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Tutto Bene 2

When you have super fresh fish — and I mean FRESH — caught an hour or two back by a local fisherman, sold directly to the fishmonger and put into your hands, freshly cleaned by said fishmonger seconds after you have pointed at it and said “one of those” (or several in our case), the best thing to cook with it is…not at all. And thus, we have the appetizer of Menu Number 2 at the vacation house.

Menu Number 2:
Appetizer: Tuna Tartar with fresh mint
Primi: Linguini Aglio e Olio with breadcrumbs and bottarga
Secondi: Peche Aqua di Mare – fish in water of the sea
Salad: lemons with anchovies
Dessert: Cactus fruit with citrus blossom honey, Granite, 2 kinds – purple mulberry and almond, local plums and grapes

We enjoyed this menu even more than the first – because quite a few of the dishes were really new for us.

Let’s get started. Have a drink of this:

Sparkeling rose to drink

Sparkling rose to drink

This turned out to be a huge surprise, because what happened was…my mother described the wine she had had at lunch to Giuseppe, telling him at length how much she had enjoyed it. He and Esmeralda asked a few questions, trying to identify it, showing her a few photos on an ipad, debating back and forth what it could have been. And then…Giuseppe mysteriously disappeared. And reappeared about 30 minutes later with the wine in hand! Crazy man! (Amazing host 🙂 ). He had gone down to the local village and found the wine to bring it back to my mother and to all of us to drink with our dinner. Talk about hospitality….wow.
Anyway, time to get cooking.

Appetizer: Tuna Tartar.

Prepping the tuna

Prepping the tuna

Truly, there is not much to this. Chop up some fresh mint, chop your tuna into about centimeter-sized cubes. Mix both with some lemon juice and olive oil and salt. Put it in the fridge to rest a bit (perhaps 20 minutes) and then take it out. Drain off the liquid. Add lemon juice and olive oil again and mix. Taste for seasoning – add some fresh mint and a bit of salt if you need it. Plate it up with a slice or two of fresh fennel and some pillows of arugula. Serve with some fresh bread. Or even toasts with a little garlic and salt.

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartar

Ummmm. Fresh and good. Taste the sea.

Primi: Linguini Aglio e Olio. (With breadcrumbs and bottarga – tuna roe/eggs)

This is one of the most basic pasta dishes you can make. It only has around 4 ingredients in it. Pasta – boiled in salted water until al dente, as usual. In a pan, some breadcrumbs lightly browned with an anchovy for a few minutes (anchovy removed after) and set aside. Again, in a pan, warm some oil, a clove or two of garlic, and some chili – either fresh or dried – you want to flavor the oil, not toss the pasta with chilies. When your pasta is almost done, drain it and throw it into the pan after removing the chilli/garlic.

Tossing pasta with oil

Tossing pasta with oil

Let the oil gently coat the strands of pasta. Pour in a little of the salted water if necessary to finish the cooking process. When the pasta is glossy, toss it with breadcrumbs and plate it up. Either grate or sprinkle a little bottarga over the top (very salty and fishy – but in a good way),

Bottarga

Bottarga

and serve extra breadcrumbs on the side. Such a simple thing, and so satisfying.

Aglio e Olio with breadcrumbs and bottarga

Aglio e Olio with breadcrumbs and bottarga

And next we must discuss salad. I can’t wait to make this one again. Simple and mouth puckering good. When we discussed this salad, I explained I only knew a similar thing with oranges and fennel and olives. Esmeralda explained that what I was describing was a winter salad, not a summer one. And so here we have it, summer salad in Sicily: lemon salad with anchovies.

Lemon Salad

Lemon Salad

Slice the skin off all your lemons and then slice them thin. I will make them even thinner than in the picture next time. Chop up some green onions, chillies and anchovies. Sprinkle them over the top. Cover with some streams of olive oil. A little salt. Done. Sour! and Salty! but sooo soo good.

The secondi this time was a dramatic thing. Here we have a Pauro fish – local. Very flavorful, and this guy was big – enough to feed at least 6 people with all the dishes we had.

Paoro fish

Paoro fish

It was put in a big oven dish with a sheet of parchment covered with some olive oil. In went salt water – ideally you use sea water, but if not, just tap water with salt – and a big glass of white wine. A few tomatoes cut in half, a clove of garlic and a leaf of basil. Some sprinkles of chili. Turn your oven all the way up to 200 Celsius and let this fish bake for an entire hour. It will come out moist and perfect. Filet it carefully and pile the fish chunks onto plates along with a drizzle of olive oil and a little of the liquid the fish poached in. Also note: you can use that liquid in your pasta the next day as a base!

Secondi: Pesche Aqua di Mare

Secondi: Pesche Aqua di Mare

Pure flavors of the sea on a plate.

And finally, dessert. Three of them. (Oye!)

Peeled cactus fruit

Peeled cactus fruit

First one – go outside and pick cactus fruit from your cacti. You don’t have cacti? Pity. Because after you pick them, you carefully remove the skin and simply place a fruit on a plate with a spoonful of honey that has been made with citrus blossoms from your orchard. You don’t have a citrus orchard?! Waaaa? Ok. Buy some honey. Buy some cactus fruit. Or alternatively you might use….a kiwi? That might work. Dip the fruit in the honey. Lovely. Light. Refreshing.

Refreshing is the key word for the second dessert. The amazing local ices they call “Granite.” A million flavors. But the flavor you absolutely want is Almond. No question. All this stuff is, is sugar and ground up almonds/milk from almonds frozen into a slushy kind of format. You eat it with a spoon/you slurp it with a straw. They sell it everywhere. What we learned is that the Sicilians eat it for breakfast. No lie. They get it and pour a scant teaspoon of espresso over the top of it (sooooo delish), and scoop it up with sweet brioche bread. I didn’t try it that way but I can oh…so…imagine how lovely it is.

Mulberry and Almond Granite

Mulberry and Almond Granite

 

Or course for our hosts, ONE flavor was not enough. They treated us to two – Mulberry in Italian is apparently “Gelsi” – and you can get the white or the purple mulberries. It was very nice as well, but the almond with the espresso blew it away. Really, I could eat a scoop of it right now and it’s freezing here in Munich.

Apparently it’s quite easy to make with some marzipan. I need to look into a recipe and maybe even try it out on Thursday or Friday.

Our third dessert was fruit again – local plums and red grapes. Sweeet and refreshing as well.

And that’s a wrap. Our second amazing dinner with the D’ursos. Thank you again: Esmeralda, Sandra, Giuseppe. We look forward to cooking with you again!

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Italy, vacation, Wine

 

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Tutto Bene 1

Housepath

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. 😉
Menu 1:

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

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

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

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

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

Rolling out the dough

Cut long rectangular sheets from the dough after it is thin enough.

Cutting sheets

Cutting sheets

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.

Fish Ravioli

Fish Ravioli

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

Cabbage salad with pink peppercorns

Getting full yet? Here is our secondi: Fish skewers

Prepping the 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.

Fish skewers

Fish skewers

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. 😉

Ricotta cheesecake

Ricotta cheesecake

Fruit in Italy for dessert is a given and sweet grapes and peaches from local farms helped close the meal.

Fresh local fruit

Fresh local fruit

Meal number 2 to come in the next post. Even more inspiring than this one, and that is saying something.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Italy, vacation, Wine

 

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Mozza – Take 3, with a twist

Thankfully the weather gods have given us a break today and warmed things up to a balmy -3 today. When I walked outside to head to the gym this morning, I breathed a sigh of relief. When the air outside feels like someone is sandpapering your face, it gets really really hard after two weeks to motivate yourself to even get out of the damn bed, let alone make it to the gym.

A few days back, I had to stop and take a photo of a mom outside the gym who had solved the “getting the babies around Munich in this terrible nasty weather on her bike” problem. Have a look:

Bicycle babies

Bicycle babies

Bet it's warm in there

Bet it's warm in there

There’s even room in there for the shopping. 🙂

Still, on Sunday evening the thermometer told us that it was still around -15 celcius, so a nice warm dinner was necessary. I felt like I should give Mozza another crack, so I chose two dishes but only followed half the directions – making some substitutions here and there. The first course was maybe a bit springy and light – oven-roasted zucchini with kumquats (instead of asparagus, which I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of finding now) with a slice of burrata (mozzarella and cream mix) with a sprinkling of almonds and pan-fried pancetta on top,

Zucchini with Burrata

Zucchini with Burrata

but the second took care of that:

Gnocci (or "Gnudi") with duck ragu

Gnocci (or "Gnudi") with duck ragu

I learned from Mozza, that this version of gnocci are actually called “gnudi.” They are made with ricotta cheese rather than potatoes and are much lighter – at least if they come out the way they are supposed to. I’ve made a few versions of these before, but this time I did a meat sauce rather than a veggie sauce. They were good, as was the sauce, but I think I like the lighter/fresher taste of the spinach gnudi I’ve made in the past even better. The Mozza recipe included a spinach and mushroom sauce, which would have also been very nice.

Perhaps the best part of the whole meal was the bottle of wine we drank with it – brought back from the last trip to California.

Cellar Rat Chardonnay

Cellar Rat Chardonnay

Recommended by the cellar rat himself…(Thanks, Addison!!!)

Addison Rex, Cellar Rat at Deerfield Ranch Vineyards

Addison Rex, Cellar Rat at Deerfield Ranch Vineyards

Really lovely wine – rich and buttery, a good foil for both the zucchini and the gnudi with ragu. Want to get a bottle of it? Order it here.

Oh, by the way…Happy Valentine’s DAY! xoxo

 

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