Monday, October 30, 2006

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Ahhh, the lovely fall pumpkins in Italy. They’re just so pretty you can’t resist bringing one home from the market. Actually, to be honest, that’s a load of crap. I use canned pumpkin puree whenever I can. Italian pumpkins are absolutely beautiful! But I wish I had my camera this morning to document just how hard they are to cook with (American ones are no better, mind you). A vegetable seller was cutting one of these beauties open with a saw. No kitchen knife here, my dears, but a hardware store, lions’ tooth saw; and it didn’t look like she was having an easy time with it, either. So forgive me my lack of foodie purity. I’ll go with the canned pumpkin every time. (Got one more can left for Thanksgiving pumpkin pie!)
This is a recipe I followed almost to the letter from an online cooking site. The only thing I changed were the spices. They promised “cookies” which made me think I was going to get small, crunchy, disc-shaped things. What I got were entirely pleasant, soft, moist cake puffs. They’re not like cookies but more like little pieces of pumpkin-spice cake. Not bad at all, though, really and just in time for Halloween.

1 cup softened butter
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon (cassia)
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground Mexican cinnamon (true cinnamon, not cassia, tastes like Big Red gum)

Take the butter out of the fridge and let soften at room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Cream the butter with the brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg and pumpkin and incorporate. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all the spices. Pour the flour mixture 1/3 at a time into the larger bowl and mix just until everything is incorporated. Music to mix pumpkin-spice cookie dough with: “Every Day Is Halloween” by Gothic rockers, Ministry.
Drop rounded tablespoons-full of the dough 1 inch apart (they hardly spread) onto cookie sheets that have been greased or covered with parchment paper. Bake for 18 minutes or until the cookies have set but not browned. Cool on racks then enjoy with eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog (Macbeth: Act IV, Scene 1.) Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Minestrone With Fresh Borlotti Beans and Farro

This vegetarian soup calls for only water as the base liquid, so we have some tactics to make it really flavorful: 1. the rind from a used piece of parmesan cheese infuses flavor into the soup as it cooks, 2. herbs like bay, rosemary and thyme spice it up and 3. a “Batutto” of aromatic vegetables browns in olive oil so that, when the water is added, you already have a delicious golden broth. I have tailored the ingredient list to my own tastes, omitting the canonical green beans (yeck!) and zucchini (not in season here) and replacing them with fennel and dried Chinese mushrooms. Rather than pasta or rice, I have used the Italian wheat-like grain “farro” (a.k.a. emmer or spelt) which I find hearty and delicious. Finally, I couldn’t resist buying some fresh borlotti beans at the market, so I’m using those. If you plan to use dried beans, be sure to soak them the night before and cook them separately to tenderness before adding to this recipe. Minestrone is a very flexible dish. Add to or subtract from the soup ingredient list as you wish.

Serves A Small Army
Ingredients of the batutto:
2 carrots
1 large onion
2 celery ribs
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup olive oil
5 dried Chinese mushrooms

Soup Ingredients
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp chopped rosemary
piece of Parmesan cheese rind
5 dried Chinese mushrooms (optional), diced
2 carrots, in a small dice
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup farro
1 leek, halved longways, carefully rinsed and horizontally sliced thin
2 celery ribs, diced
3 savoy cabbage leaves, sliced thin
5 leaves of Tuscan kale (a.k.a. dinosaur kale, cavolo lacinato), sliced thin
2 lbs fresh borlotti beans in their beautiful pink-and-white pods, shelled
1 sm or ½ large fennel bulb
1 28-oz can of chopped tomatoes (or peeled whole tomatoes that you squoosh between your fingers)
½ tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Serving accompaniments:
High quality extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top and Parmesan cheese to grate

Place the carrots, onion, celery and garlic from the batutto ingredient list into a food processor and process until you have a paste (in Italian, a batutto). Heat the oil in a large stock pot and add the paste. Heat the oil in a very large frying pan or a wide sauce pan over medium heat. Add the vegetable batutto and cook until all the vegetable liquid has evaporated and the mixture starts to fry in the oil. Meanwhile pulverize the Chinese mushrooms in a spice grinder and add the mushroom powder to the batutto. Once the batutto begins to brown, add 8 cups of water, the parmesan rind, the bay leaf and rosemary and bring to the boil. Add the diced carrots and mushrooms (from the “Soup Ingredients” list) cook for 5 minutes, add the potatoes and farro, cook for another 5 minutes. Add the leek, celery, cabbage, kale, fresh borlotti beans, fennel and can of tomatoes and cook for another 30 minutes. Music to cook all hose vegetables by: "Meat is Murder" by the Smiths. If your soup is getting too solid, add water. Check for salt periodically, add thyme, salt and pepper. When the 30 minutes is up, the soup is ready for a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of parmesan but next-day leftovers will be even better!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rick Bayless’s Arroz Gratinado. Well, Sort Of

I harvested a boatload of poblano peppers from my balcony garden this afternoon and was so excited to use them again. The fact that they are totally unavailable here makes them so precious. The previous foray was a chicken dish with poblano crema and this time it’s going to be an Italianized version of Rick Bayless’s Tomato-Rice Casserole With Poblanos and Melted Cheese, succinctly termed in Spanish, "Arroz Gratinado". The idea is a poblano-tomato sauce layered over rice and topped with melty cheese that gets brown and bubbly in the oven. Sounds great! Thing is I have none of the called for Chihuahua cheese, Mexican oregano or medium-grain rice, so I’m winging this with Italian “fontal” cheese, Greek oregano and arborio. How bad could it be? (she brightly asks with barely repressed doubt and fear)

Here’s my version of the recipe:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large white onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp oregano
12 ozs roasted, peeled, seeded poblano peppers, sliced into thin strips
1 14 oz can of tomatoes
2 tsps salt
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup grated fontal cheese

In a frying pan, brown the onion in the oil (about 5 minutes) add the oregano and garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the peppers and the tomatoes. Cook another 5 minutes until the tomato juices thicken. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt.
Boil the arborio in abundant water (at least 6 cups) for 10 minutes until the rice is partially cooked. Drain and let cool. Music to make Italo-Mexicano food by: the multi-ethnic-but-mainly-Mexican-music-playing band, Ozomatli (named after the mischeivious monkey on the Aztec calendar)
Preheat the oven to 350F Spread ½ of the rice onto a greased 8”x8” baking dish. Top with ½ of the poblano-tomato sauce and sprinkle with ½ the cheese. Cover with remaining rice, tomato mixture and cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes, let cool slightly and serve.

Well, I have to say that, without having tried Bayless's version, this one is solidly good. The creaminess of the arborio, I think, helped actually. My only problem was that I had no 8"x8" pan so this went into my larger cast iron skillet, so the dish was flatter and more spread-out. But, no sticking, no problem. In this moment of health concerns with teflon, I should be using the cast iron more.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Potato-Ricotta Salata Gnocchi

Gnocchi are a comforting cold-weather dish. They comfort in 3 ways: 1. The lazy afternoon gnocchi rolling process s comforting. 2. The putting-up-for-the-winter idea is as well. If you make a double batch, and freeze these gnocchi, you will have made for quick and satisfying lunches later on. I tend to fill up my freezer in the fall with ravioli, gnocchi and pierogi, among other things. The abundance makes me feel good somehow, safe. 3. To eat, gnocchi with their soft pillowy-ness, are the definition of comfort food, soft and tasty and warm. The strategy for light gnocchi is to mix in the minimum amount of flour while still having a solid, non-sticky consistency, so the drier the potatoes, the better. The dry, crumbly ricotta salata (a dried, salted ricotta which is usually used grated) goes a long way to producing a dry consistency in this dish. Also baking the potatoes as opposed to boiling them helps a lot. Here’s the recipe:

1 lb potatoes
1 cup flour
3 ozs ricotta salata, finely grated (the chunk looked about ¼ cup and once grated, it was a fluffy 1 ½ cups)
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
1 whole egg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Serves 4

Bake the potatoes in a 400F oven until well cooked, on the soft side, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly (warmth is important) score the flesh with a dinner knife and scoop out of the skin with a spoon into a large mixing bowl. Mash with a potato masher or ricer. Add the flour, cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper and incorporate after each addition. Make a well in the mixture Beat the egg in a cup and add to the mixture. Gradually mix the egg with a fork into the potato-flour mixture incorporating a little of the potato-flour into the egg at a time. Once you have a uniform consistency, you can separate the dough into quarters and cover with plastic. Take out one quarter at a time and roll into a log between your hands. There should be no problems with sticking. If there are, add as little extra flour as you can just to make the dough workable. Comfort music for making comfort food: Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me”. Start rolling the dough on a tabletop back and forth with both hands until you have made a long, ½-inch diameter rope. Cut the rope into ½-inch pieces. Draw a fork across the top of each gnocco (singular of gnocchi?) from cut end to cut end so that the tines create a radiator effect. The result will be little oval pillows with ridges on one side. Let dry for a couple of hours or freeze for later use. Once you’re ready to eat, boil a large pot of salted water, drop in the gnocchi while stirring and bring back to the boil asap. Once the gnocchi begin to float at the water’s surface, cook for 1 ½ minutes longer and drain. Serve with basically any pasta sauce you like. Most of the time, gnocchi are served with gorgonzola cheese or a tomato-based sauce. You see the gnocchi here with a tomato-oregano marinara.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Chestnuts - Marrons

One market stall has extra-special products you don't find in most others, porcinis, chanterelles, quince apples and these extra large chestnuts. I guess the premium ones are called "marroni" (like the French "marrons") while the smaller chestnuts are "castagne". You see some of these still encased in their prickly covers. They're pretty, but brutally pointy!

On a recent hike in southern Switzerland, Gabriel picked a bunch of smaller chestnuts. When they fall from the trees, you have to step on them to get the painfully pointy cover off. Actually, on the way we passed through a town where aome men had organized an outdoor charcoal pit and were roasting about 1,000 chestnuts on it. Two of the men would get on either side of the roasting pan, take the long handles and shake the chestnuts up for even cooking. I smelled really really fall. Know what I mean? When we got home, I decided to boil my chestnuts since I thing it's easier to get theshells off that way. I made an x-shaped score in them with a knife and boiled them for 5-10 minutes (some were bigger than others and needed more cooking. After eating a couple, I remembered just how great they are with vanilla. I figured if I made caramel, added vanilla and then folded in the chestnuts, the result would be great! I followed this recipe which is full of hard, scientific information about how hard the caramel will be when cooked to different temperatures, why you should not stir the caramel, why you should wash down the sides of the pan, etc. It does not say anything about putting nuts in caramel or about what happens when you do. So I cooked the sugar, corn syrup and cream to actually over the prescribed 250F (the hard ball stage) and poured the caramel onto my marble pastry slab, mixed in the chestnut pieces and put everything in a square buttered cake pan to cool. Well, it's cool now. It's runny, almost like ice-cream topping and certainly nothing I could cut and wrap as candies. I'm thinking that the chestnuts, that really seemed dry and starchy, had enough moisture to make this too liquidy. Darn! At least it tastes good even if I do have to eat it with a spoon. As Julia Child said, cooking is great since you can eat your mistakes!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Minestra di Radicchio

The markets have started offering radicchio again. On the left you see the round radicchio di Chioggia and on the right is radicchio di Treviso (Chioggia and Treviso, being cities in Italy's Veneto region) I think radicchio is such a beautiful vegetable to see at the market. It's as ruby-red and glorious raw as it is grey and muted cooked. Maybe that's why there are so many recipes for radicchio in salad. The taste, however, is wonderful when it's cooked and I like to make radicchio soup on cool fall afternoons. I believe it's really nutritious too. You can make the soup more beautiful with a sprinkling of parsley and Parmesan. Here's the recipe:

1 carrot, peeled & roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
2 ozs pancetta (optional), roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
6 cups chicken (or light meat) stock
1 large potato, peeled and cut into a ½-inch dice
½ cup of diced ham (1/2-inch dice)
1 medium head of radicchio, thinly sliced
1 wedge of Parmesan cheese and a grater to pass around
salt to taste

Place the carrot, onion, garlic, celery and optional pancetta in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until everything is reduced to tiny pieces. Do not puree! In a stock pot, pour in the oil and sautee the vegetable mixture over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Music to sautee all those vegetables by: "Nutrition" by The Dead Milkmen. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil and add the diced potatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes or until tender then add the ham and radicchio. Simmer another 2-3 minutes until the radicchio has just wilted. Take off heat, taste for salt, sprinkle on the parsley and let guests sprinkle Parmesan on top.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Fall Fruit at the Market

It's always exciting to me to see the seasons change in the market. Here you see the new purple and green grapes next to the last of late summer's plums. It'sad to see the plums go but they'll be back next year and there are so many other fruits to take their place.

These pears, I discovered in Italy. If they are sold in the States, I don't know about it. The Italians call them "Decana" but in French and English, they are "Comice". Julia Child claims that her culinary epiphany that brought her from a job in the American Foreign Service to a position at the top of the world of cooking, was brought about by one perfectly sweet and juicy Comice pear. She never knew food could taste that good.

Pomegranates are as fun to open as they are to eat. Their edible parts being made up of sections of sweet-tart, juice-filled seeds. Persephone of Greek mythology ate 3 of these tempting jewel-red bites and landed in the underworld for 3 months every year. Was it worth it?

Persimmons. In the States, there are 2 general varieties for sale: the "Fuyu" that looks like a short, stout, orangey tomato and can be eaten while still crisp. The Italian variety similar to this is "kaki di vaniglia" you see it's yellowier and rounder than the ones in the States. You can eat them plain to appreciate their sweetness or you can drape them with prosciutto just like you would a summer melon.


The other type of persimmon that must be eaten extremely ripe (and I mean, like with a spoon! Notice these on the left are being held in styrofoam crates so they don't fall apart) is the "Hachiya" persimmon shaped oblong, like a large, orange roma tomato. The ones here in Italy are again, rounder but really have the same soft, sweet flesh. These you have to eat alone, hidden away, where nobody can see you licking the juice off of your fingers.

Then to the right you see the Miagawa. Sounds Japanese, doesn't it? I don't know much about them except that I love their look. They are sweet citrus on the inside and look like tart limes on the outside.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Curiosities of Milan's Markets

This stall really struck me this morning with it's orderliness and gorgeous color contrasts. I'll be dedicating the next few posts to the glories of Italy's outdoor markets this harvest season. I'll start off with some things I found out of the ordinary. Are you getting hungry?
From left to right, you see guanciale (hog maw, that is, cheek), donkey salame and horse sausage. I’ve never had donkey anything, but have tried horse sausage and horse steak. They are pretty good when I can trick myself into thinking I’m not eating horse. (My problem, nobody else’s.) The one item I can really recommend is the guanciale. It’s very similar to pancetta but is considered better and is more expensive. People often substitute pancetta for guanciale if they don’t want to pay too much. The original recipe of “pasta all’amatriciana” calls for Guanciale.
Olive per friggere were a mystery to me this morning. It looks, from what I’ve been able to find online, that this is mainly a Greek thing. There’s a type of olive called Throumbes (or Throubes) from the Greek island of Thasos, that can be cooked this way. Could it be another example of Greek traditions living on in Italy? Maybe. This recipe here for Fried Olives With Tomato and Rosemary looks like a simple and lovely way to serve them. I’m thinking bruschetta topping or a nice pasta sauce.

Tune in next for my fall favorites!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lamb With Eggplant

This is a recipe I bricolaged together from 3 other recipes: one Greek, one Lebanese and one Moroccan. I just love the effect of the sweet and savory spice combination here. The result turned out great for me and I hope you’ll try it too before the decently-priced, not-from-around-the-world eggplants disappear from the markets or you can wait ‘til summer.

Ingredients:
1 lb ground lamb or ground beef (actually, I used beef)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, diced
1 large eggplant, diced
½ tsp salt (for drawing out eggplant juices)
1 - 14 oz can of tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp each of: turmeric, oregano, and cumin
1 ½ tsp cinnamon, ground
½ tsp nutmeg, ground
½ tsp black pepper, ground
¼ tsp cayenne pepper, ground
salt to taste

Cut the eggplant into 1-in cubes, sprinkle with salt and drain in a sieve or colander for at least 1 hour. In the meantime, prepare all your other ingredients; chop this, grind that, etc. Music to chop this and grind that by: "Clandestino" by Manu Chao. "Manu" is a real mixture of things and origins just like this dish. Grown up in France with Spanish Republican parents, he usually sounds Mexican when he sings, unless of course, he's singing in Portuguese. You get the idea. Brown the ground beef well in 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat, about 15 minutes. Once it has browned well (meaning it's reached a very dark brown but not black), remove it from the pan leaving as much oil as possible. There may be some browned bits left as well. To this pan, add the chopped onions and sautee until they have lightly browned as well. Remove the onions, scraping all the residue away. Now, dry the eggplant and add it to the pan with the remaining 3 tbsps of oil. Fry on all sides, then add the meat/onion mixture back to the pan. Pour the tomatoes over, then add all the spices. Bring to a simmer. Taste for salt. Simmer until the mixture becomes thick, not sauce-like but chunky and solid (like a great Bolognese sauce if that helps), about 20 minutes. Serve over rice or with good, crusty bread.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ravioli di Barbabietola, Ricotta e Parmigiano

Yep, that acid-pink blob of yesterday's dinner was indeed the filling for Beet ravioli. So many of you were so close, I was impressed! (Lotus, what's pachadi?) I found some irresistable beets with lovely beet greens in the market and was inspired to make ravioli out of them. The beet greens, see here are a lovely color-contrast accompaniment. This is not, however the traditional Veneto specialty called "Casumziei", with it's butter-and-poppyseed sauce, but it's very close.

Filling ingredients:
-12 oz roasted, peeled beets (in Italy, beets often come pre-roasted and peeling is very easy)
-1/4 tsp salt
-12 oz ricotta cheese
-1/2 cup freshly-grated parmesan (probably less with pre-grated as I imagine it packs up a bit)
-salt and pepper to taste

Cut the beets into 1 inch chunks and place in a food processor. Pulse the processor until you have a deep red granularity that looks a lot like chunky cranberry sauce. Do not puree!! Remove from processor and mix in the 1/4 tsp salt, place in a sieve or collander, and let drain for 2 hours. After that time (actually over the 2 hours, you can make your pasta), place in a mixing bowl, add the cheeses and combine. (This is the point where your lush, rich red beets transform into whacked-out, bubblegum pink gloop, but take heart! It gets a lot better and tastier from here! Add salt and pepper to taste (Yes! You DO have to taste the pink stuff!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JqOdwrogVU Refrigerate covered until your pasta is ready for filling.

Homemade pasta ingredients: (they say that if you don't want to make your own pasta, you can use store-bought won-ton wrappers. Can't confirm, but it's worth a try)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup semolina flour
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt

Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl & make a well in the middle. Pour in the beaten eggs and begin whisking them with a fork gently at first, slowly incorporating a little bit of the surrounding flour mixture at a time. Once you have incorporated most of the flour, you can begin to knead with your hands. Knead only until everything is uniformly mixed. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

Ravioli assembly line:
Have at the ready: beet filling, pasta dough covered with plastic wrap, a small bowl of water and a pasta machine (oh, didn't I mention that you need one of those?)

When your beet mixture and pasta dough are ready, set your pasta rolling machine to the widest setting (for me that's setting 1). Cut off a piece of the dough that's roughly the size of 2 decks of cards, mush it as flat as you can between your palms and roll it through the rollers. Dredge in flour and proceed to setting 2 and so forth until you get to setting 6 (the second thinnest). You should have a very very long oval shaped piece of dough. Lay that out and slice laterally every 2.5-3 inches to make 7 or 8 small rectangles. Place a generous teaspoon of the filling on to one side of the rectangle, wet the 3 edges around it and fold over the other side. Press to seal making sure to press out any air bubbles. At this point, ravioli freeze very well and I usually make a few dinners-worth at a time to use later.

Finishing the ravioli:
When it's time for dinner, for every 5 ravioli, place 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 medium sage leaves in a frying pan. (I usually end up putting in 3 tbsps of butter and 6 sage leaves with 15 ravioli for 2 people). You may serve this as the sauce once it is heated through but I really like to fry the sage leaves until they are crispy. This is the most delicious snack I can think of! Crispy-fried sage leaves, mmm.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and gently drop the ravioli in a couple at a time making sure they don't stick. Bring the water back up to a light boil as soon as possible. Cook until they are all trying to float on top of the water and have puffed. Drain and transfer to the frying pan with the sage-butter sauce. (Take out crispy sage leaves before, or you'll just get them soggy again under the ravioli.)
Flip the pan a couple times and serve. Wilted beet greens (made just like the spinach at the bottom of this page) make a lovely accompaniment.

Friday, October 06, 2006

THE BLOB THAT ATE NEW JERSEY!!

Yecch! Good God! I was in the middle of making something for dinner yesterday and halfway through the process, dinner looked like this! So what was I making? Post-nuclear mashed potatoes? 1950s dream-whip and raspberry jello surprise? Cottage cheese and pink play-dough?

Wanna guess?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Foodblogger's Welcome Dinner Invitation

Here's a great bit of fantasy! Let's pretend all of you can come to my house this weekend for a dinner party! I'd really love to meet in person the people that I've been corresponding with for the past several months, and wouldn't it be great to have a blogger pow wow? Thanks, Lea for inviting me to your dinner.

Here is meme originator, Angelika's, rule for this blog meme: "Describe a sort of 'signature menu' revealing much of your personal cooking style and culinary preferences" that you would make for your fellow foodbloggers.

I usually serve Italian dinners to non-Italian visitors, inviting them to try, say bresaola, cardoons or lumachini for the first time but when I have Italian guests I almost always serve some "foreign" cuisine, to give them a little taste of something new. Well, since most of you are of the Anglo-Saxon persuasion (at least linguistically), I've decided to go local and seasonal, not because it makes for good food but also because (for all you anti-snobs out there) it's cheap! I ask you, why serve artichokes in fall when pumpkin tortellini is less expensive and better? This menu is what I'd do with what's in the markets these days in Milan.

So here's our dinner-party menu:

Black Pelion olives (ok, they're from Greece, but still...)
****
Pumpkin Tortellini With Walnut Cream Sauce
****
Braised Short Ribs With Fall Vegetables
****
Salad of Sliced Raw Porcini, Arugula and Shaved Parmesan
****
Italian Plum Crostata
****
Coffee & Grappa


You're all invited!

I'm tagging but certainly not obliging:

Betul of "Rustic"
Tracie of "My Life Italian"
Jackie of "Allora, Aspetta!"
Ellie of "Kitchen Wench"

Monday, October 02, 2006

So when we got to the party last night, we discovered that tramezzini are actually little tea sandwiches filled with creamy, pate-like stuff, not the chunky-funky things we came up with. Also, their crusts were all removed. Oops, oh well, now we know. Everybody else's offerings looked like these British finger sandwiches (photo courtesy of whatscookingamerica.net) except that in Milan, you'll find these things at almost every bar during the Aperitivo hour. So they're usually consumed with a glass of house red, not a cup of tea. Of the 10 contest entries, I remember a few highlights: "Noce e Zola" a puree of ground walnuts with gorgonzola, "Paco De Lucia" chopped shrimp, guacamole and some other delicious stuff, "Apriti Sesame" roasted eggplant and zucchini pureed with cream cheese and drizzled with fresh (not roasted) sesame oil, and "Opera Prima" thinly-sliced roast beef, lettuce and some type of Tuscan poor-man's pate.

The rating sheets held 4 categories: aesthetics, originality, portability and overall likeability. So our ignorance gave us one advantage: originality since NOBODY had ever thought to put chunky, fall-aparty things in a tramezzino (see my recipe here), and one disadvantage: portability as the aforementioned fall-aparty things were, well, falling apart.
Result? Well, I won! Isn't that something? This here's my trophy. Paola spent the afternoon combing the little boutiques in search of a tramezzino-shaped gift for the winner and she came up with this. It's a holder for tramezzini forks! Now I'll have to host my own tramezzino party.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Tramezzino Competition

Tonight we’re going to Marco’s and Paola’s to weigh in at the “Vado Pazzo per i Tramezzini!” (translated as: “I’m Crazy for Sammiches!”) competition. I can’t wait! This is such a fun concept not to mention easy on the hosts. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it first. So of the 10 contestants, each person comes with about 3-4 sandwiches to share. They are cut in quarters and to start off, each person gets a plate with 10 sandwich quarters to sample. I think we’re all getting a ratings card as well so we can take notes and grade them. There will, of course be extra sandwich quarters for hungry people and for second tastings in case of doubt.
Now tramezzini are not panini. The difference is in the bread. For an authentic tramezzino, you need soft, sliced loaf bread, (I hate to say “Wonderbread” but that is what it looks like). No baguettes or sliced pane di Altamura here! I was really tempted to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but from what I’ve heard some of my friends say about this loveliest of childhood lunches, it would be like casting pearls before swine as the seem not to realize the glory that is PB&J. Those Philistines! So I invented something new (I think; at least it’s nothing I could find trolling the internet or flipping through my cookbooks). It’s sandwiches of thinly-sliced, curried roast chicken with pear chutney. Since I have to have an artistic title from my entry, here it is: Tramezzino di Pollo Arrostito al Curry con Chutney di Pera

Filling ingredients:
·1 large chicken breast
·¼ tsp each of: garam masala, curry powder, ground cumin, ground coriander seed, turmeric, salt and vegetable oil (if you’re not trying to get heat-fearing Italians to vote your sammich #1, put in up to ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper as well)
·1 jar of homemade pear chutney see recipe here
·lettuce (optional)

Here’s what I did:
First I filled bread loaf pan with my white sourdough (hoping that the homemade-ness will give Gabriel and me an edge) If you want to know more about homemade sourdough starter, see here.
I put the oven on it’s highest setting. Then I mixed all the spices together into a paste with the oil. Then I pounded out 1 large chicken breast as thin and rectangular as I could get it. *I have no meat mallet so I used my small, cast-iron blini pan (looks like a baby skillet) which is flat, easy to handle and very heavy for it’s size. I drizzled ¾ of the spice paste on to the pounded chicken and rubbed it in. I rolled the chicken up into a log and rubbed the remaining ¼ of the spice paste all over the outside. I set that in a small ovenproof dish. Music to drizzle spice paste with: (and only because this is really what I was and am actually listening to): Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. Every last song. Really, really loud. Oh, and shout those lyrics out too; “One baaaby to another says I’m lucky to’ve met youuuu”. Nothing makes you (me) feel younger than remembering college when you walked around every day all grunged out and looking like you were going to a pajama party. I baked the bread loaf and the chicken breast at the same time. After 20 minutes I took out the chicken and after 45 minutes, out came the bread. Once everything cooled, I sliced the bread and the chicken breast thinly, arranged about 9 chicken slices on each sandwich, spread the chunky chutney as evenly as possible and topped with a leaf of lettuce.

Well, wish me luck! (Or wish Gabriel luck with his Tramezzino di Melitsanosalata.) I’ll let you know tomorrow how the competition goes.


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