Best Cooking Class in Venice

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Piazza San Marco – Venice

Some people shy away from Venice. They say it’s too crowded…too many tourists.

There’s some truth to that.

But there’s more truth here: Venice is like NO OTHER PLACE. It’s a beautiful history captured in space and stopped in time. To go to Venice is to time travel. Back centuries. And centuries-old wonders have all been preserved.

If you want to avoid crowds, it’s easy to steer yourself off the beaten path and feel like the city is all yours. Intriguing and relaxing neighborhoods are everywhere.

 

One of my favorite experiences is cooking with Chef Marika of Acquolina on the Venetian island of Lido. Her cooking classes are hands-on with all local fresh ingredients, and her personality is buoyant and encouraging. If you take the full day class, you start by meeting her in the center of Venice at the famous Rialto market, where dozens of tables and booths are spilling over with produce, seafood, pastas, and spices.

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Chef Marika shopping with students at the Rialto Market

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Here you go shopping with Marika to choose what you will cook. She’ll listen to your requests and also make some knowing suggestions. She knows where to shop, which are the best vendors…her favorite produce, the best fish.

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Chef Marika talking about the artichoke bottoms we’re about to buy

My group from Nashville shopped with her…picking out baby scallops in the shell, small soft-shelled crabs, prawns, and baby squid. We bought fresh whole artichoke hearts (just the bottoms, which we braised and ate like steaks), cherry tomatoes, and fresh peas.

When her rolling shopping cart was completely full, we made a couple of other short stops before boarding a taxi boat to the outer island of Lido. Marika took us to the classic age-old wine bars hidden behind the market. We sipped small glasses of wine and nibbled cichetti — bite-sized appetizers.

 

Then we took the short boat ride to her home on Lido…

 

Marika’s home is just a short walk from the boat stop on Lido.

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Marika’s home on Lido

As soon as we arrived we started cooking!

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Chef Marika showing us how to clean the seafood

We learned to clean baby squid and scallops, how to make a batter for deep-frying small soft-shelled crabs called moleche. We sautéed prawns, and made a fresh tomato sauce for pasta….we prepared all of the wonderful seafood and vegetables.

 

And then sat down to a fabulous feast.

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On our boat ride back to the center of Venice, we were happy, sated, and full of wonderful recipes!

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for info about Chef Marika’s classes, contact:

Chef Marika Contaldo Seguso

Acquolina – Villa Ines
Via Lazzaro Mocenigo 10
30126 Venezia-Lido
Tel/Fax (+39) 041 526 7226
e-mail info@acquolina.com

Antipasto? Make it a salad!

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antipasto salad

I love antipasto ingredients. All the big tastes of the savory best. Olives, cheeses, salumi, artichoke hearts, crusty bread, tomatoes, and…whatever you like.

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extra special tomatoes at Rialto Market in Venice

What do you put together for an antipasto platter? Well, just throw it in a bowl and make it a salad.

I make sure ingredients are cut or torn into bite-sized pieces. I make croutons for that crusty bread presence. And include my favorite brand of artichoke hearts (Trader Joe).

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Trader Joe artichoke hearts

Even if you don’t add greens to your usual antipasto platter, a few green leaves in this salad ups the ante. I use bitter (and lovely for the bitterness) dandelion greens.

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dandelion greens

Slices of endive are nice, too. And maybe some baby arugula. But don’t make it a green salad…think of it as just an accent of green crunch. (A bright lift of some fresh herbs like mint or basil makes it sing even sweeter.)

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mint

Season all with salt & pepper. Add some drizzles of olive oil, and a few shakes of your favorite vinegar. Not only is it tasty…it’s pretty!

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antipasto salad

Antipasto Salad w Olives & Chunk Parmigiano

1 small bunch Italian greens — dandelion or baby escarole, cleaned & chopped to bite-sized

1/2 cup pitted green & black olives

1/2 cup parmigiano, cut into small chunks

1-2 sprigs mint leaves, torn

2-3 baby cucumbers, rinsed, sliced, cut into chunks

1/2 cup cherry toms, sliced in half

1/2 cup salami, cut into chunks

1/2 cup artichoke hearts, cut in half

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup favorite vinegar

salt & pepper to taste

Mix all the salad in gradients in a medium serving bowl. Add the olive oil & vinegar. Toss to coat. Season with salt & pepper. Toss to coat. Serve.

Got Garganelli?

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fresh-made garganelli

I have a lot of favorite pasta shapes…fusilli lunghi, orecchiette, linguine, bucatini…but these days I’m in love with garganelli.

Lots of Italians believe some shapes only go with some sauces and some shapes would never go with other sauces. i.e. orecchiette is great with broccoli rabe and sausage; linguine with a clam sauce; bucatini with the Sicilian “pasta con le sarde” (sardines) sauce.

Garganelli might typically marry with cream and prosciutto, or hang out with a duck ragu, but coat it with a fresh tomato sauce and it’s still says perfect. Originally from the Emilia-Romagna region (where I’m taking my cooking class students this year), it’s a hand-shaped pasta made from an egg pasta dough.

It’s easy to make. But you’ll need a gnocchi board. And a pencil, or not-too-thick dowel. Some gnocchi boards come with a dowel for making this pasta.

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gnocchi boards (and one with a dowel for garganelli)

We made it my class this week and newbies became experts super-quick.

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my class making garganelli

Full recipe below. I pair it with my other new favorite: artichoke & pancetta sauce. But here are some tips for making the garganelli shape.

After you roll out your dough to pretty thin (about a 4 on the pasta machine rollers), cut the dough into 1-1.5-inch squares. Lay the square, turned to look like a diamond, at one end of the gnocchi board.

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rolling the dough

Lay the pencil or dowel at the tip nearest you and roll up the dough along the pencil, pressing it against the groves of the gnocchi board.

If it sticks to the board, add a little flour to the board and/or the dough piece. But not too much — you want the dough ends to stick together.

They’re super-fun to make, and I LOVE the taste. Yes, I do think that different pasta shapes, despite the sauce they’re in, taste differently. Just chewing through a forkful of spaghetti strands makes a different eating experience than a few penne in your mouth.

I hope you’ll try it — and if you do — let me know how it goes!

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garganelli fresh-made

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garganelli w artichoke-pancetta sauce

Fresh Garganelli Pasta w Roman Artichoke & Pancetta Sauce

For the Pasta: 

2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

3 eggs, lightly beaten

For the Sauce:

12 ounces, frozen artichoke hearts, thawed

olive oil for sautéing, plus more for drizzling

1 large shallot, peeled and diced

4 ounces pancetta, diced

1/4 cup heavy cream

salt & pepper to taste

Make the Pasta:

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Create a “well” in the middle of the flour and add the eggs. Using a fork slowly mix the flour into the egg, until the dough comes together and all the flour is mixed in. Gather the dough and knead it on a lightly floured surface. If it’s too sticky add a little flour. Knead for about 5 minutes until smooth. Shape into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temp for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into four pieces. Work with one piece at a time and keep the other pieces covered in plastic wrap. Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle, and roll through the pasta machine, changing the numbers from thick to thinner (lower to higher) one at a time until you reach the second to last setting.

Lay the sheet on a table. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into 1 inch by 1 inch squares (doesn’t have to be perfect!) Turn square so that you’re looking at a diamond shape. Using a pencil (or other small wooden rod) gently fold the bottom point of the diamond around the pencil. Then lay pencil and dough on a gnocchi board. Roll up the rest of the dough onto the pencil while pressing it on the gnocchi board until you form a tube. Gently slide the tube off the pencil and repeat with the rest of the dough. Place finished garganelli on a floured sheet pan.

Make the Sauce:  Slice the artichokes hearts into 4 or 5 slices per heart. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shallot and pancetta. Cook until shallot is softened and pancetta is cooked through. Add the sliced artichoke hearts. Add a little more olive oil if too dry. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Season with salt & pepper. Add cream and toss to coat.

When pasta is done, reserve a half cup of pasta water, then drain pasta and add pasta to skillet with artichoke sauce. Stir to coat pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes until flavors combine. Add a little pasta water if it needs moistening. Serve hot. Add some grated cheese to individual servings.

Favorite Kitchen Tool Emporium

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We all have one. That collection of kitchen tools that are in handy reach. Often used. Some historic. Some newly bought. Some falling apart, but still valued. We almost don’t realize we have created an important collection. Stop and think and look at them.

This is your team. Your pals. Your right-hand assistants. Your gals-friday. 🙂 They know you, too. And they’re pleased to be of service.

And when you’re out shopping— in a supermarket, or a TJ MAXX, or any food-related store or food-related department — it’s the cooking tool area/wall/shelves that somehow (how? you wonder) always draws you in.

I tick off each item as my eyes drink in the stunning toy-store-like array: yep, I have that, I have that, too, I don’t have that, but do I want it? (do I need it?), oh, look at those cute measuring cups…and spoons to match!, but I have measuring cups and measuring spoons…still, should I get another set?, oh! there’s a rabbit-shaped tea infuser…awwww!, but I have 3 tea infusers and I don’t use any of them, but here’s another large ladle…this one in red, so pretty!!….

Know what I mean? In other words: more toys to play with my food, please.

Back at home, my favorite toys bask in the spotlight of being favored stars. I use them over and over. I know their personalities. I know what I can rely on. And I know their limitations.

Here are some of my favorite gizmos. Not all of them. Just a handful of favorites.  Are any of these on your list?

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Wooden Spoons, Wooden Forks, Wooden Spatula

So common, right? I couldn’t move at the stove without them. I have plastic and metal spoons, too, but I can only make risotto with wooden spoons. I can only stir sauce with wooden spoons. I love sautéing with a wooden spatula. And I can only prevent boiling spaghetti from sticking to itself with a wooden fork.

On one of my cooking trips to Italy, we took a class at a beautiful hotel in Ravello. Our chef-instructor (Vincenzo) insisted we use nothing but wooden utensils to stir any of the dishes we were making: pasta, sauces, vegetables, fish. He believed that metal utensils had an affect on the taste of the food. (Hmmmm…maybe so.)

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Scissors (2-3 kinds)

Scissors are like having sharp shears for fingers. I keep 3 kinds in the kitchen. The smaller blue-handled pair are for paper and string and non-food items. The bigger blue-handled ones are better quality and cut almost everything: cheese packaging, parsley leaves, fish portioning, pizza slice cutting, fat trimming, whole peeled tomatoes in the can cutting, mozzarella cutting, plus: you name it. The black-handled scissors come apart — I use them for meat and, in particular, chicken cutting: boneless chicken into pieces, whole chickens into pieces, etc. Then you can take apart the chicken-y scissors and clean them well.

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Pasta Scoop

This isn’t just a colander. I found it at TJ Maxx. It’s an Italian import and according to the label was intended for scooping gnocchi. I love that it’s not round. It’s elongated a bit, so it fits in the pot of boiling pasta (or gnocchi) easily, so you can lift and drain. I take it wherever I go cooking. 🙂

zest and juice

Lemon Squeezer & Microplane

I resisted the lemon squeezer. For years I squeezed a lemon half with one hand, into my other hand, letting the juice fall through fingers, and pits get stopped in my palm. But one of my cooking class students brought me a bright yellow lemon squeezer (thanks, Karen!). Once I started using it, I take it out for every lemon, lime or orange. And each time I appreciate the counter-intuitive “put the lemon half in the other way.”

And thank you, carpenters, for this rasp with a handle called a microplane. Yes, instead of shaping wood it works great for making lemon zest, orange zest, lime zest, grating fresh ginger or garlic, or grating a bit of cheese, or a nut of nutmeg.

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Fluted Wheel

If pastry is in your repertoire you know how fun, and often necessary, fluted wheels are. You can cut a straight line, but better yet, cut a beauty-wiggly line. Mine are used mostly for pasta: ravioli, farfalle, lasagna sheets, tortellini, more and more. I love fancy edges.

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Offset Spatula & Flat Whisk

How did we ever manage without the offset spatula? I knew nothing about these babies until they populated my tool kit in culinary school. I have a small one (and have added more) and a large one. Smooth cake batter, ice the cake, frost the cupcakes. And I’m also in love with flat whisks. They do the same job as a balloon whisk, but they bend and can scrape the inside edges of your bowl.

French rolling pin

French Rolling Pin

My mom had a French pin first, then gave it to me. She used to have a rolling pin with handles. Then the handles fell off (a very old pin), but it was perfectly usable without handles. Somewhere along the line she got the French one. And somewhere along the line, I ended up with it (I think she still uses the handle-less old pin).

But the French pin has tapered ends and that makes all the difference in the world. You can use the ends to press out a small area of dough that may be thicker than the rest of the dough you’re rolling out, or even out the edges of circle. (I just found another one at Home Goods.)

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Tongs

As far as I’m concerned you can do nothing at the stove if you don’t have tongs. Turn browning cutlets, lift searing meat, turn wilting greens, pull out the already golden garlic. I never have enough tongs. I can’t stop buying them! I’m afraid I might leave one or two behind at an on-the-road cooking party and I never want to be without. Pet peeve: tongs with locks. Oy. Why do they have to lock? Then you have to unlock them. Tongs are meant to be grabbed and go-ed.

nut chopper

Nut Chopper/Cruncher

Someone gave me a gift card for King Arthur Flour and after combing the website I couldn’t resist this nut cruncher. Its most endearing features: 1. majorly low-tech (no wires, no electric), and 2. cranks like a jack-in-the-box. And the job it does: turns nuts into crushed nuts with a few likable chunks.

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Silpat

Another convenience I avoided for years. There was a drawer of them when I taught at Viking. I always resisted them, and dragged out the parchment paper instead. It’s their texture, kind of clammy, that put me off. Until one day at Costco a set of 2 half-sheet pan silpats and 1 quarter-sheet silpat was boxed with a price of only $22. That’s pretty cheap for silpat. So I bought it. And got hooked. Now when I take out those clammy-feeling liners and think: yippee! (Just bought the circle one for a 9″ cake pan!)

Leave me a list of your can’t-do-without or particular lovelies!

Then stay tuned for my favorite Italian cooking tools (or regular tools co-opted for Italian cooking), i.e. pasta machine, gnocchi board, potato ricer…

La Spaghettata – Quick Spaghetti Recipes

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boiling pasta

So it’s late at night. You’re hanging with friends somewhere out on the town. It’s probably midnight or so, but no one wants to say goodnight yet. What should you do?

Take ‘em all home and make “una spaghettata!”

In my 20’s, in NYC, I incited these kind of evenings spontaneously. Dragging 8-10 people up the four flights of stairs to my small studio apartment in a tenement on Third Avenue and 89th Street. The kitchen took up just half of a wall in the same one room. That didn’t stop me from filling the place with guests and start cooking.

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I couldn’t believe I found these photos online. That was my Third Avenue building. Four studio apartments on each of the four floors. This is what the kitchen looked like. A blast from the past!

I put the pot of water on, when boiling, added spaghetti, by the time it was done, my sauce was made. Everyone hungrily dove in.

What was the sauce? Something quick. Something delicious. Something easy. Something listed below. (You’ve got 7 choices.)

Then years later I heard about the Italian term La Spaghettata. Meaning a quick spaghetti dish. Then I heard about La Spaghettata di Mezzanotte. Quick spaghetti dish at midnight! Man! I had re-invented the spaghetti wheel and didn’t even know it.

I love extending the life of a party. Especially when it includes a twirl of spaghetti. Of course, you don’t have to wait till the end of a soiree, or wait until midnight strikes. Set aside a half-hour and have any of these dishes anytime.

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara at a restaurant in Rome

Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Roman specialty)

1 lb. spaghetti

2-3 teaspoons olive oil

¼ lb pancetta or bacon or guanciale, diced

4 large eggs

½ cup parmigiano or pecorino plus extra to serve w/pasta

1 teaspoon black pepper, or more to taste

salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, season with salt, add spaghetti. While the pasta cooks, make the sauce.

In a small skillet sauté the pancetta in the oil until cooked, about 4 minutes. Set aside.

In a large serving bowl, break the eggs, add the cheese & pepper. Season with salt to taste. Mix together thoroughly. Add more cheese if needed to make a pasty mixture.

Just before the pasta is done, spoon out a cup of the pasta water and reserve. When pasta is al dente, drain and immediately add to the bowl with the egg mixture. Mix the pasta and eggs together quickly. Dragging the bottom to top and turning, coating the strands. The hot pasta will “cook” the egg and the egg mixture will give the pasta a creamy coat of sauce. Then add the pancetta in its oil and mix through. Add a few spoonfuls of the reserved water if the dish is a little dry. Serve hot, passing around extra cheese.

 

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cacio e pepe at a restaurant in Rome

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe (also a Roman specialty)

1 pound spaghetti

1 tablespoon black pepper, or more, to taste

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese

1/4 cup grated parmigiano, w more for sprinkling

salt to taste

Bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Salt water. Add spaghetti. Cook to al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan heat the pepper, oil, and butter until butter melts and sizzles a little. Add a little pasta water about 1/4 cup. Season lightly with salt.

When pasta is done. Drain and add to the sauté pan. Cook over medium heat, tossing pasta and getting it coated with the mixture. Add the cheese, lightly sprinkling. Toss to coat. Add a little more pasta water to moisten if needed. Serve hot with extra cheese for sprinkling.

 

Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo from my classes

Spaghetti Alfredo (Roman specialty, usually with fettuccine, but why not spaghetti?)

1 lb. spaghetti (or fettuccine if you must 🙂

1/2 lb. unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature

2- 2 1/2 cups grated parmigiano

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt. Add pasta. Cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, slice the butter into thin pats and lay them out in the bottom of a large shallow serving bowl. Hold bowl over boiling water to soften butter a little more (not melt it), and to warm the dish (for just 10-20 seconds).

Place the drained pasta on top of the butter and sprinkle about one quarter of the cheese on top. Using a large fork and spoon (or two forks) toss the pasta quickly, coating it with the butter and cheese. Add some of the pasta water—about half. Continue to toss. Add the rest of the cheese little by little, tossing and coating in between each addition.

Keep tossing until the pasta is coated in the creaminess of the butter-cheese-water combination. Add more water if it’s too thick of a mixture. Serve hot.

 

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Rome or Naples)

1 lb. spaghetti

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly

1/2 cup olive oil

2-3 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste

salt to taste

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt. Add pasta. Cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, add the oil, garlic, and red pepper to a large sauté pan. Heat until garlic is just turning golden. Add the drained pasta and cook on medium-low heat, tossing pasta in oil. Season with salt. Add some pasta water to keep moist and to help coat the strands with the oil. When pasta looks shiny, it’s done. Serve hot.

 

Putanesca

linguine puttanesca from my classes

Spaghetti Puttanesca (Naples)

1 lb. spaghetti

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup black olives, chopped (kalamata or oil cured)

handful parsley leaves, chopped

1 2-ounce tin anchovies, minced

2 tablespoons capers, preferably tiny ones

1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, season with salt, add linguine. In the meantime make the sauce.

In a medium skillet sauté the onion & garlic, olives, parsley, anchovies, and capers for about 3-4 minutes, add the tomatoes, season with chili flakes, salt and pepper. Careful with the salt, a lot of the ingredients are already salted. Cook for about 5-6 minutes.

Just before the pasta is done, reserve a cup of the pasta water and reserve. Drain pasta when done and mix with sauce. Add a little water if too dry and/or a drizzle of olive oil. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot.

 

sun-dried tom sauce

quick tomato sauce

Spaghetti Quick Tomato Sauce

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1/4 dry white wine

1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes

salt & pepper to taste

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt. Add pasta. Cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the wine, let evaporate. Add tomatoes. Stir and season with salt & pepper. Simmer for about 12 minutes.

 

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spaghetti w lemon and tuna

Lemon-Tuna Spaghetti w Parmigiano (Naples)

1 lb. spaghetti

zest & juice of 4 lemons

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup olive oil, or more as needed

1 can Italian tuna (many supermarkets carry Genoa brand)

handful of parsley, leaves minced

1/2  cup grated parmigiano

salt & pepper to taste

Bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the spaghetti. Stir to keep pasta from sticking until water comes back to a boil. Cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, combine the lemon zest and juice, garlic, parsley and olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Add the tuna and break up the meat into small pieces. Stir to combine well. Season with salt & pepper.

Before draining the pasta, reserve a cup of pasta water. Combine the lemon sauce with the cooked pasta. Toss to coat well. Add more olive oil or pasta water to moisten if needed. Dust with parmigiano. Serve grated cheese at table for individual servings, too.

Lentils are Coins: Let’s Eat a Million

Close up of Lentils

Lentils

When I lived in Rome my Roman roommate (and soul sister), Enrica, made lentils for lunch one day. In Italy you can get lentils in a can, pre-cooked, like you buy baked beans here. They’re called lenticche in Italian. Enrica emptied the can into a small saucepan and heated the lentils. Then in a small saute pan she heated a little olive oil, added a garlic clove, and cut a few slices of bread into small triangles and fried them to crispy. We each sat down to a bowl of hot lentils topped with crispy garlic croutons. It was, actually, heaven in a bowl.

Lentils are adorable. Have you ever really looked them over? What a sublime invention of nature. So it’s no surprise to me that they represent the possibility of good fortune and prosperity. That they are the go-to traditional meal of New Year’s Eve in Italy. That they are the little horn-blowers to ring in the new year and make everyone rich (well, if not in moneta, in spirit).

On that night, lentils are also accompanied by sausage or cotechino or zampone. To make my life easier I just go for the Italian sausage (already made, bought at the store).

The resulting concoction (of supposedly homey and unsophisticated ingredients) is downright exciting. You feel you are finally having the meal that your body is craving and that your soul scurries up from the depths of you rushing like a very happy puppy for the mana you have (finally) fed it.

If lentils resemble coins, and therefore symbolize the potential for a bigger bank account, well, then, all the better.

Here’s how I make this Happy New Year treat (note: any ole time is perfect as well).

Ingredients

Ingredients

Peel two carrots and slice into rounds. Cut 2 stalks of celery into half-moons. Peel an onion, cut it in half and cut into thin half moons. Saute this mirepoix in a couple of tablespoons of hot olive oil in a medium saucepan.

Mirepoix sauteing

Mirepoix sauteing

When softened, add 2 cups of rinsed lentils. Let them get coated and hot. Add a 1/2 cup or so of dry white wine. Let it evaporate. Then add 4-5 cups water (or broth). Stir, season with salt & pepper. Add a little aleppo or crushed red pepper flakes.

All in the pan

All in the pan

Let simmer for about an hour or so until lentils are soft. I partially cover the pan.

When done add a small 8-oz can of “tomato sauce” the kind you can just buy or any tomato sauce you have. Simmer a few minutes more.

Contadina tomato sauce

Contadina tomato sauce

Meanwhile, heat about an inch of water in a medium saute pan till boiling. Add 3 Italian sausages. Poke them with a knife in a couple of spots. Let them cook, with water simmering, until no longer pink.

Sausage in pan

Sausage in pan

Let water evaporate and add just a bit of oil and let sausages brown and cook through. Place pan under broiler if you like for more browning. When done, cut into rounds.

Golden Sausage

Golden Sausage

I have to add the Enrica part, too. In a small saute pan (or use the pan the sausage cooked in using the leftover oil) heat some olive oil. Add a couple of peeled, smashed garlic cloves. Then add a couple or three slices of bread cut into small triangles or squares. Saute till golden and crispy.

Croutons

Croutons

Put it all together: In each serving bowl, add a couple of ladles-full of lentils, a few rounds of sausage, a sprinkle of croutons, and (optional) some fresh minced sage. Grated pecorino is a nice topping at the table, but it’s perfectly lovely without.

Happy New Year!

A serving of lentils

A serving of lentils

Braciole – Recipe & Lore

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Braciole – before and after

When I was around 6 years old, my best friend, Franny Toubail, from across the street (in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn), would sometimes come for dinner. She wasn’t always familiar with the food my mom cooked. I remember one dinner where veal cutlets were a revelation for her. And that was a revelation for me. Not everyone eats veal cutlets?

No. Not everyone does. A lot of Italians in Brooklyn do.

Same with braciole (pronounced: brah-szhol). For the early part of my life I assumed braciole was simmering in all kitchens on the block. Not so. Not everyone knows braciole. Maybe you don’t either. May I introduce you?

It seems its name is more of an Italian-American concoction. The same dish is called involtini in Italy. But there’s some connection. Braciola in Italy is often thin slices of sautéed beef. And thin slices of beef is where braciole starts.

Thin slices of beef are rolled up like a jelly roll with stuffing inside, tied together, or toothpick-ed closed, browned and then braised in tomato sauce.

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braciole assembly line in one of my classes

What’s the filling? Varies widely with each family. What kind of beef? This changes, too. With some cuts, the braciole needs to braised 2-3 hours, with others, the braciole becomes tender enough within an hour.

My mom’s stuffing was always, simply, breadcrumb, grated cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil. They are delicious this way. Other people add meats, more cheeses, raisins, nuts, even hard-boiled egg slices.

The recent craze for braciole in my family was inspired by a new cut of meat we found. My mom was the experimenter and whoa! what great results.

I’m gonna tell you where to get this cut of meat, but you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone else because I don’t want to get to the store and find it’s all sold out! First off, you have to shop at Aldi. In general they have very reliable meats, but look for the package that says: “thin sliced sirloin tip” and the sign on the shelf says” “for carne asada.” Yes, it’s for carne asada, but what they don’t say: IT’S PERFECT FOR BRACIOLE!

The package looks like a long thick piece of beef, maybe like a London broil, but there are 4 long thin slices piled in there. (If you can’t get Aldi’s perfect-for-braciole meat, then try thin sliced sirloin tip from someone else, or top round, or sirloin, all thin-sliced, but know that it’s this Aldi cut that cooks faster.)

Lay a slice on your work surface so that the length is parallel to your table edge.  Cut it right in half down the middle. You’re gonna layer each half with filling and roll it up away from you– you want the grain of the meat to be parallel to the table edge, too, so that when you cut across later, you’re cutting across the grain.

I’ve upped the ante with my “family” stuffing by ripping or cutting salami and/or prosciutto into small pieces. In addition to the grated parmigiano, I add some shredded asiago. Fresh parsley leaves, sprinkling of breadcrumb (I prefer panko), salt & pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and that’s it. That’s enough — it’s great.

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Roll them as tightly as possible. Tie them tightly in 4-5 places with kitchen string.

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Sauté in hot oil until browned on all sides.

 

Make a simple tomato sauce and when braciole is browned, add it to sauce and simmer for about an hour (or two hours with the non-Aldi cuts of meat) until the meat cuts easily and is tender.

 

Snip off the strings, cut into pinwheel slices, serve with some sauce spooned on top. Use rest of sauce for pasta!

Let me know how it goes. I’m open to questions. It seems tricky but it’s not. It’s easy and packs so much flavor. YUUUUUUUUM.

Beef Braciole – Rolled Stuffed Beef in Tomato Sauce (serves 4-5)

1 1/2 lbs. beef sirloin tip (cut into about 4 long thin slices) (or thin round steak)

1/2 lb. sliced salami, cut into small pieces

1 cup shredded asiago cheese

1 cup grated parmigiano

1 cup panko

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, rough chopped

salt & pepper to taste

olive oil for drizzling & sautéing

kitchen twine

If the slices are very long, cut the slices so they are about 4-6 inches wide. Lay a slice on a work surface. Season with salt & pepper. Sprinkle a few salami pieces. Sprinkle some panko breadcrumbs to lightly cover. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with shredded asiago, grated parmigiano, and a few parsley leaves. Start at one end and roll as tightly as possible in a jelly-roll style. Make sure the grain of the meat is lined up with the length of the roll and not “across it.” (i.e. parallel to the rolled direction.)

Cut several 6-7-inch lengths of string. Tie strings around the roll, each about an inch apart, making a knot at each tie and cutting off most of the excess (leave some of the excess knot for grabbing later to cut string off).

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a medium sauté pan. When hot, season the rolls with salt and place in the oil. Brown until golden brown on at least 2 sides or more. Add to tomato sauce and simmer at a low bubble for about 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove from sauce. When cooled a little, cut off string. Slice across into thick “pinwheels” about an inch wide. Spoon on some tomato sauce. Serve.

Quick Tomato Sauce

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1/4 dry white wine

1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes

1 15-oz can of crushed tomatoes

salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the wine, let evaporate. Add tomatoes. Stir and season with salt & pepper. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

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finished braciole