Friday, August 29, 2008

Around the World - Italy!

Wow, it was hard to choose a menu for this one! Every region has it's own style of cuisine, and every one of them is very different from one another. One focuses around fish dishes, another invented the pizza, one uses a lot of rice... I finally was able to piece together some dishes that seemed like they would go well together.

Many Americans believe, mistakenly, that all Italian food is based on tomatoes and garlic. Most of the Italian immigrants were from the south of Italy, and Sicily and Sardinia. They brought with them their own style of cooking, which is based on olive oil, garlic, spices, tomatoes, and spaghetti. The northern preference for butter, rice, and the use of little or no garlic is not nearly aw well known in this country.

A traditional Italian dinner includes a number of courses, each a moderate portion, instead of one large main dish. The first course is usually soup, rice or pasta followed by a fish, chicken, or meat second course, often accompanied by vegetables. Salad comes after the second course. Antipasti and dessert appear at more lavish, special occasion meals, but for everyday dinners the antipasti is often skipped and dessert is usually fresh or very simply cooked fruit.

I chose to make the more lavish meal.
Fish and cheese are rarely served together. In fact, fish is seldom combined with any dairy product!

They drink Grappa, one of their only strong liquors, occasionally. Wine is served with every meal but breakfast. I was hard pressed to find a dessert that didn't call for either wine or or dessert liquor, or coffee! (We don't use either in our household - except for cooking wine which is too salty for dessert) Don't worry, I found a really good one.

Tomato Bruschetta - served with our antipasti platter

1 loaf country style (Italian or French bread) cut into thick slices
several cloves of garlic cut in half
3 medium ripe red tomatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper

Grill or toast the bread, both sides. While it is cooking, peel and seed the tomatoes.* Chop them coarsely and season with a little salt and pepper. Rub one side with a piece of the garlic. Drizzle each slice with the olive oil and top with a large spoonful of the chopped tomatoes. Serve immediately. If it sits the bread will become soggy.

* To peel and seed tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to a full boil. Drop the tomatoes in. Let them cook briefly, until the skin splits open. Immediately plunge the tomatoes into an ice bath (ice cold water with ice in it) to stop the cooking. The skin peels right off! Then cut the tomatoes in half and scoop the seeds out. Proceed with the recipe. Make sure the water is at full boil or the tomatoes will cook to far and become grainy before the skin splits.

YUMMY! I love garlic, in any form. Rubbed raw on the bread, the garlic had a definite bite to it. For more bruschetta topper variations, visit here.

An antipasti platter is very easy to put together. I found this page with ideas, and picked a few.

Provolone cheese, sliced into thin strips
Green olives
Sliced hard-cooked eggs
Salami, thinly sliced

Arrange on a platter, on romaine lettuce leaves. Pay attention to color as you arrange. You can roll meats or fold into cones or wedges. Have some fun! And serve with toothpicks to make grabbing their favorites a little easier.

The salami went fast, and the olives too! I loved how this looked and am dying to find a church event that I could bring this to. It was really fun to put together, and you can assemble it several hours in advance and refrigerate, making meal prep less stressful!

Linguine with Cauliflower, Garlic, and Bread Crumbs (I couldn't find the Italian name for it, sorry)

8 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup fresh bread crumbs*
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (which I forgot)
1/2 half tsp dried red pepper flakes (I used 1/4 tsp, for the kids' sake)
1 tsp anchovy paste (does not leave a fishy paste. Find at the better grocery stores.)
1/2 pound linguine
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

*In a food processor, grind up 2 slices of fresh bread. I just used regular sandwich bread.

In a large frying pan, heat 4 tbsp of the oil over moderate heat. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until golden. Takes about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

Heat the remaining 4 tbsp oil in the same pan over moderately low heat. add the garlic, parsley, and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the anchovy paste and remove from the heat.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the linguine until almost done, about 8 minutes. Add the cauliflower and bring back to a boil. Cook another 4 minutes, or until pasta and cauliflower are just done. Drain and toss with the garlic mixture, salt, bread crumbs, and Parmesan.

I had made this before, and my family loved it. Feel free to add all the pepper flakes that it calls for, but I found that it had just enough kick with half the flakes. This makes a great breakfast the next morning! There weren't many leftovers, our guests ate plenty of it! And who doesn't like Parmesan?

Stracotti di Manzo (Beef Roast)

1 oz dried Porcini Mushrooms
2 cups Beef Stock
salt and pepper
4 pounds Beef Eye of Round Roast (This was actually cheaper than the other roast!)
2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp chopped Pancetta
1 finely chopped Onion
1 finely chopped Carrot
1 finely chopped Celery Stalk
2 tsp chopped Garlic
2 Bay Leaves
1 tbsp chopped Rosemary
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian Parsley
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
5 cups Red Wine (I used cooking wine, which was cheaper, and on one in their right mind would drink it!)
1 large can Whole Peeled Tomatoes

Soak the porcini mushrooms in 1 cup of hot stock until softened, about 30 minutes. Strain mushrooms through a coffee filter, which I happened to have to strain juice for jelly. Set aside separately.

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large pot until hot but not smoking. Brown the beef on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer the beef to a plate. Pour off the browning fat. Add pancetta, onions, carrots, and celery, stirring until they are golden. add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir in herbs and tomato paste. Add the wine and simmer until it is reduced by have, about 20 minutes.

Add the beef, tomatoes, porcini mushrooms, mushroom liquid, and enough beef stock to come 1/3 up the side of the beef. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook at a gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until meat is tender. Turn every 30 minutes or so. Transfer the meat to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Skim off any fat from the surface of the liquid. strain the liquid, pressing on the side with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids and return the strained sauce to the pot. Bring to a boil and let cook uncovered for a few minutes to further reduce and thicken the liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice and serve the roast with the sauce.

I had to fight off our guests to save some for hubby, who was gone helping someone move. they loved it! It was a lot of work and made my kitchen quite warm, but that sauce....! So worth it! It was tender but not falling apart, and sliced easily. I used a 5 pound roast since we wanted to be sure of leftovers and we were feeding about 10 people! We got away with a couple slices for the fridge... barely. :-) I love to see people eat, and our guests loved eating it!

Insalata di Cipolle (Onion Salad)

2 onions
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
2 tbsp parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp anchovy paste (I swear, it is not fishy at all!)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Clean and peel the onions, and boil them in abundant salted water, together with the bay leaves and rosemary.

Remove them from the water while they're still firm (the middle should still be crunchy) and slice them. Combine the remaining ingredients to make a sauce. Put down layers of onions and sauce until they are all used up. Let sit for a bit before serving.

We used this as our side dish for the beef. It was all right, but would have been better with the sweeter (red or vidalia) onions that were suggested. I forgot we needed a side dish, and had to find one that I already had everything for, so I just used plain yellow onions. Hubby thought it was the weirdest salad. "How are onions with nothing but dressing a salad?" I will make this one more time, putting the herbs in the water (which I forgot to do) and using the right onions. I am sure that will make a world of difference!

Our piece de resistance! Budino di Fragole! (Strawberry Pudding)

1 1/8 pounds strawberries, washed, dried, and hulled

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar, divided*
2 packets Knox gelatin
a sprig of mint or to, for garnish (optional)

*I measured out the 1 cup and scooped out what I needed for the steps from that. It made it simpler.

Rinse the strawberries and pat dry, hull them. Set aside 3 or 4 of the prettiest ones as garnish if desired. Blend into a puree with 2 tbsp of the sugar.

Set aside 1/4 cup of the sugar. Mix the remainder with 1/4 cup of water. Heat it to a boil and simmer stirring gently, until the mixture thickens and becomes syrupy, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup very cold water. Let sit for 1 minute, then add the sugar syrup. Stir until the gelatin is dissolved completely. Whisk this mixture into the strawberries and let cool.

In the meantime, whip the cream and sugar together. You want the cream to be airy and light, but not stiff. Fold the whipped cream very gently into the strawberries.

Pour into a ribbed mold (I used a bundt pan). Or you can use a bowl if you wish. It was a little difficult to un-mold, so maybe butter the pan, or place saran wrap on the bottom and peel off the pudding when it is on the tray.

Chill several hours, or better, overnight. To un-mold, dip the pan briefly in hot water. Cover the mold with your serving dish and flip it over. The pudding should slide out, if it doesn't then dip the mold again.

I absolutely LOVED this. I would use this again as is, but I also thought it would be delicious with a chocolate cookie crust and whipped cream on top! There is a little left, they were very full from all the meat! Dibs on that for lunch!

All in all, a very enjoyable meal. I was smart enough to make several things ahead of time. I even wrote out a schedule so that I would know when to start everything, and do the various steps according to the cooking time of each dish. Crazy, I know, but it actually saved my sanity since I had so many dishes going at the same time with different serving times! (Why do I do this to myself, willingly, every week?) Sorry these posts are so long, lots of recipes to cover!

2 Tasty Tidbits:

Stephanie said...

Ohh, those all look so good! You need to invite us over for dinner every week so we can eat all the awesome foods you're making (I wish we lived closer).

Melinda said...

I agree with Stephanie. Aaron's family immigrated from the south, so we get lots of pasta, some rice, plenty of fish when we eat their 'traditional' Italian. But this looks like so much fun and yummy, too!