I know, “tutto bene” only means “all right,” and really a more appropriate adjective for this blog is more like “delizioso” and “meraviglioso” and words like this. But I love how the words “tutto bene” roll off the tongue. And when Italians say these words, it sounds very cute too, with their staccato punctuated speech. Cutting to the chase, our dinners last week made with Esmeralda, Sandra and Giuseppe in Italy were simply fabulous. (Rent one of their houses on the coast and you are in for a major treat! Want more info? Just send me a note/comment and I will pass on contact information.) On two separate evenings we made a 4-course meal together with them, both meals concentrated on fish, fish, and more amazing local fish. So, from the top, here is the long list of what we made and how we made it. Don’t even ask how we managed to eat it all.
Starter: Eggplant and Buffalo Mozzarella tower with tomato sauce and basil
Primi: Fish Ravioloi
Secondi: Swordfish and shrimp skewers
Salad: Cabbage with pink peppercorns
Dessert: Fresh peaches and grapes, Ricotta cake with chocolate and local pistachios
Get started sipping some wine. Here’s what we drank – really refreshing:
Wine for fish dinner 1
Eggplant. 3 recipes in 1. Here we go:
Prep the tomato sauce:
7 egg-sized tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, basil – a handful, teaspoon of sugar, salt to taste. Peel the tomatoes and cook them together with a whole clove of garlic and some torn up basil leaves and a sprinkle of salt and a teaspoon of sugar for about 30 minutes, until tomatoes have disintegrated into a sauce. Remove garlic and check for salt. Put to the side.
Prep the pesto:
Basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese. Go heavy on the basil and olive oil, very light on the cheese – you want a very liquid consistency focusing on the flavor of the basil, not a typical chunky pesto. Blend it up and taste.
Prep the eggplant:
Soak the eggplant in salted water for about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse, pat the eggplant dry (important!). Heat sunflower oil (an inch or two) in a pan and allow to heat. Fry each of the slices of eggplant until golden brown. Remove carefully, allowing the oil to drip off into the pan as you remove the slices.
Put it all together:Lay a slice of eggplant on a plate, place a slice of buffalo mozzarella next, then a layer of tomato sauce. Repeat, and put a last slice of eggplant on top. Top the last slice of eggplant with a spoonful of pesto, lay a basil leaf on top, decorate the plate with some dollops of the pesto.
Eggplant and Mozzarella Tower
Fish Ravioli. Not as hard as it looks.
Prep the filling:
Chop cherry tomatoes in half (couple handfuls), chop a handful of wild fennel fronds, a handful of almonds, handful of raisins (don’t chop), chunks of your favorite fish (we used dorade, I believe, i could imagine a sea bass or a nice tender flavorful salt-water fish with a sturdy structure), clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a pan and saute the garlic, the tomatoes, fennel fronds and fish for a few minutes. Add the almonds and raisins and cook a little longer. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool for a few minutes. Remove the garlic clove and separate the tomatoes from the rest, reserving them. Take a fork and crush the fish mixture gently. Sprinkle in parmesan cheese to taste and mix. Put the filling aside.
Prep the pasta:
Making pasta – mixing the basics together
Yes, you are making pasta all by yourself. You want to mix 300 grams of two different types of flour, both farine. One should be “00″ and the other…a courser grind, I believe. So, 600 grams total, with a little salt. Put it on your board and make a hollow in the center. Crack in six eggs and begin mixing in the eggs gradually from the center, pulling the flour in.
Making pasta – kneading
After you have a proper dough, knead. For awhile. Perhaps 5-7 minutes until it’s nice and smooth and a bit sticky. Wrap it up with some flour and put it in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.
15 minutes later… roll it out. VERY thin. In this photo, Sandra is just starting.
Rolling out the dough
Cut long rectangular sheets from the dough after it is thin enough.
Ok, time to assemble.
Place round tablespoons of the filling evenly spaced apart on one of the sheets. Cover with the second, carefully pressing out the air around the filling. Using a ravioli cutter, cut out ravioli circles. Place each to the side with a little flour. I am guessing that one could make a good 50 raviolis with the recipe for the pasta dough.
To cook: cook briefly in boiling salted water – perhaps 2-3 minutes. Check one to see if it is done if you need to. Plate them up and sprinkle a few of the reserved cherry tomatoes over the top. A little olive oil over the top as well makes it very very tasty.
Our simple but delicious salad: Cabbage with pink peppercorns.
Julienne your cabbage into very thin slices. Thinner than what you see in this picture. Toss with white sugar – a few teaspoons. Let is sit for a bit. Remove any excess sugar in the bowl and season with salt. Add a teaspoon of chopped pink peppercorns, olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Toss. Serve. Amazing. The pink peppercorns had a bit of a perfumy flavor and were a surprise when you were eating the salad. Sweet and spicy and nice.
Cabbage salad with pink peppercorns
Getting full yet? Here is our secondi: Fish skewers
Prepping the skewers
Prep the peppers:Heat some olive oil in a pan and put in two spoons of honey and 5 basil leaves. Allow to warm. Add in red pepper squares – perhaps cut to about an inch or so each – and cook briefly – you want your peppers to be sweet from the honey and basil but still a bit crisp.
Prep the fish and shrimp:
Mix together breadcrumbs (ideally crumbs from melba toasts which you have blended in the blender, the finer the blend, the less crispy the skewers will be) with parmesan cheese. Pour a little olive oil onto a plate. For each skewer you want three shrimp and three chunks of fish. Take each shrimp and each fish chunk and dip them into the olive oil first and then into the bread and parmesan mixture. Roll to cover completely and place aside.
Assemble the skewers:
Simply alternate between the ingredients: shrimp or fish, pepper squares, and pineapple chunks. Have a look at the photo to see how large we made them.
Broiling: set your oven to the highest heat (250 C?) and bake for about 15 minutes or so, broiling for a minute or two towards the end.
Serve with a drizzle of the same sauce you cooked the peppers in – olive oil, honey, basil plus a dash or two of red pepper.
Wrapping up. I’m sorry, I haven’t gotten the recipe for the dessert yet (I need to ask Esmeralda for it), but I’ll post it when I get it. It was lovely though – like a very rich cheesecake, the ricotta studded with dark chocolate and blanketed across a crispy cookie-like crust. I sprinkled handfuls of pistachios over the top. Together with a delicious home-made limoncello, we manged to all eat a slice despite the fact that we were sooooo full.
Fruit in Italy for dessert is a given and sweet grapes and peaches from local farms helped close the meal.
Fresh local fruit
Meal number 2 to come in the next post. Even more inspiring than this one, and that is saying something.