Tuesday, November 3, 2009

our italian culinary holiday ends, but the culinary journey never will...part duex

We have had amazing weather during our holiday.  Amazingly warm weather. This afternoon the temperature began to cool, which was welcomed.  Marcello and Rafaella's home was a quick and welcomed  walk from our hotel.  They have a tidy flat on the 3rd floor of a lovely building just steps from the University of Bologna.  Their kitchen is very well appointed, and there was plenty of room for us to work.  Rafaella is a very accomplished home cook...and I was excited to learn from her.
Tortellini in Brodo is something I make. I ate it as a kid and it is real comfort food.  As it happens my husband's step-father (also Italian), made it as well...so we both share have good memories of the dish.
As you may recall, we made tortellini and stored it in the freezer. We would be using this pasta today for our Tortellini in Brodo.
I have to say, Rafaella's broth is the best broth I have ever had.  I have been making fresh chicken broth forever...but have always thought it was good, but lacking richness.  Today I learned the secret to making it amazing. And the secret is not chicken...it is beef.  Traditional broth for tortellini in brodo uses more than just chicken.  Furthermore, the meat is not tossed away, it is used in either bollito misto (boiled meat) or meatballs.

Rafaella's Brodo
1/2 stewing chicken
piece of cow's tongue--about 4" long
2-3 meaty short ribs--or flaken ribs with bones
nice piece of beef filet about 1/2lb
1 beef soup bone
2 small carrots-- peeled and kept whole
1 medium onion--peeled and kept whole
2 medium stalks celery--whole
salt and pepper
Place all meat in a large pot.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer on the stove, skimming foam off top as it forms.  Once it comes to a simmer, place top over, but not completely covering and let simmer for 3-4 hours.  Occasionally check and skim foam off top.  Once done, Strain, keeping meat for other use. Discard vegetables.  You may use immediately or store in refrigerator or freezer.

For Tortellini--bring enough broth to a boil to cook pasta.  Cook pasta until tender and about doubled in size.   Serve in shallow bowls and top with a bit of pepper and parmesan cheese.  The broth should not be treated like a soup, it is a condiment to the pasta.  But don't be too skimpy either...you will love this broth and want to sop up a bit with each bite!
tortellini in brodo

We made and ate so many amazing things, but there are a few I want to feature.  Things that are simple and delicious.
Rafaella had picked up some zucchini flowers at the marketplace.  They are not quite as dear in Italy as they are here.  I have found them at local farmer's markets and sometimes at whole foods--but they will pinch the pocketbook a bit.
It is essential to preserve the taste of the fiore as they are so precious.  Rafaella's recipe--does just that.  She also threw in fresh sage and basil leaves for a bit of a treat.  These zucchini flowers remained crunchy even after sitting for a bit...which was a nice surprise.

Batter for Flowers and Herbs
1/3 cup flour
1 egg
1/4 cup sparkling water or club soda or beer
pinch of salt
2-3 ice cubes
Gently mix the ingredients together to form a nice batter (a little thinner than pancake batter). Add the ice cubes to make mixture quite cold.
Dip the zucchini flowers and herbs in the batter, allow excess to drip off.  Drop into pan of very hot oil and cook until light brown.  Remove from oil and drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle with salt and serve

For our protein, we made involtini.  Involtini is a piece of meat with something wrapped inside. In our case we used mortadella, sage and parmesan cheese.  Here's the deal with these.  When you start out...they honestly don't really look like much. I was a bit skeptical.  We took small pieces of very thin veal, chicken and pork and placed very small bits of mortadella and parmesan cheese in the middle.  Each filling was topped with about 1/3 piece of sage and then rolled to cover all ingredients and kept closed with a toothpick.  We crammed them in a medium size saucepan, dropped a bit of olive oil and a couple bits of butter on top and let them cook away.  I have since made these at home and they were a big hit...and great for a crowd.  My addition to the recipe is that when I took the involtini out of the pan, I hit the bottom of the pan with a bit of white wine and then just a small knob of butter.  It pulled all the crunchy bits off the pan and made a nice sauce that I then poured over the meat.  You really should use mortadella in this, but if you don't like it substitute with prosciutto, but then watch the salt in the recipe.  Please do not buy mortadella from the grocery store. Get it from a good Italian or German deli...you will be glad you did. Oh...and have them slice it very thin...very, very thin.
We enjoyed so many delicious side dishes, but one that was a complete surprise was the eggplant dish. As I watched it come together, again I was skeptical.  I thought it looked dry and sad.  But it turned out to be absolutely delicious.
Take a large eggplant and slice it to max 1/8" slices.  Place in a colander and coat with salt, or let dry for a few hours on paper towels to reduce bitterness. If you use the salt, be sure to wash the eggplant off, otherwise you will have the equivalent of a salt-lick.  Make sure the eggplant is dry and then cook in a dry pan over medium heat.  When the eggplant starts to color and is soft, it is done.  Arrange in concentric layers on a serving plate.  Meanwhile finely chop 2 cloves garlic, about 2 Tbs italian parsley leaves and about 1 tsp of kosher salt.
Sprinkle on top of the eggplant and then top with good extra virgin olive oil.  Serve room temperature or cold.

And for dessert we had gelato.  Rafaella whipped it up like it was no big deal.  She didn't make a custard by cooking the eggs, which I always do from a food safety perspective, which made her process very quick.  None of us have compromised immune systems and frankly they just do it differently in Europe, so we obbled down every last bit.  And boy did it taste so good!  The recipe was pretty standard, so I won't post it here...but I will show you a photo...
vanilla gelato with blueberry sauce

So the food was great, naturally.  Rafaella knows her way around a kitchen and she is very choosy with her ingredients.  The night was spectacular.  As we sat in their dining room, eating this spectacular meal and talking about our adventure of the past week, it felt as if we were going down memory lane with dear old friends.  I couldn't believe that this would be our final evening together as Marcello had become part of our daily landscape--translating things he didn't need to, not translating things I desperately wanted to understand but didn't need to know...driving us through village and dale....showing us a side of Italy only few non-natives get to experience....getting impatient with us for forever being a few minutes late...shaking his head as we debated if we should smuggle home a full prosciutto (we did not)...introducing us to amazing chefs and cooks throughout the region....and sharing with us his family and his life.
In the end we had to say arrivaderci  to our new friends; Marcello, his wife Rafaella and their adorable daughter Francesca.  They are now and forever a part of my quilt...my quilt of experiences and adventures that I carry with me always.
Thank you dear readers for following me on this journey.

Just one more plug for them...Marcello and Rafaella of Bluone Cooking Tours.  You won't be disappointed!


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