A Recipe from the Italian Riviera

My Fresh Basil

I want to share a recipe from sunny Liguria. I trust you have all heard about the Pesto sauce. Today, however, I will share a variation of the traditional pesto recipe: “Trenette avvantagiae”, trenette (type of pasta similar to fettuccine), condite (dressed) with the aromatic pesto and enriched with patate (potatoes) and fagiolini (green beans) . . . doesn’t it sound delicious?

This recipe is not only perfect for the warm days of Spring and Summer, it is also another example of Mediterranean Diet. Of course, it is also a perfect choice for your meatless Friday or Monday.

If you have been following my blog, you know that a little bit of history always precedes my recipes. It is not different today, of course you could scroll directly down to the “important” part, but I know you wouldn’t do that!

Liguria is one of the smallest regions of Italy, a narrow strip of land, whose landscape precludes extensive crop field. The Southern exposure, however, along with a mild climate favor an intensive production of vegetables, herbs, fruit, olives and grapes.

Intrinsic to the Liguria landscape are the terrazzamenti (terraces), large steps bordered by stone walls, which allow to make the most of small portions of land.

Amongst the local produces stands the basilico genovese (Genoese basil). This basil, characterized by small leaves and intense aroma, is quintessential  in the preparation of  pesto: that deliciously fresh sauce typical of Genova, made indeed with basilico, aglio, pinoli, olio extravergine e formaggio (basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil and cheese).

The name Pesto comes from the traditional preparation method, which prescribes the “pestatura” (crushing) of the ingredients in a marble mortaio (mortar) with a wooden pestello (pestle).

The same technique is used in the preparation of other Liguria’ specialties such as salsa di noci (walnut sauce), which I particularly love. I will share that recipe at a later time.

It is very likely that the Liguri borrowed the use of mortar and pestle from the Saracens. Genova’s wealth in fact, for centuries, had attracted the Normans and the Saracens that looted the city several times.

Between the centuries XII and XIV, Genova was one of the most powerful Repubbliche Marinare (Maritime Republics). Considering its important role in the Mediterranean Sea, it is not surprising to find culinary similarities with remote areas such as Sicily. Trenette for example – the name comes from “trena” that in Genoese means stringa (shoelace) – derive from the Sicilian Tria, a particular type of pasta often combined with chickpeas.

In Liguria, the trenette, along with the trofie, are the perfect companion for the pesto sauce and they are the pasta of choice for today’s featured recipe.

I own a mortar and pestle, I use however, a food blender to make my pesto as I have not mastered yet the art of “pestatura”, which is not as easy as you would expect.  I will admit that the taste of  pesto made with the traditional method is different and certainly better. Today, however, most Italians prepare homemade pesto with the aid of a blender; it might not be perfect, yet it is far better that the store-bought one!

In this recipe, I only use the pestle to crush the garlic with salt before adding it to the other ingredients.

For a classic recipe using the traditional mortar and pestle you can visit the official site of the Consortium of Pesto Genovese. 

Ricetta

My Trenette Avvantagiae

(Trenette with pesto, green beans and potatoes)

Ingredients:

For the pesto sauce:

2 -1/4 cups fresh basil leaves (preferably young, small leaves of the Genoese quality)

½ cup Extra-Virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of pine nuts

kosher salt

Other ingredients:

1 lb trenette or fettuccine or linguine

¼ pound green beans

1 large Russet potato

salt

Parmigiano Reggiano

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

Directions:

First let’s take care of the basil. Following my mother’s advice, I do not wash the basil leaves, or else they would lose their aroma. I wet a kitchen towel with hot water, I squeeze the water out and with the damp towel I wipe the basil leaves. Then, I let the leaves dry completely.

Peel, wash and dice the potato. Trim and rinse the green beans.

In a large pot bring the water to boil, add salt. Add the diced potatoes and the green beans to the salted boiling water.

Once cooked, spoon out of the water. Keep the potatoes warm. Cut the green beans into thirds and keep them warm.

In the same boiling water add the trenette  – I used fettuccine – and let cook.

I used Fettuccine

In the meanwhile prepare the pesto.

NOTE: You don’t want to prepare the pesto too far in advance or you will incur in oxidation problems. Oxidation (leaves turning dark and flavor deterioration) happens when the leaves are in contact with the oxygen in the air. First rule to prevent oxidation is to make sure the basil leaves are completely dry. This will allow the oil to coat the leaves and create a seal. Second rule is to work the blender slowly – even better in pulse. This will prevent the blades from heating and therefore will prevent the oxidation.

In the food processor, first add  the oil then the basil leaves, the crushed garlic/salt. Process slowly adding more oil if necessary. Add the grated cheeses and pulse few times to blend the ingredients.

The pesto is now ready to be used. Of course, you can use this pesto recipe for classic pasta al pesto – I also like with gnocchi – or to add flavor to a classic minestrone, in which just adding one spoonful of pesto will do the trick. And what about spreading a little bit of pesto on a slice of bread and top it with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a slice of tomatoes? Yum!

One minutes before the trenette are cooked, add the potatoes and green beans to the pot (just to warm them up).

In a large bowl spoon some of the pesto and dilute with a little of the pasta cooking water.

Drain well the pasta, potatoes, and green beans and transfer into the bowl with pesto.

Stir to combine the ingredients, add the remaining pesto and the tablespoon of butter. Stir to combine until the butter has melted.

Plate into individual bowl and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

I hope you will enjoy this dish as much as I do!

Have you tried this dish before? Have you visited Liguria?

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Easter Baking Marathon . . . recipes and memories

Since Easter is only three days away, this post is probably overdue. Nevertheless, I am sure some of you out there are still looking for traditional Italian Easter recipes.

In the next three days I will share with you one recipe a day: the pizza co’ l’erba, the pizza piena and the pastiera. So, don’t forget to come back to my blog everyday!

NOTE: I am sorry but I don’t have step by step pictures for the recipes. I can only show you few pictures from last year. As I’ll bake in the next few days I might be adding pictures to the post.

Easter baking is not just about the food, it is also about rituals, traditions and timing.

My childhood memories of Pasqua (Easter) are really happy ones. During the weeks heading into this Holiday, my mom would take me shopping for a my new Easter Sunday dress. This was also the first new dress of Spring. With the dress, of course, came new shoes. . . that’s where all started!

It was also time for Spring cleaning, but I have to admit that I was never a big help in that department.

By Domenica delle Palme (Palm Sunday) we were ready for the week ahead. My mom was very religious so the Settimana Santa (Holy week) was marked by specific events.

Religion, however, progressed step by step with the food planning and preparation.

On Thursday my mom would prepare the Pizza co’ l’erba (a savory Greens Pie). After one day of resting, the pizza was ready to be enjoyed on Venerdi` Santo (Good Friday), when only frugal and meatless food could be consumed.

Pizza co’ l’erba is the recipe that I will share with you today.

On Thursday we would also go to visit i Sepolcri (the tombs). The correct designation is: Altar of Repose, the altar where Jesus Eucharist is worshiped. The fact that the altar is adorned with flowers and candles favors the idea of the tomb. Each church dressed the altar in a different way and by the end of the evening everyone discussed which display they liked best.

On Venerdi` Santo (Good Friday), during the day, the kitchen was always a busy place. The Pizza Piena (stuffed pizza) was prepared on this day.

This a typical recipe of the Irpinia, my hometown’s countryside. It is called stuffed pizza because it is – quite literally – stuffed with salami, cheese and eggs. The pizza piena develops its full flavor a couple of days after it has been baked. This is why it must be prepared not later than Friday (even better on Thursday) to be enjoyed on Easter day.

Friday evening was back to church for the Via Crucis. In Rome, the Via Crucis is particularly inspiring, as the Pope leads the procession around the Colosseum.

Sabato Santo (Holy Saturday), was when some of my relatives from out of town would arrive. The home was full and my mom, in between chats, would just keep on baking.

Beside the traditional Pastiera Napoletana (Neapolitan Easter Pie), my mom would also prepare the Casatiello dolce (Neapolitan Easter cake) whose recipe she inherited from my grandmother. This cake starts with the pasta madre (mother dough or pre-ferment). It has a very long prep time but the result is unique. The choice of the baking pan is also very important. You must use an aluminum ruoto (baking pan) with a diameter of not less than 16 inch and with a height of at least 8-10 inch. The dough takes 8-10 hrs. to rise. My mom used to leave the dough to rise overnight into these oversized baking pan. She would usually catch up with her sister and sister-in law through the night while keeping an eye on the dough and making sure it would not overflow.

My mom was the only keeper of my grandmother’s recipe, and unfortunately, since my mother passed, my brothers and I have not been successful in finding it yet. I have, however, done some research and I might have found a recipe that appear to be very close to my mom’s. It will be next year’s Easter experiment.

Of course, the Pastiera Napoletana was always the star of the show.

Finally, la Domenica di Pasqua (Easter Sunday). After three days of silence, the church’s bells are ringing again, and it is time to get ready for mass before the big feast.

I still cannot figure out how it was possible to spend almost two hours at church and then come home where a full – and when I say full I really mean it – meal was served at 2:00 pm.

Il pranzo di Pasqua ( Easter lunch), always started with hard boiled eggs, sopressata (a type of salami), and pizza piena. Il primo ( the first course) was usually tagliatelle con spezzatino di agnello ( tagliatelle with a lamb and egg white sauce). Il secondo (the second course) was baked leg of lamb with potatoes and peas. Then of course a little more pizza piena, a little bit of cheese, a slice a of pizza co’ l’erba, and finally. . . i dolci ( the sweets), my mom special casatiello dolce, the pastiera, the Colomba (Easter Dove bread), and l’Uovo di Pasqua ( Easter chocolate egg).

La Colomba e l' Uovo di Pasqua

In Italy we don’t have the Easter Bunny, but we do have the Easter egg, which is one of my favorite tradition and the one the every child cherishes. A large chocolate egg wrapped in colorful paper and with a surprise inside. You can find eggs in different sizes and made with milk or dark chocolate. My favorite is the one with very coarse pieces of hazelnut blended into the chocolate; this egg has a very rough texture compared to the traditional chocolate eggs which are less thick and have a smooth finish. For the first few years after I moved to the States, I had asked my brother to send me the hazelnut Easter egg but then, I stopped asking. This year, however, when my Italian friend told me she was going to spend Easter in Italy and she asked me what to bring me back, I knew what I wanted: The chocolate hazelnut Easter egg!

Over the years I have always managed to find an Italian Uovo di Pasqua for my boys. It has became a tradition for them too and I hope they will carry it on.

Here we are with the first recipe of this Easter baking marathon, the pizza co’ l’erba.

This is a traditional greens pie of my homeland. It is called con l’erba (with grass), because some wild herbs are used. Typically, four different greens are used for the filling: scarola (escarole), borragine (borage or start flower), cardilli selvatici (young leaves of thistles ) and agrifoglio (chervil). You use equal parts of the first three ingredients while a small bunch of chervil is all you need to give this pie its distinct aroma..

I haven’t always been successful in finding the right ingredients, so over the years I have made some adjustments and you might have to do the same.

  1. You can substitute the borage with chard
  2. You can substitute the thistles with dandelion or chicory

For the dough I use a typical pizza dough recipe.

Ricetta Pizza co’ l’erba

Pizza from last year. . . made a square one this year.

Ingredients (for a 12 inch pie dish):

For the Dough:

4 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2-1/8 cup warm water

2 teaspoons olive oil

1-2/3 tsp salt

½ packet dry yeast (1tsp)

1 teaspoon sugar

For the Filling:

1 lb. Escarole

1 lb. Borage (or chard)

1 lb. Young leaves of thistles (or chicory)

1 small bunch chervil

6 salted anchovies (or 12 anchovies in olive oil)

2 cloves of garlic (minced)

¼ cup of pine nuts

¼ cup of raisins (soaked in warm water)

abundant extra-virgin olive oil

salt to taste

Directions

Prepare the Dough: Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Let it foam. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the hook attachment, add the flour, the yeast, the olive oil, the remaining water work for two minutes then add the salt and work until the dough is elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Prepare the Filling: Wash the vegetables well.

Cook them in boiling salted water (15-20 minutes). Drain, let cool, and squeeze to remove the excess water. Chop them into pieces (not too small).

In a large pan heat the olive oil, add the garlic and half of the anchovies. Cook until the anchovies have dissolved.

Add the remaining anchovies (previously chopped), the pine-nuts, and the raisins.

Stir gently so that everything is coated with oil. Add the vegetables, stir and cook for 5-8 minutes, add salt to taste, stir again. Let cool.

Preheated oven at 425° degree and brush with oil a pie dish.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough and place it into dish.

Used a square dish this year!

Arrange a thick layer of the filling (at least 1 inch).

 

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pizza, fold the edge of the dough and press it using your finger. Prick the surface using a fork. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle a little bit of kosher salt.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

This pizza is best enjoyed after resting overnight.

 

Related posts:
Day 2 of my Easter baking marathon, Pizza Piena

Day 3 of my Easter baking marathon – Pastiera

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.