Saturday, September 30, 2006

Polpette d'uova

This is something that just reminds me of home. I really love food from Puglia, my region. It's simple, no fuss, no elaborate dishes, I might say that Californias have tried to sell a concept that has always been ours: fresh ingredients. Pugliesi are very traditional, they don't like to experiment much, the sunday lunch would be very similar in the most of the houses.
These polpette however are very characteristic in my town, I am not sure all around Puglia. There is something similar in Abruzzo where the polpette are added to a cardoon soup.
Polpette d'uova (egg polpette) are usually added during the very end of cooking to a fresh tomato sauce, which will be used to dress orecchiette, they don't need to cook in the sauce, it's enough to let them rest in the the sauce to soften.
Part of the polpette are eaten straight away after frying, before pasta, as apristomaco, to stimulate the appetite.
The polpette are nice and crunchy on the outside and tender and tasty inside. The trick is a lot of cheese. Just mix breadcrumbs (home made, does people that buy premade breadcrumbs ever read the labels?), a lot of grated cheese (we often use Rodez, but pecorino is the best substitute or, for a milder taste, half parmigiano, half pecorino), chopped parsley, a little clove of garlic finely minced, salt with moderation and eggs. Cheese is surely more than breadcrums. The polpetta is dropped in oil with the help of a spoon, so the consintency should be soft but not runny, a teaspoon if stuck in the mixture shoud hold straight.
We deep fry (peanut oil or extra vergin). This kind of polpette will produce a lot of foam, so don't overcrowed the pan and use something really deep if you don't want your oil to overflow. If you are frying a big batch consider that the oil will get dirty quickly and you might need to prepare a second pan with fresh oil .

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Uova al pomodoro

This is a dish that we make at home when it's really late and we don't have time for cooking. We generally eat it along with some antipasti, no primo or secondo, with a nice crusty bread.
I like it better with fresh tomatoes (san marzano, perini, or roma, or any other variety suited for cooking). I blanch and peel the tomatos and cut in cubes, finely slice an onion (here I used green onions) and put the onion to sweat with extra vergin olive oil, then add the chopped tomatoes, coarse salt and let in cook. When the tomatoes are done, it doesn't require too long with fresh tomatoes, I break the eggs and nestle in the sauce, add a little bit of salt to the white of the egg.
If you like more, you could flip the eggs over with a spoon, possibly without breaking them, so the are all coated with whites. The yolk need to stay soft.
It would be better to serve in the cooking pan.

I know that eggs prepared in this fashion are called different names around Italy. In Campania I think they are called Uova in purgatorio, we called just uova al pomodoro.
This is such a simple and tasty dish that doesn't suprise me to find in other cuisines, my mother in law, which is shangainese, cook it almost in the same way (may shanghainese food influenced by French cooking?)

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Minestrone alla milanese

Minestrone alla milanese is my favourite version of minestrone. Tonight I couldn't stick to the real original for two reasons: I didn't have borlotti beans (only the large variety called corona) and I didn't have the savoy cabbage to add to it. Minestrone alla milanese must be eaten with rice, at least that is the way it should be, in summer is often served cold.

This quantity is for 3-4 servings

1 big leek (take out the outer leaves and the green top, divide in two, wash and finely slice)
1 onion
pancetta in cubes
some cherry tomatoes or a san marzano
1 zucchini
2 1/2 carrots
2 legs of celery from the heart and the leaves
chopped parsley
some fresh borlotti beans
2 floury potatoes
3 handfull of vialone nano

Sweat the leek, the finely chopped onion and the pancetta in cubes at very low flame for about 15-20 minutes, add the celery and leaves chopped finely, give some more cooking. Add the carrots in small dices, some parsley (reserve some to add at the end for color), add the cherry tomatoes divided in two, the fresh borlotti beans (or canned, washed and rinsed, or dry and soaked overnight) and the salt, sweat some more minutes, and add boiling water to cover. Let it go at medium heat, adding hot water to keep it wet. After 50 minutes add the whole peeled potatoes and the zucchini in small dice, keep cooking for another half an hour. Here the tradition would want some tender savoy cabbage finely shredded and more cooking. I had to skip this passage. I added three handful of vialone nano, let it cook for 5 minutes, I turned it off, covered and let rest for 15 minutes. At the end the rice was perfectly cooked and the soup creamy and tasty. I broke with the spoon the potatoes and added some parsley.
You can serve it with finely grated grana o parmigiano.

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Schiacciata con l'uva

Before trying this schiacciata, I honestly didn't think I was going to like it so much.
This is just my kind of dessert, a nice crunchy border with a good olive oil taste and the soft and juicy grape...I really don't like complicated dessert, with creams and mousses, I get bored after 2 bites.
Schiacciata con l'uva is a traditional sweet bread from Toscana, doesn't require more than a good bread dough, good extra virgin, grape and sugar. It's typical of haverst season because it must be made with black wine grape.

The recipe is not really necessary but more or less I did this way:

200 g of bread flour
salt 2% of the weight of the flour (a scarce teaspoon)
8 g of fresh yeast cake
a dizzle of evo
and enough water for a soft but not sticky dough

I did let it proof twice. I cleaned and washed the grape (about double weight than the amount of flour). Divided the dough in half, spread the first half in a small oiled baking pan. Let rest a little if the dough resist and wet your hands with oil. It should be rolled out very thin, spread half of the grape, gently press down on the dough, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with the remaing half of dough and grape. Pinch the hedges and bake in a preheated oven at about 180 celsius for about 50 minutes. I let it slide on a grate because I didn't want it to get to soft, the filling keeps it very juicy anyway.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Focaccia Pugliese con i pomodorini

Focaccias in Puglia, where I am from, are our "fast food", there are stores where you can go just for focaccias and panzerotti and you will eat it standing outside with a beer. In any case you can buy warm focaccia in every bakery.
Think, when I was in middle school we had a cooffee place (bar in Italian) right inside the school, a girl in the morning would come and take orders for "pausa", the break, and most of us would order a stuffed focaccia or focaccia with pomodoro and mozzarella. At the break a basket from the bar would come to the class with warm focaccia, panini con mortadella or other stuff, in middle school we were not allowed to leave the classe during the break. Insteresting enough in my area we called focaccia even what in other parts of Italy would be a pizza. If it's taller and baked in a pan for us is always focaccia.
I have seen in the States replicates of this focaccia, the fault in the States is that is too tall making it resemble and taste more like a bread. This need to be cruncky on the side with the good taste of olive oil but still soft when eating.

250 g bread flour (or half durum flour)
190—210 g water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
extra virgin olive oil
cherry tomatoes
dry oregano

Put sifted flour in a large bowl and add salt and yeast, stat pouring water, the quantity of water is not fixed, dipending from many factors. With one arm keep the bowl,with the other start whisking the dough (like for wisking eggs with a fork). It will take about 15 minutes of work for the gluten to develope. Let triple in bulk, about 2 hours and half, depending on the temperature. Preheat oven at 230 Celsius. Pour in a pan oiled with evo and spread with oiled hands. Put cherry tomatoes in half, squeeze the juice over the dough and sink the half tomatoes in the dough. Sprinkle with crumbled dry oregano, drizzle with oil and bake in hot oven, about 20 minutes.
I do take particular care in the baking, brushing again with evo if I feel is necessary. One out of the oven I slide it on a grill and cover with a kitchen cloth.

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