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Winner of Contest 2006

The Vacation Rental Kitchen Cookbook - Recipes

Judith Ayotte Greenwood

Wonderful Italian recipes designed with the Slow Traveler in mind - dishes that use local ingredients that will be easy to find, that don't use any fancy utensils and can be prepared in your vacation rental kitchen.

In the recipes below, both the English and Italian are given for measurements (e.g. tablespoon/cucchiaio) to get you used to seeing the Italian words. This will help if you are reading recipes in Italian. Some ingredients are translated to help you find them in shops (e.g. parsley (prezzemolo) ). See Cooking Basics for a description of measurements, shopping in Italy, recipe basics.

Timing

Not all of these dishes can be prepared and cooked in thirty minutes. That's just too restrictive. Some take a short time to prepare, and then cook slowly while you do other things. The only unbreakable rule I have is that "people wait for pasta (or a souffl); pasta doesn't wait for people."

Recipes for Primi

Primi is the pasta or soup course to start the meal, after the antipasto. Antipasto can easily be put together with a few deli items.

Summer Farro (Spelt)

Serves four as a first course.

Farro - la regina dei grani! A million things to do with it, but golly, it takes forever to cook, right? Wrong! Soak it overnight and it will cook in 15 to 20 minutes in salted water. My favorite thing is Farro Salad, which is very close to the white bean salad you will find in the Contorni section below. It can be used like rice in anything, too. I do not like farro perlato, because it blows up in cooking to resemble barley, and I like it much better as a whole grain, cooked to al dente.

  • 2 espresso cups (1/2-cup) farro
  • 1/4 onion, sliced very thin or diced very small
  • 1/2 cucumber sliced thin
  • 1 medium tomato diced
  • 1 espresso cup (1/4-cup) of minced fresh summer herbs, such as basil, thyme and marjoram - no heavy ones like sage and rosemary

Soak 2 espresso cups of raw farro overnight, then drain, and with fresh cold water at least 1-1/2" over the farro, and with a large pinch of salt, boil it for 15-20 minutes until cooked al dente. While it is cooking, chop and dice the vegetables and herbs (or any combination of them).

When the farro is cooked, drain it and immediately toss in the vegetables and herbs to wilt them a bit. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over it, and drizzle with plenty of olive oil. Stir up and check for salt. Correct it. Serve warm.

Winter Farro (Spelt)

Serves four as a first course.

  • 2 espresso cups (1/2-cup) farro

Soak 2 espresso cups of raw farro overnight, then drain, and with fresh cold water at least 1-1/2" over the farro, and with a large pinch of salt, boil it for 15-20 minutes until cooked al dente.

Make a vegetable broth (soffrito) with these vegetables:

  • 1 carrot
  • 2 stalks of celery including the leaves
  • 1 medium onion

Chop the vegetables fine and salt them lightly. Saute the soffrito over low heat until the vegetables sweat and soften. Deglaze the pan with just a splash of any kind of wine, stirring well. When the wine cooks off, add about 1/2 liter (2 cups) of water and bring to a simmer. Leave this vegetable broth to simmer until you need it.

  • 250 grams (1/2 pound) of porcini mushrooms or other mushrooms you like

Clean the mushrooms well and slice or cut into chunks. Saute them in olive oil until done to your liking. Add the vegetable broth to the frying pan with the mushrooms, and then add the cooked and drained farro. Taste and correct for salt.

Grind pepper over it and serve in bowls as a hearty winter first course or a vegetarian main course. It is usual to leave a thin trail of olive oil on the top in the bowl, and some finely minced parsley makes it look nicer, too.

Crema di Pomodoro

This makes a couple of liters of soup, but I can eat a liter of it all alone.

Crema di Pomodoro

  • 2 espresso cups (1/2-cup) rice, boiled in a generous amount of salted water and drained. Set aside.
  • About 1 kilo (2 pounds) of fresh tomatoes, diced, or an equivalent amount of tinned tomatoes, chopped up (if you do not have a blender or food mill, get passata di pomodori, pureed pure tomatoes found in the canned tomato section of the grocery shop)
  • 3 tablespoons/cucchiai of good olive oil
  • 4 espresso cups (1 cup) chopped onion
  • A good-sized pinch of salt
  • 1/2 liter (2 cups) of milk (skim (scremato) will do)
  • About 2 teaspoons/cucchiaini of salt

Warm the oil in a deep pot on low heat and saute the onions with the first salt until really softened, but don't brown them. If they brown it will not kill the soup. It is important to completely cook the onions, because once the tomatoes are added, they don't allow the onions to cook further. When the onions are cooked, if you know your tomatoes are not very sweet, you can add a glug of sherry or Marsala and let it cook off.

Add the diced tomatoes and about two teaspoons/cucchiaini of salt. Cook this slowly, stirring it once in a while to make sure all the tomato pieces are getting cooked, until the tomatoes are softened, about ten minutes or so. Use a stick blender to blend it smooth in the pan. If you don't have one, you can use a food mill of any type. Most Italian kitchens do have a simple food mill, called a passaverdura, but if you have nothing of the kind in your rental kitchen, then use passata di pomodori from the grocery store instead of fresh or tinned tomatoes. Return the pot to low heat.

Slowly, one tablespoon at a time to begin with, stir in two cups of milk. Stir it up, and a pinch at a time, correct the salt to your taste. Grind in some pepper, too. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat.

To serve it, put some cooked rice in a soup bowl and ladle the tomato cream over it.

You can freeze this, but freeze the rice separately.

For me, this needs nothing further but a spoon, but I can already hear you thinking of grated Parmigiano or a spoonful of pesto - go ahead and try it! In Umbria, most would add a thread of oil in a swirl on top.

Fusion Pasta with Gorgonzola and Pecans

Serves four persons as a first course or three as a meal with a contorno.

Fusion Pasta with Gorgonzola and Pecans

  • About 280 grams (10 ounces) of penne
  • A huge pot of water
  • A small handful of salt
  • 1 tablespoon/cucchiaio olive oil
  • A small onion, chopped somewhat finely
  • A couple of handfuls of coarsely chopped pecans
  • 250 grams (8 ounces - a typical package) of Gorgonzola dolce or other mild blue cheese, broken or cut into smallish pieces

Start the pasta water to boil. When the water is boiling, add the salt and the pasta and stir.

In a heavy frying pan, heat the oil, and add the onion, cooking it slowly until it is softened. Add the pecans and stir about to toast and crisp them. Add the broken up cheese to the fried onions and pecans, stirring to melt. Ladle a small amount of the pasta cooking water into the pan to make the sauce creamier. At this point, the pasta should be about done. It should be quite firm. Drain the pasta and toss it into the frying pan, stirring to coat the pasta with the sauce. Taste for salt and correct if necessary. Some cheeses are saltier than others, so you can't tell ahead whether you'll need it or not. Serve immediately, smoking hot.

Warning: This is a fast sauce. If it is cooked too long or cooked and reheated it will become lumpy and unpleasant. Gorgonzola piccante is very unpleasant in this sauce.

A fruit salad is nice with this if this pasta dish is your main course.

Pasta al Limone con Gamberetti

Serves four people.

Pasta al Limone con Gamberetti

  • 1/4 kilo (1/2 pound) frozen tiny, shelled shrimp, heated in boiling water and drained well
  • 4 tablespoons/cucchiai butter
  • 1/4 liter (1 cup) heavy cream or one tiny box of Panna da Cucina, but only Grifo brand, which has no additives
  • 4 tablespoons/cucchiai fresh lemon juice
  • Finely grated peel from 4 lemons - no pith, just the yellow part (if the lemons are large, use 2)
  • 2 espresso cups (1/2 cup) grated parmigiano-reggiano (no substitutes! use the real thing)
  • 500 grams (1 pound) of a small, hard wheat (grano duro) pasta without eggs (select a small, non-tubular pasta shape, such as casarecce or rotini or farfalle)

Make the sauce in a skillet or pot large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta when it is done.

Combine the butter and cream in the pan and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the lemon juice and stir thoroughly. Add the lemon peel and continue stirring/boiling until the sauce is reduced to one half of its original volume if using fresh cream. If using Grifo panna da cucina, you don't need to reduce it, just cook long enough for the peel to be softened. Taste and add salt to balance the lemon. Every lemon is different and so every dish must be salted to taste. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the warm burner.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. When it is cooked, but still firm to the bite (probably 5-6 minutes for the smaller shapes), drain it and add to the pot with the sauce. Place over medium heat and toss thoroughly for just 15-20 seconds. Add the grated cheese and the shrimps and toss.

Serve immediately with additional grated cheese (I like mine with a bit of fresh ground black pepper, too!).

I like a bitter-greens salad with bits of kiwi with this, with a simple vinaigrette dressing. Without the shrimps it is Pasta al Limone, my favorite pasta.

Pasta Ispirata da Sicilia

Serves four.

Pasta Ispirata da Sicilia

  • 500 grams (1 pound) hard wheat tubular shaped pasta (penne, mezzo maniche, elbows, etc.)
  • 6 liters/quarts or more boiling water salted with a small fist of coarse salt
  • Good olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic (aglio), minced
  • 2 espresso cups (1/2 cup) minced celery including leaves stalk of celery (gamba di sedano)
  • 2 small hot red dried peppers (a smallish pinch if you use crushed flakes of pepper)
  • 1 14-ounce tin or a pint of home canned tomatoes
  • A tight fistful of torn basil leaves or marjoram leaves
  • About 2 tablespoons/cucchiai of raisins
  • About 2 tablespoons/cucchiai of pinenuts, toasted in a dry frying pan
  • A generous amount of freshly grated Parmigiano or pecorino cheese

Put the water on to boil.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pan and over lowish heat saute the celery, the pepper and garlic until the garlic is very slightly golden, then add the tomatoes and a two finger pinch of salt.

Salt the water when it is boiling hard, then throw in the pasta and stir it up.

Add the marjoram (or basil) to the sauce.

After about eight minutes, add the raisins. In two more minutes, take the pan of sauce off the heat.

The pasta should be done now, so drain it and put it back into the pot and add the sauce. Taste for salt and correct. Mix well, then add the pinenuts and stir. Serve immediately, smoking hot, with the cheese.

It's best for most people to try to find and remove the hot peppers from the sauce before mixing in the pasta, but if you like climbing the Matterhorn without a rope, don't bother and hope it is you that finds them.

I like this before a meal of sausages and spinach.

Polenta Grassa

Serves four.

Polenta Grassa

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

A word here about polenta. Using raw polenta requires stirring at the stove for about 40 minutes. You don't have to do that. Polenta Valsugana (available also in the US, just ask your grocer to stock it) has been partially cooked in high-pressure steam jets, then dried and packaged. Literally no one has been able to tell when I used it instead of the regular polenta. The pre-made, packaged stuff, however, I find absolutely unacceptable. Italians from the north are used to a larger grained polenta and that doesn't come in the quick-cook version, but then, they aren't on holiday.

  • Polenta Valsugana, multiply the directions for one by 4 (and cook as directed: 1 liter water and a heaping teaspoon/cucchiaino of salt, bring to rapid boil and while stirring, let the 16 heaping tablespoons/cucchiai colmi of the grains fall like rain into the water. Bring back to a boil and cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally over a very low flame.)
  • 1 hot red pepper, split, seeds removed and chopped relatively finely
  • 170 grams (6 ounces) of from one to three kinds of cheese, grated coarsely-- or for mozzarella, diced small. The dish shown here has about 1/3 each of mozzarella, Grana Padano and pecorino fresco.
  • Black pepper to taste

When the polenta has cooked for the eight minutes, stir in the red pepper and the cheeses, and put into an oiled baking dish. That one shown can be bought at the grocery store and is disposable, in case your kitchen doesn't have an appropriate baker. Add pepper to taste.

Put it into the oven for 20 minutes. Best warm to hot. This was a huge success with Umbrians, who couldn't figure out why they'd never thought of it. It's great in autumn and winter.

Polenta al Carbonara

Serves four unless one is me. Looks almost exactly like Polenta Grassa, but has meat in it.

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Cook Polenta Valsugana for 4 exactly as in the preceding recipe.

  • 1 etto (100 g) guanciale or pancetta tesa. Ask for it "sottlile ma non troppo" (thin, but not too thin). Cut the slices you get into 1-inch wide pieces.
  • About 100 g (3.5 ounces) of pecorino stagionato, grated coarsely
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Oil a baking dish well.

Put about 2 tablespoons/cucchiai of the oil into a frying pan and saute the guanciale until well browned and crispish, but not hard.

When the polenta is boiled, pour half into the baking dish, then scatter half the guanciale, including the oil, over it, then half the grated pecorino. Pour the rest of the polenta over that, and smooth a bit with a wet spoon. Scatter the rest of the guanciale over it, poking it down a bit, then the rest of the oil, and then scatter the rest of the pecorino over it.

Bake for 20 minutes. Best hot, smoking hot.

This is a traditional dish of the Trasimeno zone, and therefore Trasimeno wines ought to work. It's lovely with cabbage, especially sauteed.

Recipes for Secondi

Secondi is the main course, usually meat or fish.

Cotellette di Maiale ai Profumi

Cotellette di Maiale ai Profumi

Almost every home in Italy has a rosemary bush. If there isn't one at your house, there's one next-door, and anyone in Italy will give you some if you ask. For this dish ask for una mazzetta di rosmarino. There are also a couple of branches of maggiorana, or Marjoram, for which origano or Oregano substitutes handily.

If you are too shy or polite to beg for rosemary, it can be bought at almost any supermarket.

  • The appropriate amount of thin, lean pork cutlets
  • The rosemary
  • The marjoram or oregano
  • Best extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

You must beat the cutlets with a blunt instrument to flatten them and make them even thinner. You may find a battecarne in the kitchen. It looks like an enlarged stamp, like one Dickens might have used to leave his signet in the wax seal of a letter, only there is no design on the stamp part and no teeth like a meat tenderizing hammer you may have at home. Put the meat on a piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board and bang away at it until it is very thin indeed. If you don't find a battecarne, you can use the smooth bottom of a bottle, but in that case use plastic wrap on top of the cutlet as well as under it. The piece will enlarge, so cut each piece in two after pounding them.

Heat a frying pan and put a generous amount of oil in it. When the oil is hot, toss in the whole sprigs of rosemary and marjoram and fry them crisp. Remove to a paper towel. Gently lay the cutlets in the hot oil and saute briefly on each side, salting them lightly when you turn them over. This takes an extremely short time when the meat is beaten thin. There is no reason to fear disease in Italian pork, but most of us are used to pork being fairly well-done, so get it just to that point and take it out of the pan immediately. If you overcook such a lean piece of meat you will end up with sports equipment instead of supper.

Arrange the meat on a platter, lay the herbs on it, and drizzle a little raw oil over it all. Serve with lemon wedges if you like.

Bistecca con Salsa di Gorgonzola

Bistecca con Salsa di Gorgonzola

The following ingredients are needed for each serving:

  • 100 grams of good quality beefsteak or bistecca di vitellone. It might be what we know as T-bone or ribsteak, which is not what you will see on the label, but they look the same here as they do anywhere.
  • 1/2 a smallish onion, diced small and sprinkled with salt
  • About 30 grams (1 ounce) of Gorgonzola dolce or piccante (I used dolce because I already had it for the fusion pasta) diced or crumbled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

The picture above shows the dish half done. The steak has just been turned over and the cheese has just been added to the onions.

Heat a frying pan with a small amount of oil and when the oil is hot, put in the onions. Stir the onions a bit while they cook. When the onions begin to brown a bit, add the steak piece(s). When the steak just shows moisture on the surface, turn it, and put the cubed Gorgonzola on top of the onions. As soon as the steak is done to your liking (which is nearly alive for me) remove it to a plate, and then stir the onions and Gorgonzola to make them creamy and take up the meat juices, and then top the steak with the sauce. It will look like this:

Bistecca con Salsa di Gorgonzola - plated

Tacchino Tonnato

This dish was one of the biggest surprises to me! It sounded horrid, so it took me years to get around to trying it, and it is just wonderful. The salsa tonnata just doesn't taste like the sum of its ingredients, but is an entirely new flavor. This version avoids the tedium and too-much-food problem posed by the traditional recipes, which are made with a whole veal roast or a whole turkey breast.

One of the nicest things about it is that it can be served at room temperature, and so is ideal for summer when you may not want to be standing over the stove at lunch or suppertime.

  • 2 large garlic cloves (aglio), minced
  • 4 anchovy (acciughe) filets, minced (you can buy small re-closeable jars of these at supermarkets)
  • 4 little sour pickles, called cetriolini sott'aceti
  • 2 tablespoons/cucchiai finely minced parsley (prezzemolo)
  • 1 ordinary sized tin of tuna (tonno) packed in olive oil
  • 4 espresso cups (1 cup) dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon/cucchiaio drained capers (capperi)
  • 2 tablespoons/cucchiai fresh lemon juice
  • 2 espresso cups (1/2 cup) mayonnaise (maionese), Calve for choice
  • 1/2 kilo (1 pound) turkey breast filets cut into manageable pieces, at least 4

Mince the garlic, the anchovy filets, the pickles and the parsley. Drain the oil from the tuna into a warmed frying pan. Don't put the tuna in yet. Add the garlic and saute for a short time, and don't let it brown. Now add the tuna, the anchovy, the pickles and the wine. Mash it while you bring it to a boil. Cook it for about five minutes. Add the lemon juice and the mayonnaise and heat, stirring, until it is homogeneous. Add the minced capers. Take it off the stove and if you have a blender of any kind, you can blend it smooth. If not, don't worry about it, as long as you've mashed it pretty well. Leave to cool.

Wipe out the frying pan with a paper towel, and heat it again. Add good oil, heat it, and then fry the turkey cutlet pieces in it until just done. Salt and pepper them as you turn them over. Remove them to a platter and arrange them as you like.

Stir the salsa tonnata into the pan juices. Remove and cool or chill, but bring the whole thing to room temperature before eating.

Spoon the sauce over the turkey cutlets and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

This can be halved very easily by using the little 80-gram tins of tuna, and adjusting the rest of the ingredients proportionally.

Omelet ai Funghi

Serves four.

Omelet ai Funghi

The version shown is made with trombe di morte, one of the most unfortunately named mushrooms in history. It means trumpets of death and Italians are generally very leery of them. What are they when they aren't in Italy? Black chanterelles. A wonderful and rare thing anywhere but here.

At every season in Italy, if there is rain, there are mushrooms. If there is no rain, you must turn to a good market for the many cultivated and diverse mushrooms available here. They are often available in mixtures.

If you buy wild mushrooms from a pensioner in the market, and if you speak Italian, you may ask him how to clean the ones you've chosen. When I bought these I didn't ask, because I used to pick them on my US farm and I thought I knew what to do. I was wrong. In West Virginia they grew on moss and there was no grit. Here they grow in fine soil and there's plenty of it on the mushroom. Brushing wasn't enough. Running water wasn't enough. I had to remove the ends of the stems and soak them in cold water, whooshing them around like a washing machine with my hand, then picking them up out of the water and into a colander. It took three separate changes of clean water to get them almost perfectly clean. I was afraid I had removed the flavor, but I hadn't and they were excellent, worth the cold hands and the half-hour it took. I left them to drain and dry for half the day before cooking them. Go wild and buy from these experienced mushroom gatherers, but look carefully to see just how much dirt there is before cooking.

The omelet is not a frittata. It could be, but I think the simple egg supports the spicily earthy flavor of these wild mushrooms much better. If you insist on frittata, choose Porcini mushrooms for their more robust flavor.

  • 1/2 kilo of mushrooms, your choice, cleaned and possibly cut or sliced, if they are big
  • 2 tablespoons/cucchiai of really good oil
  • 2 tablespoons/cucchiai of butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Wine (marsala, white wine, what do you have?)

Heat the oil and butter together in a moderately hot frying pan. Add the prepared mushrooms and saute, stirring, until nicely done. Different mushrooms take different amounts of time. When they appear to be nearly done, add some salt and taste. Correct for salt. When they are done as you like them, remove them to a bowl and pour a glug of wine into the pan, stirring up to loosen any browned bits. Strain these juices over the mushrooms through a strainer, a cloth or a paper coffee filter. Grind pepper over them.

  • 6 eggs
  • 5-6 tablespoons/cucchiai of water
  • A dash of Tabasco or a pinch of cayenne (peperoncini in polvere)
  • About 1/4 teaspoon/cucchiaino of salt - be judicious, because Italian salt is saltier
  • 2 tablespoons/cucchiai of butter

With a fork or a whisk, beat the eggs slightly. Add about 1 tablespoon of cold tap water per egg, the salt and the Tabasco or cayenne and continue to beat until well-mixed.

Heat the butter in a shallow frying pan. When it sizzles a bit, pour the egg mixture into it. As it sets, lift the edges and allow uncooked egg to flow under. Continue this until it is firm, but with a glaze of uncooked egg on top. Fold one third over to the middle and then the other side over the middle, and then slide the finished omelet onto a platter. The uncooked part will cook itself from reserved heat.

Arrange the mushrooms over the omelet and cut into servings.

Frittata

To make a frittata instead, add a handful of finely grated Parmigiano or other hard (grana) grating cheese to the eggs and cook in olive oil. When it gets to the done stage, run it under the broiler if you have one. Otherwise, you must slide it whole onto a plate, then reverse the frying pan over the plate and quickly flip it over and cook the second side. I still lose part of it 25% of the times I try that. You don't fold a frittata, because it is much firmer, but cut it like a pie into wedges.

Branzino al Forno

I don't have a picture of this because it looks like a fish.

Buy one branzino per person at the fishmongers. I think it is like sea bass, but it is good, whatever it is. It's a mild, white, firm-fleshed fish that is generally available in Italy. Have the fishmonger gut and scale it for you.

The amounts of vegetables mentioned here are adequate for two to three fish. If you are cooking for more people, multiply the vegetables.

  • 1 carrot (carota)
  • 1 stalk of celery (gamba di sedano)
  • 1 small onion
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Oil a shallow baking vessel that will accommodate your fishes.

Hand-chop the peeled carrot, the onion and the celery to a fine consistency. Lay this in the baking dish. Wash the fishes under running water then dry them with a paper towel. Measure the thickness of the fish when it is lounging on the counter. Oil and salt the fishes, using your hands. Lay them on top of the minced vegetables and pop them into the hot oven. Cook them for ten minutes per inch of thickness. Then test a fish by poking it with a fork to see if it flakes or is still muscley. Don't overcook it, but take it out the second it is cooked enough to part when poked with a fork.

Grind pepper over it, and serve with lemon wedges. This recipe was translated from the words of Amelia Baldicchi.

She throws out the vegetables, but we foreigners like those too.

Recipes for Contorni

Contorni are the vegetable side dishes. Many of these can easily be vegetarian secondi or main dishes.

Insalata di Cannellini

Serves four.

Insalata di Cannellini

  • 1-14 ounce or 400 gram tin of Cannellini or white beans, drained, but not rinsed
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons/cucchiaini of any fresh herb you like, or 1 teaspoon/cucchiaino of any dried herb (I favor thyme)
  • About 1/4 cup of thinly sliced onion
  • Optionally, cumin (comino) as well
  • Great olive oil
  • Salt

In a bowl, place the herb and squeeze the lemon juice over it. Toss in the drained beans, then the onion, then a bit of salt. Drizzle generously with olive oil. Stir and then taste. You have to balance the lemon with salt and oil until it tastes good. No one can tell you how much of either it will take, because every lemon is different. I mean it.

When it tastes pretty good, cover it with a clean kitchen towel and leave it on the counter for a few hours and it will become luscious. Alternatively, you can cover it and put it into the fridge overnight, but bring it to ambient temperature before serving it.

Saltata di verdure

Saltata di verdure - start

This may seem like a strange thing to have a recipe for, but most people are surprised at how much Swiss chard (biettole) or spinach (spinacci) you need to start with to get a normal amount to serve four people. The photo above shows the amount you start with. The photo below shows how much it cooks down.

  • One bunch of Swiss chard (biettole) or spinach (spinacci). I pick a small bunch and it is usually about 1/2 kilo or 1 pound. When cleaned and sliced it entirely fills a big saute pan.
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • whole dried chili (optional)
  • salt

Wash the greens in a big bowl full of cold salted water - the salt will make any critters flee - then change the water to fresh water and then maybe do it a third time. With each washing more fine soil will drop to the bottom of the bowl.

With big greens like Swiss chard, lay them in a compact pile on a cutting board and cut them across in about 3/4" strips. (For tough greens, cut them into extremely small strips, what is called a chiffonade, which can be as narrow as 1/8".) Sprinkle the greens with some salt as they lay there, because things saute and soften better if salted. Onions do, too.

In the biggest frying pan or other shallow cooking pan you can find, heat a generous amount of oil. Peel and slice thickly some fresh garlic while it heats up. Throw the garlic in and cook it briefly, but do not allow it to brown. I often add a cracked-open whole, dried chili at this point, too. Add the greens and saute, stirring, until just done. For tough greens, it may be necessary to add a little water and cook, covered, for several minutes. It then become brasata, but we will not bandy words.

You will finish with this small amount of cooked vegetable!

Saltata di verdure - done

I begged the restaurateur yesterday to tell me why his spinacci ai peperoncini is better than mine is and this is what he told me. Boil the spinach in just the water left from washing it, until done but still emerald green. Then put finely minced garlic and crushed or powdered chili (peperoncini) into a moderate amount of olive oil in a little frying pan and cook it briefly. Toss the spinach in it, turning well so that it is softly and completely coated, but not oily. Correct for salt. I shall be happy forever if my spinach goes from good to great, as his has.

Cipolle al Forno con Rosmarino

Cipolle al Forno con Rosmarino

This started with a recipe from someone else, and it sounded good, but it wasn't. A couple of fiddles with the idea and it is now a favorite.

  • 6 good sized onions
  • A small handful of flour - small, I say!
  • A couple of branches of rosemary, remove the needles and toss the stem
  • 125 ml (about 1/2 cup) red wine vinegar
  • 65 ml (about 1/4 cup) olive oil
  • A thumb and two finger pinch of salt (this is the bigger pinch, or pizzico, there are 3 finger and all finger pinches, too)
  • The same amount of sugar
  • Pepper

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Peel the onions well, and core out the compact stem part. Either cut them in half or cut off the top (as in photo above). Oil a shallow baking dish or a disposable foil one, and place the onions in it. Sprinkle the flour over them, and then the rosemary leaves. Mix together the vinegar, the oil and the salt and pour half over the onions.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes and then spoon some more liquid over the onions, using about half the remaining vinegar solution. Cook another 15 minutes and baste with the rest of the solution. Let sit a few minutes before serving. They still have a bit of crispness to them when they are done. They are good at room temperature another day, or reheated, too.

Sformata di Porri

Small version which serves four as a contorno.

Sformata di Porri

The leeks one buys in Italy are simply splendid. They are fairly clean, they have lots of white and pale green part and they are really, really tasty. This is only one of the many ways I use them through the autumn and winter. With the eggs and cheese in this dish, it can be a secondo or a contorno. I promise you that it is better than Kraft Dinner.

  • 1 leek if large, or two if not, cleaned, dark part removed and sliced about 5/8" thick. It should come to about 2 cups of raw leek slices. Because the leeks are sliced, if you are making this in a place where the leeks are very dirty, you can prepare them as I do, then after they are sliced, you can separate the rings and re-wash them in cold water, then lift them out away from the soil.
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and boiled until done
  • 1 tablespoon/cucchiaio of butter
  • 1 tablespoon/cucchiaio of oil
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten with a fork
  • About 60 grams (2 ounces) of pecorino, or grana padano, or other firm cheese, grated coarsely. You may need more if your dish is wide and shallow rather than upright like mine.
  • Salt
  • Pepper

You can cook the leeks ahead of time if you like. Just put some water into a lidded pot, add some salt and boil them until tender. Drain them well. Mash or blend them to mush.

Cook the potatoes as above, and while they are still hot, use a ricer if you have one. If you don't, use a potato masher. If you don't have that either, use the bottom of a bottle. Mash as well as you can. Immediately add the butter and oil and about a scarce 1/2-teaspoon of salt. Stir in the eggs and half the grated cheese. Stir in the mashed leek mush. Grind a little pepper into it.

Butter (oil will not do here) a baking dish and pile the mixture into it and then smooth with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the remaining cheese all over the top. If your dish is wide that may take more cheese as stated. I always reserve one round of leek to put on top as a warning: oniony stuff lurks within. Drizzle a very tiny amount of oil over it.

Bake about 40 minutes, or until puffy and golden. Eat hot.

Note: December 2005, I recently made this dish in the USA and I found the potatoes were dryer there, so if you make it and it is stiff enough to hold a shape when piled with a spoon, add some milk or cream; just enough so that it is fluid enough that it won't pile up.

Fast Grilled Tomatoes (without a grill)

 Fast Grilled Tomatoes - start

It starts like this. Simply clean and core a big tomato, cut in half, melt butter in a frying pan and put them face down into the butter. Cook until they start to sag, showing they are about half-cooked.

Turn them over and sprinkle the face side with salt and minced or shredded basil leaves. Cover. Cook about the same amount of time it took for the first side, then uncover and cook a minute to dry out any tomato water that escaped.

Some like Parmigiano Reggiano on these, but that's a bit banal for me, so I like their acidity with oily or creamy foods.

You end up with this:

Fast Grilled Tomatoes - end

Recipes for Dolci

Dolci is the dessert course. My advice is to indulge yourself when you pass an irresistible pasticceria. Italian desserts are a bit tough to make if you don't have the equipment.

Recipes for Dolci (Dessert)

Otherwise, try something like this array, all of which was collected in the wild or bought in the shops. The wine, Tanit, was recommended to me by a sommelier friend and lives up to her applause. It's at my Coop and it is cheap.

Fruits, nuts and cheese; what could be better? The cheeses shown are a pecorino fresco brinato, which has something of the rich butteriness of mozzarella bufala, and a five year old Parmigiano Reggiano. I have found a grana di bufala, too, but with this pecorino I decided a really good, nutty Parmigiano was better. If you run across grana di bufala, do try it. It is a real knockout.


Have fun cooking your dinners in your vacation rental kitchen!!

Resources

One Year of the Way I See Italy: Judith's photo album of Italy.

Slow Travel Italy - Instructions - Food Shopping: How to use the small food shops and large supermarkets.

www.joshmadison.com/software: JoshMadison.com, free converter, converts units from one type to another.


I was born in Maine and reared here and there, mostly on the East Coast. I eventually graduated from university with a major in design and minors in Italian and horticulture and then settled down, more or less, to qualify in and practice interior design. In 2000, over the protests of my child, I decided to retire early and live in Italy.

I still live here, and I am content to the point where folks often hold a mirror in front of my mouth to check that I am still breathing. Italy has all my favorite stuff: fashion, dancing, music, history, adorable men, wine and food. And now me.
Think on It: Philosophy from an Umbrian Farmer

© Judith Ayotte Greenwood, 2005

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