Saturday, September 06, 2014

A salad to share


Perfect for sharing with a classic crusty Italian loaf and vino. In the sun, naturalmente.
Vibrant tomatoes after a few days of sun.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Lovely little uglies

Late in the season and only a few are red..

The yellows are holding on but aren't their usual selves.

Guardian of the radicchio.  Keeping the lettuce safe from whatever lunar rogue has been eating the broccoli.

Little yellow pears, still so many are green.

Destined for summer sauce.
It has been a brutal year for the garden.  At this time of year, we are, typically, complaining about the heat, the numerous days of 30C PLUS temperatures and soaring humidity.  The garden is generally thirsty due to a lack of rain but the bounty, which has flourished in the sun glorious sun, is plentiful and the beautiful tomatoes are awaiting their transformation into sauce for the winter.  Happy tummies full of tomato salads, cucumbers and tzatziki, numerous eggplants made into baba ghanoush, not to mention the broccoli, peas, beans and zucchini.

But this summer it rained. It started in May and never stopped (for long). While many parts of the world are suffering true drought, I feel a little guilty for wishing we didn't have so much.  However, it is a little out of balance for Southern Ontario.

Leaves and vines have grown mouldy, fruit and veg remain unripe late in the game and our mini-harvest hangs in the balance.  With our abundance of rain and lacking the heat we are normally accustomed to, we are still predominaetely green where we'd normally be red, gold or yellow.  We've had one day in August above 30C and hopefully a few more in September to get the last of the autumn veg on their way.  A few sunny days and perhaps our efforts won't be in vain.

The title of the post comes from the confusion over my statement that the garden situation was 'ugly' to which the nearly 5 year old said, "Actually mum, I think they are lovely."

And they are.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer pasta

Dried hand-made pasta.

The garden is in a state (more on that later) but right now, it's the end of August and it's lunchtime. Pasta doesn't get any simplier.

No knife required.  I used pasta (made a few days ago and dried) that I had in the fridge.  Once that was in the salted, boiling water, I set the frypan on medium high heat, added a tablespoon of olive oil, an anchovy or maybe two (I like the kind perserved under oil with chilies), and gathered my garlic and tomato. 

Cook, mashing until the anchovy fillet has mostly disintegrated in the oil, add half a clove of grated garlic, cooking only until fragrant and then, the tomato.  I just gave it a squeeze and its in the pan, seeds and all.  Again mashing, until it is broken up to form the body of the sauce (and provide a good coating for the pasta).  The peel will separate out and can be picked from the sauce if you aren't partial.  Finally, a few torn fresh basil leaves and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Toss the cooked, drained pasta in the pan and drizzle with your best Southern Italian olive oil.  Serve.

If anchovies aren't your thing, add a good portion of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the end.  I'm not partial to the flavour of cheese and anchovy, but this isn't about me.  You could add cheese to taste either way.

Summer pasta is all about speed, ease and fresh flavour. This comes together in the time it takes to boil the pasta, and given the nature (thinness) of this pasta, that is no time at all.

Hand-made pasta dressed in a fresh tomato sauce.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summery sodas

Tassoni soda and Calabresi Cedro di Diamante.
The Italian range of amari (bitters) are a summer favourite here at la tavola. Versatile and refreshing Crodino, Campari and Averna are suited to a slice of lemon, cocktails, as a digestivo on a warm nights.  However, if bitter is not your thing, don't fret. To say that Italy has its share of sweeter bevvies is an understatement.

Here is a great example.  Cedrata is not too sweet and the slightly perfumed sour citrus is an interesting combination, Tassoni has been making this soda since 1956 and their signature citron syrup since 1920.

And luckily, albeit only stateside for the moment, they are available on this side of the pond.

We also use it as a mixer.. ahh summer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

growing your own

French breakfast radishes from
heirloom seed.
Radishes: I love them.  These are my french breakfast radishes in all their just-picked, jewel toned glory.  I love the vibrant, near fuschia red pink that fades to their pristine white tip.  They are as beautiful as they are flavourful. Plant a row, or two.  You will not be disappointed!

Their peppery bite is tamed easily by any number of citrusy dressings. Bon appetit pairs it well. But try this with a whole grilled local fish on these humid summer nights.  The Croatians know a thing or two about seafood and accompaniments. And any excuse to use mayo..

I made this for a World Cup barbeque buffet mix up last weekend and it was a hit.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Farfalle happiness

The formed farfalle for Nonno
Apparently, homemade farfalle will make you feel better.  I didn't know this until a few days ago. We were headed over to Nonno's house to make dinner because Nonno's not feeling 'too much strong'.  So I consulted my kitchen assistant for advice on what we should make. 

The response: 'Farfalle, because it makes you happy'.

I agree, and that couldn't sound any more perfect for Nonno.

So we made some pasta and rolled it out. Then, armed with a little scalloped edged cutting wheel, my four 1/2 year old set about cutting the long pasta strips from the machine into sections (widthwise), and I, with a sharper knife, took those strips and reduced them into 3-4 farfalle depending on the length of the trimmed strip.

Once the little rectangles were cut, we pinched the centers to make the classic farfalle shape.

Next time, I'm told, we're going to make them smaller because 'someone's fingers are smaller'.  A good a reason as any.

Fresh Egg Farfalle (from La Cucina Italiana)

180- 200g all purpose four (start with 180, add more if required)
45 g semolina flour (not coarse semola - use gran duro rimacinata if you can find it)
pinch fine sea salt
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
5mL extra virgin olive oil

Whisk flours and salt in a large bowl, then mound on clean work surface, preferably wooden.
Make a well in the center and you know the drill: eggs and oil in the middle. 
Using fork (or fingers) break yolks and mix, slowly bringing in a little flour from around the edges.  I use a fork most of the time and mix like I am whisking eggs for an omlette.
When enough flour (about half) is incorporated to make a kneadable mass, clean (simply scrape) the surface of any dried on bits and sift along with the remaining flour. Set aside sifted flour to use going forward.
Lightly flour the work surface and knead the pasta dough about 5 minutes. Pushing the dough away for you with the heel of your hand and holding it slightly so that it stretches away from you.
When it feels like play-doh, you're done. a finger poked gently into the middle will leave a mark that springs back and if pushed through to the center of the dough, it will still feel a little tacky but not sticky.
Divide the dough in 4 parts for ease of rolling and cover the remaining 3 parts with cling to avoid drying out.
I roll out the dough with my Mercato, no motor required (I have good help who won't allow it!)
Follow the instructions for your machine, rolling on the widest setting and folding a few times then rolling dough through the increasing settings (narrower widths) without folding until it is 1mm thick.
That seems thin but is perfect for setting the formed farfalle aside to dry a little before cooking.
Take the long portions of 1mm thick dough, dust with a little semolina and trim if necessary.
Place the long portion of dough on a clean surface (long edge facing you) and cut into long rectangles about 10 cm long. Then take a sharper knife and divide these strips into 3-4 farfalle depening on the length of the strip. i find it best to go a little smaller than too big.  
You want the short edges (about 2.5cm) of the rectangles to be cut with your pasta wheel for the traditional zig zag edge and the long edge, a little less than 5cm, (that will get crimped) to be smooth.
Pinch the center and the long edges together. in one or two folds, whichever is easier for you.
Place formed farfalle on a clean tray dusted with semolina or coarser semolina.
Once farfalle have dried slightly, they can be piled on the tray and taken to Nonno's house to cook.

Serve with a tomato sauce (reserve cooking meat for secondo) and lots of cheese. Everyone will be happy.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sgute Calabresi

Plenty of eggs, thanks to Nonno's chickens.

Sgute are an Easter tradition in our family and we simply could not have Easter without them.  All of the neighbourhood kids, even the big ones, get one of these sweet breads.  

To make sgute, you need alot of eggs.  The dough is rich with egg and the finished bread nests an egg or two (or three) in each sguta.  If you are having a large gathering, you can bake an impressive form similar to some of those made in Siderno (where, of course there's a festival) by twisting two long lengths of dough into a large intertwined ring with about a dozen eggs embedded in the final baked sweet treat. Or you can attempt any of the more decorative and artistic shapes seen here. (Molte grazie a Cuore di Panna per le foto).

You will need a very large bowl (2 is more convenient) for dough, a big bowl for the sugar mixture, a large glass liquid measure for the yeast and at least two large baking sheets. A flexible dough scraper is also handy. Start the dough the night before.  Have all of your ingredients at room temperature (including the whole eggs that will be baked in the dough).  If you forget, they can be tempered in very warm water for several minutes beforehand. You will need about 18-24 eggs for placing into the dough.

For dough, proof yeast.

3oz of traditional yeast (I've used 2 oz with success)
250mL lukewarm water

Mix well, cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes until bubbly.

Using a hand mixer (or stand mixer) cream together 225g of lard or vegetable shortening with 4 scant cups of sugar until light.  Add 4 teaspoons of vanilla (or anise extract if you prefer).

Beat 10 eggs with 375mL water or milk and blend into fat and sugar mixture a little at a time.

Have your flour measured (the original recipe states q.b. of course..). I start with about 8 cups and ended up adding between 3-4c more.  Add all of your egg blend and yeast mixture to the initial 8c of flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add enough so that you get a dough that is still slightly tacky but not flowing.

Once the mixture comes together, I just use a dough scraper to fold the dough to get the above mentioned texture.  The dough should be manageable with lightly floured hands.

Place the dough into a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover with cling. Set somewhere at a slightly cool room temperature, not too warm or it may be overflowing in the morning.  Dough in my house (that is supposedly about 18C) likes 16 hours to rise but it is a slow moving dough so timing can be flexible. In these conditions it rises to fill the bowl by morning.

The dough after 16 hours proofing time.

When ready to bake, tip dough out onto lightly floured surface and cut in half.  Cover the section you are not using with cling.  Form the section you are using into a rough rectangle making sure the edges are as even as possible (not tapered). Slice lengths of dough about 3cm wide and 20-30cm long depending on how many eggs you wish to have per scuta. I like to use about 15-20cm per one egg and 25-30cm for 2 eggs.

The prep area. Keep the dough covered

For one egg, make a U-shape and place the egg in the bend, loop with the dough around the egg and fold/twist the leftover dough and make a cut at the bottom. It looks like the egg is wearing a scarf, it's a little tricky to describe - if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video is worth that and then some (Grazie Aurora Importing). Place the shaped dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Sgute like to be cozy - Proof under a teatowel or two.

Hundreds and thousands are essential.
Once the dough has proofed again on the baking tray for about an hour, brush with (what else?) an egg wash (whole egg) and, if you like, apply a liberal sprinkling of hundreds and thousands. My helpful 41/2 year old claims they are essential.  Bake in a 180C oven for about 30-40 minutes.  Dough will be lightly browned and the bottoms will sound hollow when tapped. The larger forms can be a little fragile when they first come out of the oven so they can set on the sheet for a minute or two and then moved gently to a cooling rack.   

The eggs should also be perfectly cooked (like hard boiled) and are a great protein breakfast before getting into the sweet bread with coffee or an espresso.  While the bread can be sliced and toasted, the sgute (and the eggs) are best the day they are made.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter.

Buona pasqua 2014 - Making sgute

Another Easter at La tavola.  Instead of providing the supporting cast of Easter goodies this year, we are making the main event, the sweet Paschal bread: sgute.  Easter sguta has long been a Calabrese tradition and Nonna makes then every year.  This year, she won't be baking but, thankfully, is still with us and recouperating remarkably after having an accident a little over a month ago.  We are counting our blessings. 

So, with a small, worn piece of paper from an old recipe box, a mountain of eggs and sweet dough that has taken all night to rise.. I'm up to my elbows and running out of places to set the large trays of proofing egg breads..

I'll let you know how it goes.  Two more recipes for variations here, with a video.

Buona Pasqua a tutti.