You are what you eat & drink

Posts tagged “Italy

New Year Tipple

I haven’t been posting much over the last few days. My net server changed modem on me on Monday, and despite a complaint on Tuesday, I am still waiting for a satisfactory solution.

Meanwhile, this is what I celebrated New Year with…

Lambrusco Bianca, a frizzante (slightly fizzy) from Italy

Chilean Apaltagua rosado carmenere


Olive Ascolana

Fried Olives typically from the Ascoli area are pitted, stuffed with minced meat, breaded and deep fried.
Image: Italian Heritage Magazine

Image: Italian Heritage Magazine Read more

But not only minced beef, savoury cheeses or prosciutto can also be used for the filling.

This appetizer is one of the most representative of Italian culinary tradition and it will surely be a hit with your friends.

Ingredients:
• 2,2 lbs (1 kg) of soft tender olives from Ascoli
• 1 oz (30 g) of the soft, inner part of bread
• ¾ cup (80 g) of grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 egg / the grated zest of ½ lemon
• (A pinch of) nutmeg / (a pinch of) clove powder
• About a cup (200-250 ml) of white wine
• Salt / a small stalk of celery
• A small carrot / ½ onion • 3,5 oz (100 g) of chicken breast
• 3,5 oz (100 g) of beef meat
• 3,5 oz (100 g) of pork meat

For breading and frying, we’ll have:
• breadcrumbs / 2 eggs / some flour
• 2 cups (½ l) of extra virgin olive oil

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British pizza

…from bone marrow to Thai curry

Boundary-pushing pizzerias are serving toppings that would make a Neapolitan swoon – and not in a good way. But some of them are delicious. Would you order a doner kebab pizza?

Lamb doner kebab pizza from Artisan.

In Naples, there are militants who insist that there are only three truly authentic varieties of pizza: marinara, margherita and margherita extra, with buffalo mozzarella. Across wider Italy, the list of acceptable pizza toppings is tightly circumscribed. It’s a decent bet, therefore, that Italians will hate the coming trend in Britain’s pizzerias.

From Homeslice’s oxtail and bone marrow pizzas to the Welsh lamb and mint pesto slice at Baravin in Aberystwyth, a new wave of restaurants is slipping the shackles of Italian orthodoxy and getting creative with toppings. In Manchester, at Artisan, you can even order a lamb doner kebab pizza. Yes, really.

More remarkably, unlike their Hawaiian and peking duck predecessors, some of these experimental creations actually work. Dressed with a soy glaze, Homeslice’s mushroom, ricotta and pumpkin seed slice cleverly balances savoury depth, freshness and a nutty textural variety. “I’m not Italian, and I’ve never felt confined by the traditional toppings,” says the New Zealand chef and co-owner, Ryan Jessup. “I didn’t want any kind of gimmick, I just wanted to put flavours together that worked, using traditional processes and quality ingredients.”

America’s irreverent approach to “pie” was a key inspiration for Pizza East and Voodoo Ray’s gently innovative gourmet pizzas, both in London. The latter sells a savoy cabbage and bacon slice, which anglicises the cult brussels sprouts and pancetta pizza sold at Motorino in New York. Using local ingredients is a hallmark of these new, upstart British pizzerias.

For others, getting creative just seems to be a natural progression. As a nation, we’ve finally got to grips with the basics of real pizza (proper 00-flour doughs; wood-fired ovens); the next stage is to put our stamp on it. At Pizzaface in Brighton, which tops its pizzas with lamb proscuitto, smoked tuna and chipotle chillies, or the Crate Brewery in London, which serves a laksa chicken pizza, the approach is pretty radical. Lardo, also in London, represents a quieter shift to more sophisticated Italian ingredients (porchetta, lardo itself), which are unheard of as pizza toppings in Italy.

“We’re obsessed by food and we love playing around,” says Lisa Richards, co-owner of Great British Pizza Co in Margate, whose recent specials have included a Parma ham and nectarine pizza, and a take on Turkish lahmacun, topped with minced lamb, parsley and lemon juice. “And,” she adds, “our specials always sell out.”

As a co-owner of Pleb, a Lewes street food operation that serves authentic Roman pizza, Joe Lutrario doesn’t particularly like this trend. He and his business partner still argue over whether to use onions or not, never mind braised lamb: “It’s semantics, but at that point it probably stops being Italian pizza. Capers, olives and anchovies go really well with mozzarella and tomatoes and, in my opinion, there are probably only another 10 ingredients that do. We’re pretty conservative.”

However, in his other life as a senior reporter at Restaurant magazine, Lutrario predicts that “British” pizza could well take off: “Possibly at the expense of established places, such as Pizza Express. Local ingredients, local beers, pizza – it just works as a business model. Pizza is high-margin, relatively easy to knock out, and it doesn’t encourage people to stay for long.”

At Artisan, on a wood-fired pizza menu that also includes a (pretty awful) Thai curry number and a (pretty awesome) shaved potato and chorizo pizza topped with game crisps, the doner kebab is its biggest seller. It is a novelty dish, but a surprisingly effective one. After all, what is pizza but a flatbread? This is just an open doner kebab.

Artisan’s executive chef, John Branagan, actually wanted to call these pizzas flatbreads, but watched Jamie Oliver fail to communicate his topped British flatbreads concept at Union Jacks. “We were too chicken,” he says. “It’s been done before and people have reverted to using the word pizza.” Think of these new-wave pizzas as flatbreads, however (at Artisan, generally the ingredients aren’t cooked on the pizza, but added after), and it all begins to make more sense.

Branagan likes to retain a pizza look by including some sort of tomato sauce, but he plays around with it to make it suitable. For example, the pulled pork pizza uses a BBQ sauce. On certain Homeslice pizzas, Jessup has dispensed with tomato sauce altogether, using beurre blanc on his mackerel pizza and a kind of creamed corn soup on his corn and chorizo. Get over the necessity to start every pizza/flatbread with a tomato sauce, and suddenly the potential variations are endless. “The base is just a carrier,” says Branagan.

Not that Italians will be persuaded. “My father-in-law is Italian, a retired chef,” says Branagan, “and he would pass out [at this].”

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Cooking Capers

Secret ingredient: Capers

CAPER CRUSADERS: Capers add a special piquancy to Mediterranean dishes, among others.

Do you feel like a caper? No, not the sort that involves jolly japes and other shenanigans, but the little green buds that come in glass jars.

WHAT ARE CAPERS?
Most of us know what capers look like – little pea-size dark green objects usually sold in glass jars. But what are they and where do they come from? Well, they start life growing on a shrub-like bush (Capparis spinosa) that grows particularly well in the Mediterranean region, but also in parts of Asia, the Middle East and California. More recently a small but sophisticated caper industry has taken shape in Australia too.

After being picked (by hand, which accounts for their price), the unopened buds are wilted in the sun or large industrial kilns and later brined or packed in salt.

Capers have been used – originally for medicinal purposes and later in cooking – for thousands of years. They come in a variety of sizes; from that of a baby green pea through to the size of a small olive; the smallest ones – and also the most expensive – hail from southern France and are known as nonpareils. Larger capers are stronger in flavor and less aromatic but should not be confused with caper berries, which are capers that have been allowed to mature until they are about the size of an olive. Like capers, they are brined and can be eaten straight from the jar (they make great finger food on an antipasto platter).

WHAT DO THEY TASTE LIKE?
Their sharp, somewhat salty taste is not to everyone’s taste, but they add a special piquancy to Mediterranean dishes, among others.

WHERE CAN I FIND THEM?
Brined capers are freely available in supermarkets, but if you are after the salted variety you may have to track them down in a specialty food shop. Once opened, keep your capers refrigerated and, most importantly, submerged beneath the brine.

WHAT CAN I USE INSTEAD?
It’d be a shame to try to substitute the flavour of capers but if you must, then try chopped green olives.

GOT ANY GOOD RECIPES USING THEM?
Recipes with veal, fish, and a number of pasta sauces (see below) are among the most popular ways to use capers. Then there are wine sauces, salad dressings, pizza, turkey, meats, relishes, tapenades, Mediterranean dishes, artichoke, vegetables, and olives. They can also be fried and then tossed into a dish for a crunchier, crispier flavour and texture.

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Check link for a caper recipe

Can you grow capers?

How to grow capers

Capparis spinosa Spineless Caper

Capparis spinosa Spineless Caper flower – image: ebay

Mature caper bushes can grow three feet high and spread four or five feet. They require dry heat and intense sunlight to flourish. They will be killed by temperatures below 20 degrees F. In the north, bring the plants inside during the winter or just grow them in pots in a greenhouse. Seeds are dormant and notoriously difficult to germinate. You can just try starting the seeds, but the following technique will give the best success (40-50%).

Soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours. Put seeds in a wet towel, seal in a plastic bag and leave in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks. Remove, soak again in warm water for 24 hours. Plant seeds 3/8 inch deep (lcm) in a mixture of potting soil/perlite/sand (50/25/25%). Use 4-6″ pots and put 4-5 seeds per pot. Seeds should germinate in 3-4 weeks. Grow until 3-5″ tall.  Save the best plant; cut the rest with a scissors(don ‘t just pull them out). When transplanting, disturb the root as little as possible. For northem gardeners, when transplanting, protect plant from elements until it has taken (cover with plastic bag for the first 3-4 days, then cut top of the bag to admit some of the elements and leave a week, then remove entire bag) or use row covers. While not the easiest plant to grow, it is worth the effort to harvest and make your own capers.

Source: Seeds from Italy

Where can I buy caper seeds?

Google: Where to buy caper seeds, there’s heaps of places