It’s fig season here in the Northeastern U.S., and if you don’t have your own fig, there are plenty of markets selling different varieties of these luscious fruits. I had about a dozen that were ready to eat and decided to make a free-form crostata for dessert, poaching the figs first in port wine, honey and cinnamon. They’re delicious poached in red wine too, but if you have port wine, it’s a perfect match accompaniment to figs.
The figs become a little moister after poaching, which could make the pastry soggy, so I scattered a layer of sliced almonds as a bed for the figs, to act as a barrier and also give more texture and flavor.
Drain the figs from the poaching liquid and place them carefully over the almonds.
Gather the pastry around the edges, pinching to form a border. Brush with beaten egg, or some milk.
After it comes out of the oven, spread some of the reduced glaze over the top.
It’s delicious just as is, but a bit of ice cream always makes things better.
Serves two to four people (easily doubled to serve eight)
10 to 12 figs, cut in half
½ cup Port wine
¼ cup honey
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup sliced almonds
For the Pastry:
½ cup flour
4 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
3 or 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed
Bring the Port wine, honey, sugar and cinnamon stick to a boil in a saucepan.
Lower the heat and add the figs. Let the figs simmer for about 5-10 minutes, depending on how ripe the figs are.
Don't let them poach so long that they lose shape.
Drain the figs and set aside.
Meanwhile, turn the heat to high and let the Port wine mixture reduce to about half or until about the consistency of honey.
Don't forget the solution will be runnier when it's hot, but thickens when cooled.
Mix the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor, until it resembles coarse sand. Add the ice water until it starts to hold together. Bring it out onto a board and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball, wrap in plastic and put it in the refrigerator for about a half hour to an hour.
Remove from refrigerator and roll over a floured surface to a circle with a circumference of about 10-12 inches.
Scatter the almonds over the center of the dough, leaving a border of about two inches.
Place the poached figs over the almonds, then fold the pastry over the figs, pinching toward the edges to form a border.
Brush the border with either beaten egg, or milk.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until browned.
Remove from oven, and brush the reduced port wine glaze over the figs.
If the glaze is too thick, put it back on the heat for a few minutes, adding a bit of water if necessary.
I was at a restaurant recently with an out-of-town friend who ordered scallops for dinner. They arrived looking pale, small, and sitting in a pool of insipid liquid, which was almost unforgivable, given how easy it is to get a good sear and add flavor to scallops with some butter and seasonings.
I’d like to invite her back and cook this recipe for her, especially while corn is at its peak and the scallops at our fish market are particularly fresh right now. We’ve had great corn this summer in New Jersey, but we purchased this delicious sweet corn at a farm stand in upstate New York last week, on our way home from the Glimmerglass Music Festival (where we also got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, but that’s another story).
We could have eaten like normal humans and limited ourselves to one ear of corn each, but what the heck – why not cook all four ears of corn. We could always reheat the leftovers, right? (Wrong, we scarfed them all down in one sitting!)
It’s easy enough to slice the kernels from the cob with a sharp knife.
Sauté the peppers, corn and tomatoes in a skillet with some butter and olive oil, along with the seasonings.
Meanwhile, use a large cast iron skillet to sear the scallops. Heat it until it’s screaming hot, then add the oil and butter. By the way, try to find the largest scallops you can. That way, you’ll be able to get a nice sear on the outside without overcooking the inside. Make sure you dry the scallops thoroughly with paper towels to avoid any moisture from oozing out. If your scallops have too much moisture, or if you crowd too many in a pan, you could end up “steaming” them instead of searing them.
Sometimes, the scallops you buy are so filled with moisture, you wonder if the fish sellers injected them with water to make them weigh more. But these scallops, from our local fish market at the Jersey shore, were large, exceedingly fresh, and not at all weighted down with water. They sautéed beautifully in a minimal amount of fat (about 1 tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil). But feel free to add a little more butter if you’re feeling indulgent. There are few things as delicious as browned butter over sautéed scallops.
The whole dish takes less than 30 minutes to put together, from scraping the corn off the cob to presenting it at table. We ate this as a regular weeknight dinner, but it’s certainly company worthy too.
Don’t you agree?
The inside of the scallop is still moist, while the outside is well seared to a buttery goodness.
And now, for the winner of the giveaway in my last post about lobster fra diavolo and as my way of saying thank you to one of my readers as I celebrate 10 years of blogging, ta da … drum roll please!!! Sarah Zimmerman, you’re the winner of the $100 Lobstergram gift certificate, selected by a computer driven, random number generator. Look for the gift certificate in your email.
Thanks to all of you who left comments and have been reading Ciao Chow Linda through the years. To see what’s cooking in my kitchen, or what other adventures I’m up to, connect with me on my Instagram page here.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t get my fill of lobster – whether it’s steamed and dipped in butter, or whether it’s lobster fra diavolo, as in this recipe. Some people claim it’s an Italian American invention, but I’m not so sure, after eating it several times on my recent trip to Italy, including one night in Rome with this version:
And a couple of times in Sardinia, as in this interpretation:
and this one below. In Italy, they’re called astice, the Mediterranean version of North American lobsters. Italy also has aragosta, similar to North American lobsters, but without the large claws.
When we returned back to the states, I was determined to make this dish at home. It’s not at all hard to make, but can be pricey depending on the size of the lobsters. But it’s a great meal for a special occasion and can be partly prepared ahead of time, making it easy for entertaining.
A few weeks before making the lobster fra diavolo, we enjoyed a Fourth of July steamed lobster feast with friends, from which I saved and froze some of the carcasses. The broth you can make from these adds a great depth of flavor to the lobster fra diavolo, but if you don’t want to fuss with it (or don’t have the lobster shells ahead of time), use bottled clam juice. I simmered this broth for a couple of hours before straining through cheesecloth. It made way more than I needed for this recipe, so I froze the rest, to be used for other recipes in the future, such as a lobster or shrimp bisque.
I love the sweetness of cherry tomatoes and there were an abundance of them in our garden, so for the sauce, I roasted a bunch with some olive oil at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, until they split open.
If you don’t want to use fresh cherry tomatoes, or don’t have any, use the canned. The ones packed in Italy are so deliciously sweet, I like to keep a few cans on hand for other recipes too, like my codfish and chickpeas in tomato sauce.
Follow the instructions for the sauce in the recipe below, and simmer for about an hour. You can even do this the day before.
The best way to make this dish is with fresh lobsters. If you don’t have fresh lobsters near where you live, then frozen lobster tails will make a nice substitute. If you do live near a good fish store, your fishmonger can use a knife to quickly dispatch the live lobsters, then clean them and split the tails in two. I also asked him to break off the tails and claws from the main body, and crack the claws so it would be easier to remove the meat once the dish was served. He was more than happy to do it.
When the sauce is cooked, add the lobster pieces. In the time it takes to boil the water for the pasta, the lobster pieces will be cooked. Remove the lobster pieces to a dish and keep covered to stay warm, then add the pasta to the sauce and mix. Place the pasta in a serving bowl and surround with the warm lobster pieces.
Provide plenty of napkins and some way to crack the shells further, if they don’t open enough.
Eating this dish was almost like being back in Italy (almost).
And now for the blogiversary and giveaway. Hard to believe that ten years have gone by since I started this blog. I’ve taken a few breaks from blogging now and then when life has thrown me a curve ball, but even then, getting back to blogging has been a catharsis for me. I’ve met so many wonderful people in person because of Ciao Chow Linda, and it has given me a forum to showcase a few things I love doing – traveling, cooking, writing and taking photographs.
In the beginning, my only readers were family, but through the years, so many of you have come aboard the Ciao Chow Linda train and left comments, or sent me emails and I am eternally grateful for your support. I read all of them and they really encourage me to keep doing what I love best.
As a thank you to one of you (I wish I could do this for all of you), I’m offering a giveaway of a $100 gift card to LobsterGram, so you’ll be able to make this lobster fra diavolo or any other recipe you like, using fresh live lobsters sent directly from Maine. All you have to do is leave a comment on the blog telling me what recipe you’d like to see on Ciao Chow Linda (NOT by email), with a way to contact you if you’re chosen (by a computer generated random number). To increase your chances of winning, follow me on Facebook,Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, and say so in the comments.
To Make The Lobster Broth (This will make a lot and you can freeze what you don't need. Alternatively, you could buy bottled clam juice.):
lobster shells from 2 or three lobsters
water to cover amply
2 celery sticks
1 or 2 carrots
a couple of bay leaves
To Make the Sauce (This makes more than you'll need for 1 pound of pasta, but you can freeze what you don't use.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup minced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, grated
1 celery stick, minced
3 cans cherry tomatoes (14 ounce cans) - or an equivalent amount of freshly roasted cherry tomatoes
1 cup tomato puree
½ cup dry white or red wine
1 teaspoon dried basil
dried red pepper flakes, to taste
¼ to ½ cup lobster broth
2 1½ pound lobsters
1 pound linguini or spaghetti
Buy two fresh lobsters and ask your fish monger to kill them while they are still alive.
If you don't have access to fresh lobster, you can always use frozen (and thawed) lobster tails, but fresh is always best.
Have the fish monger remove and crack the claws, and break off the tail, then cut it in half lengthwise.
You won't need the part with the lungs and there is so little meat in the legs (also impossible to extract), so don't bother with those.
Make the lobster broth by placing the lobster shells, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper in a large pot, covering amply with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a couple of hours and reduce slightly to let the flavors intensify.
Drain through a cheesecloth, discarding all but the broth.
You will need only a small part of this broth.
Save the rest to make other recipes, including lobster or shrimp bisque.
To Make the Sauce:
Sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft.
Add the garlic, celery and carrots and sauté over low heat until softened.
Add the tomatoes, the puree, the wine and seasonings and let simmer for about an hour.
Remove about 1½ cups - 2 cups of the sauce and set aside.
You may want to add some back to the pot later when you add the pasta, but you should have enough to put some in the freezer later for another recipe.
To the remainder of the sauce in the pan, add the lobster broth.
Simmer for another 20 minutes.
Add the lobster pieces to the sauce and cook with the sauce over low to medium heat, with the lid on.
While the lobster is cooking, cook the pasta in boiling (salted) water until al dente.
When the pasta is nearly cooked, remove the lobsters from the sauce and set aside on a covered dish.
Drain the pasta, and add it to the pot with the sauce.
Swirl the pasta in the sauce, allowing it to absorb all the flavors.
The pasta should have enough sauce to cover, but not be swimming in sauce.
If necessary, add some of the reserved sauce.
Place the pasta in a serving bowl or dish, and place the lobster pieces all around.
You’ve probably all heard about agriturismo, but do you know what pescaturismo is? The photo above might give you some clue, but if you’re still unsure, another hint comes from the word “pescare” which means “to fish” in Italian.
On our recent trip to Sardinia, we spent a day at sea aboard the Pescaturismo Sampey fishing boat with owners Gemi and Ignazina, (and their nephew Davide) as they hauled in their fishing nets and cooked the day’s catch for us and five other people.
You never know what’s going to appear as the nets get yanked from the sea. On this day it was lots of cuttlefish (similar to squid).
But there were also plenty of finned fish, such as red mullet and sea bass.
I was hoping for some octopus, which is what happened when I took this trip with Ignazina and Gemi 12 years ago, but the sole octopus that got snared in the net managed to escape while being hauled aboard.
There were still plenty of other fish for us to eat, and for Ignazina to remove from the net!
Gemi, Igna and Davide worked on extracting the fish from the net, cleaning and cooking them, as we were moored off the coast of a small island. Note the flag on the boat, which is the traditional flag of the island, featuring the four moors.
While they did all the work, we were free to jump off the boat, swim and snorkel in the beautiful clear, turquoise waters.
We were summoned back on board for lunch, starting with tomato bruschetta.
Several fish courses followed, cooked in Ignazina’s tiny galley kitchen, including braised cuttlefish.
She also made a seafood risotto, sprinkled with bottarga (fish roe) on top.
Ignazina used some of the whole fish for a seafood stew.
Gemi cooked the rest of the whole fish on a portable grill. We couldn’t have had seafood any fresher unless we had eaten them raw while we were in the water. All this accompanied by limitless wine, homemade limoncello and mirto (blueberry liqueur), and fruit for dessert.
If you’re ever in Southern Sardinia with a day to spare and are looking for something unusual to do, try a day out at sea with Gemi and Ignazina. Their friendliness and hospitality are a great calling card for this beautiful island.
Trying to keep the Sardinia glow alive back at home in New Jersey, I found this two pound sea bass at the local fish store, caught that morning off the coast of our summer home. I smeared the aluminum pan with olive oil, added some herbs inside the fish cavity, scattered some lemon slices and onions around the fish, then my husband cooked it on the outdoor grill.
Filleting a whole fish can be intimidating to some, but once you’ve done it, (directions here), it’s not so difficult.
Besides, when you buy the whole fish, you get the advantage of scooping out the fish cheeks (the small piece on the fork, below) – the most tender and succulent part of all.
I may be far from the crystal clear waters surrounding Sardinia, but I can conjure up those memories at home eating grilled fish, while I remember diving off the side of the Sampey boat.
This platter of cookies was the perfect ending to a fabulous meal at Agriturismo Sa Marighedda on our recent trip to Sardinia (recipe at the end of the post). If you don’t know what an agriturismo is, let me explain. It’s sometimes a place to stay where the owners live, often on a working farm. It’s sometimes a place where the owners invite the public in for a meal using products grown or raised on site.
In this case, it was a restaurant next door to the owner’s home, and everything was homemade, from the cured meats, to the wine and liqueurs and everything in between. They offer a multi-course meal for a grand total of about 30 euros, or about $40.00 U.S. per person – a real bargain, especially considering the quality of the food and they even offer seconds of all the courses — if you have room in your stomach.
The owners, Mara and Roberto, work hard to deliver an authentic Sardinian meal and make you feel like you’re sitting down to Sunday pranzo at their home. That is, if you’re in the habit of eating what seemed like non-stop courses – all of which were delicious. Families are most welcome here, and there’s even a playground for children who might feel a lightly antsy sitting at a table for two or three hours.
We were seated and immediately served a platter of homemade affettati (cured meats), olives and wine – all made in house and all wonderful.
Next came a frittata-like course, with zucchini dotting the egg and cheese mixture.
Then came savory pockets filled with seasoned raw tomatoes. Think of tomato bruschetta, but with a flaky pastry dough instead of toasted bread.
We moved on to primo piatto, or in this case, primi piatti, since there were two first courses — one of malloreddus with sausage (see my last blog post here for the recipe),
And another of culurgiones, a typical Sardinian pasta similar to a fat ravioli, but filled with potatoes, pecorino cheese and mint.
We could easily have eaten seconds on any of these foods, but we knew there was still plenty to come, including the main event — roast suckling pig — cooked on an open spit.
Sardinia is surrounded by water and we ate fish nearly every night, but the interior of the island especially, is known for its delicious roast pig, and we were not disappointed in this juicy and flavorful rendition.
Before the main dessert arrived, we were presented with these small and juicy plums. They were just the right palate cleanser before moving to sweeter offerings.
I also wanted to show you these breads that are also traditional Sardinian shapes, using scissors and other implements to cut the dough.
Here are some of the implements Mara uses to make the breads and the cookies:
Aren’t they lovely with those scalloped, fringed edges? After they’re shaped, they get deep-fried and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.
But we still weren’t finished after the cookie assortment. There was mirto (homemade blueberry liqueur) and grappa to taste. Fortunately, we didn’t have far to drive to get back to our hotel, after this abundant feast.
Thank you Mara and Roberto for your hospitality and the authentic flavor of Sardinian cuisine.
Mara was kind enough to give me her recipe for the ricotta ravioli (called culurgioneddus de arrescottu in Sardinian dialect) and you’ll find it below:
If there’s one dish that’s synonymous with Sardinia, it’s the pasta called “malloreddus.” They’re similar in shape to cavatelli or gnocchi, and in fact you can find them in Italian specialty food stores labeled “gnocchetti Sardi.” But unlike gnocchi, no potatoes are used — just flour and water. And unlike cavatelli, they’re made with semolina flour, not regular flour, giving them a more “toothy” feel.
Depending on whom you ask, the word malloreddus is a diminutive of a Southern Sardinian word “malloru,” which translates to “chubby baby calves.” Another explanation (that makes more sense to me) is that it comes from the Latin word “mallolus” meaning “morsel.” Either way, they are delicious.
You can make the pasta at home using flour, water (and sometimes strands of saffron), but if you’re not up to the challenge, you can buy them in stores or online too.
I ate malloreddus several times during our recent trip to Sardinia, including at an agriturismo, where they were one of two pasta dishes served as primi piatti. The malloreddus are on the right, and a specialty pasta stuffed with potato called “culurgiones” is on the left. More on the agriturismo and the wonderful meal we ate there in another post.
A classic Sardinian recipe, served at all special occasions or for family dinners, is malloreddus alla Campidanese, using saffron in the sauce, rather than in the dough itself, and sausage. In Sardinia, the dish is as ubiquitous as pecorino cheese, another essential ingredient when serving this pasta.
If you use store purchased malloreddus, the dish comes together quickly, and is a real crowd pleaser, even if the crowd is just you and your husband!
Before leaving Sardinian, I want to introduce you to another symbol of this beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the structure called “nuraghe.” Nuraghi (plural of nuraghe) were built between 1900 and 730 BCE (way back in the Bronze Age) by peoples of the Nuragic civilization, of which little is known. There’s no consensus on what these stone structures were used for, but many believe they were used for either military purposes, as homes for rulers or ordinary people, for religious rites or a combination of the above.
It is thought that there were once 10,000 Nuraghi scattered across Sardinia, and the remains of about 7,000 nuraghi can still be found. However, it’s dangerous to visit many on your own because of hazardous conditions. (You wouldn’t want to have huge boulders fall on you!) The one pictured below, Su Nuraxi at Barumini, in the south-central part of the island, is well maintained, however, and a guide takes you through the various levels describing the structure.
You’ll need little guidance however, to dig into this dish of malloreddus all campidanese, so I hope you give it a try:
For those of you receiving these posts by email, I’m sorry about the funky formatting of the last entry. Due to computer problems, I had to create the post on my iPad, and obviously, I found out there are limitations to that platform. Hopefully this post, written on my new computer (yea!) has come through without any problems in viewing. To read my last post about pecorino di Pienza cheese, go to the actual site, http://ciaochowlinda.com.
Continuing on the pecorino theme, if you’re looking for heaven on a plate, have I got a recipe for you. These light as a cloud potato dumplings, served with guanciale and arugula in a creamy pecorino cheese sauce, were so divine, I was wishing I ordered a full portion for myself, instead of splitting it with my husband.
We ate these gnocchi as our primo piatto on a recent trip to Sardinia, at the restaurant in our hotel, La Villa Del Re. After having tried a couple of other restaurants off site, we concluded that the hotel’s restaurant was unparalleled in its excellent cuisine. The chef here, Marco Granato, has a magic touch. Everything about this small hotel (adults only) along the Tyrrhenian Sea defines it as a special place, and one we can’t wait to go back to.
The food, the hospitality and the service are exceptional here and the views are stunning too. All the meals we enjoyed at this dreamy hotel along Sardinia’s Costa Del Rei were delicious and beautifully presented –
From breakfast with a view of the infinity swimming pool and the sea:
To the cakes and scones at the daily tea time:
To the toothsome homemade pastas:
To the main courses:
To the drinks and munchies by the sea.
The view from the private beach was pretty special too – with a sea that looked like it was painted by a watercolorist.
I’m still wondering if it was all just a dream. If so, don’t wake me up!
Just in case you can’t get to La Villa Del Re anytime soon, here’s that heavenly gnocchi recipe for you, courtesy of Marco Granato, La Villa Del Re’s talented chef.
More recipes and fun adventures from Sardinia to follow in future posts.
Boil the potatoes in water with the lemon peel for 20 minutes.
They should be cooked on the outside, but will finish cooking in the oven, which will also dry out some of the water.
After boiling, drain the potatoes and put them on a baking sheet and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
After cooking, pass the hot potatoes through a potato ricer or a sieve and spread them out on a cookie sheet.
Mix the riced potatoes with the flour, the fecola, the eggs and a bit of salt. Form the mixture into ropes, then cut each rope into small pieces to make the gnocchi.
To Make the Pecorino Cream Sauce:
Cut the cheese into small pieces, then put the butter and half the cheese into a pan over low heat until melted. Add the flour, making a roux, then add the milk, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the cheese and stir, letting the cheese melt, while adding salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk until reaching the desired consistency.
Cut the leek into small pieces.
Cut the guanciale into small pieces
Cook the leek in some olive oil at low heat for about 10 minutes. If it starts to turn dark, add some hot water or vegetable broth.
Add the guanciale until it's slightly crunchy, then add the thyme, salt and pepper.
Boil the gnocchi in salted water, then in a separate pan with the sauce, gently stir the gnocchi in the pecorino sauce. Add the cooked guanciale and the arugula and serve on warm plates.
When most people think of pecorino cheese, they think of pecorino romano, the sharp cheese from the region of Lazio that’s grated over pasta. But there are plenty of other places throughout Italy where pecorino cheese is made, and I visited two of them recently, one in Sicily and one in Tuscany. This post focuses on one artisanal maker of pecorino di Pienza – Giancarlo Più – in the beautiful region of Tuscany, near Mont’Amiata. (Photo below by Ben Morse)
The name pecorino derives from the word pecora in Italian, which means sheep. And Giancarlo, owner of caseificio Più, has plenty of them – 1,300 in fact, amid 300 acres of beautiful rolling pasture and farm lands.
He’s got sheepdogs too, but they’re not really there to guard the sheep, so much as to provide an early warning signal if other animals, like wild boar or foxes threaten the flock. (Photo by Ron DeCicco)
The sheep are divided into groups, and are shifted to various pastures on the property in order to graze. In the colder months, when fresh forage is not available, Giancarlo feeds them various grains such as corn and barley that were harvested earlier in the year.
The sheep are milked twice a day, using modern milking machines, and about 650 liters are collected each day.
In order to produce one kilo of cheese, it takes anywhere from 4 to 9 liters of milk, Giancarlo said. Nursing mothers and newborn babies are kept together for about a month, and their milk is not used for cheese, since it contains a high percentage of colostrum, the milk that is nutritious for newborn lambs. (Photo below by Ben Morse)
Giancarlo demonstrated how the cheese is made. First, a type of rennet is added (typically made from a young calf’s stomach), to help coagulate the milk.
The milk is heated at a temperature of about 36 degrees centigrade, and after about 20 minutes, it starts to gel. At this point, it has a mild, milky flavor, like unsweetened panna cotta. It normally gets heated longer than 20 minutes, but Giancarlo wanted to demonstrate the process for us, so he started breaking up the gelled milk into curds. To make a softer, fresh type of cheese, he makes large cuts.
For an aged cheese, the cuts are much smaller, almost the size of grains of rice. The larger cuts retain more of the liquid (or whey) which is good for soft cheeses. But an aged cheese needs to release a lot of water so it doesn’t spoil before it’s ready to be eaten.
The curdled milk is poured into plastic forms (reed baskets were traditionally used), and the liquid that remains behind – the whey – is used to make ricotta cheese.The first cheese that is formed is simply called the “cagliata semplice” and is without salt. It tastes very mild and can be eaten out of hand or used in recipes, including the one at the end of this blog post.The cheeses are then salted, and left to age, some for only a week, and others for as long as a year. The cheese tastes different each time he makes it because of all the variables, whether it’s the type of grass the sheep eat, or how soon the ewes have given birth. A ewe’s milk becomes richer and more filled with fat, the farther away from giving birth she is, leading to a more flavorful cheese.
“That’s the beauty of a small cheese producer,” said Giancarlo, in rapid-fire Italian. “You should have a surprise in your mouth every time you bite into a piece of cheese.”And what surprises were in store for us, as Giancarlo and his wife Sabrina provided us with an unforgettable afternoon of cheese tasting, accompanied by homemade salumi and pane carasau, or carta di musica (the flatbread of Sardinia), along with Sardinian wines and beer. Giancarlo instructed us to start with the youngest cheese, to take it in our hands, and sniff it, then to break it in half and smell it again.
It should give you an emotion every time you eat a piece of cheese, he said. “È una materiale viva. Ti può anche disturbare!” He said, explaining that it’s a living material that can even give you a “disturbing” sensation.Almost all the cheesemakers in this part of Tuscany are originally from Sardinia, he said, an island which also has a rich history of cheesemaking. Many Sardinians arrived in Tuscany during the 1950s and 1960s. “Sardinians found exceptional pasture lands and knew how to make the most of them,” he said. His parents emigrated from Sardinia about 20 years ago, he said.
Giancarlo was clearly smitten with farming in general, and showed us around the rest of the property, where he kept lots of other animals, including these cinta senese, the special breed of black pig with a stripe, used for making top quality prosciutto and other kinds of salumi, including those we sampled with Giancarlo.Just a few days earlier, a litter of baby pigs had been born, and Giancarlo let us hold the little sweeties, much to the delight of my daughter-in-law, Beth.
My niece’s daughter Emilia, in the arms of my son Michael, was a little skeptical of the baby goats at first, but quickly warmed to their presence.
Two of the animals with less than friendly appeal were these wild boar, although their appearance on Tuscan menus sure kept our interest.
We had such a fun-filled day and learned so much about not only cheese-making, but cheese tasting. The memories of this unforgettable experience will stay with us forever. Grazie mille, Giancarlo e Sabrina.And now for a recipe using some of that cheese. This recipe is made with the unsalted frsh sheep’s milk cheese, or cagliata semplice – not easy to find where I live, and maybe not where you live either. It is similar in taste and texture to Greek halloumi cheese, which you should have no trouble finding. The recipe is from my week long stay at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school in Sicily earlier this year, where chef Michael Sampson prepared these for us with the cheese from a local caseificio. Don’t dismiss this idea if you don’t think you like anchovies. It will convert you, I promise. They’re easy to make and will disappear in a flash. Just take some good bread and slice it, then place a slice of cheese (halloumi works fine if you don’t have fresh sheep’s milk cheese). Add a sliver of anchovy, a sprinkle of oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake in a very hot oven (425 degrees) for a few minutes until cheese is melted and edges of bread are toasted.
A trip to Sicily is eye-opening in so many senses, including its scenic seaside, mountainous interior, and numerous archeological sites. But Sicilian food is also sensational, including the plethora of street foods that you find in Palermo.
Arancine – stuffed and fried rice balls – are among my favorites . They’re so named because the round shape is reminiscent of an small orange, or an arancina (the singular). However, in some parts of Sicily, particularly the eastern part of the island, they’re called by the masculine noun – arancini. That could be because in the Sicilian dialect, the word for orange is aràncìu, which is masculine, like arancino (singular of arancini). You’re also more likely to find them in a conical, not spherical shape, in the eastern part of the island.
However you call them, these delicious delicacies date back to the 10th century, when Sicily was under Arab dominion, and saffron was introduced to the island. Saffron is used to flavor the rice in this recipe.
The most common type of arancina is stuffed with a meat ragù and peas, but variations abound, including my favorite, with cheese and ham as the center. The addition of béchamel, added after the béchamel has been chilled overnight and you’re able to spoon it, makes the filling even more gooey and melted after it comes out of the fryer.
We set to work making them under the guidance of Chef Michael Sampson, at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, and started by wetting our hands in water to make shaping a little easier. Like the béchamel, the rice had been cooked and cooled ahead of time too.
After you’ve spread and flattened some rice on your hands, place some béchamel, a bit of cheese and bits of ham in the center, then use your fingers and hands to shape the rice into a sphere. Keep working it, and adding a bit more rice, if necessary, to close any gaps.
Then roll it gently into a combination of bread crumbs and flour.
Fry in hot oil until browned.
Wait a few minutes to bite into it so you don’t burn your mouth.
Author: Michael Sampson from Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School
cold, cooked arborio rice to which you have added some saffron, a little parmesan cheese and butter and salt to taste.
For the Béchamel Sauce:
2½ tablespoons of butter (40 grams)
⅓ cup flour (40 grams)
1 cup milk (1/2 liter)
salt, pepper to taste
½ cup parmesan cheese (50 grams)
To stuff the center of the arancine:
provola or mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
small bits of ham (prosciutto cotto or cooked ham)
hot oil to fry the arancine
00 flour (or regular flour)
Prepare the cooked rice ahead of time and leave it to cool.
To make the béchamel:
Melt the butter and add the flour. Cook the two together a couple of minutes until sizzly, then add the milk until you get the consistency you want. Then add salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. It should be on the thick side, and it's best if you let it rest in the refrigerator overnight.
Spread a large spoonful of the cooked rice in the palm of your hand. It helps if you wet your hands first.
Take a spoonful of the béchamel and some of the diced ham and provoke or mozzarella cheese and place in the center of the rice that you have spread out in your other hand.
Using your fingers and palm, shape the rice around the filling, into a sphere, covering all the filling.
Roll the shaped arancina in a mixture of half breadcrumbs and half semolina flour.
Fry in oil about 190 degrees until browned on the outside.
Among other things, Sicily is famous for cannoli, those crunchy, ricotta filled delicacies that are ubiquitous in Palermo and throughout the island. So it was only natural that we would be making them in one of our classes at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school.
I have a real weakness for cannoli and there are plenty of good ones to be had near where I live in the Northeast U.S., but I never buy a cannolo (singular of cannoli) that’s already filled, unless it’s done right in front of me. There’s nothing worse than a soggy cannolo shell. (Well, actually there are plenty of worse things, but you get the point.) Eating a soggy cannolo is just not worth the calories.
But eating them in Sicily with sweet, creamy fresh sheep’s milk ricotta that was just made, and shells that were crunchy yet tender, well, that’s a whole different ball game.
Don’t be afraid to make them at home. I made them for the first time decades ago, when I was a neophyte in the kitchen, and they’re not hard at all. If you can make pasta, you can make cannoli. It’s a similar procedure. You do need metal tubes to shape them, however, or if you’re handy with a saw, you can make your own forms from wooden dowels.
By the way, for the word nerds out there, the word cannolo is a diminutive of the Italian word “canna,” which means “reed” or “tube.” There’s a famous Italian book called “Canne Al Vento,” (“Reeds in the Wind”) written by the only Italian woman to win a Nobel prize in literature — Grazia Deledda.
But back to the cannoli directions. The first thing to do is mix the dough, then knead it, and run it through a pasta machine at increasingly thin settings. If you’re a real purist and you’ve got strong arms, you can roll it by hand with a rolling pin.
Then cut it into circle shapes, using either a large circle cutter, or use a small plate as a template and cut around the perimeter with a knife. Then roll around the metal or wooden form, sealing with some water, overlapping slightly.
Fry them in hot oil until golden brown, using an oil with little flavor, like peanut or canola oil.
Drain and cool them, then fill with the ricotta and chocolate chip mixture. You can use a small spoon to do this, but if you have a large quantity, a pastry bag speeds things along.
Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and bits of candied orange peel and/or chopped pistachios, and watch them disappear.
candied orange peel, chopped pistachios, to garnish
Make the cannoli shells:
Combine the flour, lard, sugar, sauce and slat in a bowl and mix together with your hands.
Add the vinegar, bit by bit, and knead until the dough comes together. The dough should be quite stiff.
Set a pasta machine to the widest setting.
Take a piece of dough and run it through the machine 7 to 10 times at that setting, folding the dough in half each time before rolling it again.
When the dough is very even, continue to roll it through the machine, once at each setting without folding, until you reach the next to last setting. (The dough should be very even and silky).
Lay the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and with a lightly floured 4 inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds (use a small plate as a template if you don't have a cookie cutter)
Wrap the dough rounds around metal or wooden cannoli molds, dab the edge with egg, and press to seal.
Repeat with the remaining dough, retooling the scraps.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a wide, heavy pot over medium high heat.
Add the cannoli shells in batches and fry until the shells have become bubbly, crisp, and browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
With tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain.
Cool and remove the molds carefully.
To Make the ricotta cream:
Beat together the ricotta and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the chocolate chips, if desired. With a small spoon, fill the cannoli shells, then decorate with the candied orange peel and pistachios, and dust with powdered sugar.