Tag Archives: Italian

Kitchen: An Italian Brunch

I’ve been wanting to make this brunch for my parents for a long time. It is composed of many of my favorite things: crisp prosciutto, polenta loaded with parmegianno regiano and goat cheese, and perfectly poached eggs. It may sound intimidating, but it isn’t, trust me. The polenta took about 3 minutes, if that. You follow the package directions, then add whatever you want at the end (in this case, a couple of cheeses) The prosciutto was put on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven until it reached my desired crispiness.

The trick for me here was the poached eggs, as I’ve never made them before. It’s my favorite way to eat an egg, all softly textured with the rich, creamy yolk, but I only get them when I’m at a restaurant that will make them for me. I did what any curious cook with the internet should do: I googled and YouTubed how to make poached eggs. Some said to swirl the cooking liquid, some said it isn’t necessary. Some said add vinegar, some said it’s unnecessary.

I wound up cracking one egg at a time into a small, mesh sieve. This drains away all the loose whites that make poached eggs look raggedy. I then gently laid it into a large pan of simmering water. All I put in the water was salt, no vinegar. I then left the eggs alone, no stirring, no poking; I just kept an eye on them until all the whites had firmed up and there was no “clear” egg in the water. I surprised myself with delightful results.

Let me tell you, there are few things so decadent as a perfectly poached egg broken over a bowl of cheesy polenta. This meal stays with you for a long time.

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Behold the glory of a breakfast I wish I could eat every morning:

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Cooking: Foccacia

This was one of my favorite things to snack on while living in Italy. This bread is rustic, hearty, and flavorful. If it seems labor intensive, be assured it is not nearly as labor intensive as most homemade breads.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 C warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1 tsp granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

3 3/4 C all-purpose flour

5 TB extra-virgin olive oil

Desired toppings: Kosher or sea salt, dried oregano, dried rosemary, red pepper flakes, drained olives (chopped), drained sun-dried tomatoes (chopped), etc.

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 C warm water, yeast and sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1 C warm water, 2 TB oil, salt, and flour, then stir to combine. Turn dough onto floured surface & knead about 7 minutes (kneading feels like it takes forever, but this step is so important and does make a difference in your foccacia’s texture!). Dough should be soft; do not add more flour. Shape dough into a ball; place in a greased, large bowl, turning dough once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap (I also through a dish towel over that) and let stand in warm place for 1 hour.

Dough should be doubled in volume! Then, and this is my favorite part, punch that dough right in the center. Lightly oil a 15.5″ by 10.5″ (inches) jelly roll pan. Pat dough into the pan, then cover again and let the dough rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

With fingertips, make deep indentations about 1 inch apart over the entire surface of the dough, almost to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle with remaining 3 TB olive oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let it rise in warm place for 45 minutes. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then, add your desired toppings! I always do salt, dried rosemary, and sometimes dried oregano, because that method is extremely popular with my guinea pigs, it’s how I ate foccacia in Italy, and why mess with a great thing?

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Bake foccacia on lowest oven rack until the bottom is crusty and top is lightly browned, about 18 minutes. Transfer foccacia to a wire rack to cool, but not completely. Then grab a glass of wine and enjoy this bit of comforting fabulousness.

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Cooking: Butternut Risotto

This is one of those recipes that results in the flavors of autumn. It is a “comfort food” in our home, and one of my parents’ favorite things I cook. Here is what you need:

Two cups of diced butternut squash: you will need an ice pack for your wrist after chopping up a butternut squash, unless you have an extremely sharp knife or, perhaps, an axe. I toss my squash in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it in the oven for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. You don’t have to do this, but I like how the flavors become concentrated and the sugars are caramelized.

You also need the following: 4 cups of chicken stock/broth, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 4 or more (I always use more) of pancetta or bacon (the real, good stuff, not the thin, pre-cooked stuff), 2 medium shallots, minced, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1-1/2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice, 2 teaspoons of sage, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiana Reggiano, olive oil, salt and pepper. Put the chicken broth and wine in a pot and begin warming it. You want it to be hot when as you add it to the risotto, but not boiling. I like to squeeze the juice of a lemon into mine as well.

Now, Arborio is a delightfully fat & starchy rice that makes the risotto hearty. I also use it for rice puddings.

You will also need a really good, dry white wine. Please use something you would drink, people. You need to stay hydrated while you cook this marathon dish. I use my all-time favorite dry white wine, Orvieto Classico:

You’ll want to cook up your pancetta in a little olive oil until it’s awesomely crispy, then let it drain on paper towels:

Cook up your shallots until softened and add the garlic. Throw in the Arborio & squash and stir it together for about a minute, getting the rice all coated and toasted. Add one cup of the chicken stock & wine-y goodness. Stir continually, and sing softly to your risotto, if you so desire. Enjoying some of that wine will help with this.

This is the long part: continue to add the broth mixture, a ladle-full at a time. Stir continually until each ladle-full is almost completely absorbed before adding another ladle. Slowly, the rice will begin to give up its starches and your risotto will thicken and become wonderful. Near the end, the risotto should be creamy, but still “toothsome”, so you actually have some bite to it, and it isn’t just mush:

At the end, crumble the pancetta and add the sage into the risotto. Mix in the cheese and remove the pot from the heat.

Plate it up! Serve it with a nice salad and warm bread and the rest of that wine, if there is any left. If you want some nice color contrast, throw some parsley on top of it, but I don’t like green plants in my risotto, so I leave it out. Enjoy the comforting goodness!

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