Monday, July 14, 2014

Pasta and Zucchini and Booze-ahol

A bout of poor dinner planning paid off when I realized that I was in possession of the three ingredients necessary to make Rigatoni alla Pastora (Shepherd's Style Rigatoni with Ricotta and Sausage) from My Calabria. An added bonus was that all three ingredients (pasta, ricotta, sausage) are things that Charlie will eat.

This recipe was easy. Cook chunks of un-cased sausages. Add cooked pasta to the greasy sausage pan. Mix some of the pasta water into ricotta until it loosens up and becomes saucy. Add the pasta and sausage to the ricotta. Season to taste. Boom. Done.
Not a pretty plate of food.
This was heavier than I would prefer, and it made enough to feed an army. Matt and Charlie both loved it, though, and it was simple.

Conclusion: Liked it.

I served Parmigiana di Zucchine with last week's Dorie recipe. If you have a million pounds of zucchini in your garden, this will use it up. If you're going out of your way to procure zucchini, just go the eggplant route instead. The zucchini is lightly fried in olive oil before being layered with cheese and sauce, but it doesn't take on that same luxurious silkiness that eggplant does. I was aware that what I was eating was inferior to eggplant parm for the duration of the meal. It didn't help that Costantino suggests you serve this at room temp, which is a huge mistake, because the mozzarella is tough at room temp. No bene.
Conclusion: Just okay. A heap of it is still sitting in my fridge.

When the relevant fruits (mandarin oranges, which my landlord has a grove of, and strawberries) were in season this year, I used Costantino's recipe to make Liquore al Mandarino, as well as the Fragolino Variation. Italians, including Costantino, use grain alcohol for their liquore. Too many of my friends have produced undrinkable limoncello with grain alcohol, so I learned last year, using a different "mandarinetto" recipe that using a mid-grade vodka produces a muuuuuuch smoother and more delicious drink. I substituted vodka into Costantino's recipe, too, but used her proportions of fruit, alcohol, and sugar-water/syrup. Both flavors are deeeelicious. Love them.

Friday, July 11, 2014

FFwD: (Cheese) Filled Zucchini Blossoms

Fried zucchini blossoms are near and dear to my heart. Growing up, my Italian-American next-door neighbor fried batches of flowers from her garden all summer long to lure me and her daughter out of their pool. Now, whenever I visit my mom during the summer, Ann makes a point of frying zucchini blossoms for me, because she knows how much I love them. (During winter visits, she inevitably brings over cookies. She's a good neighbor to have.)

Years ago, I asked Ann for her recipe. She gave me a list of ingredients and told me to mix them together until the batter looked right. This will come as no surprise, but my first run at frying my own zucchini flowers was an epic failure. Matt will eat just about anything that's fried, and even he found them inedible. I haven't really tried again since then, so I was very excited to give Dorie's zucchini blossom recipe a try.

Technically, Dorie's recipe is for Shrimp-Filled Zucchini Blossoms. I'm sure that's delicious, but here in Naples, I've only seen zucchini blossoms come with one filling: cheese. In my ongoing effort to learn to duplicate things I love from my time here, I decided to follow Dorie's cheese-filled variation instead of the shrimp one.

Finding zucchini blossoms was easy. Italians are crazy for these things (with good reason). They actually sell fresh packs of them at the supermarket. Or so I thought. I didn't realize until I got home, that I'd actually bought fiore di zucca. Pumpkin. Not zucchini. Oh well, no big deal. I couldn't tell the difference.
I don't know what army I thought I would feed with this many flowers. We wasted quite a few.

Is club soda the same as sparkling water? I don't think so. I used sparkling water, because that is what the lady in my Italian cooking class uses. If it's good enough for Vera, it's good enough for me.

This batter fried up perfectly. These flowers were crispy and delicious. I'll always love Ann's zucchini flowers best, because they're made out of love, but this is now my go-to recipe when I need to fry flowers--or any other vegetable, for that matter--myself. The cheese filling was, frankly, better than a lot of what I've eaten at restaurants around here. Well done, Dorie.
After much prodding, Charlie tasted, then devoured an un-stuffed flower, while skeptically reciting Green Eggs and Ham ("You may like them, you will see..."). Score.

Matt said this was one of his favorite dinners in ages. All hail my beloved zucchini flowers!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Calabria: Ciambotta

Oh boy, do I have a work-horse recipe for you! I flipped through My Calabria last Wednesday and realized that the recipe for Ciambotta (Southern Italy's Summer Vegetable Stew) would use up the ridiculous amount of vegetables that I had in my kitchen. I say ridiculous because we were leaving town for three days, and my bushel of produce would surely be rotten by the time I returned.
Between all the chopping and the individual frying of each component, it took longer than I normally prefer on a weeknight to complete this recipe. However, since it is meant to be served as a room-temperature accompaniment to grilled meats, you could prepare it earlier in the day.

I'm not sure that mine came out exactly as it was meant to. The recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of tomatoes. I didn't have that many, so I supplemented with canned tomatoes. I suspect mine was a bit more "tomato saucey" than it should have been. Oh well. Basically, the peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and potatoes are independently fried, then returned to the pan with onion, garlic, tomato, and basil, and left to simmer in the tomato juices for a few minutes. Then, you let it rest. So, it's uncomplicated, but does take a while.

The first night, I served the glop over pasta.
We had a kitchen at the place we'd rented for the July 4th weekend in Umbria, so I brought the leftovers along as a side dish for steak. I ate the leftover leftovers for breakfast, as a bed for an over-easy egg. YUM.

Conclusion: Liked it, with bonus points because it's the perfect "too-many-vegetables-in-the-garden" dish.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Calabria: Zucchine Ripiene con Ricotta

Well, looky here. Not 24 hours after preparing dinner, I'm posting about it. I don't know about you, but I'm impressed with me.

One of the vegetables I served with last night's dinner was Zucchine Ripiene con Ricotta (Baked Ricotta-Stuffed Zucchini). Zucchini stuffed with a mixture of fresh ricotta, onions, garlic, the zucchini pulp, and parsley? Yes, please.

Rosetta Costantino is a master of precision when it comes to measurements. I love this about her. The recipe calls for "6 small, tender zucchini." Italians around here go for wee little zucchini. They don't let them get very big, because they say they're more tender and sweet when they're small. It goes against my American "let's see how big this squash can get!" mentality. Anyway, 1 cup of ricotta, mixed with breadcrumbs and all the other stuff looked to me like it would make an awful lot of filling for 12 teeny zucchini boats.
I was wrong. Costantino was right. It's remarkable to me how this was the perfect amount of filling for 12 nicely filled zucchini halves--no skimping; no overflow.

This didn't blow my mind, but it was a good, salty, cheesy way to eat zucchini. Matt asked a few questions while he was eating that led me to believe he didn't approve, such as, "So, you liked this??" and "What's in here? Fish?"

FISH? What???

However, when I asked him after dinner if he thought it was good, he said yes. I'm confused.

Unsurprisingly, Charlie wouldn't touch it. Nor would he touch anything else on his plate except for one slice of cheese. It was a go to bed hungry kind of night for him.

Conclusion: Liked it.