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4.30.2012

Meatloaf an American classic.... or Polpettone un classico tutto italiano???


Although I am sure I could eat pasta every day and never tire of it because of the wonderful variety of types of pasta and pasta recipes... we do NOT eat only and exclusively pasta at my house! Tonight's is a meat and potatoes meal! I usually don't blog meat recipes or casseroles because they are very "American" and my audience is prevalently American! But... tonight I am adding a mediterranean twist to an old American standby!


If you are American or have lived in the US for any period of time, you have eaten meatloaf! When you were a kid you either loved it or hated it.. and now that you are a mother, you probably fix it for your kids whether you belonged to the "loved its" or "hated it". Why? Simple, it's the base for an economical week-day meal!

Well, guess what!? I think almost every country has its version of meatloaf! I have eaten it in Germany where it's called Falscher Hass. And, I have eaten it in Italy where it's called Polpettone.
Some recipes really dress it up with hardboiled eggs, cheese, vegetables, ham and who knows what else hidden inside, so when you slice it you see the surprise filling. I personally prefer a more simple approach, using spices and other ingredients to change the taste of my meatloaf based on my culinary mood! When I am in a real American mood I add some ketchup and chopped onions to the mix, maybe even a tablespoon of prepared mustard. But... when I am in an Italian mood, I go for a mediterranean taste!
Tonight's meatloaf definitely has a mediterranean twist!

Ingredients for 2 servings
about 1/2 ground meat (I used lean chianina beef, but you can use lamb, veal, pork, turkey, chicken or a mix of several meats)
1 large egg
3 T fine bread crumbs
3 T Quaker's oats (ok, not really Italian but adding oats to your diet is good for your heart!)
3 T grated parmigiano
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 tsp mediterranean spices
I got a jar of mixed mediterranean spices as a gift from Anna, a lovely lady I met in Sardinia. Basically its a mix of dried oregano, rosemary, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, myrtle and savory.
The grated rind of 1 large lemon
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
A small oven proof casserole dish

Mix all of the ingredients - go ahead and use your hands!
Tonight with my polpettone I am also serving oven fried mediterranean potatoes and wild asparagus. The asparagus is easy. Wild asparagus is much thinner than the cultivated type and as a more nutty flavour. We prefer it to the cultivated variety. Snap off the tough ends of the stems, wash well in cold water. 

Sauté with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, about a 1/4 cup of water - over high heat for about 10 min. Keep warm.

For the potatoes: 1 large potato, washed but not peeled. Salt and pepper to taste, mediterranean spices, garlic salt to taste, 2T extra virgin olive oil
Slice the potato into 1/8" slices, toss with the other ingredents. Arrange in a non stick baking dish.
Bake the meatloaf and the potatoes in a 375°-400°F oven for about 1/2 hour




When the potatoes and meatloaf are done, remove from the oven and arrange on a serving dish. Pop your asparagus - covered with foil - into the hot oven for a few minutes to heat while you are fixing the serving plate.

And as Julia Child would have said had she spoken Italian....BUON APPETITO!!





4.28.2012

Pasta e Fagioli made with fresh buckwheat noodles

I used to think that making home made pasta ("homemades" if you were raised in South Philly) was really a long and drawn out process, but I realised that the long drawn out part was related to the quantity of pasta you have to make! Now that my kids have flown the coop and it's just Franco and me, making home made pasta is really a snap. Usually 1 large egg and about 1 cup of flour is more than enough for the two of us. And if you are really lazy you can throw the ingredients into a food processer - et voilà - your dough is done in about a minute! And if you have a pasta machine, it really only takes 30 minutes or less from start to finish. I am not talking about electric extruder type machines that can cost over a hundred dollars, but one of those stainless steel manual machine that rolls and cuts your dough into either narrow (tagliolini) or wide (tagliatelle) ribbon noodles. You can buy one in the housewares section of most department stores. 
What I love most about cooking, aside from the delicious results, is the creativity! 
Once you learn the basics, you can pretty much wing it and mix ingredients and ideas to come up with your own particular twist to an old recipe. Today I decided to bring together two really traditional dishes to create my own version of pasta and beans, using pizzoccheri instead of the more traditional durum wheat pasta.
Pasta e Fagioli - pasta and beans - is a traditional meatless Italian dish. Very hearty and very healthy. It can be fixed in a variety of ways, depending on the regional recipe you choose. It can be rather brothy and eaten with a spoon, or quite thick in consistency and eaten with a fork. My father-in-law, being from Campania, followed the Neapolitan tradition and cooked the pasta with the beans, resulting in a thick, hearty one dish meal. I prefer my pasta and beans "in bianco" - that is with no tomato sauce added. I season it with extra virgin olive oil, lots of garlic and chopped fresh parsely. 
I love home made pasta. I particularly love "pizzoccheri" which are short ribbon noodles made with buckwheat flour and are typical of the Lombardia region of Italy, more specifically the Valtellina. It is a traditional pasta with a very long history, probably dating back to the mid 1500s when buckwheat was first introduced into the Valtellina area. Buckwheat is grano saraceno in Italian, used to make buckwheat flour - furmentùn or farìna négra - in the local dialect. Now the traditional recipe for using pizzoccheri is very rich and includes cabbage, lots of butter, 2 or 3 types of fatty local cheeses and potatoes. But today I am making them with beans!


So let's get started.
If you are starting with dry beans, you should start the night before and soak the beans overnight. Then the next day, cook them until done. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic and parsely. If you are using canned or fresh beans, they don't need to be soaked over night.


Rather than the typical pizzoccheri made with white flour, buckwheat flour and warm water, I opted for making them with 2/3 cup buckwheat flour, 1/3 cup semolina flour, 1 large egg, 1 T olive oil, and water as needed. I mixed together the flours, the egg and the oil to obtain a rather stiff dough. I added about a tablespoon of warm water as I was mixing because the dough was a bit too stiff. You need to work the dough about 5 minutes by hand. If you have a food processor or kitchen-aid go ahead and use it to make the dough.
Let the dough rest for about 10 min.

I cut my dough in several pieces before I start rolling it out, to save time as I go along. We are looking for a rather thick noodle. 





My pasta machine can roll the pasta out to 8 thicknesses. 
For these noodles I stopped at the 5th thickness setting. I usually roll all the pieces on one setting, and then go on to the next, and so on. This way I don't have to keep resetting the thickness.



The sheets of dough should be "translucent" and about 1/4" thick. 

When all of the sheets have been rolled out to the right thickness, cut the sheets in to about 4"  lengths. We are looking for a short noodle that will amalgamate well with the cooked beans. 
I usually let the sheets of dough dry for about 10 to 15 minutes before cutting them so the noodles don't stick together. At this point put a large pot of water on to boil. 






I don't cook the "homemades" together with the beans because the results would be too starchy. I cook the noodles separately for about 1 minute - that's all fresh pasta takes - and then add them to the beans and cook for about another 30 seconds so all of the flavours blend together.



Drain the noodles and add to the beans, stir over high heat for about 30 seconds, taste and correct the seasoning. You may need to add some more extra virgin olive oil. That's it! 







And as Julia Child would have said had she spoken Italian... BUON APPETITO!