Friday, July 3, 2015

"Flavors of Italy - Sicily" and "Made In Sicily" - "deconstructed" Lasagna and Blood Orange Jelly (Jell-O) for Father's Day

Date I made these recipes:  Sunday, June 28, 2015 – a belated Father's Day repast

Flavors of ItalySicily by Mariapaola Dettore
Published by: Time Life Books
ISBN:  0-7370-0012-0
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Lasagni a Palermitana – Pappardelle Palermo-Style – p. 30

Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli with Sheila Keating
Published by:  Ecco – An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN:  978-0-06-213037-2
Recipe:  Gelatina di arance sang-sang – Blood Orange Jelly – p. 377

As often happens, Father's Day and other holidays, fall on days when I have something planned that prevents me from making dinner on that exact day.  This year, the first day of summer fell on Father's Day as well making for a double angst moment.  Luckily, cookbooks and their recipes, keep for a long time without spoiling!

This Father's Day, my husband and I spent the afternoon watching bicycle races in the nearby town of Stillwater.  This pro racing series comes to town at this time every year and we often take in several events over the course of the weekend.  But the one in Stillwater, the last day of the North Star Bike Festival (formerly Nature Valley), is very cool because all the bikers – pro women, elite amateurs and pro men (and this year one pro woman raced with the men – woot!), have to ride up this killer hill in Stillwater – Chilkoot Hill (18% grade) 22 times over the course of the course.  Every year we go, we walk up that hill maybe 4 times max, never mind riding up it = whataminuts?

Well that was all very exciting and I could not help but think of my dad that day because one of our family's favorite movies is Breaking Away, about a young man who is obsessed with Italian bike racing and so talks his friends into forming a team – The Cutters – so they can compete against the Italians when a bike race comes to town.  This movie is just so cute and so funny and we just hooted when we watched it.  The best thing about this movie though, is seeing Dave, the leader of the Cutters, and the one who is obsessed with the Italians, pretend to be and speak Italian so he can impress people.  When he rides through the town on his bike and yells "Ciao Papa!" to his dad, played by the late Paul Dooley (Sixteen Candles), my dad really laughed because in our later years, I called my dad Papa or Pop, in the same way my Sicilian-American father addressed his dad, my grandfather, Arcangelo. 

So in memory of Pop and (Grand) Pop, I made some Sicilian dishes from two of my Sicilian cookbooks and took yet another walk down memory lane because as I read through these books, laden with all kinds of fish recipes (Sicily is an island after all), I thought about how much I hate fish and how this pained my dad.  In fact, much about my attitude about Nature and Nature's bounty (my motto: Nature is NOT your friend) pained my dad.  My dad loved nature was a noted wildlife research biologist, specializing in white tailed deer.  Although fishing wasn't exactly his deal, that didn't mean he didn't appreciate fish and seafood; visits to my grandmother in dad's home state of NJ, were not complete without a major raw clam feast.  But me?  Nah.  Most fish is either too bony (go figure) or tastes like fish (go figure, part 2).  I particularly hate smelt which is fun to catch but just inedible if you ask me and you didn't!  I'll eat shrimp and scallops and lobster (kind of boring) or crab but it takes a lot to convince me to go with fish.  My dad would just sigh every single time we ate out and worse, would rail against my delicate (?) palate to these rest of the family thusly:  "Daughter of a wildlife biologist and you hate [insert item here]?  I can't believe it."

Disclaimer:  Although I am not fond of anchovies, my grandmother would put them on half a pizza, cut into tiny pieces, and I would eat one slice of it to satisfy her and my dad.  Many recipes in this book called for anchovies and while tempted, I didn't want to buy a can just to have the rest of it sit for...decades?...before I got around to using them.

Anyway, clearly my dad thought that because he was in love with Nature and Nature's bounty, I should be too.  Silly dad.  Also on the list of "Not touching it" was Swiss chard (so bitter and yet so ingrained in the Italian/Sicilian culture); lamb (gah!  That smell!!); tripe (I mean what?! Ew!); any other part of an animal that offended me and my stomach like offal.  Being a farm boy, my dad ate the fruits of that farm and that meant using up all parts of the animal.  Plus, he grew up during the Depression so there you go.  But I didn't and so no need to go down these roads, right?

Still, dad's voice was prominent the day I started perusing these books, making it damned hard to find something both he (in absentia) and I would like.  Page after page, I mouthed "No, no, oh hell no," until finally, I decided on the recipe for basically deconstructed lasagna and the blood orange jelly.  And let me tell you, I think I deserve the "Make Papa happy" merit badges that the Girl Scouts hand out.  Wait...what?  They don't.  Oh.  My bad.

Whatever you want to call the pasta dish, it was delicious.  It's basically pappardelle noodles or other fat noodles with ricotta cheese and a meat sauce.  Easy, peasy.  Shopping though, was a challenge.  I've only found one grocery store in town, Kowalski's, that sells ground veal (a travesty that I likely will never be able to remedy), but they sold it prepackaged in a one pound container and I only needed 5 ounces (1 ½ cups).  And so I substituted the veal for grass fed ground beef and it was fine. 

Then there's the pappardelle noodles and those can be hard to find as well.  Trader Joe's carries them so that worked out, but if you can't find them, I suggest cooking lasagna noodles and cutting/breaking them in half.

Then there's the "salted ricotta cheese" which I know to mean "Ricotta Salata" but if you can't find it, use feta or queso fresco instead.  As it is, while I didn't have any trouble finding it, I sadly found more than I needed in each package and at a price I didn't want to pay.  Same thing with the Pecorino Romano.  You only need a bit of it for the topping and yet everybody sold it in big blocks.  If I had a larger family, we would polish this off easily in one sitting but I don't but Whole Foods once again saved the day.  You should know that you can get your cheese sliced to order at Broder's Cucina Italiana in south Minneapolis where I used to work, but that was out of our way this particular Sunday.

Okay, once I got over those hurdles, I had to shop for the Blood Orange Jelly and you should know folks, that timing is everything as it is now nearing the end of the blood orange season and nobody had them.  Nobody.  Nobody even had frozen blood orange juice –oh wait, someone did and it was something like $13.00.  I don't think so!

Once again, Whole Foods – amazingly – saved the day.  Mr. I Know My Oranges at Whole Foods told us that if we were looking for flavor and a brighter color (not blood orange but oh well), then Valencia oranges would do the trick and he had one bag left of organic Valencia oranges at $5.99 a pop.  I tell you what, I regret that we didn't just stay in Spain when we last visited and for a split second thought it might just be easier to fly there, get the damned oranges (blood oranges as well) and leave!  But no.  But we checked out the juice section and they had a jug of freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice at a decent price so we bought it and used that instead.  Okay then, we're off and running.

So I set out to make this jelly and folks, once again, instructions stymied.  For this recipe, you need two envelopes of gelatin.  The instructions then say "Soak the gelatin in a bowl of cold water and ice for about 10 minutes, then squeeze."  Lacking here is any indication of how much water to use, plus it seemed that they wanted me to use gelatin sheets even though the instruction said "2 envelopes gelatin."  So I used about a cup of water and added ice cubes and what a mess.  There was no way I could "squeeze" the gelatin as it was just too liquidy.  So I tried again, this time using two new envelopes and about a half cup of water and it was better – still not perfect – so I used that.  When it set up, it was still rather springy which is perhaps how it should have been but I wasn't sure.

As to the rum - wow!  This recipe calls for 2 ounces plus two teaspoons and that was a lot of rum.  My first taste after it sat overnight just about knocked me back.  Besides, I was somewhat surprised that this Sicilian recipe called for rum, seeing as how that is not something I suspect many Sicilians or Italians enjoy on a regular basis but what do I know?  We ate it anyway because "When in Rome Palermo..."

So that's my Father's Day story and I'm sticking to it.  By the time I got around to writing this, the 4th of July is looming.  What can I say, summers are busy!  Enjoy.

Pappardelle Palermo-Style – Serves 4

In a fairly large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté the meat in the oil over a moderate heat, using a fork to break up any lumps.  When the meat is lightly browned, add the tomato paste mixed with the wine.  Cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer of a  low heat for 40 minutes. 

Bring plenty of salted water to a boil and add the pappardelle.  While the pasta is cooking, use a fork to break up the salted ricotta into fairly small, crumbly pieces.  When the pasta is nearly done mix the fresh ricotta with 2 tablespoons of the cooking water in a large heated serving dish.

Drain the pasta and toss with the fresh ricotta and meat sauce.  Sprinkle with the salted ricotta and pecorino cheese and serve.

Blood Orange Jelly (Jell-O) – serves 4-6
2 envelopes (2 scant tablespoons) gelatin (Ann's Note:  you might want to try two sheets of gelatin)
2 2/3 cups blood orange juice (Ann's Note:  we are nearing the end of blood orange season so substitute Valencia oranges instead)
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
3 ounces plus 2 teaspoons rum
Pistachios (to decorate – optional)
Orange slices (to decorate – optional)
Ann's Note:  the author does not tell you how much water to use.  After starting with 1 cup – to no avail – I threw that out and used ½ cup instead and that seemed to work better.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lay the pistachios you are going to use for decorating in a single layer on a baking sheet and put into the oven for about 8 minutes.  As long as they are in a single layer, you don't need to turn them.  Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn.

Soak the gelatin in a bowl of cold water and ice for about 10 minutes, then squeeze.  (Ann's Note:  good luck with that!  I did not squeeze.)  (The ice helps retain the properties of the gelatin.)  Mix the orange and lemon juice together, then measure ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon of this and put into a pan with the sugar.  Heat (to 176 degrees F if you have a thermometer) until the sugar dissolves and remove from the heat.  Then add the squeezed gelatin, stirring until it melts, and mix in the rest of the juice and the rum.

Pour into a mold and put into the fridge until set, then turn out onto a plate and garnish with orange slices, if using, and the toasted pistachios.

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