Sunday, August 21, 2011

Insalata di Pomodori (Tomato Salad)

This easy, fast dish is usually used as a side to a meat or fish dish. It is very versatile and can be used in various ways. For example you can chop the tomatoes into small cubes and use as a topping for bruschetta, you can add fresh mozzarella and make insalata caprese, you can use as a pizza topping for pizza Sofia and make sure you add plenty of grated mozzarella cheese or you can top some pasta and make a nice pasta salad.

For 4-6 people

1 LB Tomatoes (Salad, Plum, Cherry or Grape Tomatoes)
2 cloves of Garlic chopped finely
1 Tsp Oregano (fresh or dry)
4 Fresh Basil leaves (ripped or cut into 1 inch pieces)
1 TBLS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt to taste
2 Basil leaves for garnish (optional)

Mix well. If possible allow to sit for a couple hours in order for the flavors to come together.

Enjoy with some Italian bread or a french baguette. 

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Il Caffe'...Coffee a Way of Life

Coffee is the life blood of Naples. You drink it in a cappuccino for breakfast and you drink it black about a dozen times thereafter. While in Italy, I've had coffee as late as 10PM, later if it was a weekend or a holiday. I've had friends that were on their way to work invite me for coffee, knowing perfectly that they'd be late to work if they walked into a bar. By the way, bar in Italy are establishments where you normally consume coffee, snack, pastries and such. They do carry alcohol, but it's not customary for people to binge drink at a bar. That's usually done at the dinner table with a little vino rosso (red wine). Neapolitans prefer their coffee in an espresso machine. Unlike what we are used to here, espresso machines are not electrical or mechanical, as matter of fact they are simple metal devices that use heat to boil water and filter through the coffee. The coffee preferred by Neapolitans is by far caffe' Kimbo, a Brasilian coffee. If you ever have espresso, you will notice that it is creamy, very rich and guaranteed to wake you up!

(Photo courtesy of Bialetti)

You will also find that the only variations of coffee drinks in Naples and Italy for that matter are:
Caffe' doppio: Double shot
Caffe' Coretto: Coffee' with a little extra (usually Baileys of some other form of Whiskey)
Caffe' Latte: Coffee with a splash of milk
Latte e Caffe': Warm milk with a splash of coffee
Caffe' con la Panna: Coffee with a squirt of whipped cream
Cappuccino: Steamed milk with one shot of espresso a lots of milk foam on top

As you can see, all the options we now find in U.S. coffee shop are not the norm in Italy.

Espresso cups are very small, they are the equivalent of shot glasses. As a matter of fact, I've seen shot glasses used as coffee cups on several occasions in Italy. 

Like I mentioned before, coffee is a way of life. The minute you walk out your house, you go out to coffee, especially if you have company. If you are shopping and you stop by a bar, you automatically have to go in and get coffee. Usually, the person whose gets the idea to get coffee buys, unless they are younger than you, like your nephew, son, grandchild, student, etc.  If someone visits you at work or at home, you make them coffee. If you visit someone, they make you coffee and you'd better drink it! I've had people feeling very offended because I wouldn't drink the coffee, I soon obliged. I guess it's a good thing I like it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pane Casareccio (Homemade Bread)

So after two years of trial and error, I did it! Homemade bread the way I used to eat it in Naples. There they call it "Pane Cafone" or "Pane Casareccio". This bread is more salty than the bread you are probably used to and has an olive oil base. It goes great with all Italian dishes and is especially good when dipped in sauce. Neapolitans have a tradition called the "scarpetta" (little shoe). When they are done eating the pasta, they dip bread in the left over sauce until the plate is clean.

*Please note that this recipe will result in bread looking and tasting very close to the original. The only way to make original pane casareccio is to have a starter yeast purchased  directly from panificios in Italy. In most cases these starter yeasts are hundreds of years old and are considered trade secrets, so panificio owners don't let go of them easily. I found a website here in the U.S. that sells 2 kinds of original Italian starter yeast for about $20. I am not affiliated with the company so I will not post its information here, but if you are interested you can email me directly for the link.

For this recipe I used my beloved stand mixer and the dough hook attachment. You can make this recipe without the mixer by kneading by hand but it may require a little muscle work.

Ingredients for two small loaves:
3 Cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 cup warm water for yeast
2 packets instant or quick rise yeast
2 tsp salt
1 cup water for the mix
1 tsp sugar for proofing

Place yeast, sugar and 1 cup warm water in a cup. Wait ten minutes and if yeast had doubled, then it's active. The correct temperature  for the water is between 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, I like to use water that is warm enough to start to feel uncomfortable but not too hot to where it burns.

Place whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup white flour and salt in the stand mixer mixing bowl and mix at a low setting.

Add the yeast mixture, the olive oil and the rest of the water, mix on level 2 for 2 minutes. Add the rest of the white flour and mix until dough climbs on the  hook and is elastic (usually about 2 to 3 minutes).

Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and place in a dark, warm place for 1 hour.

Remove dough from bowl, divide into to and roll out with a rolling pin. Roll both into loaves and place into two separate greased loaf pans. Cover with  plastic wrap and return to a dark place for one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 F and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until bread a dark gold or brown. Remove loaves from pan and cool down on a cooling rack.

Olive Oil Dip
A good olive oil dip for Italian bread, such as the ones you find in Italian restaurants is this one.

1   Tsp  Italian seasoning
1/2 Tsp Salt 
1/4 Tsp Black Pepper
2 TBSP Olive Oil

Buon Appetitio!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Growing up in Naples I became accustomed to eating gnocchi almost weekly. It was one of my favorite foods. On Sundays, my dad would walk to the ‘Pastificio’ (Pasta shop) where all sorts of pasta was made daily and he would either pick up a bag of fresh ravioli or gnocchi. It was always a pleasant surprise when he’d bring home the gnocchi. Since moving to the U.S. it has been one of my favorite entertaining dishes, I have yet to find someone who does not like them. I have to say that the processed gnocchi commonly found in the U.S. are very similar to the fresh ones I’d have in Italy. Well, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

For 4 People

2 Packages Gnocchi
1 8oz. can of Tomato Sauce
1 6oz. can of Tomato Paste
3 Fresh Basil leaves (or 1 Tbls dry)
Olive Oil
1/4 Diced Onion
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella

Put about 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil in a medium saucepan along with the onion. Once the onion is of a golden color ad sauce and paste. Cook on low to medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the meantime cook the gnocchi according to package directions, gnocchi are ready once the majority of them are floating, do not overcook! Combine with sauce and basil in a bowl, add mozzarella. Mix well and serve.

Please note that gnocchi are very compacted and can be very filling, only place about a cup to two cups per person per plate.

Buon Appetito!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cotoletta di Carne

Cotoletta di carne essentially is fried steak. Italians use the word for meat (carne) to refer to beef. Although this steak is fried, it’s much healthier than conventional fried steaks as it is not deep fried, olive oil is used versus other more fatty and unhealthy oils and the italian bread crumbs include various herbs, including oregano which are chock full of antioxidants.

This very easy to make meat dish is sure to become everyone’s favorite. My children love this dish and so does anyone else who comes over for that matter, permitting they eat meat in the first place! When you cook this meat, your kitchen will be enveloped by a delightful smell that will have everyone grabbing on to their plates. I like to make it with a side of sauteed green beans with garlic and a side of parmesan risotto. It also goes very well with fries or mashed potatoes, or as a great addition to a hoagie.

For 2-4 People

1 Lb Steak thinly sliced (for rouladen)
2 Cups Breadcrumbs (Italian variety)
Olive Oil

Cut steak slices into smaller pieces, usually cutting the steak in half or thirds works great. Place the bread crumbs inside a locking plastic baggy. Add one piece of meat to the bag, close the bag and shake until meat is completely covered. Repeat until all meat slices are breaded. Put about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a non-stick pan, once oil is hot, place steaks in the pan. You’ll probably have to fry in batches, since all of the meat will not fit in he pan. Serve.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Neapolitan Meat Sauce

Meat sauce is the base for many dishes from pasta with sauce to lasagna. This sauce is very rich in consistency and very flavorful thanks to the beef and vegetables. Give it a try!

 For 6 people

1 Can Tomato Sauce
1 Can Tomato Paste
3 Fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 LB Ground Beef
1 Carrot (finely diced)
1 Celery Stalk (finely diced)
1/2 cup Onion (diced)
2 Garlic cloves (chopped)
2 TBLS Olive Oil
1 TBLS Italian Seasoning
Dash of Salt

Place oil, garlic and onion in a large pot. Caramelize. Add celery and carrot, cook for about 3-5 minutes. Add beef, break up into smaller pieces while mixing with vegetables. Brown meat. Add sauce and paste, cook for about 30 minutes on low-med setting.

This recipe also works well in slow-cookers or cast iron stoves. Cook on low for 4-6 hours.

When using to top pasta, always add plenty of Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mediterranean Potato Salad

This salad is a great dish for summer lunches or as a side to your barbecue. It is best served at room temperature or chilled.

For 4-6 People (depending on whether or not the salad is a main dish or side dish)

1/2 Cup Chopped Onion
6 Medium Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 Cup Greek Olives in brine
1 Can of Tuna in oil
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes
5 Basil Leaves ripped into 1 inch pieces
Salt to taste
1 TBLS Olive Oil
1 TBLS Brine from olives

Peel and chop the potatoes into 2 inch pieces. Place in a saucepan, cover with water and cook until potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork. Strain and add to a large bowl.

Add remaining ingredients. Tomatoes and Olives can either be left whole or chopped into halves. Mix well. Refrigerate for about half an hour. Serve with Italian or French bread.

Buon Appetito!