Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tagliatelle al Limone e Parmigiano con Gamberetti

Why is it that the best pasta sauces have the simplest ingredients? This is one of them. It's absolutely delicious and couldn't be easier. Lovely, light, luscious, and creamy, it's an addictive lemony treat. A quintessential summer dish from the Amalfi coast in the Campania region of southern Italy where they grow exquisite lemons, creamy Tagliatelle al Limone with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is like sunshine on a plate. Perfect on it's own, or with grilled or quickly sautéed seafood, this is one of my absolute favourite pastas.

Egg Tagliatelle in Parmigiano & Lemon Buttercream Sauce with Shrimp
Serves 4-6

1 lb Tagliatelle egg pasta
8 tbsp butter, divided
1/4 cup fresh lemon zest plus juice of one lemon
1 cup fresh cream
1/2 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
1 lb wild Florida shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for sprinkling
Fresh ground white pepper
1 bunch chives, finely chopped for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil. In a large sauté pan, bring the butter, cream and sour cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the lemon juice, white pepper and lemon zest, and reduce by about half. Then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of butter to a frying pan over medium-high and sauté until almost cooked through, about 3-4 minutes, then turn off the heat and let rest in their natural juices. Add the pasta to the water and cook al dente. Drain the pasta, add to the lemon butter, and toss to coat over medium heat. Add the cheese and toss a few more seconds. Pour into heated bowls, garnish with some lemon curls and a grinding of black pepper and top with the sautéd shrimp and garnish with fresh chives.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Massimo Bruno Special Supper Club with 'Mamma'

A popular Italian chef, teacher and media personality who was raised in the southern Italian region of Puglia before emigrating to Toronto in 2001, Massimo Bruno learned the art of Italian cooking from some its finest practitioners, like his mother, Francesca Bruno, his aunt Rosa and any of the other mothers in his hometown Bitritto who would let him into their kitchens. Each month, Massimo holds a series of 'family style' supper clubs with a particular theme, such as the special supper club we attended recently featuring Bruno's own mamma, with an extensive Pugliese menu of six antipasti, including Massimo's wildly addictive Focaccia Barese, Insalata di Polpo, Riso, Patate e Cozze, a typical Pugliese dish with mussels, rice and potato, platters of Salumi e Pecorino, creamy Cuore di Burrata and Mamma Francesca's delicious Parmigiana di Melanzane. And that's just to start.

All the while, mamma is busy making homemade pasta for the following two courses: Spaghetti con Pomodori al Forno - Massimo's favourite pasta growing up - and Cavatelli colle Rape, one of Puglia’s most famous dish. Cotolette di Vitello con fungi e peperoni, veal cutlet with mushroom, peppers and white wine follow with Asparagi alla griglia e zucchini, lovely platters of grilled asparagus and sliced zucchini. After ten courses, the homemade dolci are served: Pizza di Ricotta, Francesca's flourless Ricotta Lemon Cake and Sporcamuss, warm puff pastry with Chantilly cream dusted with icing sugar - the name means 'dirty chin' because it's impossible to eat it without getting sugar all over! The evening was great fun enjoying Mamma's traditional Pugliese cuisine and chatting with fellow diners, many of whom come to most of Massimo's regionally-inspired dinners which generally sell out as soon as they're posted online.

Massimo's Mamma, Francesca Bruno, rolling out pasta for the evening's Cavatelli con Rape

Mamma rolling out the pasta for cavatelli

Massimo's Focaccia Barese with all the flavours of Puglia

The supper club evenings are BYOB, so we brought a 
Papale Linea Oro Primitivo di Mandria 2013 from Puglia

Cuore di burrata, creamy homemade burrata - more like stracciatella - with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil pesto 

Insalata di polio - old-style octopus salad with lemon and olive oil

Riso, patate e cozen, a typical Pugliese dish with mussels, rice and potato

Our end of the table at the dinner with friendly fellow foodies

Salami e Pecorino

Fig Jam to accompany the pecorino 

Francesca Bruno’s outstanding parmigiana di melanzane

Massimo wandered around the table to chat with everyone during the dinner, sharing stories about his mamma and the cuisine of Puglia

Spaghetti con pomodori al forno, Bruno's favourite pasta growing up, simple and rustic

Peperoncini Piccanti

Grated Pecorino

All the dishes are served family-style — one big dish is shared between groups of about four

Francesca Bruno’s Cavatelli with Rapini and Anchovies, her version of Puglia’s most famous dish

Domenic Pede assists in the kitchen

Verdure of grilled Asparagus and Zucchini with Balsamic drizzle

Guests sit together at a long harvest table for 30-40 people and everyone brings a bottle of their favourite vino 

Cotolette di vitello con funghi, pepperoni  - veal cutlet with mushroom, peppers and white wine

Sporcamuss, warm puff pastry with Chantilly cream dusted with icing sugar - the name means 'dirty chin' because it's impossible to eat it without getting sugar all over!

Torta di Ricotta (Ricotta Lemon Cake)
Serves 12
Recipe courtesy of Massimo Bruno

2 1/4 lb fresh ricotta cheese
12 large eggs
10 oz of sugar
2 small packs of vanillina, an Italian vanilla powder yeast*
Grated zest of 1 lemon
A pinch of cinnamon
4 tbsp Limoncello

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a deep, round 12-inch aluminum pan with parchment paper. Add the eggs, vanillina, lemon zest, cinnamon and sugar to a standing mixer and mix well to combine. Add the fresh ricotta and 1 tablespoon or so of limoncello. Keep mixing until you have a creamy consistency. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and lightly sprinkle the top with more sugar. Bake until the top is lightly golden, about 60-75 mins, depending on the oven. Remove from heat and gently sprinkle the limoncello over top of the cake. Let sit and cool completely before serving.

* Massimo uses Pane degli angeli or Bertolini brand, although it can be substituted with 2 tsp baking powder and a  touch of vanilla extract.

Involtini di Melanzane (Eggplant Rolls)

Involtini di melanzane was one of my favourite dishes growing up in southern Italy, we had it at every family occasion. So when I get back from my culinary tour to my home region of Puglia I always include it on the menu of next my supper club – makes be feel like I'm still back home. You can make this dish up to two hours in advance of serving, or fry the eggplant the day before if that’s more convenient. The dish is also very versatile: you can have it hot or at room temperature, and can also make it as rolls or lay it flat in the pan like a classic parmigiana.

Eggplant rolls:
1 large eggplant
1/2 cup of fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese  
15 basil leaves
3 large eggs
Olive oil for frying
Fine sea salt - QB
Flour for dusting

Tomato sauce:
1 bottle of Italian passata
2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 handful of  basil leaves 1/4 cup olive oil 
Fine seasalt to taste

Peel and slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4” slices, then place in a strainer, set in a large bowl to catch the liquid as it is released, and make them “sweat” by sprinkling generously with sea salt. Allow them to sit for 30 minutes at the very minimum. 

In a medium-sized sauce pot add 1/4 cup of olive oil and lightly pan fry the whole garlic and onion together, cooking until lightly brown. Add the cherry tomatoes and add little salt to help release their juice and flavour, and let it cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the tomato passata. Rinse the empty bottle with 1 cup of water and add to the sauce. The sauce should be a little watery so feel free to add more water if it looks dense – it will thicken during the baking process. 
Add the basil, mixing it into the sauce so it’s completely submerged in liquid. Add a good pinch of fine sea salt and give it a quick stir. Allow the sauce to come to a boil with the lid slightly ajar. Once boiling has begun, stir gently and reduce heat to low simmer. It should bubble lightly for an half hour or so. 

Meanwhile, prepare a plate or dish lined with paper towel ready to receive the hot fried eggplant. Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl. Place flour in a shallow dish and coat each piece of eggplant lightly with flour. Place 2 inches of frying oil in a frying pan and turn on to a high heat so that you will be ready to fry once coating eggplant has been completed. If the oil begins to smoke it is too high; if it sizzles when you sprinkle a little flour into it, it’s just the right temperature. Next, dip the coated eggplant slices into the beaten egg and you are ready to fry. Once oil is ready, begin to fry by gently placing several pieces of your coated eggplant into the frying pan. Do not overlap your pieces – give each its space. Fry until golden brown, turning only once. Normally you will need a couple of minutes for each side. If in doubt, taste to see if it’s cooked to your liking.  

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lay the cooled fried eggplant slices on a flat work surface. Dice the mozzarella and place evenly across the middle of each slice
Sprinkle the grated Romano cheese evenly across the middle of each slice
Tear the remaining pieces of basil into little bits and place across the middle of each slice. Prepare a shallow baking dish with 2 scoops of tomato sauce enough to cover the bottom. Roll the slices into “involtini” (rolls) and place in your baking dish next to each other. Cover the rolls with the remaining tomato sauce, don’t drown them, but generously cover and if quantity allows, save some sauce aside if needed. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly roasted on top. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Spaghetti alla Carbonara: "Coal Miner's Pasta"

Luscious and wonderfully indulgent, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish based on eggs, pecorino romano, guanciale and black pepper. The key is to toss and thoroughly mix the cooked pasta off the heat with the cheese, eggs, pepper and pasta water, to create a creamy yet not overly thick sauce. A true carbonara has no cream, but although purists may shudder, I do sometimes add a little cream depending how I'm feeling. Like most recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure but there are many legends. As 'carbonara' literally means 'coal miner's wife', some believe that the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian coal miners. Romans use guanciale — cured pig's jowl — which is more delicate than pancetta — unsmoked Italian bacon — and also leaner. If you can find it, by all means use guanciale, otherwise pancetta or bacon work just as well. For the sheer wow-factor, I do like to drop an egg yolk into each nest of pasta, which guests stir to form an even creamier sauce. Garnished at the end with a flurry of coarsely grated Parmigiano, "Coal Miner's Spaghetti" must be one of the great pastas dishes of all time.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 4

1 lb spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb guanciale or pancetta 
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup fresh coarsely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta and cut the pancetta into 1/2 x 1/4 inch lardons. Combine the olive oil and pancetta in a large sauté pan set over medium heat, and cook until the pancetta has rendered its fat and is crisp and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside, being careful not to drain the fat. 

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta. Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the pancetta, then toss in the pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and add 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg whites, thyme, pepper to taste, and the cream, if you're using it. Toss until thoroughly mixed and serve with a little extra grated cheese on the side. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nigella's Gluten-Free Venetian Carrot Cake

Not all carrot cakes are created equal, especially where Nigella is concerned. This recipe, "originating from Venetian Jews, which sounds refreshingly medieval, made as it is from ground almonds, rather than flour, is enriched with eggs and olive oil and studded with rum-soaked sultanas." As she admits, "it's not much to look at'"– a golden disc about half the height of one layer of an ordinary cake – but it's incredibly moist and deliciously nutty, with a lovely citrus kick too. It's also gluten and lactose-free, for those who are sensitive to such things, but quite delicious in its own right. For a taller moister version, simply use a smaller 6-inch springform pan, cook it a little longer and the results are absolutely scrumptious.

Gluten-Free Venetian Carrot Cake 

Serves 8-10
Recipe courtesy of Nigella Lawson

Carrot cake:

3 tbsp pine nuts
2 medium carrots, about 8 oz
3 oz golden sultanas
2 1/4 fl oz rum
5 oz white granulated sugar
4 1/2 fl oz olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
9 oz ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
1/2 lemon, finely grated zest and juice

Cream Cheese Frosting: 

8 oz cream cheese
3 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the base of a 9-inch round springform cake pan* with baking parchment and grease the sides with olive oil. Toast the pine nuts by browning in a dry frying pan, then set aside. Grate the carrots in a food processor or with a coarse grater, then wrap in a clean kitchen towel and wrap them, to soak up excess liquid, then set aside.

Put the golden sultanas in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 3 minutes. Whisk the sugar and oil until creamily and airily mixed, then add the vanilla extract and eggs and, when well whisked, fold in the ground almonds, nutmeg, grated carrots, golden sultanas with any rum that clings to them, and finally, the lemon zest and juice.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. The batter will be very shallow in the tin. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the cake and put it into the oven for 30–40 minutes, or until the top is risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out sticky but more or less clean. Remove from the oven and let the cake sit in its tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then un-spring and leave it on the rack to cool.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese in a standing mixer, until smooth, then add the sugar and vanilla, and mix until light and fluffy. To assemble the cake, place the carrot cake on a serving platter and spread with cream cheese frosting, and serve.

* NOTE: I used a 6-inch round springform pan for a taller cake and adjusted the baking time to 70 minutes, then turned off the oven and let the cake rest inside for another 10-15 minutes, so that the centre was cooked through.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage & Broccoli

A traditional dish from Italy's Puglia region, orecchiette, which means 'little ears,' Orecchiette con la Cima di Rapa e Salsiccia is often made with robust rapini and fresh Italian sausage, however this Italian-inspired recipe by Emeril Lagasse features small florets of fresh broccoli which are quickly blanched in the boiling pasta water used for cooking the orecchiette, and removed while it is still crisp-tender. A wonderfully flavoured garlic, lemon and anchovy olive oil sauce is whisked together while the pasta is cooking and added to the sautéed sausage and pasta, along with a cup of pasta water, for a light and easy pasta that is soul satisfyingly delicious. 

Orecchiette with Broccoli and Sweet Italian Sausage

Serves 4

1 lb orrechiette pasta

1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
4 anchovy fillets, minced
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/4 cup white wine
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Parmesan or Pecorino, freshly grated, for serving
1 bunch chopped chives, for garnish

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. In last 2 minutes of cooking, add broccoli and cook until bright green and crisp-tender. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and broccoli.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, anchovies, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add the sausage to the pot and cook over medium-high, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes, adding some white wine to prevent the sausage from sticking if necessary. Remove from the heat, return the pasta and broccoli to the pot with the cooked sausage, and add the oil mixture. Toss well to combine, adding enough pasta water to create a thin sauce that coats the pasta nicely. Serve sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino and a flurry of chopped chives.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

White Balsamic-Braised Chicken with Leeks & Peas

Inspired by a recent recipe from Food & Wine, this delicious Braised Chicken recipe positively shouts springtime with a luscious combination of buttery leeks, baby green peas, fresh tarragon and crème fraîche with a splash of white balsamic vinegar that creates a wonderful tangy cream sauce for this easy and elegant entrée. Although the recipe suggests using whole chicken legs, both plump chicken breasts cut in a half or large succulent thighs would work equally well. Served with a heaping mound of creamy mashed potatoes and crisp french green beans, this dish makes a welcome addition to our culinary repertoire.

Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

6 whole chicken legs with thigh attached, bone in and skin on

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 large leeks, halved lengthwise and finely sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
10 oz package frozen baby peas, thawed
3 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves, plus additional for garnish
2 tbsp chopped parsley
3/4 cup crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 425°F and position a rack in the upper third. Turn the chicken legs skin side down on a work surface and and cut halfway through the joint so that they lay flat, then season generously with salt and pepper.

In a large nonstick frying pan, heat half of the butter and oil. Add the chicken, skin side up, and cook over high heat until browned, 5-6 minutes. Turn and cook the chicken for another minute or two, then set aside.

Wipe out the frying pan, add the remaining butter and oil and cook the leeks over high heat until they begin to soften, about 4-5 minutes. Add the broth and vinegar and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper and pour the mixture into an ovenproof casserole.

Set the chicken on the leeks, skin side up and roast for about 25 minutes, until the breasts are cooked through. Turn on the broiler and broil for about 2 minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp. Transfer the chicken to a platter.

Place the casserole over a burner and boil over high heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the peas, herbs and crème fraîche, and simmer until the sauce is hot and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the sauce over the chicken, garnish with additional tarragon and serve with creamy mashed potatoes and French green beans finished with silvered almonds.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Roast Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic & Anchovy Rub

There are few meals as impressive as a roasted bone-in leg of lamb. Studded with garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and anchovies, this simple and delicious roast makes a succulent centrepiece for any social occasion. Puréed into a coarse paste, the marinade is stuffed into small incisions around the boneless leg of lamb, then rubbed with olive oil and generously seasoned with salt and pepper. Roasted on high at 450°F for 15 minutes, then slow roasted at 325°F for about an hour, and the results are pink perfection. Lamb, like beef, doesn’t need to be cooked all the way, and is best at a rosy medium-rare — 135°F to 140°F when finished. Whether served as part of a traditional Easter dinner or quiet Sunday lunch with family, this recipe is easy to prepare, absolutely delicious, and goes especially well with my Mother-in-Law's special homemade mint sauce!

Roast Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, Lemon & Anchovy Marinade
Serves 6-8

5 lb leg of lamb, bone-in
4 cloves garlic
6 anchovies
3 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
1 lemon, zest only
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste

Using a small food processor, blend together the garlic, anchovies, rosemary leaves, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of olive or anchovy oil until a coarse paste. Then using a sharp knife, make small incisions in the thickest portions of the lamb and fill the pockets with the garlic-herb paste, pressing the mixture in deep with your fingers. Rub any remaining paste over the top of the lamb and season with salt and pepper. Rub 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over the whole leg, then arrange on a roasting pan and preheat the oven to 450°F. 

Roast the lamb at 450°F for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325°F and continue cooking for 90 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the middle of lamb reads 135° for medium rare. Once the lamb is ready, remove from the oven and tent with foil for 15-20 minutes, allowing the juices to retract and make the roast lovely and moist. To serve, slice the leg of lamb onto a decorative platter and serve with Roast Potatoes and Sautéed Rapini, for a sensational Easter feast.

Susan's Magnificent Mint Sauce
Serves 6-8

4 tbsp fresh mint leaves, rinsed and chopped
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp hot water
3 tbsp white wine vinegar

Mix the chopped mint, sugar, hot water and white wine vinegar in a small bowl, until the sugar has dissolved. Cover and set aside.

Guy's Perfect Crispy Roast Potatoes
Serves 6-8

4-1/2 lb Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes 
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp lard or duck fat
Maldon salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 375°. Peel the potatoes and cut them into egg-size chunks, then parboil them in boiling water for about 6-8 minutes, but stop before they're cooked right through. Drain them in a colander and leave to cool slightly before shaking them in the colander back and forth a few times to rough them up a bit, which will makes the edges crispy. Season with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the lard in a roasting pan and heat it in the oven until the fat is sizzling hot. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully add the potatoes in one layer, turning them carefully so they're coated all over. Roast for 45 minutes, turning gently at least once. If they look like they need a bit more browning, leave them in and turn up the heat slightly until they're golden brown and crispy. Before serving, drain well and season to taste with salt and a little pepper, and serve while they're hot.