We all like chicken.
~Malcolm X

Shortly after my fetching daughter’s glorious wedding in a mountain field, I felt compelled to write about rabbit cacciatore (July 24, 2013).

Today’s cacciatore recipe goes to show (as with coq au vin) just how many myriad versions exist of this rustic braise, so many of which are luscious. Really, what are “authentic” kitchens and “classic” recipes anyways — especially when your lands or regions have been invaded, conquered, occupied or colonized by other culture(s) over time?

For instance, tomatoes (pommodori) are often traced from origins in Peru, where they were domesticated by the Mayans and later cultivated by the Incas. These divine fruits likely entered Europe by way of Spain, after conquistador Hernán Cortés‘ early 16th century conquest of the flourishing Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlán, on a swampy island on the coast of Lake Texcoco in the valley of Mexico. When these globular red (often yellow) berries arrived on Italian shores, they were strictly a curiosity for those who merely studied or ruminated about plants, but not anything anyone would ever consider eating. Tomatls (an Aztec term) were considered “strange and horrible things” — aberrant mutants, even feared as poisonous. It was not until later that tomatoes finally were embraced in Italy as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples.” Imported tomatoes assimilated easily to the Mediterranean rim climate and finally became a vital part of Italian cuisine in the 17th & 18th centuries and beyond — over two millennia after they were first domesticated in South and Mesoamerica. The sometimes tortured path of food.

The notion of pollo alla cacciatore seems a rather amusing take on hunters who utterly fail to nab anything while pocketing hearty fare from home. Gentle souls, they must be.

And yes, Malcolm, chicken is unforgettably irresistible.

CHICKEN CACCIATORE (POLLO ALLA CACCIATORE)

4-5 leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 C all purpose flour

1 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t rosemary leaves, chopped
1 t oregano leaves, chopped
1 T fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt

1/2 C dry red wine
1 C chicken broth
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes in juice, diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C crimini and/or shittake mushrooms, trimmed and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rosemary sprigs, for serving
1/2 C basil, ribboned, for serving
2-3 T capers, drained, for serving

Penne, rice, risotto or other pastas, cooked according to instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high in a large, heavy skillet until shimmering. Meanwhile, season the chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and then dredge in flour, shaking off excess, so the leg-thighs are just slightly coated. Brown, in batches if necessary, for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl as they are done and loosely tent. Discard the olive oil and chicken fat from the pan.

Next, turn to a Dutch oven, place on medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and the onion, heirloom tomatoes, and carrot, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Cook and stir, until the vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, oregano, parsley and sea salt to taste. Cover, turn the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is barely soft and the garlic not brown.

Turn the heat back up to medium, stir in the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook while stirring, until the mushrooms are just tender.

Stir in the wine, vinegar and stock and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, until the wine-vinegar-stock mix has reduced by about a third. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, so they are well submerged in the tomato mixture. Cover and braise over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the juices run pale yellow from the chicken.

Place pasta, rice or a simple risotto in large shallow bowls and place over a chicken quarter and ladle with sauce. Strew the rosemary sprigs, chiffonaded basil, and capers over the top and serve with a Sangiovese.

There is nothing better than picking up sun warmed tomatoes and smelling them, scrutinizing their shiny skins for imperfections, thinking of ways to serve them.
~José Ramón Andrés Puerta(a/k/a José Andrés)

So little to be said about this sublime salad from the Island of Capri, found in the Tyrrhenian sea off the Sorrentine peninsula, on the south side of the gulf of Naples — a timeless tricolored culinary classic (sometimes).

INSALATA CAPRESE (CAPRESE SALAD)

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 lb fresh mozzarella (di bufala if possible), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 C packed fresh basil leaves

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a platter, alternately arrange fine quality tomato + mozzarella slices + basil leaves, overlapping them. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: subtly shower with aged balsamic vinegar in lieu of extra virgin olive oil or better yet with the EVOO even though the two will not meld. Then again, add a few slices of fresh avocado or eggplant or try substituting arugula (with fresh oregano), kale, swiss chard, pesto, or watercress for your green.

TOMATO COULIS

1 lb red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut
Sea salt, to taste

1-2 TB extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Raw sugar (turbinado)

Peel, seed, and slice the tomatoes into 2-3″ wedges, and drop in a food processor fitted with a steel blend or simply a blender. Process or blend on high speed with cut garlic until smooth. Pulse the food processor or turn the blender to low, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt, wine vinegar and raw sugar in dribbles as needed and pulse or blend low. Do not strain and refrigerate, if necessary, until ready to serve.

Commonly, tomato coulis is served underneath grilled, roasted or sautéed meats, fish or vegetables or even used as a dip for fritters, sandwiches or other finger fodder. Just a slightly subtle divergence from an earlier post.

L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. (We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians).
~Massimo d’Azeglio

Unification (Risorgimento) was a 19th century political, and socio-cultural movement that aggregated a patchwork of unique states of the peninsula into a single kingdom of Italy. Although many scholars dispute the dates, it is likely that conservatively the process began with the downfall of Napoléon Bonaparte followed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna and ended in 1871 when the country’s capital moved from Florence to Rome…except for the Vatican which became an independent state inside the city. In between that half century, much happened throughout Italy. (I could not begin to discuss the entirety of the movement here.)

For centuries, the Italian peninsula was a politically, culturally and linguistically fragmented conglomeration of neighboring states. Local dialects and regional power conflicts abounded. Although Italy still remained splintered through the mid 19th century, the concept of a united country then really began to take root. With nationalist fervor ignited, pervasive arisings occurred in several cities, mostly advanced by adherents such as professionals and students and often directed at Austrian rule. Giuseppi Garibaldi, a native of Piedmont-Sardinia, also cobbled together the then southern peninsular states into the unification process. With French resources appropriated to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Napoléon III ordered his troops out of Italy. Then, the final thrust for unification was orchestrated by an adroit diplomat, Piedmont-Sardinia’s Prime Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour. Through many struggles — regions, nations, leaders, peoples, wars, revolts, skirmishes, and strifes — Italian risorgimento was finally achieved in 1871.

Italy celebrates the anniversary of risorgimento each semicentennial (every 50 years).

The risotto rendition below is a tad tardy for this farmers’ market season, but likely there still will be some heirloom tomatoes making their final curtain call. Certainly, though, the same recipe can be used during next year’s iteration (and afterwards) when fresh corn ears, ripe heirlooms and basil leaves together grace the stalls. Thanks, locals.

RISOTTO WITH CORN, TOMATOES & BASIL

2 medium to large, local sweet corn ears

8 C chicken stock, seasoned

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 C dry white wine, e.g., sauvignon blanc
3-4 T unsalted butter, cut into tabs
Freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

3 T fresh Italian basil, cut into chiffonade

Remove corn kernels from cobs and set aside the kernels in a bowl. Simmer the cobs in stock for 20 minutes. Remove from stock and discard. Bring back to a gentle simmer over low heat, with a ladle at hand.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or Dutch oven until shimmering and not smoking. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and arborio rice and cook, stirring, until grains of rice separate and begin to slightly crackle, a minute or so. Stir in heirloom tomatoes, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until tomatoes have reduced slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add wine and stir until it has evaporated and has been absorbed by the arborio rice. Begin adding simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time. Stock should just cover the rice and should be simmering, not too slowly but not too aggressively. Cook, stirring often, until just nearly absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this mode, adding more stock and stirring when rice appears to dry. You do not have to stir continually, but often and vigorously. After 10 minutes, add corn and continue for another 10 minutes. When the process is complete, the arborio rice will be just tender but al dente (chewy to the teeth), which is about in 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary.

Add another partial ladleful of stock to the arborio rice. Stir in butter and parmiggino-reggiano for about a half minute and remove from heat. The admix should be creamy. Top with basil and serve somewhat promptly in shallow soup bowls with spoons.

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary. ~William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?
~Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

This post is not intended to be overly didactic or pontific. That capricious punctuation mark that separates words large and small, the comma, does not lend itself to such stringencies. Commas have been used since ancient times, but the modern comma descended from a revered Italian printer, Aldus Manutius (1449-1515). He also laid claim to italic typeface and the ever underutilized semicolon. Before the comma, the oblique virgule (/) — still the French term for comma — denoted a natural pause in speech. While committing Greek masterpieces to type, Manutius dropped this inclined slash lower relative to the text lines and crafted a distinct dot with a gentle metaphorical curve tailing down to the left. The new mark acquired the name comma, a word derived from the Greek komma (κόμμα) which means “to cut off.”

Always adaptive and even idiosyncratic, textual rules have been historically lax for commas. Over time, comma protocol became more codified and emphasized consistency over tonality. For instance, commas have been used to separate independent clauses when a conjunction (e.g., and, but, or) is used in a compound sentence. With appositives and parenthetical phrases, commas are crucial. Serial commas have also been used to separate listed items before the word “and” in a sentence. While some grammarians have insisted upon a squiggle there, others have not.

How punctuation rules have changed over time sometimes appears a matter of whimsy. In recent years, rules of thumb seem to be fading and a more laissez-faire approach has returned. More rules tend to be broken than followed in modern prose. Commas are again being inserted by ear and seem more attuned to individual style and meter. When in doubt, sound it out and listen for natural pauses and rhythms.

This recipe aims to gently kindle the hsien, those altruistic souls who promote munificence. The givers, not always the financial ones though. I have a hunch they love pancakes (and openly dislike or feign subservience to Trumpsters, otherwise known as takers).

Homey stuff.

RICOTTA PANCAKES WITH MEYER LEMONS & BLUEBERRIES

2 C all purpose flour
3/4 C sugar
Small pinch of sea salt
1 t baking powder

4 egg yolks
1 C+ ricotta cheese
3/4 C whole milk
2 Meyer lemons, juiced
1 Meyer lemon, zested

4 egg whites
Pinch of sea salt

Butter
1 pint fresh blueberries

Pure maple syrup

Sift together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks, ricotta, milk and lemon zest and juice. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir/fold until combined.

In another bowl, using a whisk or electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the flour mixture, so the pancakes will be light and fluffy.

Preheat griddle or sauté pan.

Melt butter onto the preheated griddle, then spoon or ladle the batter onto the prepared griddle to desired size. When the pancake top shows bubbles and then holes, it is ready to flip. Sprinkle each pancake with a few blueberries and press down lightly. Then, flip the cakes and cook until the bottom is golden as well.

Serve on plates and drizzle with maple syrup.

A tavola non si invecchia (“You do not become old at a table with friends and family”)
~Italian proverb

Aptly named, Piemonte derives from the Medieval Latin Pedemontium (“at the foot of the mountains”). Lying at the base of the Alps, Piemonte is bordered by France and Switzerland to the west and north, as well as Liguria, Valle d’Aosta and Lombardia to the east and south (and a sliver of Emilia Romagna).

Once home to Celtic-Ligurian tribes and later Gauls, it was absorbed by the Roman republic. After the fall though, it was invaded by the Burgundians, the Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, and Franks with incursions by the Magyars and Saracens. Piemonte was divided by warring feudal lords before the House of Savoy, whose holdings included Sicily and later Sardinia, consolidated and ruled the region for centuries. Later, the region became a French client republic, was even annexed by France, and then was again restored to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piemonte. Finally, Piemonte became a springboard for Italy’s unification (il Risorgimento) beginning in the mid 19th century, with Torino even briefly becoming the capital of Italy. By the end of World War I, the states and regions of the boot agglomerated into one single state of Italy. Given this cross pollination, little wonder that cuisine there reigns supreme. That is just the shortened skinny, so my apologies to valid historians.

A haven for gastronomes, and while decidedly Italian, Piemonte sidles up to and has historical bonds with France. So the region has a culinary culture tinged with and subtly influenced by Provence (and vice versa). Even occitan is the spoken language by a minority in the Cuneo and Torino valleys, and franco-provençal is also spoken by another minority in the alpine heights of Torino.

From rugged peaks to gentle sloping hills to plains, the cuisine conforms to seasonal changes and regional anatomies, confluences. The Po River collects the waters flowing from the semicircle of mountains (Alps and Apennines) which surround Piemonte on three sides. The fertile Po valley plain creates the dense rice paddies near Novara and Vercelli. Fruit orchards abound and garlic grows effortlessly here. The vines of bold, elegant reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco grace the region.

Piemonte is home to zabaione, panna cotta, bagna cauda, white truffles, agnolotti, snail and leek casserole, polenta, risotto, confections and artisanal chocolates, tajarin (egg yolk rich pasta) — just to name a few. Unlike southern Italy, tomatoes might as well not exist here.

Bra, a town and commune nestled near Torino, is home to the “slow food” movement, a response to the fast food revolution. Slow Food occupies the crossroads of ecology and gastronomy, ethics and pleasure. A way of eating and living, it is a grassroots organization with supporters around the globe. Slow Food was founded to counter the recent rise of the fast life, the exodus of local food heritage, and the dwindling enthusiasm for food — its origins, scents, flavors and textures. (You know that common, but bizarre tableau of shamelessly gobbling down a double quarter pounder with bacon and “cheese” with an order of large fries or two and a huge coke in hand while winding through noon traffic between appointments.)

The movement fosters food biodiversity, encourages local culture, develops nexuses between farmers and producers, opposes multinational agribusiness, educates about food, and organizes food events. It ponders and acts upon how food choices not only affect individuals and families, but the world overall. Such admirable work with nary a shred of sanctimony. Be grateful.

While universal in scope, there are local Slow Food chapters called convivia. Each convivium arranges functions ranging from simple dinners to visits with local farmers to conferences and courses promoting Slow Food’s tenets. Other networks give a voice to small farmers, breeders and fishers whose approach is geared to the movement’s principles of connecting community to the environment.

“Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability and harmony with nature,” proclaims Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder and president. Once again, the food abides.

Seemed only à propos to salute the egg here — especially local, coop coddled ones. First, hardboiled eggs marinated in olive oil with garlic, herbs, and anchovies, followed by that sublime trifecta of mushrooms, cheese and eggs.

UOVA ALLA PIEMONTESE I (PIEDMONT EGGS)

6 hardboiled eggs

2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, separated, peeled and minced
1 T balsamic vinegar
4 fine anchovy fillets, drained and chopped

2 C extra virgin olive oil

Place eggs in a heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the white. Put the peeled hardboiled eggs in a bowl.

Whisk together the parsley, rosemary, sage, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and anchovies. Then, while whisking vigorously, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Pour the emulsion over the eggs in a mason jar, close tightly and refrigerate overnight or for a day. To serve, cut eggs in half lengthwise, put an egg on each plate, spoon over some oil, and savor with crusty artisanal bread.

UOVA ALLA PIEMONTESE II

3 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 C wild mushrooms or crimini, cleaned and thinly sliced
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 C dry white wine

1/2 C Fontina cheese, thinly sliced or grated

4 eggs
Water
White wine vinegar

In a heavy skillet, add butter, olive oil, garlic and bay leaf over medium high heat. Once hot, remove the bay leaf, place the mushrooms, sauté over high heat, add salt, sprinkle with the wine and allow to evaporate. Spread about half of the cooked mushrooms into four ramekins and layer with a few thin slices of Fontina. Set aside the ramekins and the unused mushrooms and cheese for later.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 2 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

Carefully put the poached eggs into the ramekins already partially filled with mushrooms and cheese and then add the remaining mushrooms and Fontina. Bake just until the cheese has melted and serve.

Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.
~Bertrand Russell

Ancient Rome had an illustrious tradition of kinky emperors, some of whom just narcissistically railed out of control. Whimsy and revelry gone morbid.

Armed with a paranoid temperament, Caligula (37-41 AD) was widely reputed for his tyrranical cruelty, orgiastic extravagances and sexual perversities. Nero (54-68 AD), an early persecutor of Christians, was known for having captured worshippers burned in his garden at night for a source of light. Alleged to have calmly fiddled while Rome burned—a My Pet Goat moment—he also had his mother Agrippa summarily executed and stepbrother poisoned. Commodus (180-192 AD) who ruled with his father, Marcus Aurelius, held perverse sway over hundreds of concubines and terrorized Rome’s rich and famous with a murderous reign of death and torture. In the midst of his cruelties, Commodus would sing and dance, frolicking as the town buffoon on Rome’s streets. The notorious Caracalla (209-217 AD) ruthlessly murdered his brother and persecuted some 20,000 of his allies. Elagabalus (218-222 AD) married multiple times, even taking one of the sacred vestal virgins as one wife. He was rumored to have had homosexual liaisons with his courtiers and had his body hairs plucked to appear more feminine…even engaging in public crossdressing.

Enter on stage Silvio Berlusconi, the current prime minister. Facing trials on a number of scandals, his private life has become curiously linked with the phrase bunga bunga. The term is now so well embedded in the Italian language that “bunga bunga city” refers to Sig. Berlusconi’s world.

Hordes of linguists and journalists have puzzled over the origins of these words which emerged last year, when a teen Moroccan belly dancer said she had attended bunga bunga parties with other women at Sig. Berlusconi’s villa in Milano.

I openly confess to not knowing what bunga bunga means. But, Arab news sources have reported that that Berlusconi learned these harem rituals frοm hіѕ friend, Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Some have suggested that the phrase comes from one of the prime minister’s favorite infantile African-connoted jokes. Other references to bunga include a masquerading hoax about the Abyssinian emperor inspecting the H.M.S. Dreadnought at the turn of the century which involved the author Virginia Woolf donning a full beard. Earlier this year in Spartacus fashion, Sabina Began, German actress and Berlusconi’s friend, even revealed to Sky Italia that she herself was bunga bunga: “Bunga Bunga is simply my nickname.”

I still do not know the definition, but have felt an urge to proclaim “I am Bunga Bunga!” It has a certain cinematic ring.

So, enough bunga bunga prattle. On to more serious fare, risotto—a marvel of the food world. There is a radiance to risotto. An elegant, yet soulful, sheen which almost causes you to bow at the waist.

RISOTTO con FUNGHI e VINO BIANCO

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2-3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ozs proscuitto di parma or san daniele, diced finely
3/4 lb porcini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 1/2 C arborio rice
8 C chicken stock

1 C sauvignon blanc
4 T unsalted butter
1 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium sauce pan, heat stock on low until hot, almost simmering.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until almost smoking. Add the shallots and proscuitto and cook until the shallots are softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned while stirring. Add the rice and stir until coated and opaque, about another 2-3 minutes.

Then, begin the process. Add a ladleful of hot stock, and cook, until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more. The rice will become tender and creamy but still al dente after about 18 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter and parmigiano reggiano and stir well for about a half minute or so. Season with salt and pepper, divide among shallow serving bowls and serve.

Lamb, Chard & Ricotta Lasagna

December 28, 2010

Language is the archives of history.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Admittedly, it’s been much too long since pen has touched paper here. But, fear not—there are plenty of contrivances in the kitchen to unleash. The hearty number below is for those hunkering down in the white chills back east and across the pond.

Lasagna (pl. lasagne) is somewhat dual faced—both a form of pasta and the actual casserole made with that noodle. The pasta is broad, long and well suited to supine layering. The American version is usually rippled lengthwise on the edges while the true Italian noodle is customarily flat.

Not unlike ourselves, lasagna has a slightly fractured history. One school asserts that lasagna derives from the Greek word λάγανον (laganon), a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips, a word that still describes a Greek unleavened bread. Other linguists focus on the vessel itself and posit that the word lasagna comes from λάσανον (lasanon) meaning “chamber pot.” It follows, they say, that lasanum which is the Latin word for “cooking pot” became the precursor to today’s lasagna concept.

Seemed like a fairly benign etymology, until about a decade ago when the English laid claim to lasagna’s origins. You can only imagine the profound insult felt in the streets of Rome…that arms waving vitriol. Apparently, researchers claim that the court of Richard II was savoring lasagna as early as the 14th century. When pouring over the Forme of Curry, one of the first written cookbooks, they found a recipe for loseyn, pronounced “lasan.” In Middle English it reads something like this: Take a gode broth and do i an erthen pot, and do payndemayn and make pof paft with wat, and make pof thynne foyles as pap with a roller, drye it harde and feepe it i broth take Chefe ruayn and lay it in dish with powdo douce. and lay pon lofeyns ifode as hoole as poo mizt and above powdo and chefe, and fo thwyfe or thryfe, & sue it forth.

Did not the Romans occupy the English Isles for several centuries a millenium before Forme of Curry was compiled?

Back to the boot. It goes with saying that lasagna is a distinctly regional dish in Italy—a traditional Ligurian rendition differs from that found in Rome. Varying versions abound throughout home kitchens and restaurants here, there and elsewhere. For instance, this recipe does have some meat but does not have tomato sauce. So, beware those who use the phrase “authentic lasagna.” Just craft one with innards to your liking.

As with pizzas, paninis, and pasta, please avoid overburdening the lasagna between layers as the noodle should still play the leading role.

LAMB, CHARD & RICOTTA LASAGNA

1 lb lamb, freshly ground
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano, crumbled between fingers and thumb

2 1/2 C whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs thyme

6 T unsalted butter
5 T flour

Small grating of nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 lb red-ribbed chard, stemmed and rinsed
3/4 lb green chard, stemmed and rinsed

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 C shallots, peeled and chopped
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves
3/4 lb fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 lb fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb dried lasagna noodles
Sea salt

8 oz semi soft cheese, such as Italian Fontina, Gruyère or Comté, freshly shredded
3/4 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated

16 oz whole milk ricotta

Preheat oven to 375 F

Drain the ricotta in a sieve positioned over a bowl about one hour. Discard liquid and set ricotta aside.

Lamb
Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil and smashed garlics. Stirring occasionally sauté lamb until medium rare, about 3-5 minutes. Remove and discard garlics. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of oregano to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Sauce Béchamel
Bring milk, bay leaf and thyme to a quiet simmer in a heavy, medium sauce pan.

In another heavy, medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly with a for 3-5 minutes to make a blond roux. Do not allow the roux to brown. Remove bay leaf and thyme from milk, gradually add to the flour and butter mixture, whisking until smooth. Then add a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until it coats a spoon, whisking throughout, about another 8-10 minutes. Set aside on a very low burner and keep gently warm for assembly later.

Chards & Mushrooms
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch chard for one minute, then drain, pressing out the water in a towel as you would with spinach. Chop coarsely. Heat olive oil and butter in heavy medium skillet. Sauté first the shallots and garlic for a few minutes, and then mushrooms for a few minutes more, until shallots and garlic are softened and the mushrooms are just tender. Add blanched, chopped chard and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir again, allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Assembly
In a large pot of boiling and generously salted water, cook the lasagna until al dente. Drain well and dry, then layer the sheets carefully between clean paper towels for later.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the chard and mushroom mixture with the lamb.

(1) Spread one third of the béchamel on the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Arrange the lasagne side by side, slightly overlapping, completely covering the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the chard-mushroom-lamb mixture over the pasta. Then spread some ricotta in an even layer atop. Strew half of the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano over the ricotta.

(2) Repeat layers by arranging in an overlapping layer of lasagne in the pan. Then, add the remaining chard-mushroom-lamb mixture. Again, spread ricotta evenly over that layer. Then, add the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano. Spread another one third of béchamel sauce over the cheeses.

(3) Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets in a slightly overlapping fashion on top and spread with béchamel sauce once again.

Cover lasagna with aluminum foil, place dish on a large baking sheet, and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.

Pleasure is divided into six classes: food, drink, clothes, sex, scent and sound.
Of these, the noblest and most consequential is food…the pleasure of eating is above all pleasures.

~Al-Baghdadi

From the word tagliare, meaning “to cut,” tagliatelle is a traditional pasta from Emilia-Romagna, a poetic region in central northern Italy between the fertile Po River and the gentle Apennines and bordered on the east by the Adriatic. A culinary constellation, Emilia-Romagna is home to such rustic cornerstones as prosciutto di Parma, culatello, mortadella di Bologna, zampone, Parmigiano-Reggiano, aceto balsamico

Tagliatelle are long, flat, thick ribbons with a porous texture that are similar in shape to but a little wider than fettuccine. Legend has it that a talented Renaissance court chef was so enamored by the noblewoman Lucrezia d’Estes’ beautiful blonde tresses, that he dedicated this new pasta to her on the occasion of her nuptials to the Duke of Ferrara. The wedding dish was called talgiatelle all amaniera di Zafiran, which means in the manner of Zafiran or saffron. However, this tale may be born of more questionable food lore. The actual nascense of tagliatelle may have been much earlier, as it was depicted in texts well over a century before the wedding.

Eggplants of all shapes, sizes, colors and varieties are ubiquitous this time of year at our local farmers’ market. So, I am regaling in those dark, suave ones.

Buon appetito!

TAGLIATELLE E MELANZANE (TAGLIATELLE & EGGPLANT)

2 medium eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/4″ slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Canola oil
Red wine vinegar
1 C fresh basil leaves, ribboned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 superior anchovy filets, rinsed, dried and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 C arugula

1 lb. tagliatelle, preferably fresh

Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Pour equal amounts of olive oil and canola oil into a deep, heavy pan until about 2 1/2″ deep. Heat oil until hot and fry eggplant slices one layer at a time until browned on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels, then cut the cooked slices into thirds. Place on a platter and sprinkle lightly with red wine vinegar. Then toss with basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow the eggplant to marinate for about an hour.

In a deep, heavy skillet, heat the anchovies and garlic in olive oil heated to medium high. Gently sauté for a few minutes, then add the eggplant. In a heavy pot filled with liberally salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the skillet. Season again with pepper, add arugula, toss and serve with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.

Smooth skins hued from deep purple to violet white, and bodies styled from pleasingly plump to gracefully slender, eggplants always bare tender, creamy flesh inside.

Though commonly thought of as a vegetable, eggplant is actually a fruit, and specifically a berry. Eggplants belong to the Solanaceae plant family, commonly known as nightshades, and are kinsfolk with tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. Eggplants have nothing to do with eggs other than their oblong shape which spurred their ovular name. Other cultures favored the term aubergine which is derived from the Sanskrit meaning “to cure wind disorder,” since eggplants were once thought to alleviate flatulence. The Sanskrit word vatinganah was somehow morphed to badingan by the Persians, then al-badinjan by the Arabs, alberengena by the Spanish, and finally aubergine by the French.

Native to India in wild form, eggplants were later cultivated in China around 500 B.C. The fruit was then introduced to the Mediterranean basin and Africa. Italy’s ardent affair with eggplant began in the 14th century. Myths persisted that eating eggplant caused insanity, not to mention leprosy and bad breath, which explains why eggplant was often used solely for decoration in many homes. Thankfully, so far I have at least avoided leprosy.

The Sicilian antipasto relish known as caponata is a poster child for food’s mottled history. An alluring triangular island smack dab in the middle of Meditteranean trade routes, Sicily has been conquered over centuries by the likes of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans, French, and Spaniards. Through all this rape, pillage and survival, Sicilians subtly borrowed along the way to engender a cradle of singular cuisine. But, it comes as no surprise that the origins of caponata are disputed.

Some say caponata is of Spanish descent, derived from the Catalan word caponada, a similar relish. Others emphasize that the root word, capón, a type of fish, suggest it was prepared with fish as in capón de galera which is a form of gazpacho served shipboard. Another school claims that the dish had to be a mariner’s breakfast because of the vinegar, which may have acted as a preservative. A final, yet less accepted, theory is that the word derives from the Latin word caupo (tavern) where cauponae was served—a form of gastropub for ancient travelers.

Caponata is protean, having as many versions as uses. Antipasto, contorno, bruschetta, pasta, frittata, paninis, with fish, atop grilled meats, etc.

CAPONATA ALLA SICILIANA

Extra virgin olive oil
3 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2″ cubes

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 T red chile pepper flakes

2-3 ripe medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 T capers, drained, rinsed and dried
1/3 C green olives, such as cerignola, pitted and chopped
2 T pine nuts
2 T currants
2 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t premier unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T tomato paste

Fresh mint, stemmed and chopped
Red chile pepper flakes

In a heavy pot or large sauce pan, pour in olive oil until about 2 1/2″ deep. Heat over medium high heat and bring the temperature to about 300 F. You can drop small pieces of eggplant or bread in the oil and when it starts bubbling vigorously, it is ready. Add the eggplant and cook, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked eggplant to paper towels and drain.

Meanwhile, in a deep, sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil to medium high, add the onions, garlic and pepper flakes and sauté until onions are softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, capers, olives, pine nuts, currants and thyme. Stir some and cook until the tomatoes release their juices, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk together balsamic vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa and tomato paste, add to pan, and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Add the cooked eggplant, and continue to cook at a simmer until heated, about 2 more minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish with mint and a pinch of chile flakes.

Pourboire:  consider dribbling caponata on bruschetta slices.

Corsica…an isolated and singular land, both island and mountain.
~Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie

Lamb is on my mind. Surprise, surprise.

Today my thoughts wandered to a quaint, dimly lit Corsican restaurant on a narrow cobblestone street in Paris’ 5ème. Through the wine haze of a late evening and time gone by, I recalled (with able help) scrumptious roast goat and lentil salad served by the beguiling and barefoot co-owner, manager, hostess, cashier, waitress and wife. A one woman band with the exception of her husband, the chef. The theory that food is better in bare feet was borne out again—even if they were her naked toes, and not ours.

Later, I meandered to a couple of visits years back to that magical French offshore région which is metaphorically shaped like a cluster of sun dappled, vine ripened grapes: Corsica.

La Corse, sometimes called L’Île de Beauté, has stunning palm fringed bays, daunting limestone cliffs, unspoiled beaches and intimate coves— nearby, Corsica’s landscapes open onto thickly shrubbed and flowered maquis—then the island rises up to the interior’s snow capped alpine peaks, plunging ravines, rushing torrents, lofty pine forests, glacial mountain lakes, high pastures, and red roofed villages perchés. An idyllic venue where, on the same day, a brisk morning alpine hike amidst fragrant evergreens and gurgling streams can morph into a tranquil afternoon by the beach, awash in the shimmering Mediterranean.

A fragrant, mystical mountain with rocky shores jutting from the sea.

The fiercely proud people of Corsica have endured a rather tumultuous past of invasion, occupation and also isolation. The Greeks had a brief foothold in Corsica with the foundation of Aleria in 566 BC until they were expelled by an alliance of the Etruscans and Carthaginians. In the 2nd century BC, it was taken over by the Roman Empire which had a profound influence, colonizing the entire coast, permeating inland and changing the indigenous language to Latin.

With the fall of Rome centuries later, the island passed through the hands of the Goths and Vandals until it assumed Byzantine rule in the the 5th century AD. After the Byzantine Empire’s collapse, Corsica found itself governed by the Moors and then by the Vatican. In 1282, it came under lengthy rule by the Doges of Genoa, with brief interruptions from Aragon and France, to whom the Mediterranean island was sold in 1768. Almost 500 years of Genoan reign along with the earlier Roman dominion has imparted a distinctly Italian flair to the island.

Some have opined that some 10,000 — 12,000 Corsican stoic sons perished in WW I, much more disproportionate given the small population there.  In most villages, there is a stone monument to the fallen in The Great War.

In the last several decades, Corsica’s relationship with the mainland has been uneasy and problematic at times. The early 1970’s saw the rise of a nationalist movement in a reaction to years of cultural indifference and economic neglect, and separatists still wage a violent struggle against the central government. Successive French administrations have been unwilling to offer meaningful regional autonomy, including official status for the Corsican language and recognition of the Corsicans as a distinct nationality. In an effort to diminish tensions, the central Parisian government has created an elected local assembly to give voice to Corsican regional aspirations.

Corsica’s cuisine is as divinely robust as its citizens—smoked hams from chestnut fed pigs, wild boar sausage, pork cuts and charcuterie, fresh herbs, rustic red and white beans and the local goat’s milk cheese, called brocciu, both fresh and aged. Animals are butchered nose to tail, so offal abounds. Cafés teem with locals and tourists alike quaffing red wine and eating artisanal bread spread with slabs of pâté de grives (thrush) and briny green Corsican olives. The flowers of the aromatic Mediterranean scrubland there offer bees with countless nectars, producing brush, arbutus and chestnut flower honey. And the isle is Europe’s main producer of clementines.

As an island region, seafood is naturally a central part of Corsican life: red mullet, pandora, red scorpionfish, sea bream, monkfish, rock lobster, spider crab and squillfish. There is also mullet roe, cured and dried to make boutargue, known as “Corsican caviar.”

The maquis fed young lambs (abbacchios) and goats (cabris) are superlative—tender and succulent from their free range mountainside habitat.

CORSICAN ROAST LEG OF LAMB

8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
6 high quality anchovy fillets, chopped
1/2 C olive oil
1/2 C Lucques olives
Juice of 1-2 oranges
3 T Dijon mustard

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, stripped and leaves chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped and leaves chopped
2 T dried oregano
2 t red pepper flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 6-7 lb leg of lamb, bone in
3 C Corsican or Bandol dry white wine
4 T unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pads

Place the garlic and anchovies into a food processor and pulse to a fine paste; add the olive oil in a narrow steady stream and while pulsing, add the olives, orange juice and mustard. Add the rosemary, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the mixture, again pulsing to a paste.

Liberally season lamb with salt and pepper, cover well with marinade and place into a heavy plastic bag. Squeeze out as much of the air as possible from the bag and seal. Wrap again with another plastic bag to ensure that the marinating lamb does not leak. Marinate for overnight in the refrigerator. Remove the lamb, still in its marinade bag, from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before putting in the oven to bring the lamb close to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat oven to 450 F

Remove the lamb from the marinade bag and place on a rack in a roasting pan, fat side up. Roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 F and continue cooking for an additional 1-1 1/2 hours (10-12 minutes per lb). While cooking, periodically baste the lamb in the pan juices. However, remember every time the oven door is opened, you will need 10 minutes or so to bring the oven back up to temperature, thus slowing the cooking process.

(If you think the skin is becoming too dark but the internal temperature of the lamb is still too rare you can loosely cover the lamb in aluminum foil while the lamb continues to cook.)

Check with an internal thermometer and remove from the oven anywhere from 130-135 F for medium rare. Lamb should never be cooked until well done or it will be too dry.

Remove the lamb to a platter or board and let stand at least 15 minutes before carving. Retain the cooking juices in the roasting pan and spoon off some of the excess fat. Then, place the roasting pan on the stove top and heat to a boil. Add the wine, cook down rapidly and reduce the sauce by more than half. Thicken the sauce by vigorously whisking in butter just before serving.

Position the leg roast so that the meatier side faces down. Using a long, thin-bladed knife and holding the end of the shank bone, remove a few strips of meat from the top side, working parallel to the bone.  Rest the leg on the flat area you and cut slices to your liking perpendicular and all the way down to the bone, starting at the end farthest away.  Starting at the top, slide the knife underneath the slices just made. Remove in one long sawing motion.  Rotate the bone and repeat with the less meaty side; trim any remaining meat from the sides of the bone.

Serve slices over polenta, artisanal noodles or white beans, spooning sauce over.