Monthly Archives: April 2012

Courgette Blossoms (Zucchini Flowers) and Fresh Sage Leaves Fried in Batter

Ingredients:

150 g (5 oz) flour

Salt and Pepper

Pinch of nutmeg

2 T. olive oil

2 egg yolks

6 T. white wine

6 T. water

16 courgette blossoms

Oil for deep-frying (1/2 vegetable oil and ½ extra-virgin olive oil)

 

Stuffing (optional)

1 c. Ricotta cheese

1 T. fresh basil, minced

½ t. Marjoram

¼ t. Garlic salt

1 egg, beaten

 

Directions:

 

To make the batter, add flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, oil and egg yolks in a bowl and beat well.  Add the wine and water gradually until the batter has a light, creamy consistency (you might need a little extra liquid).  Set aside to rest so the flour particles can swell for about 30 minutes.

Detach the green leaves from the blossoms, but leave the stems intact for holding.  Remove stamens.  To prepare stuffing, combine all ingredients in a bowl and blend with a spoon.  Gently open each blossom and stuff with 2-3 tablespoons of filling.  Close flower petals and dip the flowers in the batter. Fry in hot oil until golden.  Serve hot and crisp.

 

Green Bean, Mozzarella and Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. green beans

2 c. small fresh mozzarella balls

1 c. Grape tomatoes

1 can tuna, drained or ½ lb. small salad shrimp, steamed and peeled

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 T. fresh basil leaves, sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Steam green beans until tender. Remove from heat and plunge into an ice water bath to stop cooking and retain bright green color. Cut into 2 inch lengths. Combine in a large bowl with mozzarella, tomatoes, and chunks of tuna or steamed shrimp. Add basil and dress with extra virgin olive oil. Chill until ready to serve.

Il Mercado (The Market)

We have had a couple of weeks of cool, rainy weather and I am sympathetic towards all the tourists who are in town to enjoy the sun and sand.  I was glad that I had brought an umbrella with me, but wished I had also brought a sweater or fleece.  It was chilly on the way to and from the bus stop.  All the clothing boutiques in Positano sold sundresses, summer skirts and beautifully detailed blouses.  I saw a sign in a shop window that read “Sconto di sui vestitit di inverno” (50% discount on winter clothing) and decided to see if they had any sweaters.

Buona sera,” greeted the shopkeeper whose nametag read “Gabrielle.” She spoke English fluently so she could converse with all the foreign tourists who came into her shop.

Buona sera,” I replied.  “Do you have any sweaters?  I am so cold when the weather is rainy.”

Gabrielle rummaged through a pile of sweaters on one shelf, but all of them were either too large or too small for me.

“Are there any outdoor markets here?” I asked.  “Where I can buy a sweater for less money than the shops charge in Positano?”

“I really shouldn’t be telling you,” said Gabrielle.  “But there is an outdoor market at Piano di Sorrento.  It is the town that you come to right before you get toSorrento.  You can take the bus and ask anyone when you get off.  Everyone knows where the market is.  But it is only open on Mondays.”

“Oh, Monday is my day off!” I beamed.  I introduced myself to Gabrielle and told her why I was in Positano for the summer.  From then on, I never failed to stop in and see her on my way down the hill to the piazza in the center of the village.

The next Monday we were off work, Brandi and I took the 7:00 AM bus to Piano di Sorrento. She needed to find a few basic items and I was going in search of that sweater.  When we got off the bus, we went into a bar for coffee and a croissant. Brandi is a pastry chef and was always interested in seeing what type of pastries and desserts were on display.  I’m surprised that the Italians as a whole are not heavier than they are considering the pastries and pasta they consume, but I think it’s all the walking they do that offsets it.  We finished our cappuccino and left the bar to look for signs of the market.

Dove é il mercado?” we asked people on the street.

They would wave their hands around as they directed us to the local open-air market. We walked two or three blocks and then rounded a corner to see stalls set up along the sidewalk.

Brandi at the market in Sorrento

Most of the tables were littered with clothing—underwear, t-shirts, and children’s clothes. One booth was filled with shoes. Brandi bought sandals for €5 a pair that would have been €72 in Positano!  I purchased a cream colored cotton sweater that would be perfect for the cool evenings for only €1 (about $1.35). The last booth we came to offered olive oil, local cheeses and sausages.  I like the way the vendors will offer samples of anything that you might be interested in purchasing. We picked out some smoked provolone and fresh mozzarella to take back to the apartment. It was really enjoyable to spend a day with the locals and to use our limited Italian language skills.

Afterwards, we returned to Positano and had lunch at Tre Sorrelle (Three Sisters) Café by the beach.  We shared the fried zucchini blossoms and a green bean salad with mozzarella and grape tomatoes.

The zucchini squash have male and female flowers, and you are supposed to use the long male ones for this dish.  They should be fresh and firm.  The zucchini blossoms are fried in a light, thin batter much like the Japanese tempura batter.  You can also fry large fleshy sage leaves and serve them as an appetizer as well. They were delicious!

 

Borsa di Melanzana (Eggplant Bundles)

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise

½ c. extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ c. ricotta cheese

4 T. fresh parsley, minced

4 oz. proscuitto or thinly-sliced ham

4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

2 c. tomato Sauce

1 c. fresh parmesan cheese, shredded

Directions:

Fry thin slices of eggplant in olive oil until tender.  Drain.  Crisscross slices on counter top.  Blend ricotta and minced parsley in a small bowl.  Place a bead of cheese along each slice of eggplant.  In the center, where the two pieces of eggplant cross, place a slice of prosciutto and a chunk of mozzarella.  Fold over the eggplant “flaps” to form a small bundle.  Place seam side down side by side in a baking dish.  Top with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves 6.

 

Peperonata alla Napoli (Peppers, Naples Style)

Ingredients:

12 oz. eggplant, cubed

Salt and pepper

4 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled

8 oz. small onions, peeled

3 large sweet yellow or green peppers, seeded and sliced

5 oz. white wine

5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

Directions:

Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and leave for 1 hour to draw out the juices.  Wash and dry them.  Heat the oil in a sauté pan with the garlic (remove it as soon as it browns).  Add the onions, and cook over low heat until soft and golden, shaking the pan every so often.  Add the eggplant and the peppers.  Pour in the wine, cover and cook gently for 20 minutes, or until tender.  Uncover, add the tomatoes, turn up the heat and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Season to taste.  Serve cold or warm. Serves 4.

Vegetables Italian Style

One of the chefs in the kitchen, Alberto, is a gruff old guy who is not comfortable with me in the kitchen because I am a woman. I decided to go to him directly and offer my help. Maybe I could break through that crust. “Che cosa posso aiutarlo oggi?” (What can I help you with today?) I asked. He looked rather surprised and didn’t say anything, but he directed me to slice eggplant, zucchini, fennel (called “anise” in our grocery stores in the states) and red peppers.

Alberto was grilling vegetables to be reheated as the contorno, or vegetable to accompany the evening meal. He brushed them with olive oil and used the indoor grill to put those black hash marks on them. Grigliata Mista di Verdure (Mixed Grilled Vegetables) Fennel (usually mislabeled anise in the produce section of the grocery store) Eggplant Zucchini Red, yellow and green bell peppers Slice, brush with olive oil and roast on the grill. I was glad when the time came to break came for lunch. I think it’s going to take awhile for Alberto to accept me.

In the afternoon I did not go down to the restaurant by the pool. Instead, I remained in the main kitchen and helped Alessandro make several eggplant dishes as we had received a very large delivery of small, Italian eggplants that morning. They would all be refrigerated for use for lunch and dinner services over the next couple of days. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other as I peeled eggplant. I was tired and began to have some doubts about owning my own restaurant some day. It would mean working seven days a week until well after midnight each night. Although I really enjoyed cooking and was certainly learning a lot, I wasn’t sure I liked the long hours and the hectic pace of a restaurant kitchen.

After chopping the eggplant, I tossed it with salt and set it aside in a colander so the moisture drawn out by the salt could drain. Then I took the colander of eggplant over to the deep fryer basket and cooked several batches until they were golden brown. Alessandro was mixing ricotta with very finely diced carrots that had been boiled. He had a worried look on his face as he said, “They do not pay us enough here. I have a baby coming and need bigger place to live, but I cannot afford. I used to be paid €1,800 a month but was not paid in winter when restaurant is closed.” I raised my eyebrows as if to ask why.

“No tourists.” Then he continued, “I told Chef I need to be paid every month and he said okay, but he reduce my salary to €1,200 a month! The rent for our apartment is €650. How can I manage on that?”

“If the restaurant is closed in the winter, what do you do?” I asked with genuine concern.

“Many chefs work on the big ships – how you say, cruise? Or they work on island in Caribbean. I don’t want to leave my wife and child, but I will have to.”

We placed the prepared eggplant casseroles in the refrigerator and began assembling the next dish which was eggplant parmigiano, although it was made differently from the way I always made it at home. Alessandro had me fry the eggplant slices in the deep fryer as he grated the cheeses using the buffalo chopper.

It was rainy and cool when I left the restaurant and I was glad that I had brought an umbrella in my backpack. I decided not to walk down the hill to Amalfi, but rather to try to catch the bus at the hotel bus stop. I knew that it would be crowded with standing room only, but I didn’t feel like walking down in the rain. I climbed up the steps, stamped my bus ticket in the validating machine and squeezed my way down the aisle. It was hard to hang on as we were going around all those hair pin turns. I wondered if the bus drivers drove Italian race cars on their days off. The rain certainly didn’t slow them down!

Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna

Ingredients:

12 lasagna noodles

2 T. butter

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

4 lbs. mushrooms, washed and sliced

2 lbs. spinach

2 T. butter

¼ c. flour

2 c. half and half

¼ t. nutmeg

1-16 oz. carton ricotta cheese

1 egg

½ c. grated parmesan cheese

¼ c. fresh basil, sliced thinly

8 c. grated mozzarella cheese

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350o F. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling, salted water until al dente.  Drain.  In a large skillet, melt butter and olive oil and sauté garlic, mushrooms and spinach until mushrooms are tender and spinach is wilted. In a sauce pan over medium heat, make the white sauce. Melt butter and stir in flour and nutmeg.  Whisk in half and half until smooth, well-blended and cook over low heat until slightly thickened. In a small bowl, combine ricotta cheese, the egg, grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil and stir until well-blended.  To assemble:  Line a baking dish with one layer of lasagna noodles, slightly overlapping them.  Spread one half of the spinach mixture over the noodles.  Pour 1 c. of the white sauce over the spinach mixture. Sprinkle with half the grated mozzarella cheese. Dot with spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese mixture. Place a second layer of overlapping lasagna noodles on top of the ricotta.  Spread the second half of the ricotta over the noodles.  Put the remaining spinach mixture over the ricotta and pour the rest of the white sauce on the spinach mixture.  Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella cheese on top.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Serves 8.