Curious Appetite

cooking

Big hunks of meat and men in Italy

Meat. MEAT. It’s a controversial thing. I was however a vegetarian at one point. Not for fun and not for fashion no no. For 8 years. You’ll never guess what broke my carnal strike. Italy. 2007. Rome. Product: Free range chicken. Yep, damn skippy I ate that. And it’s been love ever since.

After a conversation about food (shocking in Italy, I know) with my new best friend who happens to be a chef was shocked that I hadn’t tasted la bistecca fiorentina yet. The Florentine Steak. I see his point but bear with me, there are a couple reasons:

1. I haven’t won the lottery yet. (America, enjoy your cheap subsidized meat while you can.) 2. I haven’t met the right restaurant.

But my new best friend tells me it’s so easy to make at home and with meat from the market. Italian meat market. ahh. ha. ha. Poor me…

So I forget the cut he tells me to buy. I speak Italian thanks to many years of studying classical writers, historians and poets in college. I might be able to recite a line from Dante’s Inferno in the Florentine dialect, but I am completely ignorant to how to order cuts of meats from the butcher. Sirloin? Flank? Howdya learn THAT?

Google was pretty useless for a meat guide. So I try to just go to the market and pick out a piece that looks like the right kind.

And as you can see, it’s pretty damn hard to decide. There is even a cut of meat called “bicchiere” which means glass (like a glass drinking cup). After talking to the meat man (ohhhh yeeeeeaaaah) the right cut is like 25 euros a kilo. In the restaurant it’s like 45, so not so bad if you can make it at home. I told him I would do a “giro” of the market and come back.

So I finally found a cut. A cut from a traditional Italian bovine race called Chianina, one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world. Tuscans and tourists who know 3 things about Italian gastronomy go nuts about it for some reason.

Tonight I will endeavor this little hunk of Chianina love. So far, I have stuffed eggplant and a caprese salad to pair. Red wine as well, but of course. I decided to make the steak in a tagliata (cut) fashion with arugula and shaved grana padana.

To be continued….

Curious Appetite

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Marx food Random Recipe challenge: the winner is…

The winner is…Lady Curious Appetite!

About 2 weeks ago I blogged about making a wonderful and tasty stuffed squash per inspiration for a Food Blogger Challenge I was selected to participate in! The winning recipe can be found here:

https://thecuriousappetite.com/2011/10/14/marxfood-random-recipe-challenge-wildly-stuffed-squash/

I was so ecstatic to see that my recipe was so well received. And, the competition was fierce. In fact, I would have had a hard time choosing between carmelized pork empanadas, my wild stuffed squash AND coconut wild rice pudding too! I invite you all to read the announcement with the links to the fellow random recipe participants as well, I was quite impressed (and inspired!) by all of their blogs!

http://marxfood.com/random-recipe-challenge-winner-not-randomly-chosen/

I also realized that my traffic has gone up a smidgen since the challenge and I’d like to thank every single eye ball and fingertip for taking the time to visit my blog of random food musings, I appreciate the precious time that is taken out of your important days for following up on the curious! Thank you again!

And also, check out Marx Foods! I’m dying to try their GABA Rice, which is fermented and sprouted brown rice. It’s called GABA because during the sprouting enzymatic process, GABA is a residual by-product. GABA, is not only an acronym that I can’t be bothered with GoOgGlE’ING, it is a neurotransmitter/amino acid important for starving anxiety, poor sleep patterns and stress waves away! In Japan, it is common to find rice cookers with a GABA option cook setting! GABA GABA DOO! 😛

Stay tuned for more recipes by Lady Curious!

Healthy, Easy Fall inspired Quiche.

The incredible edible egg. You can boil, fry, bake, poach, baste, whip, even froth an egg into just about 12 million recipes. Did you know they are used in some cocktails AND thought to be the perfect protein? Sorry vegans. If its any consolation, my eggs come from a happy local farm where I know I am always welcome to look the chicken in its beady eye and make sure they aren’t bluffing.

Quiche are unusually easy to make, especially if you prefer not to mess about with a homemade crust, which is also easy. But lets be honest, you might be busy and a store bought crust may be your time efficient option. Mine too. It helps that Wholly Wholesome makes spelt flour pie shells wholly delish.

Quiche is also great for putting left over veggies and eggs for a hearty week-long supply of a good thing. I put leeks,heirloom garlic, fennel root, heirloom tomatoes, broccoli and sharp cheddar in mine. To make it health(ier) minded, I only used 2 whole eggs and 4 egg whites.

Here’s my stuff:

1 small leek, cut in discs

2 cloves crushed/chopped garlic

1 cup sliced fennel root

1 cup slightly (like 2 minutes) steamed broccoli florets

2 small heirloom tomatoes (I used a zebra and a brandyvine)

1/2 cup (or more if you’re cheesy:) of shredded sharp cheddar

butter and olive oil for pan

cumin, paprika, a dash of fresh cracked coriander and plenty fresh cracker pepper

optional: 1/2 sweet onion

Method: Saute’ the leeks and chopped garlic in olive oil and butter for a good 2 minutes on medium/med-low. I love cooking with a little butter and a little olive oil. This is not only for obvious flavor reasons, but also because olive oil alone burns easily. And I think food is too heavy cooked just in butter. Happy compromise.

Okay…so after 2 minutes add the fennel root. While thats cooking down, slice and chop tomatoes and drain out as much liquid and seeds as possible. The broccoli can steam in a rice cooker (granted yours came with the extra attachment) for about 2 minutes. Slice the florets down the middle.

3 minutes or a couple more may have passed by now so add the tomatoes, broccoli and your spices of choice (or mine) and let that merge together for a few minutes. Be mindful as to not overcook, all this with some egg is going in the oven next.

Once this veggie mix is ready…

…pour it evenly into the pie crust.

In a largish bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 4 egg whites OR 1 cup of egg whites (you can get just egg whites at almost any grocery store) with the grated cheese. Then pour the egg/cheese mixture over your veggie quiche filling!

You can bake this with or without a foil cover, I baked without. Leave this in the oven for about 30mins at 375 and you should get something that looks a lil like this:

If you want the cheese to be a little browned, put this under the broiler for a few minutes.

This is yummy, the leeks and garlic really dress the veggies well (and who can argue about the affinity cheddar has with broccoli?) And best of all, its semi-guilt-free! This pie is packed with quality  protein, B-vitamins, fiber, free-radical scavenging antioxidants, healthy fats, minerals (sure, why not?) and has a slow burning glycemic load.

Made in advance, this quiche can provide an energizing (and tasty) blood-sugar friendly breakfast or lunch for at least 4-5 days.

At dinner, it would be complete with a glass of bright, citrus, melon and minerally white wine such as a Riesling, Muscadet or go all out with the bubbly. If you really need some Vitamin C, go ahead and make a mimosa with the bubbly:)

And get creative! Come up with your own fillings and enjoy the convenience and comfort of some QUICHE!

MarxFood Random Recipe Challenge: Wildly Stuffed Squash!

I rarely blog about making food, but rather critique others who make it. Nevertheless, thanks to being a food blogger, MarxFood.com sent me some random samples as apart of a recipe contest! The much anticipated box had come with an assortment of dried gourmet goodies: black trumpet mushrooms, Japones Chilies, Habanero Chilies, Wild Rice and Coconut Sap Sugar. Hmmmmm, I thought, what to do with such differing powers of flavor! I stewed long and hard going through explosive japones chili thai soupy thoughts to Mexican habanero rasberry coconut sap jam dreams. Part of the challenge is that I would need to use at least 2 of the 5 ingredients in order to come up with some random dish. Finally after days of tossing the ingredients back and forth in my head, I realized the conception:

Wild and Foraged Stuffed Winter Squash. Baked with coconut sap and finished with black truffle oil. For this recipe, I utilized 3 of the 5 ingredients sent! What makes it wild is the wild rice, foraged dried black trumpet mushrooms and fresh chantrelles. And of course, truffle oil is pretty wild itself!

I love fall cooking, the possibilities are endless! I love the rib sticking goodness of bright carby squashes. I realized that we are also totally in mushroom season so I wanted to capitalize on the earthy pattern of the wild rice and black trumpets by incorporating further mushroom compliments: chantrelles and black truffle oil. Not to mention,  the milky salty touch of ricotta salata that imparts the creamy texture of its fresh grassy ricotta sister while insinuating the briney similarities of a feta.

I took a trip down to the weekend farmer’s market to obtain the bulk of the seasonal foods at hand:

(the following images may be of extreme graphic nature and I totally blame Monica Barrett for being the official food pornagrapher and gastrocohort)

Serves 4, easily:

1 each of Carnival, delicata and acorn squash

2 cups of fresh spinach

1/2 lb of Fresh chantrelles

8 ounces of ricotta salata (cheese)

1 lb smoked keta salmon fillet

2 small leeks or 1 large

1 dry cup of wild rice

4 oz Black Trumpet Mushrooms (dried)

clove of garlic, crushed and chopped

olive oil for saute’

coconut sap sugar, for exposed squash edges in final baking phase

black truffle oil to finish

(salt and pepper to taste)

…all bought fresh, local and organic at the Farmer’s Market!

The bags you see are the little samples MarxFood sent that tied it all together! I also PAIRED the whole dinner with an unoaked WA state Ryan Patrick Chardonnay from Piccola Wine.

Now that you have the grocery list, here goes the process:

Overview: The idea is to stuff the squash with a lightly sauteed melange of foraged wild mushrooms (such as the black trumpet and fresh chantrelles), leeks and spinach with garlic and olive oil. Then mix this “melange” with perfectly tender and chewy wild rice. Crumble in ricotta salata then fill in the various squashes after they have been prebaked at 350 faced down in olive oil), sprinkle with coconut sap at the edges to brown, caramelize and bake to perfection.

1st step,  reconstitute the dried mushooms in hot water for about 30 minutes. Be glad the black trumpets are dried because that means you can use the earthy umami broth to cook the wild rice in. Sit down and relax for 30 minutes. Have a glass of Zin and snack on pumpkin bread while they become “constituted.”

30 minutes later: now we drain the hydrated trumpets, ahhhh. Now you’re left with mushroom broth. And you’re going to cook the wild rice in it, trust me. I was happy to be “green” and recycle this precious water. Once the black trumpets were reconstituted, the stuffing game was on.

It’s all a time juggle. Wild rice on the back burner, squashes pre-bake in the oven just waiting to be stuffed, saute’ pan is simmering with leeks, garlic, foraged mushrooms and finished with wilted spinach.35 minutes or so later, your whole puzzle is ready to be put together. Fold in the mushroom-leek saute with the earthy aromatic Wild Rice, and then hand crumble ricotta salata over the stuffing like snow.

Use a deep spoon to scoop to stuff and mold. After stuffing, the edges of the squash were carefully sprinkled and hand pressed with coconut sap so that they could sort of be caramelized at the edges. Bake uncovered at 350 for an additional 20 minutes.

A good tip that I failed to mention before is that you need to slice the squash lengthwise, and kinda gut the squash. As pointed out to me by my faithful gastrocohort, aka the fabulous food pornagrapher of this endeavor, the seeds are totally salvagable and should be toasted with salt while the squash prebake, that way you have an interim nibble while they bake during the 20 minute finale.

Careful, don’t fall into the temptation to gobble all these up. Save some, because they make a nice presentation for the final product. My cohort had to slap my hand a couple times. This is probably the real reason I enlisted the culinary support of food pornagrapher Monica…to make sure that I didn’t drink all the wine and eat all the fixins!

Once they have cooled down, line the middle of your plate with the toasted seeds. Portion off a slab of smoked salmon, maybe lay a couple thin slices of ricotta salata atop smokey slab. Then drizzle your much aromatic black truffle oil in zig zaggy layers. It should look a lil’ something like this:

Tasting notes: Pairing the unoaked Chardonnay was a brilliant idea. It complimented the sweet onset of the squash and supported the lingering earthy umami finish brought to you by the mushrooms and spots of truffle. The mushrooms served as a true bridge to bring you a silky full mouth-feel explosion of sweet, savory and umami.

Pairing with the smoked salmon was almost too good to be true, it imparted a sweet salmon candy pop and accented lemony notes from the Chardonnay and an unassuming fruit “punch” with the ricotta salata.

Conclusion: This was quite the treat. Its worth every minute of prep and attention to detail. Be warned: you may fall into a food coma and not wanna get up.

Hope you try this at home!

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