Tag Archives: authentic

When celebrity chefs feel the need to reinvent the wheel: Carlo Cracco and his infamous garlicky Amatriciana

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

Last month, the Italian culinary world has been shocked by the Amatriciana recipe suggested by one of our superstar chefs: Carlo Cracco.

While attending an Italian TV show, the famous chef listed a garlic clover as one of the ingredients of the worldwide known pasta dish!  Anyone who is only vaguely familiar with (authentic) Italian cuisine knows that garlic does not belong in the Amatriciana (for reference, check out our recipe for an authentic Amatriciana)!

As if the first slap in the face of Italian culinary tradition wasn’t enough, during an episode of the Italian edition of Masterchef, first Joe Bastianich and then Cracco himself suggested that one of the contestants use some onion when making “pasta alla Gricia”, the famous ancestor of the Amatriciana which doesn’t call for tomatoes and… most certainly does not call for onions either!!!

Enough was enough, so much so that specialized media, social networks, restaurant owners and even the Mayor of Amatrice “took the field” ready to crucify Cracco and his garlicky dish in defense of the one and only recipe. The Amatrice Culinary School went as far as to publicly invite Cracco to visit them so he can finally taste the real thing! Ouch!

I think one of the commentators hit the nail on the head: nobody can dispute that you can get creative in the kitchen and experiment as much as you like, but when you decide to add garlic to the Amatriciana, don’t call it that – because it’s not! As good as it may be with the addition of the extra ingredient, it’s simply another dish!

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

My reaction to all this fuss? One of kind of sadness and disappointment. Both Italian and non-Italian gourmands who happen not to be experts in my country’s cuisine often look up at celebrity chefs like Cracco to learn the Italian food gospel. I think that people who enjoy all that notoriety have the moral responsibility to… spread the word, and spread it right. How can I go on happily complaining about the oh so many restaurants in my adopted country that serve me Amatriciana with garlic and/or onion when one of our star chefs is teaching exactly that? 😉

Anyone who knows me a bit is well aware of my aversion toward social networks. However, in this case, I truly hope their popularity will help to set the record straight!

Curious about a third slap in the already bruised face of Italian culinary tradition? Another Italian hugely popular chef, Davide Oldani, recently declared that butter can be used in making pesto!!! I mean, butter. Seriously? I believe people from Genoa (including Stefano!) and the Liguria region in general must be incessantly calling the food police! Such an affront.

I’m telling you: if another Italian celebrity chef comes along suggesting that heavy cream can be used in making Carbonara, I’ll consider giving up my Italian citizenship!!!

Hope you enjoyed this little foodgate!

F. Xx

Breaking News: The demise of tiramisu'?

Francesca's TiramisuA few days ago, I read an article on an Italian newspaper that saddened me a bit. Le Beccherie, an Italian restaurant located in Treviso (a town in the northeastern region of Veneto) that is credited for creating one of the most famous spoon desserts the world over, tiramisu’, will close its doors for good on March 30 reportedly due to the long-lasting recession that Italy has been going through during the last years.

The restaurant has been in the Treviso culinary scene for a very long time. It opened on September 1, 1939. Ring any bell? Yes, exactly the same day that World War II started.

In the Sixties, Ada (the wife of the restaurant owner, Aldo Campeol) and pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto, came up with the recipe of tiramisu’ in the kitchen of Le Beccherie by finding inspiration in and elaborating on existing dessert recipes, including that of the restorative, “energizing” desserts that at that time used to be offered to the clients of the… local brothels! See now the reasons for both the name tiramisu’ (that translates into “pick-me-up”) and all those eggs that go into it?… 😉

I was born and raised in Italy, but I have never been to Treviso. And now I will never have the chance to taste the original Tiramisu’ prepared at Le Beccherie. What a shame! 🙁

So, if any of you or someone you know happens to be in Italy in the Treviso area before the end of the month, I suggest you or your friends stop by the restaurant for a taste of the “real tiramisu'”, a delicious milestone in the Italian culinary history.

Wish you all a great week – and of course Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Xx

Celebrating The New Year Deliciously: Sartu' di Riso

Rice Sartu'

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I love simple and quick recipes. Like most of you, I don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen just for the pleasure of it, especially on a week day, so I tend to opt for dishes that can be ready in a couple of hours.

Of course there are exceptional times and the holidays are one of them. First of all, I am always (well let’s say often!) in a very good mood because I love Christmas time. There is something magic about it and it seems to affect my way of being in a positive way! 😉

Second of all, my parents are always visiting us and when they are in our house, I feel this strong urge to eat dishes whose flavors bring up childhood memories. I’m sure many of you have experienced the same feeling when mommy is around. You automatically return to play the child’s role as if no years had gone by since you were a little kid (although in the meantime you may have become a parent yourself!) and spent time in the kitchen watching your mom prepare some delicious food.

Last but not least, having my parents in the kitchen equals four additional hands capable of working in harmony, without supervision, tremendously shortening the cooking time and, most importantly, delivering spectacular results, no matter what. I could not ask for more! 🙂

Well, after some thought, I have settled on the well known Neapolitan “sartu’ di riso” or rice sartu’ as my dish of choice to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

Let me tell you about the way this great dish was born according to a story that I recently read on an Italian website, which amused me so much that I think it is worth sharing.

Rice Sartu'According to this story, rice first arrived in Naples from Spain at the end of the 14th century, along with the Aragonese domination.  Unfortunately for those little grains, people from Naples did not like them at all! Apparently, they associated rice with the food given to people sick with gastrointestinal diseases (boiled white rice). For this reason, Neapolitans started calling rice “belly washer”! 🙂 🙂 🙂

According to the story, rice migrated to more welcoming lands, i.e., to the North of Italy where it was received with all the honors and decided to make itself at home there, thus starting a long-standing tradition of delicious risotto dishes. 🙂

Four long centuries had to go by before rice would come back to the Neapolitan soil and finally get the attention and credit it deserves. In the 18th century, Naples was under French domination and the Neapolitan aristocratic families really wanted to fit in and looked sophisticated before the eyes of the new rulers, so they started speaking French and eating French food. So, the kitchens of Neapolitan aristocrats became the reign of French cooks and those Neapolitan cooks who knew how to cook French food.

Now, the French happened to love rice, so the cooks had to find a way to make the Neapolitan nobles like rice, one way or another. The first thing they did was to add some tomato sauce (so beloved by the Campanian palates) to the rice. But that wasn’t enough! So they decided to also add peas, fried eggplants and small meatballs to the rice to enrich its taste. Those sneaky cooks came up with the idea of putting all these yummy “treats” on top of the rice as a garnishment to make the nobles’ mouths water. The French translation of “on top of everything” is “sur tout“. The passage from the French “sur tout” to the Neapolitan adaptation “sartu’” was just a short step! 😉

Every food story has and should have a happy ending. This one is no exception. The Neapolitan aristocrats ended up loving sartu’ very much and, little by little, this amazing dish found its way to the tables of those who were not as privileged, proving that good food doesn’t know social stratification! 😉

Before we get to the actual recipe, let me just clarify one point. Both my parents are from the South of Italy but neither of them is from Naples. Thus, the recipe that I’m about to share is my family’s version of sartu’. I have read and seen many versions of this dish and I noticed that most of them use the so-called Neapolitan ragu’ (a meat-based tomato sauce that is made, among other ingredients, with ground meat and sausages) as the assembling sauce of the sartu’ as opposed to my family’s version which calls for simple tomato sauce. As to the filling and the garnishment, I have seen sausages, eggplants, mushrooms, chicken livers and even pancetta. As cheese, some use some provolone cheese in lieu of mozzarella cheese.

What I’m trying to say is twofold: firstly,  our recipe can be just a starting point for you to come up with your own family version of sartu’, being creative and using the ingredients that you and your loved ones like the most.

Secondly, if there is some of you, beloved readers, who comes from Naples (or whose family comes from there) and is willing to share their thoughts and family traditions about this rice masterpiece, I would love to hear from you!

And now, without further ado, let’s get a little technical! 😉

Rice Sartu'

Ingredients: 

1 pound, Arborio rice

For the tomato sauce:

3/4 of 1 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped (optional)
2 cans, San Marzano peeled tomatoes
3/4 pound, green peas
Salt

For the meatballs and tomato sauce: 

1 pound, ground beef
3 slices, white bread
3/4 Tbsp, whole milk
8 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
3 eggs
2 cups, vegetable oil
1/4 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 can, San Marzano peeled tomatoes
Salt

For the filling and assembling:

10 mozzarella ciliegine
4 hard boiled eggs
8 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese

Directions:

Take the mozzarella ciliegine out of the water and put them in a colander until it’s time to use them for the filling so that they will lose their excess water.

Put the bread slices into the milk. If you don’t have milk, you can use some water instead.

In a non-stick large pot, pour the oil and, if you decide so, the onion (my mother doesn’t use it 🙂 ) and cook, on a very low heat, until the onion softens.

Place a food mill directly on top of a pot and process the tomatoes, add some salt (to taste) and let the sauce cook in the pot on medium heat. After about 15 minutes, add the peas. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates completely and the sauce thickens.

While the first sauce is cooking, put the ground meat into a bowl. Squeeze the bread with your hands and add it to the meat. Add the Parmigiano cheese, the eggs, some salt (to taste) and knead the meat mixture with your hands until you obtain a smooth and homogeneous mixture. With the help of your hands, make small meatballs. Their size should be that of half a walnut.

Pour the vegetable oil into a non-stick medium/large pot on medium heat and when the oil is hot, fry the meatballs. Put the fried meatballs in some paper towel so that the paper absorbs the excess oil.

Pour the olive oil into another non-stick pot, add the onion and cook, on a very low heat, until the onion softens. Always with the help of a food mill, process the tomatoes, put them into the pot, add some salt (to taste) and let the sauce cook on medium heat. After about 20 minutes, add the fried meatballs. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates completely and the sauce thickens.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the rice and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the rice, add the peas, tomato sauce and 5/6 Tbsp of Parmigiano cheese and, with the help of a wooden spoon, toss to coat.

In a bundt cake pan, put some of the rice mixture up to half the height of the pan. Cut the mozzarella ciliegine in half and distribute them evenly on top of the rice mixture. Cut the hard boiled eggs into bits and add them on top of the rice and the ciliegine. With the help of a paddle, repeat the same process with some of the meatballs. Cover the ciliegine, the eggs and the meatballs with the rest of the rice. Finish up by adding the rest of the Parmigiano cheese as well as some tomato sauce with a few meatballs.

Preheat the oven at 350 F. Put the sartu’ in the oven for about 30 minutes. Let it cool off completely and turn the sartu’ over on a serving plate.

I usually put the rest of the tomato sauce and meatballs in the hole in the middle of the sartu’. Unfortunately, I did not have enough meatballs left to decorate the top of my sartu’ because Stefano was famished and ate lots of meatballs which were supposed to be used as garnishment. 😉 Hopefully, your equivalent of him is not going to be around when you are about to put the finishing touches on your dish! 😉 You can even use some slices of hard boiled eggs as final garnishment.

A little note as a final touch. My pan worked beautifully and it was very easy to turn my sartu’ over once it cooled off. I have read that, if you are not completely sure about your pan, you can grease it with some butter and cover it with breadcrumbs. I haven’t tried this method yet so I cannot vouch for it but my mom tells me that it works wonderfully. 🙂

Well, this was sure long, but hopefully worth it! 🙂 Please let me know if any of you decides to give it a shot and try it out!

May you all have a smashing, wonderful and delicious New Year! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Stuffed peppers and the misconception of a silly girl

Stuffed bell peppers

Cooking and eating peppers is something relatively new in my house. The reason? Okay. I’m going to spit it out but please do not judge me too harshly. The ugly truth is that, when I was younger, I thought peppers where not sophisticated enough. When you are young, everything is either black or white and, consequently, the world was divided between what was chic and what was not, of course according to my own criteria, which I applied pretty much to everything, including food.

I used to go to the newest restaurants and indulge in the new trend – the huge misconception that rustic food was not cool.

They say that changing your mind is a sign of intelligence and that one of the advantages of aging is getting wiser. Well, especially when I look at my wrinkles, I like to flatter myself by thinking that I totally fall into both categories of clever and wise people. 😉

Anyway, regardless of what I think of myself :-), the bottom line is that I “opened up” my mind to peppers and I was amazed to find out how great their taste can be. Their full texture can satisfy any kind of palate from the more basic to the chicest. I’m so regretting all those years when I simply dismissed them as not “worthy”!!! Such a waste of time! 🙁

We are having a gorgeous weather where I am in Italy and I think that the vibrant colors of the peppers go very well with the brilliant colors of the landscape that surrounds me right now. That’s how I picked today’s dish, whose recipe – once again – comes from my mommy’s kitchen.

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer.

Stuffed bell peppers

Ingredients:

6 peppers
2 leeks
about 21 oz, ground beef
2 eggs
3 white bread slices
1/2 cup, whole milk
8 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
8 Tbsp, grated parmigiano cheese
2 cups, tomato sauce
some parsley leaves, finely chopped
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Cut the tops of the peppers off and set them aside. With the help of a knife, remove the seeds and the membranes and rinse the peppers under cold water. Place the peppers in a large casserole, add 6 Tbsp of olive oil in the casserole and set aside.

Cut off the green top of the leeks and the root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse the halves well under water, being careful to leave them intact. Place each half, with the flat side facing down, on a chopping board.

Slice the leeks thinly and evenly. In a skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil, add the leeks, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add some water and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside and let the leeks cool.

In a bowl, pour the milk and soak the bread into the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, using your hands combine the ground beef, the eggs, the chopped parsley and the Parmesan cheese. With your hands, squeeze the bread and add it to the meat mixture. Add the leeks, some salt and pepper (to taste) and combine with your hands.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture, place the pepper tops on the meat mixture and pour the tomato sauce over the stuffed peppers.

Put an aluminum foil on top of the stuffed peppers and bake them for 35/40 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and keep baking for an additional 10/15 minutes or until the peppers are tender.

Buon appetito!

The End of the Quest for Authentic Italian Food: Arthur Avenue

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxA few Saturdays ago, Francesca and I finally went to check out a place that had been on our minds for a while: famed Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, NY.

Arthur Avenue is first and foremost an Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx (near the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden) that was named after President Chester A. Arthur (the 21st President of the United States) in the XIX century.

Around that time, many Italian immigrants settled in the Belmont area and started forming a growing community that endured mostly unchanged to this day. This earned Arthur Avenue the nickname of “the real Little Italy of New York“.

On the Avenue itself as well as on the blocks immediately adjacent to it thrives a host of stores, delis and restaurants all selling scores of authentic Italian food, produce and dishes – everything from great meats and sausages, fresh fish and seafood, delicious cheese (including the best imported mozzarella I have had in the States so far), freshly baked bread, focaccia, biscotti and sweet treats, all kinds of pasta, mouthwatering pizza, you name it…

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxUSA, New York 
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

The whole experience is really unique, as many of the store owners or employees still speak Italian and take pride in establishing some kind of personal relationship with their customers. It brings back memories of what happens in the stores of most Italian small towns.

Beside the actual stores that line Arthur Avenue and its cross Streets, the area is also home to the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, an indoor market that was opened in 1940 by New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and that hosts stalls and counters of various butchers, bakers, produce vendors, cheese and cured meat sellers, a souvenir T-shirt store and so on.

The market is also home to an amazing cigar place with a couple of employees who hand roll them right in front of you so you can watch the entire process, from tobacco leaf to the finished product: trust me, even if you are like me and don’t smoke, it is something that is definitely worth watching!

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxAnd last but not least, a small beer joint has recently opened inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market: it is called The Bronx Beer Hall and, in a sign-of-the-time melting pot spirit, it is run by two brothers of Puerto Rican heritage who serve beer made by microbreweries from the Bronx and elsewhere in New York State.

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxUSA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxDespite the strong Italian roots of the place, Arthur Avenue shows a few signs of a growing multi-ethnic footprint, as shown by murals and the mere observation of the ethnic mix of the residents.

So, if you live in or near The Big Apple or if you happen to visit and you enjoy authentic Italian food in a characteristic environment, consider stopping by Arthur Avenue and doing some food shopping or dining there!

Below you can find a few additional images from our outing in the Bronx.

PS: Happy Memorial Day, everyone! 🙂

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

A catering event and Nemo: what more could you ask for?

A client's 50th birthday party catered by Flora's Table

Tomato BruschettaDo you remember Nemo? No, not the adorable clownfish from the famous Disney movie but the major blizzard (with record amount of snowfall) that hit certain areas of the East Coast (including ours!) the second weekend of February?

Well, needless to say, that weekend, we were supposed to cater a dinner party for 22 guests in Fairfield County, Connecticut… The occasion? The 50th birthday of the husband of the hostess. Everything had to be perfect and the planning was going really smoothly until we saw the weather forecast at the beginning of that week. It was national alert all over the news and the governors of the States and the mayors of the towns on Nemo’s way were urging people to get ready to face the storm and, above all, to stay home. Not exactly the ideal situation to host a party…

Penne alla VodkaYou can only imagine all the phone calls, emails, text messages (along with the emotional distress) that my client and I exchanged before, during and after the storm! Many important decisions had to be made in a short timeframe. To make a long story short, willingness and collaboration made it possible to have the party on Sunday night and everybody seemed to have a really great time!

Now that Spring is around the corner (hopefully at least… it’s been such a long and cold winter!) and Nemo is just a memory, I thought I would share with you photographs of some of the food that we served at that birthday party. Of course, these pictures have not been taken during the actual party because it would not have been appropriate for us to take pictures while on a job, but this is some of the food that got served.

Hope you enjoy it as much as our client and her guests did!  🙂

Francesca's Chicken MarsalaFrancesca's Tiramisu

Sea Scallops as a Valentine? Why Not!

Potato and Olive ScallopsI’m about to say something that, as a cook and a food blogger, I shouldn’t say, but I am who I am and, at my age, changes are small miracles.

So, the ugly truth is… I’m not a fish fan, quite the opposite actually. I haven’t eaten fish during the last two decades and I’m not planning on starting again any time soon.

I know, I know. It’s very healthy. Plus, I have a little one who needs all the nutriens that are in fish and a husband who was born in Genoa which means that sea water runs in his veins as much as blood runs in mine.

Bottom line: cooking fish is both a struggle and a challenge for me but I have a secret weapon… my parents. They are both from the south of Italy and both of them cook fish wonderfully.

As the entire world knows, Valentine’s Day is upon us. Being the least romantic person on the planet, I can honestly say that I have no recollection of me celebrating this day ever and this year is not going to be any different. However, this year I was determined to do a nice thing for the people I love the most and, thus, I asked my mom to share her sea scallop recipe. Et voila’! If I could do it, anyone can do it. 🙂

Potato and Olive ScallopsIngredients:

3/4 of 1 cup, extravirgin olive oil
6 sea scallops
8 grape tomatoes
1/3 cup, capers
1 cup, green pitted olives
1/2 cup, black pitted olives
3 potatoes
1 Tbsp, olive spread
1 Tsp, dry oregano
Salt

Directions:

Put the capers in a small bowl with some water and let them stay for half an hour. Rinse the capers under running water and put them aside.

Cut the tomatoes and the olives in half and put them aside.

In a non-stick medium/large skillet, put the olive oil, the scallops, the tomatoes, the olives, some salt (to taste) and start cooking them on low/medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters (depending on the size of the potatoes), roughly the same size, and add them to the skillet.

Put the olive spread in a glass, add some hot water and, with the help of a spoon, stir the spread until you obtain a mixture. Pour the olive mixture in the skillet and toss to coat. Finally, add the capers and the oregano and keep cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.

*  *  *

I wish everyone who celebrates Valentine’s Day to have a wonderful one!  🙂

Saffron "Milanese" Risotto

Francesca's Safron Risotto

2 Servings

Every time I make risotto for my American friends they look at me like I’m serving them some kind of magical concoction.  🙂  It is instead a very simple dish to make and these are the reasons why I decided to publish this recipe:

1. Once you master the making process of this risotto (which I personally consider to be the basic one) you will be able to make any risotto. You can unleash your imagination in terms of ingredients and be as creative as you can.

2. I’m very fond of this risotto. My mother used to make it for us when I was a child (although it belongs to the Milan cuisine tradition). During the time that I spent working and living in Milan, I think I ate tons of saffron risotto in restaurants and households. Nowadays, famous master chefs are reinventing this wonderful dish by adding ingredients or changing the process, making you believe that they are revealing you the secret of the Holy Grail (and, of course, asking you an outrageous amount of money for such revelation!) This is something that I personally condemn. What’s wrong about continuing to cook a dish the traditional way, when the original recipe has been perfect for centuries? Thank goodness, there are still old trattorie in Milan that go way back and still serve you the real thing, letting your palate experience something unique.

3. There is a legend about the creation of this dish that is so lovely and amusing that I think it is worth sharing. It was 1574 and the Duomo in Milan was being built. A group of Belgian glass makers, under the direction of their master, Valerio of Fianders, were working on the stain-glass windows representing episodes of the life of St. Elena. One of Valerio’s apprentices was known for his ability to make wonderful colors. His secret? He used to add some saffron to the color mixture creating amazing chromatic effects. On September 8, 1574 the wedding of the daughter of master Valerio was being celebrated. This apprentice (some say as a joke, some say as a gift to the bride) came up with the idea of adding some saffron to the risotto that was going to be served during the nuptial meal. The result? The yellow risotto was a hit among the guests and this classic of the Milan cuisine was created.

Now, I could keep going telling you about the history of rice, how and when rice arrived in Italy and how it was cultivated, but I think I’ll stop here because this post is getting longer than a chapter in a Tolstoy book 😉

Let me just tell you a couple of things before we get down to the recipe.

First, the kind of rice. The best kind of rice to make risotto is carnaroli rice (which along with arborio rice and vialone nano rice are the most common rice varieties that are used in making risotto). The best brand of carnaroli rice is called Acquerello. Easy to find? Not at all! Not even in Milan. I had to go to the “jewellers” (that’s what I call the very expensive grocery stores in Milan like Peck at Via Spadari) to buy the famous Acquerello round metallic box. Bottom line? I usually use the less expensive and easier to find arborio rice.

Second, the original recipe calls for beef marrow. Again, not easy to find… even in Italy. I used to order it from my butcher in advance. So if you happen to put your lucky hands on some beef marrow, just remember that you have to cut it off into small pieces and cook it along with the shallot before adding the rice.

Francesca's Safron RisottoIngredients:

1/2 shallot
1 and 3/4 of 1 Tbsp, butter
5.5 oz of Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 and 1/2 cups of beef stock
1 sachet of powdered saffron
2 and 1/2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese
salt

Directions:

Finely mince the shallot. In a medium-size non-stick pot, put 1 Tbsp of butter and the minced shallot and cook, over low heat, until the shallot softens. Add the rice and toss to coat for 1 to 2 minutes. We say that we “toast” the rice. Pour the wine in and keep stirring until the wine evaporates completely.

Add two ladles of beef stock and cook, constantly stirring, until the stock is absorbed. Bear in mind that the stock must be very hot, otherwise cold stock will prevent the rice from cooking. When the beef stock has been absorbed, add another ladle of hot stock and keep cooking until absorbed, and then repeat the process adding more stock. About 9 minutes after the first addition of stock, separately melt the powdered saffron in a little stock and add it to the cooking rice.

Keep cooking, constantly stirring, and add the rest of the stock little by little until the rice is creamy and cooked al dente. This will take 18 to 20 minutes from the time the first ladle of stock is added. When you are about to remove the pot from the heat, taste the rice and salt if necessary.

Remove the pot from the heat, add 3/4 of 1 Tbsp of butter and stir until the butter is completely melted. Then, add 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of Parmigiano cheese and stir until you obtain a creamy risotto – we say that the risotto must make “waves” 🙂

Put the risotto into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the Parmigiano cheese.

Just a couple of extra suggestions before I leave you.

You can replace the shallot with onion. The cooking process is exactly the same as described above.

If you are using saffron pistils as opposed to powdered saffron, put the pistils in some hot stock. With the help of a strainer, drain the stock and add it to the rice. Set the pistils aside. When the risotto is ready to be served, add the pistils on top of the plate as a garnishment.

Enjoy!

Merry Christmas!

Shrimp CocktailHere we go! Christmas Eve… for my family, it is even more important than Christmas Day. We have been talking about this night for weeks. We have invited friends, my mom and I have decided the table setting and selected the dishes and Stefano has chosen the bubbly and the still wines for tonight.

My parents brought delicious treats from Rome and Stefano brought traditional sweets from Milan and Genoa.

To make you understand how much work and planning went into the preparations for this magical night and to give you a flavor of an Italian Christmas Eve, we decided we would share with you the pictures of some of the food that will be served. We follow the Catholic tradition, so you won’t see any meat around!

Smoked Salmon CrostiniWe’ll start with a shrimp cocktail, some eggs au gratin, a broccoli quiche, a potato frittata, smoked salmon crostini, blue cheese puffs with fontina sauce and cauliflower au gratin. With these, Stefano is going to serve a Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCG S.A., a Classic Method Italian spumante aged 24 months on its lees.

We’ll continue with spaghetti with clams and a truffle risotto. Afterwards, we’ll serve branzino fillets with vegetables. The wines that Stefano paired with these main courses are an Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna Costamolino DOC 2011 and a Vigneti Massa, Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Derthona DOC 2009 for the truffle risotto.

Black TrufflesFor dessert, we’ll have some fruit (grapes and cherries) and lots and lots of sweets: panettone (a traditional Christmas sweet bread loaf originally from Milan), pandolce (a traditional Christmas cake from Genoa), dried figs, chocolate-coated torrone and chocolate torrone with hazelnuts that my mom bought in Vatican City, marrons glacés from Cova (one of the most famous patisseries in Milan), chocolate orangettes, marzipan fruits and chocolates, all hand-made, from Viganotti (one of the oldest and best chocolate stores in Genoa, who make all their chocolate and marzipan masterpieces in the workshop adjoining the store, using only the best, freshest ingredients: if you are ever going to be in Genoa make sure you pay them a visit – you will not regret it). With the dessert, Stefano is going to serve Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG, a Charmat-Martinotti Method spumante, and for the chocolate a Lustau, Pedro Ximenez Sherry San Emilio – Solera Reserva DO.

Collection of Christmas sweetsHopefully, after all this food and wine, we are still going to function!  😉

Chocolate-coated torrone, chocolate torrone with hazelnuts and marrons glacésAll of us at Flora’s Table wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas! May Santa make your dreams come true tonight!!!Milanese panettone with chocolate-dipped orange wedges

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Francesca's Spaghetti alla Carbonara

4 Servings

I’ll be honest with you: I was not planning to publish this recipe for at least six months since I posted the recipe for spaghetti all’amatriciana quite recently and the two recipes share some key ingredients. However, things do not always go as planned. Last month, I “met” a new friend, Kimberly of WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot4, which was kind of an unexpected event for me because I’m not very social…to say the least 😉 Kimberly and her husband happened to be in Rome in the past months and her husband fell in love with spaghetti alla carbonara, one of the most famous dishes in the Roman culinary tradition.

She asked me to give her my recipe and her request was just sooooo lovely that I could not possibly say no. So, this recipe is my Christmas (or whatever different kind of festivity they may be celebrating!) present to Kimberly and her husband. I wish Roman Santa would go down their chimney and leave a warm dish under the tree, ready for them to eat in the morning (admittedly, not the perfect time of the day to eat carbonara, but who am I to judge?)… Since, however, this sounds just a little unlikely, I guess Kimberly and her husband will have to work something out in the kitchen on their own 🙂

Before we get to the “technicalities” of this wonderful culinary creation, let’s talk a bit about its origins. There are several theories about it.

Many believe that the carbonai (i.e., men who used to make charcoal) created the dish a long time ago. They used to work in the Apennine mountains and carry with them the necessary ingredients (cured pork, eggs, pasta, cheese and black pepper) to be cooked on an outdoor campfire.

According to a second theory, carbonara was created by a cook belonging to the Carbonari, an Italian secret society fighting for the independence of Italy from the Austrians at the beginning of the 19th century.

Under yet another theory, the origins of this recipe must be traced back to the Neapolitan cuisine. The XIX century cookbook “Cucina Teorico Pratica” by Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino, includes a recipe that, although far from the actual carbonara, presents a strong similarity to a dish that some consider to be the predecessor of carbonara.

A fourth theory is also known as the American theory: at the end of World War II, the Allied troops arrived in Rome bringing bacon with them. According to this theory, the American soldiers used to cook, or ask Italians to cook for them, scrambled eggs and bacon and combine them with pasta. Such combination reportedly gave Italian cooks the idea to create this classic of the Roman cuisine.

I cannot tell you which one of the above theories is accurate, since historians and chefs still debate about them. So, just embrace the theory that best satisfies your imagination and let’s start cooking, shall we? 😉

Francesca's Spaghetti alla CarbonaraLet’s talk about ingredients first.

One of the key ingredients of carbonara is “guanciale”, a cured meat deriving from the pork’s jowl or cheek. Unfortunately, no grocery store located in my neck of the woods knows what it is and whenever I tried to explain what I was looking for, they looked at me like I’m totally crazy (yeah, my Italian accent does not help either!) So, I had to go for a substitute which, in this case, would be pancetta, a cured meat deriving from the pork’s belly.

The other key ingredient are the eggs. In terms of number of eggs per person, every cook has their own “rule”. Moreover, some cooks use whole eggs, some cooks only yolks and some others a combination of whole eggs and yolks. Personally, I use 1 whole egg and 1 yolk for two people. When you make this dish, there is one fundamental rule to remember: under no circumstance whatsoever, should you let the eggs cook. If you let that happen, you will end up with some scrambled eggs of sort, your carbonara will be ruined and you will have no choice but to start all over.

During the years, I have heard and seen people add heavy creamy (gasp!!! May the Roman gods be lenient!) in order to make the sauce creamier: just picture me right now pushing a big red button that says WROOOOONG 😉 There is no heavy cream in the original recipe. There should be no heavy cream in your carbonara. The creaminess of the sauce is *exclusively* due to the proper use of the eggs.

As to the cheese to be used, this is an easy one: only Roman pecorino cheese.

Finally, let’s talk about seasoning. I think I have seen them all: onions, garlic, parsley, green peas and whatever the human imagination can come up with. Sorry guys. Believe me when I say that I do not mean any disrespect but once again I’m reaching for my big red button which says WRONG! The original recipe does not provide for any kind of seasoning or extra ingredients and, trust me, carbonara is just perfect the way it is – if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it kinda thing 😉

The key to the success of this very humble dish is to use top notch quality, fresh ingredients that, cooked properly, speak for themselves in a combination of flavors that creates a unique culinary masterpiece.

Ingredients:

4 slices of pancetta, ¼ inch thick
1 Tbsp extravirgin olive oil
2 whole eggs
2 yolks
14 oz spaghetti (a little less than a pack)
6 Tbsp grated Roman pecorino cheese
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Cut up the pancetta into bits (about ½ of 1 inch in size).

Cutting pancettaIn a non-stick large skillet, heat the oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, place the whole eggs and the yolks in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt (be careful not to put too much because pancetta is already salty), 1 Tbsp of pecorino cheese, some black pepper (to taste) and whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture.

When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti, put them in the skillet with the pancetta and toss to coat.

Transfer the spaghetti back in the large pot where you cooked them. Add the egg mixture and toss to coat (being careful not to let the eggs cook!) Add 4 Tbsp of pecorino cheese and toss to coat.

Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the pecorino cheese and some black pepper.

Et voilà! Simple, quick and absolutely perfect the way it is!  😉