Trippa in Umido

Trippa in Umido

Tripe, trippa in Italian, is the stomach of an animal, in this case beef. It's texture is unique and very different from other offals or meat cuts. Very rubbery and tough when raw, becomes gentle and gelatinous when cooked slowly with a liquid.

This is one of many ways of cooking tripe. Various regions in Italy cook it in slightly different ways, changing the type of tomato product and its quantity, adding more or less liquid, various type of beans, herbs, spices and other ingredients. It is a humble, inexpensive dish and a true delicacy to be enjoyed in the cold months.

Buonappetito!

Recipe below...

2.5 lbs beef tripe

3 garlic cloves chopped

3 Tbs Chopped parsley

1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onions

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup red wine

1 small can of tomatoes

3 bay leaves

8 cloves

salt, kosher

2 small hot chili peppers

Black pepper

Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (optional)

- Trim the tripes from any discoloration spot and wash them in cold water. They should be white and extremely fresh. Cut them in short strips about 1/4 inch wide.

- Start a soffritto in a large casserole (ideally crock or cast iron) by heating the oil with the garlic until it starts gently frying and releases its aroma.

- Before the garlic gets any color add the parsley and continue cooking for a minute, then add carrots, celery and onions, a small pinch of salt. Adjust the heat to medium/low so that they gently and slowly fry developing flavor and creating a base for the trippa. This should be monitored from time to time to avoid over-coloring and should take at least 30-40 minutes. The final soffritto should be like a marmalade, sweet and with a golden color from a slow, controlled caramelization.

- While the soffritto is cooking, blanch the tripes in abundant boiling water that has been lightly salted, for about 20 minutes. Drain and reserve.

- Once the soffritto is ready, add the tripes and toss in the pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Then ad the red wine and allow to evaporate by half.

- Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, cloves, chili peppers, black pepper and some salt. bring to a very gentle simmer, cover with a lid and cook, extremely slowly, for about 4 hours or until the tripes are very tender and almost gelatinous. Check it and stir every 45-60 minutes. If properly executed, no additional liquid should be necessary.

- Taste and adjust the flavor as the cooking progresses, keeping in mind that flavors will intensify with the cooking. So save the last touch of salt for the very end.

Notes:

Once cooked you may serve it and enjoy it immediately, but remember that if you allow it to cool and refrigerate for a couple of days, it gets even better. This makes it a great dish to prepare in advance.

Enjoy it very hot, in a bowl accompanied by a slice of plain rustic bread. It is delicious as is or with a touch of freshly cracked black pepper and/or some grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top if you like.

Crescia di Pasqua

Crescia di Pasqua

This is a preparation that takes a very special place in my heart as it reminds me, more than others, about the food that my mother used to cook.

It is a savory bread typical from the Marche but also found in other regions from central Italy. Prepared at Easter time is consumed with boiled eggs seasoned with sea salt and spices, sliced salame, and a glass of good white wine.

Made with flour, yeast, extra virgin olive oil, lots of Parmigiano and black pepper it's aroma spreads through the house while it is cooking and it is pure torture to have to wait until it cools down to eat it.

The cookie-like crust outside and the moist and flavorful texture inside have this amazing olive oil and Parmigiano aroma and flavor. It is delicious by it self, as you can imagine, simply enjoyed with some cool white wine. But it pairs amazingly well with boiled eggs either hard boiled or soft boiled and seasoned with salt and pepper or with the addition of ground spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.

It smells and tastes like Easter to me and always brings back wonderful memories.

Risotto

Risotto alla Parmigiana - Risotto alla Milanese con Ossobuco

Being from Milano, risottos hold a special place in my heart.

The richness, creaminess and texture, the incredibly rich flavor and endless variations that these humble preparations are capable of offering have few matches in the Italian culinary world.

There is one for each season and one for each taste. From the healthiest, vegetarian varieties, prepared with seasonal vegetables and vegetable broth, to the most indulgent seafood based on shellfish and crustacean meat and broth, to the cheesiest and meatiest prepared with rich meat broth and braised meats or melted cheeses. Risottos are like a world of their own, where only your imagination and good taste are the limit, once you master the basic technique.

To start, a good quality rice is the key. Arborio is probably the most known risotto rice variety here in the US, but Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are also excellent.

The cooking liquid, should not be underestimated as it is responsible for a great deal of the flavor in the final preparation, and in most cases, making a quality broth can also be a wonderful way to utilize trimmings from the main item, such as fish bones and crustacean shells would do in a seafood risotto for example, thus making risotto a great example of "total utilization".

The method begins with a  flavorful soffritto, too often overlooked and rushed and most of the time, as simple as finely chopped onion or shallot slowly caramelized in olive oil or butter. This soffritto provides a great foundation of flavor and if allowed to slowly develop sweetness can make an enormous difference.

The preparation continues by adding the rice to the soffritto and allowing it to be coated in the fat for a minute or two until is shiny and warm to the touch. From that point, you just add enough hot liquid to barely cover the rice and allow it to cook by gently simmering, with an occasional stir and the addition of hot cooking liquid as needed. The cooking time really depends on the rice variety, but is normally between 13 and 17 minutes.

One of the most important things to pay attention to here is adding just the right amount of liquid, particularly toward the end of the cooking time, so that the rice does not overcook.  The key is to be able to achieve a creamy bonded texture simultaneous with rice grains being cooked al dente. If too much liquid is added toward the end, the risotto will either be too soupy or in trying to reduce the liquid, too mushy.  Moreover, draining the extra liquid off is really not an option since doing so would mean pouring developed flavor down the drain, as well as the starch needed for a smooth, bonded texture. Very small amounts of liquid can be added conservatively and strategically, however, even up until the moment before serving as a rescue measure if the texture of your risotto becomes too stiff - so it really pays to be careful with the amount of liquid throughout the cooking process.

The creaminess I was referring above is achieved in the last phase of the preparation and is called mantecatura in Italian, which consists of moving the risotto off the heat just before the grains of rice are cooked through (remember that the rice will keep cooking for a few minutes even when off the heat, so plan accordingly) and stirring vigorously while shaking the pan on a flat surface, which results in a thick, liquid creaminess. Generally a fat and flavoring agent are added at this point and most of the time consist of butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano.  Butter, however, can be substituted with extra virgin olive oil or heavy cream or Mascarpone cheese, for example and Parmigiano can be interchanged with other cheese varieties or even fresh herbs, depending on the desired outcome and the main flavor of the risotto.

Serving risotto immediately, just like pasta is very important if not critical, in order to enjoy the fragrance and texture at their best. So have your guests a tavola,  perhaps finishing a light appetizer while you finesse the final stages of your risotto

Garnish and flavoring ingredients may be added directly into the risotto during the cooking time, added at the end or even served on top after plating. Sometimes the correct moment to add ingredients is dictated very specifically by the recipe, as with the pairing of risotto with ossobuco. In other cases, however, such as risotto with asparagus for example, there can be several ways to interpret and prepare it, with variations including:

- cooking and pureeing the stems and adding them to the risotto while cooking and then garnishing with sauteed tips.

- cutting the asparagus in pieces and adding them to the risotto while cooking so that they cook together at the same time.

- cutting the asparagus and cooking them entirely separate and serve them on top of a basic Risotto alla Parmigiana.

In the end, it is all a matter of preference that produces significantly different results with the same ingredients, a bit in the same way that drinking a shot of Espresso alongside a glass of milk is quite a different experience than drinking a Cappuccino.

One last thing to remember, which is something I remind even myself over and over again is that no matter how many creative and delicious risotto variations there are out there to taste, I always seem to go back to the most basic, Risotto alla Parmigiana, as one of my favorites -  prepared with an excellent meat broth and finished with butter and Parmigiano.  Here is where the technique can be easily practiced and the art of simplicity prevails.

Pane e Salame

Pane e Salame
Artisanal Bread
Salametto

Few things to me can be as satisfying and heart-warming as a few slices of a good salame with freshly-baked, rustic bread and a nice glass of wine. Honestly, does it get any easier, tastier or any more Italian than that?

The biggest issue at hand, as you often read in my posts is about the quality of each ingredient in such a simple preparation. And finding the right ingredient, in this particular case, can more or less challenging, depending on where you live.

Growing up, I was so used to freshly baked bread that I would have never, ever imagined one day it would have become a luxury that I could afford to enjoy only once in a while. We used to have so many great bakers in the small town where I lived that my family bought fresh bread alternatively from three or four of our favorites because each excelled in a particular bread which would influence our choice for the day.  So one day we bought from one baker, and the next day from another but one thing was for sure - we purchased bread daily, religiously. Except for Sunday, when all the bakers were closed. Bummer.

Given the choice, my favorite bread to enjoy with a good salame, (or prosciutto, lardo, coppa, or pancetta) is by far Pane Toscano, Tuscan bread is a style with considerably less salt than most breads, and supports the flavor of the meat by having its own very, subtle flavor. This might be difficult to imagine if you've never had the opportunity to taste it, so for now you'll need to trust me when I say, "there's no comparison."

Now, living in upstate New York, it is much more difficult for me to purchase great bread freshly-baked on a daily basis.  And although there are some great bakers in the area like Bread Alone, http://www.breadalone.com/ for example, is just not feasible for me to buy daily or even every other day, considering the distance. Who knows, maybe one day bakers will join forces with Amazon.com or UPS and find a way to deliver daily bread still piping hot. Wouldn't that be cool?

So for the moment my best option is to stock it when I drive up the Catskills, or down to the Culinary Institute of America or even "more down" to NYC. There one of my new favorites is Sullivan Street Bakery, http://www.sullivanstreetbakery.com/ though I know there are many more. But even with all of the variety, I have yet to find my beloved Pane Toscano. (All possible leads welcome.)

Now as for the salame part of this exquisite pairing, let me first clarify the spelling. In Italian, salame refers to cured ground meat and fat contained in a casing. Salami in Italian is the plural for salame, while salumi refers to all sorts of cured meats, not only made from ground meat, but including solid cuts like prosciutto, coppa, pancetta, and many more.

This life-long love affair I have with Pane e Salame goes way back.  It was my Uncle Egidio's salame that started it all, and set the standard by which all others would be and still are judged, including some of the greats I have had the pleasure of tasting throughout Italy.  Though sad in a way (because it is a rare delight) I am obliged to mention it because the quintessential pairing of an artisanal salame from the Marche with slices of freshly baked Pane Toscano is an experience all red-meat eaters should have the privilege of tasting.

Finding these works of art, is the next big challenge, particularly because importing a good number of my Italian favorites is restricted by law. Only a small selection of cured meats pass the FDA requirements for importation and to my knowledge include only, prosciutto crudo, prosciutto cotto, speck and Mortadella di Bologna. So no Italian-made salami in the US that I know of.

Having said that, and having determined that most of my other salami favorites from my Italian past life are off limits here in the U.S., I must convey that I was lucky to find some interesting "local" producers who offer artisanal products of remarkable quality.

Two terrific options are Paul Bertolli's  Fra'Mani http://www.framani.com/ in Berkley, CA and Armandino Batali's Salumi http://www.salumicuredmeats.com/ in Seattle, WA. They both offer fantastic products, in my opinion, and they ship right to your door.  But as with my Tuscan bread appeal, any other leads to great domestic producers are welcome.

Lastly, we come to the subject of the wine.  To that end, there are many good fits both white and red, but my suggestion is to try a traditional Lambrusco. It is a less known and less prestigious Italian wine and comes predominantly from the Emilia-Romagna region. Relatively inexpensive, it is an easy drinking, sparkling red, which is delicious slightly chilled and great with cured meats. Almost impossible to find in the U.S. ten years ago, you can now find Lambrusco from a variety of producers, though you may have to go your favorite higher volume store to find it, such as Astor Wine in NYC. http://www.astorwines.com/ which ships via UPS to most states.

In my experience, the Pruno Nero from Cleto Carli offers a nice combination of quality and price, though it is just one among many.  Just know that when shopping for your Lambrusco you should steer away from any classified or labeled as amabile, which means "slightly sweet" and is not a variety appropriate for salumi in my opinion.

Lastly, if you're in NYC and just want to sit yourself down and have someone bring you you Pane e salame e Lambrusco, consider two great options:

Taralluci e Vino http://www.taralluccievino.net/ and Salumeria Rosi http://www.salumeriarosi.com/ whose domestically produced pancetta is the best thing I've seen since my last visit to Italy.

In conclusion, I hope that my love and passion for one of the simplest Italian delicacies inspires you to seek out options that work for you and that your Pane e Salame experience will be one to remember.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

It doesn't need an introduction, I know. But like all food preparations it can be prepared in many different ways with surprisingly different results, so I decided to share with you how I make it.

Beware though, I am not going for the easy way.

I prepare Tiramisu by cooking the yolks with sugar and Marsala like a Sabayon over a warm water bath and this can be labor intense and tricky to execute correctly. It requires constant care to ensure the Sabayon will mount, become rich, fluffy and thick without scrambling the eggs. Such hard work, however, produces a superior flavor and texture, in my opinion, and is also safer to eat than the uncooked egg versions.

So if you are up for some arm workout here is my recipe:

Egg yolks 8 - Sugar 200 gr - Marsala 200 gr - Mascarpone 500 gr

Combine the yolks with the sugar and Marsala in a stainless steel or even better copper bowl if you have one.

Start whisking vigorously enough to produce bubbles and place the bowl over a water bath with the water very hot but not simmering. Keep whisking and stirring to allow the mixture to increase its volume and mount to a fluffy texture.

If you feel the temperature is getting too hot or the water below is starting to simmer, move the bowl aside and keep whisking. Keep the sides of the bowl clean at all times to avoid that the untouched parts coagulate too quickly and produce lumps. The Sabayon must be completely smooth.

Keep whisking over the water bath until the Sabayon will become thick and creamy. You should be able to see the tracks left by the whisk and the sabayon should be thick enough to leave clear paths when dripping from the whisk. This might take several minutes of whisking and keep in mind that it will occur just a few moments before the entire mixture would become so hot that the eggs could scramble, so play close attention as this is the most delicate and important part of this preparation.

As soon as the Sabayon is properly cooked, move it over an ice bath and keep stirring to allow to rapidly cool down, then add the Mascarpone and keep refrigerated.

Now that the tough part is over and all you have to do is assemble the final dessert.

The easy way would be to assemble it in a large dish and spoon it to portions at the table. When possible, I prefer to prepare individual portions in wine glasses as in the image above. It is a bit more time consuming but it provides a prettier individual presentation. I also prefer to soak in good, strong espresso disks of sponge cake instead of Savoiardi or Ladyfingers cookies, but no big deal either ways. Just make sure that the espresso is strong and pure. I don't like to mix it with any liquors or sugar because the key is to enjoy the contrast between the bitter and juicy espresso soaked sponge cake and the rich, sweet and Marsala scented cream.

So to complete it put the Tiramisu cream in a pastry bag and start piping a small amount in the bottom of each glass. Then top it with a small disc of coffee soaked sponge cake and repeat this a couple of times finishing with a nice swirl of cream.

At this point the dessert can be refrigerated for a day or two if necessary but the sooner you eat it the better. Desserts, in general, don't benefit from sitting in the fridge and freshness is paramount.

Before serving dust a little cocoa powder on top, sit comfortably and enjoy each bite!

Saltimbocca

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Warning: can be addictive.

Fast to prepare (and also to eat...) this is one of those dishes in which the result by far exceeds the effort. Saltimbocca may follow, or accompany very well, the Gnocchi alla Romana described in my previous post and are typical of the same area in Italy. They are also delicious on the side of cooked spinach and potato purée or fried artichokes and a delicate green salad like in the image above.

They are normally composed of tender slices of veal, each layered with a sage leaf and topped with a thin slice of Prosciutto. A tooth pick can be used to hold it all together. Chicken or pork can be used too with good results, but veal is the traditional choice and in my opinion the best option.

When ready to cook, place them on the table prosciutto side down and season the meat with salt and pepper, then dip the prosciutto side in flour, dust the excess off and quickly cook it in a very hot sauté pan with a touch of olive oil, prosciutto side down. Heat should be medium/high to allow the prosciutto to turn golden and crisp by the time the meat is just done, which takes only a couple of minutes. Depending on how thick the veal is by the time the prosciutto side is ready, the meat should be almost cooked through on the top, making it a preparation where about 90% of the cooking is done on the same side. At that point, all you have to do is move the pan off the heat, quickly flip the saltimbocca just to let the meat side touch the hot pan, then plate them immediately prosciutto side up. The key is to have a crispy prosciutto top but tender juicy veal underneath which is not overcooked.

As the saltimbocca rest on the warm plate, you should make the sauce by discarding the cooking fat, deglazing the pan with a generous amount of white wine and replacing it over the high heat to reduce. A touch of broth can be added too if desired. The liquid, while quickly reducing in the pan, will also mix with the flavorful drippings from the saltimbocca and slightly thicken, thanks to residual flour. Add a few pieces of butter and swirl the pan over the heat to create an emulsion. Move off the heat, taste and adjust but generally the saltiness of the prosciutto combined with the acidity of the wine and the sweetness of the butter don't require additional salt. If too acidic add more butter. Be careful as the sauce is ready to serve just a few moments before is ready to "break" so be careful not to over-reduce it and move the pan off the heat towards the end. If you do over-reduce it - don't panic. Just add some hot water and start reducing over high heat again. The liquid will re-emulsify. For this sauce to be good it should not yield much more than a generous table spoon for each portion. I like to think of it as a rustic and quick version of a Beurre Blanc.

Well I hope this wasn't too confusing. In reality it all happens in two or three minutes and all these little details to pay attention to really make the difference between a so-so dish and a great one.

OK, now I made myself hungry...

Gnocchi alla Romana

Gnocchi alla Romana

Somewhere between Polenta and Grits, this wintery preparation from central Italy is easy to prepare and versatile. It can be served as a Primo Piatto, just like a pasta course, as is or on top of some cooked greens like spinach. Or it can serve as crispy and rich side dish to a braise, roasted or sautéed meat.

They are made with coarse ground semolina (durum wheat) or even cream of wheat. Simply add about 1cup of semolina to 4 or 5 cups of hot milk stirring to avoid lumps. Cook about 15 minutes, season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and grated Parmigiano and pour the thick mixture on a greased sheet tray or greased surface. Use a greased spatula or plastic wrap and a rolling pin to level at about 1/2 inch thickness and allow to cool.

Once room temperature the mixture becomes firm and can be cut in shape, normally round discs about 2 inches in diameter.Arrange discs in a buttered oven proof dish and season the top with more grated Parmigiano and additional butter. At this point you may refrigerate or even freeze for later use if desired.To complete bake at 425F for about 20-30 minutes or until the gnocchi will achieve a golden crispy crust.