Recommended Reading – Made in Italy by David Rocco

"Made in Italy", David Rocco
“Made in Italy”, David Rocco

Admittedly I am a cookbook addict and when I find a new cookbook that captures my attention for more than a week I know that I have found a good book.  Such is the case with David Rocco’s, Made in Italy .  I am working on cooking my way through the entire book of 140 recipes featuring simple rustic food.

I had no idea that David had a cooking show on TV when I purchased his book at the Feltrenelli Bookstore on Via del Babuino.  I liked the cover and I liked the pictures.  Leafing through the book I saw many of the dishes that I have come to love eating and was hopeful that I would be able to remake many of them when I returned to Maryland.  I wasn’t disappointed!

Some of my favorites from Made in Italy include; Gateau di Patate (Potato Cake) pg.100, Le Mie Polpette Preferite (My All-Time Favorite Meatballs) pg. 303, and Caponata Napoletana (Caponata Naples Style) pg. 72

Cooking Sicilian Style – Arancini di Riso

There is a saying that cooking is good for the soul and this is definitely the case when cooking italian food.   Whether you are cooking for a special occasion, for family, for friends or in this case trying something that you have seen often but have never tried before.  Inspired by watching one to many Detective Montalbano episodes Joe and I decided to get to it!!

Ingredients for Arancini di Riso, 2013
Ingredients for Arancini di Riso, 2013

Arancini di Riso (Sicilian Rice Balls) – the Arancini because the size and color of the finished rice balls approximates an orange – is a typical sicilian dish of fried rice balls that have assorted.  Typical for italian recipes there are almost as many versions as there are sicilian grandmothers, however I prefer recipes that include some type of meet ragu for the filling.

I have attached a video link (in italian OR click to convert to english) for one particularly good recipe but encourage you to google “arancini di riso” to explore the many versions of this recipe on the internet.  This link provides the ingredient list as well as shows you the technique which I found very helpful.  Arancini di Riso – How to Video 

Cooking meat filling, 2013
Cooking meat filling, 2013

Ingredients – Filling

  • 150 grams ground meet (beef or pork or a combination of both)
  • 80 grams peas (fresh are best but you can use frozen)
  • 150 grams Provola Cheese (soft provolone or you can use mozzarella – not the white but the pale yellow)
  • 40 grams tomato paste (use double concentrated that comes in tube)
  • pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 100 ml red wine
  • 1/2 onion
  • 25 grams butter

To make the filling heat the butter and olive oil in pan.  Cook for approximately 5 to 8 minutes until onion is translucent.  Add ground meat and cook through.  Add wine and cook for approximately 5 minutes.  Add tomato paste and cook to reduce about 10 to 15 minutes stirring often.  Season with pepper and add peas and take off heat.  Stir a few more times and then leave to cool.  Filling should be thick and not to runny.

Joe cooling rice mixture, 2013
Joe cooling rice mixture, 2013

Ingredients – Rice

  • 500 grams (long grain white rice)
  • one packet of saffron
  • 30 grams butter
  • 100 grams grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • salt

To make the rice cook rice per instructions on package.  Remove rice from pan to large bowl and add saffron, butter, grated cheese, egg yolks, and salt and mix throughly.  When finished spread rice out on large flat plate.

Joe assembling the Arancini, 2013
Joe assembling the Arancini, 2013

Assembly and Deep Frying

  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs beaten

Watch the video for this part as the visuals are so much better than any explanation I can offer.

Arancini di Riso, 2013
Arancini di Riso, 2013

Cooking Roman Style – Peperonata (Stewed Sweet Peppers)

Ingredients for Peporanata, 2013
Main Ingredient for Peporanata – Cubanelle and Yellow Peppers, 2013

This recipe is one of my favorites.  Their sweet and sour flavor makes them perfect for pairing with – pork roast, sandwiches, as part of your antipasto, and they are perfect all by themselves on top of a crusty baguette.   You can serve them warm right out of the pan or at room temperature.  Easy to prepare filling your house with a wonderful aroma they last for a long long time in the refrigerator – I usually double the recipe.

While most any pepper will do and bell peppers seem to be the staple at the grocery store try to experiment with different types of peppers – the sweeter the better.  At the farmer’s markets I look for the Cubanelle Peppers (typically long slender red peppers) which are especially sweet.

Thinly Sliced Garlic, 2013
Sautee Garlic and Onions for a few Minutes before adding Peppers, 2013
While most recipes don’t call for roasting the peppers this extra step imparts a rich flavor and if you have the time go ahead and try it.  You will look like a pro at the very least roasting peppers over the flame on your stovetop.  (instructions for roasting peppers-4 easy methods)
 
Pepper Strips, 2013
Peppers, Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil, Water, Salt and Pepper – Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes, 2013
Peperonatta (Stewed Sweet Peppers)
Ingredients (makes 2 cups) 
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 assorted red, yellow, and orange bell peppers (or other variety of sweet pepper), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ to 1/2″ strips – don’t worry about being exact
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise – the thinner the better
  • ½ medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Instructions (total prep time 15 minutes, total cook time 45 minutes to 1 hour)
  • Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.  When you begin to smell the olive oil
  • Add garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes
  • Add peppers and ½ cup water and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft, about 1 hour.  About 20 minutes if you have roasted the peppers first.
  • Stir in vinegar, turn off the heat, and mix together
  • Transfer to a serving bowl if you will be serving right away or let cool in the pan before transferring to a storage container
  • As is the case with most italian food I always find these better the next day or several days later.   Easily made in advance and have on hand for later.  Buon Appetito!

 

Almost finished, 2013
Almost finished, 2013

Cooking Roman Style – Papacelle Ripene di Carne (Stuffed Peppers with Meat)

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013Chef Andrea, Cooking Classes in Rome, Trestevere, 2013

One of the most rewarding experiences you can have in Rome is takeing a cooking class.   Meeting liked minded foodies from around the globe and preparing and sharing a meal is enormous fun and hopefully an adventure that you will bring home and share with your friends.   WARNING: It can be addictive!

On my fourth class with Chef Andrea we prepared a menu of stuffed figs, homemade cavatelli with pesto, stuffed peppers, sauteed cauliflower, and a pear torte.   My favorite recipe from this particular class is below and fairly easy to make.

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013
Papacelle ripene di carne (Stuffed peppers with meat)

Ingredients to serve four people:
  • 1 lb ground meat (70% beef and 30% pork, ground and minced) Use prosciutto sausages if you can find them, if not use plain unseasoned sausages (casings removed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup/100g parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup/50g edamer cheese grated
  • freshly chopped parsley
  • 3oz leftover bread soaked in milk (crusts removed)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 4 to 6 peppers depending on size (in class we used papacelle which are smaller and flatter than the bell peppers we most often use in the states.  Try to use peppers such as this or other peppers that are in season where you live – Note: smaller sized peppers are better)
Instructions
  • Heat oven to 350°F / 180°C
  • To prepare the filling mix sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs, grated cheese, leftover bread soaked into milk, salt and pepper.  Mix all the ingredients well and set aside for a good half an hour to let the flavors meld.
  • Wash the peppers and cut a small hole in the top around the stem, saving the piece you cut out.  Clean out the seeds, rinse and set aside
  • Stuff the peppers one by one and place onto a baking dish, replacing the small piece you cut from each pepper on top.  Add a little bit of water and extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of the pan to avoid burning the peppers.
  • Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the peppers, until cooked all the way through.  Turn the pan carefully in the oven once or twice to ensure even cooking all the way through the peppers.  Serve hot.   Buon Appetito!

Stuffed Peppers, Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013 

Capers – One of My Favorite Ingredients

Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City, 2013Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City Walls, 2013

I suppose I never gave much though to where capers came from except to say off the shelf of my local Italian Grocer.   In the back of my mind I thought in some way they were related to olives and must be cultivated in the same way.  Well, I have certainly been learning a lot on this trip to Rome!

The discoveries that await you in Rome are multi-layered to say the least.  On a recent walk around the walls of Vatican City I was amazed to discover that one of my favorite ingredients for cooking, capers, grows willy-nilly in the cracks and crevices of just about every surface in this city.  Just look up as you walk pass by a stone wall, under an arch, or as you visit some of the most famous landmarks in the Eternal City.  You will undoubtedly see a caper plant.  All these wild capers are not looked upon with favor as they wreak havoc on the surfaces in which they grow, however I certainly find them intriguing!

Making Pasta

One of the best adventures you can have in Rome is to take a cooking class.  You meet interesting people from around the globe, have a wonderful shared experience, and you get to eat what you make.   WARNING: It can be addictive!

One of the most intimidating foods for me was pasta.  It is an investment of time and you need the proper equipment.  Like most things the investment is worth it!  I had tried and tried at home but to no avail.  I am a visual learner and will always be grateful to Andrea for showing me the proper way to prepare delicious pasta.  The following recipe is easy to make and I know you will not only enjoy the experience but you will also impress your friends. Once you get the hang of it you can make pasta in about 30 minutes.

Ingredients for pasta for four people:

4 cups of flour (Important to get flour that is tipo 00 – this is a very finely sieved flour, In Italy it’s called farina di grano tenero, which means ‘tender’ or ‘soft’ flour.  Most Italian speciality stores carry this item)
4 eggs and a pinch of salt

Equipment:

Pasta Maker (I recommend the Imperia Pasta Machine)
– Bowl, Fork, Pastry Scraper, large plastic pan/tray filled with semolina flour

Instructions:
Mix 4 cups/400gr tipo 00 flour with 4 eggs.  Pour the flour on a flat stable surface, I prefer the countertop, and create a well in the middle of the flour about the size of your fist.  It should look like a squat volcano.  Crack the eggs into a bowl to ensure that you don’t get any egg shells in your pasta.  Pour the eggs into the well you have created in the flour.  Add a pinch of salt. Carefully and slowly begin to whisk the eggs with a fork incorporating flour from the sides of the well. You can also pick up some of the flour between your fingers and slowly drop into the egg mixture from about 4 or 5 inches above – keep whisking.  Continue doing this until the flour and egg mixture are well incorporated.  If the well breaks it is ok just have a pastry scraper handy so you can keep pushing everything together.   At some point you need to use your hands and knead the ingredients together.  Don’t be intimidated. When you are finished you should have a ball of dough about the size of a baseball.

Now you are ready to crank the pasta through the pasta machine.  Cut the dough into four equal size pieces with your pastry scraper.  Pat the dough flat so you can feed it into the opening on the machine.   Rub with some flour so the dough doesn’t get stuck in the machine.  Begin cranking the pasta through the machine with the setting set to the widest width.  Do this about three times and then reduce the width to about half and crank through three or four more times.  The pasta will get thinner and longer – you may need to cut the resulting strip (4 inches wide and possibly 18 inches long) of pasta in half at some point and then feed both halves through.   Reduce the width again to the slimmest setting and crank the pasta through again a few more times.   You will be amazed at how the pasta “grows”. Andrea’s advice to me – “You know the pasta is perfect when it feels like a baby’s bottom” smooth smooth smooth.   Once you achieve the desired thinness you can then use the cutting mechanism to make linguini, fettuccine, or spaghetti.  One secret that Andrea showed me – have a large plastic pan/tray filled with semolina flour to put the cut pasta into.  You can then shake the pasta around gently in the pan and the flour will keep the pasta from sticking together before you cook it.  Let the pasta sit and rest for few minutes before cooking, then put a large pot of boiling water over high heat. When the water is boiling, toss in a tablespoon of salt with the pasta. Stir to keep the pasta from sticking. Cook for a few minutes (1 to 2 minutes, fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried) until a piece of pasta tastes cooked.  You are now ready to serve your spectacular effort with a variety of choices for sauce, Bolognese, Marinara, Alfredo, etc. Joe the Pasta Maker