Classic Milanese-Style Risotto as made by Michelin-Star Chef Morelli

First let me tell you this was the best risotto I’ve ever tasted. But who could expect less? Presented by the “How Italy does Italian” tour in advance of World EXPO 2015 in May, Michelin-star Chef Giancarlo Morelli brought his cooking and style to George Brown College in Toronto and I was lucky enough to be part of the whole experience. Focusing on the art of simple food with pure ingredients, Chef Morelli reminded me why care in cooking and selecting products makes such a difference in your food. And now with his recipe for risotto, you can give it a try too.

Part of me was expecting complicated techniques and foreign tools from the demonstration. What I got was a reminder that the best food is cooked simply and authentically with attend paid to bringing out the flavour of each element. Care and creativity is in the process, the ingredients and the end taste. For Chef Morelli, this was his first day in Canada leading into a week-long tour by Italian product producers showcasing the best Italy has to offer. “Just because it has an Italian flag on it, doesn’t mean it’s Italian,” says Chef Morelli, reminding us to know where our ingredients come from. Among his shared cooking philosophies (which I am adopting!): he doesn’t use salt during the cooking, only to finish the dish. His reasons for this are two-fold: it’s important to avoid too much salt for a healthy life and “if you can’t get the feeling and flavour of each ingredient when you taste a dish,” he notes, “then it doesn’t work.”

Below is Chef Morelli’s risotto recipe, which you have to try as he won “best risotto in the world” in a competition of 1,100 dishes at the Concorso Premio Gallo in 2010. Yet, Chef Morelli is clear to tell us that risotto has been the same for 200 years. He doesn’t change the culture of food but perfects and modernizes how it is created. Some tips on creating this winning dish from the Chef himself:

– Choose an organic carnaroli rice, not necessarily arborio. You can find this at most Italian grocers.
– Use vegetarian stock only. Add 2kg of seasonal vegetables to 5L of water (no salt!) and cook for 2-3 hours for a rich stock.
– It’s impossible to have risotto without butter. Use butter or butter and oil to start the dish, and butter to finish it. Use frozen butter when finishing, this will help to develop the creaminess of the dish properly, instead of the butter breaking down too quickly.
– The rice will cook in exactly 13 minutes, so set your timer.
– Never leave the rice alone, it’s like a baby you have to nurture.
– Balance the dish at the end with the butter and the cheese, no additional salt, off the heat. This technique is called the “mantecatura”, finishing with fats and stirring vigorously to add air into the dish.

The recipe, below, to stay true-to-form, is in Italian and English. Use care in picking your ingredients and in your cooking and you’ll have a winner too. If you give it a try, let me know how it works out in the comments (hint: you can omit the bone marrow and wine caramel topping and it’s still amazing!).

By |March 27th, 2015|Mangia|2 Comments

Collecting your favourite (and missing) Christmas recipes

What was missing from your Christmas table? What foods are part of your best holiday memories? Looking for an old family recipe?

Every year in December my blog and email inbox get really busy. In the lead up to Christmas, everyone is searching for their favourite old recipes like a cookie or treat their mother or grandmother used to make. The best emails I get are from readers who have just found old recipes on my site and tell me all about the memories they had of those foods and what a joy it was to have them again at the table.

In 2015, instead of searching at the last minute for a recipe just like Nonna’s, let’s help each other out and get those recipes together starting now.

Since the holiday season has just passed, and what was missing from the table is still fresh in our minds, now is the time to ask you: what are your favourite Italian Christmas dishes? Maybe it was something your mother used to make, or maybe a cookie an Italian neighbour used to always bring you. What recipes are you missing or searching for? Give me the English or Italian names of your Christmas dishes (and maybe a bit of a description!) and I’ll work to search them out and put together a Christmas recipe guide.

Here’s a brief list (after the jump) that I have so far of some desserts. From pasta to fish to fried treats, tell me what to add in the comments section of this post!

By |January 9th, 2015|Mangia|4 Comments

Contest: Win Gluten Free Catelli Macaroni for a Year

Late last year I started experimenting with using gluten-free pasta so that I could share some of my favourite family pasta recipes with guests who have diet restrictions. Catelli shared a sample of their new gluten-free pasta with me and I used it with a classic Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. Having just launched a new cut to their pasta collection – macaroni – Catelli has generously offered to give one Italian-Canadian Life reader one-year supply of Catelli Gluten Free Macaroni (open to Canadian residents only).

I received news of this great contest just last week with the launch of the pasta at George Brown College, hosted by Chef John Higgins, Director of George Brown Chef School, former personal chef to the Queen Mother and a judge on Food Network’s Chopped Canada. Chef Higgins demonstrated a variety of recipes that use Catelli Gluten-Free Pasta including a flavourful Ginger-Edamame Macaroni Salad and Moroccan Macaroni Bowl (pictured above, courtesy of Catelli). But the best part of the presentation, to me, was a great discussion on how to cook pasta properly. Gluten-free or not, cooking pasta well makes all the difference to a recipe. His top tips:

* For dry pastas, cook according to the directions on the pasta box. For me, an al dente consistency is preferred (an al dente consistency has some bite and a pleasing resistance to the chew – not gummy or sticky) so you can usually cut one to two minutes off the cooking time on the package.

* When cooking pasta, use a large pot.Using a large pot will give the pasta room to boil and not stick together.

* Over-seasoning the water with salt – bringing it almost to the taste of the sea – will substantially enhance the flavour profile of the dish. As a rule of thumb, use 10 grams of salt for one litre of water and 100 grams of pasta.

* Never add oil to the water when cooking pasta. It does not keep it from sticking together. In fact, the oil creates a coating that prevents the sauce from adhering to the pasta. This is undesirable because you want the pasta to soak up the sauce.

I don’t buy gluten-free pasta frequently and had heard that gluten-free pasta has a different taste and texture. But with this experience now, I can tell you that if you follow the rules above (as you should for any pasta!), you won’t notice a difference. So it’s time for you to give some gluten-free pasta a try. I’m excited to share this opportunity with my readers – the only thing better than pasta is free pasta!

What’s more – Catelli is also offering a coupon to everyone: get a $1 off coupon from Websaver. Coupons are available while quantities last. Thanks Catelli! 

— CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN NOTIFIED —
Win a one-year supply of Catelli Gluten Free Macaroni (open to Canadian residents only). Keep reading…

By |May 16th, 2014|Mangia|18 Comments

Myths and realities about the Italian diet

I shocked a friend last week by telling her that creamy Fettuccine Alfredo wasn’t really Italian. I had to point out that I don’t eat it every week (or at all actually!). It’s an Americanized version of an old Roman dish and it exemplifies just how much Italian food has changed through time and cultures. While

By |April 24th, 2014|Mangia|3 Comments

Traditional Italian Easter Recipe Roundup

As with many holidays, the demand for traditional recipes is high this time of the year. My post last week about Easter Ciambelle got a great response and my Easter Bread recipe from last year is also still very popular. This year, it was featured on news websites and newspapers all over Canada and

By |April 18th, 2014|Mangia|3 Comments

The secrets of Italian recipe interpretation

My grandfather’s process for making bread, or my favourite breadsticks, taralli, had one crucial step: get up early. When the sky was still dark blue, if not black, the dough would be formed and he could get in breakfast, a check in on the garden and maybe a nap while waiting for it to rise.

When my family and I insisted that we learn how to make taralli from him – and that meant really measuring out the ingredients and writing down the steps that were all in his head – he said “no.” I’d never be able to get up early enough he told me. We would start too late and the whole day would be lost. I made him promise to at least do the recipe on a Saturday, which he agreed to (and kept that promise, he was liable to just pick any day he felt like), and I did my best to surprise him by arriving on time. Even on time, we knocked on the door, our eyelids still heavy, and he was already done his second coffee for the day. Evidently, we were already behind.

As much as I may have surprised him by my dedication to get up early, when he took us down to the basement kitchen to start the process, we got our own surprise. We insisted on measuring the ingredients, not once but twice to be sure. If he said a “handful of fennel seeds” we made him fill his hand full then pour it into a measuring cup. When we asked how much flour, he said proudly that he does measure the flour. He pulled out his measuring cup. He used an empty margarine container to scoop out the flour! My mother and I looked at each other, each with the immediate thought: how many cups in a margarine container? And so the measuring, and re-measuring continued.

I get so many emails from readers saying how thrilled they are to see old recipes here on the blog and those still searching for recipes or trying to translate them from the Italian they remember. Nonno or Nonna might still be able to tell you a recipe or you may have inherited the scribbled, stained notebook from a kitchen. Either way you’ll most likely hear one of these:

un pizzico / a pinch

circa… / around…

nu pugnu / a handful

quanto ne prende / whatever it takes

By |April 4th, 2014|Mangia|9 Comments