Category Archives: herbs

Fegatelli, ancora for a snowy day

It’s snowing. We are at a halt in the countryside, other than the slow proceeding to town to vote by all my neighbors. They’ve been so dispirited about this election that I’m grateful that they gathered the nerve to go. I have very good neighbors.

Anyway, I have been challenged to make a dish that is something filled or stuffed. I’m still on a reduced carbohydrate diet, so many dishes were tempting but not sensible. After all, with the roads as slick as a con-man’s spiel, who would eat them before I lost my self-control? And so I am making fegatelli. Almost no one makes this dish nowadays and it’s a crying shame, because it is one of the most distinctively Italian dishes, really unlike anybody else’s food, in my opinion. I haven’t made it since 2005.

This is what I will fill
This is what I will fill

This la rete, or the net. It is sometimes called net fat in English. It’s a natural part of the pig, thin and light and stretchy, and is the web by which my recipe hangs. I’m not sure it will be accepted as a filled dish. I’m pretty sure no one will make this top on their list of things to try. That’s a shame, too. It’s just delicious. In other countries than Italy you need a butcher to ask for it and for pork liver in a piece, rather than slices. You also need fresh bay leaves, and you may for the first time discover what bay leaf actually tastes like, because here it’s a distinguishable note, not just a simmered-in part of a herbal symphony.

Assuming your liver has come from a proper vendor and arrives already cleaned of veins and membranes, start here.  If it has those things you will need to prepare it yourself before beginning.

Cut the liver into chunks and the rete into pieces just big enough to fasten around them. You lay a chunk of liver on the net, then add a bay leaf and then make a gift package of it, fastening with a toothpick. Do them all.

Heat a capacious frying pan to moderate heat, and add a thin coating of olive oil. Place the fegatelli into it, then lower the heat to low. I usually put a couple of scraps of the net fat into the oil so that when they simmer I can see the pan is ready. All you need now is patience, because the fegatelli cook slowly, always slowly, and you have to turn them as the bottoms brown, using tongs. I find that they need turning when the bottom browns enough to be free of the pan, since they stick at first. It takes a bit of attention to get all six sides browned, since some want to topple. When they are nearly done, lightly salt them. It takes less salt than meat usually does, and I don’t know why.

When you surmise they might be done, after perhaps 30 minutes of slow cooking, take one out and cut it in two. It should be distinctly pink inside, but not the maroon of raw liver.

Cooking the fegatelli
Cooking the fegatelli

As you can see, some have just been turned and the rest are just as they were when put in the pan.

Ready to serve
Ready to serve

So this is what you have when you’ve finished. The rete has disappeared, melted into the olive oil and providing a delicate flavor you can get no other way. I serve them just like this, warning diners to remove the bay leaf as they cut them. While not as dangerous as dried bay leaf, these are definitely chewy and not terribly pleasant.

I would deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine, drizzle the resultant sauce sparingly over the fegatelli and serve with roasted or fried potatoes. A crunchy contract will be nice with the meaty chunks. Heck, if you’re going to eat liver cooked in pig fat why not fried potatoes, too? You can always have a nice salad afterward.

Rest the meat for 10 minutes and the red will disappear
Rest the meat for 10 minutes and the red will disappear

If you don’t eat them more often than every five years, I think you will come to no harm.

21 tomato salute

The essence of tomato
21 Tomato Salute

This is not tomato this or tomato that, it is tomato, and it feels right now like it may be the best thing I have eaten all year. It came into my mind when I saw the pile of San Marzano tomatoes in a bowl but I didn’t want to eat pasta. Summer is ending. The tomatoes are plentiful but soon will be no more. What’s to eat right now should be tomatoes.

What this really is is stewed tomatoes, but the canned version has frightened so many children over so many decades that I refuse to use the name. Freshly cooked tomatoes do not resemble those guilty tins at all. What I cooked and ate yesterday was sweet in the way only a tomato knows how to be, salty to bring out the tomatoey sweetness and had an underlying umami flavor provided by the two other vegetables. I was wowed by the first taste and not finished when the bowl was empty. I ate more, then more and finally it was all gone. My vegetable side dish had become lunch.

21 Tomato Salute

1 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped bell pepper
a couple of sprigs each of herb leaves only (I used basil, thyme and parsley)
1 tablespoon or more butter
salt and pepper

Boil a pot of water for skinning the tomatoes. When it is boiling, toss the tomatoes in and leave them for a minute or so. Don’t let them stay too long, because they will cook too much and too much flesh will come off with the skin. You can test by pulling one up in a spoon and rubbing it with a finger. As soon as the skin starts to move a bit, it’s ready to peel. Remove the pot from the heat and put it in the sink under running cold water to stop the cooking. Peel the tomatoes with a paring knife. It should be very easy. If there appears to be a lot of core at the stem end, remove some of it with the knife tip.

In a medium pot, heat the butter and cook the onion and pepper in it until it is softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes and about a level teaspoon of salt (be conservative) or even better the same amount of the perfumed salt we made a couple of weeks ago. Put the herb leaves on top and then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to simmer and simmer about ten minutes and check to see if the tomatoes are cooked. Moderately sized tomatoes probably will be done. If not, continue to cook them until they are just done. Check for salt. Serve in small bowls with some freshly ground pepper.

The only way this can taste better is if eaten with buttered toast.

Ligurian Tomato Salad

I’m not sure if I ever published this essential mainstay of my summer life. We are preparing it in class today, so I reckoned if it isn’t here it ought to jump onto the page right now.

: Ligurian tomato salad

: Don’t add a thing, because this is summer perfect

  1. Ripe tomatoes
  2. fresh garlic (maybe one clove for every 4 tomatoes)
  3. fresh basil, cleaned and sliced very thin
  4. salt
  5. extra virgin oilive oil

  1. Wash tomatoes and cut into chunks, cutting away the cores. Peel and mince the garlic then scatter it over the tomatoes. Sprinkle a biggish pinch of salt over all, then the basil slivers. Pour the oil over this and gently toss a bit with two forks.
  2. Place a clean dish towel over the bowl and leave it at room temperature for several hours. You make this in the morning to eat later that day. Eat it as an antipasto, a salad or even a light meal with good bread and possibly some cheese.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

5 :  ★★★★★ 1 review(s)

Dinner for snowbound Easterners

Our good friends, the Graefs, lost power during the storm and still don’t have any, so we asked them over for an Italian meal last night.  What fun to entertain the desperate!  They are so amenable.

For the first course I served pasta ai broccoletti made with Chinese broccoli. A big difference was using whole wheat penne because it was too snowy to go buy orecchiette. They were good! Whole wheat pasta is much changed for the better.

sformato di porri

As a second course I served the chicken pate’ from Wednesday with a basil sauce and a lovelyleek sformato that is as easy to make as it is good and looks way more difficult than it is.  I wonder why it’s so long since I made that? Oh yes, the diet.

For dessert we had a parfait made of layers of fruit and whipped cream with a wine sauce that eg made from a Washington Post recipe. That stuff is great. It takes the mundane to superb.

Basil Sauce

a small bunch of basil, leaves removed
2 cloves peeled garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon
2 eggs
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Put everything into a tall, narrow container in the order as written. Plunge a stick blender in and turn iton, pulling it slowly up, rocking slightly side to side. Taste for salt and add some if necessary. This is also good on boiled eggs, salad and even a quicky pasta.

Don’t freeze and keep eating Italian food.

Cooking on a snowy day: Chicken Pate’

snowy day

The recipe is supposed to be made of chicken breasts, but it’s all snowy out there! Add to that the fact that we were giving a dinner last night, but one guest caught a tummy bug. so we made it tonight instead. The other guest got it. That means the huge amount of chicken rear quarters is there to use.

I am taking photos as I go along, so as soon as I get the CD from the camera into this computer, I’ll add them. The dish isn’t done yet, anyway.

I invented this dish about 15 years ago when I was doing a lot of garden entertaining for larger groups. It’s a make ahead and serve cold dish, so it’s ideal for hot weather when you don’t want to do hot things mid-day. I will give you the original recipe using breasts, because breasts don’t have all the tendons these legs and thighs have, so the end product is much more predictable.

the finished pate

Chicken Pate’

butter well a loaf pan
preheat oven to 325 F 160C

about 4 pounds of chicken breast meat
the carefully removed skin from those breasts
about 1/2 to 3/4 cup (125-190 ml) of hreavy cream
1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon leaves
up to 3.5 teaspoons salt
a few shakes of pepper sauce
freshly ground pepper

Clean the meat of all tendons and most of the fat, then put it into a food processor. Pulse it several times to chop it. Add the salt, the first 1/4 cup (65 ml) of cream and pulse it until mixed.
Scoop the mixture out of the food procerssor and into the loaf pan, making sure not to leave air bubbles. Drizzle additional cream over the meat, then grind fresh pepper over it. Cut the4 reserved skin into rectangular shapes that will cover the top of the pate’. Grind more pepper over it. Bake it in the oven for an hour or until the internal temperature is 165 F.

Move the pan closer to the broiler and broil the skin briefly if it has not achieved golden beauty.

Cool in the loaf pan. When cool, carefully remove it and wrap for the fridge. Slice it when it has chilled, because until then it is too delicate to slice. I serve it fanned out on dark leaves and with a dish of homemade mayonnaise and a salsa. Leftovers are even better. In Italy this would not be cheap to make, but here in the USA it is very economical. I am just blown over by how cheap chicken is in all its forms.

PS: I’ve just been to the kitchen to check on my finished pate’ and I discovered something I had forgotten. You should make the skin pieces on top bigger by about an inch than the pate’ because the shrink in cooking. But believe me, the taste I took was YUMMY. Even hot.

These photos were taken with the still option of my video camera and they are seriously blue from the cold light of snow. Sorry. I’ll get out the better one.

Greek Salad, perfect for picnics

Greek Salad

The first time I ever ate a Greek salad was at Jimmy’s Seafood Palace in Yorktown, Virginia. I was about twenty years old. Having been from birth a New Englander when I ordered a salad I expected a chunk or two of innocuous lettuce with maybe some tomato and cucumber on it. Instead there arrived an oval platter piled high with concentric ovals of vegetable chunks. No lettuce at all, because of course lettuce hates hot, dry weather and the summers in Greece are hot and dry.

Forever after to me a Greek salad was a salade composèe, as beautiful as it was fresh, large and uncompromisingly Greek. Feta. Kalamata olives. Strong olive oil. For me there is everything right about that list. Fool around with it much and you’ve wrecked a classic. Okay, I haven’t found Kalamata olives here in Città di Castello, but I found Saclà Olive Toste and they are darned close. For the rest of it, if I can’t find good tomatoes, sweet cucmbers, real Feta, I don’t make Greek salad. The world is full of good salads and many of them are also beautiful. Just Google the internet using the phrase salade composèe and you’ll see.

What makes the Greek salad a portable salad is that it is dressed only with oil, so it keeps, You can layer it into a plastic covered box, a bento box or a Tupperware bowl. Add some oil and it’s a salad that can go where you go. Keep it cool, but don’t refrigerate if possible, because the tomatoes hate refrigeration and never completely recover.

Leftovers? Lucky you! They make great summer sandwiches in crusty bread and a whole meal if you scramble a couple of eggs and tuck that in too.

I can’t call this a recipe, but this is what’s in that foto:

The first layer is chunks of ripe tomato sprinkled with coarse sea salt and thin strips of basil. Sometimes I use fresh oregano leaves instead. This I make and leave under a napkin to exude some juices.

The second layer is chunks of cucumber that are partially peeled, then chunked into a bowl filled with ice water. Toss the herbs for garnish in there, too.

The third layer is thinly sliced mild onion. I used the first cipolla rossa di Tropea that I’ve seen at market this year. Lovely, really. Mine did not come from Calabria, but from Puglia next door.

The next layer is Feta, crumbled with my fingers and creating a generous snowcap that reminded me of Kilimanjaro. Why it didn’t bring Olympus to mind I don’t know.

The whole was circled with thin splints of red bell pepper or capsicum. Then the olives most reminiscent of Kalamata were distributed around and some spare leaves of basil fell upon the snowy Feta.

I poured oil from Puglia over it all, covered it with a screen umbrella in case any Greek flies might find my kitchen, then served it up after the antipasto and pasta courses. I think it is interesting that the colors get richer when I photograph food in natural dusk. The tastes were pretty deep and complicated, too.

I serve this as antipasto, as first course, as salad course or as a whole meal when the weather is hot. I ate it every single day when I visited Greece. In Greek cafes they leave the Feta as a whole chunk, but that’s to show you that they are being generous and at home you wouldn’t do that. It’s messy to eat it uncrumbled.

My guests ate this with some homemade flat bread with rosemary that I made and served as antipasto with my olive spread. It went with this salad too. I served bakery bread, but no one was interested and it went back to the kitchen uncut.

There may be things that are nicer than sitting outside of an evening eating Greek salad and drinking wine, but I think when I find them I am probably not going to tell you about them, but keep them to myself. I’m sure they’d be way too emotional for sharing. Feel free to tell me yours, however.

Running wild in Umbria: ravioli

Every once in a while I run into an article on eating wild foods, but I haven’t published many of them. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t get weeds to eat. Even in Maine, one of the most rigid cold climates I have ever experienced, my mother taught us how to find them and how to cook and eat them.

Fiddleheads that you can buy in N.A.

You can buy those at this site.

Fiddlehead ferns are top of that list. Continue reading Running wild in Umbria: ravioli