Fish, Lactose free, Veggies

White Asparagus Soup with Scallops and Prosciutto Crudo di Parma

I’ve read an article on the Huffington Post titled “Everything you Need To Know About White Asparagus”. Now, the article wasn’t so thorough as it promised, but I liked the definition of this lovely spring ingredient as the “vampire of the vegetable world”. Not only it highlights its mysterious nature, but also its rarity.

As you may know, white asparagus are not white just because. They become white after a forced procedure where they are grown underground. The absence of sunlight prevents the formation of chlorophyll and ta-daa! No green color on them. But there’s more. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t explain how it happens, but they also become more tender and sweeter than normal asparagus.

Plus, they are SO fancy! White asparagus are certainly among the fanciest ingredients you can possibly eat during springtime. I’ve found an even fancier way to cook them. There’s a soup (dah..), but there’s also Prosciutto crudo di Parma (look here for another way to serve it) and sweet scallops. In a word, a real orgasmic food experience.

I’ve tried the combination white asparagus-prosciutto crudo in Berlin, three years ago. At the beginning of Spring, farmers markets proliferate with these delicacies. In the baskets, white asparagus are close to ready-made hollandaise sauce and already cut and packed prosciutto.

Apart from the dubious quality of the last two ingredients, the idea is very nice! Boiled asparagus served with high quality prosciutto and homemade hollandaise sauce is a fantastic recipe! So, try it too.

Now, here’s my soup. Very simple, very fancy, friends will love you AND this dish. Maybe, not in this order.

White Asparagus Soup with Scallops and Prosciutto Crudo di Parma (4 servings)

1 big bunch of white asparagus

2 spring onions

2 big potatoes

1/2 lt. of vegetable broth

150 gr. Prosciutto crudo di Parma

4 scallops

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Bring the broth to a boil. In the meantime, thinly cut the spring onions and the potatoes. Begin to cook them in a large casserole with 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil. While they cook, cut the white asparagus into small pieces, then add them to the other vegetables and stir.

Add some salt and pepper, and let the vegetables cook for 5 minutes. Then, add the broth and turn the stove down to a minimum. Let it cook for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Add salt if necessary, then blend the vegetables to obtain a creamy soup.

In a small pan, roast the prosciutto slices on both sides – they should become very crispy. Put the slices on a kitchen towel, then roast the scallops in the same pan. They will roast in the grease left by the prosciutto (yum!). Cook the scallops for 3 minutes on each side, until they’re nicely browned.

Time to serve! Pour the soup in small bowls, then add two or three slices of prosciutto, one scallop for each bowl and some black pepper on top. Lovely!

Cookbooks and Books about Cooking

Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential – Why You Should Read It Now

I can’t remember where I bought Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I loved the book so much that I like thinking I found it in a little bookstore in Venice. But Amazon seems more plausible. On the first page, there’s a creepy dedication “Happy Birthday Rhys”  with a drawn knife. So it surely comes from abroad. And I hope Rhys is well and safe.

I saw Anthony Bourdain for the first time on TV. He played this grumpy American chef – basically, himself – on a nice show called No Reservations. In each episode he traveled in a different country, tasted charming, exotic dishes and dined in AMAZING restaurants. In other words, a thinner and less friendly Andrew Zimmern who wasn’t forced to eat raw monkey brain.

Good for him.

But only after I’ve started reading Kitchen Confidential I realized that Bourdain is a real badass. A guy who says you only need a professional knife to cut everything you need – tomatoes, mushrooms, an entire pork. A guy who got lost in drugs at a young age, then saved himself through cooking.

A cook, a chef, a voracious eater. Kitchen Confidential is both Bourdain’s autobiography and his very personal, very true ode to food and cooking. I loved it. It’s politically incorrect and sincere. We are so used to romanticized representations of the lives of chefs, that reading such a disenchanted description can be shocking. But also enlightening.

Enlightening like the food epiphany he had as a child, while eating his first oyster in a tiny village on the Arcachon Bay, France:

I took it in my hand, tilted the shell back into my mouth as instructed by the by now beaming Monsieur Saint-Jour, and with one bite and a slurp, wolfed it down. It tasted of seawater … of brine and flesh … and somehow … of the future.

I had the same epiphany last September, when I was traveling the French coast with my husband. We took a break from a long drive in a small oyster village in Arcachon and had oysters and rose wine at 4 in the afternoon. The bay was calm, the breeze gentle. There was nothing more perfect in the world. In that moment I understood Bourdain’s statement “food has power”.

The book is divided as if it were a menu, from “appetizer” to “coffee and a cigarette”. As in a menu, each section tells a different stage in a process of growth. In this case, that of Bourdain’s. The years at CIA, the first traumatic experiences in fast food kitchens, the crews hazing the youngest members, the drugs and its career in New York.

Each aspect of the lives of cooks is analyzed and described in this book with no mercy. It’s painfully true. You can really feel the suffering and sacrifices of these people of the night. They’re modern pirates, jailbirds, they can save you from a robbery in an alley, then cook a delicate soufflé.

If you’re looking for tips on where and when to eat, this is the book for you. If you want to know the best days to buy fish at the market, read it. If you are curious about the managing aspects of fancy restaurants, start now. If the idea of becoming a chef tickles you, be ready. This book will discourage you.

But if you’re already desperately in love with food and cooking, if you have a profound respect for the silent army in restaurant kitchens, then this book will become your bible. The words to which you will return again and again whenever you feel like reading something that amazes you like the first oyster.

Gluten free, Rice

Risotto with Orange Juice and Taleggio Cheese

After a long -forced- break from my beloved Books and Crumbs, I’m back on this everyday cooking diary with a new recipe! This time it’s risotto, babe. My true love, my one and only risotto, seasoned with an unexpected mélange of winter and summer flavors.

It’s the beginning of springtime, and the air is filled with the overwhelming perfume of wisteria and mimosa. I wonder how can people possibly say that Venice stinks. It really doesn’t. You should try walking by the gardens of Palazzo Franchetti in these sweet evenings of April. Jasmine, roses, the salty aroma that comes from the lagoon.

This time of year is one of the loveliest for cooking. First of all, there are amazing fresh ingredients to have fun with – asparagus, fresh wild herbs, edible flowers and several firsts of the season. Moreover, I love mixing winter products with the tender flavors of springtime. I think it’s a good way to create a tasty bridge between the two seasons!

My mom gave me this recipe two days ago, and I have to say it has been a great success. I know oranges are winter fruits, but I usually connect their fresh an sour flavor with summer. Taleggio, on the other hand, is a creamy, soft cheese that we use with winter ingredients. Some examples – with Trevisano radicchio, polenta, Porcini mushrooms or sausages.

The combination of fresh orange juice and Taleggio cheese is surprising! Use the orange juice, together with chicken broth, to cook the risotto. Then add the cheese in the final phase of the cooking process, when you stir the risotto – off the fire – to give it its characteristic creamy texture.

Risotto with Orange Juice and Taleggio Cheese (4 servings)

400 gr. rice Arborio or Carnaroli

2 oranges (juice and zest)

1 lt. chicken broth

200 gr. Taleggio cheese

30 gr. Parmesan cheese

40 gr. butter

black pepper

sea salt

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Bring the chicken broth to a boil. In the mean time, melt the butter in a large casserole. When it’s completely melted, add the rice and brown it for 4 minutes.

In the meantime, zest the oranges, then squeeze out the juice. Add half of the zest and half of the orange juice to the rice. Begin to add the hot chicken broth and keep stirring the rice – stirring all the time will give to your risotto a nice, creamy texture.

Alternate orange juice and chicken broth while cooking the risotto, which should cook for about 20 minutes. The rice should remain al dente. 

When the rice is done, add a small piece of butter, the Parmesan cheese and the Taleggio cheese, off the fire. Keep stirring, then add some salt – if necessary – and a generous quantity of freshly grounded black pepper. Add the orange zest on top, to serve.

 

 

Pasta, Veggies

Bigoli de Bassan with Anchovies and Savoy Cabbage Cream

It’s always a pleasure to buy veggies from a boat. Every Friday night I wait for the boat that comes from Saint Erasmus island. I wait at a bacaro – a traditional Venetian bar -, sipping a glass of wine, chatting with friends, enjoying the beginning of the weekend.

You don’t know which vegetables you’ll find in your bag. You just wait for the arrival of the little boat, which bravely crosses the lagoon at night, full of wonderful organic veggies. Of course, not knowing what to expect makes the whole thing even more special!

When I made shopping for veggies last Friday, I found a beautiful Savoy cabbage in my bag. I’m serious when I say that Savoy cabbage is just perfect with Bigoli de Bassan and anchovies. It’s a true love affair.

You don’t know what Bigoli de Bassan is, right? Don’t feel ashamed. It’s quite normal to ignore its existence in the enormous variety of Italian pasta. Nevertheless, it’s never too late to start filling this gap!

Bigoli de Bassan is the typical pasta of Bassano del Grappa, a beautiful village near Venice. It’s quite similar to spaghetti, but thicker, and it’s made with a special press called bigolaro. Durum wheat semolina, water and nothing more. These simple ingredients contain all the culinary traditions of the Venetian region.

Savoy cabbage and anchovies will do the rest. The salty presence of the lagoon finds a perfect balance with the sweetness of the veggies grown on Saint Erasmus island. Still tender and light green.

I love this dish. It feels like home.

Bigoli de Bassan with Anchovies and Savoy Cabbage Cream (4 servings)

400 gr. Bigoli de Bassan

7-8 anchovies in oil

2 cloves of garlic

40 gr. breadcrumbs

400 gr. Savoy cabbage

2 shallots

150 ml of whole milk

extra virgin olive oil

black pepper

sea salt

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Bring a huge pot full of water to a boil and salt it. In the meantime, thinly cut the Savoy cabbage and the shallots. Brown them in a large pan with 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil, then add salt and black pepper. Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes, or until they become tender.

Blend the Savoy cabbage and the shallots while adding some warm milk. You should obtain a creamy texture, not too liquid. Taste the Savoy cabbage cream and add more salt or pepper if needed.

Start cooking the pasta. Meanwhile, take a large pan, add 2 tbs of oil, the garlic and the anchovies. They should melt into the oil. Add more oil if you need it. In a small pan, toast the breadcrumbs for 3-4 minutes.

After 10 minutes, drain the pasta and add it to the anchovies sauce. Add some cooking water and keep stirring the pasta while it ends its cooking time absorbing the sauce. When it’s still al dente, add the breadcrumbs.

To serve it, pour some Savoy cabbage cream on the bottom of the plate, then create a nice nest of Bigoli on top of it. A few drops of oil, some black pepper, and you’re ready to serve it!

Fish, Veggies

Sea Bass in Salt and Herbs Crust with Sicilian Salad

Walking by in the morning and say hello to the fish seller of the Giudecca island is one of the thing I love the most. Fresh sea bass, sea bream, black cuttlefish and precious shellfish look at me from the counter. They come from the Venice lagoon. Their marine, clean smell permeates the street and mingles with the salty wind from the Giudecca canal. And that’s one of the best thing about living in Venice.

Baking in a salt crust is an ancient cooking technique. The salt insulates the food, cooking it gently and evenly. That’s the reason why it works so well with such a delicate product as fish. By protecting the sea bass with the salt crust, the fish will stay moist and fragrant. The addition of herbs and lemon zest to the crust enhances the fresh flavor of the sea bass, without altering it.

In my opinion, there is no need to add anything else! Just a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, some black pepper, and that’s it! I have decided to serve it with a fresh Sicilian salad with fennel and oranges, and simple boiled potatoes. Enjoy this healthy and delicious dish!

 

 

Sea Bass in Salt and Herbs Crust 

1 kg. table salt

1 kg. cooking salt

sea bass (1 kg. for 2 persons)

4 egg whites

1 clove garlic

1 lemon zest

an aromatic bouquet with: rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley and bay laurel

black pepper

 

Sicilian Salad 

1 fennel                                                                                        sicilian salad

1 orange

black olives

a pinch of chili pepper

sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Preheat the oven at 200°C (392°F).

Let’s begin by preparing the crust. Thinly slice the herbs, together with the clove of garlic and the lemon zest. Keep 1 table spoon of sliced herbs aside: you will need it to season the fish. Whisk the egg whites and add the herbs. Then add the salt to the mixture and stir. You’ll obtain a grainy crust.

Gut and clean your seabass. Brush and season the inside with the herbs. Now take a large baking tray and cover it with baking paper. Spread half of the salt crust on the baking tray, following the shape of the fish. Then put the fish on top of it and cover it completely with the rest of the salt mixture. Gently press it.

Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. Break the crust with a small hammer and serve the sea bass fillets with Sicilian salad and some simple boiled potatoes, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper.

For the salad Thinly slice the fennel and the orange, previously peeled. Season the vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of chili and add some black olives.

 

Bread

Buttermilk Sweet Cornbread Recipe

Southern American comfort food has always attracted me. Maybe because I was so fond (and I am still) of Southern Gothic literature. Or maybe because the so called “soul food” reminds me the way Italian people see and experience food. I’ve tried cooking fried green tomatoes, gravy and pecan pies. But I’m particularly proud of this buttermilk cornbread.

My friend Cara lives in San Diego, but she’s originally from Roanoke, Virginia. She still misses Southern cooking so much! And I mean family cooking. The cooking you instantly connect with memories and traditions from the past. Eating warm cornbread on the porch is definitely one of her dearest childhood memories. Spread with butter, of course!

I want to share this recipe for Cara, but also for me. Southern United States and the Emilia Romagna region in Northern Italy have never been closer. Two foodies, amazing comfort food and great cooking traditions to share.

Traditional Buttermilk Cornbread 

115 gr. unsalted butter

130 gr. caster sugar

2 eggs

250 ml. buttermilk

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp sea salt

180 gr. corn flour

130 gr. all-purpose flour

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Preheat the oven at 175°C (375°F) and grease a 20 cm pan with some butter.

Melt the butter in a small casserole. When it’s completely melted, pour it into a large bowl and add the sugar. Mix, then add one egg at a time. Finally, pour the buttermilk and give it a gentle whisk. If you don’t have the buttermilk, add a tsp of lemon juice to simple whole milk. Rest for 30 minutes before using it.

At this point, add the flours, then the salt and the baking soda. Then, pour the mixture into the greased pan, then bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

You can cut the cornbread in squares. Better to serve it warm.

 

 

Meat

Roasted Duck with Onions and Pomegranate Sauce

This roasted duck with pomegranate sauce is a real best seller. It always surprises my guests, even those who are not so fond of duck meat. I’ve decided to share this version on the blog, but you can choose other kinds of meat. Chicken, but also guinea fowl or turkey. The final result will be great in any case. Sweet, sour and with a mild oriental touch.

I’m lucky enough to have wild pomegranate trees in my garden. Their fruits are quite small and they produce a sour juice. Definitely sourer than the juice obtained from the fruits you buy at the supermarket. Moreover, you can also find a delicious pomegranate juice from Lebanon. It’s sweeter and there’s no need to squeeze the fruits yourself! There’s no right way or wrong way in this case. Sweet or sour – it all depends on your taste!

If you want to try with fresh pomegranates, here’s a trick you can use to obtain the juice. Cut the pomegranates in half, then squeeze them with a orange juicer as if you were squeezing an orange or lemon. It works! And I assure you that your kitchen will not resemble a crime scene!

I have decided to serve it with a fresh salad and some roasted potatoes, but rice is fine too. Use basmati rice, or jasmine rice to give it an extra Middle Eastern touch!

Roasted Duck with Onions and Pomegranate Sauce

1 duck ( 2 kg weight)

the juice of 3-4 pomegranates

1 onion

a small glass of cognac or brandy

extra virgin olive oil

sparkling water

sea salt

black pepper

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Cut the duck into pieces and take off the skin. Thinly slice the onion and let it brown gently in a large casserole. Add salt and pepper. When the onion is soft and transparent, add the pieces of meat. Turn the heat up and brown them on all sides.

At this point, add ¾ of the pomegranate juice and a small glass of cognac, or brandy. Let the liquid evaporate almost completely. Now pour some cold sparkling water and the rest of the pomegranate juice on the meat.

Turn the heat down, cover the casserole and let the duck cook gently for at least two hours. Mix the pieces of duck every 30 minutes and add some more water if it’s necessary.

When the meat is done, let the liquid evaporate until it turns into a creamy sauce. Pour this wonderful sauce on the meat, and serve it with some pomegranate seeds, a fresh salad and roasted potatoes.

Fish

Scallops with Vodka White Sauce, Almonds and Fried Croutons

I’m a huge fan of all kinds of shellfish. If you want to eat fish for dinner, there’s nothing faster and easier to cook. Plus, they offer a great variety of different flavors and textures. And they always bring me back to childhood. I ate these scallops for the first time when I was ten years old. And I kept cooking them since then.

There used to be a nice little restaurant close to home some years ago. It was called Osteria dei Ricordi. The chef was Livia, an old lady with a strong passion for French cooking. She was a fantastic chef, and I still think her to be one of the best pastry chefs in the world. Her creations were a revelations.

Livia passed away some years ago, but her recipes didn’t get lost. My mom, a great cook herself, learned a lot from her. Livia loved giving her her recipes and cooking secrets. I think she saw her as a sort of daughter. So this is the story behind these scallops! I’m sure that Livia’s touch will reach you as soon as you taste them.

The presence of the vodka is so eighties-style, I know! But it’s perfect with the sweetness of the scallops and the creamy texture of the white sauce. The fried croutons and the almonds give to this dish the final crunchy touch!

 

Scallops with Vodka White Sauce, Almonds and Fried Croutons (4 servings) 

4 scallops, with shells

40 gr. almonds, thinly sliced

40 gr. butter

30 gr. all-purpose flour

400 ml. milk

a pinch of nutmeg

a pinch of sea salt

40 gr. breadcrumbs

a shot glass of vodka

extra butter to grease the shells

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Carefully wash the scallops from the sand. Dry the shells with a cloth. Now it’s time for the white sauce. Heat up the milk with a pinch of nutmeg. In another pot, melt the butter. When it’s completely melted, add the flour and stir vigorously. Cook the mixture for 2 minutes while you keep stirring.

Now add the warm milk and mix with a whisk to avoid clumps. The white sauce should cook for 5 minutes more or less, or until it grows together. Keep beating the sauce. At this point, add a pinch of salt and the shot glass of vodka. Stir until you obtain a creamy sauce and let it cool.

Preheat the oven at 200° C (392° F). Now take the shells and grease them. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on them. Gently put the scallops each one in its greased shell. Add a pinch of salt, then pour the white sauce on them.

In a pan, roast the almonds without burning them. Pay attention, since they’re very thin and they burn easily. When they have a nice brown color, take them away from the pan.

Bake the scallops in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until they are slightly brown on top. Add the roasted almond. You can serve them with croutons fried in a pan with some butter.

Bread, Lactose free

Homemade Traditional Istrian Bread

I came to know the Istrian region three years ago, when I met my future husband. He grew up in Pula, a beautiful town on the Croatian riviera surrounded by Roman ruins, woods and a breathtaking sea. Not bad at all. But you can’t discover Istria without losing yourself through its culinary traditions. The confluence of hills and coasts has set the foundations for an eclectic cooking of land and sea. Prsut (ham), great cheese, game and mushrooms, but also fish and vegetables. What connects all these fabulous ingredients is homemade Istrian bread.

You will find it in every konoba, pekara or house you’ll visit in Istria. Warm, soft and homemade. Istrian hosts generally serve it to welcome you at their table, with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. It’s simply delicious. You could go on eating it with Istrian Prsut, pickles, olives and cheese forever. And nothing would stop you, but the thought of all the other dishes that you really need to try!

This recipe comes from an old book on Istrian traditional cooking. The result is identical to the many loaves I’ve tasted in Pula and in the surrounding villages. Try it at home, and enjoy the taste of Istria!

Homemade Traditional Istrian Bread

1 kg. all-purpose flour

25 gr. brewer’s yeast

250 ml extra virgin olive oil

20 gr. caster sugar

15 gr. sea salt

600 ml. warm water

 

LET’S DO IT!

Mix the warm water, the oil, the sugar and the brewer’s yeast in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. Let it rest for five minutes, or until the yeast is completely melted.

Add the liquid to the flour, then add the salt and gently mix. You will probably need more flour to knead the dough, but the quantity depends on the humidity of the ingredients. The dough should be very soft and smooth, with a good level of hydration. Knead vigorously for ten minutes, then let it rise in a large bowl for two hours, covered with a wet dishcloth.

At this point, knead the dough once again for one minute, then shape it in 4 loaves. Let them rise, covered, for one more hour.

Bake the loaves for 45 minutes at 200°C (392°F). To test if they’re ready, tap the bottom. If they sound hollow, they’re done!

Bread

Bacon, Peppers and Gruyère Cake

I know lots of people who dislike peppers, especially when raw. They could be stodgy and their skin is difficult to eliminate properly when cooked. But this wonderful, tasty cake has made me change my mind on peppers. And I have to say that I’m not the only one who fell in love with it!

Christmas holidays mean only one thing: a huge amount of left-overs. Small pieces of this and that linger in your refrigerator for days. No clue how to use them. Well, this cake is certainly a good way to give them a good ending! You only need some Swiss cheese – or gruyère -, bacon and red peppers, previously grilled.

The only rule to follow to obtain the best result is using top quality ingredients. This cake is so simple that it really needs the best bacon, peppers and cheese to become unforgettable. I’ve recently made it for a Masterchef-watching night with some friends, and they loved it. Just be sure to warm it a little bit before serving it cut into slices.

Bacon, Peppers and Gruyère Cake

4 eggs

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 glass of dry white wine

100 gr. grated gruyère

200 gr. all-purpose flour

16 gr. baking powder

3 red and yellow peppers

sea salt

black pepper

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Preheat the oven at 210° C (410°F). Put the peppers on a baking tray and let them roast for about 20 minutes, or until they are puffed up. Then take them out of the oven and put them in a plastic bag. Let them cool completely. This will help you peel them!

Cut the bacon into small cubes and roast them in a pan for 5 minutes. Stir the eggs, the wine and the oil in a large bowl. At this point add the grated cheese, salt, pepper, the flour and the baking powder. Gently mix, then add the bacon and the roasted peppers, cut into small pieces.

Grease a rectangular mold with butter and pour the mixture in. Bake for 45 minutes. Use a toothpick to test if the cake it’s done. Poke the top of the cake in the middle with it. If it comes up dry, your cake is ready!