Panettone

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At this time of the year grocery shops and bakeries all over Italy are filling with stacks of colorful boxes containing all kinds of Panettone, a rich, fluffy, naturally leavened bread cake filled with candied fruit and raisins. Originally from Milano, today it has become a tradition in the Piemonte region as well, where the classic recipe sees the addition of a hazelnut glaze topping. There is another very similar cake, Pandoro, originally from the town of Verona. It is baked into the shape of a star and is without raisins and fruit.

Panettone is a century old tradition, a delicious treat present on all Italian tables during the Christmas holidays. Apparently, the etymology is related to it being, essentially, a large sweet bread: “pane” in Italian means bread and “panettone” literally translates as “large bread”. But there’s also a legend saying that the inventor was a baker called Toni. The phrase “Pan de Toni” (bread of Toni) triggered the birth of the name.

The secret to any good panettone is the choice of ingredients. Renowned bakers use pure butter, fresh eggs, top quality flours and first choice fruit. The yeast must be rigorously a sour dough (called “madre”, mother) essential because it provides a very slow leavening. Some bakers have kept the same starter for centuries, passing it on from generation to generation.impasto_glassaWe recently visited Galup, a baker in north-western Italy that has been using the same yeast starter since 1922. This special colony of bacteria has survived a war, witnessed the advent of TV, computers and indeed quite a number of generations. Natural yeasts add complex flavors and unique nuances which commercial yeasts would never be able to achieve.

Panettone is delicious on its own, as a dessert or even as a snack, paired with a cup of tea or coffee. It even makes for a pretty incredible extra-decadent French toast! On Christmas Eve Italians serve it with a fortified wine custard called zabaione. Here is a quick and easy recipe:

Panettone e Zabaione
Ingredients
1 Panettone or Pandoro
4 egg yolks
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup fortified wine (Marsala or Port)

Method
Start by making your zabaione cream. Separate egg yolks and mix with sugar. Once combined place your bowl in a pot with boiling water (bain-marie). Add the wine and whisk the cream until it thickens to a creamy texture. Slice the Panettone and serve with the zabaione on the side.

Buon appetito!

Curing is caring

Before the invention and widespread use of refrigeration, people developed a range of methods to help preserve their foods during seasonal scarcity. Drying, salting, curing, smoking and fermenting are all ancient techniques still in use today, giving us some of the most unique and flavorful foods in our diets. Think dried beans, smoked salmon, cured meats, coffee, chocolate, wine, beer, vinegar, yogurt, bread, miso, soy sauce…it’s an endless list. In some cases, these techniques weren’t just sought to preserve, but aimed at making ingredients more delicious or simply edible. If you’ve ever tasted a fresh olive before it being salted and cured you know what I’m on about.

Cured meats are one of the most delicious and fine foods man has come to create. A fresh piece of meat, salted and aged for months, can develop through time incredibly complex umami, savory, sweet and bitter flavors that simply were not there before. What happens? Basically, if the already existing enzymes in the flesh are brought to the right conditions, they begin to break down the meat’s proteins, fats and glycogen. These are transformed into amino acids, fatty acids and sugars. These compounds host all the flavors we love and over time magic happens. There is no cooking technique that can give a piece of meat such depth in flavor.

It is believed that the Celts, a culture that developed around the extraction of rock salt, were the first to experiment with meat curing. Today the tradition is rooted all across Europe. Italy itself hosts hundreds of different regional salumi (Italian for charcuterie). They vary according to climate, regional traditions and family recipes. Starting with smoked speck from the northern mountain areas, to super spicy hot sausages in the Southern regions such as Calabria. Salumi fall into two main categories, those made from a whole muscle such as prosciutto or culatello and those made with ground meat such as salame and finocchiona. To recognize an authentic well made salume there are a few tips you can follow:

  • The aging time is a good indicator, some products just need that time to develop, and cannot be made taking short cuts
  • The origin of the meat: if stated it’s usually a matter of pride, a specific breed, possibly even animals raised free range.
  • No additives
  • Natural casings: when talking of stuffed products, such as salami, the casings must be animal-derived, any synthetic casing does not permit the meat to breathe and age over time

The king of salumi is culatello, the most sought after cured meat made from the large muscle mass in a pig’s rear leg. It can only be made in a specific province in the central region Emilia Romagna, aged in 500 year old cellars for at least 10 month. When visiting this part of Italy make sure to stop by Antica Corte Pallavicina, a gastronomical temple producing what might be the best culatello on the planet, praised and shipped worldwide. They have stylish rooms and a delicious fine dining Michelin starred restaurant. You must of course visit the ageing cellars, which lie underneath the property and are filled with slow aged culatellos, labelled with the names of customers spread all over the world. Including Prince Charles and Alain Ducasse, for example…(http://www.anticacortepallavicinarelais.it/)

The art of curing meat sure is an old world tradition, luckily enough there are some great talents arising around the USA developing their own new styles and using local ingredients. Kevin Ouzts from the Spotter Trotter (http://thespottedtrotter.com/) makes incredibly authentic yet innovative salumi, bringing to Atlanta some real craft flavors. If you haven’t tried it yet make sure to get your hands on their ‘nduja (Calabrese style spreadable spicy sausage), but beware it creates addiction! Their philosophy is to respect the product they make throughout, from the humanely and locally raised pork, to organic spices and locally grown heirloom varieties of chilies! A rare exception of dedication to good food, made respectfully staying true to traditions but not being intimidated by trying new creative combinations.

dsc09035Salami ageing in a traditional cellar in Tuscany mb_food-160209-9-8Prosciutto di Parma slicingimg_4787Prosciutto di San Daniele ageing roomsdsc09602Salumi selection at Antica Corte Pallavicina

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Carbonara is one of Italy’s most traditional pasta dishes, that too often, when prepared across the globe, is not executed following the original recipe. The addition of cream or the absence of eggs (the main ingredient of the dish) can really spoil the essence of such a perfect classic.

The recipe is originally from Rome but a staple for Italian homes across the country. It’s origin is unsure, who invented it remains a mystery. Some legends want it inspired by the influence of American soldiers during WW2, that whilst stationed in Italy, came to cook with ingredients most familiar to them – bacon and eggs.

It’s definitely an easy and quick recipe to fix a delicious last minute meal with little effort. The sauce can be made in the same time you need to cook the pasta, a 20 minute job – classic Italian home ‘Fast Food’. And if you think about it, it’s really an Italian version of eggs and bacon.. just pasta instead of a biscuit or bread! Why not try it out for your next home cooked brunch?

If looking for lighter or vegetarian options follow the same instructions but substitute the pork with crunchy roasted veggies. The traditional recipe requires guanciale, spaghetti and pecorino – these are often substituted with linguine, pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Check out the recipe video: https://youtu.be/1CpXblcWPos

Recipe for 5

Ingredients
1 pack (500g – about 1 pound) spaghetti or liunguine pasta

For the Carbonara sauce:
5 Eggs
½ pound guanciale (pork jowl) or pancetta, diced
1 tbs Butter (not traditional but gives an extra creaminess to the sauce)
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper

Utensils needed
Large Bowl
Large pot
Pan
Large Strainer

Method
Fill the large pot with water and bring to boil.
In the mean while, dice the guanciale and cook in a pan at medium heat until crispy.
In the bowl lightly beat 3 whole eggs, 2 yolks, butter, half the cheese, salt and pepper.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water, according to recommended cooking time written on the box.
When pasta is Al-Dente cooked, drain and transfer directly into the large bowl, adding the crispy pancetta. Mix well and fast, so that the egg does not scramble, but evenly covers all the pasta with a creamy texture.
Place pasta in individual serving bowls and garnish with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Buon apettito!

 

 

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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Indulge in the flavors of Summer – Pasta al Pesto

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Pasta al pesto is a classic summertime Italian recipe. It is originally from Genova in the Liguria region of northern Italy but is nowadays widespread throughout the country. The name pesto comes from the Italian word pestare (to crush) traditionally the ingredients were blended using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle. The good news is that it’s actually incredibly easy to make. The simplicity of this recipe does requires the use of high quality tasty ingredients. Any pasta shape will work but a classic traditional Trofie or Garganelli do the trick.

Recipe for 4

Ingredients
1 pound Trofie Pasta
For the Pesto:
10-12 Sprigs of Fresh Basil, Leaves only
1/3 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1/3 cup Premium Pine Nuts
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, peeled
Salt and Pepper
For assembling the dish:
½ cup Heirloom or cherry tomatoes, coarsely diced
Utensils needed
Large Bowl
Large pot
Electric blender
Strainer
Method
 Mix all pesto ingredients in a blender until a smooth paste has formed. If Pesto is too dry, slowly add some more olive oil. Pesto can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days in a closed jar. To prevent it from turning brown pour a little extra virgin olive oil in the jar and cover the pesto so that it is sealed and not in contact with air.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water, according to recommended cooking time written on the box.
When pasta is Al-Dente cooked, drain and transfer directly into a large mixing bowl. Add 6 tablespoons of Pesto sauce, 2 tablespoons of pasta cooking water and diced tomatoes. Toss the pasta gently to evenly cover with the sauce.
Place pasta in individual serving bowls, drizzle olive oil on top. Garnish with shaved Parmesan Cheese and fresh basil leaves and if desired tomatoes.

Buon apettito!

Focaccia made easy

Focaccia is an Italian flat bread that comes in many variations throughout the country. Try this easy traditional recipe from the northwestern region Liguria. All you need is a little time.. plan to make it when you are at home for a few hours, like on a Sunday afternoon. We choose to use a whole grain unrefined, unenriched and unbleached flour, stone ground made from only Italian wheat. Whole flours are rich in nutrients and taste and will make a darker and more flavourful bread. Usually local farmer’s markets will offer local good quality, possibly organic wholewheat flours. We also love natural fermentations and love keeping a sour dough starter.. it’s a great excuse to have to make bread, pizza and focaccia at home every week or so. It sounds scary but once you get into the habit, it’s a piece of cake. If this is one step to far for you, fresh yeast will work just as well.

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Yield: Makes a large tray
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking and leavening time: 3 hours

Ingredients
Mother yeast starter, 3 ounce (6 tablespoons)
or fresh yeast from store, if so 2 ounces are enough
Whole grain flour, 1 pack (1 kg)
Luke warm water, 2 ½ cups
Sea salt, 2 tablespoons –
Sugar, 1 tablespoon
Extra virgin olive oil, 9 tablespoons–

Utensils Needed
Oven, oven tray, electric mixer or bowl, tea towel, rimmed baking sheet

Method
Place all ingredients but the oil in the electric mixer or in a bowl and mix or knead until smooth and uniform. Add 4 tablespoons of oil and mix. Cover the bowl with a damp clean tea towel and let sit for about 2 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled. Preheat oven to 390 F. Grease the tray with a little oil (1 tablespoon). Now knead lightly and gently press into the baking tray, flatten to fill whole tray and obtain a sheet no higher than 1 inch. If the dough is too sticky use some flour on your hands. Drizzle the whole surface with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust looks crispy and light brown.
Enjoy with some delicious spreads, cheeses and salumi (cured meats).

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The making of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Called the king of cheeses, made following 800 year old recipes, using only local raw cow’s milk, aged for at least 12 months,  this cheese is one of the most delicious foods Italy has to offer.

It not only tastes amazing but is also a very nutritional food, extremely digestible and rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. It’s production is regulated and made completely naturally with respect to tradition. We can’t get enough of it, grated over pasta, crumbled in salads or enjoyed pure, on a cheese board with honey or balsamic vinegar.

We went to Emilia Romagna, a region that is home to some of the finest gastronomic products  (think Parma Ham, Mortadella, Culatello, Balsamic Vinegar, etc..), to learn more about this extraordinary delicacy.

Like any top quality product it all starts with the ingredients, in this case raw milk, from cows that live in the region and only eat locally grown forage. DSC09900 2The cheese is made using the milk from the evening milking that by resting overnight naturally separates bringing the fatter part to the top. Early in the morning this cream top is skimmed and used to make fresh butter and whole milk from the morning milking is added. The process rigorously happens in large bell-shaped copper cauldrons. Calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments, obtained from the processing of the day before, are added. Once the milk coagulates, the curd is broken using a traditional tool called ‘spino’. The liquid solution is heated using open fire and the cheese granules sink to the bottom. After resting for around thirty minutes, the cheese mass is removed, with deft movements, by the cheese maker. Cut into two parts and wrapped in its typical cloth, the cheese is then placed in a mould which will give it its final shape. DSC09418The process is very skill intensive, the cheese makers perform an astonishing precision and perfection in each and every movement. A perfection that can only be achieved by the repetition of tasks, day after day, the precision that only comes after years of experience making the one and only product. IMG_0381.jpgOnce settled, the wheels are immersed for about a month in a brine solution, where the cheese is slowly salted by absorption. After that starts a whole new journey, the ageing process. For at least 1 year the wheels rest on wooden shelves, they are turned and checked upon frequently, taken care of and nurtured with affection. In this time the cheese develops all those exceptional intense and complex flavours, that only time can help achieve. Just like an aged wine or ham, this is where all the magic happens.DSC09437Benito makes parmigiano reggiano 365 days a year. He has been waking up at 4.30 am for over 40 years to do so. He jokes about how cow’s don’t go on holiday, so neither does he. It’s a passion and a tradition, he explains, a devotion that is hard to understand from a distance.