Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Zucchini Balsamella – Zucchini Bechamel

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

My garden runneth over with zucchini. I know. I’m not alone.

About this time of year the excitement in finding one or several zucchini beneath a canopy of green begins to wear thin. If you’re like some of my gardening friends you take the easy way out and give most of them to friends and neighbors.

Yes, it’s nice to share. But, don’t do it because you’re uninspired.  When I first started this blog I posted two excellent recipes for zucchini:

- Calabacitas con elote – a Mexican zucchini and corn succotash
- Kabak mucveri – Turkish zucchini fritters

And, because I’m a zucchini aficionado, I have a few more recipes coming your way, including this one for zucchini béchamel.

If you’re unfamiliar, not to worry, béchamel is a white sauce made out of a simple roux of butter, flour and milk. It is considered one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. So, when I came upon a recipe for Tortino di Zucchini, a crustless zucchini tart with béchamel sauce in the famed Italian cookbook, The Art of Eating Well by Pelligrino Artusi, I was curious.

Artusi explains that the Italian “balsamella,” is the “. . . equivalent to the béchamel sauce of the French, except theirs is more complicated.” His version omits the French step of cooking the sauce with onion and cloves.

According to many, The Art of Eating Well is the grandfather of Italian cookbooks, treasured by home cooks like the Joy of Cooking is to American audiences – except it dates back more than a century. . . In 1891, Artusi a retired Florentine silk merchant, self-published La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well). It is a collection of recipes from all the different regions of Italy – although it is heavily Tuscan-influenced. The cookbook has been in continuous print since 1894 and was finally translated into English in 1996.

The recipes sometimes have obscure ingredient measurements and scant instructions, which I think adds to its charm. Since most of these recipes were collected from home cooks, it makes sense – a pinch of this or a handful of that.

Since the first time I made the zucchini tart last summer, I’ve modified it significantly for the modern cook. And, I think it has more in common with a casserole than a tart. And, technically my version is a Mornay sauce (since it has cheese). It’s not a quick dish to make, but it is worth the effort. To make it easier, make up the béchamel a day or two in advance and reheat.

The final result is semi-crisp zucchini baked in a creamy cheese sauce that hints of nutmeg. It’s a perfect dish to take to a potluck or for those occassions you’re hankering for macaroni and cheese – but, this one is vegetable based.

Buon appetito!

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Parsley: Deviled Eggs with Italian Salsa Verde

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Deviled Eggs Italian Salsa Verde_ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Until last week I was not a deviled egg fan.

I admit to frowning when someone showed up to a party with a plate of ho hum deviled eggs – you know the ones – mashed yolks flavored with too much mayonnaise. Pretty BLAH.

Call me a food snob, but to me, it’s just a notch above bringing cheap hotdogs. (Fear not, I’m gracious and appreciate the thought.)

My attitude changed last week when I made these deviled eggs with Italian salsa verde.

As you know from my last post, Italian green sauce is a fresh herb condiment traditionally paired with boiled eggs – either as an ingredient in the sauce or as a topping for eggs. Thinking about the two, I was inspired to replace the mayo in deviled eggs. The result – deviled eggs that would be a welcome appetizer at a party or summer barbecue.

I was not planning to write this post, but these deviled eggs are so good I had to share. The texture and assertive flavors of the Italian salsa verde make these eggs stand out.

Enjoy!

If you have a particular use for Italian salsa verde, please share. Or, tell us about your favorite deviled eggs.

Tidbits on Deviled Eggs:

  1. Spicy stuffed eggs date back as far as 13th century Andalusia. In a 15th century Italian text, stuffed eggs included raisins, cheese, parsley, marjoram and mint.
  2. In the 18th century, the name “deviled eggs” was termed. “Deviled” is used to connote spicy or fiery, reflecting the seasonings used to flavor. The first recipe for deviled eggs dates back to circa 1786.

Source: FoodTimeline.org.

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Parsley: Italian Salsa Verde with Anchovies and Capers

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Italian Salsa Verde Parsley Anchovies_ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Several things stand out in my memory of the semester I lived in Florence . . .  I remember narrow cobblestone streets. The tranquility of brisk, autumn mornings near the Arno and The Ponte Vecchio, and the quiet occasionally interrupted by buzzing vespas.

I also remember my delight when tasting new Tuscan foods such as Italian salsa verde, green sauce.

In Italy and especially the Tuscan region, Italian salsa verde is paired with steamed vegetables and more traditionally with bollito misto, mixed boiled meats. Made from fresh parsley, anchovies and capers, it certainly awakens the tastebuds.

Salsa verde is a green sauce similar to pesto but uses parsley as the main ingredient. After making it more recently, I would also have to liken it to a fresh herbed version of chimichurri. After all, Italians migrated to Argentina in huge droves in the late 1800s, and the culinary influence is obvious.

As I researched this sauce further, I also found it referenced as “salsa rustica” in the Chianti area.

Most salsa verde recipes include parsley, anchovies, capers, onions, garlic and olive oil. Some also include adding vinegar soaked white bread and/or chopped hard boiled eggs. The addition of either of the latter makes the sauce more substantial and gives it some bulk.

My recipe includes eggs as an optional ingredient.  I make it with and without depending on my mood. My prefernce is still to use the sauce to top boiled eggs rather than include the eggs in the sauce.

Use this green parsley sauce on boiled eggs, steamed green beans, boiled chunks of potatoes, cold meat and as a condiment with canned tuna or to substitute for mayo in deviled eggs. If you don’t care for anchovies, leave them out, it’s still delicious.

Tidbits on Parsley:

  1. Flat leaf or Italian parsley is preferred for many culinary dishes. It has a slightly stronger flavor than curly parsley and holds up better while cooking. If you are making in a white sauce, use the stems rather than the leaves, so that color does not bleed.
  2. According to some alternative medicine remedies, parsley has many healing properties. It can be used in poultices to soothe tired, irritated eyes and also to help heal bruises. The juice can also be used as a natural mosquito repellent and to help relieve the itch and sting of insect bites. Note, however, some people can have allergic side effects.

Sources: The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, The Essential Herb Garden

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Cornmeal: 2 Tomato 2 Cheese Polenta Stack

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Polenta Stack - 2 Tomato 2 Cheese - Eggplant - ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Now that you know how to make your own polenta chubs, here’s an easy recipe for a polenta stack with two cheeses – Parmesan and goat cheese – and two tomatoes – sundried and fresh.

It’s perfect for summer gatherings or for anytime you want to highlight the fresh bounty from your garden (or the farmer’s market).

But, first a little more about polenta . . .

Although polenta has become noticeably more popular in the U.S., it’s still a mystery to many homecooks. It has yet to go mainstream like so many Italian favorites. I confess that before making my own polenta, I’d really only tried the store-bought chubs. I wasn’t impressed and couldn’t figure out the hype.

But now, I’m hooked. Cornmeal (polenta/grits) is a staple in my refrigerator. Course cornmeal’s versatility is endless – eaten as a simple bowl of mush for breakfast or transformed into decadence with wild mushrooms, rich cheeses, truffles, red sauces, sausages and bacon.

In the recipe here, firm sundried tomato polenta is topped with creamy cheese and roasted vegetables – I used grilled eggplant, but you could substitute or add grilled zucchini or other summer squash, roasted peppers, mushrooms or omit entirely. Next time, I’m making mine with a fat, juicy portobello mushroom.

Enjoy.

Tidbits on Cornmeal:

  1. Cornmeal is rich in protein but if eaten on a regular basis, it should be combined with milk, butter, cheese or other dairy products so that it becomes a complete food (by adding lysine and tryptophan –  two missing amino acids in cor). Add poultry, meat, fish and /or some vegetables as a source of niacin.
  2. Polenta should taste like corn. Stone ground corn will gradually lose its taste. To maximize flavor and minimize waste, refrigerate cornmeal in a sealed container and use it within two months of purchase.

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