March 24, 2020

Pasta e Fagioli - Bolognese Style

TASTE OF ITALY 2020
A hearty and delicious soup, every Italian region has their own version; in Bologna it is made up of creamed borlotti beans, ham, garlic and rosemary. You can leave out the ham, I sometimes do - and instead add small squares of Parmigiano Reggiano rind- and no one at home notices! 
In Bologna we add egg pasta to our soup, generally the maltagliati (literally means poorly cut) which often are the leftover bits or rimasugli of your pasta making. If you don’t have any, then some quadrucci, little squares, are perfect. 
Although I prefer to use dried beans for this soup, I always have canned beans in my pantry so I can quickly prepare this soup, if need be. 

It is so easy you don’t really need a recipe but if you’ve never made it before, here is what I do:
INGREDIENTS
1-1 and 1/2 cups dried beans or 2-3 cans borlotti (pink beans)
EVOO
A large clove fresh garlic
a sprig of fresh rosemary
100g or 3oz fresh pancetta, cubed
water
salt &
pepper
100-200g of egg pasta maltagliati
bits of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind, optional

Special equipment: sumergible mixer

METHOD
  1. Soak beans overnight if using dried or drain liquid from canned beans
  2. Cook dried beans following package directions 
  3. peel and smash garlic and place in large enough pot with a generous swirl of EVOO
  4. remove leaves off rosemary sprig and add to pot with garlic and oil
  5. add cubed pancetta to pot
  6. saute’ items in pot over medium heat until they begin to get colored, stirring once in a while - it smell really good, doesn’t it? :)
  7. Add cooked beans and enough water to cover beans, continuing to cook for about 20 minutes
  8. Remove several tablespoons of the beans and set aside for now.
  9. Taste and adjust to taste with salt & pepper and water if necessary.
  10. Remove from heat and using a sumergible mixer, whir everything in the pot to obtain a cream. 
  11. Then put the pot back over the heat, add the beans you set aside and if using, bits of Parmigiano Reggiano rind, now is the time to add it.
  12. Add egg pasta, stir in and keep over heat until pasta is done, largely depends on pasta used but a dried egg dough can take 5 minutes while fresh egg dough will take 2-3 minutes.
  13. Pour into bowls and if you like, add a nice swirl of extra tasty extra virgin olive oil to your soup.

It is easy to make the soup #vegetarian or #vegan. This soup uses #pantry items as well as foods other people would throw out: ugly little pasta bits (they should be similar in size and thickness for similar cooking time) and Parmigiano Reggiano rind (which has no wax).


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March 19, 2020

Fried Italian Caprino or Pecorino Cheese


FRIED ITALIAN CHEESE
This is a super easy dish you can prepare in no time with ingredients you likely already have in your pantry. Perfect as an appetizer or second course over a bed of fresh, crisp greens. If serving as a second course, plan on serving larger pieces or two pieces per person.

The first time I had this for lunch in the mountains near Merano in Alto Adige (Italy) I was amazed at how ridiculously easy yet delicious this dish was. The hard part was finding cheese like theirs: mild flavored, with just the right amount of melted (not gooey) and not salty at all. Heavenly!

Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS
  • 4 pieces of 1 to 11/2 cm (about 1/2 inch) thick cheese per person. See Cooking tips regarding ideal types of cheese to use.
  • 1 whole egg or 1 egg white
  • 125g (4 ounces) of dry breadcrumbs 
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Frying oil (see Cooking Tips) 

METHOD
Prep: 
  1. Pour breadcrumbs into a deep dish and add salt & pepper to taste, blend well.
  2. Remove crust from cheese and cut the cheese into squares or rectangles for more eye appeal
  3. Break egg into a bowl and beat well
  4. Pour enough frying oil so that it fills up the bottom with 2cm (3/4 inch). The frying pan should have high sides to prevent splashing, heat oil until pretty hot. 
  5. Cover a large plate with paper towels to hold your fried cheese
  6. Prepare serving plates with washed greens or salad.

When oil is hot - remember to turn ON your kitchen hood’s fan, proceed as follows:
  1. Dip one piece of cheese into beaten egg and turn over to ensure that it is well coated then ->
  2. Dip into the seasoned breadcrumbs, turning over to ensure that it is well coated then ->
  3. Place into the frying pan and cook for a few minutes until it is golden on one side and turn over to cook on the other side. 
  4. Do not overcrowd your frying pan, you need enough space to turn your pieces of cheese. 
  5. When golden on both sides, remove cheese from pan and blot excess oil on paper towels. 
  6. Place still hot cheese in the center of prepped plates with salad.
  7. Eat immediately.

COOKING TIPS
If you keep the cheese vacuum packed in the refrigerator, it will last for months, allowing you to “whip up this dish” at a moment’s notice, like a true Italian.

A pair of tablespoons may be best to turn the breaded cheeses, as I found the tongs tend to break the crispy bread crust. Have a spatula ready in case your cheese slices stick to the bottom - to prevent this to begin with, I suggest adding plenty of oil to your frying pan (see Prep point 4 under Method).

The right cheese. Although you could use most cheeses with this recipe, this particular dish calls for an Italian cheese that is not too young, not too old. A Caprino (goat) or Pecorino (sheep) cheese between 2-5 months is ideal. Too young and the cheese will melt before the breading becomes golden, too old and the cheese is likely to be too salty.

The Frying oil. When frying, choose an oil with a high smoke point such as peanut, grapeseed, safflower, soybean, sunflower, canola, or extra light olive oil are all good choices. 

Substitutions

You can make this dish Gluten free by substituting with GF breadcrumbs

March 10, 2020

Tagliatelle al Prosciutto

A stunning pasta dish whose secret lies in its top quality ingredients; it is also quick and easy to put together. .

Ingredients PER PERSON (multiply as needed) 
about 100g/3.5 oz of fresh tagliatelle (egg noodles) 
60g of minced Prosciutto Crudo di Parma*
1 walnut sized nob of sweet, unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons of 26 months or more Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
*If you can’t find it already minced, then mince it yourself with a mezzaluna or in a food processor.
Method
  1. Prep your ingredients
  2. Make the pasta … and roll it thin! (you can do this several hours beforehand) 
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, toss in the prosciutto and break it up, toss around for a minute or so
  4. Cook the fresh pasta in boiling, salted water (about 2-3 minutes)
  5. Drain pasta and toss with butter and prosciutto
  6. Sprinkle the parmigiano cheese on top
  7. Dig in: rejoice in all things simple!

A note about the ingredients and balance:
The difference between a “just okay” and “amazing” dish has EVERYTHING to do with the quality of your ingredients. Herein lies the secret of Italian food, get the best ingredients you can get your hands on. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it has to be very good though.
So make sure that you are using the best tasting sweet, unsalted butter; it should taste creamy. The the prosciutto crudo should NOT be salty, if it is genuine Prosciutto di Parma (look for the distintive crown marking on the ham or package) it won’t be salty. The Parmigiano Reggiano cheese should be freshly grated and aged over 24 months, preferably 30 -36 months old. Why? because the taste of Parmigiano Reggiano changes as it ages: the younger 12-18 months has creamy and caramel type notes whereas the older 30-36 months has nutty notes and has more umami (do I dare say that?). 
The reason why this dish works so well is that the sweet butter is in perfect harmony with the sweet and savoury Prosciutto and the umami-rich Parmigiano. It is a perfect balance of flavours. One subpar ingredient and you’ll find yourself having to “fix” this dish with other ingredients. Fix it if you must but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of this sensory experience with the right ingredients. When #lessismore
Staying busy during the #coronavirus emergency: #Istayhome #iorestoacasa #keepcalmandcookon #keepcalmandmakepasta #covid19 #covid19Italia
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