Category: Italian

Cannellini Bean Salad

Cannellini Bean SaladThere are so many variations of this recipe, sometimes called Tuscan cannellini bean salad (the beans are also referred to as cannelloni beans as well), or white bean salad, and the ingredients are often varied and quite good. This is my version, which, of course, makes it the best. You may see a small bowl of this on the table at good Italian restaurants, and while the most common variation uses parsley instead of basil, I much prefer my version. You will too.

Ingredients:
1 19 oz can of cannellini (cannelloni) beans (or any kind of white bean such as butterbeans)
the juice of 1 lemon (~3 tablespooons)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon pesto (or a handful of basil leaves coarsely chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
A baguette or rustic Italian bread, sliced into small cracker-like shapes

Directions:
1. Rinse the beans under water as, while the liquid they are packed in is quite nutritious, it won’t work well if included in this recipe. Set the beans aside. If you prefer, you can use dried beans that you soak, cook, and prepare yourself, but unless you are comfortable doing so and know how to ensure their tenderness, I recommend canned beans.

2. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and pesto (or basil leaves) to a bowl and stir together. The mix does not have to be a perfect emulsion, just a gentle stir will do.

3. Add the beans and stir it up a bit. I like to crush a few of the beans to thicken the dressing mixture allowing it to adhere better to the beans and giving it some texture. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Eat the whole bowl because you can’t stop after testing the flavor. Go back to step 1 and start over and try not to eat the whole bowl this time.

4. Place a spoonful of the bean salad onto each piece of bread and serve.

I always have pesto around so it is easy for me to use it in this dish, but basil leaves work perfectly well and so does parsley. I may experiment with the decidedly non-Italian cilantro to see how that goes. As I always say, experiment yourself, add other items that interest you, and you may chance upon something that blows you away. As you can see from the picture, I also added a lot more garlic than I indicate in this recipe, and woke up this morning still tasting the garlic, which I rather enjoy. Cooking is as much an art as it is a science, so tweak any of the ingredients or techniques to suit your own taste.

I also put the salad in the refrigerator for a bit which causes the olive oil to thicken somewhat. This helps the salad stay together a bit better and allows some tome for all the flavors to blend. I can easily make an entire dinner from a hunk of bread and a bowl of these beans, which is not just frugal, but also delicious and nutritious.

Classic Basil Pesto

pesto

Pesto

Extra basil? Make pesto! I just pulled up the last 10 of my basil plants, and had more basil than I have ever seen beforeĀ  in one place. While I can think of many dishes to make with basil, the best way I know to store that much basil long-term is to make pesto and freeze it in single serving batches (in plastic bags), thereby having fresh pesto at my disposal all winter. There are many forms of pesto, but I tend to make a simple pesto that focuses on the clean flavor of the basil as opposed to the mad mix of ingredients that creates a more aggressive sauce.

According to ancient legend (cue the smoke machines), pesto originated in Genoa, in the Liguria region of northern Italy. They consider themselves the “true pesto aficionados” and make their pesto a very simple sauce, without many additives. For some reason I have latched onto this, and make my pesto in their classic way, using nothing but basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil. While pesto still tastes great with Parmesan cheese and pignoli (pine nuts), my personal preference is for the robust basil flavor without anything else getting in my tongue’s way. Folks who come to my house are almost always served the following pesto.

Ingredients:
fresh basil leaves
olive oil
a few garlic cloves
salt

Directions:
I have omitted measurements for a reason. The best results don’t come from careful measurements, but from making a pesto that you like. Some prefer more oil, some less (you still need enough to keep oxygen from turning the basil brown, so be sure to use the olive oil liberally). For this recipe you can probably get away with 1/4 cup of oil for each 2 cups of basil, but you are better off using more than less to prevent oxidation of the leaves.

1. Put all dry ingredients in a food processor, pulse gently, then slowly add the oil until all ingredients are blended. yes, it’s that simple. Traditional pesto is made in a mortar and pestle, but these days, it is far easier to just use the food processor.

N.B. if you want a more robust pesto with pignoli and cheese, you can use the following recipe.

Alternate Pesto:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine basil and pine nuts in a food processor and blend gently. Add garlic, pulse, and then pour in the olive oil slowly while blending. Add cheese and salt and pepper, blend momentarily and you are done.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Cheese is not something that people often think to make at home, but there is nothing in the world quite like fresh ricotta cheese. Surprisingly easy to make, this staple (in my house) is above and beyond store-bought ricotta. I often use this in our other staple, lasagna, and we even eat it plain in a bowl with a little salt and pepper, as we would eat cottage cheese. Ricotta is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home as it requires no rennet (special enzymes to curdle the milk) nor does it require any aging or care. It is the ‘lazy person’s’ cheese, so to speak, but there is nothing lazy about how fast I eat it.

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 quart buttermilk
4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice

You will also need a thermometer, sieve or colander, and some cheesecloth.

Directions
1. Combine the milk, buttermilk, cream, and salt in a non-reactive pan.

Forming curds

Forming curds

2. Prepare the colander for the draining process by moistening a few sheets of cheesecloth and layering them in the colander. This is where you will be placing the curds to drain excess whey. I place the colander in the sink to drain.

3. Attach the thermometer to the pan so that you may monitor the temperature.

4. Heat the mixture on high, stirring occasionally to prevent any milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan.

5. When the milk has reached about 175 degrees F, add the lemon juice and gently stir it in. You will see curds start to form immediately. Allow a few minutes for more curds to accumulate, stirring very gently on occasion.

Spooning curds

Spooning curds

6. Using a skimmer or sieve, remove curds from the pot and place them in the cheesecloth lined colander. The moisture level of the cheese will be determined by how long you let it drain. I like a moist ricotta, so I let it drain about five to ten minutes, but for a more firm cheese, let the curds drain longer.

7. When the curds have finished draining, remove them and eat immediately for the best ricotta you have ever tasted. The cheese will also last a few days in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

It may seem odd to add vinegar to berries, but a surprisingly tasty combination is a very simple dish of strawberries with balsamic vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar brings out the sweetness of the berries, and the contrast of flavors allows the intensity of each to come out, enhancing the “berry-ness” of a simple strawberry. This is a great summer dessert when the strawberries are at their peak ripeness, but is a great dish any time of year (and a great way to enjoy so-so strawberries out of season).

There are two ways to make this, the inexpensive way, and the more expensive way. The inexpensive way (relatively speaking) is to add standard balsamic vinegar and sugar to the berries, while the latter method is to use a special type of balsamic vinegar that has been bottled with some of the concentrated must from the wine-making process. Must is what one calls the sweet grape juice prior to fermentation. This particular vinegar is thicker and sweeter than traditional vinegar, and a little goes a long way, but it is an incredible addition to any sweet dessert, and I keep a bottle around always for this very purpose. You will find it in specialty food stores, such as cheese shops and foofy high-end food shops.

Ingredients
1 pint strawberries
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar

If you have the sweetened, reduced balsamic vinegar you can leave out the sugar.

Directions
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve. Really. You don’t need any whipped cream (although you can add it if you wish), this dish is incredible on its own. Also, feel free to increase or reduce the vinegar to your taste. Some people prefer just a hint of vinegar, and some (like me) like soup. In fact, I’m seriously thinking of experimenting with this to make a smoothie, if I can find the proper mix of ingredients (and I will). Expect that post this summer.

Supreme de Volaille a la Milanaise

This classic, simple chicken dish is rich and flavorful while still being easy to make.

Ingredients
4 chicken cutlets
salt
pepper
flour
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup fine, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, well beaten
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated

Sauce Ingredients
4 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Directions
1. Lightly season each cutlet with salt and pepper.

2. Line up three plates — one with 1 cup flour, the 2nd with the egg , 1/8 tsp salt, and1/2 tsp olive oil mixed together, and the third with the mixed cheeses (Parmesan & Romano) and bread crumbs.

3. Take each cutlet, coat with flour, then egg mixture, then cheeses. Let rest on waxed paper for at least half an hour.

4. Saute the cutlets in butter (4 Tbsp) and olive oil (2Tbsp) for approximately 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes in second side, until brown and firm to the touch.

5. Keep warm in a low oven (150 degrees) until ready to serve.

For the sauce:
Put 4 Tbsp butter in a skillet over moderate heat until it turns light brown. Remove from heat and, add lemon and parsley. Spoon over cutlets and serve.

Serves 2 to 4