In Italy, the best dishes uses the finest ingredients in simple ways that show off just how good they are. That’s the secret behind this mushroom salad, which features only celery and parsley in addition to the mushrooms. Salt, pepper, oil and lemon juice dress it, and you’re set.
The best mushrooms, according to Jacob Kenedy in “Bocca Cookbook” (Bloomsbury, $45), would be seasonal favorites you find in Italian markets during the spring and fall, but the success of the recipe is not dependent on that.
“Ovoli mushrooms, Amanita caesarea, have a delicate taste and are wonderful,” he writes. “Picked young, as the bright orange cap emerges from its white sarcophagus, they look just like hatching eggs. To say they are hard to find would be a gross understatement, but other mushrooms can make this salad just as good. In particular, porchini (also known as ceps), if young and firm, are delicious raw; even the humble cremini mushroom would make this a pleasaing dish.”
Raw Mushroom Salad with Celery
1/2 pound ovoli, porcini or cremini mushrooms, no more than 2 1/2 inches long
4 ribs celery
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice, or a little more to taste
Clean any dirt from the bases of the mushrooms with a pairing knife, and wipe the caps gently with a damp cloth, if necessary — don’t wash them. Slice them finely, around 1/8-inch thick, and also slice the celery ribs on the bias to around the same thickness.
Spread the celery and mushrooms thinly on a plate, scatter with the parsley leaves, salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle with the olive oil and lemon. Serve quickly, before the salt draws the juices from the vegetables and leaves the salad wet and limp.
Makes 4 starter servings or 2 main course servings.
From “Bocca Cookbook” by Jacob Kenedy
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.