A recipe from Piemonte: Brasato al Barolo . . . A Perfect Holiday dish!

Holiday Dinner

I haven’t been very active on my blog lately and apologize for that. Many things have kept me occupied, however, I could not let the Holidays go by without thanking all of you for your support through my first year of blogging.

I shall also thank two very special bloggers, Meg at Meg Travels and Letizia at Dutch goes Italian for awarding me with the Blog of the Year 2012 Award. I am humbled and honored to be in such a great company . . . GRAZIE, GRAZIE, GRAZIE!!!

To celebrate my 1 year Anniversary, my Award, and the Holiday Season I want to share a recipe that I think you will love: Brasato al Barolo. A dish typical of the Piemonte region and perfect for a special occasion such as Christmas.

The beef is marinated in Italian Barolo wine for almost 24 hours then slow cooked in the same marinade for 3 more hours, the result is a rich dish full of flavor, elegant and earthy, comforting and intense all at the same time.

Barolo is a full-bodied Italian wine from the Nebbiolo grapes. It is quite expensive (especially in the US) so I often substitute Barolo with Nebbiolo, You will still have to pay around $20 for a bottle of Nebbiolo, however, for a special occasion, it is wort the expense.

You can read about my visit to the Marchesi di Barolo ‘s winery in the town of Barolo clicking on this link: A day in Barolo

I prepared Brasato al Barolo last week for a Holiday dinner with some dear friends, but the first time I cooked Brasato al Barolo was in 1982 when I invited my boyfriend to meet my parents. Although it was not my intention to – as they say in Italy –  “prendere l’uomo per la gola” (literally: take a man through his throat; meaning: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach), that man is today my husband of 26 years . . . I think he was impressed!

The Brasato al Barolo is typically served with a side of polenta, mashed potatoes or stewed pearl onions. For my Holiday dinner I served my Brasato with my mom’s version of mashed potatoes (simply boiled and mashed and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil), sautéed broccoli rapini and cipolline all’aceto balsamico (pearl onions stewed in balsamic vinegar). My Holiday dinner turned into a two days cooking affair as I also served a primo piatto (first course) of rondelle (fresh pasta roll ups) spinach and ricotta with bechamel sauce. I also prepared pears cooked in red wine served with Sabayon sauce as dessert. And since I LOVE desserts, I made mini Panettone cakes covered in chocolate ganache and lastly chocolate-chestnut truffles!

Rondelle spinach and ricottaPere cotte al vinoTruffles and mini cakes

I promised that I will share all these recipes soon.

I would like to encourage you to read my previous posts on Italian Christmas’s  culture and traditions. You can learn about the fascinating Neapolitan Presepe (Crèche), the truth about the Feast of Seven Fish, and New Year’s Eve Italian traditions.  You can also add some traditional Neapolitan desserts to your table with my recipe for struffoli and mostaccioli.

Lastly, I would like to nominate three bloggers that I have being enjoying following, for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award:

Two Black Dogs

Our Italian Table

Writingfeemail’s Blog

Congratulations and thank you for such enjoyable blogs!

Please read the rules of the award at the bottom of this post.

Happy Holidays to all and don’t forget to keep the little angels of Sandy Hook Elementary School in your hearts throughout this Holiday Season.

Ricetta

Brasato al Barolo

Cosa serve (What you need)

2 pounds beef (shoulder, chuck or boneless short ribs)

1 bottle of Barolo or Nebbiolo

1  onion quartered

1 large carrot chopped

1 celery stalk chopped

1 bay leaf

4 tablespoon of unsalted butter

3 cloves

1 small cinnamon stick

8-10 peppercorns

4-5 juniper berries

1 sprig rosemary, 1 small bunch of sage, 1 small bunch thyme – tied together

1/2 cup cognac – optional

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 oz. prosciutto fat – minced

Cosa fare (What to do)

Pat dry the meat and place it in an earthenware pot. Add the chopped  vegetable, the herbs, and all the spices.

Prepping the BrasatoHerbsSpices

Sprinkle with salt and then pour the wine.

Barolo wineBarolo marinade

Cover with the pot and let marinade in the refrigerator for at  least 12 hours (24 hours would be ideal). Turn the meat over few times during the marinade period.

When ready to cook, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Also remove the vegetables and herbs. Strain the marinade and discard any remaining solids, including the spices (I did not remove the spices which resulted in a too intense flavor).

In the same pot, heat the oil and butter. Add the vegetables and let them browned.  Also add the bunch of herbs.

Browning vegetables

Add the meat and brown on all sides. At this point if you decide to use the optional cognac, you should splash the liquor over the meat and light it and let the flames go out. I am still not comfortable with this step so I simply splashed the meat with cognac, raise the heat to high and let evaporate.

Season the meat with salt, pour the wine from the marinade over it.

Slow cooking the Brasato

Cover and cook on very low heat for 2 hours.

Spoon out the vegetables and remove the bunch of herbs. Discard the herbs and puree the vegetables in a food processor.

Add the puree to the pot and continue cooking for 30 minutes. At this point the meat should be cooked. Remove it from the pot and keep it warm.

If the sauce appears too liquid, add 1 teaspoon of potato starch, bring to boil and let thicken.

Slice the meat, pour the sauce over and serve with the side dish of your choice.

Buon Appetito!!!

Brasato al Barolo

What are you serving at your Holiday dinner?

BUON NATALE!!!!

Rules for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award

  • Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
  • Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
  • Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award – http://thethoughtpalette.co.uk/our-awards/blog-of-the-year-2012-award/   and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
  • Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them
  • As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…
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Feast of the Seven Fish? Not quite . . .

Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!

It is time to break the news: there is not such thing as the “Feast of the seven fish” in Italy!

When I moved from Italy to Frederick, MD in 1991, I could not find espresso, cappuccino, fresh mozzarella or prosciutto. However, I could buy “Italian” garlic bread and “Italian” salsa Alfredo, both of which are NOT Italians. Then at Christmastime the fateful question would always come up: “Do you celebrate with the feast of the seven fish?”. The first time I almost felt embarrassed having to explain that I didn’t know about this “Italian” tradition. I just was not ready yet to break the news.

The tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve certainly comes from the Catholic religion, which forbids eating meat on the Vigilia (the word comes from the Latin verb vigilare “to watch or “to stay awake”) as a sign of respect and contemplation of the great event that is about to be celebrated.

There is indeed a tradition to celebrate the Vigilia (Christmas Eve) with the Cenone (big dinner) during which only fish dishes are served. Still, the tradition doesn’t dictate neither the number or the type of fish.

Most importantly, this tradition is very much eradicated in the Southern regions of Italy but not in the North where the pranzo di Natale (Christmas lunch) takes center stage and it is mostly based on meat preparations.

Well . . . I am from the Southern region of Campania and on My Vigilia‘s table there will be fish!

One of my most vivid memories of Christmas Eve at my parent’s home is the capitone (adult female eels) swimming in our bathtub. No, I am not kidding!

Eels should not be killed until shortly before cooking, so they were bought alive, kept in the bathtub until my father on Christmas Eve morning would chop them in pieces. And let me tell you, what a strange fish these eels are, they keep moving even with their heads chopped off!

Years after my dad had passed away, I went in Italy to spend Christmas with my brother who wanted to keep the tradition alive. So, bravely, he bought the capitone and then asked my husband to help with the task at hand. All I can say is that the scene would have made the show “America funniest video”.

I remember the day of the Vigilia as a day of waiting and expectations. My mother started her day early, she would plate the struffoli first, then prepare the pasta cresciuta (dough) to be fried around lunch time. We would eat these pizzelle (fried dough) throughout the day waiting for the cenone. This was the only day of the year when my brothers and I were not required to be home for lunch. The zampognari, shepherds from the mountains of Abruzzi, often came to play Christmas music on their bagpipes.

Late in the afternoon the festive table was set and it was finally time to start the feast. The menu included: seafood salad, fried baccalà, spaghetti with clams and spaghetti with anchovies and walnuts, capitone, fried shrimp and calamari, a baked fish, insalata di rinforzo (a marinated vegetable and cauliflower salad) and then dry figs, dates, nuts, nuggets, mostaccioli and roccocó, Panettone and struffoli.

After Midnight Mass, back at home, we would start the traditional procession open by my mom carrying a candle and followed by me (the youngest of the family) carring the statue of baby Jesus while the rest of the family was singing “Tu scendi dalle stelle” ( You come down from the stars). The procession ended with the arrival at the presepe (nativity scene) and the kissing of the Baby who was finally positioned over the crib of the nativity.

Some of these traditions are still part of My Vigilia.

Enough with the memories and back to My menu. Over the years I have substituted some dishes and I usually change my pasta dish from one year to the next. Also, since my two sons have lately shown a clear preference for a variety of small dishes (almost like tapas) and they love pasta, I have designed a menu with many antipasti (appetizers), and one main pasta dish.

I will post pictures and some recipes after the Holidays, for now here it is My 2011 Menu della Vigilia.  Buon Natale a tutti ! Merry Christmas everyone!

Antipasti (Appetizers)

Pizzelle – fried dough

Gamberoni in guazzetto – large shrimps in a spicy tomatoes-cream sauce

Insalata di mare  – seafood salad with calamari, octopus, shrimps, clams and mussels seasoned with a lemon parsley vinagrette

Seaweed fritters

Insalata di Baccalà – salted cod fish salad served warm with a yougurt-mayonnese- dressing

Seared scallops with radicchio and pancetta

Frittura di pesce  – fried shrimp, calamari, smelts

Oysters

Primo Piatto (First course)

Calamarata ai frutti di mare – calamarata is a cut of pasta in the shape of calamari rings, it is traditionally served with only calamari but I use a variety of seafood

Contorno ( Side dish)

Scarole di Natale – sautéed frise and escarole with anchovies, raisins and pine nuts

Frutta e dolci (Fruit and desserts)

Frutta secca – (Dry fruit – figs and dates),  nocciole tostate (toasted hazelnut), assorted torrone italiano (Italian nuggets), My struffoli, My mustaccioli and Panettone.

Of course wines from My hometown will fill our glasses, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, both white wines. And My Limoncello will complement the erray of desserts.

What’s on your Holiday table?

Struffoli and Mostaccioli My favorite Christmas desserts

Yesterday was December 21, the shortest day of the year. That means brighter days are ahead and Christmas is only 4 days away.

Time to start My holiday desserts and to share two of My favorite Christmas recipes .

You probably all know about the Panettone from Milano and the Pandoro from Verona, both delicious holiday cakes and today easily available in many gourmet grocery stores.

But, how many of you know about two delicious specialties of the Neapolitan region, the Struffoli and the Mostaccioli?

The Struffoli and the Mostaccioli are nowhere to be found in the States (or at least around my area) so I had no choice that to make My own.

The Struffoli are a true Neapolitan dolce (dessert). It appears that the Greeks brought this specialty to Naples. From there it has widespread throughout Central and Southern Italy; however, with some variations from region to region.

The Struffoli are little balls of dough fried and then coated in honey. Their flavor improves after a couple of days. That’s why it is important to prepare them a few days before the event.  I use a traditional recipe without baking powder because I like My Struffoli a little crunchy. If you prefer a softer consistency add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and let the dough rest for 60 minutes. Also, the original recipe includes the Italian liqueur Strega or Anisette but, since just few weeks ago I bottled My Limoncello (you should know this if you have been following My blog!), I am using that in my recipe.

The Mostaccioli, also called Mustaccioli are sort of large biscotti (cookies) shaped like a diamond and covered with a chocolate glaze or ganache. The name Mostaccioli comes from the peasant’s habit to use the wine must in order to develop a more  intense and sweet flavor. 

The list of traditional Christmas desserts from the Neapolitan area also include other delicacies like the Susamielli, honey based biscotti shaped like the letter S. The Roccoco`, very hard biscotti, shaped like donuts with an intense flavor of almond and citrus. The Divinoamore, prepared for the first time by the nuns of the convent Divino Amore. The almonds and lemons along with the light pink glaze give these small bites a unique Mediterranean flavor.

I have yet to experiment with these recipes, may be next Christmas I will but for now, I hope you will enjoy My Struffloli and Mostaccioli.

My Mostaccioli

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nut meg

2 finely crushed cloves

the zest from 1 orange and 1 tangerine

juice from 1 orange and 1 tangerine

2 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon Grand Marnier (optional)

1 pinch of salt

Warm water as necessary

For the glaze

1/4 pound semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cram

Directions

In a bowl of a food processor sift together the flower, the salt, the baking powder, the baking soda and the cocoa powder. Add the sugar and combine the ingredients at slow speed.

Add the orange and tangerine zest and the spices and process until combined.

In a measuring cup pour the required amount of  honey , add the orange juice and tangerine juice and then add to the dry ingredients (do not rinse the cup, add  ¼ cup of warm water and keep it aside).  Mix the dough at medium speed allowing all the ingredients to come together.

Add the Grand Marnier and keep processing the dough. Add the warm water as necessary to obtain a compact dough.

Mix the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl. It should be smooth with no lumps.

Damp the dough on a surface slightly dusted with flour and shape into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven at 360 degree F.

Remove the dough form the refrigerator and on a surface well dusted with flour roll out the dough to a ½ inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath to make sure it is not sticking.

Cut the dough into diamond shape, large and/or small and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes and then transfer on wire rack to completely cool.

Prepare the chocolate ganache.

In a pan combine chocolate chips and the heavy cram in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts.

With a brush cover the bottom of the Mostaccioli with a thin layer of chocolate and let them dry completely. Once they are dry, flip the Mostaccioli and pour the chocolate over the top. Work on a wire rack with a pan underneath because you will have to allow the chocolate to drizzle down the sides. The Mostaccioli need several hours to dry completely.

My Struffoli

Ingredients

4 – ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

4 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk

5- 2/3 tablespoon unsalted butter

zest from ½ lemon

1 pinch of salt

2 tablespoon of Limoncello (options are Strega liqueur or Anisette or Rum)

Vegetable oil for frying (I use Peanut oil)

1 cup of honey

Multicolor nonpareils

Mixed candied fruit chopped into small pieces.

Directions

In a bowl of a food processor sift the flower, add the salt, the sugar, the lemon zest and the butter and combine the ingredients at slow speed.

Slowly add the eggs and lastly the liqueur and process the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl (add a little bit of cold water if necessary).

The dough should be smooth.

Damp the dough on a surface slightly dusted with flour and shape into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.

On a surface well dusted with flour knead the dough for few minutes and then divide into small balls, the size of oranges.

Working with one ball of dough at the time, roll the dough into ½ inch diameter dowels and cut dowels into ½ inch long pieces. As you cut the pieces placed them on a surface dusted with flour.

Right before frying transfer  the pieces of dough (one batch at the time) into a sieve and shake to remove excess flour.

In a deep frying pan, heat the oil to 175 degree and fry the pieces of dough in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan.

As soon as they became light gold, remove from the oil, drain and transfer into a plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper.

Place a large pan on top of a pot with simmering water. Pour the honey in the pan and let melt. Remove from heat and add the fried Struffoli, add the candied fruit and stir until all the Struffoli are completely coated with honey.

To plate the Struffoli, place a glass or a round jar in the center of a serving plate and then place the Struffoli all around to form a ring. Sprinkle with nonpareils and let sit few hours before removing the glass/jar.

You still have time to make these two wonderful desserts, follow the recipes and remember I will be around if you have questions.

Don’t forget to check My blog tomorrow for My Christmas Eve Menu`!

Il Presepe Napoletano – The Neapolitan Crèche

I Presepi di San Gregorio Armeno, Napoli

The word presepe comes from Latin “praesaepe” and means mangiatoia (manger).

The Italian tradition of the presepe originates with St. Francis of Assisi, who  in 1223, in Greggio (Umbria), for the first time represented the Nativity with a live scene.

The  first sculptural representation of the Italian Nativity scene is from the late ‘200, when it only included eight figures, Madonna, Giuseppe, Bambino Gesu`, asino, bue e Re Magi (Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the donkey, the ox and the Wise Men). With time the presepe evolved to include the angels and the shepherds with their flock.

It was in the late ‘600 that the Presepe  Napoletano took a more theatrical aspect with its mix of sacred and profane and finally, in the  1700, the making of the presepe in Napoli became a true art.

It was then, in fact, that the presepe began to adorn the houses of the aristocracy and then finally became a widespread tradition. It was then that the Neapolitan artists gave the Sacred scene a more realistic setting with the introduction of elements from their everyday life.

In Napoli there is a street, Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is also known as “Via dei Presepi” (Presepi Street).

Via San Gregorio Armeno

The street is known worldwide for its botteghe artigianali (artisan workshop) where the artists of the presepe, throughout the year are busy producing i pastori. The word pastori literally means shepherds; however, in this case it refers to all the figures that make up the Nativity scene.

On the same street, the Chiesa (church) of San Gregorio Armeno was built in 930 on the foundations of a classic temple dedicated to Ceres.  The church was dedicated to San Gregorio Armeno in 1208. Although the art of the Neapolitan presepe is more recent, it was to Ceres that the population originally used to offer small votive clay figures made by the local artisans.

In Napoli the tradition of “fare il presepe” (to build the Nativity scene) includes an annual passeggiata (stroll) to the “Via dei Presepi”.

You can visit the workshops of San Gregorio Armeno year around and while during the rest of the year you might be able to better admire the pastori and observe the artisans at work, nothing compares to a visit during the Holiday Season. Hundreds of people walk through the narrow street looking for the perfect addition to their presepe or just looking for that unique piece to take home as a memento. In the evening the atmosphere is especially surreal with all the colorful lights blinking through the myriads of  Nativity scenes.

There you will find everything you need to build your own presepe from the houses made of cork or cardboard to pastori of all different sizes. The pastori are generally made in terra-cotta and they are either painted by hand and sometime also dressed  in tailored fabrics. Some of the pastori are original reproductions of the classic pastori of the ‘700 and you can expect to pay thousands of dollars for them.

Some of the figures also feature robotic mechanisms to reproduce the movement of the specific figure such the pizzaiolo (pizza maker) baking the pizza, or the laundress washing the linen.

Along with the basic elements there are some staples of the Neapolitan Presepe:

Benino (the sleeping shepherd), the wine maker, the fishmonger, the two godfathers, the monk, the gypsy, Stefania ( the young virgin who gave birth to St. Stephan), the prostitute, the zampognari (pipers), the comet, Il mercato (the open market) with the butcher, the fruit-stand, the melons-stand, the poulterer and so on and then the baker with his wood-burning oven, the church, the tavern, the river and the well.

If you are fortunate to be in Napoli during the Holiday Season make sure to take a stroll to San Gregorio Armeno. However be prepared to the jostling and “ammuina” (Neapolitan term for confusione – confusion). And if afterward you feel hungry, head to the Antica Pizzeria da Michele for one of my favorite pizza in the world, but . . . that is another blog!

I cannot omit to mention that in the last decades the masters of the presepe have also specialized in the reproduction of characters estranged to the tradition but that represent the characters from politics, sports, culture and entertainment. Examples are Berlusconi, Maradona, Totò, Pulcinella, Obama, Pavarotti and surely this year, Steve Jobs.

The presepe of My childhood included most of the traditional figures. The structure was made of cork and it represented a three level mountainous landscape with a winding path that from the top was leading to the village where the Holy Family was set in a grotto. There was also a secondary cave that was housing the tavern with the wine maker and its barrels. The church was sitting at an intermediate level and a beggar was standing nearby. At the same level there was the shepherd with his flock. Benino was sleeping under a tree while the zampognari were at the entrance of the grotto. There was a well in the peasant’s courtyard where the chickens and geese were scratching. The river was made with aluminum foil and many little houses were set into the scenery. The Re Magi (Wise Men) riding their camels were located up on the mountain far away from the village. There were a laundress and many more little figures around the village. The comet was shining on the grotto and a blue drape dotted with golden stars was the backdrop to the all scene.

During the Holiday Season the presepe was My doll house, every day I would move the Wise Men along the path (they had to reach the grotto on January 6), I would take the geese to the river or move the sheep around.

Today My Presepe is not as elaborated but I do have a small, delicate Nativity scene from San Gregorio Armeno.

My Presepe di San Gregorio Armeno

From San Gregorio Armeno I also treasure a single piece, a Zampognaro with his ragged clothes and his swollen red cheeks.

Lo Zampognaro

In the last few years I have also started to collect Nativity scenes of different style. My collection includes:

A Miniature presepe set into a light bulb which is the work of artist Annalisa Bonfanti of Naples.

Presepe in miniatura

A traditional Italian presepe in resin.

Classic Italian Presepe

A Holy Family from the Willow Tree collection.

Willow Tree Holly Family

A white Capodimonte Porcellain Nativity scene.

Presepe di Capodimonte

And a  German made, contemporary  Nativity set which I love for its simplicity.

Do you have a presepe in your home? Tell me about it.

December the 8th and the Christmas Tree

Read the word!

This month of December my blog will be dedicated to the Italian traditions of the Christmas Season.

There is a first time for everything. This year, for the first time and against the Italian tradition I have trimmed (addobbato) my Christmas tree (albero di Natale) prior to December the 8th. To be precise my tree was trimmed and lit on November the 30th, shame on me!

You may ask “what about December the 8th?”

December the 8th in the Catholic world, is the festivity of the Immaculate Conception. Already celebrated in the XI century, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Pio IX on December 8, 1845.

Every city in Italy, big and small, celebrate this festivity in their own unique way. In Rome, in Piazza di Spagna, the Pope adorns the statue of Mary with a garland of flower. Because the statue sits on top of a column, the firemen (pompieri) on ladder, place the garland on the statue.

In the Year of the Catholic Church liturgy, this holiday marks the last of the Marian Feasts (Feste Mariane) dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Madonna).

This national holiday is also enjoyed as a long weekend. It is common for the Italians to take il ponte (the bridge), this means that if a holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday, they bridge the holidays taking off from work and school the extra day in between. Aren’t we smart!

Traditionally, this holiday also marks the beginning of the Christmas Holiday Season (Feste Natalizie) and therefore the trimming of the Christmas tree.

After going through several changes over the years (all red, all silver, silver and red and so on) my Christmas tree has finally found its identity. For start it is a real tree, it has a modern flair, it has a collection of the ornaments that my boys present to me every year, it has an Italian touch and, it is lit with clear lights.

Babbo Natale speeding on his Vespa

To satisfy my longing for something different, few years ago I also bought a small silver tinsel tree, I love it…it’s an eye sore to my boys! Well, they were lucky I didn’t bring home the other tree I came around, a green bottle brush tree. I am not talking about the botanical specie but true brushes to clean bottles. Let me be clear, I do like it. May be I will surprise them next year!

Tinsel Tree

One thing for sure, Christmas tree in Italy don’t have a skirt!

Can you read what the letters spell on my Christmas tree?

Do you have a real or artificial tree? How do you decorate your tree? Clear lights or multicolor? Do you have a theme?

I would love to know!