Italian

Beet Root Salad with Mango and a Cashew Dressing

Beet Root Salad with Mango and a Cashew Dressing

 

This is an unexpected salad pairing that I recently discovered at Pulcinella da Stefano, or Stefano’s as we locals call it here in Chiang Mai. Contrary to what you may think, the earthy flavor of roasted beets paired with the sunny topical flavor of mango is a match made in…well, paradise. Beet root is locally grown here in Thailand and available year round as are many varieties of mango. Adding some locally grown figs, grapes, and dressing this salad with a smooth nutty cashew vinaigrette is the perfect flourish to bring this  salad with a tropical twist to life.

The recipe that follows is my interpretation of Stefano’s salad but open to variations centered around local and seasonal produce available where you live. Mangoes can usually be found in specialty food stores as well as Asian markets.

Pulcinella da Stefano Italian restaurant is a long standing favorite for locals here in Chiang Mai as well as visitors from abroad. Conveniently located near Thaphae Gate and well worth a visit!

 

Beet Root Salad with Mango and a Cashew Vinaigrette 

 

Ingredients:

Prepare in advance:

Suggested selection of salad greens: romaine (cos), red oak leaf, butter head bib lettuce, radicchio , wild arugula (rocket), watercress, and Italian basil leaves as a garnish.

Beets: Roast and prepare the beets in advance.

Fruits: a fresh ripe mango, fresh figs, and seedless red grapes.

Ricotta cheese: (see homemade recipe here)

Cashews: lightly roasted. 

 

Roasted Beets:        Preheat oven to 400F/210C

Wash 4 medium size beets and pat dry, leaving the skin on. Place the beets along with a small sliced red onion in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Cover the baking pan with foil and seal tightly around the edges. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the beets are tender; testing by inserting a sharp knife easily into the center of the largest beet.

When tender remove the beets from the oven and set aside to cool, leaving the foil on until the beets are cool enough to handle. Then slip the skins off the beets and trim the stem and roots off the top and bottom. Cut the beets in half lengthwise and slice each half into thin slices. Place in a bowl along with the onions. Drizzle with olive oil, lightly season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Assemble your salad greens selection in a bowl and toss. Cover and refrigerate.

Peel the mango, slice into bite size strips, cover and refrigerate.

Cashew Vinaigrette: makes 1 cup

  • ½ cup lightly roasted cashews, divided
  • 2 plump garlic cloves, dry roasted, peeled, and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons good quality white wine vinegar
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • several twists of ground white pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon red chile powder (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons cold water

place 1/3 cup roasted cashews, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, chile powder (if using), and honey in a food processor or blender. Process until the mixture relatively smooth. Then, with the machine running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream and continue to process until the dressing is smooth, emulsified, and thick. To thin the dressing, add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time and pulse until incorporated into the dressing. Repeat this process until the dressing is the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to dress the salad greens.

Assembling the salad:

Lightly dress the salad greens and transfer them to individual shallow salad plates.

Place beet slices along with some onions on top or the greens.

Place sliced mango between the beets,

Tuck fresh basil leaves into the salad here and there.

Then add small clusters of ricotta next to the basil leaves.

Place the halved figs and grapes towards the edge of the salad.

Lightly drizzle just a bit more dressing over the salad.

Slice the remaining cashews in half lengthwise and skater over the salads.

Add a light twist of black pepper and serve.

Angel Hair with Asparagus and Lemon

 

In Italian  capelli d’angelo con asparagi e limone  has such a lovely melodic lilt to it that conjures up sun drenched plates of pasta bursting with all the essential fresh flavors of a summery pasta served up in the Italian countryside. Italians have such a lovely way with food that deliciously captures elegance in simplicity.

This is a very simple dish to prepare and an ideal way to take full advantage of summer’s farm to table garden fresh herbs and produce. I have included chicken in this recipe, but is entirely optional. This is a pasta that shines either way.

 

Angel Hair with Asparagus, Lemon, and Fresh Herbs  Serves 4

  • 2 plump chicken breasts, poached (optional)
  • 12 oz organic young asparagus stalks, trimmed, steamed, and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 6 oz dry angel hair pasta
  • 1/3 cup good quality Italian olive oil
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • ¾ cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise, and again crosswise
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced Italian parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons whole baby mint leaves
  • wild rocket (arugula) leaves

If you plan to include poached chicken in the recipe prepare it in advance. Fill a medium sauce pan three quarters full of water. Bring water to a full boil, add a teaspoon of salt, and put the breasts in the pot. Bring back to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and set aside for 30 minutes. Then transfer breasts to a bowl to cool. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat apart into bite size strips. Place in a bowl, cover with cooking broth, and set aside, or cover and refrigerate for later use.

Likewise steam the asparagus in advance. Place the trimmed asparagus in a steamer tray, cover and steam until the asparagus is tender, but not limp. Allow to cool, then cut into 2 inch pieces and set aside.

Place a stock pot three quarters full of water on the stove over high heat and bring to a full boil. Lower the heat to a low simmer and hold until you are ready to cook the pasta.

While the water is heating combine the olive oil, about three quarters of the lemon juice, and the Parmigiano in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined and the cheese is incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and more lemon juice if needed to taste. Set aside.

When ready to cook the pasta turn the heat back up to high. When the water reaches a rolling boil add a tablespoon of salt. Stir and add  the angel hair. Stir until the pasta separates and floats freely in the boiling water. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring now and again, until the pasta is al dente.  Drain the pasta in a colander just before you are ready to combine it  with the sauce .

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter is melted and bubbling add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Then add the poached chicken and saute 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and toss. Reduce the heat to low and pour the olive oil lemon juice cheese sauce over all and toss 1 minute. Add the drained pasta and toss until evenly coated with sauce. Add the parsley, mint leaves, about a tablespoon of lemon zest, and toss until well to combined. Taste and season as needed.

Angel Hair with Asparagus and Lemon

Angel Hair with Asparagus and Lemon

Serving:

Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl or individual pasta plates. Try to arrange most of the asparagus on top of the pasta. Place wild rocket on top in the center, add some lemon zest and serve! The pasta needn’t be piping hot. Warm rather than hot brings out the freshness of the combined flavors.

Malfatti;Italian ricotta and spinach dumplings

Malfatti; Italian ricotta and spinach dumplings

 

Malfatti, which loosely  translates as “poorly made” in Italian, are billowy dumplings of ricotta and spinach. Essentially gnocchi, but without the dough casing. A wonderful choice for a gorgeous light meal that is sure to satisfy even die hard meat sauce lovers.

Malfatti speak for themselves. Unlike gnocchi, there is no fiddling about making perfectly shaped dumplings. These have a very rustic homemade allure that harkens back to 17th century northern Italian cooks in the countryside. Malfatti can be steamed, boiled, sauted, or gently cooked in a simple tomato sauce.

I make my own ricotta (see recipes here) paired with the simplest tomato sauce (see recipe here) made with imported Italian tomatoes or tomato passata, fresh Italian tomatoes which have been passed through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds. Imported passata is readily available. To a passata just add onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil and you have the simplest of red  sauces made in no time.

 

Malfatti: makes about 15    3 servings

Malfatti in red sauce

Malfatti in red sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • large bunch of young spinach leaves, chopped
  • 6oz/170g ricotta cheese
  • 1 organic egg, whisked
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp finely grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    prepared red sauce
  • whole dried red chiles (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the spinach and saute just until the spinach has wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer the spinach to a paper towel to absorb excess water and set aside.

Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and add the wilted spinach, egg, ¾ cup of Parmegiano-Regiano, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined and coming together.

Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will make the malfatti easier to form.

Then scoop out a generous tablespoon size portions of the mixture and form into elongated egg shapes without being too concerned about their uniformity. Think malfatti!

Place them on a parchment lined tray, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them in red sauce.

Preheat the oven to 350f/180c

Warm the red sauce and pour a cup or so in a baking dish. Then add the malfatti to the dish and add more sauce to nearly cover the malfatti with only the top exposed. Add the dried chiles if using and transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Open the oven and add the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmigiano over the tops of the malfatti. Turn the baking dish for even baking and continue baking until just lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Serving:

Serve the malfatti as pictured in a pool of red sauce along with a mixed greens salad and some crusty bread.

A perfect summer meal!

Meatballs....perfect (Basics)

Meatballs….perfect (Basics)

 

Just a mention of meatballs and spaghetti is probably going to conjure up a flashback to one of those cafeteria lunch offerings we would all rather forget from our childhood. And of course most of us didn’t have an Italian Nona to cook for us, so we were left with the next best option, the ubiquitous Italian American restaurant versions of meatballs and spaghetti which were just often delicious enough to keep us coming back. 

Fortunately, the true glories of meatballs have surfaced in nearly every culture and cuisine throughout the ages. From China’s Qin Dynasty, the Romans, the Persians, and of course the modern day Italian’s cuisine we are all familiar with today.

The recipe that follows does not stray far from the wisdom of the Italian Nona. My one exception is making the meatballs larger than the smaller traditional Italian “polpettes”. I much prefer the tender juiciness of these meatballs that are slowly simmered in a simple traditional “passata” tomato sauce. Serve them as they are or with pasta along with a beautiful crisp salad and you have a perfect pairing for simple meal for any season.

Meatballs (Basics)

Meatballs (Basics)

 

Meatballs…(Basics)     makes twelve 2 ½ oz meatballs

  • 1 pound/ 455 g best quality ground beef
  • 1 pound/ 455 g lean ground pork 
  • 2 thin slices pancetta, minced
  • ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Regiano
  • 1 small onion, minced (about ¾ cup)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • ½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 extra large organic egg, whisked
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Passata tomato sauce
  • 3 bay leaves

In a large mixing bowl combine the ground beef, ground pork, and minced pancetta. Toss with your hands until well combined and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl combine the bread crumbs and milk. Set aside for 5 minutes and then squeeze out the excess milk.

In a medium bowl combine the milk soaked bread crumbs, 1 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, minced onion, minced garlic, chopped parsley, whisked egg, ground pepper, pepper flakes, and sea salt. Toss the ingredients together until well combined. Then scatter the mixture over the ground meats and pancetta.

Using your hands, toss all the ingredients together until they are completely combined. Cover the mixture with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Once the chilled meatball mixture has firmed up, remove from the fridge, and weigh out 12 2 oz portions. Roll each portion gently between the palms of your hands until uniformly rounded. Do not over compress the mixture as you roll the meatballs. The less densely compacted they are the more tender and juicy they will be when cooked.

Gently roll each meatball in the flour until evenly coated. Shake off excess flour and place the meatballs on a tray. Cover the filled tray with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will firm up the meatballs so they retain their shape while browning them.

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C

Remove the chilled meatballs from the fridge. Place the olive oil in a wide shallow braising pan or oven proof skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is nearly smoking add half of the meatballs to the pan and cook them until evenly browned on all sides. When done remove the meatballs and set them aside on a platter while you brown the remaining meatballs.

Once all the meatballs are browned, pour most of the oil out of the pan and remove any remaining bits left in the pan using a paper towel. The pan should look fairly clean. Add a bit more fresh oil if necessary.

Return the browned meatballs to the braising pan and pour the preheated “passata” tomato sauce into the pan until it nearly covers the meatballs leaving just the tops exposed. Tuck the bay leaves into the sauce and transfer the pan to the oven. The braising can also be done on the stove top if an oven is not an option.

After 30 minutes open the oven door, turn the pan, and add more sauce if needed. Return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes. When finished the sauce should have thickened somewhat and the tops of the meatballs nicely glazed.

If you are serving the meatballs on a bed of pasta as pictured, have the pasta cooked al dente and ready for serving as soon as the meatballs come out of the oven.

Serving: Place the pasta on individual plates and top with 3 meatballs per serving. Spoon sauce over the pasta and a little over the meatballs. Top each meatball with the remaining grated Parmegiano-Reggiano and serve.

 

“Passata” Tomato Sauce:

  • 2  24 oz bottles or cartons of Italian passata tomato sauce (Mutti brand is very good)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a pinch of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground red chile (optional)
  • chicken stock as needed

“Passata” describes a process where vine ripe Roma tomatoes are passed through a food mill and then cooked. The process removes the seeds and skin from the tomatoes and once cooked makes a simple tomato sauce with just a few added ingredients.

I highly recommend using imported passata. There are several brands available. Mutti is my favorite and makes a beautiful sauce bursting with flavor.

Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when nearly smoking pour in the passata and stir. Once the sauce comes back to a boil lower the heat to a simmer. Stir in the salt, black pepper, sugar, and chile powder if using. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add hot chicken stock if the sauce needs thinning.

Keep the sauce warm on the stove top to add to the meatballs for braising or for saucing pasta before serving.

You will most likely have left over sauce which you can freeze for later use.

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