At the moment my life is all about small things. The little boy is seven months and he’s ready to motor. That means pint-sized shorts and mini socks. Tiny sandals and mini baseball hats for the summer. Teeny toes and fingers reaching for everything. I’m starting to cut up small bits of food and I’ve found it’s changing the way I’m looking at dinner and grocery shopping.
That’s how I ended up with “mini mini bocconcini” in my fridge. Tre Stelle asked if I wanted to take a fresh look at their cheese selection, so off to the market I went with coupons in hand. And in looking over all the options in the cheese aisle, I realized that I seem to only buy the regular size bocconcini (rounds of fresh mozzarella) when I’m having an event – tossing them into salads or on skewers for appetizers. In honour of my son, why not try the “mini mini” bocconcini and see what we can do with them? Paired up with “mini” (or cherry) tomatoes, there’s no way this cheese can lose.
Plus, chunks of cheese in pasta means my husband had his two favourite things together. For me, I wanted something fresh and spring-like for dinner. Fresh cheese, with raw tomatoes and a dose of garlic scape pesto says spring to me. For you readers, I realized I hadn’t posted a pasta recipe in a little while, so it was time to catch up.
Turns out, mini items are fun to eat. This pasta, which serves two, was devoured in minutes. And while he’s not ready for this food yet, my son was eyeing my bowl, those little fingers reaching as far as they could to get a taste!
“Mini” Spring Pasta
250g of your favourite semolina pasta
1/2 recipe of garlic scape pesto
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 container Tre Stelle mini mini bocconcini (200g)
The tops of fresh spring garlic are popping out of the garden. I’m always so glad to see it’s survived the winter! I don’t have enough room to plant tons of garlic, but the 18-20 bulbs I do get in the ground always come in handy. The best thing about growing your own garlic – collecting the garlic scapes. But you can also buy them in bunches at local farmer’s markets.
I’ve written about garlic scapes before: scapes are the curling tops of the garlic plants. They should be picked before the developing flower opens. To eat them raw, you should pick them when they begin to emerge from between the main garlic leaves, even before they start to curl, when they are still tender. If you catch them a little later, they can always be blanched to soften them up a bit. Two years ago I posted two recipes for garlic scape pesto.
The pesto is still a favourite of mine, but with garlic scape season just around the corner, I thought I’d share another way to cook them up: lightly battered and fried. I’ve served these for dinner, over steaks or chicken, or even as an appetizer. Trimming and blanching them first removes any fibrous parts that aren’t so pleasant to chomp into. The batter makes them crisp as you bite into the light, fresh garlic taste.
After a small dinner party last week, one guest pushed back her chair and threw up her arms. She told us that we must have some tricks to being able to whip up dinners so easily. I’m glad it looked easy – it was hard to balance with a six-month-old!- but we just love cooking and having people over.
So I usually say, no, I don’t have any tricks. But the truth is there are one or two things we rely on to get good food on the table. The first is the freezer – we do large batch preps in advance and when vegetables and meats are in season – so it’s all ready to go. The second is my FoodSaver. If you’ve been paying close attention to some posts you’ll see the FoodSaver bags in the background or note my suggestions to vacuum seal vegetables. That’s how all my freezer foods stay fresh.
Well the folks at FoodSaver noticed and sent me a new FoodSaver 4400 to try out. With it, I’ll show you a third trick – you can freeze pasta dough so you can have it fresh any day you want.
So for dinner guests that say, “I can’t believe you made fresh pasta!” Well, we did…we just did half the prep in advance! This comes in very handy when we get a few flats of eggs from my husbands’ families’ duck farm. One can only eat so much quiche and I’d hate for them to go to waste. So we make large batches of pasta dough and freeze them for later use. This was an experiment we did last year and it’s turned out pretty handy. If you ever make too much dough, want to prep for a dinner party or find eggs on sale, this is a perfect way to make your pasta in advance.
First – an easy pasta recipe:
Nonna makes pasta by eye, she knows just the right amount of flour by looking at it and when the dough is ready by the feel. I have yet to acquire that talent, so instead I use a rule of thumb: about 100g of flour to one large egg. If you want to get technical about it you can weigh your eggs since size can vary and weigh your flour as sometimes it can have more moisture in it and use a 3:2 ratio of flour to eggs. I’m not mathematically inclined, so I’ll stick to my rule of thumb.
200g all purpose flour
200g semolina flour
This makes about one pound of pasta, or about four servings. Stick it all in a mixer and set it to medium. When the dough comes together, stop the mixer and dump it out on a floured surface and knead it five or six times. Form the pasta into a smooth ball.
There’s nothing like the memories of food and emotion to mark your travels. The flavours we sample when out of our daily routine sometimes stay with us for years. And even when you think you know all about Italian food, there’s always something that will still surprise you. For this post, student Daniel Elia brings us his adventure of Finding Panelle in Italy.
During the Fall of 2012, I was given the opportunity to spend a year in Italy on exchange, attending university while teaching English at a private school. Growing up in an Italian household, food was always at the centre of any encounter or celebration. I had always associated good food with sitting down at my Nonna’s house with homemade soppressata, wine and parmeggiano. As a twenty year old in the middle of his university education in Canada, I had obviously devoured my fair share of street food after a night out drinking. I had never envisioned Sicilian street food tasting surprisingly as delicious as my family gatherings back in Canada.
A childhood friend also on exchange in Denmark and I traveled to Palermo, hoping to attend a soccer game and encounter a greasy Mafioso in his natural habitat. Upon arriving to our hostel, we were greeted by an unbelievably friendly Australian working at the front desk and were swept away with the rest of the occupants of the hostel to the area known as La Vucciria – the meat market. After seeing buildings still in ruins from WWII and interacting with friendly locals who had quite an odd interest in reggae music, we were told we had to indulge in a traditional late-night snack. We were led to a carello with a greasy man, hair greased back, and his chest hair hanging out of his shirt; the quintessential Sicilian stereotype. Without hesitation we paid for our unknown snack and were given the sandwich; Panelle.
It’s holiday season again! It’s also my sons’ first Easter. It would be slightly more exciting if he were crawling or walking and hunting for eggs but I’ll still take the opportunity to get some classic sweets on the table to celebrate. And boy, am I going classic!
Lemon twist cookies. If you know an Italian, you probably know these cookies. Tangy, dense and not-too-sweet but still a treat. Every Nonna has a recipe like this one and, in fact, this was my Nonnas’. One way to tell this for sure: it is made with oil, not butter. Also, the ingredients include lemon zest and juice. Many modern recipes ask for lemon extract, but I’m betting they didn’t have any of that in her mountain town in Italy. Dipped in a lemony glaze and decorated (usually with sprinkles – but more about that later), you can find these on many cookie tables at special events.
Since it’s Easter, you’ll find them next to Easter Ciambelle and Easter Bread and one of those large Italian chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in brightly-coloured foil. All this probably following a meal of lamb and spinach and ricotta pie. It’s a big celebration with all the family, and all the food you would expect. To tell the truth, the kids might bring Easter baskets to fill up on chocolate eggs, but these days my basket just gets filled up with Easter leftovers and I don’t mind a bit. Double up this recipe and you’ll have plenty to share too. Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!
Italian Lemon Twist Cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tsp baking powder
Zest and juice of one lemon + 1/3 cup lemon juice for glaze
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups icing sugar
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!).