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Dimmi come mangi e ti diro’ chi sei (Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are)

It is hard to believe that more than one year ago, I entered a Foodbuzz Recipe Contest that was sponsored by Barilla, a global leader in the pasta business. I entered with no expectations of progressing beyond the first blog post submission; after all, I typically don’t win anything of this nature. By a mere strand of luck, I was a one of six finalists (see post), and months later, I was informed that I would get the opportunity to go to Italy because the grand prize winner was unable to go. Runner up yes, but I’ll take it!! And gladly I did.

Fast forward to Summer 2012: I strategically arranged for my trip to be after graduation so that I could enjoy it wholeheartedly without any lingering worries of project deadlines, papers, exams, etc. during the school year. From July 7th – 12th, I was graciously pampered by Academia Barilla in Parma, Italy, and I could not have asked for a better way to celebrate the completion of my MBA, the amazing depth of Italy’s food (particularly in the Emilia Romagna region), and the sheer joy of immersion in Italian culture. While I consider myself sufficiently versed in Italian cuisine and cooking , there is always an opportunity to delve deeper into history, traditions, and techniques — and boy, was this the perfect opportunity to do so! I am very honored and fortunate to have been able to relish this experience.

Academia Barilla in Parma is a center that is dedicated to the dissemination, promotion and development of Italian Gastronomic Culture throughout the world. It provides cooking courses, gourmet tours, certification programs, food conference hosting, and corporate team building events. Its goal is to spread awareness and education about authentic Italian cuisine and products. It also has a Gastronomic Library that contains more than 8,000 books all related to food, from regional Italian cuisine to food culture, it has it all. This was very much a heavenly playground for me!

The itinerary for my culinary travel program that was arranged by Academia Barilla was as follows:

Day 1: Tour of Academia Barilla facility, half-day cooking course in The Art of Italian Gastronomy, guided city tour of the historic center of Parma
Day 2: Gourmet Day! Visits to a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese producer (caseificio), Prosciutto di Parma producer (salumificio), and Balsamic Vinegar producer in Modena (acetaia).
Day 3: Product tastings for extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cheese, prosciutto, compotes, and free time to explore Parma

This post will focus on Day 1, and Days 2 and 3 will follow shortly!

Day 1 began with a tour of Academia Barilla’s facilities. It’s really amazing. From the Auditorium to the Demo rooms and Library, it’s a delight for anyone interested in cooking and culture.

The Auditorium

Gastronomic Library

Training Room

Demo 2 kitchen

Promptly following the facilities tour, I was introduced to Chef Mario Grazia who would be guiding me through my cooking course. Our menu to conquer for the day (displayed below):

Parmigiano-Reggiano Flan (sformato)
Chicken Salad with Balsamic Vinegar and Pine Nuts
Raviolone with Butter and Thyme
Pork Filet Wrapped in Caul with Marsala Wine
Tortellini with Butter and Sage
Tagliatelle with Fresh Tomatoes
Mixed Nuts “Sabbiata” Style
Vanilla Gelato (also made Hazelnut, Pistacchio, and Chocolate using a Fiordilatte base)

Emilia Romagna is a special food region. Many items above are specialties of Emilia Romagna, land of regional goodies such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, among other cultural icons such as opera (e.g., Giuseppe), cars (e.g., Ferrari, Maserati). From a friend’s request, I will post the recipe for fresh pasta that can be made into tortellini, tagliatelle, pappardelle, etc. After all, fresh egg-based pasta is another gem of this region.

Tagliatelle With Fresh Tomatoes Recipe

Courtesy of Academia Barilla
Preparation time: I hour and 45 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients

For the tagliatelle:

  • 300 grams all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs

For the sauce:

  • 6 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 medium onion, small diced
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

Preparation

  1. Place the flour on a tray or marble surface and make a well in the middle. Break the eggs in the middle and mix. Knead until dough is smooth and homogeneous.
  2. Let rest in a kitchen towel or wrapped in plastic for about 20 minutes.
  3. Using pasta roller, roll out the pasta to make thin sheets (divide dough into 4 pieces). Let the pasta dry a little.
  4. Cut the pasta crosswise into strips. The thickness will determine whether it’s tagliolini (4mm), tagliatelle (8mm), or pappardelle (16mm). Slip a long knife under the middle and lift up the strips so that they unravel. Let them out to dry before cooking.
  5. Brown the onions in a saute pan with olive oil. Add the tomatoes and basil. Let the tomatoes cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove basil. Add more olive oil and a pinch of salt to taste.
  6. Cook tagliatelle in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and toss with the tomato basil sauce. Serve immediately.

Lessons Learned

  • Ingredients are key: Use quality eggs with bright and deep yellow yolks, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil (more on this in a later post)
  • Pasta rollers have multiple number settings as a scale for thickness. In my class, we rolled starting from #2 to #7 (thin, but not the thinnest), but the numbers will vary by roller. Each number gets one iteration.
  • Lambrusco is a lovely sparkling red wine that pairs well with the cuisine in Emilia Romagna — because some of the dishes are richer, the acidity of the wine helps mitigate the heaviness. I have seen it served slightly chilled and at room temperature, so either is fine.

 

Chef Mario Grazia and Me

In a nutshell, this was a wonderful experience for me, particularly because I am passionate about Italian gastronomy — not only is it about the cooking, but it is also a window into understanding the history and culture of a nation that has brought so much influence to the rest of the world. Finally, it reaffirmed the truth behind the many myths of Italian cuisine that has somewhat overshadowed the authenticity of its regional products and flavors. Thank you Foodbuzz and Academia Barilla for making this all possible!

 

Chicken Kara-Áge

My first memory of karaage was with my dear friend Ali whose house I used to visit pretty frequently during the weekdays after high school during our senior year. Her grandmother would make delicious Japanese snacks for us after school such as onigiri, abura miso, takikomi gohan, and of course, chicken karaage. Sometimes, on a whim, we would take grocery trips to a nearby Mitsuwa market to buy karaage ready-to-eat. It was a treat! Karaage was definitely a savory comfort food that is to be eaten occasionally – more recently, I see it at ramen houses and traditional restaurants as an appetizer or side.

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received a sample of Kikkoman Kara-Age Soy-Ginger Coating Mix to. As a loyal Kikkoman soy sauce user since I was born, it’s always nice to see newly created products.

My approach was simple in this trial because it’s always to start with a relative baseline and adjust accordingly. As such, original chicken kara-age it was! Here is the recipe, slightly modified from the package.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat (I am pretty particular on this step, so it may have taken longer than if I used chicken breasts) and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Vegetable oil, enough to fill 1/4 inch of a heavy skillet

Preparation

  1. Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium heat for several minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour 1 package Kikkoman Kara-Áge mix in a large plastic zip lock bag. Rinse chicken in water and allow excess to drip off. Add all chicken pieces to plastic bag, seal, and shake well to coat. Discard remaining coating mix.
  3. Pan fry half batch of chicken pieces in  hot oil, at least 5 minutes, until chicken is cooked, turning pieces over frequently. Remove and drain on paper towels. Makes 4-5 servings.

Result: Well flavored chicken with strong notes of ginger. It definitely goes well with steamed white rice and a side salad for a light meal. If I were to make it again, I may have pan fried it longer so that it could crisp up even more because while the chicken was tender, it could have used some more snap. Alternatively, I may also try baking at a high temperature (450 degrees) and perhaps a quick broil to finish. All in all, this was an easy way to make karaage at home that had a good flavor punch. Thanks, Kikkoman!

Tomato Salad

A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins. – Laurie Colwin

The days of fall and summer have been rapidly fading away in Ithaca, yet I was able to hang onto the last bits of warmth through a few fortunate days of sunshine plus the last batches of tomatoes from our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share at Early Morning Farm. We savored tomatoes in abundance throughout the season, and being part of the CSA really allowed us to enjoy as many of the amazing red fruit as we could possibly consume through sandwiches, soups, and salads.  Speaking of salads, tomato salad is something so simple and refreshing that it has summer labeled all over it. I can only long for the days of next year when I can enjoy it again without having to buy non-seasonal tomatoes from somewhere halfway around the world.

Dressed in quintessential Italian flavor, the ingredients are rather few yet effective. Sweet basil, crunchy red onions, savory tuna chunks, and intense, tart olives  all complement the ripeness of the tomatoes, especially after being tossed with an ever so simple balsamic vinaigrette. I think one of the best parts about tomato salad is that precision is not a big emphasis — in fact, roughly chopping the ingredients and eyeballing the amounts are really okay and only adds to the rustic aspect of the salad. It is best served with crusty Italian bread (pane)  to soak up the juices. A glass of crisp and light-bodied Pinot Grigio can’t hurt either.

Tomato Salad Recipe

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 large, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 can (5 ounces) Albacore Tuna in extra virgin olive oil, drained and flaked with a fork*
  • 1/2 cup Niçoise olives
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • Handful basil leaves, roughly torn or chopped
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. Gently toss together all ingredients in large bowl. Let marinate for 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer to a serving platter and serve immediately.

Tools

  • Chef knife & cutting board
  • Fork
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Large spoons or tongs for tossing

Selina’s Notes

  • *I really prefer to use tuna that was caught by trolling or pole and line methods whenever possible. Learn more about global tuna issues via Seafood Watch and Wild Planet Foods.
  • Use taggiasche olives if possible, but Niçoise olives are much easier to find

We are indeed much more than what we eat; but what we eat can nevertheless help us be much more than what we are. — Adele Davis

Ah, Italy! Italia! Il Bel Paese! Even though a culinary journey through this land of food artists would outlast the most long-lived of men, we felt the need to dig a bit into the offerings of this wonderful country so to provide some clear examples to distinguish authentic Italian food from the much more common Italian-American fare you can find online and in most Italian restaurants in the U.S. We started with Bucatini all’Amatriciana, a Roman favorite that is immortal as the Eternal City itself. We continued our trip by moving north: Tortellini al Pesto alla Genovese, combining Liguri and Emiliani flavors, provided us the best opportunity to welcome Spring into upstate New York and to make great use of all the fresh ingredients that the season was bringing us. Most recently, we crafted our Coniglio alla Ligure, a true Western Ligurian specialty that kept us in northern Italy and that we hope raised awareness of this white, lean meat that is often overlooked by even the most-discerning food expert.
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Yet, we felt that one piece of the puzzle was missing to conclude this culinary trip through the Italian boot: a full Italian meal! We decided to take on seasonal flavors in a three-course, rustic, northern Italian meal, using Barilla tortellini as a key character; it is a meal that you can find at a neighborhood trattoria in Genova or Asti, but not necessarily in a fancy Italian restaurant in Rome; it is something that many families may share during the traditional Sunday lunch with relatives, but rarely on their own. There is something special about rustic meals that illustrate a way of life that is genuine and humble while also being true to a culture. And few places in the world can conjugate rusticity and finesse like Italy does! By using simple ingredients that can be found in most supermarkets we were able to create a delectable meal — one that spans from an apotheosis of greens to the deep redness of a Cannonau wine in the ragu, to the soft, hidden elegance of a pear cake baked all’Italiana. A real traditional meal whose ingredients and cooking methods rightly pay a tribute to the Slow Food movement that was created in this land of great chefs. We decided to stick to the northern Italian tradition because its ingredients are similar to the one found here in the New York state countryside, as a way to link our location to Italy — the green valleys of Alta Lombardia have never been closer!
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We enjoyed cooking (and eating!) what you’re about to see very much. We hope that you will enjoy recreating our menu even more!
Recipes to follow below…
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Tasting Notes & Recipes
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Trittico di Verdure al Forno con Tortelloni e Pioggia di Gorgonzola (Roasted Tri-Vegetable Salad with Crispy Tortelloni and Gorgonzola Crumbles): Rather than having a salad with the usual suspects of mixed lettuce greens, spinach, or arugula (all of which are fabulous though), the focus here is on seasonal spring and summer vegetables to pay tribute to the abundant produce available, especially zucchini. The three colors of asparagus/zucchini, carrots, and cauliflower are naturally vibrant and complement one another. When roasted, the caramelized flavors of each vegetable meld together like long lost siblings, yet each maintaining its distinct flavor. The common denominator is a browned, nutty flavor that always brings out the best in vegetables. The crisp tortelloni bring out the savory goodness from the vegetable medley; even though baking tortelloni (or tortellini) without a sauce base is rare to come across, we believed that the flavors of the pasta, the vegetables, and the cheeses blend perfectly together; and you know what? It worked out really well! Certainly, the Gorgonzola piccante (spicy) crumbles give the salad a kick of gratification with its punchy and bold character. No Italian meal is truly complete without good formaggio! This dish is perfectly paired with a Keuka Lake Vineyards’ Dry Riesling: with its fruity, delicate notes, this upstate New York wine (reminiscent of Rieslings found across Northern Italy) complements all the ingredients of this antipasto without overpowering any.
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Trittico di Verdure al Forno con Tortelloni e Pioggia di Gorgonzola Recipe
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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  • 2 carrots, cut into julienne strips
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch-thick slices
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 bunch asparagus, course stalks removed and then halved
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 20 Barilla Ricotta and Cheese Tortelloni
  • 1.5 oz Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1.5 oz Gorgonzola piccante, roughly chopped and crumbled
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Preparation
  1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss cut vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Place vegetables in a single layer on baking sheets.
  2. Cook tortelloni in boiling water for about 8 minutes (slightly under the package cooking time). Gently drain. In a separate baking sheet, lay tortelloni in a single layer on a baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and freshly grated Parmigiano.
  3. Place baking sheets into oven for about 20 minutes, or until vegetables and tortelloni are lightly browned.
  4. Plate vegetables: Form a base layer with cauliflower and stack with carrots, zucchini, and asparagus. Sprinkle with gorgonzola crumbles. Can be served hot or room temperature.
Tools
  • Medium pot
  • Baking sheets (about 3-4)
  • Peeler
  • Chef knife
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Grater
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Tortellini al Ragu’ di Coniglio alla Ligure (Tortellini with Ligurian Rabbit Ragu)
: If there were one word to describe the tortellini with rabbit ragu, it would be none other than heavenly. The slow simmered ragu is perfectly tender, flavorful, and full of personality that shouts Italia. Brining the rabbit in red wine and herbs allowed the meat to be infused with an aromatic essence that carried throughout the cooking process. The mirepoix base (carrots, onions, celery) always brings depth and life to a sauce, and rightfully so in our ragu. The spinach and ricotta tortellini, perfectly crafted and plumply filled pasta, served as the perfect avenue to showcase the ragu. In fact, tortellini is to paper as ragu is to ink. With their fresh flavor, tortellini perfectly match the meaty taste of marinated rabbit, while the olive taggiasche, with their mild bitterness, are the perfect ending note of the dish. The Sardinian Cannonau wine, whose grapes are similar to those found in Ligurian wines, gave it another dimension as well; with heaping glassfuls simmering the meat and vegetables, this dish had no other choice but to be great. Putting it all together, we have a unique tortellini dish that instantly brings you to the countryside. A great thing about this particular ragu is that it is hearty, but not heavy; this is an important feature of Italian pasta sauces, while most Italian-American pasta sauces are represented as the latter, which has evolved into an unfortunate myth of Italian food being heavy.
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Tortellini al Ragu’ di Coniglio alla Ligure Recipe
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Preparation Time: Approximately 3 hours (2 hours brining + 1 hour cook time)
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped and divided
  • 1 half large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 bay leaves, divided
  • 4 sprigs rosemary, divided
  • 4 springs thyme, divided
  • 3-4 glasses of Cannonau di Sardegna red wine, divided
  • Half rabbit, cut into about 5 large portions
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 14 ounces canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1/4 cup olive taggiasche
  • 3 cups Barilla Cheese and Spinach Tortellini (dried)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
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Preparation
  1. Brine rabbit: Put rabbit, 2 cloves garlic, onion, 2 bay leaves, rosemary in large mixing bowl. Pour about 2 glasses of wine into bowl. Let soak for 2 hours (or overnight in refrigerator), covered. Prepare other vegetables in the meantime. Drain and discard marinade, including herbs. Reserve and dry rabbit pieces.
  2. Heat olive oil in large saucepan to medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallots, carrot, and celery and sauté until vegetables are softened and browned, about 5 minutes. Add rabbit pieces and brown on each side, about another 5 minutes. Add remaining sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves.
  3. Add a glass of wine to the pan; deglaze pan by scraping off pan bits and allow wine to slightly evaporate. Add another glass of wine, season with salt and pepper, and cover the pan with a lid; reduce heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until rabbit meat is tender.
  4. While rabbit is simmering, bring a medium pot of salted water to boil. Cook tortellini for about 9 minutes. Drain and reserve.
  5. Remove rabbit from pan and allow to cool slightly. Debone rabbit with hands and finely chop with knife. Add meat back into pan. Add tomatoes to the pan and crush tomatoes with fork and wooden spoon. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper as needed. Add bouillon cube and dissolve. Add olives. Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes — ragu should be nicely thickened.
  6. Add cooked tortellini to saucepan and toss. Serve immediately with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Tools
  • Chef knife
  • Peeler
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Medium pot
  • Large saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Fork
  • Grater

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Torta di Pere con Salsa al Cioccolato (Rustic Pear Cake Drizzled with Dark Chocolate Sauce): Spring and summer bring us a lot of fresh fruit, too. And since pears are a local fruit both here in upstate New York as well as in northern Italy, we decided that a pear cake was the best way to conclude this all-northern Italian dinner. The flavor of the pears (we suggest you use the Bartlett variety, also known as Williams, but any type of sweet, soft pear will work) combined with the homemade chocolate sauce (using high quality, organically-grown cocoa powder from the Dominican Republic) delightfully release all of the classic flavors that you can encounter in the northern Italian countryside. Eating a slice of this cake makes you think of a remote valley in the Italian Alps, where cows roam freely, pears grow fresh, and raspberries explode in flavor. The cool weather that you associate with the often snowy peaks of northern Italy is perfectly compensated by the warmth of the chocolate sauce and by a tazza (cup) of espresso coffee, the Italian hot beverage that irremediably not only accompanies every dessert but also articulates every moment of the life of Italians. We used a Bialetti Moka Express coffee maker along with Lavazza Qualita’ Oro ground espresso for the perfect brew. As a dessert wine pairing we recommend a St. Michael-Eppan’s “Sanct Valentin-Comtess-Passito,’ a sweet wine produced in Alto Adige, a mountainous land riddled with beautiful countryside scenery that fits perfectly with the simple rustic elegance of this cake.
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Torta di Pere con Salsa al Cioccolato Recipe.

Adapted from Rustic Apple Cake Recipe and Dark Chocolate Sauce Recipe
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reparation time: 1.5 hours
Serves 8

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Ingredients

For cake:
  • 3 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 7 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Confectioner’s powder sugar, for garnishing
For sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup brewed espresso
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
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Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In small bowl, combine 1 heaping tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and reserve. In large mixing bowl, squeeze lemon juice onto sliced pears. Using a hand or stand mixer, mix eggs and remaining sugar until sugar is fully dissolved. Add melted butter and mix. Next, gradually add lemon zest, cinnamon, milk, yeast, vanilla, almond, salt, and flour. Mixture should be well combined and form a thick liquid.
  2. If using a stand mixer, remove bowl from base. Fold in pears and use spatula to combine. Pour batter into a buttered and floured cake pan (preferably springform). Sprinkle with cinnamon & sugar mixture. Bake for 60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean from the cake. Allow to cool.
  3. Prepare chocolate sauce: Cut butter into pieces. In a small saucepan heat espresso with brown sugar over medium heat, whisking, until sugar is dissolved. Add cocoa powder and salt, whisking until smooth. Add butter and vanilla, whisking until butter is melted. Serve cake with warm chocolate sauce and garnish with fresh raspberries.
Tools
  • Large mixing bowls
  • Peeler
  • Chef knife
  • Grater
  • Hand or stand mixer
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Spatula
  • Springform cake pan
  • Whisk

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Without further ado, Buon Appetito!

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Godiamo, la tazza, la tazza e il cantico,
la notte abbella e il riso;
in questo paradiso ne scopra il nuovo dì
excerpt from ‘Libiamo ne’ Lieti Calici’, “La Traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi

[In English]
Be happy; The wine and singing
beautify both the night and the laughter
Let the new day find us in this paradise

I feel very fortunate that there is a fabulous farmer’s market in town that has some of the best local foods available, all from within a 30-mile radius. As the school year has been winding down, it is even a greater pleasure to be able to enjoy a sun-filled afternoon at the outdoor market with good friends, good wine, and good food. I love stumbling upon unique finds and meeting local farmers who are truly engaged in their products and customers.

Last week we came across Cross Creek Farm, producer of herbs, rabbits, chickens, chicken eggs, and other produce in Berkshire, NY. Among those items, we were highly intrigued by its rabbit offering. Oh, yes – this is the white meat that is typically harder to come by and somewhat underrated. Rabbit is a staple in Liguria, the stretch of land commonly known as the “Italian Riviera” (and that was already inspirational for the “Tortellini al Pesto alla Genovese” post just a few weeks ago). People there have farmed rabbits since ancient times, recognizing its healthy properties given by a lean, white meat that matches perfectly the flavors of this coastal area and its blend of thyme, rosemary, olive oil, and pine nuts. So, when we stumbled upon Cross Creek Farm’s rabbits, it was impossible to resist to the temptation of cooking it “alla Ligure” naturalmente!

Coniglio alla Ligure is a warm burst of deep, rich flavor. The wine really gives it a dark and lush finish after a nice simmer — the meat and vegetables become well-infused with the reduced sauce and herbs. The almost-sweetness of the stewed carrots and celery and the fragrance of pignolia are perfectly counter-balanced by the mild bitterness of olive taggiasche. Simply delicious!

Coniglio alla Ligure Recipe

Preparation Time: 2 hours
Serves 6

Ingredients

  • One whole rabbit (about 3 pounds), cut into 12 portions, liver and kidney reserved
  • 4-5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, quartered
  • 1 stalk celery, quartered
  • 3 sprigs each of rosemary and thyme, tied in cooking twine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup red wine (I used a Rossese from Riviera Ligure di Ponente)
  • 100 grams olive taggiasche
  • 2 tablespoons pignolia
  • 1 cup beef broth

Preparation

  1. Prepare rabbit and pat dry to ensure browning. Heat olive oil in large dutch oven over medium heat and saute garlic and onions for several minutes until softened.
  2. Raise to medium high heat and add rabbit pieces on a single layer until lightly brown, about 3-4 minutes. Lightly salt. Add bouquet of rosemary & thyme, bay leaves, carrot, and celery stalk. Continue to brown rabbit until golden, several more minutes.
  3. Add glass of wine and deglaze pan, scraping off brown bits of onion and garlic on the bottom. Let wine reduce until have evaporated.
  4. Add olives, pine nuts, and reserved kidney and liver; mix well. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about one hour, adding broth occasionally throughout (about a ladle each time).

Tools

  • Large dutch oven
  • Chef knife (meat carving knife preferred)
  • Cooking twine
  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring cup
  • Tongs

Selina’s Tips

  • The olives are very important and should not be substituted with another variety
  • Rossese di Dolceacqua is the best wine for cooking and pairing this dish and is what makes it truly Ligurian
  • The rabbit pieces should be browned on a single layer; do not overcrowd! Make a half portion of the recipe if needed.

If Italy had contributed nothing but pasta dishes to the world of cuisine, it would have been sufficient for immortality. — Craig Claiborne

Spring has finally arrived in upstate New York! It’s about time. Today it was sunny, 70+ degrees Fahrenheit, just like the way it should be at this time of year. In any case, with spring comes produce that have made a comeback to remind us that life isn’t all about winter vegetables, though I do appreciate squash and the like. Fresh basil is finally back in full force, especially thanks to Finger Lakes Fresh, a local hydroponics greenhouse that produces lovely, fragrant bundles of basil right at my fingertips.

While I am living my day to day life in beautiful Ithaca, New York, I often dream about visiting the Northern Italian region of Liguria, where my other half is from. It has a remarkable resemblance to California in terms of climate and rich agriculture. Nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps, it’s a land of stark contrasts and beautiful sceneries, where farmers have carved every possible inch of land out of the steep hills to create masterful terraces where they have grown some of their best treasures for centuries, among which olives and basil reign supreme. Among rabbits and wild boar, Sanremo shrimps and breams, there is something that’s truly Ligurian and that blends the best ingredients of the region: pesto! A perfect combination of extra virgin olive oil, pignolia nuts (from the numerous pine trees found on the hills of the area), basil, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, this worldwide-appreciated sauce is as timeless as the flavors associated with this beautiful stretch of land.

Because spring is in the air, and because Italy is on my mind, I chose to highlight the freshness of basil pesto using Barilla Tortellini, topped with tender crisp green beans, potatoes, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano — authenticity and simplicity at its finest. This can easily be served with a basic salad, such as mixed greens or arugula lightly dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper. To complement such a wonderful burst of flavors, a fine wine pairing is a rich and bright white wine from Sardinia, Argiola Costamolino Vermentino Di Sardegna. This pairing works particularly well given that the varietal Vermentino is the most-grown grape in Liguria, where it’s known as Pigato. Buon Appetito!

Tortellini al Pesto alla Genovese Recipe

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 35 basil leaves (large bunch)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup pignolia nuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for finishing
  • Salt
  • 2 cups green beans, halved
  • 2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 package Barilla Tortellini (12 ounces), Cheese & Spinach variety found in the dried pasta section

Preparation

  1. Begin to boil large pot of water. Meanwhile, prepare pesto: Add basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and salt to a food processor/blender and pulse grind until smooth. Add Parmigiano and pulse grind again to combine.
  2. Once water comes to boil, liberally salt water and add potatoes. Boil for 5 minutes, and then add green beans. Boil for an additional 5 minutes and drain with a slotted spoon.
  3. Using the same pot of water, add dried tortellini and boil for about 9 minutes. Drain separately and divide equally into platters.
  4. For each platter, gently combine tortellini with 2 tablespoons of pesto sauce. Top with potatoes, green beans, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Tools

  • Large stockpot
  • Food processor
  • Cheese grater
  • Chef knife
  • Slotted spoon
  • Colanders (2)

Buon cibo, buon vino, buoni amici – Unknown

When there’s a blizzard outside, having warmth, good food, wine, and company is priceless. A fireplace adds a nice touch as well. There are many foods that comfort the soul, but today’s choice is heavily influenced by my favorite person in the world who happens to come from Italy and knows a thing or two about pasta. Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a Roman dish that is very rich, but in a sensible and savory way that doesn’t weigh you down.  The Romans are well known for their conviviality and time well spent with friends and family, and these attributes are inherently well reflected in this dish.

Be prepared to indulge in a cornucopia of intense flavors: the underlying depth of onion and garlic, smoked aroma of pancetta, sweet and concentrated tomatoes, and boldness of the red wine…all lightly topped with aged and briny cheese. In the midst of this complexity, there is surprisingly an element of simplicity that is almost indefinable, but trust me, it exists. Perhaps this simplicity comes from the utmost importance of having quality ingredients – reputable pasta, San Marzano tomatoes, pure extra virgin olive oil, and the like. While ingredients are easy to swap and substitute, the final product is compensated as such. In other words, don’t skimp!

Bucatini all’Amatriciana Recipe

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces dried bucatini pasta (preferably Divella brand)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, slightly crushed
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 ounces pancetta affumicata (smoked), chopped
  • 14 ounces canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup full body red wine (optional, but recommended)
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano, to taste

Preparation

  1. Bring large pot of water to boil for bucatini and cook according to package, approximately 6-7 minutes for al dente.  Salt water right before adding pasta. Meanwhile, begin to prepare garlic, onion, and pancetta.
  2. Heat olive oil in saucepan to medium high heat. Add onions, garlic, and pancetta and sauté until onions are translucent and pancetta is lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes to the pan and crush tomatoes with fork and wooden spoon. Add bouillon cubes, salt & pepper, and dried basil. Let sauce simmer over medium heat and reduce until nicely thickened, about 10 minutes. Add red wine and red pepper flakes and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add pasta to sauce evenly toss to coat. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste.

[Crushing tomatoes with fork and spoon…]

Tools

  • Large stock pot
  • Chef knife
  • Sauté pan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Fork
  • Colander
  • Grater

Selina’s Notes

  • During the summer, seasonal fresh chopped basil is preferred
  • Red wine options can include full bodied wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon,  Zinfandel, Chianti, etc. The added benefit is that you can enjoy it during your meal!

Buon Appetito :)

Wallet Eggs

A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner. – Samuel Johnson

There are days when you crave nothing but simple comfort food for lunch or dinner. For some, that could mean a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch or cereal for dinner. It usually starts after a long day of work or school — you come home, open the refrigerator, and the usual suspects appear: milk, eggs, condiments, and perhaps a partial loaf of bread. In my house, it would be pretty normal to also find leftover rice. If my mood points me in the direction of quickly escaping back to the familiarity and comfort of my mother’s kitchen, I reach for the eggs. My mother used to (and still does, if I make a special request) prepare what she calls “wallet eggs,” which is literally translated from Cantonese to describe fried eggs with runny yolks. The yolk, if you will, is the money! Needless to say, the fried egg white is the tasty wallet to keep it all inside.

This easily becomes my effortless, go-to food for the hectic days, which is becoming more frequent now that school is in full swing! At the same time, I still get my protein, starch, and vegetables if I plan accordingly. Sounds like a winner to me :)

wallet eggs

Wallet Eggs Recipe

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 generous tablespoon canola oil
  • Freshlycracked black pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 1 stalk scallion, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Small handful of cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup steamed rice (optional)

Preparation

  1. Heat saute pan to medium high heat. Add oil and tilt pan to spread evenly.
  2. Crack eggs individually on opposite sides of the pan to avoid contact with each other. Allow egg to solidify and brown on one side, about 1-2 minutes. Add black pepper during this wait. Flip eggs when bottoms are solidified; allow to cook for an additional minute, but adjust according to your preference of how runny you prefer your eggs to be.
  3. Serve immediately over white rice. Garnish with oyster sauce, scallions, and cilantro as desired.

Tools

  • Saute pan
  • Spatula
  • Chef knife

Selina’s Notes

  • Regular oyster sauce can be substituted with vegetarian oyster sauce (mushroom based). If using regular, I prefer Lee Kum Kee
  • To create a drizzle effect with oyster sauce, use a plastic squeeze bottle or create a makeshift piping bag using a sandwich bag and simply snip off the end to dispense!
  • To make this a full meal, serve with salad or stir-fried leafy greens, such as bok choy or Chinese broccoli

Feeding people graciously and lovingly is one of life’s simplest pleasures: a most basic way of making life better for someone at least for awhile. — Anna Thomas

Black bean sauce reminds me of traditional Cantonese home-style cooking. I grew up having a variety of dishes made with black beans and black bean sauce, including fish, clams, chicken, spare ribs; it’s a simple go-to ingredient for a quick stir-fry or a steam. If you’ve never had it before, it’s very pungent, briny, and aromatic.  The black beans are really fermented soy beans, giving the sauce a unique intense flavor that kind of jumps in your mouth.

I’ve been experimenting with using black bean sauce in a chicken and bell pepper combination for a few years. You may or may not find this in a restaurant, but to me, it’s an easy and quick comfort food dish that reminds me of home. It’s also best served with freshly steamed rice on the side, which perfectly complements and lightens the intensity of the sauce.

Black Bean Chicken and Peppers Recipe

Preparation Time: Approximately 20 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken thigh, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon oil, divided
  • 3 teaspoons corn starch, divided
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce (e.g., Lee Kum Kee brand)
  • 1 stalk scallion, thinly sliced
  • Handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Preparation

  1. Marinate chicken: In a mixing bowl, add soy sauce, sugar, 1 teaspoon oil, and 1 teaspoon corn starch into chicken. Stir to combine.
  2. Prepare quick gravy: Mix remaining corn starch and water; set aside.
  3. Stir-fry: Heat oil over medium-high to high heat in a pan until oil is nearly steamy. Gently add black bean garlic sauce and quickly stir for 5-10 seconds. Add chicken and stir-fry (chow!) for 2 minutes or until halfway cooked. Add peppers and stir until chicken is fully cooked and peppers are crisp tender, about 4 minutes. Add corn starch gravy mixture and cook for an additional minute.
  4. Garnish with scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately with steamed rice.

Tools

  • Mixing bowl
  • Small bowl
  • Wok or sauté pan
  • Spatula or wooden spoon

Selina’s Notes

  • Wear an apron or something that you don’t mind getting splattered on! The sauce tends to splatter during the stir-fry step.
  • You may substitute and/or supplement bell peppers with onions and white button mushrooms.
  • I don’t recommend using more than the 3/4 pounds of chicken in one batch. The more chicken in the wok, the less smoky wok flavor it gives off. The same concept applies when pan-searing meats; overcrowding is never a good thing!

Life itself is the proper binge. — Julia Child

And then there is dessert, another brilliant binge that we all shamelessly enjoy. Even for those who say they don’t like sweets, custard with fresh summer berries is a pleasing dessert for anyone to indulge in. This is exactly what panna cotta is all about. It’s a very simple custard that is made with milk, cream, sugar, and gelatin and it is fairly fool-proof, even for a clumsy person such as myself. The beauty of it is its simplicity — the ingredients are easy to find (though for non-summer seasons, you can opt for other varieties of panna cotta), you can make it ahead of time for a dinner event, and most of the work is taken care of by your refrigerator. Because of the high cream content, this dessert is incredibly rich, silky, and just plain good after a light meal. It’s definitely something to save room for in your stomach.

Summer is a great time to make panna cotta because fresh berries are rightfully in season and can be purchased locally at farmers markets in the U.S. Not only are berries readily available at this time of year, they are also naturally photogenic, delicious, and healthy.

So there you have it. It’s okay to indulge a little sometimes.

Honey-Vanilla Panna Cotta With Berries Recipe

Recipe adapted from Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries by Giada De Laurentiis
Preparation Time: 15 minutes + 6 hours chill time in the refrigerator
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups assorted fresh berries

Preparation

  1. Place whole milk in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. Pour milk/gelatin mixture into a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat just until the gelatin dissolves but the milk does not boil, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the whipping cream, honey, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. Using a ladle, pour into 6-8 glasses or bowls so that they are 1/2 full. Cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours. Spoon the berries atop the panna cotta and serve (only immediately prior to serving).

Tools

  • Small bowl
  • Medium saucepan
  • Ladle
  • Assorted glasses (wine, martini, or regular drinking glasses). Alternatively, ramekins or small bowls work fine.
  • Plastic wrap  (or anything that will cover all containers at once)

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