Italian

Ribollita

Ribollita

 

With autumn’s arrival thoughts of what to cook naturally veer towards warming heartier fare with richer earthier flavors that lift the spirit and warm the cockles as temperatures wane. Soup, soup, and more soups is what fall cooking is all about. Fortunately locally grown late summer and fall vegetables are available until the first deep frost. So, as the old saying goes, best to make hay while the sun shines. Cook up plenty of beautiful healthy and hearty fall soups to serve as main courses throughout fall and make more to freeze that will surely brightening up meals when the winter months drag on.

Over centuries frugal rural Italian cooks relied entirely on  locally grown produce as the main staple in their diets. Cooking methods for making deeply flavored foods out of readily available local ingredients evolved into what contemporary Italians now call cucina povre. Rustic vegetable based soups like minestrone and ribollita, as well as vegetable stews have became Italian classics.

In fact Minestrone dates back to the Romans although the popularized canned variety we are all familiar with worldwide has little semblance to what you will find coming out of rural Italian kitchens even today. Minestrone is a vegetable soup that includes a variety of seasonal vegetables and usually includes pasta or rice and sometimes meats.

Much less well known is Ribollita, a thick, rustic, infinity healthy, and abundantly flavorsome Tuscan vegetable soup that is much more to my liking. Ribolitta begins with a sofritto (battuto) of finely diced onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and chopped parsley that is slowly braised in olive oil until the vegetables are very soft and deeply flavorful. Tomatoes and cooked beans are then added, along with liquid to cover, and cooked for another half hour or so. Then, traditionally, cavolo nero (black kale) is added along with herbs and seasonings and simmered. Finally torn day old bread is added to the soup and cooked until softened. Serving ribollita Tuscan style with a flourish of fruity extra virgin olive oil is pure perfection.

Cavolo nero may be hard to find, but not to worry. A deep green kale or a combination of kale and spinach will do just fine. 

Cavolo Nero

Cavolo Nero

Ribollita     serves 6 to 8

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups finely diced onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 ¾ cups finely diced celery
  • 1 ½ cups finely diced carrots
  • 1 cup loosely packed chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 8 canned whole imported Italian tomatoes , juice drained and reserved for another use
  • 1 can/240g imported Italian cannelini or borlotti beans with their liquid
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 big bunches cavolo nero or kale, center ribs and stems removed, leaves chopped
  • spinach leaves, chopped (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cup diced zucchini (optional)
  • 4 thick slices day old country bread, torn into bits
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pure ground red chile powder (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil to finish

 

Equipment: A Dutch oven with a lid or a deep wide pan with lid.

Prepare all your vegetables before you begin cooking.

Place the pan on the stove top over medium low flame. Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onions and stir to coat them with the oil. Cook for several minutes until the onions are translucent. Then stir in the garlic, celery, carrots, and parsley. Stir to evenly coat the ingredients with oil and reduce the heat to low. Partially cover the pan with the lid and braise for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low if the ingredients are browning to much. They can be lightly colored but you want to avoid any scorched flavor.

Once the vegetables are softened add the drained tomatoes to the pan, breaking them up with a wooden spoon while stirring them into the vegetable mixture. Then stir in the beans and their liquid. Add enough water to the pan to just cover all the ingredients. Stir in the bay leaves, marjoram, and thyme. Partially cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes, Stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove the lid from the pan and add the chopped cavolo nero leaves, kale leaves, or a combination of kale and spinach leaves, as well as the zucchini if using. Fold into the mixture evenly and then tuck the torn bread down into the broth. Season with salt, pepper, and red chile (it using) to taste. Add enough water to just cover the mixture. Partially cover the pan and cook for another 20 to 25 minutes or until the leaves are very tender.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste. The soup should be very thick with just enough liquid to engulf the vegetables without drowning them in liquid when serving.

Serving:

Ribollita may be served at once or ideally cooled and then refrigerated until the next day. This allows the flavors of the soup to fully develop.

Reheat the ribollita slowly along with a little added water if needed. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the edges of the ribollita and serve!

A Soft and Billowy Potato Salad

A Soft and Billowy Potato Salad

 

Melissa Clarke’s article,  An Accidentally Creamier Fluffier Potato Salad in the NY Times last month, as always,  captures Melisa’s delightfully playful ways in the kitchen that can turn what might be considered mistakenly over cooked potatoes for a potato salad into a mistake worth repeating.  Her purposely soft cooked starchy potatoes folded together with a mildly rich dressing makes the case for a fluffier potato salad that is truly carving worthy.

Keep in mind the secret to success here is to gently simmer your potatoes until they are as soft as they can possibly be without falling apart.

The recipe that follows differs from Melissa’s but uses the same soft cooked potato method. Once the potatoes are drained and cooled for 10 minutes, they can then be gently folded together with sauteed onions, pancetta, garlic, and celery. The salad is then dressed with a subtly rich mayonnaise and Greek yogurt dressing and served while still warm! This has been a steadfast tried and true method I have followed for years and remains my favorite way to make potato salad not matter what ingredients you are using!

 

A Craving Worthy Soft & Billowy Potato Salad      Serves 6 

  • 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo gold potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz /57 grams pancetta, thinly sliced and diced
  • ½ cup finely diced onion
  • 1 plump garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup finely diced young celery
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or red chile powder (optional)
  • 1/3 cup finely sliced Italian parsley leaves
  • assortment of salad leaves and greens
  • smoked flaked sea salt (Maldon) for finishing
  • fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¾ inch cubes. Place in a large sauce pan and cover with water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in some salt and simmer the potatoes until they are very soft and tender but still just holding their shape. Test by inserting a knife blade into a potato which should slip easily into the flesh. Once perfectly cooked, drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside to cool briefly. Then transfer potatoes to a large bowl and set aside.

While the potatoes are simmering, heat the olive oil in a medium size saute pan set over medium low heat. When hot add the pancetta and gently cook several minutes without browning. Add the onions, season with some sea salt and pepper , and continue sauteing until the onions are soft without browning. Add the garlic and celery and season with chipotle powder or chile powder if using. Saute 1 minute more and remove the pan from the heat.

Using a silicone spoon, distribute the warm pancetta onion mixture over the potatoes and gently fold the mixture into the potatoes. Then scatter the parsley over the top.

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined and smooth. Then spoon the dressing over the potatoes and fold in until evenly distributed. Taste and season with more salt if needed. You will notice the dressing will cling nicely to the soft starchy potatoes which gives this potato salad its soft billowy texture so do not be tempted to over mix.

Serving:

Arrange a bed of assorted salad leaves and greens  on each individual serving plate and place the potato salad centered into the leaves. Garnish with parsley leaves and scatter some smoked flaked sea salt over the potatoes and serve.

 

Braised Limoncello Chicken

Braised Limoncello Chicken

 

Lemon and chicken have got to be my very favorite pairing. It all started long ago with Marcella Hazan’s classic Lemon Garlic Chicken (see recipe here). That recipe inspired a Lemon Garlic Chicken Panino (see recipe here). Later while living in LA, I fell in love with the Lemon Garlic Chicken…Cuban style fromVersailles restaurant (see recipe here). Then yet another recipe for Lemon Roasted Chicken (see here). My affection for the pairing is obvious enough and yet I somehow overlooked the most obvious pairing of all, Limoncello and Chicken.

Limoncello has been a favorite apertivo for years. Intensely lemony though just sweet enough to tame the sharp bite of lemon juice. Limoncello is synonymous with the sun drenched coasts of Southern Italy that are dotted with lemon orchards from Sardinia to Naples, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, and southward to Sicily. Homemade Limoncello is how it all began more than a century ago and easy enough to make with very little effort. There are various recipes available online. Fortunately Limoncello became so popular it is produced commercially and available world wide. Most often served chilled after a meal, although try it for a late afternoon refresher with a splash of sparkling water. And not to be overlooked, bringing Limoncello into the kitchen opens up whole new ways of seasoning with lemon for savory dishes as well as sweets. The slight sweetness is ideal for poultry, pork, or fish.

The recipe that follows is adaptable. Braise the chicken in the oven, on the stove top, or marinate the chicken for grilling and serve with reduced marinade/sauce. For the sake of ease I have used skin on legs, thighs, and breasts, but by all means cut up a whole chicken if you like.

Keep in mind the chicken should be marinated for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours so plan ahead!

 

Braised Limoncello Chicken   Serves 4

Limoncello

Limoncello

 

  • 4 each; skin on chicken legs, boneless thighs, and boneless breasts
  • 1/3 cup minced shallots
  • 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and microplaned
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup Limoncello
  • 3 to 4 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken stock, heated
  • 2 lemons, very thinly sliced across
  • ½ cup sliced fresh basil leaves

Equipment: A non-reactive bowl and a large oven proof skillet or wide braising pan

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Cut the breasts in half across.

In a large non-reactive bowl combine the shallots, garlic, lemon juice, 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and ½ cup Limoncello, Stir until the salt has has dissolved into the liquid.
Add the chicken and massage the marinade into the chicken flesh. Press the chicken into the marinade until covered. Seal the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425f/220c if oven braising.

Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator. Pick the chicken pieces out of the marinade and slide the chicken pieces between your fingers to remove any bits of shallots and excess marinade clinging to the flesh and place on a plate. Then pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel and set aside on another clean plate.

Place the skillet or braising pan over medium high heat and add the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down, without crowding, and cook until the skin releases from the bottom of the pan easily and is nicely browned. Turn the chicken over and again cook until nicely browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken.

When you have finished browning the chicken, using paper towels, remove any excess oil and burned bits from the pan.

Place the pan back on the stove top over medium heat and add another 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. When hot add the marinade, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Then arrange the browned chicken snugly into the pan in a single layer. Add 1 cup of heated stock and jiggle the pan to distribute the stock evenly. Layer lemon slices over the entire surface of the chicken.  When the liquid comes back to a full simmer transfer the pan to the preheated oven and braise for 25 to 30 minutes.

If you want to braise the chicken on the stove top simply continue cooking. Be sure to keep an eye on the pan juices and add more stock as needed. Keep in mind the lemon slices will not brown, but otherwise the dish will taste nearly the same as the chicken braised in the oven.

 

Oven Braised Limoncello Chicken

Oven Braised Limoncello Chicken

 

After 25 to 30 minutes, if oven braising, open the oven door, slide the oven rack forward, and add the remaining 1/3 cup Limoncello over the chicken. Add more stock only if the pan juices have reduced and are no longer visible. Taste the pan juice and stir in more salt if needed. Then scatter the basil over all and slide the chicken back into the oven and cook another 15 minutes or until the pan juices are bubbling vigorously and the lemon slices are browned around the edges.

Otherwise, if you are stove top braising, add the Limoncello, basil, and salt if needed and continue braising another 15 minutes, or until the pan juices have reduced slightly.

Remove from the oven, or turn off the heat on the stove top, and set aside for a couple of minutes before serving.

 

Serving Suggestions:

As pictured, I like to serve Limoncello Chicken with plenty of its lemony pan juices along with tender braised cabbage with anise and fluffy couscous with currants.

This is a winning meal that is sure to please again and again!

Slow Cooked Vegetables

Slow Cooked Vegetables

 

Making a case for slow cooking vegetables in the age of the de rigueur blanched and cooled crisp vegetables is not going to be an easy sell. That said, some of you may recall a quick and easy “modern” mid last century canned green bean mushroom casserole that home cooks whipped up in America using canned mushroom soup and topped with fried onion rings. Those beans were cooked to death but everyone, including kids, really loved those green beans.

O course, slow cooking fibrous vegetables in Italy has been practiced for centuries and is my favorite method for turning tough fennel bulbs into tender flavorsome silky morsels of unctuousness.

I recently read an article in the New York Times entitled When to Cook your Vegetables Long Past “Done” by Samin Norsrat (click here) which really peaked my interest. Needless to say, slow cooking a whole Dutch oven full of fibrous vegetables together is a perfect way to transform late summer’s produce into a main attraction for a meal with very little fuss. Doused with some olive oil, flavored with a few garlic cloves, and generously seasoned with sea salt transforms these vegetables as they slowly cook over a very low flame for several hours with little attention required. Contrary to what you may think the deeply flavored results will be a revelation…I promise!

The recipe that follows is meant to be a basic slow cooking guide that will work with almost any fibrous vegetables you choose to use, be it two varieties or a whole selection. When using fennel, which infuses the vegetables with a lovely scent and flavor, no other seasoning is required, but feel free to include herbs to compliment the vegetables you choose to cook with.

vegetables for slow cooking

vegetables for slow cooking

 

Slow Cooked Vegetables (Basics)    serves 6

  • ½ cup olive oil plus more as needed
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed                                                                          
  •  ¼ cup minced shallots      
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 young fennel bulbs
  • 5 leeks
  • 1 pond green beans
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 2 heads radicchio
  • 1 pound collard greens (or kale), leaves only

 

Equipment: a large Dutch oven or roasting pan with tight fitting lid

Prepare and portion all the vegetables as described.

Trim the fennel leaving several inches of stems in tact. Trim the root and peel away the tough outer layer of the bulb. Quarter each bulb lengthwise.

Remove the tough strings and snap off the stems from the green beans.

Separate the broccoli head into florets. Peel the main stem and slice.

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage. Quarter the head and cut out the core.

Remove any wilted outer leaves of the radicchio if necessary and quarter the heads lengthwise.

Remove the stems from the collard greens and discard unless the collards are young and tender.

Place the Dutch oven over a very low flame on the stove top. Add the olive oil and garlic cloves and stir until the oil is hot. Add the shallots and stir for several minutes. Then add the fennel, leeks, and green beans. Season generously with salt and toss until the vegetables are well coated with olive oil.

Add the broccoli, cabbage, radicchio, and collard greens, nestling them into the other ingredients. Again season generously with salt and add freshly ground pepper to your liking. Using a large spoon or tongs turn all the ingredients until bathed in olive oil and are snugly fitting into the Dutch oven. Cover with the lid and reduce the flame as low as possible and cook for 1 hour undisturbed. Don’t worry about burning as the vegetables will release liquid as the cook.

Slow Cooking Vegetables

Slow Cooking Vegetables

After an hour, remove the lid and gently turn the ingredients over and add a little more olive oil to evenly coat the vegetables. Taste and season with salt as needed. Return the lid to the pan and continue to cook for another hour undisturbed over very low flame.

After 2 hours of cooking the vegetables should be transformed. The fennel should be very tender. If not cook another 15 minutes or so.

Serving:

Serve promptly with pan juices spooned over the vegetables. The only additional seasoning I might suggest would be a splash of best quality balsamic vinegar if served along with red meats.

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