Monday 23 January 2017

Italian flavour

You don't have to travel to enjoy Mediterranean food, says Brenda Costigan, as a tasty Italian meal is a cinch to prepare at home

Published 17/10/2010 | 13:04

Italian Flavour: Tiramisu.
Italian Flavour: Tiramisu.

In my mind's eye, I can still see the wonderful profusion of purple bougainvillea growing along the avenue, which was lined with cafes and ice-cream shops.

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I recall the local population strolling en famille after their evening meal, stopping for a leisurely coffee or an ice cream. The sense of peace in the waning sunlight was therapeutic. It was our first continental holiday with the children, and we were in Albenga, a little town on the Italian Riviera. As the evenings draw in, it is fun to plan a virtual-reality trip to Italy, choosing comforting recipes, such as those below.

Bruschetta con Prosciutto

Bruscare means to toast over coals, and that's where bruschetta gets its name. It's a wonderfully tasty, simple starter. This recipe, inspired by one of Gino D'Acampo's, is a colourful combination of peppers, tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil, with a little prosciutto thrown in for good measure. Serves 6.

You will need:

3 yellow peppers

200g (7oz) small plum tomatoes

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing

10 leaves fresh basil, roughly chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 slices prosciutto

1 ciabatta loaf, about 30cm (12in) long

Parmesan, for shaving

Preheat the oven to 220 C, 425 F, Gas 7. Place the whole yellow peppers on a baking tray and roast them for about half an hour. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a large bowl. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it until the peppers are cold. The trapped steam will make it easier to peel the peppers. Once the peppers have cooled, peel off the skin, remove the seeds and slice. Place the slices in a bowl. Cut the plum tomatoes in half and add them to the bowl. Add the finely chopped garlic, the extra virgin olive oil and the roughly chopped fresh basil. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place the slices of prosciutto on a baking tray and grill them for 2-3 minutes until they are crispy. Cut the ciabatta loaf in three equal pieces and then cut each piece in two. Brush both sides of each slice of ciabatta with olive oil and toast the slices under a grill until they're golden. To serve, place two slices of grilled prosciutto on each piece of toasted ciabatta, pile on the roasted pepper and tomato mixture and scatter some Parmesan shavings over the top.

OSSO BUCCO

This classic Italian stew or casserole is a great winter dish. Traditionally, it is made with shin of veal, also known as veal shank. The shin is sliced across in thick, 3.5-5cm (1 1/2-2in) slices so that a cross-section of the bone, complete with the marrow, is in the centre of each slice; this is a feature of the dish. In Italy they have narrow little spoons to scoop out the marrow from the bone, in order to eat it. The marrow is particularly good spread on a thin slice of toast. Depending on the amount of meat on the shin, one slice per serving is usually enough. Serves 6.

You will need:

Flour, for dusting

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 slices shin of veal, 3.5-5cm (1 1/2-2in) thick, with bone in each slice

2 tablespoons olive oil

50g (2oz) butter

2 onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 carrots, diced

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

175-200ml (6-7fl oz) white wine or cider

175-200ml (6-7fl oz) chicken stock

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes or 350g (12oz) fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato puree (if using fresh tomatoes)

Small teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

For the gremolata, you will need:

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

Finely grated rind of 1 unwaxed lemon

Mix a little flour with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, then dust the veal slices very lightly with the mixture. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add some of the butter. Fry a few slices of veal at a time until they are browned on both sides, then lift them out on to a plate. Next, fry the finely chopped onions and the chopped garlic, adding more oil or butter as required. After a few minutes, add in the diced carrots and the finely chopped celery. Stir over the heat for a few minutes to flavour. Put the browned veal slices in a heavy-based saucepan or a casserole. Ideally, the slices should be placed standing upright, side by side. This helps prevent the marrow falling out during cooking. Add the vegetables in around the meat and then add the white wine or cider, whichever you are using, and the chicken stock. Then add the tinned chopped tomatoes or the fresh, chopped tomatoes with the tomato puree, whichever you are using, and the teaspoon of sugar. Add the herbes de Provence and some more salt and freshly ground black pepper, if necessary. Bring to the boil, and then put the lid on and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is really tender.

To make the gremolata, mix together the chopped fresh parsley, the chopped garlic and the finely grated lemon rind. Scatter this garnish over the stew or over each serving. Serve with risotto, see recipe below.

RISOTTO

Risotto is as time-sensitive as any souffle. In his cookbook, How to Cook Better, Shaun Hill, a respected English Michelin-starred chef, has advice -- which is outlined below -- on how to part-cook a risotto in advance, with the final cooking taking place just 10 minutes before required. This simple method results in a perfectly cooked risotto. Serves 4.

You will need:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

200g carnaroli, arborio or other risotto rice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100ml (4fl oz) white wine

700ml (24fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock

50g (2oz) butter

25-50g (1-2oz) freshly grated Parmesan

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and then add the chopped onion and garlic and cook gently for about two minutes to soften them. Add the risotto rice and cook it gently for another 2-3 minutes. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the white wine and cook until it has been completely absorbed. Stir in 250ml (9fl oz) of the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you are using. Bring to the boil, stir, cover with a lid and leave, away from direct heat, until all the stock has been absorbed. The risotto will be hard and dry at this stage. When it has cooled, it can be kept in the fridge for a day or two until it is needed.

About 10 minutes before serving, add all the remaining stock to the rice and bring to the boil. Gently simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the butter and the freshly grated Parmesan and serve.

CRISPY CHICKEN BREASTS TOPPED WITH A LITTLE CHEESE AND SERRANO HAM

Quite a contrast to the long, slow cooking of the osso bucco, this tasty recipe, inspired by one from Gino D'Acampo's book, Fantastico, is cooked very quickly. Gino says that "Italian food is like Italian men -- minimum effort, maximum satisfaction!" This recipe is very easy and very tasty. Toasted mixed nuts are mixed with breadcrumbs to give a lovely, crunchy coating to the chicken breasts. Taleggio is the soft cheese Gino suggests, but it is not easy to find, so I use cambazola. Port Salut is another acceptable substitute. A tin of anchovy fillets added to a tin of cherry tomatoes gives a delightfully subtle flavour to the sauce. Serves 4.

For the sauce, you will need:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely sliced

8 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

2 x 400g (14oz) tins cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken, you will need:

50g-75g (2-3oz) breadcrumbs

50g (2oz) chopped mixed nuts, toasted

4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Flour, for dusting

2 medium eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for frying

150g (5oz) cambazola

4-8 little slices of serrano ham (optional)

To prepare the sauce, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and fry the finely sliced onion and the drained anchovy fillets until they are soft. Add in the tinned cherry tomatoes and the chopped fresh parsley. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, bring to the boil and cook gently for a few minutes. Cover with a lid, take off the heat and leave to one side.

Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6. Put a baking tin in to heat.

Mix the breadcrumbs and the toasted, chopped mixed nuts together. Leave the chicken breasts whole or, if you prefer, slit them in two down their length. Season the chicken breasts with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and dust them very lightly with flour. Dip the chicken breasts, one at a time, into the beaten, seasoned egg and then dip into the breadcrumb and nut mixture. Press this coating firmly on to the chicken to ensure it sticks. Treat the chicken breasts gently from now on, as the chopped nuts are easily knocked off the surface.

Heat some olive oil in a pan, and gently fry the chicken to a golden brown on each side and transfer to the hot baking tin. Place a piece of cambazola on top of each piece of chicken and put the tin into the oven for about 15-20 minutes to ensure the chicken breasts are cooked through and to melt the cheese.

To serve, using a fish slice, lift the chicken on to serving plates, gathering up any melted cheese. Serve with the cherry-tomato sauce. Place some thinly sliced serrano ham, if you are using it, gathered in a bundle, beside the chicken.

CUSTARD

You will need:

3 egg yolks

1 level tablespoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon cornflour

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

300ml (1/2pt) milk (ideally use half milk and half cream)

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, the caster sugar, the cornflour and the vanilla essence until the mixture is nice and creamy. Meanwhile, heat the milk, or the half milk and half cream, whichever you are using, until it just begins to bubble at the edges. Pour it slowly into the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and stir constantly over a gentle heat until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Cover and allow to cool.

TIRAMISU

This luscious Italian dessert can be made two days ahead and kept in the fridge. Ensure it's well covered so that it doesn't pick up other flavours. If you make it in individual dishes, not as many ladyfinger biscuits will be required. Most recipes use raw egg, but I prefer to make a custard instead. Serves about 6.

You will need:

Custard (see recipe above)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

A little caster sugar to sweeten

500g (2 cartons) mascarpone

About 225ml (8fl oz) very strong coffee

60ml (4 tablespoons) Tia Maria

60ml (4 tablespoons) brandy

30-40 boudoir or ladyfinger biscuits

Grated chocolate, to serve

Cocoa powder, to serve

Make the custard according to the recipe above and allow it to cool. Stir the vanilla essence and the caster sugar into the mascarpone. Then carefully mix in the cold custard. Put the very strong coffee into a bowl and add the Tia Maria and the brandy. One at a time, dip each side of the boudoir or ladyfinger biscuits into the coffee mixture and arrange them in a single layer, side by side over the base of a dish, which should be about 25 x 20.5cm (10 x 8in) in size. Cover this biscuit layer with half of the mascarpone and custard mixture. Then arrange a second layer of the coffee-dipped biscuits on top and cover this with the remaining mascarpone mixture. If you are using dessert dishes, make the individual tiramisus in exactly the same way. Cover, and chill in the fridge for at least two hours. To serve, generously scatter the top of the tiramisu with grated chocolate and a light dusting of cocoa powder.

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