November 30, 2012

Homemade Hand-rolled Bolognese Pasta: Taglietelle, Tortelloni & Tortellini: Review

Here is a great article by A Canadian Foodie. In this one she has put down in words what I can only demonstrate! Thanks Valerie!

The pasta made here are in order from beginning to end: farfalle (butterflies) or strichetti (pinch in Bolognese dialect); ricotta stuffed tortelloni. Also pictured are tortellini (much smaller than the tortelloni) and tagliatelle (the long noodles) and maltagliati (with the leftover pasta).

Warning: be careful when you fold the pasta sheet over the table...make sure it does not slip off, otherwise, you'll have to go out for dinner!

November 15, 2012

The Official and Authentic Bolognese Ragù: Review

ARTICLE: The Official and Authentic Bolognese Sauce by Valerie Lugonja, November 6, 2012.

Not only did Valerie make the pasta in Bologna, but she made it again back home in Alberta, Canada to the delight of her friends! Apparently the birds also appreciated Valerie's efforts to recreate the sauce!

Valerie IS a Canadian Foodie who is a passionate member of Slow Food Edmonton, is on the Slow Food Canada Board, the founder of Eat Alberta, and lots more. Read more about her HERE She has a great sense of humor and is great company. Hope to see you again soon Valerie, either in Italy or Canada!

By the way, Valerie... I love your t-shirt!

October 24, 2012

The Art of Making Homemade Pasta in Bologna : Review

Photo Courtesy Spanish Sabores 2012

I would like to share with you a lovely article about one of my custom pasta lessons. Lauren Aloise also did a wonderful job of photographing all the steps read on and prepare some pasta!

ARTICLE: The Art of Making Homemade Pasta in Bologna, By Lauren Aloise, October 2012

July 12, 2012

Cooking in the Summer

Summer is a wonderful season, there are so many fruits and vegetables that are simply delectable. The extreme heat does put a damper on my appetite and willingness to face the kitchen. However, one early morning walk through the market, when its still comfortable, makes my appetite soar. All the wonderful colors of the fruit and vegetables are so inviting...

This is today's shopping... the photo isn't the best but my camera's battery was too low so I had to rely on the iPad...

We purchased basil, violet eggplant, curly tomatoes, zucchini flowers, spring onions, light green zucchini, goat ricotta, pecorino (sheep's) cheese from Maremma (Tuscany) and eggs.

And in less than 1 hour and a half, we turned up the following dishes

Zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese

Frittata with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Summer Eggplant Parmigiana

Tender zucchini with basil

I love summer cooking, after all!

June 3, 2012

Beach and Earthquakes...

Yesterday Saturday, we went to the beach (no, the photo above is not from yesterday as I did not take a camera). We went to nearby Marina di Ravenna on the Adriatic coast and it was sunny and quite hot (30°C/86°F). The beaches were full with people enjoying a nice day at the beach.

Then I read the news: people have cancelled their trips to Italy due to the recent earthquakes even if they were NOT travelling near Modena and Ferrara. That is like saying you won't travel to Oregon because there was an earthquake in California or that you won't go to Ireland because Scotland had an earthquake. These towns are NEAR Bologna but it is NOT Bologna. I have no idea how the foreign media has reported this particular disaster but please rest assured that the rest of Italy is still functioning well.

The roads in and around the Emilia Romagna region are clear (so yes, you can travel to the beach or other towns or resorts) and telephone lines, internet are working as is everything else. The areas that were hard hit are between Modena and Ferrara.

Because of the disaster, it is logical to avoid going to Finale Emilia, Mirandola and the other numerous towns hit by the earthquake in the next 2 or so months. It doesn't make sense to visit because local resources are being used to get the towns, its people and businesses back up on their feet again.

But the rest of the region and country are working well despite how bad we feel for our fellow countrymen and women

I look forward to seeing all of you in Bologna...whether you take a cooking class with me or are just eating your way through Bologna (who can blame you!).


May 20, 2012

What I like about Spring

Spring can mean rainy days or allergies, as many plants flower and their pollen can provoke allergy attacks. This means that for many, spring means staying inside your house instead of going out and enjoying the warmer weather.

Allergies aside, spring also means fresh crops of asparagus, artichokes, peas and fava beans... all favorites of mine.

There are so many dishes where I can include these, but some of my favorite are a pasta dish with peas and fava beans and an artichoke salad with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, a seasonal classic.

Shelling fava beans correctly is important. One needs to remove the beans from their pod, then cooked briefly in boiling water until a second skin starts separating. 
Drain and remove this second skin, now you can enjoy these beans without suffering from its collateral effects. 

Clockwise from top left: fava beans with second skin on, on top right with second skin removed, and below, the empty second skins...

April 26, 2012

Bolognese Stuffed Pasta: the Tortellino

Of the tasty morsels that make up Bolognese cuisine, one of the most famous worldwide is the tortellino

Tortellino (left) and Tortelloni (right)

According to the legend, Venus, Mars, and Bacchus were travelling and stopped at a local inn near Bologna for the night.  The next morning, when Venus woke up late, she started calling for Mars and Bacchus, who had already left the inn for the day to do some business.  When the innkeeper heard the ruckus Venus was causing, he clambored up the stairs to check on her.  However, the door was locked so he peeped through the keyhole to see what was the matter.  While doing so, he caught a glimpse of her belly button and was so inspired by its perfection that he went down to the kitchen and created a pasta to resemble it that very night.  Thus, tortellini were born!

Tortellini are the smallest of the stuffed pastas, among which there is also the tortelloni and tortellacci which are also native to Bologna and the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region.  Tortellini generally weigh around 2 grams each, and are most often filled with a mixture of parmesan and different meats, often local prosciutto and/or mortadella. These little morsels are usually served in brodo, which means in broth, a dish commonly found in Bologna, especially during the chilly winter months.

Although tortellini is claimed to be a Bolognese product, the nearby town of Modena also claims to be the home of the tortellini.  Tortellini are rumored to have been created in Castelfranco Emilia, a town which was once a part of Bologna, but now part of Modena which explains why the tortellino’s birthplace is contended between Bologna and Modena.

Whether or not you are eating Bolognese or Modenese tortellini (or can even tell the difference), tortellini are always a scrumptious choice when meal time rolls around!

by D.R. (intern @ Taste of Italy)

Note: For more information about the differences between the tortellino and the tortelloni follow this link.

April 8, 2012

Colomba Pasquale

Looking for a tasty Easter treat from Italy? If so, you might be interested in Colomba Pasquale (or Easter Dove).  This Italian Easter specialty is a soft, sweet bread similar to the more famous Panettone and Pandoro, which are common during the Christmas holidays.

Colomba Pasquale is traditionally made from flour, eggs, butter, and sugar, often with candied orange peel (or cubes of candied oranges) and a thick glaze scattered with almonds.  This Easter dessert is commonly formed into the shape of a dove, which is the literal meaning of the Italian word colomba.

The dove is a common symbol of peace, relating back to the biblical story of Noah and the Ark.  In the story, Noah releases the dove after forty days and nights of flooding and the dove returns with an olive leaf in its mouth, symbolizing reconciliation between God and humanity.

The origin of the Colomba Pasquale, however, is a bit harder to pinpoint.  It might have been created during the Middle Ages as a peace offering from the community of Pavia to the conquering Longobard King Albion, supposedly on Easter. However, the Colomba Pasquale that we see in most stores today is credited by some to the company started by Angelo Motta in the early 1900s, now a mass-producer of many different kinds of sweets (including the aforementioned Christmas specialties).

Whether purchased at the supermarket or made by specialized bakers, the Colomba is a must on Italian tables on Easter day. Why not add it to your Easter table ? It might be a tasty addition to your Easter desserts and its origin a fun story to share with friends and family!

by D.R. (intern @ Taste of Italy)

March 23, 2012

Bolognese Pasta: Tagliatelle

What do blond hair and Tagliatelle noodles pasta have in common? More than you think!

It is said that the tagliatelle was invented in the Fifteenth Century for the matrimony of Annibale II Bentivoglio and Lucrezia Borgia. Apparently the chef was inspired by the bride’s golden hair and created the “tagliatelle” noodles to honor her. 
Lucrezia Borgia

Though the credibility of this legend is dubious (as tagliatelle was likely invented earlier), the legend shows the importance of food within the history of the Italian culture and the pride that many Italians have in their cuisine.

Bologna is well-known throughout Europe for being one of the gastronomic centers of Italy, and is famous for its fresh made pastas. Tagliatelle, a hand-rolled fresh pasta, is one of the types typical of Bologna. The pasta is thin, flat, and has a rough surface, which is obtained when the dough is rolled out on a rough wooden surface.

It is generally served al ragù, in a meat sauce referred to in English simply as Bolognese.  The rough surface of the pasta allows a heavier sauce to cling to it, instead of collecting at the bottom of the plate (Italians think that Americans are crazy for serving ragù with spaghetti because it does the opposite!).

Tagliatelle is so popular in Bologna and the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region that there was even an International Tagliatella Day on January 17, 2010, in which restaurants around the region (and certain restaurants around the world) featured this type of pasta.

by D.R. (intern @ Taste of Italy)

March 8, 2012

Bologna “La Grassa”

Ever since the Middle Ages, Bologna has been referred to as “la grassa,” which literally means “the fat.”  This moniker is a reference to the rich food culture in Bologna, which was already famous throughout Europe as far back as the 1300s, perhaps even further. 

“Grassa,” of course, is not a reference to the fat content of the food here, but instead the abundance, variety, and high quality of the cuisine.  In the Middle Ages, this was quite the compliment for any city, since the richness of the food culture suggested all-around economic prosperity.

The culinary culture is tied quite strongly to the University of Bologna, the Alma Mater Studiorum.  Because of the Studiorum and its centrality within the culture of the city, Bologna is also referred to as “la dotta,” or “the learned.”  This famous university, founded in 1088, has long attracted illustrious students to Bologna from all over the world. 

During the Middle Ages, a student had to come from a rich family to attend university, and many students from around Europe brought with them scores of servants, among them cooks.  As a result of these foreign cooks and their different methods of cooking, Bolognese cuisine gradually took on a new flavor, incorporating elements from nearby European cultures.

Without the prestigious university, Bolognese cuisine would not have developed as strongly as it did, and without the rich culinary tradition, the university would not have become so well renowned.  In this city, education and cuisine are locked together in a symbiotic relationship that has been in place for a millennium and still remains strong today.

by D.R. 

January 25, 2012

"Cream" of Shrimp and Chickpeas

"Cream" of Shrimp and Chickpeas

Serves 3 or 4 as a first course

12 large shrimp
about 2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, washed, spin dry and minced
1 tablespoon bit of tomato sauce

Peel shrimp and devein. Three of the shrimp should also have their tails removed. Simmer shrimp shells, covered with water, in a small saucepan. After 10 minutes or so, filter and keep the shrimp water and set aside.

Peel and slice garlic and in a saucepan, cook in a bit of olive oil. Add 3 shrimp to the garlic. Add parsley to garlic and shrimp, after 1 minute or 2, add tomato sauce.

Add the chickpeas to the garlic, parsley and three cooked shrimp. Add the filtered shrimp water and add extra water if necessary. Cook for about 20 minutes, remove from heat and insert your sumergible blender and blend until a smooth cream.

Note: for those who don't want the garlic to overtake the other flavors, remove the garlic before blending everything.

In the meantime steam cook the other 9 shrimp. Serve the soup in bowls and place 3 shrimp on each bowl.

It's easy, fancy looking but most of all, delicious!

January 19, 2012

Velvety Vellutate, part 2

Butternut squash "vellutata di Zucca"

I buy a zucca Ferrarese (a butternut squash in the rest of the world) to prepare this soup. Any zucca that remains is peeled and chopped into large cubes and frozen. That way I always have it ready for the next zuppa, vellutata or risotto!

600g Zucca, peeled and cubed
1 large onion or leek
1 cube vegetable broth, or 150 g soffritto (minced onion, carrots and celery), or 2 carrots and 3  celery sticks (minced)

Optional: a small package of soft cheese such as "Galbanino" or half of the small Philadelphia cheese package or 50ml fresh cream 

Peel the squash with a knife and rid the squash of any threads. Rinse and pat dry. Cut into 2 x 2 inches (abt 4x4 cm). Peel and wash onion. If using the carrots and celery, wash, peel and mince now. Slice or chop the onion finely and cook in a bit of olive oil until it becomes translucent (add sofrito at this stage if using it). Add the pumpkin and cover with water, add the dado if using it. 

Let the veggies simmer about 20 to 30 mins (depends on size of cubes!). Test pumpkin for doneness by putting a knife or fork through a piece, if it goes through easily its done! Then remove from heat, put your submersion hand blender in the soup and blend until the vegetables are pureed finely. At this point, add salt and pepper to taste. 

You can separate your batch (low fat) now and add fresh cream or the soft cheese to the "family" batch. To make your plates especially pretty, leave a little cream aside to swirl in once you've made each plate. You can also serve with toasted bread cubes, slivered parmigiano and/or a swirl of olive oil and some extra fresh pepper. Another way to serve it is to toast some nuts: almonds or hazelnuts (in a small non stick frying pan over medium heat), break them up a bit and sprinkle some on top of each dish.
Another variation is to cook the onion with 2 sticks of celery (chopped finely), it changes the flavor ever so slightly and there's another vegetable in the soup!

"Vellutata di verdure" Vegetable vellutè
Much easier than Minestrone, no need to chop up vegetables!

1-2 carrots (depends on size)
1-2 zucchine
2 celery
1 med or large onion
optional 1 med to large potato

This is the basic vegetable vellutata upon which I like to add some diced butternut squash or some spinach in the soup. The amount to add depends on you, each time you can make a slightly different soup to serve depending on the combination of vegetables added. 

The process is the same as in the previous soups except here you dont need to cut up the vegetables. After washing, peeling and trimming ends of the vegetables, add them whole to a large enough pot and cover with water. Simmer until done and remove from heat. Then blend with your submersion hand blender until the vegetables are pureed finely. At this point, add salt and pepper to taste. 

This is a great soup to cook some pasta (maltagliati or quadrettini) in, add a swirl of very good olive oil and freshly cracked pepper.

January 18, 2012

Soups that are Soft to the Palate Like Velvet: Vellutate

Perfect for this season are soups and specifically vellutateVellutate are soft to the palate like velluto, like velvet. And are pretty enough to serve to company and friends but are incredibly easy to prepare and have as much or as little fat as you add. 

So here's the secret:Make a basic vellutata and then separate into two batches. Your batch is lean, and you can add what you want. In the family batch you can add pieces of cooked pancetta (especially in the bean version), a swirl of top quality olive oil, toasted bread crumbs or shredded cheese: parmigiano or pecorino, emmenthal or your favorite cheese. You can also cook some pasta squares (maltagliati or quadrettini) in it.This batch is tastier and generally satisfies the finickiest of eaters.

Here are some recent vellutate that I've made. Adjust proportions to your personal taste. 

Potatoes and zucchini
3 large potatoes
4 small skinny zucchini
1 large leek
salt & pepper
1 no glutamate vegetable stock cube

peel potatoes and wash. wash zucchini and cut ends off. cut ends off leek and wash. slice leek thinly and cook in a large saucepan until softened. Cut potatoes and zucchini into pieces. If you have time you can add them to your pot whole. cover with water and simmer for 20 minutes if veggies were cut up or 40+ min. if they are whole. test potatoes for doneness. when done. turn off heat and grab a submergible blender and blend until you get a smooth consistency. taste and add vegetable stock cube if necessary, add salt and pepper to taste. this is your basic vellutata.

Potatoes and bean soup
3 large potatoes
1 tetra pak box of white beans or borlotti
1 large onion
1 squirt of tomato paste
S & P
optional smoked pancetta, cooked separately and added at the end.

peel potatoes and wash. peel onion and wash, slice thinly or cube. cook onion with a bit of olive oil in a large saucepan until softened.
open box of beans, rinse well. Cut potatoes into pieces. If you have time you can add them to your pot whole. cover with water and simmer for 20 minutes if veggies were cut up or 40+ min. if they are whole. test potatoes for doneness. when done. turn off heat and grab a submergible frullatore and blend until you get a smooth consistency. add a squirt of tomato paste for color. taste and add salt and pepper to taste. this is your basic vellutata.

These soups are filling even without the add ons, are also fat free. More coming soon!

January 17, 2012

Back on my feet and back in the kitchen!

Its unusual that I "get personal" on my website but I do feel that I need to publicly excuse myself with everyone who has written to me and haven't received answers within 24-48 hrs.

I worked right up to November 24th but right before (on the 23rd) my body said "basta". I got a fever, followed by a crescendo of symptoms and fell down with a flu/upper respiratory and bronchial infection. It took a full 2 weeks to get better and 3 to get my voice back.

I never did get 100% better before I got sick again, right before the holidays, with an upper respiratory infection. This time I took the antibiotics immediately and sure enough, by the second day was feeling much better. Although I felt great after my antibiotic therapy apparently my body had been greatly weakened.

The holidays here were long so that kept me busy (Christmas, New year's, Epiphany) but that last morning I went out to get the paper and whiff! it took a very cold whiff of air to get me yet another upper respiratory infection!

Since I prefer not to bombard my body with antibiotics I accepted everyone's suggestions for their best remedies. I listened to pharmacists, friends and purchased natural antibiotics, vitamins especially formulated for winter ailments etc etc. but none of those did much to improve my worsening health. They did seem to slow down the speed with which I usually get a deep raspy voice.

Lastly, I ran into an old friend who insisted I visit her pharmacist who she credited with having kept her family free of colds, flus and everything else for years. Of course I was desperate enough that I went and bought the drops he gave me. I must say that these did improve my health enough that that very night (the 11th) was the first night I slept through the entire night without waking up to a hacking cough or not being able to breathe (despite having taken decongestants before going to sleep the previous nights). I have slept every night ever since and I am feeling fantastic!

Went to that pharmacist again yesterday and got specific drops to keep my upper respiratory area and throat areas healthy. I am now working on getting strong enough to stand up to the rest of the winter without getting sick AGAIN.

I am finally feeling well enough today that I am answering all my emails and discovered a few that ended up hidden under the pile of emails I had. Oooops!

Glad to be "back" online. Looking forward to cooking with all of you, in my kitchen or virtually, in yours!