Preserving Sicilian Zucchini

The end of summer harvest is a great time to take a look at what you can preserve for winter so you can have fresh vegetables, without preservatives, year-round. This is one of the most common questions I get via email from readers: how to preserve certain vegetables and what they can be used for.  Most recently Sicilian zucchini have been gaining in popularity, particularly in urban backyards where many people from a variety of cultures, not just Italians, take on the challenge of growing the longest and largest zucchini. Check out this story from just this week from The Toronto Star – it features a 6-foot long zucchini!

These Sicilian zucchini, or cucuzza squash, need to dangle from fences or clothes lines to grow to their lengths, but the longer you grow them, the bigger the seeds get inside (and less flesh there is to eat!). They have a very light flavour, as opposed to the typical smaller, dark green zucchini you might buy at the store. The beauty of the Sicilian zucchini, other than they are always a conversation starter with neighbours and guests, is that even their leaves and shoots are edible. Check out this Tenerumi Pasta (Zucchini Shoot Pasta) recipe I posted last year. Today though, I’m featuring how to prep these monster zucchini for recipes and the freezer. Note, though, that you can use these techniques with other types of zucchini as well.

The biggest issue with dealing with these zucchini is finding a cutting board big enough! Below is our 3.5-foot zucchini getting prepped for preserving.

Of course, the easiest thing to do is to chop up this giant into thirds to make it manageable. Try to keep the thinnest part, where there is the least amount of seeds, as one section. There’s two things to be aware of when dealing with these particular zucchini, as opposed to the regular zucchini you find in the store: they have a slightly “furry” skin that needs to be removed and though they are a pure white inside, once you cut them they sweat out a brown liquid. Be sure to use or process the zucchini as soon as you cut it.

By |September 12th, 2014|Conservare (preserving), Recipes|2 Comments

Recipe: Sausage and Polenta

I had to drag out a sweater last weekend, much to my dismay. It’s starting to get chilly in evenings and, I admit, it feels as though we’ve been cheated out of a usual scorching summer. As a result, I’m still waiting for my garden tomatoes to ripen to a full red. The chilly air also had me craving a good hearty meal. When Aurora Importing sent me over a new product: Allessia Polenta with truffles, I saw an opportunity!

Polenta, most commonly made as a boiled cornmeal, is versatile but can take a little while to cook from scratch. As much as I like slow cooking (and there will be more about that next week!), sometimes you just want a substantial dinner on the table, fast. The Allessia Polenta with truffles looked like the perfect option: all natural ingredients, no preservatives or artificial flavours/colours and made with non-GMO corn. We have a winner! The best thing: just add water, stir for 10 minutes, add a drizzle of olive oil and some cheese (if desired). Quick and easy and the exotic taste of truffles was a fancy addition to dinner.

You’ll notice this is a white polenta rather than the usual yellow type made with yellow maize. Ground from white maize from the foot of the Maiella mountain in Guardiagrele found in the Abruzzo region of Italy, this type is popular in northern Italy. The finer grain also makes a creamy, soft polenta, whereas a courser grind would make a firmer polenta great for shaping and frying. Either way, polenta is a filling and healthy addition to a meal. 

 Sausage and Polenta
4 fresh pork sausages
1 whole white onion
1 jar or bottle of plum tomatoes
1/2 cup Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese (or your favourite cheese)
salt to taste
olive oil
Allessia Polenta with truffles

By |August 29th, 2014|Recipes, Secondo|0 Comments

Recipe: Pitticelle di Riso

The blog has been a little slow this summer because there are some big changes for me on the way which will be revealed here probably sooner rather than later. But just because the blog postings have been slow doesn’t mean all the ingredients for a great Italian summer have been missing too. In fact, I’ve been collecting up some recipes and stories to share with you and I’m glad to be back to blogging!

Today I’m featuring one of my favourite summer foods: pitticelle di riso. Pitticelle are like “fritters” (you’ll remember I’ve featured a few on the blog already like pitticelle cucuzze and pitticelle di pane). The ingredients for this fritter aren’t so “summery” really, but I’m used to having these crispy, fried treats at family outings, fishing trips, picnics and as snacks out in the backyard since they are good hot or cold. My mother’s parents would always make these for our annual family picnics where they were treasured by everyone: a huge batch was gobbled up in no time once the Tupperware container was opened. Slow frying, making sure the rice grains stay individual and fresh ingredients are the secrets to this recipe.

I’m sorry to say, but not surprised, that I don’t have a recipe for small batch of these pitticelle. This recipe will make at least three dozen depending on the size you make. They are meant to be shared and, if you have leftovers, they are great crisped up in a toaster oven the next day too. Halving the recipe should work just fine, it’s the consistency of the batter for frying (not too loose!) that you need to watch out for.

Pitticelle di Riso
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon granulated garlic or finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup shredded mozzarella
salt, to taste
canola or vegetable oil for frying

By |August 11th, 2014|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|1 Comment

Misura Giveaway plus recipes for Mushroom Pasta and dessert

Today we’re taking one of Spring’s finest ingredients – mushrooms – and pairing it with pasta (and wine!) to come up with a quick and healthy meal. Plus, a bonus dessert that replicates an old Italian bakery favourite.

Inspiration for these recipes today came in the form of a mystery box from Misura Canada on my doorstep and an offer of a contest for my readers. As you know, I love having the ability to share an opportunity for free, great food with you all. So who could refuse? Plus, Misura products showcase healthy alternatives to typical Italian pantry staples. Here’s just a few of the products Misura shared with me:

My husband broke into the Cornetti – chocolate-filled croissants that are milk and egg free – before I even had a chance to snap a pic as you can see. I grabbed a pack of pasta and the no sugar-added biscuits and got started on dinner. First up, Pasta in a Mushroom Sauce. I followed this up with jam-filled Italian biscuits! If you want to get your hands on some of these Misura products, well it’s your lucky day. Misura Canada is giving away a package of assorted goodies (see below!) valued at $100 to one lucky winner and the contest is open to residents of the Greater Toronto Area. To enter, leave a comment here on my blog and make sure that you like the Misura Canada Facebook page.

I’ll be running the giveaway until midnight on Friday, June 27th. To enter, leave a comment on my blog and remember, you have to like Misura Canada’s Facebook page to be eligible to win. So get to it and get to tasting the great two recipes below featuring Misura products.

Pasta in Mushroom Sauce (for Two)
225 grams Misura Whole Wheat Pasta
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 cup white wine or stock
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (plus more for sprinkling)

By |June 13th, 2014|Primo, Recipes|6 Comments

Recipe: Easter Ciambelle (or Chiambrelle)

With Easter around the corner, sweets to celebrate this holiday are in order. These chiambrelle are traditional for Easter and are a perfect recipe for springtime as they feature eggs heavily in the ingredients. If you are familiar with Italian, you’ll notice the odd spelling of “chiambrelle”: the word ciambelle is used to describe any manner of ring cake and the unique spelling you see here is a reflection of the Calabrese dialect and communities that this recipe comes from.

My mom remembers these as a child at her uncle’s wedding in Italy, as people traditionally got married in the spring. My mom prepared them for my own wedding as well and they are a must-have at Easter. In Italy they were baked in outdoor stone ovens.

This isn’t a super-sweet dessert, but rather a good accompaniment to an after-dinner coffee. This recipe has a icing sugar coating, but originally, when sugar wasn’t readily available, they would have been coated with stiff-beaten egg whites mixed with a bit of regular sugar.

Easter Ciambelle (or Chiambrelle)
12 eggs
2 ounces milk
2 ounces vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking power
5-6 cups all purpose flour

Icing
6 ounces milk
2 tsp butter
4 cups of icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon zest

By |April 11th, 2014|Dolce, Recipes|6 Comments

Recipe: Pasta Piselli in Bianco

Today I’m hoping for spring. The newscaster on the radio yesterday said that by this point in this crazy winter, we’ve shovelled more than 100cm of snow. And this weekend the big melt is on. There’s a puddle the size of an Olympic swimming pool at the end of my driveway, we nearly lost the dog in it.

While I don’t trust that winter is over, the water tells me spring is on the way and that means sunshine, more time outdoors and fresh spring vegetables. The best of those is peas, and while I prefer them raw, sweet and small right out of the pod, they are a great addition to meals as well, like in pasta piselli in bianco (pasta with peas in a “white” sauce).

When I was a kid, I could make myself sick on raw peas. Early on a Saturday morning, my mom and grandparents would disappear for a few hours and come back with bushels of peas in their bright green pods. We would sit in the shade of the front porch, metal bowls in our laps, shellling the pods one by one and listening to the peas hit the bowl with a satisfying “ping, ping, ping.” At first I would be excited to help: I was usually eating more raw peas than were making it into the bowl. But an hour into it, the conversation waned, my stomach was full and my fingernails were lined with green. I would squirm in my seat, hoping to be excused. No such luck – this was a family affair, through and through. When we were finally done, we would freeze the peas and have them for the whole year – there was nothing better.

These days, I go to a nearby farm where they do the shelling for you and flash freeze the sweet peas. A few weeks ago, I shared a pasta piselli recipe that was traditional to my family, using tomato sauce. Now, here’s another common recipe also employed by parents and grandparents as a quick dish that kids generally love: pasta piselli in bianco. “In bianco” means “in white”, or in a white sauce, without tomatoes. While you can use frozen peas, fresh peas are always the best. The recipe is quick, easy and fresh: to be served in the bright sunshine of spring.

Pasta Piselli in Bianco
200g mini shell dry pasta (100g per person)
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 medium onion, chopped
50g pancetta (or bacon. Use however much you have around.)
olive oil
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

By |February 20th, 2014|Primo, Recipes|5 Comments