up and down the Eastern seacoast. The preparations varied: fried, grilled, baked, sauteed, broiled, boiled, in sauces for pastas – you name it – he cooked it.

About this dish: Today’s dish, reminiscent of one of his baked seafood specialties, Fish With Potatoes and Fennel, can be prepared with any fresh firm white fish: Branzino, Cod, Sea Bass, Swordfish, Flounder and others. I have chosen fresh Cod as it is so popular in Italian fish dishes. An added benefit is that it is not as costly as some of the others. Cod can be found on the scene in Italy as far back as the 1500’s. Back then, it was often suggested to BEAT the salted version of this fish – literally with a stick. Assuming that your aggressions do not need satisfying to that degree, we’ll use the fresh Cod as opposed to salted – fresh, easy, quick, and oh so delicious. Cod absorbs flavors well, is not fishy, and is tender.

Got about 20 minutes? That is all it will take to prepare this healthy little number before it goes into the oven. The result will be a beautiful presentation in technicolor. My close-up, Mr. De Mille?

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FISH WITH POTATOES AND FENNEL

(PESCE CON PATATE E FINOCCHIO)

Serves 4 (approx.)

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cook time :20-25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lb fresh firm white fish( cod – My Choice, sea bass, swordfish, branzino, flounder etc.)

2-3 Potatoes – boiled til just fork tender and sliced

Olive Oil for drizzling

1 Fennel Bulb – sliced

(You can substitute Onion for Fennel if you like but – Fennel is much nicer in this and adds more flavor.)

2 Tbsp Olive oil to saute Fennel

3/4 c. White wine

1 Tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves

1 Tbsp Orange Zest

3-4 Tbsp Seasoned Breadcrumbs

2-3 Ripe Fresh Tomatoes sliced

1 Orange Peeled and sliced

Salt and Pepper to taste

Chopped Fresh Basil for garnish

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for an ending drizzle

Preparation:

1. Oil a baking dish.

2. Arrange your boiled, sliced potatoes in bottom of oiled baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper – drizzle a little oil.

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3. Slice Fennel bulb as in our past post using fennel . Saute in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until tender. This takes about 10-12 minutes. It will appear slightly golden

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4. Lay sliced Fennel over potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

5. Place fish over the Fennel.

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6. Add wine to the dish.

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7. Drizzle a little olive oil over the fish and then add some salt and pepper.

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8. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and orange zest.

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9. Sprinkle dry breadcrumbs over the top.

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10. Lay tomato slices and orange slices in any pattern you like on the top and add salt and pepper.

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11. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.  Garnish with your fresh Basil.  A drizzle of Extra Virgin and Serve.

Serving: Remember to sprinkle the salt and pepper on each layer. It is important to season Fish With Potatoes and Fennel thoroughly as it builds. I like to drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the top just before serving. This gives the top a nice sheen after cooking at a high temperature as well as adding another layer of flavor. This healthy dish with its fresh ingredients goes from oven to table, takes very little time and effort to prepare, and the presentation is lovely. A green vegetable or salad would be a perfect companion here.

My tip: Now if you were me – when the weather gets a little nicer – you’d be sneaking this one out  On the Patio with maybe a little fire in the pit on a beautiful balmy spring evening with my first choice for Italian white wine with seafood  – Falanghina – a full bodied white that doesn’t fade. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE

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