Tag Archives: saffron

When conversations get surreal: potato and saffron soup with pancetta croutons

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

A couple of days ago Stefano was getting ready to go to work and he told me that I must have done something wrong with the laundry because his pants felt tighter.

Now, you can tell me anything (because any human being is entitled to their opinion!), you can even offend me but you cannot, and I underline “cannot”, tell me that I did something wrong with my laundry!!!

I modestly like to think of myself as the “Pavlova of the Laundry”! ūüėČ Let’s not even talk about the time it took me to find just the right detergents that would satisfy me. I can spend hours in the detergent and cleaners aisle and every time I see a new product I get pretty much as excited as when I see a designer’s new collection!

Let’s talk about the process: every stain is pre-treated, loads are divided by fabric and color, every washer cycle is carefully selected, the dryer is reluctantly used (we do not use dryers in Italy and I wouldn’t dream of putting an item that I bought in my country in the dryer – it simply wouldn’t survive) and everything gets ironed. Yes! Everything including sheets, towels, underwear and socks. That’s how Italian houses roll (or should roll) and mine is no exception. ūüėČ

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

Now you see what I mean when I say that there can’t possibly be anything wrong with my laundry? The ugly truth? Stefano has put some weight on and he is in total denial!

And what do you do when someone is in denial? Desperate times call for desperate measures! I cut all the fatty dishes out and I declared soup season open! Soups are fantastic and when you want to lose some weight, they really can do magic. They are low on calories yet healthy, very satisfying to your stomach and, above all, delicious!

Last night Stefano was particularly famished, so I decided to make some potato soup with a twist. I played with some saffron and the result was fantastic. The saffron really complements the potatoes and the pancetta croutons are really the cherry on the cake! ūüôā

So that’s how I did it! ūüėČ

Ingredients:

6 Potatoes, cut into cubes
1/4 Cup, extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 Cup, chopped pancetta
1/3 Cup, finely chopped spring onion
2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 and 1/2 Sachet, powdered saffron
2 Tbsp, Mascarpone cheese
1 Cup, Milk
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Potato, saffron and pancetta soupIn a non-stick medium/large pot, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy.
Remove the pancetta from the pot and place it on some paper towel so it can lose the excess oil.

In the same olive oil where you fried the pancetta, place the spring onion and cook until it softens. Add the potatoes, the stock, some salt and white pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. Eventually, the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate. Add 1 sachet of saffron and toss to coat until the mixture gets a vibrant yellow color.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender. Add the mascarpone, the rest of the olive oil and the milk and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the pot and, on low heat, cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates, add some fried pancetta on top and garnish with some powdered saffron.

Will Stefano manage to lose some weight? Only time will tell! ūüėČ

The artichoke quest and the marriage with saffron linguine

Saffron and artichoke linguine4 Servings

Artichokes are my favorite vegetables. I would eat them from breakfast to dinner (sort of…)! When I moved to our neck¬†of the woods, I started testing the quality of the local vegetables and I have to admit that the benevolence of the gods was not on my side in¬†my quest for my beloved veggies. All the artichokes that I tried tasted like soap (blah!!!) and the inside was so full of hairs that it was like eating a hairball (double blah!!!) After trying for over a year, I decided I was just wasting my time and my money, so I simply stopped buying artichokes. Sad.

However, as the saying goes, good things happen when you least expect it. Last week, Stefano took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Never been there? You do not know what you are missing if you are a lover of Italian food and authentic Italian products (we’ll talk more about Arthur Avenue in future posts). Anyway, while I was strolling about the market, the green beauties caught my eyes. Mindful of my past experience, I was about to pass, when the grocer called me. He was Italian and we started chatting in my mother tongue. He swore on his mother’s grave (Italian grocers do that!) that the artichokes were excellent and I would not be disappointed. I trusted him (after all, swearing on someone’s grave has got to mean something, right?!?) and that Italian grocer is the reason why I’m sharing this recipe today.

Just bear with me a few more seconds. When I made this dish I used an Italian heavy cream called “Panna Chef” by Parmalat. Panna Chef is much ticker than the heavy cream I buy locally. It is like a paste. So far, I have never seen Panna Chef on any shelf of any American grocery store or market I have been to. I usually have family and friends bring me some packs over when they come to visit. When I do not have any Panna Chef left, I buy a small pack of local heavy cream and I beat it the same way you beat egg white to make meringue. That’s the kind of thickness you want to achieve to make this dish.

Ingredients:

4 artichokes
1 lemon
1/3 cup & 1 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
1/2 cup, white wine
1 & 1/2 cup, beef stock
3 slices of bacon or pancetta, ¬ľ inch thick
1/3 cup, chopped onion
6 Tbsp, Panna Chef
2 sachets of powered saffron
14 oz linguine (a little less than a pack)
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese (optional)
Salt
Ground black pepper

Saffron and artichoke linguineDirections:

Put some cold water into a large bowl. Squeeze a half lemon and put the juice and the half lemon itself into the bowl.

Break off the tough, outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach the tender, lighter-green inner leaves. With the help of a knife, cut off the top of the artichoke (between 1 and 1 1/2 inches), some of the stem (leaving about 3/4 of an inch) and then trim away the outer layer of the stem. With the other half lemon, rub all the cut surfaces (this will prevent them from browning).

Cut the artichoke halves into quarters and put them into the lemon water.

Cut up the bacon or the pancetta into bits. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the bacon or the pancetta and fry for 2/3 minutes. Add the chopped onions and stir occasionally until the bacon or the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put 1/3 cup of olive oil and the garlic in a large non-stick skillet and brown the garlic. Add the artichokes, some salt and pepper (to taste), toss to coat and cook for a few minutes. Throw the garlic away and add the wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine completely evaporates. Add the beef stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stock completely evaporates.

Add the bacon or the pancetta and the onions into the skillet with the artichokes, toss to coat and set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the linguine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the linguine are cooking, in a small pot, put the panna, 1 Tbs of the boiling water from the pot where you are cooking the pasta, and the saffron and cook until the mixture gets hot.

Drain the linguine, put them into the skillet with the artichokes and the bacon or pancetta and toss to coat. Add the hot saffron mixture and toss to coat again.

Put the linguine into the serving plates and, if you wish, dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon appetito!

Saffron "Milanese" Risotto – Recommended Wine Pairing (and a bit of trivia re Tocai)

Blason, Friuli Isonzo Friulano "Casa in Bruma" DOCSo, yeah, I’m still in catch-up mode with my wine pairing recommendations… Sorry if it took me a while, but here we go: these are my suggestions¬†in terms of what to pair with Francesca’s wonderful Saffron Milanese Risotto (which, incidentally, is one of my¬†favorite risotto’s!)

To complement this luscious dish, you should pick a wine with good acidity, fairly intense aromas and flavor, noticeable minerality and decent structure, as in a medium-bodied wine.

Based on the above, I am going to recommend a Friulano wine, from the Italian Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Before we go to the actual recommendations, however, let’s just say a few words about this wine, including a bit of trivia ūüôā

Friulano is the relatively new name for the grape variety that used to be known as Tocai. The change in name was due to the outcome of a dispute before the European Court of Justice that in 2005 prohibited Italian winemakers, starting March 2007,¬†from using the word Tocai to identify their wines or grape varieties, on the grounds that the use of the word “Tocai” by the Italians could be confusing with the very famous (and delicious!) Hungarian sweet botrytized wineTokaji“, which is a word that started being used to identify such wine before anyone else used any similar term, including Tocai in the Friuli and Veneto regions of Italy. Incidentally, note that in Hungary “Tokaji” is only the name of the wine, not that of the prevalent grape variety it is made of, which instead is called Furmint.

Ronco del Gelso, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Friulano "Toc Bas" DOCAs a result of the aforesaid European Court of Justice decision (and despite, let me note, Italian Tocai being a dry white wine and therefore completely different from Hungaian Tokaji, which is a sweet wine), Italian authorities and Tocai producers from the two affected regions (Friuli and Veneto) needed to come up with a different name to call their own grapes and the wine made out of them.

In one of the best examples of Italian bureaucracy at its finest, a decision was made to call the same grape variety¬†in two different ways: “Friulano” in the region of Friuli and “Tai” in the region of Veneto. As if being required to drop the Tocai designation altogether had not brought enough confusion in the market… ūüôĀ

Regarding Friulano (or Tocai) as a grape variety, DNA profiling has shown that it is identical to Sauvignonasse, an old white-berried grape variety that originated in the Gironde region of France and that (despite what the name would make you think) is not related to Sauvignon. Sauvignonasse vines were brought to the North-Eastern Italian region of Friuli in the XIX century where it was given the name Tokai, which later on muted into Tocai, in the first quarter of the XX century (information on the grape varieties, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

Vigne di Zam√≤, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano "Vigne Cinquant'anni" DOCLet’s now focus on a few recommendations of quality Friulano wines that you may consider pairing with a saffron Milanese risotto (all of the options below are varietal wines, made of 100% Friulano grapes):

  • Blason, Friuli Isonzo Friulano “Casa in Bruma” DOC, with aromas of peach, almond and minerals
  • Livio Felluga, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano DOC, with a bouquet of citrus, almond, herbs¬†and minerals
  • La Tunella, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano DOC, with aromas of white flowers, pear, almond and mineral hints
  • Le Vigne di Zam√≤, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano “Vigne Cinquant’anni” DOC, with a wonderful¬†bouquet of apple, citrus, tropical fruit and minerals
  • Ronco del Gelso, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Friulano “Toc Bas” DOC, with aromas of white flowers, peach, apricot, almond, hazelnut¬†and mineral hints.

As usual, if you get to try out any of these wines, let us all know how you liked it by dropping a comment below!

Cheers!

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. ¬†ūüôā ¬†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 ūüėČ

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” ūüôā

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!