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Every day could be fabiolous…

It was yet another sunny day in the most beautiful city in the world and I was glad to spend it with new and old friends. Life is very complicated so why not try to make it simpler?

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When I met Nino and his wife I instantly liked them, some tastes are acquired but others you instantly like. We went food shopping and found out we had a lot in common, first of all their passion for food and their love of Italy. And also that we all liked to get immediately down to business, and business in this case means cooking.

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As many of you know inspiration is a big part of my day. I need to look around and ask and get a feel for what my friends and I are in the mood for.

All you really need is an idea.  But after the plan has been decided I really like to get the work done. Nobody just stands around in the kitchen, everybody needs to get their hands dirty and pull their weight. But of course ingredients are the key to success.

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On this particular day it was a small class of two, which is more intimate and less hectic, and we had a chance to try making something sophisticated as well as a typical italian dish to die for.

So you start with the basic ingredients of course, but the quality makes all the difference in the world. I showed my friends what I consider to be one of the best market in the center of Rome as well as a few tips on how to handle the lively market dwellers.

In exchange Nino promised to show me around if I ever make it “down under”. This charming couple have italian origins but live in Australia, where they own and manage a restaurant. So now you know what I meant when I said we ad a lot in common!

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Naturally when I’m dealing with a fellow chef the lessons can be more challenging but it’s always good to exchange ideas because you never know enough, right? We made pasta the way our grandmas used to make it and we had a great time, things didn’t get messy and I immediately knew I was dealing with pros.

Which was also a factor in deciding the dishes, that as well as Nino’s desire for fish. Here we are having some fabiolous shell fish, are we quality checking or just eating before time? You’ll never know…


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Our main dish was quite laborious but it was certainly worth it considering the final result, wouldn’t you say so?

You know how much I love anchovies and my personal battle to improve the reputation they have in the U.S. Our anchovies are very different and I wish everyone could taste them. This is our anchovie cup cake and I would challenge anyone to say they don’t like anchovies after tasting it.

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We certainly enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed showing this lovely couple around and involving them in a day of my life. I feel very luck and privileged and whenever I can share my passion and my city I feel like it’s been another another beautiful day. So thank you Nino!

The amazing Cecchi estate

On my quest to find the best food and wine in Italy I couldn’t miss Cecchi, one of the most highly respected wineries of the country. I set out on the short journey that brought me across rolling hills and green fields to the Cecchi estate, a haven for wine lovers.

 

But on my was to the estate I stopped at a legendary butcher, the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, possibly the most famous butcher in the world. Bill Buford, a journalist for the New Yorker worked as his apprentice in order to write about it in his bestselling biography “Heat”.

But back to Cecchi, a celebrated brand that is also, and most importantly, the name of a family that was central in the evolution of Italian wine since 1893. Today Cesare and Andrea Cecchi have the responsibility and honor to manage the family business.

First they showed me the vineyards, the secret of this family’s success. I was able to see the plants up close and to see what other vegetation is home to this area. But my tour included all the stages required to make the wine, from the vineyards to the barrels.

I was really impressed by the level of perfectionism visible in every department of this estate. But this didn’t at all make my day less pleasant. The Cecchi’s were really nice and hospitable and it was clear to me that everyone working in this estate not only has a great passion for wine but also the knowledge of contributing to a great product that Italians are very proud of.

Today Cecchi has about 330 hectares of vineyards spread over different areas of central Italy. The process of making wine starts from the choice of the land and Cecchi’s vineyards are in the best spots and they have produced wine without interruptions from the sixties. The wines are the fruit of the land, the grapes that arrive in the cellars guarantee the quality as much as technology and knowledge.

Of course I was very interested in the wine-making process, but I was even more interested in testing the final product. I was presented with three of their best wines and I was very satisfied with them, I will certainly bring some back home for my guests and students.

 

I also had the chance to talk about typical dishes of the region with a fellow chef and we had a delicious meal, a plate of ravioli that will be hard to forget…

I must say that the dessert was the highlight of the meal, and a very appropriate ending to such a sweet experience.

Porcini, Bacon, and Onion Risotto R.O.T.W.

Combine porcini mushrooms, guanciale (italian bacon), and onion… you have now reached risotto nirvana. One of the biggest secrets to this extraordinary risotto, is the type of wine I use which I will share with you in this recipe. So without further adieu, here is one of my favorite risotto recipes.

Ingredients:

-1 white onion chopped

-1/4 pound of guanciale pork cheek (bacon will work if you can’t find pork cheek) chopped

-1 porcini mushroom, washed and sliced, separating the head and the stem into two bowls

-1 cup rice (dry)

-3/4 cup of white wine (use sardinian vernaccia white  wine)

-3 ladles of vegetable or chicken broth

-3 Tbls butter

-1/2 cup grated parmigiana cheese

Directions:

Start by cleaning and chopping all of your ingredients.

Place the chopped guanciale (or bacon if you don’t have guanciale) in a pan without any oil or butter. Add the chopped onion and sauté until guanciale and onion are cooked.

Add the raw rice to the pan and stir.

Cook on medium heat, constantly stirring until the rice is browned.

Add one ladle of broth to the pan. Stir until rice has completely absorbed the liquid.

Add the chopped stem of the mushroom and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the chopped head of the porcini mushroom to the pan and continue to stir.

Add the remaining 2 ladles of broth and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.

Add the butter and parmigiana cheese. Turn off the stove and proceed to stir quickly and continuously for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And then…

ENJOY (with a nice glass of wine of course)! Buon apetito!

A Day trip to Todi

One of the things I adore about Italy is that there are so many beautiful towns in its twenty regions. Just a short trip away from Rome will take you to a number of picturesque towns which are really enjoyable and make for a nice break from the hectic life in Rome.

One of my most memorable recent trips was in Todi, in the central region of Umbria. The river Tiber runs across the nation and through the eternal city, but many miles before it reaches the capital it runs by Todi. The town is perched on a hill and is considered to be one of the world’s most livable cities.

I love it when I get to be a tourist and just walk around in search of beauty, and in Todi it isn’t hard to find. The sloping Piazza del Popolo gave a great feeling, the sun was shining on the Duomo, the Gothic architecture seems so different from the architecture we are used to in Rome. And this palace, the Palazzo del Popolo (of the people) is said to be one of the most ancient communal buildings in Italy.

There is just so much to see, you turn a corner and suddenly you feel the urge to take a picture. Taking pictures is another passion of mine, and I think that Todi gave a great chance to build my portfolio, don’t you think?

But my favorite was certainly the church of San Fortunato. As with many buildings in Rome this church has gone through so many centuries and changes that it gives a good idea of our history. In the 7th century it was a Palaeo-Christian temple and six centuries later the Franciscans turned it into a Gothic building. The façade that can be seen in my pic is only partly finished, they were still working on it in the 15th century.

I always like to mix it up so after some sightseeing I think I really deserved a plate of hamdmade pasta with wild boar sauce. This is not very common in Rome but it is typical of this region as well as Tuscany.

How amazing is it that you can just step inside a church and find two people dancing away to a Tango? I was mesmerized by the notes and the beauty, it was completely unexpected, but that’s the sort of surprise I really enjoy. Shame I couldn’t step in too, Tango isn’t my forte!

Cooking with celebrity chef Sophie Mitchell for the Guardian

One of the most exciting recent experiences I’ve had involved a beautiful fellow chef, a british film crew, roman rooftops and of course a significant amount of excellent food. We were asked to film our cooking day in Rome for the readers of the Guardian.

A film crew on my terrace

I had the privilege of hosting Sophie Michell, a London based celebrity chef who was a nutritionist for top models and often appears on TV shows.. She started coking at 15 and has worked for celebrated London restaurants such as including the Greenhouse, the Embassy, the Lanesborough and Zilli Fish Too.

I really enjoyed spending time with Sophie, she’s a really nice girl as well as being a competent, passionate and experienced chef despite her young age. We filmed for two days and worked quite hard to produce the 3 minute video which can be seen on the Guardian website.

A fluffy friend joined us in Rome’s biggest organic market

Sophie’s crew was really nice and professional, and my staff and I really enjoyed meeting them and I hope they’ll come back to visit us. We had a great meal at one of the favorite restaurants, da Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavio. The crew and my assistants as well as Sophie and I of course, I insisted they all tried the Roman Jewish specialty artichokes, the “carciofi alla Giudia”.

While in the Jewish quarter I decided to show Sophie and her crew around, and we did some food shopping in shops that aren’t easy to find without a guide. They weren’t expecting to find a butcher like the one I usually take my students to.

I was pleased to take Sophie around the Campo de’ Fiori market, a typical food market she really liked. We tasted most of the vegies we bought and also found the time to have a Sicilian Breakfast at Nonna Vincenza. All my friends and students know how crazy I am about this patisserie and after Sophie tried the granite brioche, she was pretty crazy about it too.

Once we finished filming the outdoor scenes we headed home for MORE outdoor scenes since we decided to actually film on the rooftop terrace of my penthouse. Naturally we also used the kitchen but we chose to do as much as possible on the roof, where the light was ideal and the view breathtaking.


We had a wonderful dinner under the stars, the wine was excellent and the meal we cooked was memorable. How many times do you get two celebrity chefs to cook together at sunset on a roman rooftop? Not many, but hopefully more than just once!

Eating my way through the Salone del Gusto in Turin

I came back from Torino enriched and inspired by the  Salone del Gusto, an incredible event in which exhibitors from all over Italy unite to bring to life one of the biggest food markets in Europe. Needless to say I had an amazing time!

I was so excited to be able to meet with dozens of farmers, fishermen and breeders from different cultures as well as catching up with colleagues and getting to know other chefs from different regions of Italy. As I stopped by hundreds of stands I had the chance to satisfy my curiosity with several questions but more importantly, I was also lucky enough to taste delicacies which would be hard to find in Rome.

And when my taste buds were overwhelmed with all those treats I stopped and attended short lectures organized by the famous Slow Food association. It’s always wise to keep updated on the most recent trends and ideas.

One of the highlights of my visit has to be the Cucine di Strada, or Street cuisine. In the great Oval tent we were able to taste the best national street food, or quick snacks which will make you keep on walking in order to find more snacks. I tasted the “caciucco” made in the traditional way as they do in the Tuscan city of Livorno.

I stopped by the Forst stand and listened to a very interesting speech on how the biggest Italian brewery makes it’s beer. Apparently now Italians are becoming fans of this drink which has a much more solid tradition in Northern European.

When I reached the Koinè stand I was particularly interested in finding out how their crash-course on pasta-making took place. It reminded me very much of one of my typical days with my students. So this very kind lady and myself agreed that my way was far better than hers, at least that’s how I remember our conversation!

As you all know I’m very fond of balsamic vinegar, and those who have tried my strawberry baaed desserts will certainly remember. So when I ran into the Acetaia Paltrinieri, I couldn’t help myself from buying their excellent vinegar which they age for twenty-five years.

Of course I prefer to make my own pasta, with the techniques our “nonne” used to use, I just think it’s much better. However, if you must buy pasta that’s ready to cook, Garofalo is one I would recommend.

And here is the latest chapter in my ongoing war for the freedom and rights of anchovies! I can’t have enough of them and I need… I must let Americans know that anchovies are NOT only like the ones in the States.

When I arrived at this particular stand, I was moved and almost cried tears of joy! The Tassoni citron juice is as Italian as spaghetti or the
itself. Unfortunately over the years it has almost disappeared, but here in Torino, in this stand and in front of my very eyes there was a small celebration of this soda which inevitably exists in the memories and the hearts of any Italian who is over 40…

My friend Christian had to take a picture with this beauty, as it says on the windshield it works perfectly and has been sliding through the hectic streets of Naples loaded with goods since 1967. LIke anything from the 1960′s…it rocks!

 

And here I am approaching the speciality of the Azienda Agricola Casa Barone, can you guess what it is?? Yes, excellent observation skills, they make an amazing kind of tomato for sauces which will make any first course a memorable experience.

These have got to be the biggest onions I’ve ever seen. I assure you I didn’t use photoshop to make them look bigger. This is an absolutely unique product that comes from a small town in Sicily called Giarratana.

I’m really glad I went to the Salone del Gusto where I saw so many different traditions and was inspired to try new dishes which I will certainly try to replicate back home. I filled my car to its full capacity and probably a little more, with ingredients and delicacies I can’t find in Rome with which I will delight my guests’ taste buds…as well as my own.

God Bless Nonna Vincenza and the Sicilian Breakfast!

As many of you know I like to take my students to Campo de’ Fiori because of the amazing selection of food we find at the market and to show them what it’s like to shop for food in the heart of Rome. But recently I’ve found another reason to go back to this area, and the reason is that there is a little piece of Sicily right there in the center of the eternal city. Nonna Vincenza, or Grandma Vincenza is a Sicilian patisserie that honors the tradition of the beautiful island of Sicily.

so many cannoli, so little time…

One of Italy’s unique qualities is the diversity you find in the culture and the cuisine of the twenty regions, which are all great for different reasons, but I have to confess that Sicily is one of my favorites. (I hope my wife isn’t reading, as she comes from Calabria, the arch-enemy of Sicily). When it comes to food and hospitality Sicily can’t be beat. When I pass by Nonna Vincenza I’m mesmerized by the cannoli in the shop window, and even if cannoli are not hard to find in Rome, believe me cannoli like these ARE hard to find. But it’s not for the cannoli that I step in, what I want is something much more special. What I look for is a real Sicilian Breakfast.

It’s their first Sicilian Breakfast…

The Sicilian breakfast consists of a brioche or “maritozzo” a yeast pastry that can be compared to a flatter and wider French brioche (even though Sicilians would hardly feel flattered by the comparison), it’s big and it can be sliced and shared, filled with a delicious “granita”. The Sicilian Granita is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and different flavorings, my favorite is pistachio but also almond or mandarin are very popular. But even within Sicily there are different serving conventions, for example granita with coffe is much more common in Messina rather than Catania, where the conventional granita would be with almonds.

Last time I went in the owners showed me yet another example of Sicilian hospitality by welcoming me with by throwing their arms in the air and greeting me with the warmest “Buongiorno” and immediately started making a Sicilian breakfast for my students and me. I will admit this might not be the most dietetic of breakfasts, but it’s certainly one of the tastiest and it’s the reason why I can’t stay away from Nonna Vincenza. And every time I go I promise myself I will play one extra set at the tennis club to burn the extra calories… and since I love tennis almost as much as I love the Sicilian Breakfast, I’d say this is a typical win-win situation, so God bless Nonna Vincenza and her brioche with pistacchio granita!

Artichoke Lasagna

This rich and savory lasagna is simple to make. I Love the mix of artichoke and guanciale so this dish for me was buonissimo!

Ingredients for filling:

4 artichokes

1/2 cup white wine

1 clove of garlic, widely chopped

2.5 ounces flour

2.5 ounces of butter

4.25 cups of milk

.5 lb of guanciale (pork cheek). Bacon can be used as replacement.

Start by steaming the artichokes. Place them upside down in the pot with garlic,wine, and 1/2 cup of water. Once simmering, place lid on top. Artichokes are done when they are tender enough to stick a fork easily through the center.

For the béchamel, you put butter, flour, and milk in pan on medium/high heat and stir. you continue to stir until you arrive at a thick consistency.

Next you chop your pork cheek into short pieces and sauté them in a pan without oil or butter. Sauté until meat is cooked.

Now you need to take the artichokes out and clean them. Remove the outer layers of the artichoke until you get to the tender center. Chop the artichoke and mix into the béchamel sauce.

Next we need to make the pasta. For the pasta you will need 300 grams of flour and 3 eggs.

Pour flour on working surface and make a fountain with a hole in the middle of the flour. Break the eggs into the middle of the fountain. Gently beat the eggs inside to absorb the flour.

While beating the eggs, add a little flour at a time with the tip of the fork. When all the flour is mixed and you have a dough consistency, knead the dough by pressing and folding gently with your hands for 5 minutes. Let the ball of dough sit for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a long rectangular shape. If you do not have a pasta machine, continue to roll with the rolling pin until you reach the desired thickness. With the pasta machine, start on the thickest setting and put the dough through the machine numerous times (changing the setting each pass), patiently reaching the desired thickness. Each time you will need to sprinkle flour on the pasta to keep it from sticking to the machine. Cut the dough into long rectangular pieces

Places the rectangular pasta pieces in boiling water for 30 seconds then immediately remove one by one and place in a tub of cold water and a little bit of oil.

Next we are going to layers the pasta, béchamel sauce, pork cheek, and parmigiana cheese in a casserole dish until we have reached the top.

 

Finish with cheese covering the top, and throw that in the oven for 20 minutes on 350. Take out, let it cool and mangia!

Buon apetito!!

 

Shrimp, potato, and porcini tortellini R.O.T.W.

Holy Yumminess! I have been going through an experimental phase, which is why chose to combine some unorthodox flavors for this weeks edition of “Recipe Of The Week.”
Porcini mushroom and potato filled ravioli, topped with a porcini mushroom, shrimp, and cherry tomato sauce. BUONISSIMO!
Ingredients
For pasta:
-3 eggs 10.5 ozs flour
For stock:
-1 medium white onion
-stalk of celery
-medium carrot
-salt
-8.5 c water
-Shell from the shrimps
For the filling and sauce:1/3 c parmesan

1 egg yolk

parmesan for garnishing

parsley

Mushrooms

Garlic

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined, shells reserved

Cherry tomatoes

Directions
To make the stock, wash the shrimps and pull out the shell . Wash and cut the celery, onion and carrot into small pieces. Add the shells of the shrimps to 1/8 c of olive oil and one clove of garlic. Then add the onion, celery and carrots to the pan to sauteè for a few minutes.
Next add enough cold water to completely cover the ingredients. Cook over a medium heat for one hour then remove from the heat and skim the fat from the top. Drain the stock and save for the later step.Clean the potatoes, scrubbing the skin well. Boil them in salted water until they are soft. Drain the potatoes then cool them. Remove the skin and Mash them.Clean the porcini mushrooms carefully with damp paper towel. Cut them separating the stems from the heads. The stems will go in the filling for the ravioli, and the heads will go in the sauce.
Cook the mushrooms with olive oil, garlic and pinch of salt for 5 minutes until it becomes soft.
Mix the mushrooms in a bowl with the potatoes, egg yolk and parmesan cheese.

Pour flour on working surface and make a fountain with a hole in the middle of the flour. Break the eggs into the middle of the fountain. Gently beat the eggs inside to absorb the flour.

While beating the eggs, add a little flour at a time with the tip of the fork. When all the flour is mixed and you have a dough consistency, knead the dough by pressing and folding gently with your hands for 5 minutes. Let the ball of dough sit for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a long rectangular shape. If you do not have a pasta machine, continue to roll with the rolling pin until you reach the desired thickness. With the pasta machine, start on the thickest setting and put the dough through the machine numerous times (changing the setting each pass), patiently reaching the desired thickness.

Each time you will need to sprinkle flour on the pasta to keep it from sticking to the machine. Cut the dough into circles about 2 ½ inches in diameter. Place the filling in the circle. Brush the pasta with egg white to hold the dough together. Fold the dough over to make edges meet. From there, wrap the dough around your pinky making a tortellini shape.

Sprinkle some flour on the surface and remove the tortellini using a spatula so they don’t stick.

While the tortellini are boiling, In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil until simmering. Add the cherry tomatoes and the mushrooms. When the tortellini float they are ready. Add the cooked tortellini to the skillet with the shrimp stock, shrimp, and a pinch of salt, cook for 5 minutes.

For finishing touches on the serving plate sprinkle with parsley.

Pistachio Pesto Lasagne

I realize I have been cooking a plethora of dishes with pistachio as an ingredient lately, but it is because I love the new pistachio paste I discovered from the little sicilian bakery “Nonna Vincenza.”

My clients this past week have been raving about this dish. Due to the high demand for this recipe, here you are folks:

Ingredients:

For the Rue:

-4 Tbls butter

-1/2 liter of milk

-35 grams flour

-4 Tbls pistachio paste

-3 zucchini, chopped, sauteed in olive oil and garlic, and masked with a fork

Wash, and chop zucchini. Heat olive oil and garlic in large skillet. Brown the zucchini and cook until done through, about 10 minutes.

Stir butter, milk, and flour together in a pot on medium heat (here is a video example http://youtu.be/hL1DOARf-4k). After a few minutes of constant stirring, the consistency will begin to thicken up. Once you arrive at a nice thick and creamy consistency, take rue off the burner and set aside. Add the pistachio paste/pistachio pesto.

Take a fork and mash the sauteed zucchini. Add the mashed zucchini to the mix.

Now you are ready to make the pasta.

For the pasta you will need 300 grams of flour and 3 eggs.

Pour flour on working surface and make a fountain with a hole in the middle of the flour. Break the eggs into the middle of the fountain. Gently beat the eggs inside to absorb the flour. While beating the eggs, add a little flour at a time with the tip of the fork. When all the flour is mixed and you have a dough consistency, knead the dough by pressing and folding gently with your hands for 5 minutes. Let the ball of dough sit for 30 minutes in the fridge. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a long rectangular shape. If you do not have a pasta machine, continue to roll with the rolling pin until you reach the desired thickness. With the pasta machine, start on the thickest setting and put the dough through the machine numerous times (changing the setting each pass), patiently reaching the desired thickness. Each time you will need to sprinkle flour on the pasta to keep it from sticking to the machine. Cut the dough into long rectangular pieces. Places the rectangular pasta pieces in boiling water for 30 seconds then immediately remove one by one and place in a tub of cold water and a little bit of oil.

 

Next we begin layering. Start with the sauce, and layer pasta, sauce, pasta, sauce until you reach the top of your baking dish. Cook in the oven at 450°F for 30 minutes until it becomes crispy. It is best to let it cool for one hour then serve because the pasta may fall apart otherwise.

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