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.

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Mushroom Broth (Stock)

August 18, 2011

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

~William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The debate over broth vs. stock. Why has this always been so perplexing, even amusing?

Broth derives from the Old English noun broþ, having trickled down from an Indo-European verb root bhreu- or bhru- (“to heat, boil, bubble”), which also produced the word “brew.” So, etymylogically speaking, the noun broth means “liquid in which something has been boiled.”

The Germanic form brotham was borrowed into vulgar Latin as brodo, which by way of Old French broez came into 13th century English as broys or browes.

Stock presents a tad more complicated root scenario given its varied definitions and uses (inventory, corporate stock, summer stock, livestock, paper stock, stock remark, etc.). The word originally denoted a “tree trunk,” coming from the Germanic stukkaz. Stock, as used in the sense of broth, was so coined in the mid 18th century, because one keeps a “stock” of “broth” on hand in the stockpot.

Etymylogically, they seem nearly interchangeable. But, many chefs may dispute this, contending that stock is produced by slowly simmering relatively unseasoned bones and cartilage, some meat scraps, vegetables and aromatics in order to extract their essences. Often, the collagen rich bones are first oven roasted with the vegetables, and then added to the water to further enhance colors and flavors. This gelatinous, rich, and viscous stock is then strained and later used as a base to build sauces, gravies, soups or braises. Broth, on the other hand, they claim is crafted with whole meat morsels, is more delicate by nature and refers to an already finished and seasoned product. So, although not necessary broth can be made of stock.

Add to this semantic cauldron culinary terms like bouillon, court bouillon and consommé and mayhem ensues.

The distinction between vegetable stock and broth seems neglible. As for mushroom broth, made from those noble fungi taxonomically classified as a kingdom separate and apart from plants and animals and more genetically related to animals than plants…a vegan conundrum?

MUSHROOM BROTH

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs crimini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 1/2 C large mushroom stems (e.g., portabella), cleaned and sliced lengthwise
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 C dry white wine
1 T shoyu
1 C dried mushrooms, such as porcini and/or shiitake
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 t dried herbes de Provence
3 sprigs fresh thyme
8 whole black peppercorns
3 C water
3 C vegetable stock

In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add the mushrooms, stems, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine, shoyu, dried mushrooms, salt, dried herbs, thyme, peppercorns, water and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to moderate and simmer until the liquid is reduced about one half, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Pour the hot broth through a fine strainer into a large bowl. Strain a second time for good measure.

Store broth in the fridge for up to four days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

One can resist the invasion of an army but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.
~Victor Hugo

Disorientation can occur in even the most precise of places. Just a few years ago, the Swiss army mistakenly invaded Lichenstein—a principality which has been without an army for well over a century. Not only has Switzerland been famously neutral for some 500 years, a sizeable minority once suggested in a national plebiscite that the country no longer even needed a military. While the invaders were armed with assault rifles, they had no ammunition. Once the misdirected recruits realized their error, they sheepishly tiptoed back to the homeland before anybody noticed. The next day, a formal apology was issued.

Just my kind of military incursion…delightfully comical, no shots exchanged, with all diplomatically forgiven and forgotten.

That lissom, leafy green known as Swiss chard really is not an authentic Swiss piece. Actually, the first varieties have been traced to the Mediterranean basin, likely Sicily. Some posit that seed cataloguers tried to distinguish chard from varieties of French spinach by using the neighborly word “Swiss.” Others claim that chard got its common name from another local green, cardoon, a celery-like plant with thick stalks. French cooks began calling them both carde, and confusion reigned which may have lead to the Swiss modifier.

The roasted, ground fennel seeds are a must.

RISOTTO & SWISS CHARD (RISOTTO e BIETOLE)

7-8 C chicken or vegetable stock

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 C dry white wine

1 lb swiss chard, washed well, stemmed, cut into strips
2 t fennel seeds, roasted then ground
4 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

Heat the oil in a heavy pot, add the onions, and sauté over moderately high heat until the onion softens and becomes translucent. 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 chard, fennel, butter and parmigiano reggiano and stir well for about a half minute or so. The chard should be wilted and the rice tender and firm. Season with salt and pepper, divide among shallow serving bowls and serve.

My father was grounded, a very meat and potatoes man. He was a baker.
~Anthony Hopkins

From obscure origins, but no less comforting fare. One hypothesis? For generations, these potatoes were prepped at home and then treated to the even heat of a local baker’s oven. This theory loses water, though, when you consider that this same dish is often created stove top by first simmmering the potatoes in broth and then finishing them with caramelized onions in a skillet.

A recipe not capable of a baker’s precision, the key to pommes de terre boulangère is maintaining that proper ratio between the stock and potato/onion filling—not too soupy, not too dry. The aim is some browned crust on the surface with silky, succulence below deck.

BAKER’S WIFE POTATOES (POMMES DE TERRE BOULANGERE)

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
1 t herbes de provence
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs waxy potatoes (e.g., Yukon Gold), peeled and thinly sliced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs, stems removed

1 C chicken stock
1 C beef stock

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and cut

Preheat oven to 400 F

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent but not browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Mix the stocks. Rub the cut garlic clove and then butter on the surface of a casserole. Then, spread half of the onions in the bottom of the dish. Arrange a layer of sliced potatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, and scatter with thyme leaves. Strew another layer of onions on top and then a final layer of potatoes. Season again with salt and pepper. Gently pour the combined stocks over the mixture until it covers the potatoes.

Transfer dish to oven and bake until a knife inserts easily and all the liquid has been absorbed, about 1 hour. If needed, cover with foil to avoid excess browning. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Basic Fish Stock

April 29, 2010

Also called fish fumet, this delicate, aromatic stock is a foundation for fine fish cookery.

Use only fresh lean, mild, white fish and avoid oily species such as salmon, tuna or mackerel. You generally want the “racks,” meaning the spine and bones. Heads are also more than welcome to the pot, but guts are verboten. With some advance warning, your fishmonger should be willing to cheaply sell you what is needed from his day’s sustainable seafood bones (emphasis supplied). Preferably use the stock that day, but if not, pour into quart jars and freeze. Allow enough space at the top to account for expansion, and it will store well for a month or so.

BASIC FISH STOCK

1 carrot, peeled and sliced coarsely
1 leek, washed, sliced coarsely
1/2 fennel bulb, well washed and sliced coarsely
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced coarsely
1 stalk celery, sliced coarsley
1/2 parsnip root, sliced coarsely
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
3 T extra virgin olive oil

4-5 lbs fresh fish bones, trimmings and heads, well rinsed
3 qts cold water

3 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 C dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large, heavy skillet heat the olive oil over medium high. Add and sauté the carrot, leek, fennel, celery, parsnip, and garlic until just before browned. Remove from heat and set aside.

Rinse the fish thoroughly in cold water. Put the fish parts, sautéed carrot, leek, fennel, celery, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf in a large, heavy pot. Cover with water and slowly bring to a gentle simmer. Immediately reduce the heat to low, skimming away the foam on the surface. Add the wine, salt and pepper and slowly simmer for 30 minutes.

With a skimmer, remove the bones and vegetables from the stock and discard. Pour the stock through a chinois or cheesecloth lined colander. Discard the solids.

Vegetable Stock

August 8, 2009

An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.
~Will Rogers

Another of the savory basics which, by the way, slipped through the cracks. Roasting the vegetables first brings out the rich M. Maillard reactive depth of flavors in this broth which has endless uses.

ROASTED VEGETABLE STOCK

2 plump, fresh garlic heads, halved crosswise
2 C mushrooms, halved
4 carrots, sliced thick
4 stalks celery, leaves removed and sliced thick
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced thick
2 leeks, rinsed well, greens removed and sliced thick
1 poblano chili pepper, quartered and seeded
1 medium tomato, quartered and seeded

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 C water
1″ ginger, peeled and sliced
2 t dried thyme
2-3 thyme sprigs
6 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 425

In a single layer, arrange the garlic heads, mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, poblano, and tomato in a large baking dish or sheet lined with aluminum foil. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables, and then season with salt and pepper.

Roast the vegetables in the preheated oven, turning once or twice (with the exception of the garlic), until tender and slightly browned, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Combine the water, ginger, thymes, parsley, and bay leaves in a large, heavy stock pot over medium high heat. Squeeze the heads of garlic into the stock pot, and discard the outer husks. Then, place the mushrooms, carrots, celery, onion, leeks, poblano, and tomato in the stock pot. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and gently simmer for 1 1/2 hour. Taste and season while cooking. Strain into a bowl with a fine sieve or chinois, pressing to squeeze out all of the liquid.

Refrigerate up to 6 days or freeze up to 6 months.

Beef Broth a/k/a Stock

February 24, 2009

Back to fond. Rich, fullbodied broths form the essence of savory soups and sauces. (See Chicken Stock post). While this broth takes some time to cook, the liquid will reduce and become more concentrated with flavorful gelatin. Broths should be brought slowly to the simmer and should not boil vigorously. As the temperature increases, proteins in the meat and bones will rise to the surface as broth—they should be skimmed away.

Broth can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 4 to 6 months.

BEEF BROTH

6 pounds meaty beef soup bones (shanks or short ribs)
2 T canola or vegetable oil

3 medium carrots, chopped coarsely
3 celery ribs, sliced
2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
6 quarts of cold water

3 bay leaves
1/2 C dried mushrooms
8 to 10 whole peppercorns
3 to 4 sprigs fresh parsley
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut away as much fat as possible from the outside of the bones. Dig the marrow out and reserve for other purposes (I adore it on roasted bread, in a pasta, etc). Left in, the marrow melts in the broth and becomes part of the fat that is skimmed away—a waste of a precious thing. Cut the meat away from the bones into rough cubes.

Toss the meat and bones in the oil, then place them in a large roasting pan. Roast uncovered, for 45 minutes to brown. Add the carrots, celery and onions. Roast 15 minutes longer.

Drain fat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat, bones and vegetables to a stock pot or large Dutch oven. Deglaze the roasting pan with a little water scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan.

Pour deglazed pan juices to the stock pot. Add enough cold water just to cover. Slowly bring to a simmer and skim off the froth that rises to the surface. This should be done several times until the surface is relatively clear. Add the remaining ingredients, partially cover the pot and gently simmer for 4 hours. If necessary, add hot water during the first 2 hours to keep ingredients covered.

Discard bones and save meat for another use. Strain broth through a cheesecloth-lined colander or a chinois sieve , discarding vegetables and seasonings. Alow broth to cool to room temperature. Pour in jars or bowl.