Tag Archives: Italy

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

If you don’t like mushrooms and think that truffles smell like feet, you’ll probably want to click away from this post right now.  This dish of Porcini-Truffle Risotto is not for you.  Instead, it is for those who love the earthy, funky aromas and flavors of the funghi that live in the rich soil only to be revealed at that perfect moment of creation.  I’m also posting this now, as another round of wintry weather is threatening to bring a chart-topping snowstorm our way, and this risotto is one of the most comforting ways I can think of to ride out the blizzard that is to come.

Dried porcinisDried porcinis

Fresh porcini mushrooms are even more rare to locate, at least I haven’t seen them for sale very often.  I would see them during the Fall, briefly, very briefly, when I lived in Bologna in the main food market.  A few places also served them with the local pasta during the season.  Mostly, even in Italy, I used them in dried form, like I do here.  The fresh ones had a much milder flavor and were super fragile to handle.  Porcinis are one of the few food items that I think are even better in dried form than in fresh.

IngredientsIngredients

After living in Italy, I found truffle oil, which some chefs like and some think is a culinary scourge.  While I admit that this condiment does get over-used and can completely kill a dish, I also think that it does have its time and place, sometimes.  I’ve waited for the sales that O & Co. has to pick up truffle oil as well as jarred truffles, which I then make into a compound butter.  The rice is Vialone Nano, one of several kinds that can be used for making risotto.  That, I bought at the Mercato Notturno that the Greenmarket had a few months back.  With these few ingredients, plus some homemade vegetable stock that I had in the freezer, I was set to go.

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Prep Time: about 45 minutes to 1 hour (includes soaking time)

Serving Size: 4 main course or 6 primi piatti

Ingredients:

1 packet Dried Porcini Mushrooms (about 20 grams)

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1 tsp. Truffle Oil

1 medium Shallot, minced

1 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 c. Risotto Rice

2 1/2 c. Vegetable Stock

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1/4 c. Grana Padano, freshly grated

Truffle Oil for garnish

1 tsp. Chives, chopped

Assembly:

Re-hydrating porcinisRe-hydrating porcinis

Place dried porcini mushrooms in a shallow bowl.  Pour just enough boiling water over the mushrooms to cover them.  Set aside and let the mushrooms re-hydrate while preparing the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the vegetable stock into a small saucepan and let it come to a low boil.

Shallots cookingShallots cooking

In medium saucepan, melt the butter along with the truffle oil.  Add the minced shallots and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the shallots are soft and almost translucent.  Season with a pinch of salt.

Adding risotto riceAdding rice

Stir in the rice.  Make sure that each grain is thoroughly coated in the fat from the butter and oil.  Let it cook for about a minute, but do not let it get browned.

Beginning to add stockAdding stock

Pour a ladleful of stock over the rice and stir to make sure that the liquid is incorporated throughout the risotto.  Let the risotto cook over low heat, absorbing the stock.  Once it looks like all the liquid is gone, add another ladleful of stock, taking care not to let the risotto lose so much liquid that it starts to stick to the pan.

Chopped rehydrated porcinisChopped re-hydrated porcinis

While the risotto is cooking, remove the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid.  Do not discard the liquid.  Chop the porcinis until they are about the same size as the shallots.  These to do not have to be even pieces, just not really giant-sized ones.

Incorporating porcinisAdding porcinis

When the rice has just about doubled in size, and when, in tasting it, there’s a bit of give but still a chalky element to the risotto, add the porcini mushrooms along with any accumulated liquid from them.  Do not add the soaking liquid.  Stir to incorporate.  Add the black pepper and 1/4 tsp. salt at this point as well.  Continue stirring the risotto and adding more stock until the risotto is on the verge of al dente.

Adding truffle butter and grana padanoAdding truffle butter and cheese

Just as the pasta gets to the al dente state, turn off the heat.  The risotto will continue to cook a bit more even after the heat its off.  Add the remaining butter plus the Grana Padano and stir them into the risotto.  Taste for seasoning.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Plated Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

Immediately transfer the risotto to warmed plates.  If desired, drizzle each portion with an extra bit of truffle oil.  Sprinkle the chopped chives on top of the risotto.  Serve right away.

Buon appetito!

International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2015

Eggplants on the counterEggplant – a key component of this year’s dish

Today, January 17th, marks the 9th International Day of Italian Cuisines.  This year, Eggplant Parmesan (parmigiana di melanzane) is the highlighted national dish.  As in past years, this is a celebration of Italian heritage and food culture as well as a way of emphasizing that what makes the cuisine of this country held in such high esteem is the attention to detail and quality of ingredients.  For this year’s feature, this is no less true than in past years.  The freshest, meaty eggplant combined with sweet-tart tomato sauce, peppery basil, and creamy mozzarella cheese come together on one plate in this recipe.

Eggplant ParmEggplant Parmesan – from a recipe from Food & Wine

I didn’t really grow up loving eggplant.  My mother actually tried to sneak it into quite a few meals that she fed to our clan, which was quite unsuccessfully received.  I think a few of my siblings still have nightmares about the time she tried to incorporate it into tacos.  Thankfully, I wasn’t around for that one.  Somewhere along the line, however, I tried this marriage of fried vegetables and gooey cheese with rich tomato sauce and fell in love with it.

Tray of Eggplant ParmesanEggplant Parmesan – from Mamma Agata Cooking School

When I lived in Italy, I discovered that this is considered a secondo, or second course, served after the pasta course.  I’m not sure why I would have thought it was a regular first course, but maybe that’s just because I grew up with just eating one course for Italian-style meals.  When I assisted Gennaro of Mamma Agata’s Cooking School a couple of years ago, he gave me several tips on how he prepares his version of parmigiana di melanzane, which I shared in my post about their cooking class.

Eggplant ParmesanServing of Eggplant Parmesan

As with any classic recipe, there are many regional variations.  I have seen recipes that call for dredging the slices in flour and then egg and then breadcrumbs and then fry them.  Some folks just dip them in flour and fry them.  There’s been recipes that call for roasting the eggplant instead of frying it.  Then, there’s the cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala or any combination thereof.  Even on the IDIC website, the post about “The Authentic Parmigiana: A Glorious Italian Dish” has several adaptations.

Eggplant Parm sandwichFor the leftovers – an Eggplant Parm Sandwich

The organizers have included a recipe on their website, which recognizes some of these variations but still keeps to a pretty straightforward interpretation of its preparation.  Whatever way you decide to make it, the use of the best and freshest ingredients possible is still the most important way to prepare this dish.  That is in keeping with the letter and the spirit of what the International Day of Italian Cuisines represents.

Buon appetito!

IDIC 2012

IDIC 2014

Walk-Around Tasting with the Italian Trade Commission

Mortadella displayMortadella display

Earlier this month, I was invited to attend a walk-around tasting of Italian food products by the Italian Trade Commission.  The goal was to introduce us to the AICIG (Italian Association of Geographical Indication), an organization that works to protect and preserve the designation of authenticity of Italian food products, as well as to let us actually sample those products, thus giving us a deeper appreciation for the quality and tradition behind these edibles.  This organization represents the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) sectors at the national, European Union, and international levels, helping them to promote their products and to raise awareness of these food certifications.

Prosciutto sliced on the machineProsciutto sliced by machine

Food certification and guarantees of authenticity in production are an area taken much more seriously in the European Community than in other areas of the world.  The process to receive one of these designations is time-consuming and expensive, but the rewards of doing it and the recognition of these products at that level can be financially very important.  It isn’t just about the labeling rights, however, as these designations are also a matter of preserving Italian culinary and cultural traditions, ones that have hundreds of years of history behind them, something that the Italian government and their local authorities work very hard to maintain.

Grana Padano displayDisplay of cheeses

Among the products that we had the opportunity to taste were cheeses, prosciutto, vinegar, and olive oil.  Our host location, Osteria del Principe also served us several delicious dishes, including a deliciously creamy Risotto ai Funghi, that showcased Italian cuisine.  These foods reinforce the passion and commitment that the trade commission and its members have for items that they feel deserve to carry the “Made In Italy” stamp.  They have indicated that over the next year, they will be having more such events, including one just for Italian wines, to introduce us further to the quality and care with which Italian products are made.

Buon appetito!

Thank you so much to the folks at PadillaCRT for inviting me to take part in this event. For additional information about the Italian Trade Commission, please visit their website. For additional information about the AICIG, please visit their website.

Mercato Notturno at Union Square Greenmarket

Bologna City of Food

Friday night, between the end of work and the start of going out with friends to see The Ivory Tower at Cooper Union (if you are curious about some of the real costs of higher education, I highly recommend seeing this movie), I swung by the Union Square Greenmarket for one of their two upcoming night markets.  This one called Mercato Notturno (night market in Italian), featured foods from Italy as well as a pasta-making demonstration.  There was also a table at the market that had information on it about Expo Milano 2015: “Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life,” where the United States will have a pavilion.  For me, it was a little trip back to Bologna, the central focus of the market, where I lived for several years.  Here’s some pictures from the event:

Pizza al FornoPizza al Forno by Pizza Moto

Risotto with PestoRisotto alle herbe from Risotteria Melotti

Mortadella di Bologna on the slicerMortadella on the slicer

Info sign about chefsInformation about the participants

dolce non dolceDolce non Dolce by Agostino Jacobucci

Ricotta made with the leftovers from the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano along with a syrup made with Lambrusco and pistachio powder.

La SfoglinaLa Sfoglina – Stefania Civolani of Trattoria del Gallo

Rolling out pasta doughStarting to roll out the pasta

Rolling out Pasta SheetRolling out the sheet of pasta (la sfoglia)

Cutting the pasta into squaresCutting the pasta into squares

Adding tortellini fillingAdding filling to make tortellini

Forming tortelliniForming the tortellini

Cutting tagliatelleCutting pasta sheet into tagliatelle

Showing la tagliatelleShowing off le tagliatelle

Ribbons of tagliatelleRibbons of tagliatelle

Nests of Pasta“Nests” of pasta drying (i nidi)

MBA in Food & WineMBA in Food & Wine at the University of Bologna

For those who would like to find out more about Bologna and its cuisine, or just about the marketing of Italian food in general, you might consider looking into this new program put together by the University of Bologna’s Business School.  To learn about Bologna, in general, you can see my photos of the pasta class that I took at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese and read about a trip outside the city to drink wine and enjoy pasta in a vineyard nei colli (in the hills) and about my adventures traipsing around the city eating gelato.

NettunoStatue of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

Buon appetito!

International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2014 at the International Culinary Center

IDIC 2014International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2014

Yesterday was the Seventh Edition of the International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) held, as in past years, at the International Culinary Center.  The IDIC is held each year on January 17th, the feast day of St. Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of butchers, as we were told.  Held since 2008, this event recognizes Italian chefs around the globe who make their native cuisine and works to preserve authentic Italian dishes and culinary traditions.  This year’s dish is Spaghetti al Pomodoro (Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce).  As Rosario Scarpato, honorary president of GVCI (Virtual Group of Italian Chefs), explained, consumers are used to commercially-popular versions of Italian foods, but it is important for them to know the more traditional cuisine.

Chef Cesare Casella introduces the programmeChef Cesare Casella, Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center, introducing the program

Although this year’s dish might seem very simple, being composed of spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, salt, and basil, which was acknowledged at the opening of the day, Chef Cesare Casella reminded us we were there to learn about, “Simple dishes that are Italian food, made in the right way.”  He added, “The way we talk, the way we incorporate the ingredients – need to use the right ingredients from Italy.”  This emphasis on using the highest quality ingredients and putting the components together in just the right way so as to achieve maximum flavors is a cornerstone of Italian cooking, whether in fine dining or la cucina casalinga (home-style cooking).  Even though that might sound very easy, it can be a complicated thing to achieve and to master.  The three chefs who cooked for us yesterday each had his own rendition and method for making Spaghetti al Pomodoro, which resulted in three variations on this “simple” dish, each with different taste profiles.

Olive Oil tasting plateExtra Virgin Olive Oil tasting workshop

Prior to sampling the chefs’ plates, however, we participated in three workshops about some of the ingredients that go into making this dish.  The first one was about olive oil with a discussion by a representative from the Consozio Nazionale degli Olivicoltori (the group that works to represent olive growers and olive oil producers).  With a potential production of 100,000 tons of olive oil per year, this is a vast industry for the country.  This organization works to ensure traceability, food safety, and quality control for Italian olive oils, something that has become of increasing importance as olive oil production has grown globally.  We tried three varieties of Italian extra virgin olive oil from different regions of Italy, each with a distinctive characteristics and flavors, from a grassy and subtle-tasting oil from Calabria to a more pungent (stronger, spicier) one from Abruzzo.

Lou Di Palo talking about Grana PadanoLou Di Palo of Di Palo Selects talking about Grana Padano 

One “permitted” addition to Spaghetti al Pomodoro, we were told, would be to finish it off with a light dusting of Grana Padano cheese.  This nutty-tasting hard cheese from the north of Italy is a staple in many dishes due to its depth of flavor and adaptability.  When less mature, from 9 to 16 months of aging, the cheese has a more creamy profile and is perfect for melting, as with a risotto dish that Lou Di Palo of Di Palo Selects said he’d been served recently.  As the cheese continues to mature, the nuttier flavor becomes more pronounced, and it develops a crumblier texture, perfect for grating on pasta dishes.

Link with The President restaurant in PompeiiLink with President restaurant in Pompeii

Alessandra Rotondi, an Italian wine consultant, walked us through the checkered history of another ingredient that plays a key role in this dish – The Tomato.  She took us on the voyage of this fruit (yes, it was emphasized that a tomato is a fruit) from South America to Spain via Cortez and then back again to the New World.  Along the way, it was used as a decorative ornament, graced the pewter plates of the wealthy (where it gained its reputation as being toxic as it picked up traces of lead leached from the plates), to the gardens of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, and most recently as a food in dishes created by poorer Italians who then brought the recipes for using in a sauce with pasta to the United States.  We didn’t have any of the hanging tomatoes known as “piennolo” to sample at the event, but we were treated to the sight of them via a video link with President restaurant in Pompeii, home to the Vesuvian soil where these tomatoes grow.

Justin Smilie receiving Best New Italian Chef in NYC awardJustin Smilie of Il Buco Alimentari & VineriaBest Emerging Chef of Italian Cuisine in the USA

Before we could dig into plates of pasta, however, much as our appetites were growing with each of these workshops – and the fact that the folks at President were cooking up their own plates of Spaghetti al Pomodoro as we were watching them from our seats in the school’s auditorium – we had a little while longer to wait while the efforts of those who herald Italian cuisine here in New York were recognized and applauded.  Among those honored were Lou Di Palo for his and his family’s efforts at the promotion of Italian cuisine, culture, and ingredients.  Chef Justin Smilie of Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria was recognized as the Best Emerging Chef of Italian Cuisine in the USA.  A complete list of the awardees is here.

Chefs making pastaChefs making their pasta dishes

Then, finally, finally, it was time to watch the chefs prepare their versions of Spaghetti al Pomodoro. Those who were cooking for us yesterday were three chefs under the age of 35 who represent the new faces of Italian cuisine as recognized by the GVCI: Enrico Bartolini of Devero Ristorante in Milan; Matteo Bergamini of SD26 Restaurant in New York City; and Luca Signoretti of Roberto’s Restaurant in Dubai (left to right in the photo with Alessandra Rotondi as moderator for the tasting).  Here are photos of the final plates that they all created.

Enrico Bartolini - Spaghetti al PomodoroSpaghetti al Pomodoro by Enrico Bartolini

Matteo Bergamini - Spaghetti al PomodoroSpaghetti al Pomodoro by Matteo Bergamini

Luca Signoretti - Spaghetti al PomodoroSpaghetti al Pomodoro by Luca Signoretti

Each chef, interestingly enough, used an olive oil from Sicily in his dish.  From there, they put together their own spin on the combination of garlic, tomatoes, salt, and basil (never with black pepper and oregano, as we were advised) along with durum wheat spaghetti.  Chef Bartolini added chopped garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil, par-cooked the pasta (it was still a bit rigid when it came out of the water), and then finished cooking it in the oil, which gave it a sheen and slightly spicy kick, along with some of the reserved tomato juice before adding tomato pulp.  Then, he added the tomatoes to the pasta.  Chef Bergamini infused his oil with cloves of garlic and then added the tomatoes before incorporating the pasta.  Chef Signoretti crushed his tomatoes before making the sauce and then after adding the pasta, grated Grana Padano on top of the dish while it was still in the pan to allow the cheese to melt into the sauce and to absorb some of the liquid so that it coated each strand of the pasta.  My favorite was the one by Chef Bergamini as every bite seemed to have a silken, tangy coating of the sauce on the spaghetti.  The herbacious notes of the basil (torn, not chopped, we were instructed) balanced out the acidity of the tomatoes and creaminess of the cheese.  I could have happily gone back for several more plates of this dish.

Rosario Scarpato introduces seminarsRosario Scarpato thanks everyone for attending IDIC 2014

After we’d cleaned off our plates, it was time to wrap up IDIC for 2014.  Rosario Scarpato, the event organizer, thanked everyone for coming to honor the achievements of the chefs and the others who help to promote Italian cuisine.  He also announced that the program would change slightly for 2015.  Instead of featuring Italian foods that are already well-known outside of Italy to work towards preserving their authenticity, the next year’s event would aim to recognize a dish that is less eaten outside of the country to promote some of the hidden culinary treasures of la cucina italiana.  I’ll be very interested to see what that will be.

Buon appetito!

Announcing scholarship in Marcella Hazan's nameAnnouncing the scholarship in Marcella Hazan’s name

Addendum

At yesterday’s event, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, found of the International Culinary Center also announced a scholarship named after culinary instructor and cookbook author Marcella Hazan for someone wishing to enroll in their Italian Culinary Experience this spring.  The deadline for applications is March 7, 2014.

Prosciutto di Parma Parma-palooza

Parmapalooza guidebookParma-palooza guide to the chefs

Thursday night under a beautiful fall evening was the perfect setting for an event celebrating Italy’s most iconic pork product: Prosciutto di Parma. Underground Eats put together a roster of some of New York’s top chefs along with legs of this ham for a Parma-palooza at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn in order to highlight the 50th anniversary of the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma.  The evening culminated in one chef being crowned “Prince/Princess of Prosciutto di Parma.” For those attendees brave enough to get inked with a tattoo heralding their fandom for this meat, they walked off with their very own leg of prosciutto, not a bad goodie bag item.

Wall of legs of Prosciutto di ParmaWall of legs of Prosciutto di Parma

Before heading into the main event space to visit each of the chef’s tables, guests could stop by an sample 24-month and 36-month-aged prosciutto, allowing their tastebuds to savor the saltiness, fat content, and flavor development of each level of the process.  The beverage station, with wine and drink choices offered by Vinissimo, had a garnet-hued Lambrusco, perfect for cleansing the palate after eating the rich ham, or maybe to pick up an Aranciata Twist, a spin on a more traditional aperitivo made with Aperol and orange bitters.

Sampling 24-month Prosciutto di ParmaSampling 24-month-aged Prosciutto di Parma

Then, it was on to try the creations put together by the chefs.  I definitely had my favorites among them.  The prosciutto was showcased in a number a versions of salty-sweet-fatty combinations.  I really like the idea of shaking up the typical cataloupe-and-prosciutto pairing, as several chefs did at this tasting.  There were also some other presentations that I thought might be interesting to try the next time I treat myself to a bit of prosciutto at my local Italian market.

Massimo CarboneBrio

Brio - Prosciutto di Parma-wrapped Gorgonzola-stuffed FigFig stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma

Ryan HardyCharlie Bird

Charlie Bird - Octopus Saltimbocca with Prosciutto di ParmaOctopus Saltimbocca with Prosciutto di Parma

Elizabeth FalknerCorvo Bianco

Corvo Bianco - Scallop, Butternut Squash Puree & Prosciutto CrispScallop, Butternut Squash Puree and Prosciutto Crisp

Danny BowienMission Chinese

Mission Chinese - Tartine Rye, Genovese Pesto, Prosciutto di Parma, Sea UrchinTartine Rye, Genovese Pesto, Prosciutto di Parma, and Sea Urchin

Sam MasonOddfellows Ice Cream

Oddfellow's - Prosciutto di Parma-Cantaloupe-Red Wine Ice CreamProsciutto di Parma-Cantaloupe-Red Wine Ice Cream

Sara JenkinsPorsena, Porchetta

Porchetta-Porsena - Crostino w Cataloupe Melon Butter & Prosciutto di ParmaCrostino with Cataloupe Melon Butter and Prosciutto di Parma

Sean RemboldReynards

Autumn Squash and Prosciutto Saltimbocca with Honey MayoAutumn Squash and Prosciutto Saltimbocca with Honey Mayo

Francis DerbyThe Cannibal

Prosciutto di Parma and Egg Sausage with Tomato JamProsciutto di Parma and Egg Sausage with Tomato Jam

Ann Redding & Matt DanzerUncle Boon’s

Thai Chili and Prosciutto di Parma dipping sauce with fried pork rindsThai Chili and Prosciutto di Parma dipping sauce with fried pork rinds

Wild Rise Pizza

Margherita with Prosciutto & HerbsPizza Margherita with Prosciutto and Herbs

While I really enjoyed everything that I tasted, basically because there was ample prosciutto on almost everything, there were a few stand-out items.  Although you might have given a “ick” or “eww” when looking at the photo of the Prosciutto di Parma-Cantaloupe-Red Wine Ice Cream, you would be cheating yourself out of trying one of the most creative dishes of the evening.  I’d had prosciutto ice cream before at another anniversary event for the consorzio back in May, so I knew that this combination could work. It did here, too, with the sweetness of the fruit and cream melding beautifully with the funky, meatiness of the ham.  Another dish I saw tackled, literally, every time a server came around with it was the Autumn Squash and Prosciutto Saltimbocca with Honey Mayo. It took me a few passes to get my hands on one of these nibbles. One bite, and I understood completely why they were in such demand. Salty, fried, hot, earthy, creamy, with hint of sweet, they hit every flavor, taste, and texture note that you could want in a party dish.

Hand slicing 36-month Prosciutto di ParmaHand slicing 36-month Prosciutto di Parma

So, who was crowned “Prince/Princess of Prosciutto di Parma”?  The dish that won over the most tastebuds and hearts was the Octopus Saltimbocca with Prosciutto di Parma by Ryan Hardy of Charlie Bird.  The octopus was cooked perfectly and sat on a bed of puréed chickpeas with additional soft, tender chickpeas on the side.  The dish was bathed in a sauce of sage, butter, lemon, prosciutto, chick pea liquid, and octopus braising liquid and then topped with a slice of crispy prosciutto.  The combination not only hit every point on my palate with layer upon layer of flavors melting together in harmony, it also left me wanting to eat several more plates of this dish and to dip a mug into the sauce just to drink that on its own.  More that a few folks told me that they ate several plates of this item, and as I walked back to the subway to head home, two woman passed by me still raving about the tastiness of the sauce.

Chef Ryan Hardy crowned winnerChef Ryan Hardy crowned “Prince of Prosciutto di Parma”

Thank you so much to the folks at PadillaCRT for inviting me to attend this event.  It was a pleasure to meet all of the chefs and sponsors and to have a chance to highlight the wonderful work of the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma.

Buon appetito!