If it’s Friday. . . it’s Pesce!

My Risotto ai Gamberi!

Last week I had tweeted this picture and I promised that I would have followed up with a post, so here I am, as promised.

Risotto ai gamberi (Risotto with shrimp) is one of my favorite dish to prepare. It is comforting and fresh at the same time, perfect for Spring.  To me it represents the fusion of Northern and Southern Italy, a good example of Mediterranean diet and just simple goodness.

Risotto is a way of preparing riso (rice) rather than a recipe. The archetype of risotto is “Risotto alla Milanese“, you know. . .  that wonderful yellow risotto – with zafferano (saffron) – that is always married to the “Ossobuco“.

Although the Northern Regions of Lombardia and Piemonte are the capitals of rice, the use of the rice in cooking started in Naples (yes, I know I am biased!) where it was brought by the Spaniards in the fourteenth century. The Neapolitan, however, rapidly became “mangiamaccheroni” (pasta eater) and the rice soon travelled North. In Northern Italy, in particular in the wet Valle del Po (Po Valley), the cultivation of rice found the perfect environment. The immage of the flooded risaie (rice field) are quite impressive.

In 1949, the Italian movie Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice), nominated for the 1950 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story, was shot in the countryside and rice-fields of the Po Valley. The story deals with the vicissitudes of the mondine (rice-weeders).

Yet, how can we forget the Sartù? It is one of the richest and elaborated piatti (dish), based on rice, of the traditional Neapolitan cuisine. In the ‘700, Naples was ruled by the French Royal House of Bourbons. The chefs of the Royal French Court developed this recipe; its original French name was Sur-Tout which then became Sartù.

 The Sartù is a sort of rice dome stuffed with meatballs, sausage, peas, mushrooms, boiled eggs, mozzarella and more. . . my husband’s grandmother – nonna Lucia –  used to make it and my husband still rave about it. I am not ready yet for this elaborated preparation but I promised myself that one day I shall try. I will keep you posted.

Back to the rice, there are different varieties of rice: riso tondo or comune (round rice or common), riso fino (fine-rice or rice up), riso semifino (semi-fine rice), riso ultrafino (grain rice, super fine).

The variety of rice you use will affect the recipe. The best rice for risotto is the Vialone Nano, which belongs to the semifino variety. Arborio and Carnaroli, both in the ultrafino variety, are good alternatives.

Carnaroli and Arborio

The Vialone Nano has medium long grains and it has a good ability to release the starch that ensures the creaminess of the risotto. The Arborio and Carnaroli have large and long grain and release less starch.

Once you master the art of preparing the basic risotto, you can let your imagination fly and create any combination you like. I am from Southern Italy and yet, Risotto is one my favorite dish. I make risotto with anything I fancy and anything that it is in season: asparagus, radicchio, lemon, beans, zucchini, potatoes, peas, artichokes, mushroom, butternut squash, safron, gorgonzola cheese, cuttlefish ink, seafood. . . and of course with shrimp!

In my recipe, Risotto, the most typical preparation of Northern Italy, meets the flavor of the Mediterranean Sea and the culture of fish of Southern Italy . . .what better combination!

So here it is, for yet another meatless Friday (or meatless Monday), I give you My Risotto ai Gamberi. This recipe is my own, I have experimented through the years and although it is not the canonic recipe, it is my family’s favorite. To me, that’s all that matters. I hope you will give it a try, I am sure you will love it!

Ricetta Risotto ai Gamberi

Risotto with shrimp

Ingredients for 4 people

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 cups rice – Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio (Carnaroli is what I had on hand)

20 medium/large shrimp

1/2 cup dry white wine (I also like to use Marsala wine which will make the dish slightly sweeter)

1/4 cup heavy cream

fresh parsley (or few sage leaves)

For the broth

4 -1/2 cups of cold water

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

shrimp skin and heads (also tails if you decide to remove them)

1/2 medium onion roughly chopped

1 leek sliced

2 tsp tomato paste

few black pepper grain

salt

Directions

Start with the broth.

Peel the shrimp and remove the head. I like to leave the tail but you can remove it if you want. In a sauce pan heat 2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil and add the skins and heads (and tails) of the shrimp. Add the onion and leek, stir to coat with oil. Add the cold water, the black pepper grains, and the 2 teaspoons of tomato paste.  Stir to dissolve the tomato paste, this will give the risotto a pretty pink color. Bring to boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, add salt to taste and keep it warm.

Meanwhile devein the shrimp.

In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter with the onion. Once the onion has softened add the shrimp and and cook on both side until they had taken on color. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set them aside keeping them warm.

Take eight (8) of the shrimp and transfer into the bowl of a food processor, add 1/4 cup of broth and purée the shrimp. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and blend together. Set aside.

Add a 1 tbsp of butter and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the bits of shrimp. Add the  rice to the pan and toss to coat with the oil/butter. When the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates.

Strain the broth and start adding 1/2 cup at the time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at the time, stirring constantly.

After about 15 minutes, add the shrimp purée and the whole shrimp. Stir to combine and continue cooking and stirring for additional 2-3 minutes while keeping adding the broth as necessary.

Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, it should be al dente, tender but not mushy.

When the rice is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the remaining butter, this last step is called mantecare, which I cannot really translate but it makes the risotto perfetto (perfect), so don’t skip it!

Spoon your risotto into serving bowl, sprinkle with freshly grounded pepper and top it with fresh prezzemolo (parsley) – which is typical –  or, as I did, just decorate with a fresh, small foglia di salvia (sage leaf).

Isn't pretty?

Eat it right away!

Spring is on the corner. . . green peas are calling!

The warm days leading to Primavera (Spring) are here and this wonderful season comes with a basket full of fresh produce. While it is true that it is possible to find almost any produce all year long either frozen, grown in greenhouses or coming from somewhere on earth, there is not better satisfaction than using seasonal, local ingredients.

Which one amongst produce speak to you about Spring? To me is piselli (green peas)! How can I forget  when as a child, on my mom side, I was helping to shell the piselli freschi (fresh green peas)! And when a very tiny one would come out of the pod,  I would eat it just like that, raw. . . and I can still taste the sweetness of it.

I definitely associate certain dishes with Spring. One is the Agnello di Pasqua (Easter Lamb), baked with green peas and potatoes, and another one is definitely the pasta e piselli (pasta and green peas).

My other Spring favorites are carciofi (artichokes) and asparagi ( asparagus).

Two nights ago, the warm weather and a trip to the grocery store reminded me that it was no longer time for stew, polenta, and soup but it was time to switch – just like your wardrobe- to the Spring menu.

And guess what? A basket of fresh green peas was before my eyes, just waiting for me, and I immediately knew what was going to be on my dinner table : pasta e piselli, of course!

Before I give out my recipe, there is something I should confess. To my complete disappointment, once I started shelling the fresh green peas I soon realized that they were not very good; the peas inside the pods (except for a handful) didn’t have the bright green color that you would expect, they were pale and hard. After the initial discontent, I got over the fact that I couldn’t actually use the fresh spring green peas that I was longing for, but I had to rely on the bag of frozen organic sweet peas that was in my freezer. Except for my personal disappointment the final product was delicious anyway.

For the most part, this is the traditional recipe of pasta e piselli like my mom used to make. I have added, however, few unconventional elements: the snow peas for crunchiness and the fresh mint for aroma and freshness. I also puréed part of the green peas to achieve some creaminess.

I hope you will enjoy it. Oh, and did I mention that you can add this dish to your meatless Friday (or Monday) and to your Mediterranean diet’s recipe book?

Which is your favorite Spring recipe? Do you usually make an effort to use seasonal, local ingredients?

RICETTA PASTA E PISELLI

Ingredients for 4 persons

2-3/4 cups mezzi ditalini tubetti pasta (My preferred brand is De Cecco)

2 pounds of fresh green peas (this should yield to 2 or 2-1/2 cups of unshelled peas)

OR 1 bag of frozen sweet peas

1/2 onion finely sliced

1 slice of ham 1/4 inch thick and cut into short strips (I use grilled Tuscan cooked ham). You can also use pancetta cubed into 1/2 inch pieces.

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetables broth (warm)

10 snow peas

few leaves of fresh mint

Directions

If using frozen peas:

1)  To defrost the peas I place them in a colander and I set the colander under cold running water for few minutes. Transfer half of the peas to a food processor, start pulsing, add a little broth and run the food processor to purée the peas. Set aside.

2) In a heart ware pot heat the oil with the onion and the ham. Add some salt and cook until the ham is golden. Add the snow peas and the whole peas and stir to combine the flavors.

3) Add the peas purée and stir to combine. Add few leaves of mint (save 4 for presentation).

4) Cook few more minutes then add 3 cups of the broth. Add salt, pepper  and cooking on medium heat, bring to boil. add the pasta and cook for the required time (if more liquid is needed add the remaining broth). Make sure you stir frequently so the pasta doesn’t stick together and do not over cook the pasta, it must be al dente!

4) Before spooning into individual plate remove the mint’s leaves (once they are cooked the color is not appealing). Plate the pasta and right before serving decorate with a small leaf of fresh mint. If you desire you can drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Doesn’t just the color of this dish tell you that is Spring?

Wow, this dish is quite green. Italian twist on St. Patrick’s day anyone?

NOTE: if you are using fresh peas, during step 2 will shall add all the unshelled peas. You will skip step 3. In step 4 you will cook the peas for 15 minutes then spoon off 1/2 of the peas, purée them in the food processor and then transfer back into the pan. Cook 5 more minutes, bring to boil and then follow the directions for cooking the pasta.

Friday night flavorful meatless dinner

Who said that the days of magro (days of fasting or meatless) cannot be flavorful?

Do you know that during the Middle Age, the Christian’s observance of Lent and the various religious fasts added up to an estimated 130 days a year?

The Italian cuisine is rich of exquisite meatless dishes based on fish and vegetables, and today I am going to share with you My Friday night dinner. Two recipes, simple enough to require only a handful of ingredients and only 30 minutes of your time, but at the same time, rich of flavor, comforting and satisfying.

Pesce Spada in salmoriglio (Swordfish in Salmoriglio), with a side of Melanzane a funghetto.

Both dishes are perfect examples of Mediterranean diet. In fact, fish, vegetable, olive oil, and aromatic herbs are the staples of this diet.

The pesce spada in salmoriglio is a typical recipe of both the Calabria and the Sicilia  regions. The melanzane a funghetto is a contorno (side dish)  typical of the Neapolitan cuisine. For the eggplant, I use my mom’s recipe which also happens to be my husband’s favorite. In the most canonical version of the recipe, the eggplants are deep fried, the tomato sauce is cooked separately and the two ingredients are combined only at the end. My mom’s recipe, however, is a little lighter, because the eggplants are not deep fried.

The swordfish is simply grilled or – when it’s cold outside – seared in a skillet, and it is then drizzled with the salmoriglio, which is a raw sauce made with olive oil, fresh parsley, fresh oregano, lemon, garlic, and capers. As often happens, there are several variations of this sauce, some with capers some without, some where the sauce is simmered  a bagnomaria (wet bath) and some where the ingredients are simply emulsified. I do use the capers and I do the wet bath.

I shall say that in the preparation of the salmoriglio the use of the fresh oregano is important because is less pungent than the dry oregano, but I have to confess that last night I realized too late that my oregano’s plant had not survived the winter and that I had forgotten to buy a fresh spring at the market. Solution: use dry oregano, a little stronger flavor but, still good.

Well, I am sad to say that the oregano was not the only thing missing. . . the whole herbs section went forgotten! The BASIL!! How could I have forgotten the basil for my eggplant? Oh, I have an excuse: at the end of summer I freeze my fresh basil. Few weeks ago, however, my freezer broke and I was forced to throw away everything. . . including my basil. My mom’s melanzane a funghetto without the sweet scented basil would have been a big NO-NO, yet my husband and I enjoyed the dish and were happy to have leftover for today’s lunch.

RICETTA PESCE SPADA IN SALMORIGLIO

Swordfish is Salmoriglio Sauce

Ingredients for  4 persons

4 swordfish steak, not too tick

A handful of flat-leaf parsley

2 sprigs of fresh oregano

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon of capers ( I prefer caper in salt)

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp of grated lemon zest

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper.

Directions

Start with the salmoriglio sauce. Finely chop the garlic, oregano and parsley with a knife or, like me with a mezzaluna (half-moon chopper) – did I tell you this is one my favorite kitchen gadget? – and set aside.

In a small bowl wisk together ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Wisk the ingredients, set the bowl in a small pan with simmering water on low heat – this is the bagnomaria (water bath) – and add the minced garlic, parsley and oregano, wisk and let the sauce slowly warm up.

Lastly add the chopped capers and the grated lemon zest. One more wisk and it’s ready!

For the fish,  grease a grill grate with olive oil and set it over high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish with kosher salt and black pepper.

Once the grill is hot, cook the swordfish, for about 5 minutes per side ( 3-4 minutes for thin steak).

The flash has to be opaque. Make sure it is nice and browned at least on one side.

Plate the swordfish and drizzle with the sauce on top.

Doesn’t it look delicious?

And to go along . . .

RICETTA MELANZANE A FUNGHETTO

(In Naples these are called Mulignane a fungetiello)

Ingredients for four persons

4 eggplants (possibly the Italian kind, long and small)

1 can of chopped plum tomatoes ( San Marzano are the best)

extra virgin olive oil

1 glove of garlic

salt

few leaves of basil

Directions

Dice the eggplant, transfer to a colander sprinkle with salt, cover with a flat plate and put something heavy on top. Let sit for 1 hour so the eggplant will release all the bitter water out of the eggplant. Rinse, squeeze and pat dry.

In a frying pan heat 6 tablespoon of olive oil with a clove of crushed garlic. When the oil is warm and the garlic is golden, add the eggplant, stir well so they are coated with the fragrant oil and cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat.

Add the chopped plum tomatoes and salt to taste.

Cook 10  more minutes. Lastly add the hand chopped basil – NO BASIL IN MINE THIS TIME! –

This is not just a delicious side dish, think of it as a great appetizer along with some fresh mozzarella or, on top of crostini (toasted bread bruschetta style).

NOTE: A funghetto, means in a small mushrooms style. When the eggplants are diced in small cubes and fried the are indeed similar to mushrooms.