Red Pesto alla Trapanese

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A traditional summer recipe from Trapani in the western part of Sicily. It was the sailors from Genoa, stopping in the ports of Sicily, who introduced the island to their cherished pesto recipe. Sicilians embraced it and made it their own, by adding fresh tomatoes and using almonds instead of pine nuts, basically using more of what was available in their region. Mainly used as a pasta sauce, it’s also delicious as a dip or a spread in a sandwich. Perfect on a summer day after a refreshing swim in the sea.

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Recipe for 4
Ripe tomatoes, 1 pound
Garlic, 1 clove
Basil, 1/2 bunch
Almonds, 1/4 pound
Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, 1/2 pound
EVOO, 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Conchiglie (sell) dry pasta, 1 pound

Method:
Bring to boil a large pot of water. Place the almonds on an oven tray and bake for five minutes at 400°F. Blanche the tomatoes in the salted boiling water for two minutes (keep the same water to cook your pasta) , then peel off the skins. Place tomatoes, garlic, almonds, half of the cheese, basil, half of the EVOO, a pinch of salt and a little pepper in a blender. Mix until smooth and creamy. Cook the pasta in the boiling water, once cooked, drain place in a bowl and fold in the pesto. Drizzle with raw EVOO and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Buon appetito!

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Crispy focaccia

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Focaccia, perhaps THE Italian flat bread, comes in so many different variations, from plain focaccia Genovese to regional versions with the richest toppings. You can try this easy traditional summer recipe, 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. This focaccia makes for great party food or the perfect family meal.

Watch video: https://vimeo.com/222813300

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

Ingredients
Mother yeast, 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) – Lievito Madre by Molino Rossetto
00 flour, 1 pound (500g)
Luke warm water, 300ml
Sea salt, 2 ½ tablespoons
Sugar, 1 tablespoon
Extra virgin olive oil, about 7 tablespoons
Datterino or cherry tomatoes, 1 pound
Mozzarella di bufala, ½ pound (regular mozzarella works just fine)
Capers in sea salt, 2 tablespoons
Anchovies in oil, about 10 fillets
Fresh basil, 1 bunch
Fresh arugula, 1 bunch

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

Method
Place mother yeast, flour, sugar, salt, water and 2 tablespoons EVOO in the electric mixer or in a bowl and mix or knead until smooth and uniform. Shape into a ball, grease the surface with a little EVOO (1 tablespoon) a cover the bowl with a damp clean tea towel and let sit for about 2 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled.

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Preheat oven to 375F. Grease the tray with a little oil (1 tablespoon). Now knead lightly and roll with rolling pin 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 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Chop the tomatoes in half. Garnish the whole surface of the focaccia with tomatoes, torn mozzarella, capers and anchovies.

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Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust looks crispy and light brown. Cover with basil and arugula leaves and sprinkle with some EVOO and sea salt.

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Buon appetito!

Wild cherry and rose petal jam

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If you are lucky enough to have some wild cherry trees near you, hurry up and make the most of their short season! Wild cherries are smaller and lighter in color than classical ones, and have a more acidic flavor. This great acidity works perfectly with sweetness, giving a tart note to recipes like pies, crumbles, pancakes or strudels. Here is a recipe for a delicate jam, great to pair with pancakes, toast and fresh goat’s milk cheeses.

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Recipe:
2 pounds wild cherries
1 pound sugar
1 teaspoon dried rose petals
1 apple peel

Method:
Wash and pit the cherries. Add to a pot with all other ingredients and cook for about 40 minutes. The apple peel is essential to get a nice dense texture as it’s rich in pectine. Rose petals will give a delicate touch, you could use vanilla or mint instead. Sterilise your jars and pour in the jam whilst still boiling hot. If the process is done correctly, the jam will last for 6 months at least. This recipe can be applied to other fruit as well, lowering a little the sugar content. Wild cherries are tart and need an extra push of sweetness, but say you were using ripe sweet peaches, you wouldn’t need as much.

Wrap your jars nicely, store & enjoy during the months when wild cherries are not in season or give away as presents.

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Grissini

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Most Italian restaurant tables always feature grissini (breadsticks), a very traditional crunchy bite to munch on whilst going through the menu. Originally from the Piedmont region, they were invented in the 17th century as a remedy to Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoia’s digestion problems. Struggling to come up with solutions, his doctor asked the court’s bread maker to come up with a crunchy and very light bread variety. The baker took a piece of the bread dough commonly used for “ghersa”,  a typical bread from Turin, shaping into thin crispy strips thus eliminating the soft inside part which was the hardest one to digest. For the first time the Duke could comfortably eat bread, and the legend goes that thanks to this recipe he recovered his health entirely, becoming the first King of the Savoia dynasty just a few years later. Some say the ghost of the Duke still roams the halls of his castle wielding a grissino.

Since then they boomed in popularity, even becoming a favorite of Napoleon who established a dedicated postal service to have them delivered to France. They come in all shapes and flavors, and are quite easy to make at home. So dive into the following recipe of this Piedmontese classic:

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Grissini alle nocciole
Breadsticks with hazelnuts
 
Ingredients
Yeast, 1 ounce (2 tablespoons)
“00” flour, 2 pounds (1 kg)
Luke warm water, 2 ½ cups
Sea salt, 2 tablespoons
Sugar, 1 tablespoon
Extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoon
Hazelnuts, 1 pound

Method
Place the yeast, sugar and a splash of warm water in a bowl. Let it sit for a few minutes and let it do its thing. Add all ingredients in the bowl and mix (electric mixer) or kneed until smooth  and  uniform.  Cover  the  bowl  with  a  damp  clean  tea  towel  and  let sit  for  about  2 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1” thick rectangle. With a knife cut it into 1” thick strips. Place on an oven tray with greaseproof paper.
Bake at 375°F for about 15 minutes or until light brown.
Try serving wrapped with prosciutto crudo.

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Buon appetito!

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

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Making gnocchi is easier than making your own fresh pasta, it may sound intimidating but it shouldn’t. There are a few tricks to follow that will make your life so much easier. The first nonna (granny) tip not to undermine is to use the right potato. ‘Old’ potatoes are what you’re looking for, not the newly harvested ones, but those that have been sitting for a while, ideally last year’s harvest, as they have a higher concentration of starch and a lower content of water. This permits us to use less flour, and achieve a nice and fluffy texture. You don’t want to use too much flour, seriously the dough may seem sticky at first if following these proportions, but the last thing you want is to taste flour over potato and have a rock-hard bite. When it comes to consistency using the egg is also an essential part of the recipe. Lastly, peel and mash the potatoes whilst they are still hot; you may burn your fingertips a little but it’s worthwhile. Follow these simple tips and you will master the art of gnocchi making. Here is a simple summer recipe to celebrate the arrival of tomato season, gnocchi are great year-round served with different sauces.

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Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Watch recipe: https://vimeo.com/219109292 
Recipe for 4

Ingredients:
Potatoes, 2 lb
“00” Flour ½ lb, plus extra for working the dough
Egg, 1
Salt, 3tbsp
Garlic, 1 clove
Datterino or cherry tomatoes, 1 lb
Basil, ½ bunch
Mozzarella, 1 ball
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, 4 tbsp
EVOO, 2 tbsp

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Method:
Gnocchi
In a pot of boiling water (2 quarts approx.) cook the potatoes skin on (approx.. 30 mins.). Once cooked through, drain, peel and mash whilst still hot, using a potato masher. Add egg, 1 tbsp salt and flour, mix together into a dough. Roll into cylinders about 2” in diameter and cut into 2” length gnocchi. Make sure to flour your surface and dough throughout, to prevent sticking. Salt the boiling water (2tbsp) and cook the gnocchi for about 3 minutes, or a little after they rise to the surface of the pot.
Sorrentina sauce
In a pan add a tbsp of EVOO and sizzle a peeled garlic clove. Add halved datterino tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Once gnocchi are cooked add to pan, season with 1 tbsp of EVOO, fresh torn basil and torn mozzarella. If desired serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

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Buon appetito!

Maize, mais, corn…

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The domestication of corn begins in Mexico some 7,000 years ago. Since then it has travelled the world to become a staple food for a vast number of populations, the third human food crop after wheat and rice. It is the essential nourishment for millions of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa and is appreciated for its specific flavor and texture in USA and Europe. Being such a large commodity crop its use is not restricted to feeding humans only. Widely used for animal feed it is also one of the main ingredients in processed foods (as corn syrup) as well as bio-ethanol fuels. It’s on top of the list of GMO crops with USA planting 65% of its available acres with GMO corn.

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Maize was introduced to Europe after Columbus’s voyages around the 17th century. It’s popularity was immediate thanks to its high production yields. What the conquistadores failed to take back from the Americas was the technique with which corn was processes, the so called nixtamalization, where the kernels are soaked in a solution of lye water to help make nutrients such as niacin bioavailable when consumed. Europeans missed this detail and suffered greatly from the devastating nutrient-deficient disease ‘pellagra’.

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In Italy today corn is mainly associated with the dish Polenta, a kind of thick corn porridge similar to southern grits.  The main differences are the varieties of stone ground corn used, and the number of times the corn is milled. The end result differs in texture: grits have more of a “mushy” texture, polenta has a more course and toothsome bite. In Italy Polenta is traditional in the northern regions, mainly Lombardia and Veneto. It can be made with white or yellow corn and served as a main dish with meat stews, vegetables, cheese or even just butter. In the Veneto region it is very traditional to serve white polenta together with squid in a delicious red sauce.

We love to celebrate biodiversity and heirloom varieties of plants. With all the standardized GMO corn crops worldwide, opting for different varieties is a great approach. In the South Anson Mills is an amazing ancient mill focused just on that, a great resource for grains and flours http://www.ansonmills.com/.

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Making polenta
It’s a very easy and rustic recipe. Ideally you need a nice copper pot, but a heavy based pot will do just fine. Making it the traditional way takes a little time, but it’s definitely worth it, no comparison with the instant ones.

Ingredients:
Polenta flour, 2 cups
Water, 8 cups
Salt, 1 tbsp
EVOO, 2 tbsp

Method:
Bring the water to boil and add salt and EVOO. Pour the polenta in the water and mix well. Keep stirring every few minutes until cooked. Process takes about 40 to 50 minutes.
Once ready, tip onto a large wooden board, let cool and then serve with desired condiment. If the corn flour you chose is top quality and stone ground, the flavor will be so deep and delicious that you can easily eat it by itself, adding just a little butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. If you have any leftover, slice it up and the next day grill it and melt cheese over it.

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Buon appetito!

Nomadic beekeeping and monofloral honeys

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Bees deserve to be defined as one of the most interesting, intelligent and important insects on our planet. Often only known for their delicious nectar, it’s their societal harmony and organization that never ceases to amaze scientists, as well as their incredibly fine-tuned work procedures, which turn out to be vital for our entire ecosystem. Bees are like chemists, using their own delicate but complicated technology to produce honey. They are also far older than humanity: according to fossil record they have been around for some 50 million years.

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Though most honeys are the result of a mixture of nectars, some 300 different single flower (or “mono-floral”) honeys are produced around the world. To obtain them beekeepers adopt a “Nomad Beekeping” system. Nomad Beekeping moves the hives from place to place according to the position & season of plants in bloom. Bees are naturally attracted to specific flowers, particularly when these are in bloom. It’s as if you had a table filled with boring foods such as plain rice or a steamed potato…and then out comes a delicious looking cake. What would you go for?

A mono-floral honey is so defined when at least 40% derives from a single flower variety. It has very unique, distinctive notes and color as well as texture can vary significantly. The time of year and area in which the honey is harvested also have an effect on taste and appearance. Just like olive oil and wine, honey is linked to it’s terroir.

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Honey can be used in the preparation of a wide variety of dishes, particularly cakes. It pairs perfectly with yogurt, fruit and certain vegetables such as carrots. But the perfect match is undoubtedly cheese, and playing around with pairings can turn into a fascinating gastronomy journey. Here are some suggestions:

Acacia Honey: blue cheese
Eucalyptus Honey: Parmigiano Reggiano
Lavanda Honey: Pecorino
Chestnut Honey: aged goat’s milk cheese
Citrus honey: Caciocavallo
Thyme honey: spicy and aged cheeses

It’s a custom in Italy to start a meal with a beautiful board of assorted antipasti. Try pairing your favorite craft cheeses and fine meats with honey and jams. Garnish with olives, fresh fruit and nuts, playing with different combinations of crostini (a smaller version of bruschetta).

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As far as recipes go, here’s a very original idea for an appetizer which will surely tickle the palate of your guests: Ricotta, walnut and honey crostini.

Ingredients
4 crackers or toasted bread
½ cup ricotta cheese
4 walnut halves
2 tablespoons rosemary honey
Salt, pepper

Method
Top the crackers with ricotta, garnish each slice with a walnut and a drizzle of honey

Buon appetito!