Farro pasta and fresh peas

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Finally fresh peas are in season, and we are celebrating them with this delicious spring recipe. They perfectly pair with sheep’s cheese (pecorino), and with the earthiness of farro pasta. Farro was probably the second wheat to be ever cultivated and the most popular in most European regions until early Roman times when it was replaced by durum and bread wheats. The Italian people have dined on it for centuries. This rustic grain is rich in cyanogenic glucosides that stimulate the immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. It is one of the wheat varieties with the highest content of protein (17%). A great alternative to regular pasta, brings diversity to your table and your diet!

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Recipe for 2
watch the video: https://vimeo.com/211758344

Ingredients:
Farro ditalini pasta, ½ lb
Fresh peas (with shell), 1 lb
Red spring onion, 1 medium
Pecorino Romano cheese, ¼ lb
EVOO, 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste

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Method:
Put a pot of water (2 quarts approx.) to boil. Shell the peas (and eat a few, they are so delicious and fresh!). Chop the onion and sizzle in 1 tbsp of EVOO, cook through at medium heat for about three minutes, then add the peas.

Once water is boiling add 1 tablespoons of salt and pour pasta in boiling water. Stir occasionally so that it doesn’t stick. Cook for the suggested time on pack, but our tip is to always try one before draining, you want to cook it ‘ al dente’ – dente means “tooth” in Italian, referring to the texture that must be firm and have a bite to it. When ready drain, add to the pan and stir into sauce. Add some pepper, raw EVOO and grated Pecorino.

Buon appetito!

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Take a trip to LIGURIA

liguria5A boomerang shaped region, facing the Mediterranean sea, filled with some of Italy’s most stunning beaches, unique cuisines and host to a diversity if rare landscapes and architectures.

You might have heard about Liguria thanks to the famous and gorgeous national park Cinque Terre. With no doubt a must see destination when in Italy, magical landscapes and dramatic views overlooking the deep blue sea. A Unesco world heritage, made up of five fishermen villages with ancient colorful buildings clinging on the side of steep cliffs. This paradize is no best kept secret, so beware it’s a very popular destination, it’s good to visit out of high season. To help preserve the landscape and the naturally peacefull scenario, cars were banned a few years ago, and the small towns can be reached hiking, by ferry or with a 19th century railway line.

Cinque Terre aside, this region has so much to offer, many hidden spots off the beaten track, where most tourists don’t make it. Don’t miss out on the intriguing town Genova, once one of the largest maritime republics of the Mediterranean. The region’s coast is divided into Levante (south east) “of the rising sun” where Cinque Terre and the luxurious town of Portofino are located and Ponente (north west) “of the setting sun”, towards the border with France.

Ponente is a destination for Italians on holiday, mainly flowing from Milan and the Piedmont region, where they have been coming year after year. It’s the real deal, where you can explore the simplicity of Italian style summers: lying on the beach under colorful umbrellas, eating gelato and waiting for the fishermen to come back from sea with the daily catch.

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After a few weeks of travelling around Italy, you may feel like all you have been eating is charcuterie, cheese, pasta, pizza and meats. Although that’s not how Italians eat in their everyday lives, it represents traditional and festivity foods and it’s what you ought to get into as a visitor. Liguria will give you a break from all of that thanks to its veggie centric cuisine. It’s all about seafood, legumes, vegetables and EVOO. It’s the land of pesto, one of Italy’s staple dishes, a pasta sauce highlighting the freshness of summer basil with the addition of few other essential ingredients (check out our previous post for the original recipe https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/42191836/posts/1101598313).

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Get into torte salate savoury vegetable quiches and farinata flatbreads made with chickpeas. Don’t miss out on focaccia genovese – fluffy flat bread topped with EVOO or focaccia di Recco thin crust dough filled with creamy fresh cheese, believe me this dish will get you hooked for ever, so simple and so satisfying. Taggiasca olives and pure EVOO will be flowing from all sides, enjoy it while you have it! Being a coastal region, you will sure find some of the freshest seafood ever. Accompany these beautiful light foods with the freshest mineral wines, growing overlooking the sea in incredibly heroic conditions. Ancient terraced vines are very hard to work on, everything must by carried out by hand, with no help of machinery and tractors.

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Where to stay?

Liguria is filled with wonderful hotels and private homes. Here are a few picks: If luxury is what you’re after why not rent a castle? https://www.icastelli.net/it/theme-stay/soggiorni-in-castello/italia/liguria, or opt for breathtaking views from this gorgeous B&B http://laterrazzadicasebastei.it/, or be in the centre of it all at  http://www.hotelpasquale.it/it/.

Buon viaggio!

 

Salt Matters

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Salt, otherwise known as Sodium Chloride (NaCl), is like no other substance we eat. A basic inorganic mineral found in oceans and rocks, an essential nutrient our bodies can’t live without.

The word itself, in most European Languages (Italian – sale, French – sel, Spanish – sal, German –selz), comes from a single Indo-European root. In English many words such as ‘salary’, ‘sauce’, ‘salad’, ‘sausage’ are rooted and correlated to the word salt. In each of these words lies a reason for the correlation: before the invention of refrigerators there were some natural techniques for preserving food such as fermenting, drying, smoking, and salting.Thus the importance of such a compound in ancient times, for instance during the Roman Empire when soldiers were payed with ratios of salt – hence the word salary. Many artisanal foods still use salt as a natural preservative today: just think of all the cured meats, pickles or salami (again, a word rooted to “salt”).  Salt is also a taste enhancer and modifier: it strengthens the impression of aromas in food and suppresses bitterness.

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Roughly 50% of the salt worldwide comes from the oceans while the other half from mines: in the USA for example 95% of the production is mine derived. Since Italy is a peninsula surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, here most salts are sea derived instead. The most renowned salt production plants are based in Trapani, Sicily and in Cervia, Emilia Romagna.

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As consumers we don’t spend lots of time selecting the salt for our everyday use and tend to take for granted that all salts are the same. Artisanal salt production from seabeds is very expensive and labour intensive. Sea water is drawn into large shallow basins and left to evaporate in the sun. No chemical process is involved, it’s just a question of time, sea, sun and wind. The salt is then harvested manually, raked under the boiling sun. This is why globally most salt is produced through artificial, industrialised evaporation, often undergoing refinement at over 600°C. The final product is then sold as table salt, used in industrial manufacturing as well as during winter for de-icing of roads. Unsurprisingly, during this process most of the natural nutrients are lost. Depending on how the salt has been extracted the percentage of sodium chloride varies from 98% to 99.7%. Standard table salt is often supplemented with preservatives, an average 2% of its total weight. Natural sea salt, on the other hand, contains 2% of magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and many other minerals in smaller quantities. Iodine is naturally present, not added as is the case with Iodised salt.

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Natural sea salt tends to be milder and somehow sweeter than its industrial relative and slight differences in taste depend on where it has been harvested. Try out different natural sea salts in your recipes, and see if you can spot the subtle differences!

 

 

 

 

Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad

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Fennel peak season calls for a one-of-a-kind Mediterranean recipe.  Healthy, fresh, crunchy, delicious and very simple to prepare. It makes for a great light lunch or the perfect side to a roast chicken or fish.

Italians love fennel and use it in a variety of dishes, making the best of all its parts, from the bulb to the flowers and seeds. And it isn’t just a matter of taste. Think of Finocchiona, the traditional Tuscan salami: the fennel seeds help preserve it while adding their characteristic flavour.  Its is rich in vitamin C, fibers and several essential nutrients for our diet. It also has unusual phytonutrients that give it ample antioxidant and immune-boosting capabilities.

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Ingredients:
3 large fennels (try and find them with the green tips)
3 oranges
2 spring onions
2 tbsp Capers in salt
2 tbsp pitted taggiasca olives
2 tbsp EVOO
1 tsp ground pepper

Method:
Finely chop the fennel, fennel tips and spring onion and place in a bowl. Peel the oranges using a knife, trying not to waste the fruit but taking away the white bitter outer layer. Slice the oranges, keep the juice and add to the bowl. Add capers with salt, olives, Evoo and pepper and mix well. The salad can keep for up to one day, but is best when just made.

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Buon Appetito!

All the colors of Pasta

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Next time you make your own fresh pasta at home why not experiment with different natural colorants? Seasons have so many ingredients to pick from and eating seasonal is the best excuse to get creative and cook with what’s available. Right now during winter you can get plenty of vitamins, fibres and antioxidants from veggies such as beetroot, which will turn your pasta pink or purple, and fresh spinach if you want it to turn green. In summer try with tomatoes or basil! Squid ink – which can be sourced year-round – will turn your dough charcoal black, cocoa powder a nice earthy brown, while turmeric and saffron bright yellow. It’s fun, gets kids excited about a healthy meal and can be the next trick to impress your guests at a dinner party. Start out with your classic fresh pasta recipe and add the following proportions:

  • Beetroot, spinach, tomato: ½ ounce every 100g flour (For the vegetables boil until soft, squeeze out the extra water, blend and weigh)
  • Cocoa, turmeric: 0,2 ounce every 100g flour
  • Squid ink: if fresh, one bladder is more than enough every 200g of flour. You can also find it dehydrated in powder (use same proportions as cocoa)
  • Saffron: A pinch of pistils diluted in a few drops of warm water every 100g flour

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Need a refresh to our fresh pasta recipe?
Yield: 6 people

Ingredients
Unbleached, unenriched semolina flour, 200 g (approx. 7 ounces)
Unbleached, unenriched white wheat flour (cake flour), 0 type, 200 g (approx. 7 ounces)
Large pasture raised eggs (280 g) 4

Method
On a clean surface, make a pile out of flour and form a deep well in center. Break the eggs into the well and add colorant. Whisk eggs very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading using your hands. If flour does not fully incorporate into the dough add one or two tablespoons of water. (Be careful not to add too much!) In the case of beetroot, spinach and tomato the opposite may occur, you can add a little semolina flour if the dough is too sticky.

Dough is very sticky at the beginning and becomes more elastic and smooth after around 4 minutes of kneading. Once the dough is formed, continue kneading for 3 more minutes to allow the dough to reach its maximum elasticity and firmness. Long kneading is important in order to develop the gluten in the flour and to prevent dough from tearing apart later on. Dust work surface with flour if needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. Roll dough into a ball shape and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 20-30 minutes.

The traditional way of rolling out the pasta is by using a simple wood rolling pin, so even if you don’t have a pasta machine don’t be intimidated to make fresh pasta at home. Dust working surface with flour and start rolling dough one piece at a time. After every roll, make a quarter turn and repeat the same movement until you have achieved the desired thickness. (Approximately the thickness of a playing card). After achieving the desired thickness of the dough, start cutting the pasta into desired shape. Make sure to dust dough on both sides so it doesn’t stick to itself.

Buon appetito!

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Noble Fat, There’s an oil for that!

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It’s olive harvest season! Between October and early December – depending on variety, geographical position and production style – all across Italy the mature fruits are manually picked and taken to the mills. Pressing them as quickly as possible preserves all of their goodness and all the year’s work comes to an end, from tree to bottle. Did you know that 100kg (220 lb) of olives produce just 12.8kg (28 lb) of EVOO? It’s a very expensive extraction, but it’s totally worth the work…

One of the rare cases when something delicious is at the same time extremely good for you. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is one of the most nutritious vegetal oils, an unbeatable condiment, one of the main pillars of the so-praised Mediterranean diet. A noble fat good for flavor and for your health – rich in natural antioxidants as well as vitamins E and K and beneficial fatty acids. When pure and extra virgin, it contains a number of active components that have a protective action towards the cells of our organism, slowing down their ageing process and strengthening their resistance to free radicals (carcinogens).

The olive tree is very unique, it can live for centuries resisting heat and droughts, cold winters and harsh conditions. Naturally, it only grows in specific geographical areas of the globe between the 30° and 45° parallel, basically going from Marocco to France. At the heart of the Mediterranean. Today there are some plantations in other areas in the world with similar climates, such as Australia and South America.

Olives are just like grapes: considering just Italy it counts over 400 different indigenous varieties growing all over the country. Some are more prone to hilly inland conditions, some to steep terraces on the coasts of Liguria and others that reach the furthest northern tip at the feet of the Alps, on lake Garda. We can talk of an actual terroir for EVOO just as we do with wine. There is the right one for every food pairing. For example a delicate seafood dish can’t get overpower by a strong and spicy EVOO from Puglia. One would rather choose a delicate and subtle flavor, like the Taggiasche olives in Liguria. A full bodied and piquant EVOO from Sicily is unbeatably paired with comfort dishes such as brisket or a bean soup.

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Freshly picked Bianchera variety olives

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Olive producer in Sicily, testing the ripeness of the fruit

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The biodiversity of EVOO’s, the perfect fit for each dish

Tips on how to choose your EVOO – make sure to choose Extra Virgin, when it’s just Olive Oil or Virgin it was most probably made using chemical processes, from second choice olives and the natural beneficial properties are just not there! And let’s not get started on aroma and flavor. Also when buying European EVOO’s you can look for DOP certification labels that are an assurance of qualitative standards.

Tips on how to store your EVOO – Being unrefined, it’s a delicate product and some important details must be considered when storing it. The enemies of EVOO are light, air and heat – this is why the bottles of good olive oil are made from dark glass (the darker the better) and why at home, if you are not going through a vast quantity of EVOO, it is better to use small bottles, which minimize the exposure to air. Keeping the bottle close to the stove or in direct sunlight is also not good because of the heat exposure.

Back to school Italian lunch box

In need of some inspiration for creating balanced, healthy  yet tasty meals for your kids? Here are some quick Italian inspired recipes.

Mozzarella lollipop

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Ingredients

4 mozzarella ovoline
4 cherry tomatoes
4 cocktail sticks
2 tablespoons of basil pesto (check our blog to learn how to make your own at home or find it already made at Bellina’s Market)

Method

Roll the mozzarella in the pesto.
Carefully thread the tomato half way through the cocktail stick and top with the mozzarella.

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Zucchini pancakes

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Ingredients
1 large zucchini, trimmed and shredded
2 tablespoons of flour
4 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Shred zucchini , and squeeze excess water with your hands, Mix with flour in a medium size ball. Mix in the cheese. Add egg, salt and pepper.
Heat oil of choice in frying pan over medium heat. Using a spoon scoop a spoon of the batter into the hot oil.
Using a spatula, flip the pancakes after the first side has browned.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Great to serve with a scoop of Greek yogurt as a snack or light lunch.

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