Thursday, September 27, 2012

Truffles - The Diamond Of The Kitchen

Precious truffles, coming in two varieties white, tartufi bianchi and the black, tartufi nero, are those ever so delicious tubers that improves any humble meal. The white truffle, the higher priced tuber, boast a bigger pungent flavor and scent. While black truffles are relatively subtle and earthy.                                   
As we come into the season from October to March, the highly prized tubers are hunted down by dogs in Italy and pigs in France. Growing predominately in Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzo and in Piedmont, truffle experts say, the best and biggest are said to rest in the countryside near Alba, not  far from Turin. They grow near the roots of trees in forests, and are only detected by the trained nose of the truffle dog and guidance of his master, the trifulau or truffle hunter.
Truffles 6Truffles are almost always eaten raw, sliced very finely with a slicer or mandolin over risotto, cheese, or most egg dishes like a frittata. If you can get a black truffle, try lightly sautéing with a few slices in unsalted butter on very low heat for 2-3 minutes, then add tagliolini or tagarin into the pan and toss with Parmesan cheese.

Tips for handling
  • Fresh truffles need to be cleaned with a soft brush, never was with water!
  • Its best to consume them with a few day of being unearthed. They can be stored in the fridge in a small jar with eggs. The eggs take on the flavor of the truffles and later made into a light truffle souffle that keeps the wonderful earth flavor.
  • Truffles can be stored immersed in oil and frozen up to 3 months in a sealed, air-tight bag
Join our own truffle hunger, Alberto as he takes you through the forests near Bologna for an unforgettable truffle hunting adventure and cooking vacation!! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cooking into Autumn Flavors

Autumn is almost here and we have marked our calendars for the beautiful olive oil making season. And although the sleepy winters dim the lights and the sea waves roll on the shores in solitude, we are preparing for the next cycle - planting, turning the land and picking the fruits that will get us through winter. Join our kitchen and break some bread with us as we welcome the new season.

Try this creamy pumpkin-leek soup to get you in the autumn spirit!

Zucca Saltata ~ Slow Cooked Savory Pumpkin

2 lb Pumpkin, pealed and chopped into cubes
Garlic, chopped finely
Olive oil
Fresh red chili pepper
Fresh parsley, rinsed, dried and chopped

In a large non-stick pan, add olive oil, chopped garlic (be generous), and heat until the garlic is blond.  It will become almost creamy, but do not to brown it too much.  Remove from the heat a moment and add chili pepper and parsley, so the pan doesn’t flame up.  Put back onto the heat and add the zucca.  Stir or flip the zucca in the pan for about 5 minutes, then cover loosely and allow to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. 

Cook for about 20-30 minutes, testing to see when it is cooked by pressing your spoon on a cube of zucca.  It is done when the zucca gives when you press it.  When your zucca  is tender, spoon into a serving bowl and sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley.  Serve hot. 

You can serve this edible pumpkin as a side dish or you can boil pasta and use it as a sauce.  Toss your cooked pasta into a pan with the sauce and cook together for a moment.  Serve your pasta with zucca with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Venetians Celebrate the Historic Regatta!

As August comes to an end and beachgoers drift back to the cities, the citizens of Venice will have one more occasion to celebrate. Every year on the first Sunday of September, the canals of Venice come alive for the Regata Storica or Historic Regatta. An evening procession of bright, 16th century-style gondolas descend down the Grand Canal lead by gondoliers in baroque-style garb. It is a trip back in time commemorating the welcome given to Caterina Cornaro, wife of the King of Cyprus, in 1489 after she renounced her throne in favor of her native Venice.

Following the procession are four gondola races. The most anticipated is the Campioni su Gonolini race, where teams representing various neighborhoods fly down the Grand Canal in small gondolas. The first to pass the finish line marked by the Machina or floating stage, wins. Like the Palio of Siena locals cheer from the banks and balconies, the energy is contagious exciting locals and tourists alike.

The fun isn’t just in the water but throughout the city; street-entertainers, musicians, and food vendors fill the squares. Try this typical seafood dish of Venice, a wonderful way to enjoy the long weekend.

Seafood Ravioli with Eggplant and Zucchini Sauce
Courtesy of Chef Maria's Venice
Serves 6
Fresh pasta:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 whole eggs
2 tbsp water

2 tbsp unsalted butter
10 oz. mixed seafood, cleaned and diced (flounder, mussels, fresh cod, prawns, etc.)
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 1/4 cup dry white wine
Handful parsley, chopped
3/4 cup soft ricotta cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 eggplant, finely diced
2 zucchini, finely diced
1 sprig thyme
1/2 cup fresh cream
salt and pepper, to taste

To prepare the pasta, place the flour on a clean work surface into a mound. Form a small hole in the middle, add the eggs and water mixing with a fork while incorporating the flour little by little. If it is too dry, add some additional water. When the dough is dry enough, knead it with your hands until you have a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Wrap it in a transparent film.  Set aside to rest, about 30 min. 

To prepare the filling, in a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat and add the seafood and the shallot, cook until translucent. Add the wine and cook letting the alcohol evaporate. Sprinkle parsley over the mixture and turn the heat off and let cool. Combine the sauce with the ricotta cheese and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Stretch the pasta with a wooden or an electric roller into long rectangles, about 2 mm. thick. Using a pastry cutter, cut the pasta in squares, place dots of filling on one side of the pasta close to the edge, then take the opposite end and fold it over, gently pressing down on the seams sealing each square. Let rest.

To prepare the sauce, warm the butter in a medium-size skillet, add the eggplant, the zucchini and the thyme. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour half of the vegetables in a bowl with the cream and mix until incorporated.  Set aside.

Fill a large pot of water with a drizzle of olive oil and bring to a boil then salt the water.

Add the pasta and cook it until tender but firm, drain in a colander.  Place the cream sauce at the bottom of each plate, add a serving of ravioli and top with the remaining sauteed vegetables.