Saturday, May 25, 2013

Another Way to Grill Onions.

You can cut one of those gigantic onions in the supermarket into four big cookies.  Brush a bit of oil(olive oil is OK if you do not use Extra Virgin) onto a cast iron pan, heavy bottomed frying pan or griddle.  On meduim to low heat, fry the onions, turning rarely and occasionally spritzing them with a little water.  Keep the disks together.  Cover them through much of the middle cooking time.  In the restaurant, we just turn a paper serving boat upside down over them.  You do not need much.  Keep turning and spritzing till the onions are still slightly firm in the very middle only, and the flat sides have taken on a very dark rich color.
Remove them to a pan or serving bowl.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt, pepper and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The onions will continue to cook after removing them from the heat, but there will still be plenty of texture left and should retain the shape of the disks.  A sprinkling of wine vinegar, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar will cut a bit of the sweetness of the onions...and they will be very VERY sweet.  Serve them with chunks of bread, cheese, fruit and olives or Caper Berries.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore

You can use chicken breasts if you like, but much cheaper and more likely to appear in a household in Italy would be a whole chicken, cut up:

Turn the chicken with its back up.  With shears, cut on either side of the backbone and remove it for stock.  You can do this as you are doing the rest of the recipe, also adding the wing tips and any other waste pieces of the chicken, neck gizzard heart, salt and pepper but not the liver.  Just simmer in a saucepan of water, adding onion, carrot and celery if you like.    Skim off any foam that rises in the first few minutes of cooking.

Cut off the leg quarter by just cutting through the skin and fold the thigh and leg outward.  separate the thigh from the chicken.  Find the joint between the leg and thigh(there will be a line of fat to follow if you can see it). cut off the leg at the joint.
Fold the wing outward as well, and cut through the joint.  take a little of the breast meat with it if you want this person to get a bit more meat.  
Find and cut out the wishbone.  This is a little fiddly.
Lay the rest of the chicken flat.  You might cut through the ribs that have little meat on them, with the shears and add to the stock.
Flatten the breast out, inside of the carcass up.  Push it down hard then split the breastbone with a large knife, or cut on both sides of the keel and add to the stock.  Cut each breast half across the narrow dimension, but move toward the heavier end of the breast so the portions are near equal.

Lightly flour the pieces by dropping them one by one into a plastic bag full of flour with a little salt and pepper in it.  Remove and lay into a frying pan coated with olive oil (Not extra virgin)  allow to brown lightly on all sides, then remove to a platter. 

Pour out accumulated oil and fat.

Chop a couple of onions very coarsely(perhaps 8ths) and drop into the oil.  Keep it moving as it fries.  Add celery chunks and carrot chunks into the pan and continue to brown.  Add several crushed cloves of garlic.  Return the chicken to the pan and mound in quartered mushrooms and plenty of coarsely chopped peppers of your choice.  Keep the green ones in a small minority if you use them at all.
Add fresh or dried rosemary to taste
Add a couple of cups of your hot broth(after straining), and a couple of cups of white wine and a can of crushed tomatoes(or fresh skinned and chopped).  Salt and pepper to taste and cover  and simmer over low heat, till all is cooked through stirring occasionally.  Alternatively, cover and place in a 325 degree oven till all is cooked through.   In both cases, leave uncovered if it appears juicier than necessary.    

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cippolini Onions

You can find a hundred recipes for these onions on the Internet.  I saw one tonight that used a mix of soy sauce and honey along with the rest of the ingredients...Not terribly Italian(the soy sauce, not the honey).
In fact, when I asked an elderly gentleman on Salina, about my Cafarella family, he noted that they had the best honey on the island.  Don't know if he was pumping sunshine up my skirt or what, but it does prove that honey is a good choice in Italian cooking.  For centuries, there was not much choice for sweet foods...It was honey or nothing.
This is a good recipe for onion haters.   It is unlike anything else.
Cippolini onions are not the easiest onions to find, and not the easiest to peel.  If you have never seen them, they are rather flattened onions.  You could, of course, use any small onion.  You just need to keep them in a size range that will cook in the prescribed time.
If you go to the Salumerie in Little Italies all over the country, you will find these little onions available, all prepared, but you will pay through the nose for them.  They are usually a little crunchy compared to most recipes, and perhaps a bit more tart, as they do not always use balsamic vinegar.  You may wish to experiment over time with different vinegars and proportions of vinegar and sweeteners to get what you really want.  Also, you may prefer different vinegars and degrees of sweetness with different meats, or just alone with cheese, olives and bread. 
I used to get a small container of these when I first moved to the Boston area, along with a loaf of unsliced Scala bread, a container of mixed olives, a chunk of Provolone, a Genoa Salami(I love Fiorucci, but it is a bitch to find) or if I was feeling rich, a few slices of Prosciutto Crudo.  I would sit with a friend or two on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge and have a picnic overlooking the Boston skyline.  Add a glass of red wine and a bunch of green(for me) grapes, and life is beautiful.
I do not know about you, but I must have unsliced bread, torn apart by hand, into large chunks.  Slather with butter, or dip into a little cup of oil, grating cheese, salt and pepper and pepperoncini.  Mix them together and allow to sit for a few minutes to blend the flavors.

Anyway...Back to the onions.

I have a stand of Egyptian onions that produce the tiny bulbs at the top of the stalk...those might work with reduced roasting time.  Pickling onions would be good, shallots(If you can afford them) or just sort out the runts when you harvest onions from your garden.

Cut the top and bottom off the onions(You can leave the root end if you want, but rub off the dried up root with your fingers.) and plunge them into a pot of boiling water for just a few seconds.  Remove with a slotted spoon and cool till you can handle them.  The skin should come right off.

Place your onions in a single layer in a heavy skillet(cast iron or enameled would be good) or casserole. 
Mix a tablespoon of honey or white sugar, balsamic(or red wine) vinegar, a tablespoon of herbs like rosemary, basil, oregano, mint or thyme (your favorite), a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Cloves are a classic choice with onions.  Sprinkle a few in with the onions, or if the onions are on the larger size, stick one clove into each onion.  This is easy to over-do, so be careful. 

Mix together and stick your pinkie in.  Taste critically.  Look for a pleasant sweet and sour that will satisfy you(remember that the onions will add sweetness).  Agro Dolci is a widespread favorite in Italy.  Pour over the onions.  Cover tightly with a lid or with foil, and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove the cover and stir.  Return to the oven and continue to roast for an additional 20 minutes or to the desired degree of doneness(I know you will just hate tasting these a few times till they are done enough, but be brave.)  Serve them warm or cold.  400 to 450 degrees F is a good range for the oven.

The vinegar, sugar etc. will become syrupy, and if the onions become too dry, add a bit of wine, or more of the original mixture. 

You will find exact measurements in various recipes on line, but you should develop your unique blend through trial and error.   The thing about this, as in many other recipes from Italy, is that they just did not measure.  They dumped in about as much as their mother did, and they altered the recipe by taste with each batch or weight of onions or strength or variety of vinegar.

You could easily just drop these onions into a cast iron pan with a little olive oil.  Dump on the herbs, honey and vinegar etc. as the onions are grilling at a fairly low temperature.  Turn with a big spatula a few times till the sauce reduces.  Taste for the degree of doneness you like(I love them apple crisp, just as much as soft and sticky), and remove to a bowl to cool.
This would be just as good with carrots, and you could add mushrooms late in the roasting process.
You could easily add cloves of garlic to the pan, or stir in a bit of cream at the end of the process and reduce in the last few minutes of the roast time.
Thanks Wikipedia for the image of Cippolini Onions.  Here they are shown peeled, with residual tops still attached.  You could leave them on and have a convenient handle to nibble out of hand.  Just remember to rub off the roots if not cutting them off.  They are perfectly edible, but a little like grit floating around in the sauce.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chickpea meatballs

Mom had her clever ways to disguise foods we did not like, including these “meatballs” made with chickpeas. Her reasoning was that chickpeas were just as full of protein as other more expensive foods. These are really fabulous on their own as a hot antipasto or served over a bed of cooked spinach for a filling but inexpensive light supper.


1 can chickpeas drained
1 small sweet red pepper, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 small zucchini, ends trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, scraped and chopped
1 leek (white part) cut into rings
1 clove garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs
Fine sea salt to taste
Canola Oil for Frying
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for topping


Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor and transfer to a bowl. Set aside
Add the pepper, zucchini, carrot, leek and garlic to the food processor and pulse until the mixture looks minced.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and stir in the minced vegetables; cook until softened. Cool about 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the chickpeas. Add the 1/2 cup grated cheese one egg and mix well. (If mixture seems dry, add an additional egg or some water or broth.)
With wet hands form 1 inch balls. Set aside.
Beat the remaining two eggs in a shallow bowl and place the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.
Coat each ball in egg then in bread crumbs and place on a dish. When all the balls are coated, heat 4 cups of oil in a heavy duty pot or a deep fryer to 375°F.
Fry the balls a few at a time until golden brown and use a slotted spoon to transfer them to absorbent paper to drain. Serve warm.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Linda's Chick Peas

It is so funny that I have been working with Linda for several weeks now, and I do not know her last name!
So, I have not had the best relationship with Chickpeas in my life.  I warmed to them in things like Hummus, and they make a good mock Meatball.  It only stands to reason, that the way I love them is about as unhealthy a preparation as you could imagine for a legume, but that is the story of my life in a nutshell.
Linda simply opens a can of chick peas, rinses them, lets them dry....Then she deep fries them in the same oil as the french fries in the cafe.
I suppose you could use a light olive oil, peanut oil, or whatever you are used to.  Let them get a nice deep amber brown...
The she douses them with Five Spice, or a Mexican spice mix.  Seasoned salt would be good...Cajun spice blend....or what about cayenne and salt alone....Be creative, and serve them within about an hour if possible...less is best...Chick peas are so meaty, and retain inside moisture so that eventually the moisture comes out and softens the crisp surface that you created with the deep fry....

These are great as an appetizer in place of a bowl of nuts, and they would be nice as a topper for a salad.