Hello there readers!
You may have been wondering – where did the updates for this blog go? Despite my efforts to keep it going over the last couple of months, a new arrival has taken up so much of my time. My son, born in October, is the new addition to the Italian-Canadian Life family!
That doesn’t mean that this blog is over. Just the opposite – I have even more reasons to write down all our family recipes and try a few new ones as well. As he learns to sleep a little longer, there’s been more time to get back to cooking and I have a few blog posts ready to go for you (the next posts will be all about Christmas recipes and panettone)! There’s some holiday cookies in the oven right now and today we have a contest just in time for Christmas.
Catching up with traditions for the Christmas season and teaching my baby boy all about them is something I’m looking forward to. I want you to be involved with Italian traditions as well and author Gianna Hartwright has offered readers of An Italian-Canadian Life some goodies to do just that.
Here’s your chance to win a pair of books from Gianna Hartwright for the kids in your life, teaching them about La Befana, a unique part of Italian traditions. This old witch, called La Befana, appears on the night of January 5 (or Epiphany Eve) and delivers gifts to children throughout Italy. Gianna has taken the traditional old witch and made a modern tale of magic and drama that would appeal to older children, 9+. The first book, The Befana Drama is a global adventure by broomstick that sees VIPB’s (Very Important Present Bringers) pitting their wits against each other. Befana Drama 2: Capriccia’s Conundrum continues the adventure.
To win these two books, leave a comment below (just click “read more” or “leave a reply” and enter a comment) telling us about your favourite Christmas tradition by December 22nd at midnight. A winner will be selected by random draw on December 23rd and will be notified by email. Good luck everyone! I’ll be back next week with a new recipe.
It’s a little sad out in my garden. The tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and beans have spent their last energy. We’ve cleaned up the leaves and started prepping the yard for winter. As much as I mourn the loss of these fresh vegetables, fall brings later harvests of squash and the dark, green, leafy branches of rapini. Rapini thrive in colder weather, popping up in very late fall or early spring. These greens are, of course, good for you and have an interesting bitter flavour that is favoured in Italy. But don’t be afraid of the bitterness – it can be mellowed with a little blanching. Even my English/German brother-in-law has come to appreciate the flavour, when at least mixed into dishes.
Rapini are also known as rapi or broccoli di rapa in Italy, but if you are watching food shows on TV, you’ll hear them being called broccoli rabe, which may just be bad pronunciation of the actual name. The buds, which look a little like broccoli (though they’re not related), leaves and stems are all edible and feature often in Southern Italian cooking.
Served too crunchy and raw and you might find the bitterness overwhelming. Overcook them and they are mushy and stringy. But get this simple side dish recipe of sautéed rapini with garlic down pat and you can repurpose it for a variety of dishes. Chopped up smaller and fried up with potatoes, or tossed in to pasta or served over polenta, rapini are used in multiple ways.
Sautéed Rapini with Garlic
1 bunch rapini
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
pinch of dried hot pepper flakes, if desired
salt to taste
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.
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
Allessia Polenta with truffles
My last trip to Italy was exactly 10 years ago now, a trip I took with my family including my grandfather who has since passed away. We’ve always travelled to Italy in August or September: August is when most Italians have their holidays and by September most of the tourists have returned home as well, leaving the beaches wide open. Hot days and cool nights, and the work of the fall harvest are all part of this time of year and I tried to capture this in memories and photos during our last trip. The photo above, of blazing red hot peppers set out to dry, was the very first photo I took on our trip. My grandfather, reminiscing with folks along our travels, can be seen in the photos as well.
If, like me, you sometimes find yourself dreaming of a trip to Italy – the small town quaintness, the abundance in the local markets, the tiny quiet streets and the history of the ageing buildings filling your mind – then you’ll enjoy these scenes from a small southern Italian town taken as part of my early photography work. They remind me that it’s time to stop my daydreaming about a trip and start my planning.
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