Italy

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Griffin to Go: Italian Leftovers


When I was in Italy recently with friends, we had duck on our first night at our home for the week. There was so much, that Cecil used the rest the following night with rigatoni. Then there was so much of that dish left over that he eventually turned it into a frittata for breakfast.

That’s the beauty of leftovers. They don’t have to appear or taste like leftovers. They can be special creations in their own right.

Here are a few leftovers from the trip that I haven’t written about yet, miscellaneous ideas on food that will work in your kitchen and hopefully set you out on your own food journeys.

Sandy spreads out dough for Focaccia Bianca.

Versatile bread

It’s great to have a versatile dough recipe that can work for just about whatever you need. It’s even better when the recipe is easy.

We learned one while taking a cooking class from chef Lorenzo Polegri of Zeppelin restaurant in Orvieto.

The dough served as the basis for a thick pizza that we topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and garlic. We also made a focaccia with rosemary and anchovies, and snails rolls with guanciale, grana padana and more garlic inside.

When the pizza came out of the oven, all airy and hot with cheese melted all over the top, Lorenzo just ripped off slabs with his hands rather than using a knife. Though I generally prefer thin-crust pizza, that ragged slice, so fresh and steaming to the finger tips, was as good as it gets.

Pasta paradise

Rolling pasta through a machine.

The fresh, handmade pasta we had in Italy was the best I’ve ever eaten. It was a deep yellow color that appeared to have been painted in butter. Credit most certainly goes to the egg yolks, almost orange in color, and the flour used.

Twice at Zeppelin, I saw someone making the thin noodles by hand. One rolled the dough out by forcing it through a pasta maker. With speed  that suggested plenty of practice, he pressed the dough through the machine over and over until it was almost paper thin.

We also got to watch a pasta maker who introduced only himself as Maurizio (video above). Armed with only a rolling pin, he took a clump of dough and rolled out his pasta also to a near-impossible thinness. He stretched the dough out on the pin without letting any of it tear.

We happened to be in Italy during fresh porcini season, and for my money, there was no better accompaniment for the pasta than those mushrooms with a texture so voluptuous that it was almost like eating foie gras.

The porcini were the size of softballs, and restaurants would proudly display how fresh and large their supply was. In the United States, we like to do that with steaks, thick and juicy, or lobsters fresh from the tank. In Germany, it’s the white asparagus that ripes in May. In Italy, it’s the porcini as well as the white truffles, which were not in season while we were there. That will have to be another trip.

Making do

Wild fennel grows alongside the road.

The kitchen of the house we stayed at offered a few items we weren’t expecting. Instead of drying the dishes, for example, you could arrange them in a cupboard over the sink that had a draining board instead of a bottom, so any moisture just dripped back into the sink.

I also discovered a blender, which proved to be a big help with a snack one day. We had some leftover chicken that we needed to eat, which led me to think of chicken salad. But we didn’t have any mayonnaise. Rather than buy a jar, the majority of which would be left in the house, Sandy and I made our own mayonnaise. Neither of us had done this successfully before. Yet we blended egg, lemon juice and salt with a steady of stream of olive oil, and it all came together.

Then we added wild fennel that Pam and I had foraged on our walk that morning as well as celery and a few other ingredients that also needed to be eaten. Large leafs of butter lettuce made great cups in which to serve the salad, and we managed to make a bit more room in the refrigerator.

Cherries everywhere

Rum-soaked cherries with raspberry whipped cream.

I’m a cherry fanatic. It doesn’t matter the level of sweetness, either. If it has a pit, it’s likely to end up in my mouth.

In the yard of the house where we stayed stood a tree was covered with tiny, tart berries while other trees in the neighborhood offered both tart pie cherries and sweet Bings. No one minded if passersby picked one or two from the branches that hung over the road. The markets were also filled with the fruit, glistening in the morning sun.

Perhaps that explains why I appreciated the simplicity of a recipe that Lorenzo taught us in our cooking class. He took more than a pound of those beautiful  bing cherries and had us cut them in half to remove the stones (OK, so Steve pitted most of them). After that, they were marinated in rum and sugar for more than an hour. We then spooned those beautiful bites into nests of whipped cream that had been flavored with raspberry syrup  before being piped into serving dishes. A little of the sweetened rum was drizzled over the top.

I’ve made this simple recipe once back home, now that cherries are in season here. But I’ve played around with the idea. I used sour cherry syrup with the whipped cream. I also plan on using almond extract, another flavor that goes great with cherries. I may also give it a whirl with peaches instead of cherries.

Amore for amaro

I’m not a big fan of sickly sweet cocktails, so the Italian love for amaro, Campari, Fernet and other bitters was a real treat. A Negroni made with Campari, vermouth (I prefer dry to the traditional sweet) and gin is a particular favorite, but I also enjoyed shots of herbal amaro by themselves.

If you look for amaro cocktail recipes online, you’ll find discussions about various types, light and dark, all made with family-held recipes. So, I asked Lorenzo if there were a way to figure out beforehand what type of amaro to buy; my question was dismissed without answer. Don’t be such a stickler that you can enjoy what’s in front of you, he seemed to say.

I discovered a new love in the kitchen cupboards: Cynar (CHI-nar), which is a bitter liqueur made from artichokes. It was great with a touch of peach soda mixed in or a little soda with a twist of lemon. You can find this at both Twin Liquors and Saglimbeni for about $27 a bottle. It’s yet another taste of Italy I’m glad to be able to enjoy back home.

A basket of fresh porcini.

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Griffin to Go: Greetings from Italy


The house has a great view of the towers in Torre Alfina.

Almost two years ago, my friends Steve and Sandy had an idea: Let’s rent a place in Italy for a week, enjoy the local food and wine, rest, relax and escape the world.

The pergola is perfect for dining.

Since then, there have been cancer scares and treatments as well as personal upheavals that turned the worlds of various members of the group upside down. I, for one, started graduate school, found a rewarding new job, co-authored a book that’s due out in a couple of months and survived major surgery. Yet there were times when I questioned whether the trip would occur.

And yet, here we are,  six of us, in the tiny town of Torre Aflina, Italy, sharing a house that overlooks the castle towers of the town’s name, a castle that was destroyed and yet, if my paltry Italian serves me correctly, was reconstructed in the 19th century. (We also have proudly displayed the “Go Spurs Go” sign that Sandy brought. You probably won’t find another one of those in the region.)

A bell from the nearby duomo has just struck the half-hour. It was a singular peal, and yet at certain times of day, the sound of the local bells rings right through you in a joyous clatter.

Grana Padano ice cream

I can’t tell you much of what treasures the town offers by way of food. We arrived here on a Saturday in our various ways. All had come to this town, in the state of Lazio by way of Florence but in very different methods. My own was an adventure I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I missed my friends at the car rental, so I hopped a train to nearby Orvieto, but I couldn’t get in touch with anyone about transportation for the last leg of the trip. The phones weren’t working. So. I was dragging a heavy suitcase across more than a mile of cobblestone streets trying to find an Internet café, or caffé, to use the Italian word.

I was eventually brought to the house in a scene that somehow reminded me of the film “Enchanted April.” The women in that movie need an escape from the harshness of London winter and the dreariness of their lives, but when they arrive in Italy, everything seems to be worse. It’s rainy and ugly and they can barely do anything but collapse in their rooms. The next morning, however, a shutter opens upon a healthy, restorative dose of sunlight,  and they can forget what happened before.

Fresh herb ravioli

I felt the same as I stood in the afternoon sunlight. It washed away every last care from the trip  as if getting here had been a breeze. And there was a breeze, too. Summertime has not hit  this town yet. In fact, it is very much in the midst of spring, with peonies, jasmine, roses and geraniums in bloom everywhere about the garden. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuces and green beans are planted in perfect rows. Herbs of all varieties are scattered here and there: basil, several types of sage, several varieties of thyme, oregano, parsley, lovage, marjoram and chives in full bloom.

It helped that we had arranged for someone to come in and cook for us on our first night here. Saturday was the day of celebrating the Republic of Italy, which is akin to our Independence Day, except there are no fireworks, just eating, drinking and relaxing. It also meant a limited time to shop.

An orange-fennel salad

The chef started us off with eggplant fritters with Grana Padano ice cream, followed by ravioli stuffed with fresh herbs and topped with a butter sauce. I could have lived on that alone. The main course was duck with a spinach timbale on the side and what the chef called spicy onions. They weren’t spicy hot; they were cooked in a wonderful combination of star anise and cinnamon with honey and orange juice. Dessert was a chocolate cupola, or mousse, with a raspberry sauce.

As hungry as we all were, we managed to accumulate plenty of leftovers, which held us well on our first day of fending for ourselves. Various members of the group had picked up a few items on Saturday, including fruit, salami, cheeses and pasta. So, we pieced them together with the leftovers for another fine dinner.

Rigatoni with a duck ragout

Patti made a salad of shaved fennel and orange slices topped with the leftover onions and a drizzle of olive oil. Cecil used the leftover breads with an olive oil-based dipping sauce. The duck went into a ragout with rigatoni, and a butter-cheese sauce, made with the rest of the Grana Padano ice cream, went on the leftover ravioli.

A couple of bottles of wine from the nearby town and from the cellar made everyone happy.

Tomorrow, the markets will be open, so we can head into town to find out what’s in season and then we can figure out what we’ll be living on the rest of the week.  And living is what we having in mind while we’re here.

Chives and mint are among the herbs growing in the garden.

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A Quick Pasta Dish Packed with Summer Flavors


Fusilli

Here’s an easy pasta dish that features zucchini, mint and basil. It’s meatless, so it can served as a side dish to the meat of your choice or it’s perfect for a vegetarian entrée. The recipe comes from Giuliano Hazan’s “Thirty Minute Pasta” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $27.50) “The improtant thing here is to cut the zuchini into narrow enough strips and sauté them long enough to develop a rich, sweet flavor,” he writes.

Fusilli with Zucchini and Mint (Fusilli alle Zucchine e Mentuccia)

1/2 medium to large sweet yellow onion
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
1 medium garlic clove
6-7 sprigs flat-leaf Italian parsley
1 1/4 pounds small zucchini
1 pound fusilli
1 sprig fresh mint
8-10 fresh basil leaves

Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil.

Peel and thinly slice the onion crosswise. Put the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet, add the onion and place over medium-high heat. Season lightly with salt and sauté until the onion turns a rich golden color, 6 to 8 minutes.

While the onion is sautéing, peel and finely chop the garlic. Finely chop enough parsley to measure 2 tablespoons. Wash the zucchini, trim the ends and cut into narrow strips. First cut slices lengthwise 1/4-inch thick. Then cut into strips 1/4-inch wide and 1 to 1 1/2 inches long.

When the onion is ready, add the garlic and parsley. Stir for 10 to 15 seconds, then add the zucchini. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is very tender and lightly browned in places about 10 minutes.

After the zucchini has cooked for 5 minutes, add about 2 tablespoons salt in the boiling pasta water, add the fusilli and stir well. Cook until al dente.

While the zucchini is cooking, chop the mint medium fine and coarsely chop the basil. After the zucchini has cooked 8 minutes, add the mint and basil. When the zucchini is ready, remove from the heat.

Just before the pasta is done, put the skillet with the zucchini back over high heat and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pasta water. Stir to loosen and dissolve all the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet, then remove from the heat.

When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: “Thirty Minute Pasta” by Giuliano Hazan

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Ask a Foodie: What to Do With Salmon?


Salmon can be prepared in many wonderful ways.

Q. What’s your favorite way to cook salmon?

— Janet U.

A. Salmon can be enjoyed in many different ways, from smoked to cooked on a cedar plank. I generally search out wild-caught salmon when I go to cook it, because the flavor is stronger and brighter than the farm-raised. If that’s too fishy for you, then seek out the farm-raised.

I once tried a recipe of Jamie Oliver’s that had you wrap salmon in slices of prosciutto, before popping them in the oven. Then you topped the fish with lentils before serving. I’ve done several variations on that since, because I’m one of those who rarely makes a recipe twice. It’s the thrill of finding or tasting something new that usually interests me.

That said, here’s the next salmon recipe I’ll be trying. It’s from Rick Bayless’ “Everyday Mexican” (W.W. Norton & Co., $29.95), and it sounds perfect for a summer picnic. The salsa can be used in a variety of dishes or by itself.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatillos and Salmon

Tomatillo Salsa:
4 medium (about 8 ounces) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and halved
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
Hot green chiles, to taste, stemmed and roughly chopped (Bayless likes 2 serranos or 1 jalapeño)
About 1/2 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
Salt, to taste

12 ounces pasta
2 cups coarsely shredded salmon or cooked chicken (see note)
1 generous cup grated queso añejo or Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Wedges of lime, for garnish

To make the salsa: Set a large (10-inch) non-stick skillet over medium-high heat (if you don’t have a non-stick skillet, lay in a piece of foil). Lay in the tomatillos, cut side down, and garlic. When the tomatillos are well browned, 3 or 4 minutes, turn everything over and brown the other side. (The tomatillos should be completely soft.)

Scrape the tomatillos and garlic into a blender or food processor. Let cool 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chiles, cilantro and 1/4 cup water. Blend to a coarse purée. Thin with a little additional water if necessary to give the salsa an easily spreadable consistency.

Scoop the chopped onion into a strainer and rinse under cold water. Stir into the salsa. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Keep warm if using with pasta.

For the pasta dish: Put on a pot of water to boil, then make the salsa, without letting the ingredients cool. Boil pasta (fusilli or shells are good choices) in salted water until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pot, and add the salsa, the reserved cooking liquid and 2 cups coarsely shredded salmon or chicken. Sprinkle on a generous cup grated Mexican queso añejo or Parmesan, toss and serve with chopped cilantro, extra cheese and a few edges of lime for each hungry eater to add to his or her liking. Wonderful at room temperature for a picnic.

Note: Bayless likes to use pepper-coated hot-smoked salmon or rotisserie chicken that’s easy to flake.

Makes 2-3 main-course servings or 4-6 side dish servings.

Source: “Mexican Everyday” by Rick Bayless

If you have a question for Ask a Foodie, e-mail info@savorsa.com.

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Gianni’s Adds Pizzas to Menu


Gianni’s Italian Cuisine, 2602 N. Loop 1604 W., has added a new lineup of pizzas to its menu.

The list includes the Chermley, with pesto, grilled chicken, sautéed mushrooms and house-made mozzarella; the Quattro Formaggio with house-made mozzarella, ricotta, blue cheese and provolone; and the Gianni, with shrimp, oysters, calamari, clams and mussels.

Spinach Alfredo pizza, a Greek-style pizza with feta and Kalamata olives, a vegetable pizza and a classic margherita pizza with tomatoes, basil and the house-made mozzarella are also on the list.

Gianni’s has also started making its own pasta and sausage in house.

The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

Gianni’s Italian Cuisine
2602 N. Loop 1604 W.
(210) 233-9240
www.giannisialiancuisine.com

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Broccoli Lasagna a Vegetarian Delight


“This recipe uses the n0-boil variety of noodles,” writes Debbie Macomber. “If unavailable, cook the regular kind and continue the recipe as written, omitting the soaking.”

Broccoli Lasagna

1 large head broccoli, cut into small florets and stalks, chopped
1 (8-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 large egg
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for coating pan
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided use
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided use

Cook broccoli in boiling water in a medium saucepan until tender-crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain in colander; run cool water over broccoli to stop cooking. Coarsely chop; set aside.

In food processor or blender, blend ricotta, egg, salt and pepper until smooth. Set aside.

Melt butter in same saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 4 minutes, until softened, stirring. Sprinkle in flour and cook until incorporated, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Do not brown. Slowly stir in milk; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes ,until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, stirring often. Remove from heat; stir in salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. (Tip: Making a cream sauce is all about patience. Keep stirring as you slowly pour in the milk. In time, it will thicken.)

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees; set rack in the middle of the oven. Place noodles in 9-by-13-inch baking pan; cover with hot tap water. Let soak 5 minutes, gently shaking pan to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water; lay on kitchen towel or paper towels to blot dry. Empty water from pan; wipe dry and rub with butter.

Spread 1/2 cup white sauce in bottom of pan; lay 3 noodles on top of sauce. Stir broccoli into remaining white sauce; you should have about 4 cups. Spread 1 cup of this broccoli mixture evenly over noodles. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan, and top with 3 more noodles. Spread 1 cup broccoli mixture over noodles, sprinkle with 1 cup cheddar and top with 3 more noodles. Spread 1 cup broccoli mix over noodles, top with ricotta mixture. Finish with 3 noodles, remaining broccoli mixture and remaining cheddar.

Cover pan with foil. Bake 20 minutes, until bubbling. Remove from oven; take off foil. Heat broiler. Broil lasagna about 5 minutes, until cheese browns. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From “Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove Cookbook”

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Give Your Macaroni and Cheese a Makeover


MacaroniDan Lewis of the Plaza Club developed this version of macaroni and cheese while working at Ironstone Vineyards. You can make it in individual dishes or in a family-style casserole dish. This variation combines three cheeses and a few herbs in a way that makes “this every day dish really stand out,” he says in the “Discover Ironstone Vineyards” cookbook. “Any type of pasta can be used, so here is your opportunity to use that guitar-shaped pasta that seemed like a good idea when you bought it three years ago!”

Ironstone Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups whipping cream, divided use
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup finely diced pancetta or applewood-smoked bacon
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 cup crumbled blue cheese or roquefort
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
8 ounces pasta, cooked
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon minced parsley
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
8 oregano sprigs

Whisk 1/4 cup of the cream with the cornstarch and set aside. Sauté the pancetta in the butter over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, shallot and oregano and cook for 1 minute. Add the blue cheese, goat cheese and the remaining whipping cream and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir for 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta and chives.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pasta in 8 individual baking dishes. Combine the breadcrumbs, parsley, Romano cheese, salt and pepper, and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake for 20 minutes, or until browned. (This can also be made family-style by putting it in one large casserole dish and baking for 30 to 40 minutes.) Top each serving with an oregano sprig and serve immediately.

Wine suggestion: Light and fruit or semisweet white wine

Makes 8 servings.

From “Discover Ironstone Vineyards” by Dan Lewis

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Ask a Foodie: Dining Gluten-Free


jean_victor_balin_toque1Q. Do you know of any restaurants in San Antonio — Italian or otherwise that offer gluten-free pasta dishes as regular (or substitute) menu items?  I have celiac and frequently cook brown rice or corn pasta at home with good success, but I never see these dishes offered in restaurants.  What about gluten-free pizza?

I hope SavorSA is doing well.  I love your site!

Regards,

C.M.

A. One place that offers gluten-free pasta prepared upon request is Maggiano’s Little Italy at the Rim, 17603 I-10 W. The folks at Fralo’s Art of Pizza, 23651 I-10, offer a gluten-free pizza.

Do you know about the Defensive Dining category on www.AlamoCeliac.org? It’s a big help on who in town offers what to people who are gluten intolerant. Some places, such as Beto’s Comida Latina and Aldaco’s, have celiac menus. The Little Aussie Bakery and Cafe, 3610 Avenue B, is the city’s only completely gluten-free restaurant.

If you have dining questions, e-mail griffin@savorsa.com.

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Daily Dish: Cerroni’s Returns to Austin Highway


Cerroni’s Purple Garlic is back on Austin Highway after an absence of about 10 years.

It is now at 1017 Austin Hwy., the former home of Billy T’s hamburger stand.

Cerroni’s offers handmade pizza, pasta, sandwiches and more.

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