Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pasta alla Amatriciana

Preparation time: 20 minutes.
Details: approx. €10 to serve 4 people.

Many of you might remember that we have already talked about the real ancestor of this pasta recipe: the famous and delightful Pasta Alla Gricia. This two pasta recipes share their history together as both of them were meant to sustain shepherds in the Lazio region during transhumance days (i.e. the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures).

It's not surprising then that Pasta all'Amatriciana is just Pasta alla Gricia with the addition of....tomato sauce! Many people say that this pasta is the definite completion of Pasta alla Gricia, that reaches its perfection when it becomes "all'Amatriciana". I love both recipes, and strongly think that both of them have the dignity to be thought as "distinct recipes".

Pasta all'Amatriciana takes its name from the city where it's from: Amatrice. Here (and in Rome's deli shops) you can find the n.1 ingredient for this recipe: guanciale di Amatrice. Guanciale is cured pork jowl, and has a unique, mild, intensely piggy flavor. Obviously you don't need Amatrice's guanciale necessarily (at least if you live abroad), and you can use any other Guanciale available at the shop (it must be rigorously Italian, of course). Please never prepare an Amatriciana with Pancetta or Irish Bacon. Seriuosly, Don't do it!
  

The preparation is really easy, and once again:

NO GARLIC!
NO ONION!
NO PARMESAN!
NO PARSLEY!

This is all you need:
  • 1 tbsp E-V olive oil
  • 150 gr. Guanciale (you can find it at Best of Italy or Fallon&Byrne in Dublin, or buy it online!)
  • 120 gr. Pecorino cheese  (easily found at Superquinn, Fresh, Best of Italy, Fallon&Byrne)
  • 400 gr. Pomodori Pelati (pelati/chopped tomatoes)
  • 500 gr. Spaghetti or Bucatini or Rigatoni 
  • 1 chili pepper
  • half glass white wine
  • salt, pepper
Bring your well-salted pasta water to a boil. While the water is heating, slice the guanciale thinly into narrow strips and grate the Pecorino. Place the guanciale in a cold pan with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and place over medium heat; the olive oil helps to render the fat evenly and acts as a conduit, transferring the flavor from the pan to the pasta.


When the guanciale strips are starting to get translucent, add less than half glass of white wine. Leave the guanciale on the fire for 1 minute max, waiting for the wine to evaporate and add the Pelati tomatoes. Mix all together and season with salt, pepper and a 1 chili pepper. Continue to cook the sauce for 10 minutes, tossing the mix from time to time. 


As soon as you add the tomatoes and the sauce starts to take shape, put the pasta in the boiling water and drain it when it reaches its "al dente" texture. We used rigatoni for this recipe...I love how they mix and dance with the sauce! Quickly add the drained pasta to the pan and turn on the heat. Toss the pasta vigorously coating with the sauce made of guanciale and tomatoes, grinding some black pepper on it. After about 1-2 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and add the previously grated Pecorino (it should not melt on the pasta, so remove the pan from the heat before this step!).


We could say that this recipe is simple, authentic, historical, delicious, etc. I'd say it's Orgasmic. I just can't find other proper words to define it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Frittata di scammaro: Eggless Omelet

Preparation time: 40 minutes in total.
Details: approx. €15 to serve 4-5 people.


This is a typical recipe from Naples, a city famous for pizza, passion, chaos, traffic, sunshine and crime! This lively southern port city is a real paradox: you can find incredible venues and historical places mingled with urban decay. Modern skyscrapers and dilapidated houses. Super clean areas and extremely dirty ones. 
Naples also hosts the world famous Christmas cribs market: thousands of tourist gather here each here to buy nativity sets, sheep, miniature foods, miniature market stalls and crib figures. I mean any kind of crib figure: ever thought about adding Steve Jobs among the mainstream, standard shepherds?!


Let's go back to our recipe: this is called a frittata but it is not made with eggs or meat. It is a cake of fried spaghetti seasoned with the usual and much-beloved Neapolitan condiments of garlic, olives, anchovies, capers, sultanas and pine nuts. It merely resembles a frittata. 
Scammaro refers to days of fasting, and this is one of the so-called lean dishes that you can have before Easter on fasting days. While it contains no meat or dairy, it does have a significant olive oil content (so, for real fasting, I would not suggest this recipe!). It takes time to accomplish, too — 40 minutes of nearly constant attention. But it's worth it. Oh yes, it is.
This recipe fully respects the neapolitan most hortodox tradition and is inspired to the YouTube recipe by Marinella Penta De Peppo. Mrs Penta De Peppo is Naples at its best: culture, love for tradition and arts, beauty and elegance. She is also a great YouTuber and I strongly recommend Italian speakers to watch this video and visit her channel!
Marinella, we love you!

As she teachs us, there is a legend behind this recipe according to which Frittata di Scammaro was a creation of Cico the Wizard (Mago Cico) who managed to create an omelet without eggs (well...the story is far more complex, of course). 

Legends apart, let's now focus on the recipe itself, here's what you need:
  • 280 grams spaghetti
  • 100 grams fresh black olives
  • 50 grams salted capers
  • 75 grams pine nuts
  • 75 grams sultanas
  • 4 anchovies fillets
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and 2 garlic cloves
Take a saucepan, add 7 tbsp E-V olive oil and 2 garlic cloves and put it over medium-low heat. When the garlic starts to get yellowish, add the roughly chopped olives, the capers, the sultanas and pine nuts and mix well. Don't add the anchovies at this stage. Increase the heat very slightly and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. When the sauce is ready, add the anchovies and mix well (in this way they will not melt with the heat). 

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Cook the spaghetti until al dente in plenty of salted, boiling water. Drain well. When ready, transfer the previously prepared sauce to a large bowl. Add the spaghetti and toss well to distribute the sauce throughout.
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Take a skillet and add half glass E-V olive oil. Place over high heat for 1 minute, distributing the spaghetti evenly and pressing it down a little. Then lower the heat to start cooking the omelet and start heating each "pole" of the skillet for 3-4 minutes. Let's imagine the skillet has 4 poles: north, south, west and east. Rotate the skillet over the low fire and heat each pole for 3-4 minutes. Cook one side of the omelet for 15 minutes in total. Then slide it onto a large dinner plate or platter, then flip it back into the pan with the uncooked side down and repeat the cooking process for other 15 minutes (3-4 mins per pole).


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Total cooking time will then be 30 minutes! 


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This recipe is simply amazing: it embodies history, tradition and is characterized by a well balanced mix of mediterranean flavours.


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Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, cut into wedges (scissors work best), as an antipasto, first course, or second course.
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Yes, this is such a great example of simple cooking and great, authentic flavor! Cico the wizard was a great magician..

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Italian Mushroom Risotto


Preparation time: 20 minutes to prepare dried mushrooms + 20 minutes preparation time.
Serves 4 people.


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Autumn has hit the town and what's one of the things about autumn? Mushrooms! Well, Risotto with mushrooms: an Italian classic. As many "Italian classics" is often misinterpreted and screwed with any possible creamy sauce: creme fraiche, fresh cream, creamy cream, cream.

It's true, this risotto requires some patience, but oh so worth it! It's a quite light, simple and vegetarian recipe that will astonish any guest coming home for dinner or lunch without any notice. It should not be too dry, nor too watery: it should be as it should be, as the wise man would say.

Let's start with the recipe!

  • 400 gr. Dried Mushrooms
  • 400 gr. Risotto (Arborio)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 40 gr. butter
  • 2 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • salt&pepper
  • grated Parmigiano...a lot of Parmigiano
  • 2 vegetable stocks melted in 1 lt. of hot water
  • a glass of white wine
Soak the porcini mushrooms in hot water for 10 minutes, then drain well (remember to keep the water!). Prepare 1 lt. broth with the vegetable stocks and keep it warm.


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Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan and add the garlic. Fry over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Remove the garlic, add the previously chopped mushrooms and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, until browned. Add salt and pepper, and a bunch of chopped parsley. Drain the mushrooms and keep the oil aside!


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Put butter and chopped onion in another saucepan over low heat; once the butter is melted add the rice and toast it and stir it with a wooden spoon. Add the wine and let it evaporate. 

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When the rice starts sticking to the pan, pour over a cup of mushrooms water and a cup of broth. Let the rice absorb the liquid and repeat the operation until the rice is cooked.
Remember: never stop to stir the rice, which you don't want to overcook: it has to crunch a little bit.


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When ready, add the drained mushroom into the risotto and stir well. Remove from the heat and keep stirring, adding the previously stocked mushrooms oil and grated parmesan. Spread with remaining parsley.
Some people use to add butter in the end: mushrooms oil is healthier and tastier!

Serve immediately...

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... and see heaven!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pollo alla Romana: the recipe

Preparation time: 40 minutes.
Details: approx. €10 to serve 4 people.


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Pollo alla Romana (chicken with peppers or pollo con i peperoni): one of the most classic recipes from Rome! And there's no better way to present this recipe but following the authentic hints by Sora Lella.

Yes, this mouth-watering recipe also allows us to pay a tribute to the glorious Sora Lella. Who was Sora Lella? Well an actress, show-woman, the sister of a old Italian actor and showman (Aldo Fabrizi) and the co-owner of the famous Rome restaurant, now named after her (Sora Lella, on the isola Tiberina).


She was known to the main public as the stereotype of the typical Roman citizen:  she embodied skepticism, wit, pragmatism, indolence, indifference, humor, self-irony and sarcasm.

Needless to say, she was extremely funny and a great cook: we could actually define her as a foodie. Her recipes represent the essence of Italian cuisine, sticking to the most orthodox tradition. For all Italian speakers, here is a small video describing this 100% authentic recipe. A real piece of History:



Argh, I love her

However, let's go back to our chicken recipe: this is an extremely cheap and easy recipe that will amaze anyone loving red peppers! Despite being a very simple mix of ingredients (like every  authentic Italian recipe), the taste is really incredible and red peppers are simply great for flavoring chicken meat.

Ingredients:
  • Chicken pieces for 4 persons 
  • 5 vine tomatoes
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 4 peppers
  • salt, whole black pepper, rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves
First of all, as Sora Lella teaches us, be careful when selecting red peppers at the shop: they must be 4-cornered, which means they are sweet enough for the recipe. As you can see you really need few ingredients to deliver magic!

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First of all, put the chicken pieces in a pan with some extra-virgin olive oil (not too much - we want to keep the recipe light!) and two garlic cloves (don't chop them otherwise the sauce will be too garlicky and we definitely don't want this) and heat the pan on a medium fire. Add some rosemary, some peppercorns and salt the chicken. 

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Brown the chicken thoroughly from all sides. After 3 minutes add some a glass of white wine and make it evaporate properly for 1-2 minutes. What a nice smell!
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Meanwhile, peel and chop the tomatoes and when ready put them in the pan together with the chicken.

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Leave the tomatoes mix with the chicken and chop the red peppers as shown below. When ready put them in the pan and toss the chicken folding with peppers and the tomato sauce.

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Leave the pan on a medium heat for about 30 minutes covering it with a lid. 

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After 30 minutes have gone, try the sauce and add some salt if needed. Serve the chicken hot without adding anything. Pure simplicity. 

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Pollo alla Romana is not only a recipe: it's History. This is the way Romans have been eating chicken for centuries. And this is simply....

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... Incredible! Buon Appetito :-)



Quote: "Se Napoleone veniva a Roma se magnava er pollo che je facevo io" (Sora Lella)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pasta alla gricia

Preparation time: 15 minutes.
Details: approx. €10 to serve 4/5 people.


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Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, Amatriciana and Gricia: the kings of Roman pastas! Those are the top 4 "seriously Roman" pasta dishes you cannot miss if you visit Rome! We will dedicate separate posts to each recipe, as each one has a different story and preparation. We are talking about very simple pasta recipes whose origins lay in central Italy shepherd's traditions: this means that any ingredient substitution is not minor and will screw up everything

Pasta alla Gricia is the least famous of the group, but surely many people's favorite....

Let's do some history first: Pasta alla Gricia is the old ancestor of the more famous Pasta all' Amatriciana, and is also known as "Amatriciana in bianco" (basically Amatriciana without tomato sauce). The name origins from a small town in central Lazio: Grisciano, which is very close to Amatrice. Amatrice is the world-famous capital of the incredible Pasta all'Amatriciana (we will soon talk about this in a new post): a small and beautiful town, located on the Lazio mountains in the very heart of Italy. 

pictures of Amatrice
Amatrice, Lazio, Italy

Back in the past local shepherds used to cook a very simple but super-satisfying dish at dinner that would help them facing the harshness and toughness of the next day. They used to cook this pasta when descending from the mountains with their sheeps. That's why the ingredients had to be very poor and represented the most popular local products: Pecorino romano (the hard, tangy grating cheese made from sheep's milk) and Guanciale (cured pork jowl, which has a unique, intensely piggy flavor). At the beginning of the nineteenth century many shepherds moved to Rome, due to a severe sheep-farming crisis. Gricia and Amatriciana started to become very popular dishes among Romans and since then these pasta recipes are associated to the Italian capital.

The good news for all those who live far from Amatrice or Grisciano is that it's very easy to reproduce Pasta alla Gricia, IF you stick to tradition. Before listing the very simple ingredients, please bear in mind what follows:

NO GARLIC!
NO ONION!
NO PARMESAN!
NO PARSLEY!
NO BUTTER!
NO CHILI!
NO BACON!

NO, NO, NO!

Ok, let's get calm again and list the ingredients for 4 persons:
  • 500 grams Rigatoni or Bucatini or Spaghetti
  • 125 grams guanciale (you can find it at Best of Italy or Fallon&Byrne in Dublin, or buy it online!)
  • 150 grams Pecorino (easily found at Superquinn, Fresh, Best of Italy or Fallon&Byrne)
  • a small glass of white wine
  • 1 tbspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • pepper and salt
The preparation is idiot-proof: sticking to tradition is EASY. Seriuosly, hortodoxy is King in this case. Creative licence is allowed, however, when it comes to pasta - as you can see above (we tried with both Rigatoni and Spaghetti for the post).

Bring your well-salted pasta water to a boil. While the water is heating, slice the guanciale thinly into narrow strips and grate the Pecorino.


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Place the guanciale in a cold pan with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and place over medium heat; the olive oil helps to render the fat evenly and acts as a conduit, transferring the flavor from the pan to the pasta. When the guanciale strips are starting to get translucent, add less than half glass of white wine. Leave the guanciale on the fire for few more minutes, waiting for the wine to evaporate and allowing it to release more precious fat that will become the pasta natural sauce! Don't burn the guanciale: it just needs to get brownish. The smell of the Guanciale moist will basically leave you speechless at this stage.


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When the pasta reaches the Al Dente texture, quickly drain it and add it to the pan and turn on the heat. Toss the pasta vigorously coating with the guanciale and the fat, grinding some black pepper on it. Remove the pan from the heat and add the previously grated pecorino (it should not melt on the pasta, so remove the pan from the heat before this step!). This will add the perfect sheepy taste to the pasta. 


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Fatto: Harmony, Sublimity, Simplicity, Art and Splendor all in one plate.


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Ecche-to-dico affà?