Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back at Last

Hi there everybody, I thought I should let you know that I'm still kicking and intend to resume writing these blogs very soon. But I have been very busy these past months, writing a cookbook to be called "Adriana's Kitchen--The Home Cooking of Friuli". Of course I had no idea what a great deal of work this would entail when I started out, but I am nearing the end and hope to have a book out in the not-too-distant future. Hope you bear with me. It will contain all the tried-and-true recipes I learned from my Friulian mother-in-law in her kitchen over many summers, and some I adapted in my own kitchen in BC. Mandi!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spaghetti Squash Side Dish

Spaghetti squash is a most interesting vegetable and one which I didn't ever see in Italy--not that it doesn't exist there, but it wasn't something Adriana ever presented. With her big family of hearty eaters I think there would have been bloody revolution--those boys needed sustenance!
I was first introduced to it in the Okanagan valley, where a market gardener--likely of Italian heritage--sold one to me and told me how to cook it.
Here's how. Cut it in half vertically. (easier said than done sometimes) Take out the stringy bits and the seeds with your hands or however you can.
Place each half upside down on a baking sheet (covered with parchment paper) and bake for about an hour or until soft when pierced with a fork.
The "spaghetti" part can be eaten just as it is, but is relatively flavourless. Without calories to speak of, but also without taste. So during this time you might want to prepare a simple tomato sauce or roast some halved cherry tomatoes with olive oil and garlic just until they're soft--either or both of these would be delicious mixed with the "spaghetti". Have some grated parmigiano or montasio cheese on hand.
Take out the squash, turn it right side up on a serving plate, and dig into the insides with two forks, lifting and shredding the strands that give it its name. They do look like spaghetti, but in the interests of honesty I must say that once you have it cooked, it will have no flavour unless you doctor it up considerably as per these suggestions.
At the very least, stir in some butter, salt and pepper, and grated cheese, to taste. Add roasted tomatoes or tomato sauce if you like. It occurs to me that if you had some Bolognese meat sauce, it, too, would be delicious mixed with this, and provide some protein.
You may mound up the "spaghetti" in the hollowed shells for a nice presentation, or put it into an attractive bowl.
I think of this as a summer dish, it is lovely as a side dish for chicken or cutlets.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gnocchi, Potato

Gnocchi (nyaw-kee)-delicate little pillows cooked briefly in salted water and sauced, served as a first course in place of pasta, risotto, or soup. Oddly enough, however, I never saw Adriana make the traditional potato gnocchi, as it turned out that no one in her family cared for them. (except me)
What she did instead was a culinary feat of painstaking labour. She made the dough in much the same way as one would make potato gnocchi, but then rolled bits of it into long ropes about the thickness of your index finger, and then cut each rope into lengths of app. 2 to 4 inches. Each length was then twisted into an interesting shape. She would make rings, twists, crescents, whatever occured to her, and each shape was placed on a lightly-floured teatowel to air-dry a bit.
Then, when it was almost time to call everyone to the table, she would set to work frying these in shallow oil (not olive oil--I use Canola) until they were golden and crispy on the outside. Not your traditional gnocchi, not served with sauce but as a side dish for cutlets for example, or chicken or fish. We all loved them, and my own children did as well once I mastered the technique back home in BC.
I know it sounds daunting, but it's kind of fun, especially if the kids help.
So--once again, no specific amounts. You'll get the hang of it.
Boil 4 or 5 potatoes in their jackets. Cool them. Take the skins off. Mash them in a big bowl.
Grated Parmesan or Montasio cheese, plenty of it--probably at least 1 cup. This, and the baking powder, is what differentiates these from potato gnocchi that will get boiled instead of fried.
Two egg yolks or one whole egg and one yolk.
Mix this well, then add a teaspoon of baking powder, then white flour enough to make a pliable dough..not too stiff.
Knead it just a bit on a floured surface.
Now prepare a floured teatowel or sheet of waxed paper to receive the little gnocchi.
When it's almost time to eat, prepare a paper-towel lined plate on which to place the fried gnocchi to blot the excess oil. Fry them in batches.
Arrange on a serving platter and garnish platter with lemon wedges.
Now sit down and rest. Chances are your kids won't eat anything else.

Watermelon Salad!

Not in Adriana's kitchen! She would, I think, have been appalled at the idea of Anguria (Watermelon) Salad, at least until she tasted it, and then, I think, she would have been converted. But we'll never know, and we do enjoy this relatively new addition to our repertoire of summer side dishes. It's very simple to do, colourful and refreshing.
In the hot Friulian summers we'd often buy the biggest local watermelon we could find from a grower out in the countryside, take it home, and place it under the pump outside the kitchen door so that it would be cold when we were ready to eat it after "cena" (supper). This pump ran day and night, forever as far as I know, with water from an artesian well deep underground. Every cortile, even every house, had one. The water ran into a sort of rectangular cement tub which was used to wash all the garden produce, do the laundry, and keep bottles of limonata, orangeata, and beer cool. Adriana was shocked, however, when I washed my (then) long hair under the freezing water, and told me it would surely make me sick. It didn't.

Watermelon Salad
As usual, the amounts and proportions are up to you.
Cube some watermelon and put it into a pretty bowl or on a small platter.
Add some cubed Feta cheese.
Add some Basil. You can do a chiffonade (roll up the leaves and slice) or tear some whole leaves, reserving a few intact for garnish.
Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. (a fair amount)
Decorate (sparingly) with fresh Basil leaves.
That's it! Now isn't that delicious! And pretty! And easy!

So when we were ready to eat the watermelon, someone was sent to retrieve it from the pump, and Nonna (Adriana) set to work cutting it up into wedges. This was no small task as there were often as many as 14 of us gathered around the table. And we knew that we were not to discard the rinds, as Nonna cut them into pieces and put them into a pail as a special treat to be taken out to her beloved pig.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Once upon a time before I was married I travelled to France and had my first culinary experience with Ratatouille. I loved it, it was a perfect lunch served at room temperature in the heat of Nice, but I had no idea then that I would be making it for the rest of my life! That is because the same dish in Italy is known as Peperonata, and it was a mainstay of Adriana's kitchen, particularly as the summer morphed into fall and the vegetables became overly plentiful. Put another way, what do you do with all those zucchini? We have always grown our own vegetables, although eggplant proves very difficult (read impossible) to produce in this distinctly non-mediteranean climate. I do make this dish all year round, though, and if I don't have the ingredients in the garden, I purchase them. This is a vegetarian stew, easy to make and delicious served hot or at room temperature, as a main or as a side.
Goes well with fish or chicken, summer grills or winter dishes.
Assemble the vegetables. Adriana used whatever she had, as follows:
Peppers, any colour or mixed. (Hence the name--Peperonata.)
Onions, 1 or 2 big ones.
Zucchini (unpeeled).
Eggplant (unpeeled).
Tomatoes, 3 or 4 (or 1 large tin Italian peeled Plum tomatoes with juice.)
Get a good handful of Basil, some Parsley, and a few cloves of garlic.
Now stop and admire the beauty of these--the eggplant with their shiny purple skins, the green zucchini, the orange-red tomatoes. Gorgeous! Maybe you should paint them instead of cooking them. Oh, sorry. Just an aside.
Get out a good-sized heavy pot with a lid.
Chop up all the vegetables, not too small, maybe about 2 in. chunks.
Put a drizzle of oil in the bottom of the pot and add the vegetables, the raw ones first,including chopped garlic, as much as you like. Cook and stir a bit and add the canned tomatoes if using. (You might have enough ripe fresh tomatoes.) Add some chopped Basil,and parsley if you like.
Cook and stir until the veggies are soft, and salt to taste.
Adriana cooked this in a cast-iron pot on a wood stove which I swear imparts a special flavour I have never been able to replicate. She would cook the Peperonata until the vegetables were pretty much indistinguishable.
I cook it a bit less than that, and you should take it off the heat when it looks and tastes the way you want it to.
Serve it hot or at room temperature. Adriana always topped it with a good handful of grated Montasio (or Parmigiano), which looks and tastes wonderful and may be the only thing distinguishing this from Ratatouille.
Garnish the serving dish with more Basil.
This is great taken for a picnic, too. Travels well.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Calamari Salad

Here's a colourful cold salad that makes a great antipasto all year round, or a lunch or side dish. Years ago, after sampling fried Calamari for the first time in a fishing village in Italy, I knew I was going to have to learn to clean them myself when I returned to Canada. An Italian friend was more than happy to show me how, and I think of Antonietta every time I do this job. It's not difficult, but it takes time.
I'm happy to report that I have now found a source of already cleaned squid, which makes the whole process, whether you're frying them or making this cold salad, a cinch!
I hope you, too, can be so lucky.
Again, I cannot give you amounts. Use as much calamari as you think you'll need for the number you're serving, and whether or not you're serving this as a main dish at lunch or as an antipasto. It looks great on a buffet, and leftovers taste even better the next day.

Calamari Salad
Cut the cleaned squid into rings about 1/2 inch wide. If there are tentacles, leave them whole. When a pot of salted water has come to the boil, drop in the cut-up calamari and leave them in for no more than 30 seconds, then remove to a plate or bowl with a slotted spoon. Leave them to cool.
While they're cooling, mince a clove or two of garlic and a shallot or two. Put these into the bottom of the bowl or dish in which you will be serving the salad. Now cut up and add a ripe tomato or two, a sweet red pepper (raw), a bunch of parsley and several leaves of basil.(Some recipes call for black olives and scallions or a red onion finely diced.) Now add the cooled calamari and toss together. Add the juice of one lemon and a squirt of red wine vinegar. Add some good olive oil and salt to taste. Some of you will want to add cilantro instead of parsley. Go ahead.
Give it all a good stir and taste. Adjust the salt, vinegar, lemon juice etc. to suit your palate. Remember that it will be much more flavourful once it has had time to sit, at room temperature, so that the flavours can blend before you serve it.
Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grilled Eggplant Salad

Mixed Grilled Vegetable Salad
(Eggplant in Italian is Melansane.)

This is so beautiful on the serving platter, and absolutely delicious.
The fastest way to prepare the vegetables is on the barbeque, but failing that option, use a grill pan on the stove, one that will leave "grill" marks on the veg's.

I won't tell you how many of each type of vegetable to use, the choice is yours, depending on what is available, what you like, and how many you're serving. The last time I did this, 2 days ago, I used two med. eggplants, 3 zucchini, 1 lg. red onion (white is fine), and one bag of my frozen roasted red peppers. (Defrost and reserve the juice.) This made a good amount.
Finely dice garlic, 1 to 3 cloves depending on how much you and your family like it.
Tear some fresh basil and leave a few leaves whole for garnish and/or chop some parsley. We love the addition of the basil.

Heat the barbeque or the grill pan, wipe the veg's with a damp cloth.
Brush (or spray, that's what I do, using cooking spray) one side only of sliced eggplant, just enough to cover the surface of the grill. (If you slice it too much in advance it will turn brown). Slice the eggplant vertically, throwing away the two outside slices with the skin, which is tough, but don't peel it otherwise. Grill until it has nice marks, about 5 minutes per side.
The zucchini doesn't need to be peeled, slice it vertically as well.
Grill all the vegetables you're using, placing them on a platter or dish as you go.
Salt and sprinkle the layers with garlic as you go.
When all the vegetables are grilled,add the chopped parsley or torn basil (or both) and drizzle the dish with red wine vinegar and some of the reserved red pepper juice. Add more salt and/or vinegar to taste. Of course some of you will want to drizzle it with good olive oil. Go ahead. Now garnish with whole basil leaves.

This is a beautiful side dish, good with barbequed or roasted meat, fish or chicken.
Sometimes you could scatter bits of feta or goat cheese over it and call it lunch!

This is a keeper!