Curious Appetite

Cooking

The art of Tuscan soup making

One of the things I absolutely LOVE about Tuscany is seasonality in the local cuisine. It’s not trendy like it is in the states, it’s just the way it’s done because: IT MAKES BLOODY SENSE. I love how the markets change the availability of foods with the season and I love that restaurants change their menù, too. I can’t stress enough how much that I love that eating seasonally isn’t mega trendy like it is back in the states because otherwise it would come at a hefty inflated marketed price. In Tuscany, we can get a bunch of local, organic kale for THIRTY CENTS while in Seattle the same costs $3 a bunch. Continue Reading

Big hunk of la tagliata in Florence

In my last post, I ranted for about 12 hours about getting a hold of some Italian meat for a tagliata (sliced Florentine steak) experiment. I wanted to see if you could make grilled steak at home without a grill since at the time, I only had this ceramic pan. My new best friend who is a chef told me if could be done and told me how- as long as I could find a good piece of meat.

Well this is the piece of meat I found. Chianina.

My frog oven mitten was an admitted casualty in this process. 1st the cow…now the frogs…

Then about 3 minutes on each side this hunk of love made my house smoke

Then I turned the flame off and threw on the pan cover for about 2 minutes to let the juices set in, not dry out. The point that my chef friend told me was to let the meat rest before slicing into it to. I also remember my new best friend saying to throw on the lid or coperchio (which I thought was called copricoperchio)

Last step was the sprinkle on some “grosso” sea salt (chunky flakes). According to BFF, the heat makes the salt scioglie (melt) into the carne flesh.

Final dish: sliced tagliata on some peppery arugula with sliced parmigiano and drizzed with fresh olive oil, aged balsamic and cracked fresh pepper.

Result: Delicious. Wine pairing: Rosso di Montalcino (fancy for Sangiovese. Wine speak for red wine from Tuscany). You could taste the countryside in this flesh. It was a rollercoaster of flavor. Texture: not tough but not melt in your mouth. Realization: I should have bought the meat in advance and let the muscle fibers relax for a couple of days. FISH is what you want to use up the same day, not steak. And I should have cooked it for less time. Still tasty though. A good reminder of why eating Tuscan ranged meat is way better that the corn fed confined American crap meat. I swear I could taste the Chianti the Chianina was reared on. (Chianina do not actually fed on wine grapes, that is just my food fantasy).

For the curious appetite in everyone…

Curious Appetite

Homemade fresh pasta and wild boar ragù

A lot of people I know who like Italian food love pasta. It is the cornerstone of Italian cuisine, it is what makes Italian cuisine, at least modern-day Italian. I go through phases of shunning carbs and gluten but during the winter months like January and February- I can’t seem to help myself.

Recently I have had to attend some culinary dinner events which included pasta making top chef-like challenges. So after one weekend of an event I borrow a pasta maker because I’m really curious if I can do it on my own after observing it at these events. All I gotta do is look up a recipe, give me a machine and I’ll figure it out, right?

So I call a pal to see if she is game for an afternoon of pasta making. She trumps my request by adding that we make our fresh pasta with a ragù of cinghiale (aka wild boar ragù). The game is on.

The night before I was excited. I told some Italian friends about my plans for the next day, they seemed impressed and respond by saying basically how weird is it that a couple of Americans are making something that Italians themselves are forgetting about.  Italy is being colonized by the Big Mac meanwhile American foodies teach themselves how to make the traditional dishes their grandparents used to make. Incredible.

After some trials and tribulations of finding wild boar meat in the city of Florence, my trusty sidekick succeeds in finding some from a local butcher and marinates it overnight with garlic, rosemary and wine.

We spend about 3 hours simmering a wild boar ragù– which is basically a red meat sauce starting with a battuto of carrot, celery, onion, peeled tomatoes, red wine and ground marinated cinghiale.

While the sauce is simmering we mak’ala pasta!


Start with 1 cup of all purpose flour and a cup of whole grain flour (believe me the consistency and texture is real nice- plus the fiber will make you feel less guilty for eating pasta! score!) mix it in a bowl with a pinch of sea salt. Pour it on a dry surface and stick your fingers in the middle to form a volcano


Then when you get a deep valley in your lump of flour, crack 4 eggs into it, careful to not let the lava spill quite yet.


Then you put a few drops of olive oil in your egg lava nest and try to whisk the mix without letting it spill of the sides. But if it does, don’t worry. I did and the pasta came out just fine. Once the lava is all mixed, start incorporating flour in little by little with a fork.


Then just say screw it with the dainty fork and just get your hands all up in it and capture all your flour and knead like crazy- pasta dough is very kneady process and needs a lot of kneading care. get it…get it??!!! It’s a PUN!!!! No? Just me? Okay moving on….


Once your dough has got all it has kneaded..(okay, I promise to stop…) Tada! Let it rest, it’s taken quite the beating. For about a half an hour. In the meantime, feel free to eat chocolate, drink coffee and sip on wine. Yep, that’s Italy!


After the rest and by now I hope you’re buzzing and cracked out on caffeine…it’s the perfect time to do something time consuming and somewhat tedious- and that’s rolling out the pasta dough and cutting it! Good thing we were making a slow cooked ragù…maybe that’s why it was discovered! Maybe someone left some meat sauce on the stove while making fresh pasta and it turned into a delicious melt-in-your mouth wonder!

Be sure to keep your surface nice and floured as you are slicing your dough and flattening it out a bit.

When using a pasta machine and making sheets of pasta from the dough, start with the lowest setting and work your way up to your desired thickness/thinness. Once you make flat sheets of pasta, you put it through the cutting attachment as seen here in exhibit: z.

After you cut your pasta, you lay them on a flat plate-object like a plastic sheet or cutting board make sure they don’t stick together by adding a bit of flour, untangling the strands like hair.

And you must have a fun face on while you are doing it. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, in life you must always have a fun face on.

Your slow cooked ragù is almost ready. So boil up a large pot of water, add all your hard earned pasta in and cook for no more than 3 minutes. A spectator in the peanut gallery of this adventure said “how funny that something that takes so long to prepare takes so little to cook.” Deep thoughts about pasta, yes this is Italy.

When your pasta is cooked and drained, pile some on a few plates and dollop a nice ladle of your slow simmered wild boar cinghiale ragù on top. Grate some aged pecorino on top and you got yourself a plate of pasta that will knock Dante Alighieri’s socks off.

Don’t forget to stop and smell. Watch. Drool. Devour.

Don’t forget to pair with some red wine. Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino…heck just make sure you have some goddamn red wine, preferably from Tuscany. Oh and make sure it’s daytime. Drinking during the day is totally okay. Only in Italy can you drink all day and be called a wine expert. Back home we call that a lush or an alcoholic! What a relief to live with real culture!

I think I will use this post as blackmail to get my friends and family back home to come visit. You want this? Then come visit me. Mwahahahaha! I mean, hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket is sooooo worth a lunch like this…and with me- hello! Sheesh. NO BRAINER! See you soon! 😛

BUON APPETITO!

Thanks to Sarah, my partner is cinghiale crime, for the lovely photos. You can follow her blog on her adventures as a movement theater teacher at Helikos in Florence here: http://slianef.wordpress.com/

Cooking: Pesto alla Siciliana

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I discovered a new sauce that has inspired a couple of new dinner ideas. I have been trying to cook more at home these days, and there is a cookbook on the traditional cucina fiorentina (Florentine cuisine) that is haunting me on the kitchen table with several bookmarks mocking me to venture and make traditional goodies like salsa tartufata (truffle sauce for pasta or meats), fegatino (chicken liver and heart pate) and ribollita ( 2X cooked peasant bread, tomato, veg and bean soup).  But I am too intimidated. Every time I go to  the butcher at my local farmer’s market to brave buying pure chicken hearts and liver, I get scatty as soon as I see the blood covered butcher howling “Prego” at me. I run away and just get my typical dainty fruit and veg and perhaps some cold cuts.

So I end up instead at the grocery store, reducing myself to the pre-made pasta sauces accepting my reluctance to make a salsa tartufata. I see a jar that looks interesting, it’s called Pesto alla Siciliana. It had a nice little picture of ricotta and tomatoes on it and I thought hmmmm this looks adventurous! Until I read the ingredients: Instead of olive oil, there is sunflower seed oil. Instead of pine nuts, there are cashews (anacardi). And to my great disappointment, there is glucose syrup AND sugar! I put my foot down (and the jar back on the shelf) and said: “this avoidance to cook is not to be tolerated any more!” I will make this myself!

So from the label, I gathered more or less what this recipe was asking for. Fresh tomatoes, tomato concentrate, garlic, ricotta, pine nuts, grated aged pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), herbs and a touch of olive oil.

I looked up a recipe for Pesto alla Siciliana just to be sure and I got chopping and grinding away. I used a hand blender to put it all together and voilà! A thick creamy umami nutty goopy pink sauce that will make any pasta more cozy.

 

Fry up some sausage on the side and mix in with this red pesto. Boil up some pasta (ideally penne, rigatoni or tortiglioni tubular pastas for the sauce to coat and the sausage to stick to), mix in the red pesto BY adding the pasta to the pan with pesto sauce and sausage and jump/toss the pasta to mix all together. 


I top this pasta with chopped parsley that comes in with my odori (herb) bunch from my veg guy Leo, who has a strange resemblance to the comic book guy on The Simpsons.

You can also cooked in chopped sage with the sausage, again from odori bunch from Leo. It came out extremely delicious to say the least. The sauce and bits of sage coated sausage coated and filled the big chewy hollow pasta tubes.

If I were drinking this month, I would have paired it with a glass of Negroamaro from Puglia, which is basically Italian for Zinfandel. It tends to be pretty basic yet full and slightly fruity while being high in alcohol. This pasta doesn’t need some complex aged wine with tons of structure. I wonder if a layered white like a Sauvignon from La Maremma (southern Tuscany) would have fared well. We will never know…unless you try.

This sauce is very simple to make and I highly recommend you make it to add some variety to your pasta routine. I think this would make an excellent lasagna base as well. Oh want a recipe? Here ya go!

http://ricette.giallozafferano.it/Pesto-alla-siciliana.html

It’s in Italian so maybe turn on the English version or your go go google translate super powers.

Buon appetito!

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