From Bergamo. Polenta e cüní. This is the most common Sunday lunch in Bergamo, and is one of the dishes I miss from my time living there. The are many variations on the recipe. This one comes from Slow Food Italy. Serves 4
Polenta cuni ingredients
1 rabbit, cut into portions
50g lardo, guanciale or fatty pancetta
2 glasses of dry white wine (Slow Food recommends Valcalepio)
4 sage leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
Put the rabbit in a pan large enough to contain it in a single layer. Place over a high heat for a few minutes to completely dry out the pieces.
Polenta cuni lardo
Reduce the heat a little and add the lardo, butter, clove and sage. Brown the meat.
Polenta cuni browning the rabbit
Add the wine and let it evaporate, stirring from time to time.
Polenta cuni with wine
Reduce the heat to low, cover and continue cooking until the rabbit is tender. There shouldn’t be a lot of liquid while it’s cooking, but if it looks like drying out, add a little stock. The cooking time will vary according to the rabbit, but it will be at least two hours, maybe longer.
About five minutes from the end of cooking, add the remaining butter and the chopped rosemary. The rabbit should be quite dry, almost crispy on the outside, and moist on the inside.
Serve it with polenta made according to the instructions on the packet. If I don’t have a polenta machine available to stir it, I usually use the quick cooking variety. A lot of Bergamasci regard this as a heinous crime though :)
Sgagliozze. From Bari. They don’t generally eat polenta in the south of Italy. In fact a nick name here for northerners is “polentone” which roughly translated means “polenta eaters”. One of the exceptions is this dish from Bari. It is often available as a street food, especially in the old town. Many thanks to Memma for the recipe. She says they are her husband Michele’s favourite.
250g polenta flour, the quick cooking kind is fine.
1 l water
oil for deep-frying
Boil the salted water, add the flour and mix it with a wooden spoon without making lumps.
Sgagliozze cooking polenta
When it is cooked (follow the instructions on the packet) pour it onto a board and form it into a thick rectangle. Let it cool down.
Sgagliozze cooked polenta
Cut the polenta into squares about 2cm thick. Allow them to dry out a little.
Like in most catholic countries, the start of lent is a big occasion in Italy. Carnival (carnivale) runs from “fat Thursday , giovedi grasso” until “fat Tuesday, martedi grasso”. Traditionally people dress up in masks and costumes, but outside of Venice, this is mostly only done by small children. However everybody uses it as an excuse to eat lots of sweet things. This is Italy after all :) This recipe is for one of the most common biscuits. They have many regional names, bugie, cenci, crostoli, frappe, galani, sfrappole ,but here they are known as chiacchiere. A rough translation would be “chatty biscuits”. There are many variations on the basic recipe, some include grappa or wine, or lemon zest, but this is one of the simplest.
280g plain flour
70g potato starch (if you can’t find this, use all plain flour)
20g unsalted butter
20g icing sugar
3 medium eggs
A few drops of vanilla essence or a sachet of vanilla extract
1 tsp of baking powder
Oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients together to form a dough.
Chiacchere mixing dough
Knead it for a couple of minutes until it’s smooth.
Roll it out very thinly. If the dough is too sticky, dust with a little flour. You are aiming for about the thickness of lasagne. In fact, if you have a pasta rolling machine, that would be perfect.
Chiacchere ready to fry
Cut out rectangles of about 6×3 cm (2×1 inch) and make a slit in the middle. A pastry wheel is good for this.
Deep fry in hot oil (about 190°c 375°f) until they are puffed up and lightly golden.
From Campania. This salad is named after the island of Capri, in the Gulf of Naples, near to Sorrento. Versions of this dish can be now be found in “Italian” restaurants all over the world. It is extremely simple, just “mozzarella”, tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil.
As always, the quality of the ingredients is very important. First the “mozzarella”. The name should technically be reserved for buffalo milk cheese. Cows milk cheese is known as “fior di latte”. The milk used is not as important as the freshness. In fact Accademia Italiana della Cucina recommends using a cow’s milk cheese from Agerola or Sorrento. Most people here insist on eating it on the day it is made. Mozzarella made the day before is only good for pizza. If all you can find is supermarket cheese with a shelf life of up to a month, it wont be worth making this dish, make a pizza instead :) Slice into fairly thin slices, about half a centimetre or a quarter of an inch.
Next, the tomatoes. Again, use the best you can find. Try to find them about the same size as the cheese. This makes the presentation nicer. Slice crossways into slices of about the same size as the cheese.
Arrange them on a plate, alternating the tomato and mozzarella. Add a generous amount of fresh basil and drizzle with olive oil. You can season with a little salt if you like.
The Academia suggests an alternative method where the cheese and tomatoes are diced.
The salad will taste much better if you serve it at room temperature, not straight from the fridge.
Unlike most salads in Italy, this is served as a main course, rather than a side dish.
Inspector Montalbano is a popular fictional Sicilian police detective, created by Andrea Camilleri. The stories are set in the small town of Vigata , and, being Italian, feature food quite prominently. In the story Inspector Montelbano’s Arancini (Gli arancini di Montalbano), the famous Sicilian dish is used as a plot device. Does the inspector want to leave Sicily to be with his girlfriend in Paris, or does he want to stay and eat his housekeeper Adelina’s arancini. I won’t tell you what he decides, but you can probably guess ;) My father is a fan of the books, and he is fond of arancini when he visits me, so I decided to recreate this recipe from the book. The main differences between Adelina’s dish, and the more well known version is that she uses béchamel sauce instead of cheese. Also the ragù is made with whole pieces of meat, not mince.
For the ragù
150g of reasonably fatty beef in one piece
150g of reasonably fatty pork in one piece
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a few leaves of basil
250ml of passata
1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
extra virgin olive oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
For the risotto
500g risotto rice
1 small onion
oil and butter to taste
150g of shelled peas (use fresh or frozen depending on the season)
oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but you can use peanut oil or similar)
salt and pepper to taste
Arancini Ragù ingredients
Fry the onion and celery gently in a little oil. Add the two pieces of meat and brown them on all sides.
Add the passata and tomato purée diluted in a little hot water. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if needed. Cook slowly for at least an hour and a half, longer if possible. Add the chopped parsley and basil, and cook for a further half an hour. This sauce can also be made in advance.
Arancini Ragù cooked
Make a classic risotto following the standard recipe, but without wine or cheese. It should be quite dry. Montalbano is quiet clear that it should be without saffron. (senza zaffirano, pi carità!)
Arancini cooking risotto
Tip the risotto out onto a marble slab (or a large tray), let it cool a little and then mix with a little of the tomato sauce and stir in the eggs. Let it cool completely. Put it into the fridge for about half an hour.
Arancini risotto cooling
Meanwhile, cook the peas in boiling salted water. Chop the meat with a mezzaluna or a knife. Montalbano forbids the use of a food processor (nenti frullatore, pi carità di Dio!) :) Mix some of the béchamel sauce with the peas and salami cut into small cubes. Add enough of the tomato sauce from the meat to make a fairly thick mixture.
Arancini mixed filling
Slightly dampen your hands and take some of the rice and roll it in the palm of your hand trying to make a sort of bowl. Put a spoonful of the ragù mixture in the middle. Cover with a little more rice and form it into a ball.You are aiming for about tennis ball size. Continue until you run out of rice. You probably won’t need all of the filling.
Arancini ready for coating
Put them in the fridge again for half an hour or so to firm up. Coat with egg, and then roll in bread crumbs.
Arancini ready for cooking
Fry the arancini in hot oil (about 165°C) until they are golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels. They are best eaten hot, but are also good cold.
The Bellini is another one of those recipes which is far better known in the USA than it is in Italy. The original recipe is authentically Italian however. Barmen over the years have added various ingredients, peach schnapps etc., but the original is extremely simple, and in my opinion better. It was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice in the 1930s . It is named after Giovanni Bellini, a fifteenth century Venetian painter. Being Italian, it should be made with Prosecco, not Champagne, but you can use Champagne if you can’t find any of the good stuff ;)
Ripe white peaches (never yellow)
Prosecco (Spumante has more bubbles than Frizzante, use whichever you prefer)
Peel the peaches and remove the stones. The recommended method is to grate the flesh and then pass it through a sieve. I use a hand cranked food mill, sometimes known as a mouli. A food processor is said to aerate the purée too much. If it isn’t sweet enough for you, you can add sugar or simple syrup at this stage.
Put the purée in the freezer until it is almost frozen, but still soft.
Bellini frozen peach purée
Put a few spoons of purée into an iced glass. You can use a straight glass, or a champagne flute. Top up with iced Prosecco. Gently stir to mix the two ingredients. The proportions should be one part peach to three parts Prosecco.
Zuppa di aglio. Versions of this soup exist all over the world. I used to live in the Czech Republic and česnečka was said to be a fantastic cure for a hangover ;) It is best made with new season “wet” garlic, but regular dried garlic will give good results. Use very good stock, it will be so much better than cubes. It can easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and a vegetarian cheese. Serves 4.
Simmer the garlic and potato in the stock for about 20 minutes. The garlic and potato should be very tender.
Liquidize until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side on both side of the toast. This will produce quite a strong garlic flavour, so be careful. If you prefer a mild flavour, leave out this step altogether.
Drizzle the toast with olive oil, put a slice into each bowl, pour the hot soup on top and sprinkle with parmesan.