Pesto alla siciliana

Pesto alla siciliana

Have you perhaps grown tired of the typical green basil pesto? In that case this recipe, Sicilian pesto, is ideal for you. Ingredients that are typical for this region are used: fresh and ripe red tomatoes, ricotta, pine nuts and of course basil. When put together, these ingredients create a paste that is at the same time light, fresh and nourishing. There is a myriad of regional recipes, and some of them call for almonds or dry tomatoes, or even pistachios, but the common denominator remains ricotta. This recipe is especially good on a hot summer’s day, but it can be had all year round. Prepare long and dry pasta, like spaghetti, casareccia or penne, with it for the best results. The leftovers can be had the next day as a spread over bread.

Ingredients: 

ca. 20 leaves fresh basil

250 gr/ 9 oz tomatoes

25 gr/ 1 oz pine nuts

2 garlic cloves, minced

50 gr/ 1 2/3 freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano 

75 gr/ 2 2/3 ricotta

salt and pepper to taste

75 ml/ 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

dry pasta of your choice

Instructions: 

Rinse and dry the basil leaves. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in two. Remove the inner part including the seeds and all excess liquid with a spoon. Put the tomatoes in a blender and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Add the basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, ricotta and the grated parmigiano and continue the process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the oil and check the taste and consistency.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta by cooking it in salted boiling water until al dente. Combine with the pesto and serve immediately.

Pesto alla siciliana

La ribollita

La ribollita

La ribollita is undoubtedly the queen of all hearty soups. The word means ‘reboiled’ – and slow cooking is indeed the secret of this thick vegetable soup. Hailing from Tuscany, there are many different versions and recipes, but they all call for black leaf kale, or cavolo nero. You might substitute this vegetable with Savoy cabbage, but the real thing would provide you with the best authentic and deliciously rustic feel and taste. The other key ingredient is the white cannellini bean that is central to many Tuscan dishes. Prepare the soup with the best ingredients you have at hand, and the next day, serve a different version by adding new vegetables. Enjoy the soup in good company with toasted Italian bread.

Ingredients: 

olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

100 grams/ 3.5 oz (smoked) pancetta, cubed (optional)

2-4 dry chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

2-3 carrots, sliced

1 celery stalk, sliced

3 medium size potatoes, diced

2 tins of peeled tomatoes

1 can of cannellini beans

1 head of black-leaf kale, i.e. cavolo nero, sliced

salt and pepper

fresh rosemary

fresh oregano

1.5 l/ 6 1/3 cups water

(stale) Italian bread

La ribollita

Instructions: 

If you are using dry beans, soak them in plenty of water overnight. Drain and rinse.

Heat olive oil in a large cooking vessel, like a cast iron or cast aluminium pot, and saute the onion, garlic, and pancetta until the onion softens and becomes golden and the pancetta is crispy. Add the chili, carrots, potatoes and celery, and continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Add the tomato tins, the cabbage and the beans, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, and with the fresh herbs.

Add enough water, about 1.5 l/ 6 1/3 cups, to cover all the ingredients. Let the soup simmer for about 90 minutes over a very low heat. Remember to stir every now and then, and if needed, add water.

Let the soup stand for an hour. The longer it lingers, the better the taste gets. Reheat it again just before serving.

Toast (stale) Italian bread and put it at the bottom of the soup plate before ladling in the soup. Drizzle some olive oil over the soup and add a pinch of black pepper. You can also serve the soup with a slice of toasted bread.

Pea Soup

Pea Soup

Many cookbooks contain a recipe or two for a pea soup. Known all over the world, people have been eating this soup since antiquity. There are even literary references to vendors selling hot pea soup in the streets of Athens, and Greek and Romans alike were cultivating peas ca. 500 to 400 BC. This innovative, super fast and easy recipe takes a bold new look at this old favorite and dusts off some of those old cobwebs. This time around the peas are partnered with creamy avocado and served with the legendary Tabasco hot pepper sauce. Because avocado is prone to enzymatic browning, i.e. turns quickly brown after it has been exposed to air, it is important to remember to drizzle some lemon or lime juice over the avocados right after they are peeled. When it comes to the nutritional value of the avocado, it contains several types of fats, and high intake has been shown  to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Ingredients: 

2 avocados

zest of 1/2 lime

1-2 tbsp lime juice

5-10 dl/ 2-4 cups vegetable stock

300-400 gr frozen peas

ca. 10  drops of Tabasco

pinch of salt

chives to garnish

Instructions: 

Halve the avocados, peel them, remove the pits and slice the avocado meat into smaller pieces. Grate some lime zest, and the halve the lime, too. Combine the avocado slices with the lime zest and juice in a pot, and pour in the vegetable stock. Bring it to a boil and add the frozen peas. Let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. Puree the soup in small patches in a blender until smooth and transfer to another pot. Check the taste and season with salt and Tabasco. Garnish with chives. You can also drizzle some olive oil over the soup.

Pea Soup

Risotto all’ortolana

Risotto is essentially a peasant dish and, as such, it is one of the world’s most satisfying comfort foods. But because it absorbs many tastes and flavors, risotto can be served as a very refined and sophisticated dish, too. This hearty and peasantlike version showcases the rural, and very healthy, side. The abundance of the beans, peas, and other vegetables make it very rich in folate, iron, manganese and dietary fiber – all nutrients that can benefit your health in a variety of ways. After spending some time with the knife work you will have a dish that is at the same time fresh, creamy and light. The ingredients can be easily substituted with other vegetables, depending on what is in season and readily available. But don’t forget to try the creamy and buttery fava bean, it will add its own special taste and texture to the mix.

Risotto all' ortolanaIngredients:

300 gr/ 10 oz fava a.k.a. broad beans

260 gr/ 9 oz  fresh tomatoes, sliced

100 gr/ 3.5 oz frozen peas

3 dl/ 1 1/3 cups risotto rice (Carnaroli)

olive oil

2 stalks of celery, sliced

2 carrots, sliced

1 zucchine, sliced

1 onion, sliced

fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

salt and pepper

1 liter / 4 1/3 cups vegetable stock

140 gr/ 5 oz smoked pancetta, in cubes (optional)

freshly grated parmigiano

a couple of fresh basil leaves

Instructions: 

Heat olive oil in a pan and saute the onion, celery and carrots until the vegetables soften a bit. Add the cubed pancetta and continue frying for a few minutes.

Add the tomatoes, fava beans and the zucchini and keep cooking for about 10 minutes. Then, add the frozen peas with some fresh parsley and cook for further 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the risotto rice and continue frying until the grains become glassy. Little by little, pour some vegetable stock and keep stirring. For Carnaroli rice it takes about 15 minutes to be al dente. Serve each plate with a couple of spoonfuls of parmigiano and fresh flat leaf parsley. Garnish with some basil leaves.

Risotto all' ortolana

Mezze maniche con ceci e pancetta

Mezze maniche con ceci e pancetta

Chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzos, have played a notable part in the Italian kitchen for hundreds of years. They are of Oriental origin and due to the fact that they require high temperatures during summer months, they are mainly grown in Southern Italy. When you use them in cooking, it is best to buy them canned. The commercial canning process doesn’t harm the flavor or diminish the nutritional value. You can also buy dry chickpeas and soak them yourself. In this case, make sure the chickpeas haven’t passed their use-by date, because the old ones won’t soften no matter how long they soak. Most chickpea recipes are actually winter recipes that require long cooking times. These dishes were ideal in the olden times when a pot simmering on a wood-fired stove kept the entire kitchen warm. If you are a true fan, also try Ligurian polenta-like panissa; or minestrone di ceci which is a creamy, hearty chickpea soup from the Abruzzo; or stewed chickpeas like in ceci in umido. Don’t forget about ceci alla pisana a.k.a. chick peas with greens and anchovies from Pisa, or cavezune which is ravioli from the Gargano peninsula made with a chocolaty chickpea filling.

Ingredients:

1 onion, sliced

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

2-4 dry chilies, deseeded and finely chopped

olive oil

200 gr/ 7 oz smoked pancetta, in cubes (optional)

500 gr/ 17 oz passata di pomodoro

350 gr/ 12 1/3 oz chickpeas

1 l/ 4 1/3 cups vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

fresh flat leaf parsley

mezze maniche pasta

Mezze maniche con ceci e pancetta

Instructions:

Puree the onion, garlic and chili in a blender until smooth. Heat olive oil in a pan and fry this smooth mix for a couple of minutes. Add the pancetta and continue for another 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the passata di pomodoro and cook for another 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the drained and rinsed chickpeas and cook still for further 5 minutes.

Like when cooking risotto, add some vegetable broth at a time letting the sauce simmer down and thicken for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente in a pot filled with boiling salted water. Drain the pasta and mix it with the ready sauce. Garnish each plate with some fresh flat leaf parsley. Serve immediately.

Pasta con verdure grigliate

Pasta con verdure grigliate

As a favorite with gourmet cooks, sea salt has risen to high status. Although there is little or no health benefit to using sea salt over regular table salt, as both are primarily sodium chloride, many believe that sea salt has better texture and tastes better than the salt from the salt mines. Sweating with sea salt helps to draw out moisture from the vegetables and enhances their natural flavor. It will purge for example eggplant of its bitterness, and it will also prevent it from absorbing excess fluids or oil. Sea salt is produced by evaporating seawater and harvesting the salt that remains. Because the production method is more expensive than mining the salt deposits left by salt lakes, the price tag associated with this type of salt is also heftier. You can also try boutique sea salts, like pinkish gray salt from Korea and France, or Indian black salt.

Ingredients: 

1 eggplant, sliced

1 zucchini, sliced

coarse sea salt

olive oil

2-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 yellow bell pepper, sliced

4 tomatoes, sliced

salt and pepper to taste

fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

penne or penne rigate pasta

Pasta con verdure grigliate

Instructions:

Slice the eggplant and the zucchini and sprinkle coarse sea salt on them. Set the slices aside for 30-60 minutes. Shake the sea salt off and slice the pieces into smaller cubes.

Heat olive oil in a pan and saute the minced garlic and the bell peppers together with the tomatoes for a few minutes until the vegetables soften. Add the eggplant and the zucchini and continue frying for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente in a pot filled with salted boiling water. Drain and mix with the vegetables. Garnish each plate with Pecorino Romano and fresh flat leaf parsley.

Panzanella

Panzanella – a salad with bread and tomatoes – is a very popular rustic summer dish in Italy, especially in Tuscany and other parts of central Italy. It doesn’t require any cooking and is therefore ideal for hot and humid summer days. Originally, it was a dish for peasants who worked on the fields all day. The basic ingredients are soaked stale bread, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, basil, salt and pepper, vinegar and oil. More modern interpretations might include lettuce, mozzarella, anchovies, celery, carrots, or tuna, but don’t offer these variations to the puritans who will most certainly disapprove! The first written reference to panzanella was already made in the 16th century when poet and artist Bronzino wrote about the incredulous taste of toast with onions, oil and vinegar. Tomatoes were only added to this recipe in the 20th century.

Panzanella

Ingredients:

300 gr/ 10 oz stale Italian bread

1-2 red onions, thinly sliced

4-6 tomatoes, in chunks

1 cucumber, in chunks

fresh basil leaves, shredded

2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Remove the crusts, and cut the bread into slices. Soak in cold water for 15-20 minutes. Once heavy with water, remove a little bread at a time and squeeze out excess water with your hands. Then break the slices apart into small, dry crumbs.

Place the bread crumbs in a salad bowl and add the red onion, tomato and cucumber chunks together with the shredded basil leaves. For the authentic feel, peel the cucumber first. Dress with a bit of oil, salt and pepper, and let the salad cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.

When it is time to serve, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and oil.

Panzanella