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With Spring in the air, I’m looking forward to getting the family together for Easter. Of course Springtime brings plenty of rain, but for a chef, there is nothing more inspiring than the change of the seasons; asparagus, artichokes, nettles, peas, and fava beans are just some of the delicious fresh ingredients that make their way into my kitchen this time of year.
If you’re observing the holiday this weekend and you haven’t set your menu, I can highly recommend any of the dishes below–you can’t go wrong with seasonal ingredients. Buona Pasqua!
It’s finally starting to feel like spring, and my mind has shifted to the garden. Growing your own herbs is an easy way to make sure you always have fresh ingredients on hand.
The use of fresh herbs has exploded in the American kitchen today and it is wonderful, but I recall as a young apprentice at my great aunt’s apron strings, for every pot that went on the stove there was an herb somewhere in the garden to match. Some herbs were better to cook while others were better added to the finished dish. Rosemary, bay leaves, thyme were mostly used for long cooking where their oils would be extracted slowly out of their leaves while sage, oregano, marjoram needed very little cooking time and basil, parsley and mint d tossed raw, is enough to get their aroma.
When I cook I love to crush herbs in my hands and then inhale their perfumes. It refreshes me and I get a good sense of what I am adding to the pot.
You never know when you’ll want to whip up pasta with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil!
Don’t dump the pasta water! Boiling, salted pasta water is an essential component of skillet pastas, both in the sauce-making stage and in finishing the dish. Here are tips for when to add pasta water:
- After you’ve caramelized all your seasonings and sauce ingredients, add water from the pasta pot as a medium to extract and blend their flavors.
- Add water to prevent scorching if something is browning too fast!
- In a large skillet, liquid will evaporate quickly. Replenish the moisture with pasta water whenever needed.
- If your sauce is complete but must wait a while for the pasta to cook, it may thicken. Add more water (and bring it to a good simmer) before dropping in the pasta.
- If there’s not enough sauce to coat the pasta when you’re tossing them together in the skillet, add more water.
- A thin pasta, like capellini or spaghetti, will absorb more liquid than a tubular pasta, so be prepared to add more water as you toss the strands with the sauce.
And finally, remember that the cooking water is salty and starchy—qualities that can add seasoning and body during the final cooking of pasta and sauce. Enjoy!
Olive oil is the basic element of my cooking and the cuisine of the entire Mediterranean Basin.
Extra virgin olive oil is from the first cold pressing of olives and has no more than 1 percent oleic acid. This is wonderful drizzled on soups and pastas. You can also use extra virgin olive oil to dress your salads.
Virgin olive oil, also from the first cold pressing, contains from 1 to 3.3 percent oleic acid. This doesn’t have the flavor of extra virgin olive oil, but it’s perfectly fine for cooking purposes.
Olive oil (when not labeled “virgin”) is virgin olive oil with an acidity level of higher than 3.3 percent that has been chemically refined to remove impurities and excess acidity and has had some virgin oil added to it to replace flavor and color removed during refining. This too can be used for cooking, especially frying.
Olive pomace oil is the oil extracted from the crushed olives with the help of solvents, which is then blended with virgin olive oil. I rarely use pomace oil but it could be used for frying, though it may give you heavier results.
Personally, I love the light and buttery olive oil from Liguria and the Lago di Garda region for fish preparation. For meat and grilling, I like the peppery Tuscan variety. When braising vegetables and making soups, I use the herbal olive oil form Southern Italy. You can buy olive oil at regular, health food, and gourmet markets. Eataly in particular has a wonderful selection of nearly 100 different varieties of olive oil from regions all over Italy, and I love Monini‘s olive oil as well.
March is a month that is very dear to Italians, as today marks Italian Father’s Day, or la Festa di San Giuseppe. The tradition of setting out a bountiful feast every year on this day dates back to Sicily in the Middle Ages, when St. Joseph is said to have ended a period of terrible drought and famine. When the heavy rains finally arrived, people gave thanks by inviting the poor inside to feast with them at their table. Every year the Feast of Saint Joseph is celebrated with a big table full of delicious food, so give these traditional St. Joseph’s Day Creampuffs a try! Or these neat little St. Joseph’s Fig Cookies.
The event launched the William Tell Project which is dedicated to bringing the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino to the North America for its debut. The Teatro Regio Torino will tour North America with Rossini’s grand opera William Tell performed in concert in December of this year, beginning in Chicago and continuing to Toronto, New York, and Ann Arbor.
I co-hosted with Maestro Gianandrea Noseda–Music Director of the Teatro Regio Torino and a dear friend of mine for many years. The Dinner allowed a hundred guests to experience Rossini’s greatest recipes paired with movements from the Sonate a Quattro string works the genius composed at the age of twelve performed by Eric Jacobsen, Colin Jacobsen, Ariana Kim and Shawn Conley, Members of The Knights, an internationally acclaimed ensemble based in New York. The evening began with a reception featuring the “Rossini” cocktail which was followed by the first performance of the evening: star soprano Angela Meade singing the aria “Selva opaca” from William Tell; Ms. Meade will be performing the role of Matilde in William Tell at staged production at the Teatro Regio Torino in May 2014 and on the North American tour with the opera company in December 2014.
Throughout the evening, I provided some insight on the Rossini Dinner menu that I crafted in collaboration with Del Posto Executive Chef Mark Ladner. My friend Maestro Noseda spoke passionately about the need for Italy to change its ways when it comes to funding the arts and his goal to encourage more private philanthropy. He thanked supporters of the Dinner for playing a major role in starting the process for the funding of the William Tell Project and for setting an example. He stressed the importance of having an Italian opera house continue performing opera to provide an Italian standard for the world. He continued by expressing the need to invest in culture and the arts–especially during difficult economic times–and thanked the donors for their support and belief in his vision.
Contributions to the William Tell Project are tax-deductible via The Opera Foundation, Inc., a tax-exempt organization pursuant to section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in supporting the William Tell Project 2014. All contributions will be acknowledged by a tax statement from the Opera Foundation. More information about The Opera Foundation, Inc. at www.operafoundation.org.
In America, Italian food enthusiasts will fight to the death for the name they use for their precious pasta topping. Is it sauce or is it gravy? The fact is, in Italy, sauce and gravy are different things. Sauce translates to salsa, which has a light, fresh flavor, often involving oil, garlic, and tomato with a short cooking time. Gravy, on the other hand, is called sugo in Italian, and takes much longer to cook. It has a denser consistency, more complex flavor, and often contains meat.
February can be a dreary month, but this year it feels like we’ve had more cold, snow, and ice than usual. As a chocolate lover, I find that Valentine’s Day always arrives just in time. And as it happens, there is another decadent day around the corner as well: Carnevale, which means, “say goodbye to meat.”
Italy may be famous for its pasta, but Italians love chocolate. In the last decade alone, the country’s annual chocolate consumption has doubled, but as you might have guessed, no one is sacrificing quality for quantity; chocolate is still meticulously crafted from Piedmont down through Tuscany and all the way down to Sicily.
This year, Carnevale, or Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), falls on March 4th. Italians will be celebrating with costume parties, rich meat dishes, and plenty of sweets, so this month our chefs are sharing some of their favorite chocolate recipes from the restaurants. Before we say our final farewells to winter, maybe a little last minute indulgence is in order as we get ready for spring?
Crostoli: This is one name for the most popular carnevale dessert: fried dough. You will find variations on this delicious recipe throughout Italy; in much of southern Italy they are called chiacchiere, a fun Italian word meaning “chatter” or “chitchat.”
Chocolate Star Cookies: Why not embrace the snow? These snowflake-shaped cookies are fun to make with the family and a perfect way to celebrate the end of winter.
Chocolate Bread Parfait: This dessert recalls for me the chocolate-and-bread sandwiches that were sometimes my lunch, and always a special treat. How simple but how delicious those two piece of bread with chocolate in between were. This is another inventive way to recycle leftover bread as the foundation of an elegant layered dessert. Though it is soaked with chocolate-and-espresso sauce and buried in whipped cream, the bread doesn’t disintegrate, and provides a great textural contrast in every heavenly spoonful.