A sunny dish for this rainy day: Zucchini alla scapece

zucchini alla scapece 1

Oh my . . . how long has it been! So long that I almost feel as intimidated as I was when I wrote my first post. In fact, one of the reason why I haven’t been writing is because I did not know how to come back. I kept thinking: “Am I supposed to explain my absence or just pretend I never left ? “. I felt like a child cheating in school, trying to find a good excuse to explain why I had not completed my homework. I have been debating about the right story or topic to return to my blogging, but nothing felt adequate.

Last month, on my FaceBook page, I posted a photo of a dish I had prepared for dinner, ” zucchini alla scapece“. The kind comments that I received and my subsequent promise to post my recipe gave me  the push I needed to come back. I finally realized that I didn’t need to justify my absence and certainly I did not need a big ‘scoop’ to make a come back. So here I am!

The heat wave of last month reminded me a lot of my summer days in Italy, especially when I was a child. The house would get very warm in the afternoon, my mom would open all the windows to facilitate air circulation which really didn’t help much. Despite the heat, my beautiful mother, wearing her sleeveless dress, her hair gathered into a fancy chignon, and tiny sweat beads trickling down her forehead, would spend many afternoon ” ai fornelli” ( by the stove). While thinking of her and those hot days, the one dish that came to mind were the “zucchini alla scapece“, I could almost smell the oil frying.

I am keeping my promise and here it is is my mother’s recipe of  ‘Zucchini alla scapece’, which is simply fried zucchini, marinated in wine vinegar.

The ‘zucchini alla scapece’ are usually served as ‘antipasto’ (appetizer), however, they are also delicious layered on top of some fresh mozzarella in a sandwich made with focaccia or ciabatta bread. In my family we also like to eat them as side dish.

I must admit that my mother’s original recipe includes an additional step which I have omitted. My mother used to slice the zucchini into roundsnot to thick and not too thin, but just right. She would laid the slices on a large tray covered with a kitchen towel and then she set the tray on a chair on the balcony in the sunshine. The slices of zucchini would dry in the sun and a slight curly edge would form. As a child I really didn’t know why she would do that; Only many years later – when I started to show some interest in cooking – I realized that drying the zucchini prior to frying would prevent them from absorbing too much oil; it would also make them slightly crispy.

My decision to make the zucchini alla scapece came suddenly and in the early evening. I had not time to dry the zucchini in the sunshine, however, I lined a tray with paper towels and I arranged the sliced zucchini on top.  I also sprinkled them with salt to facilitate the releasing of water.  I let the zucchini rest for 30 minutes then patted dry with a kitchen towel.

Zucchini alla scapece2

I hope the result would have satisfied my mom. It sure satisfied my husband!

Zucchini alla scapece

Cosa serve (What you need):

6 small zucchini sliced  into 1/4 inch thick rounds

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

A small bunch of fresh mint leaves minced plus few whole leaves to garnish

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

Cosa fare (What to do):

  • The first step is the prep of the zucchini as explained above. Prior to slicing the zucchini, remember to rinse them thoroughly under clod running water, rubbing with your hands to remove any grit.Zucchini alla scapece 3
  • Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. The oil should be enough to come 1/4 inch up the pan’s sides.
  • When the oil is quite hot, fry the zucchini in one layer, without crowing the pan. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle in contact with the zucchini.

zucchini alla scapece 4

  • Watch the zucchini and turn them over when they become golden on one side. When they are golden brown on both sides, with a slotted spoon transfer them into a serving bowl.

zucchini alla scapece 5

  • Drizzle with the vinegar, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, finally add the minced leaves of mint. Gently toss and set aside to cool down at room temperature.
  • Before serving garnish with few leaves of mint.

zucchini alla scapece 6

It’s a rainy and gloomy day here in Frederick today, I hope this dish will brighten your day.

Which dish reminds you of the summer hot days of your childhood?

Eggplants are at their best . . . time for my Parmigiana di Melanzane

DINNER LAST NIGHT: PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE

Few days ago, I told the world I was “in ferie” (summer holiday), however the reality of August being almost over, made me realize that I had things to share that could just not wait. This means that you will be reading a little more of me before the month is over . . . I hope this is good news!

Truly, there is not better time than August to share the recipe of the “Parmigiana di melanzane”. Eggplants, indeed, are at their best in August and the Parmigiana is the symbol per antonomasia (par excellence) of Ferragosto – no Italian Holidays’ history lesson today, I will save it for next year!

As for many Italian dishes there are several variations of the Parmigiana; some fry the eggplants without dredging in the eggs; some, hoping in a less caloric recipe, bake the eggplants rather than frying them; others, completely ignoring the calories, fry the eggplants twice: two slices of previously fried eggplants are assembled like a sandwich with the mozzarella in between and then fried again.

The Parmigiana was probably one of my mom’s specialties – for sure my husband’s favorite – she visited in USA twice and both times she baked her Parmigiana for our American friends . . . they still rave about. So guess what? I use my mom’s recipe – I know you have heard that before.

My mom, for special occasions, used the ragù sauce – recipe here – to dress the Parmigiana, however, the dish is just as delicious using a simple salsa di pomodoro (tomatoes sauce). The use of the ragù would add 4-5 hours to the recipe making it a lot less appealing. Even without using the ragù, this dish is not for you if you are pressed for time. Please don’t give up, plan in advance and I promise, that after your first bite, you will not regret the time spent in the kitchen.

The Parmigiana di melanzane has always been the dish of the convivial table, friends and family sharing earthy food, warm bread and good wine. It reminds me of the tavolate estive (summer gathering at the table) in my sister-in-law-garden, under the shade of the wisteria and surrounded by the vineyards whose grapes, would soon be ready for harvest.

When two nights ago, I decided to finally jot down the recipe, I realized that my pictures from the Parmigiana di melanzane’s file were all lost during my iPhoto crash . . . Have you read my previous post? While this realization was for me cause of despair, it was, on the contrary, cause of immense joy for my husband, who immediately realized that I would make Parmigiana for last night dinner! He was right; I could not post my recipe without my pretty step-by-step pictures.
Enough said, here it is from mia cucina (my kitchen)

Ricetta

PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE

COSA SERVE (What is needed):

2 pounds of long eggplants – use Italian type if possible or baby eggplants

2 pounds tomato purée

2 eggs

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 whole mozzarella – usually ¾ pound – cut into ¼ inches thick slices

1 cup of grated Parmigiano cheese

1 medium onion finely sliced

salt

1 bunch of basil

COSA FARE (What to do):

  • Wash the eggplants and dry. With a vegetable peeler, peel the eggplants leaving one unpeeled strip between peeling.

Obviously, this morning I found neither Italian eggplants nor baby eggplants.

  • Slice the eggplants lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices.

  • Layer the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt, put something heavy on top and let them release their bitter juice for 1 hour minimum, if using Italian or baby eggplants and up to 2 hours if using larger sizes (beware of the many recipes that suggest to let the eggplants to drain for only 20 -30 minute, it is not enough).

Look at the bitter juice!

  • Meanwhile prepare the tomato sauce: in a saucepan heat the oil then add the onion and cook until translucent (my mom, from time to time, would let the onion cook until it was brown and almost crunchy – not burned – she would then spoon it off the oil. Hard to believe, these crunchy fried thin slices of onions are actually delicious on a little piece of bread!).
  • Pour the tomato purée, bring to boil, add salt, and few leaves of basil – hand chopped, no such thing as chiffonade in my house. Stir, lower the heat, cover and let cook for twenty minutes or until thickened.

  • Preheat oven at 400 degree.
  • Rinse the eggplants and pat dry. In a wide, shallow bowl slightly beat the eggs with a little salt. Also, prepare a tray with flour. In a skillet, heat ½ cup of oil. Also, have a tray, lined with paper towel, ready.
  • Dredge each slice of eggplant in the flour first then in the eggs.

  • Immediately fry the eggplants in the hot oil until golden on both sides.

  • Spoon them out and let them drain on the paper towel. TIP: If you have a young man like my son, keep him out of the kitchen; my son kept stealing the fried eggplants every time I would turn around. Result? I ended up with few slices short for my last layer.
  • Time to assemble: Cover the bottom of a baking pan with a little tomato sauce then cover with one layer of eggplants.

  • Cover with the mozzarella, then a thin layer of tomato sauce and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano cheese. Repeat the steps ending with the layer of eggplants (TIP: change the direction of the eggplants for each layer. This will allow the Parmigiana to hold its shape once you cut and plate).

  • Cover the last layer with tomatoes sauce and sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese. Few fresh basil leaves will make it look pretty.

  • Ready for the oven . . . Bake for 30 minutes.

I wish you could smell my kitchen…

Oops, I forgot the timer and I left mine in a little longer, can you see the brown spots?

  • Turn the oven off and let the Parmigiana rest in the oven for at least 45 minutes. Remove form oven and let it rest for one additional hour. The Parmigiana is one of these dishes that develop its full flavor during resting time. So plan in advance, your Parmigiana will be even better if you prepare it the night before.

TIME FOR PLATING!

. . . AND TASTING!

Despite the few missing slices and the little overcooked top, my Parmigiana was buonissima!

As you can see, not much leftover!

One last thing . . . Please, don’t serve the Parmigiana on top of spaghetti!

Note: Also try the less traditional Parmigiana di Zucchini. The procedure to follow is the same, but the zucchini do not need to drain under salt.

Chiacchiere di Carnevale e Sanguinaccio. Fat Tuesday with a recipe from my hometown, fried sweet dough and chocolate pudding.

Carnevale in Italy is not only about the fancy masquerade ball of Venice, it is also the happiest children’s holiday. In every Italian city, big or small, during the time of Carnevale the children dress up in costumes, stroll in the streets and greet each other exchanging handful of coriandoli and stelle filanti (confetti and streamers). It is a joyous time marked by the colorful masks, the horsing around, and the laughing.

Carnevale is also associated to some culinary traditions and the epitome in the kitchen is reached on the last day of Carnevale, Fat Tuesday. In anticipation of the austere season of Lent, the food of Carnevale is markedly rich.  The sweet treats were traditionally fried in lard and the king of the savory dishes was the pork.

Typical sweet treats of my Region, the Campania, are the chiacchiere. On the savory side, the lasagna napoletana (Neapolitan lasagna) is the most traditional dish of Carnevale and, it will be on  my table tonight!

The chiacchiere are strips of dough fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Classic accompaniment to the chiacchiere is the sanguinaccio. It is a thick chocolate cream, originally made with fresh pig blood cooked with chocolate and spices, and thickened with potato. Since 1992 the sale of pig blood to the public has been banned. It is, however, possible that in rural communities, where peasants still slaughter the pig, the sanguinaccio may still be prepared according to the original recipe.

In the peasant tradition, indeed, Carnevale also coincided with the pig slaughter. The pig was then the Re di Carnevale (King of Carnival) and, a party followed the event to celebrate the abundance of meat before the fasting of Lent. When I lived in Italy, I was once invited to participate to the pig slaughter and the afterwards party. I have to confess that, to avoid being unkind and refusing the invitation, I lied and pretended to be ill.

But not more talking, here it is, I am sharing the recipe of my chiacchiere and sanguinaccio, and do not worry, no blood required! I also do not use lard and,  I substitute it with butter.

Ricetta Chiacchiere di Carnevale

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour,

5 tablespoon of unsalted butter (My preference is European butter) or lard

4.5 tablespoon of sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsp Marsala

1-pinch salt

lemon rind from one small lemon

¼ teaspoon yeast dissolved into a little bit of milk

powdered sugar

peanut oil to fry

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor combine the sugar and the lemon zest.

Add the butter and the eggs.

Add the flour and salt and keep working while slowly adding the Marsala.

Lastly add the yeast and work the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl.

Transfer the dough on a surface dusted with flour and knead few minutes.

Form a ball, wrap in film and let rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and roll out, one half at the time, with a rolling-pin. Make sure that your surface is dusted with flour as well as the rolling-pin.

Your sheet of dough should be 1/8 inch thick.

Use a toothed wheel to cut diamonds or triangles. One of the characteristic of the chiacchiere is to have irregular shapes, so don’t seat trying to make them all perfect.

With the toothed wheel make an incision in the center of each piece of dough.

Gently remove each chiacchiera, open the incision, through which you will pass a corner to  form a knot.

Fry in plenty of Peanut oil or lard if you prefer. The oil should not be very hot ( 338 degree) or the chiacchiere will burn easily. Quickly flip the chiacchiere and as soon as golden remove from oil.

Transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper to drain the excess oil. Transfer to a serving dish and when they are completely cool sprinkle with plenty of powdered sugar.

Ricetta del Sanguinaccio

Ingredients

2 cups of milk

1.5 cups of sugar

1 cup of cocoa

2 oz. of bittersweet chocolate chip

half stick unsalted butter

2 oz. of starch (potato starch or corn starch)

1 / 2 tsp cinnamon

1 pinch of salt

candied orange (in small pieces)

Directions

In a pan mix the starch, cocoa and sugar.

Slowly add the milk, stirring to dissolve the dry ingredients.

Transfer the pan to the stove over low heat.

While constantly stirring, cook until the mixture has thickened  about 20 minutes).

Remove from heat and immediately add the cinnamon, dark chocolate, and butter. Mix energetically until smooth.

Lastly add the candied orange and give one more stir.

Transfer to a serving bowl cover with film and let it cool.

Serve alongside the chiacchiere.

You still have time to make your chiacchiere for Mardi Gras but you can enjoy this bontà (delicacy) any time.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Calzoni e Panzerotti. . . Yum-Yum!!!

This past Monday, after 4 weeks of winter break, my youngest son, Mattia, went back to school. I already miss him!

To ensure that he would not forget his mom, I went on a three-day cooking marathon: Baked rigatoni with tomatoes/béchamel sauce on Friday, baked Calzoni and fried Panzerotti on Saturday and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese on Sunday!

Oh. . . he will remember me!

Even if you are not trying to impress your son, you can still treat yourself to this bontà (delicacy).

I will share with you the recipes of the calzoni and panzerotti.

The Calzone al forno (baked calzone) is a specialty of the Neapolitan cuisine, yet widespread through Central, and Southern Italy.

The dough is the same as the pizza and the filling is traditionally composed of mozzarella or provola, grated cheese, ricotta and salame.

In Naples, you can taste delightful calzoni in every Pizzeria, where they are baked in traditional forni a legna (wood fire ovens).

The Panzerotto, typical of the Italian region of Puglia, is simply a variation of the calzone. The same pizza dough is used; however, the traditional filling is a mix of tomatoes and mozzarella. The Panzerotto can be baked or fried.

Although, a specialty of Puglia, the panzerotti, just like the calzoni, are found everywhere in Italy, and particularly in the Southern regions.

The panzerotto is sometime also called calzone fritto (fried calzone).

Fried panzerotti were one of my favorite treats during my college’s years in Napoli. Friggitorie (local shop selling fried food) selling hot panzerotti, crocchè di papate (potatoes croquettes) and pastacresciuta (fried dough) are still in many corner of Naples; My favorite friggitoria was the Friggitoria Vomero, outside the stop of the Funicolare Centrale (funicular railway).

The recipes below are the typical version of calzoni and panzerotti however, you can create your own filling, based on your own likes. Get creative!

Ricetta Calzoni e Panzerotti

(NOTE: The pictures below show two batches of dough and fillings and double the amount of  calzoni and panzerotti)

Ingredients for the dough:

2 cups flour type 00 (you can substitute with all-purpose flour – see next line)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (if you don’t have type 00 flour, increase the quantity of all-purpose flour to a total of 3 -1/2 cups)

1-1/2 cups of lukewarm filtered water (100 degree)

1 teaspoon yeast

¼ teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Dissolve the yeast in a 1/4 cup of water with ¼ teaspoon of sugar. Let the yeast foam (5-10 minutes).

In a separate small bowl dissolve the sea salt into a 1/4 cup of water and set aside.

Sift the two types of flour and transfer into the bowl of a standing mixer with the hook attachment.

Add the yeast and start mixing at low-speed.

Once the yeast has blended into the flour, increase the speed and slowly start adding the water.

Once you have added approximately 3/4 cups of water, you can add the salted water. If it appears that the dough is still not coming together, add the remaining ¼ cup of water.

Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and the sides of the bowl are completely clean.

Transfer the dough on a slightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes until smooth.

Form a ball and transfer to a bowl that you had previously brushed with a little bit of oil. Brush also the dough with oil to prevent it from drying, and cover with plastic film and with a kitchen towel. Keep the bowl in a dry place and let raise for 2 hours (during winter, sometime I keep the dough in the oven with the lights on, the warmth of the lights helps the raising process).

You can now start to assemble your filling.

I personally like to use both types of ripieno (filling) for both the calzoni and the panzerotti. I then bake, and fry some of each.

Ripieno di Ricotta 

Ingredients:

1 cup of good quality ricotta cheese (hand dipped is the best)

1 extra-large egg

4 oz. mozzarella cheese

3 oz. sopressata salami  or  Genova salami cut 1/4 inches thick

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup tomato purée

2-3 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Peanut Oil (Peanut oil has a high smoke point and neutral taste which makes it perfect for frying foods. Extra virgin olive oil also has a high smoke point however, you will definitely taste its flavor).

Directions:

Chop the mozzarella and the salame into pieces (I use a food processor. Using the pulse option I easily obtain small pieces).

In a bowl combine the ricotta with the egg, the Parmigiano, the pecorino, salt and pepper.

Add the mozzarella and the salame and mix well to combine.

Ripieno di Pomodoro e Mozzarella 

Ingredients:

4 oz mozzarella cheese, chopped

2 cups of canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

¼ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil to fry

Directions:

Pour the chopped pomodori (tomatoes) into a strainer sitting over a bowl and let drain the water until ready to use.

When you are ready to stuff the calzone and panzerotti, transfer the tomatoes into a dry bowl, add the mozzarella, the oil, the salt and, the oregano and mix together.

How to assemble and cook the calzoni and panzerotti

Transfer the dough on a surface dusted with flour and knead for 1 minute. Roll out the dough, and with a cookie cutter or a glass, form 5 inches diameter disks; Placed the disks on a floured surface. Cover with plastic film and a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven at 450 degree.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with corn meal.

With your hand and the aid of a rolling-pin, roll out each disk until very thin (less than ¼ inch thick). Put some of the filling in the center of each disk.

Brush the edge of each disk with water and close each one by folding the dough over and pressing down along the edges with your finger first and then with the tines of a fork.

Place half of the calzoni and panzerotti in the baking sheet and brush the top with tomato puree.

Bake for 10-15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes then enjoy!

Buonissimi!!!

The other batch of canzoni and panzerotti will be fried.

In a large pan, heat 2-3 inches of olive oil or peanut oil to 170 degree. If you don’t have a thermometer you can drop a piece of bread without crust into the oil, if the bread reach the bottom of the pan and quickly return to surface, the oil is ready.

When the oil is ready, fry the panzerotti and calzoni, few at the time, turning them on both sides until golden.

Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and serve hot.

Sitting on top of the fried calzoni and panzerotti is something that my mom used to make. It’s the pizzetta fritta (fried little piazza), simply a thicker disk of dough with a slight well in the center. First you fry the side with the well then, flip over, and while it is frying, fill the well with a spoonful of tomatoes purée and a sprinkle of Parmigiano cheese. I loved it then, and I love it now!

I hope you will enjoy these recipes. Let me know how creative you will be with your fillings!