Monday, July 25, 2016

Paella with Fideos on Korcula Island

So there we were, relaxing at the water's edge under the shade of a thatched umbrella -- our own private beach by the Adriatic, along with guests from the other five rooms at our hotel (who seldom made an appearance.) 
Our hotel room - in a 15th century converted stone church - even included the bonus of a rose window, along with the balconied doors opening to a vista of the sea. It was a quiet, idyllic spot, and the perfect way to beat the heat or catch up on some sketching and painting. 
So what could lure us to leave this gorgeous location, even for a few hours? 
Drumroll for Facebook, and a private message from a former classmate at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, who had seen some photos I posted on the social media site while in Croatia. 
"Where in Croatia are you?" queried Mellissa, whom I hadn't seen in 21 years. "We have a vacation house on Korcula island. Please come visit if you're anywhere near us.
The New York Times had just listed Korcula as one of the "52 places to visit in 2016."
Moreover, Korcula town, a charming fortified town and popular tourist destination on the island, was only a 15 minute ferry ride from Orebic, the town on the Peljesac peninsula where we were staying. 
It's also where Marco Polo was supposedly born, although Venetians vehemently dispute that!
Any one of those reasons was enticement enough to visit. 
But the idea of reconnecting with my former classmate and her husband Paul on a beautiful Croatian island was even more delicious.
We had no idea just how delicious a trip it would be until we arrived at their lovely, spacious house along the Adriatic. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from this gorgeous view. 
But we didn't have to, since Melissa served drinks and this savory mushroom cheese tart on the terrace overlooking the sea.
Mellissa outdid herself on the main course - this exquisite dish of paella with fideos, - a short thin pasta that took the place of the more commonly used rice. A Spanish friend introduced me to fideos decades ago, and in fact they're typically found in Catalan cuisine, and are generally toasted in hot oil, then cooked with a simmering liquid, similar to risotto. If you can't find fideos, use angel hair pasta, but first break it into short pieces.
Mellissa's paella was outstanding, and included these gigantic shrimp-like crustaceans.
The key to a really flavorful dish is to use a broth made from the fish heads, Mellissa said. If your market doesn't sell shrimp with heads, remove the shells from the carcass and boil those in some water.
Meanwhile at their outdoor oven/grill, Mellissa's husband Paul prepared the chicken that would get layered into the paella. He used the bottom of a peka to cook the meat, the name of a domed, iron  vessel and a signature dish of Croatia. Peka is typically cooked for long, slow periods of time at an outdoor fire, and can made with chicken, octopus, lamb, vegetables, or whatever you like.
Mellissa finished cooking the dish at the kitchen stove, adding chorizo sausage and peas. She served it with a couple of side salads. It's a filling dish, and we nearly ate the whole thing!
Nonetheless, we found enough room for a slice of this outstanding fruit tart she made.
We finished off a perfect evening walking to the water's edge to watch the sunset from their "back yard." How would you like to gaze at that nightly, with a glass of wine in hand?
Thank you Mellissa and Paul, for giving us the opportunity.
Mellissa's recipe for paella with fideos is below, but first, a few photos from Korcula town, starting with the gate at the entrance to the old city:
An old cannon at the fortress, overlooking the harbor
 St. Mark's cathedral
 St. Michael's church
 glittering mosaics in a Catholic church

 Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Paella with fideos 

250 grams or 8 ounces fideos (thin noodles)

1 onion, chopped

½ large red pepper, chopped

2 chorizo sausages, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

1 tsp fresh ground pepper

pinch of saffron

1 cup dry white wine

4-5 cups fish or shellfish stock *

6 chicken thighs, skin on and bone-in

1 pound large head-on prawns (deveined and heads removed from half of them) *

chopped parsley

good olive oil

For the stock:

Heads of half of the prawns

¼ cup vermouth

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tsp whole peppercorns

8 cups water

Heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a large pot until not quite smoking.  Add the prawn heads and get a good heat on them for about 1-2 minutes.  You want them to sear and brown a little.  Add a large pinch of salt.  Deglaze the whole works with the vermouth.  Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, carrot, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  Stir for a couple minutes until the vegetables start to soften and the onions start getting translucent.  
Then add about 8 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer until you have about 6 cups of stock.  
Strain and set aside.

For the paella:

Pour the reserved stock into a saucepan and add the saffron threads.  Bring to a gentle simmer and keep hot.  

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs generously.  Heat 2 TBSP of olive oil in a paella pan over high heat and add the thighs skin-side down.  Sea for about 3 minutes on each side and remove from pan.  Turn the heat to medium and add chopped onions and red pepper.  Cook until they start to soften, then add the noodles and turn the heat up to high and brown for a minute.  Add the smoked paprika, salt, and pepper.  Stir for a minute to combine, then add the chorizo and stir again.  Deglaze with the white wine and stir until it is reduced. 
Add the noodles back in and stir to mix.  Then nestle the chicken thighs into the noodles, skin-side up.  
Start adding the stock, like you would when cooking risotto, allowing the noodles to absorb the liquid ladle by ladle.  Depending on the noodles, you may or may not need all the stock, but judge for yourself how al dente you like them.  

Meanwhile, salt and pepper the rest of the shrimp.  If you have a grill pan or a barbeque, grill them on high heat a couple minutes on each side, until they turn pink.  If not, throw them into a pan with a splosh of olive oil on high heat.  

Arrange the shrimp over the noodles and sprinkle with parsley and a good drizzle of olive oil before serving.

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Lunch on Krk Island & Alessandra's almond tart recipe

Sorry, blog readers and fellow bloggers if I've been incommunicado for a while. Some of you know I was recently married and have been away on a three-week honeymoon. I thought I'd get back to posting immediately after my return, but a bike accident two days after we got back has slowed me down. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, typing with one hand takes a little longer.
As the saying goes however, "Where there's a will, there's a way."
And there was no way I would be thwarted from showing you some of the gorgeous places and wonderful foods we ate in Vienna, Austria; Ljubljana, Slovenia and throughout the beautiful country of Croatia.
I'll start with this post featuring delicious Croatian food from Princeton friends who treated us to lunch at their summer home on the island of Krk, Croatia. It ends with a recipe for an easy-to-make and scrumptious almond tart from our mutual dear friend, Alessandra, who died in 2011. 
The above photo is the backyard of our friends Connie and Vladimir, overlooking the Adriatic sea. We ate lunch at this table overlooking the sea. 
While the sun shone nearby, we were sheltered by the shade of this arched patio.
 Here's another view of the house, taken from near the water's edge. An outdoor oven on the left is put to use for pizzas, roasts and other grilled foods. The stones were all cut by hand by different local artisans, and Connie noted that each artisan had a different pattern for arranging the stones. It's all superbly crafted, as you can see from the tight and perfect spacing of the stones.
Even in July, there were very few people swimming nearby. Like most beaches in Croatia, this one was rocky, but it doesn't phase people here, who don flexible swimming "shoes" to help navigate the stones and pebbles. Once you're in the warm, azure sea, who needs sand anyway? One benefit we found to rocky beaches was the lack of sand that normally gets stuck inside bathing suits and dragged inside the house or hotel. Clean-up is a lot easier.
 It was hard to tear ourselves away from the view, but the food competed with the panorama for our attention. Connie and Vladimir wanted to give us a taste of sea and land, starting with this absolutely delectable platter of anchovies that had been caught only a few hours earlier.
 Vladimir prepared the fish, which he said cost the equivalent of $1.75 at the market in Rijeka. There were a few sardines tucked in with the anchovies, only adding to the appeal. We had never tasted anchovies or sardines so delicious in our lives, and had to stop ourselves from hogging the whole platter. 
It's impossible to get these where I live, but if you find yourself with fresh anchovies or sardines this small, do as Vladimir did: simmer the fish for one minute in sea water, and drain. Then clean them (the head and bones come out practically in one fell swoop), and dress them with good extra virgin olive oil, salt, scallions, parsley and lemon.
 From the sea, we moved to land dishes, including a platter of cured meat similar to Italian prosciutto,  called prsut, air cured at a nearby village named Vhr (meaning the highest point). It was served alongside a Croatian cheese tinged with herbs. I especially loved the spicy cured meat called kulen, that tasted like Italy's soppressata, served with pickled peppers and something similar to pork chittlins'. A soft spreadable local cheese, olives, figs and a salad completed the meal.
 Everything was served with Croatian wines, and we drove by dozens of vineyards during our travels throughout the country.
Connie prepared a fruit salad, using the tiny but flavorful local blueberries, and little red currants. I so wish I could find those where I live,
The finishing touch was a simple-to-prepare, but addictively delicious recipe from a dear, mutual friend Alessandra, who died in 2011. We both thought she'd be happy to know we were together in Croatia, thinking of her and enjoying her almond tart recipe. And now you can too.

Alessandra's "torta di cinque minuti" or  almond tart

Mix for five minutes -- 1 stick sweet butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 cup ground almonds (either blanched or unblanched), 1.25 teaspoons almond extract or a shot glass of cognac, 1 scant cup of flour.
Place mixture in a buttered and floured cake tin (or glass pan), sprinkle the top with slivered almonds and bake for 25 minutes at 325 degrees until nicely brown. Cool completely before unmolding or cutting the cake.

Two other things: this cake is good using only ground almonds and is a gluten free alternative.
Also-- Alessandra often prepared her torta without almonds on top. Rather, she baked it and cooled it and dusted the top with powdered sugar.

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Arugula & Radicchio Salad with Crispy Shallots & Shallot Oil

Arugula is probably my favorite salad green, especially coupled with radicchio. It's fairly common to find these bitter greens on the menus of Italian restaurants, but the crispy shallots add a whole new dimension. It's hard to imagine the flavor of the salad could be so dramatically different with the addition of these shallots, but once you try them, you'll be looking to use them in other dishes as well.
That is, if you can keep yourself from eating them all while they sit draining on paper towels.
The technique to frying them is not what you think. 
Rather than bring the oil to a high heat, you place the shallots in barely warmed oil, then let the shallots gurgle and burp in the oil as the temperature gets hotter.
Before you know it, you'll have beautifully golden, brown crispy shallots that are irresistible. A side benefit is the flavorful oil that remains in the pan. It's a key ingredient in the salad dressing.

Arugula & Radicchio Salad with Crispy Shallots & Shallot Oil
From "Gjelina" cookbook by Travis Lett

serves 4 - 6
1 recipe crispy shallots & shallot oil (below)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch arugula
1 head radicchio, torn or cut into strips
chunk of Parmesan cheese for shaving

Pour 1 1/2 cups of the shallot oil into a small bowl (reserve the remaining oil for another use).
Whisk in the lemon juice, sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and honey and season with salt and pepper.

In a large salad bowl, combine the arugula and radicchio. Spoon the dressing over the top. Add a handful of the crispy shallots, and a light shaving of Parmesan. Toss well and transfer to individual plates. Top with more crispy shallots and Parmesan, if you like, and serve.

Shallot Oil
makes about 3/4 cup crispy shallots and 1 1/2 cups shallot oil

According to the cookbook, the key to the crispy shallots is to add them to the warm oil and raise the temperature gradually while moving the shallots briskly around the pan. The bubbling action of the shallots in the oil will tell you when the temperature is right. The oil should hiss steadily, but not so much that the shallots spit out of the pan.

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
5 shallots, thinly sliced
In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. As soon as oil is warm, add the shallots and cook, stirring, until deep golden brown and the temperature of the oil is about 230 degrees F. , 10 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, transfer the shallots to a paper-lined dish to drain. Let the oil cool to room temperature.

Store the shallots in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. Pour the oil into a jar and store the jar in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Shrimp 'N Grits

OK, I may not be a Southerner and I may not have grown up with grits in my veins, but grits and polenta are just about the same thing. There are slight differences, but both are made from stone-ground cornmeal - dried corn that's ground into smaller, coarser bits. 
According to a piece that ran on National Public Radio, Glen Roberts, founder of Anson Mills, says that Southern grits and Italian polenta are traditionally made from two very different types of corn, and there's a difference in the fineness of the grind and how many times it's milled.
Well, that may be true, but it gets complicated when you see so many different types of polenta for sale in Italy, from fine ground to coarse, and even polenta mixed with buckwheat, called polenta "taragna."
Adding to the confusion is the myriad variety of grits available here in the states.
My instinct (and Italian heritage) almost always leads me to reach for polenta instead of grits. But on a trip to Charlestown last year, I bought a bag of grits at a farmer's market, milled at Anson Mills.
What else to do with them, but make the ubiquitous shrimp and grits, found at myriad restaurants, diners and mom and pop cafes throughout the South. 

The grits would be delicious on their own, with just a dab of butter, but I gussied them up and "Italianized" them with some mascarpone and parmesan.
Warning - you won't be able to stop eating this. So save it as a splurge after a week of good behavior! 

Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Shrimp 'N Grits

1 cup grits
4 cups water
(Keep adding more as it gets drier)
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup parmesan
1 tsp salt
Mix the grits with the water over medium heat. I always use cold water and dump all the grits in at once. I find that helps keep out the lumps. Keep stirring and lower the heat somewhat - it may take 45 minutes to end up with really good, really creamy grits. If it looks like the mixture is getting too dense or too dry, add more water, a little at a time. Add the salt and keep stirring. After about 35-45 minutes, the grits will start to look creamier. To gild the lily, add the cream, mascarpone and parmesan.

18 medium Shrimp
3T Olive oil
Herbs, oregano, thyme, parsley
2 cloves garlic
Red pepper flakes
Clean the shrimp and mix the olive oil with the herbs, garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes. Let the shrimp marinate for at least 15 minutes.
Grill the shrimp, but just until almost done. They'll cook a little longer with other ingredients. Remove the shrimp from the grill and set aside. (Use a grill pan or the broiler if you don't have an outdoor grill) 

1/4 cup green pepper, minced
1 T olive oil 
2 strips bacon
Sauté green pepper in oil until softened. Remove. Add bacon, cut in bits. Cook until crispy.
Add green pepper back in and after shrimp is grilled, add it to the peppers and bacon. Turn up heat to high. Add the white wine and let it reduce just a bit, then add 1 tablespoon of butter.

Pour shrimp mixture over grits and serve with a sprinkle of parsley or basil over all. 

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Zuccotto

Ready for a delicious showstopper of a dessert that's easy to make too? 
Yes, that's right, the hardest part of this dessert is cutting the pieces of cake (store purchased) to fit your bowl.
I'm calling this a "summer" zuccotto because it's not a true zuccotto, but there are so many ways to make zuccotto, who really knows what a true zuccotto is, anyway? 
However you make your zuccotto, whether with ice cream or a ricotta filling, or with my recipe using fresh berries and whipped cream, it must be in a semi-spherical shape to be called a zuccotto. In Italian zuccotto means "little pumpkin" after all, and it's a Tuscan dessert meant to mimic the shape of Brunelleschi's famed dome in Florence.
I made it recently for our end-of-the-year picnic of my Italian chit-chat group, and it was only one of the many desserts at the table.
And the desserts came after at least a dozen different vegetable and side dishes, plus too many pizzas to count, made by our host Tony, an architect who built a wood-fired pizza oven into the side of his house. They really were the best pizzas this side of Naples.
But back to Florence, and the zuccotto.
Start out by marinating some berries with sugar and lemon. You'll need that juice later.
What makes this easy is using a store bought cake. I used a Pan D'Oro, the classic egg-rich sponge cake sold in Italian specialty shops. If you can't find one, buy a sponge cake, or make your own sponge cake, called "pan de spagna" in Italian. My recipe for sponge cake is here, if you need one.

Trim away the brown crusts and fit the cake pieces tightly into a bowl lined with plastic wrap.
Sprinkle the cake with the syrup mixed with liqueur.
Then load in the whipped cream mixed with the drained fruit.
Cover it all with a top layer of cake (this will become the bottom), and sprinkle on some more liquid from the berries (or rum, or whatever you like).
Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or overnight. Then flip it onto a plate, pour the raspberry sauce on top and decorate.
Dig in and watch it disappear quicker than you can say Brunelleschi.

Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Summer Zuccotto

3 cups berries - strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon

Slice the strawberries, then mix all the berries together with the sugar and lemon and let them sit for about an hour, or until juices have formed at the bottom of the bowl. While the berries and macerating, prepare the other ingredients:

1 Pan D'Oro, or a large sponge cake

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

1 tsp. gelatin, dissolved in a little water (1/4 cup or so)

1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup creme de cassis or rum or other liqueur
juice from the drained berries

for the raspberry sauce:
Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, or a pint of fresh raspberries, 2 T. water and 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for about five minutes, then force through a strainer. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice and refrigerate.

Line a bowl with plastic wrap. (Mine held approximately 2 quarts of liquid).
Cut the cake into large slices (about 1/2 inch thick) and fit them tightly into the bowl.

Drain the juice from the berries and add the orange juice and the liqueur and/or rum.
Spoon some of the juices all over the cake, wetting it all over.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it sit for a few minutes while you whip the cream.

Whip the cream with the confectioner's sugar, adding in the dissolved gelatin. Fold the drained berries into the whipped cream, then spoon the mixture into the cake-lined bowl.

Cover with more pieces of cake, and wet cake with more liquid. If you run out of liquid, you can always use rum, or if you prefer less alcohol, use a simple syrup (make it by boiling some water with sugar and letting it cool).

Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 12 hours, or overnight.

Serve with the sauce and decorate with more berries and mint leaves.

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