It’s the week of Christmas and of all the things to look forward to – family, gifts, cookies and Christmas trees – I’ve got my eye on a different prize: seafood. Crazy, right? This is one of the few times of the year my family whips up a massive batch of Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood). Christmas Eve is all about fish and while I’ve heard of it called the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Italian-Americans recently that’s not how I’ve known it. I do know that as part of religious observance, Fridays, particularly holy Fridays, and Christmas Eve, called La Vigilia di Natale (The Vigil of Christmas, literally, or the Eve before Christmas), we avoid meat products.
I can’t say that we’ve ever had exactly seven dishes on Christmas Eve, but one we always have is Fritto Misto di Mare (and baccala (salted cod fish) but that’s a recipe for another day). Fritto Misto is by far a crowd favourite, there isn’t anyone who passes on this dish no matter how full you are from the antipasto or pasta. Pipping hot, crispy and tangy from a squeeze of lemon, it wouldn’t be Christmas without fried seafood. Below is how my family gets it to the table. I’ve done shrimp and squid here, but we would typically also have scallops. They can be prepared and cooked the same way as the shrimp. But to be honest, I strongly dislike scallops – it’s a texture thing – but don’t avoid having them at your table! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where all this seafood can be bought fresh that should be your preferred purchase and you can just ignore my instructions on defrosting, a necessary evil for those of us who are landlocked (save for a large, great lake). Merry Christmas everyone! May your Christmas eve be full of Fritti Misti and fun!
Fritto Misto di Mare
500g shrimp (size 31-40 or the larger, the better!)
400g cleaned, frozen squid
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon salt plus additional for seasoning after frying
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup cornmeal
canola oil for frying
lemon slices for dressing
So many readers write to me about “secret” family recipes, the things only Nonna made, or Mom developed from a previous recipe. Our most revered foods are often from the minds and hands of those we love, and this is even more heightened during the holidays.
This blog has been going for just over four years now and there’s still a favourite, secret recipe I haven’t shared with you…until today. My absolute-favourite-it’s-not-Christmas-without-them “cookie”: cartellate. These honey jewels originate from Puglia, the region that holds my dad’s home town of Monteleone, but it’s my mother who has perfected the recipe to the point that I cannot control myself around them. In my family we called them “crispelle,” but they are more commonly known as cartellate (or pinwheels). We coat them in honey, or sometimes a dusting of icing sugar, but other families soak them in vin cotto (cooked wine) or a combination of vin cotto and honey. Others still create ones that are rolled with a filling of nuts and dried fruits.
What just boogles my mind about cartellate, and a few other Italian cookies, is just how complicated the process of making them can be to explain. As usual with traditional Italian recipes, the ingredients are simple – flour, eggs, oil – but getting to the final, delicious product will take a few steps. So be forewarned – there’s a lot of pictures in the post so you can see the full process! And here’s an interesting tip from this recipe, the one small oz of liqueur in the ingredients can add flavour to the dough, but it’s real function is to keep the oil from foaming when cooking these treats.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 a cup for kneading
4 large eggs
1 oz Italian liqueur – Anisette, Amaretto or, if preferred, Rum. If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute in vanilla.
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1 tablespoon of sugar
Canola oil for frying
1 1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon water
I usually need to remind myself not to go grocery shopping hungry – I buy everything! – but for this blog post, I’m introducing a new rule: don’t go to the movies hungry. Particularly if you go see Burnt, the new movie out with Bradley Cooper staring as a fallen top chef trying to recapture his career. The food in this movie will definitely make your stomach growl. I was invited to see it by Castello cheese who sent me the lovely prize pack below AND has one available for one of my readers!
Among other things in the prize pack, there is Castello Brie cheese, creamy and gooey especially when warmed up and a great base for a number of flavours. Today I’ve topped my brie with classic Italian flavours – pesto, tomatoes, olive oil and pine nuts. More about that below, but first, how to win your own Castello cheese prize pack.
I love it when I can give away something to a blog reader. I so appreciate your feedback and support (and passion!) for the recipes and postings I feature here. And if Castello wants to share some cheese to celebrate their featuring in the Burnt movie, well, let’s get you entered to win! Here’s what’s in the prize pack:
Movie tickets for two including one popcorn and two drinks;
Castello Brie cheese;
a bottle of olive oil;
Burnt movie inspired recipe cards; and
$2o in Castello cheese vouchers!
How to enter:
Leave a comment on this blog post (below) telling me your favourite Italian dish that includes cheese. Be sure to use your real first name and email when leaving a comment. You have until Thursday, November 19th at 12:00am. For a second entry, like or comment on An Italian Canadian Life on Facebook within the same time period.
This giveaway is open from Thursday, November 12th, 2015 until Thursday, November 19th, 2015 at 12:00AM EST and is only open to Canadian addresses. The winner will be chosen randomly via random.org, contacted via email, and have 48 hours to respond. You will need to provide a street address (not a P.O. Box) and a phone number to claim the prize.
Now what to do with that prize pack when you get it? Enjoy the cheese. While my home cooking may not be as gourmet as featured in Burnt (seriously, who can design plates like that! And I need more than one bite of cheese!), we Italians sure know how to add flavour. These small Castello Brie packages are perfect for an appetizer for two. Pop it in a ramekin for baking and top it with your favourite Italian ingredients and you are ready to go. It’s that easy. Here’s what you’ll need:
1-2 teaspoons basil pesto
2 sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Good crusty bread, sliced and toasted
The last year has been all about change. With the arrival of our little one, everything in life changed. And then jobs changed and even how we spend our free time. I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately and find myself making small changes everywhere these days, even in cooking. And when it comes to food I’m the type of person who wanders grocery aisles to find new products and ideas. When I go on vacation, a must stop is always the grocery store. From trying something completely new to taking a twist on an old favourite, that’s the best part of cooking.
Take risotto for example: I’m used to the way we’ve always made it, like this Asparagus Risotto. Then there’s this knock-out super-traditional and ultra-technical Milanese Risotto. But small changes to either of these recipes can bring you something completely new. So when a pile of mushrooms went on sale at the store, I tried a few new ones that I wouldn’t normally use in Italian cooking, like shiitake, and went to the rice aisle for another small change: carnaroli rice.
You’ve seen me use Arborio rice for risotto, but there’s actually a few other types of Italian starchy rices like carnaroli and Vialone nano. Carnaroli rice is preferred for risotto is some regions in Italy. It is shorter and wider than Arborio, but can be used much the same. Trying it out for this recipe, I found that the grains held their shape more in the end dish, but it wasn’t necessarily creamier than the usual Arborio.
It’s a small change but often that’s how you find your perfect recipe. Like when Nonno started using Yukon Gold potatoes to make colluri, he claimed they made the doughnuts fluffier. A little tweak never hurts (though I wouldn’t change the colluri recipe, ever!). What small change have you made to a recipe only to find it made it even better? Let me know in the comments!
6 cups chicken stock (or 3 mushroom bouillon cubes dissolved in 6 cups of water)
2 cups cannaroli rice
4 cups mixed chopped mushrooms
1 minced onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
While the trees on my street are turning colours of orange and yellow, there’s just one maple tree down the road that is a vibrant, almost neon, red. I love it. The colours are a wonder during fall and even my son, cozy in his stroller, is staring at the trees to take it all in. With the last few vegetables of the season, those colours are in the kitchen too – deep purple, vibrant reds and pinks and bright yellows. Today, I’m using all those colours to make one of my staple dishes this time of year – pasta al forno with eggplant and beans.
Of course, when World Kitchen sent me this crazy-coloured 4-Pc Bakeware set from CW by CorningWare, I thought, what a great opportunity to add even more colour into the kitchen and give my readers a chance to win one of their own! I am so happy with the colour of these dishes, practically all the bakeware I have is white (go ahead and look back at my other recipes!) and I don’t see why everything needs to be white. Certainly our vegetables and trees aren’t that boring. If you want to make your kitchen colourful – scroll to the bottom of this recipe for all the details on how to win a 2.5 Quart Vermillion Baker from CW by CorningWare (Retail value $21.99).
You might be thinking: “but autumn vegetables are butternut squash and pumpkin.” That’s certainly what you’ll see on many food blogs this time of year, but for Italians autumn is also the bounty of the season, bushels of all our favourite vegetables abound. We’re still enjoying and preserving eggplants, tomatoes and romano beans, in fact these vegetables in the photos came out of my garden just this week. This dish is kind of a take on the Sicilian traditional dish of “pasta alla norma” which involves fried strips of eggplant and ricotta. In this version the eggplant and beans add a creamy texture to the pasta, making it rich and filling. Baking pasta also means a crispy and cheesy top layer – that’s the bits we fight over at this house, everyone wants the crispy pasta.
If you haven’t tried pasta “al forno” (baked), now’s the time. And scroll to the bottom to find out how to be entered for your own colourful CorningWare!
Autumn Vegetable Pasta al Forno
7 medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded OR 1 796 ml can of peeled tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Sicilian eggplant, peeled and cut into cubes
250g romano beans, shelled
100g mozzarella, shredded
30g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
If you love Italian food and love to eat local, fresh food all year, I can’t imagine a busier season than fall. All the plants produce their last burst of vegetables and fruit and you can pick them up by the bushel-full at some farmer’s markets. That’s exactly what you’ll find Italians doing at least. Once tomato passata is packed away, it’s time to see what else we can store and freeze to have for the winter. Lately, in addition to recipes, I’m trying to record our ways of preserving and uses of those preserves like green tomatoes and eggplants.
There is some preserving we don’t do anymore, like peas. I remember going to pick bushels of peas with my parents and grandparents and spending long hours on the front porch shucking them from their pods. (Though I ate more than I contributed to the bowl of peas destined for the freezer.) Now with local farms offering flash frozen bags for just a few dollars, it’s hard to justify all the work. I’d rather just spend the time eating peas fresh. But romano beans, also known as cranberry beans, aren’t so common that you would find them already done. But they are a staple of many Italian dishes, from pasta to mashes, soups and stews. I love the deep pink hues on the pods and beans when they are fresh. Cooked up, they are creamy and hearty. Here’s how to preserve a stash for the winter…
First you’ll need to pick out your romano beans. You want pods that are a vibrant pink, but not purple (those are almost ready to be used as seeds). The pods should be full – that is you can feel each bean fully – and with very few black splotches on the outside. Take your beans home and immediately spread them out for at least two days on blankets or towels , this softens the shells so they are easier to split open after they dry a bit.