Sunday, 29 April 2012

Zucchine Ripiene alla Mozzarella ( Stuffed Courgettes, with Mozzarella)

As she emptied her shopping bag... a shower of green leaves "flew" out: chard, three, maybe four bundles of rucola, followed by peppers (really big ones, very shiny and funny shaped!) and  tiny, little friggitelli, the tiniest, cutest little peppers the child had ever seen!

At the bottom of the bag, four or five large zucchine: green, almost stripey and squeaky to touch!
She loved zucchine! Her mother said they tasted "fresh" in Summer. "Will we make Parmigiana with them?" "No"- Mamma replied "Oggi mangeremo le zucchine ripiene!" "No, today we will make stuffed courgettes!"
Having put all the green treasures away, mother and daughter (her little shoulders just above the height of the table top,) got to work, together.
The little girl watched her mother with admiration, as she scooped the pale green (almost white) flesh out of the beautiful zucchine. She knew that earthy smell very well, and she also knew that soon she would get the job of chopping the "bits" that mamma had scooped out of the courgettes .
Outside, it was very sunny and hot. Something told the little girl to savour this simple, ordinary, but at the same time precious moment, and hide it in the box she kept locked in her heart. You never know...
As I look out of the window, today, I see the world through a stream of water. Tiny drops of rain chase each other, as they make their way down the window payne.
It's been raining for days... day and night... night and day... incessantly... it never seems to stop. Will it ever stop?
I will  find refuge in my little universe of scents, words in another language, memories and sunshine.
Today I will go back to that day, in our kitchen in Italy and will make the dish I was helping my mamma prepare. 
Zucchine Ripiene
alla Mozzarella
  (Stuffed Courgettes
with mozzarella)

Serves 4
2 fresh largish zucchine
1 slice and half, or a small piece of white bread
4 cloves of garlic
1 egg
some Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
1 generous tbs of capers in vinegar
1 mozzarella
fresh parsley
5-6 cherry tmatoes (or
4 peeled plum tomatoes)
Olive oil
some water

black pepper
Wash your courgettes, trim the ends, then cut in half lengthways, and finally scoop the flesh out of the middle of each half ( I do this with  a spoon or a teaspoon, as I find it easier than using a knife!)
Now you should have four courgette shells and a some beautiful translucent courgette flesh. 

                             I could only fit three in my dish! I used the 4th one for
                                                          my risotto!

Cut the flesh into small cubes, then chop two cloves of garlic very finely and break your bread into small pieces (if your bread is not fresh, or is crusty, it should be quickly soaked in water and then squeezed, to get all the liquid out of it)
In a non stick pan (I have recently bought an excellent Jamie Oliver non stick frying pan, which I love! And I love him, too!) place 5-6 tbsp of olive oil. Heat and add your chopped courgette flesh and the garlic. Stir, as these two ingredients mingle in the pan, and the courgette begins to soften. Add your bread, cut into small pieces, stir and mix again.  Now you are ready to add a whole egg.

                                                      making the filling

Using a wooden spoon, make sure all the ingredients are well blended and combined (the egg will do this for you.)
 Finally, add a generous handful of Pecorino or Parmesan, some salt and lots of lovely black pepper and some fresh parsley. Cook until the egg is well incorporated, and finally add a teaspoon of capers. I added some pink peppercorns to my filling, as I like the way it looks and its flavour.
This is your lovely stuffing done!
Place your courgette shells in an ovenproof dish and divide the stuffing equally, between them.
Cut your mozzarella into cubes and gently push a few peaces of it into the filling of each courgette. It will melt and taste delicious as the dish cooks.
Place some olive oil (as much or as little as you like) at the base of the dish, followed by water, half the way up the courgettes. To the water, add some capers, some chopped garlic ( about two cloves, or more if you like garlic) two or three tomatoes, chopped, some grated cheese, salt, pepper and parsley.

Make sure that some of the cheese and some olive oil "land" on the top of your courgettes. I also like to put a few slices  of cherry tomato on each.

Bake in a fairly hot oven 190C (375F-Gas5) until the courgettes feel soft and the finished dish looks golden. You'll know the dish is ready when you can smell the aroma produced by the ingredients of my lovely dish!


As you can see from the pictures, I served my zucchine on individual oval dishes, with a small portion of risotto made with zucchina and garlic, two towers of Savoy cabbage, which I love and, on the side, a salad (rucola, cherry tomatoes, pan fried gnocchi and pasta) served in a little dish I made from a tortilla bread.

I thought my dish looked really quite pretty. I really love zucchine! Did you know you can make Parmigiana (look up my Parmigiana recipe!) using zucchine instead of aubergine ?


Saturday, 21 April 2012

BUONA DOMENICA! (Ragu` with Braciole- Italian Sunday Lunch)

Easter Sunday morning: the church bells are ringing, the swallows are flying. It's Springtime and I feel happy. Today I will wear my pink and gray tartan coat with my new shoes and my pink leather bag, the one with the long strap. I am ten and quite looking forward to going out with my friend Stella.

Mamma gives me some money for the collection, in church "Don't forget to bring a bottle of Holy water, so your father can bless the family before we start eating" says my mother. I promise I will. I have a small empty bottle in my bag. 
As I make my way to Stella's I feel the coins, in my pocket and I taste the sweet flavour of Menta Glaciale (my favourite sweets... they look like icebergs!) slowly melting in my mouth, and of liquorice. Inside my head, I am unrolling a wheel of sweet, soft, chewy liquorice and I'm thinking:" They don't need my money! I'm not going to church!"
So, yes... we are not going to church, not today, not ever again! We have grown up (we are ten, after all) and we need to explore. Using all my money, we buy sweets (liquorice never tasted that good!) and we make our way to the city centre, leaving the church bells behind. We felt naughty and free. We walk and walk and walk, we eat sweets and drink lemonade out funny little plastic bottles. 
As we walk round the elegant city centre, we look at every shop and department store window, feeling very happy to be there, and very grown up. We then look at the time and realise that it's almost lunch time. We can tell because the sun feels ever so hot!
 Stella and I look at each other, panick and start running, in a straight line, all the way down a street. All the bars are shutting. Having had their aperitivo, people are making their way home for Easter Sunday lunch.
After what seemed like a very long race against time, we begin to see the familiar buildings, our school, the church and the shops in our "quartiere."
We say bye with a smile and both go home. What an adventure!
Once home, I ring the bell and Rosa, my mother opens the door "Where have you been? We are all waiting for you. Where's the holy water?" "Yes... where's the Holy water... what holy water? Oh, My god!" - I think. I quickly turn round and I run as fast as I can to the church.

 The big wooden door is locked "What shall I do? What shall I do? I was supposed to get some holy water from the church, but I never went there!"
As I look to the left of the church, I notice a little gate. I know it leads to a courtyard which runs along the side of the church and that... THEY HAVE A SINK, AND IT'S OUTSIDE!  I know the water won't be "Holy," but  but what else can I do? So, I fill the bottle from the tap and I run back home, all the way, holding it in one hand and melted liquorice in the other (by now black and sticky) hand.
My mum opens the door, again, I smile at her and finally I notice the smell of Sunday lunch: ragu` di carne con braciole. It must be Sunday, today! Words cannot explain the sense of love and confort I feel when I smell that aroma and I see all my family sat round our big round table. I'm so glad I found the way home!
It's Easter lunch time and my father is dipping an olive branch in a cup of (not at all) holy water which came from a tap outside the church. He smiles and blesses the family and the food on our table. I really don't have time to feel guilty. The food smells good, it's a sunny day and we are all together!

Today, I'm sharing our family recipe for Ragu` di Carne, con Braciole.

Ragù di Carne, con Braciole
6 thin slices of beef
(I used frying steak)
2 garlic cloves
a small bunch of fresh parsley
some grated Italian Cheese
(I like to use Pecorino)
2 slices of pancetta,
or some diced pancetta
black pepper
some cocktail sticks

For the sauce:

800mls (1pt, 12floz) passata
1 large onion
7-8 tbsp olive oil
1 slice pancetta
a glass of wine
a small piece of cheese
fresh basil
(this is optional
but I LOVE IT!)

Before you start making the sauce, prepare your braciole. These are delicious beef "parcels" which will make your sauce delicious!
Place your slices of beef (if they are not thin enough, use your meat mallet!) on a surfice, next to each other. In the middle of each, place some chopped garlic, some chopped fresh parsley, a couple of pieces of pancetta, or bacon, a generous sprinkling of Pecorino, which I prefer to Parmigiano, followed by salt and lots of black pepper.
Roll the slices, individually, and secure with a cocktail stick, making sure the filling stays inside. Place on a plate, and cover.

                                             My big sister Nunzia, buying meat in Italy

                                                braciole in the making!

                                                   ready to be cooked 

Now make the sauce. Finely chop the onion, then heat the oil. When hot, add the onion, followed by your pancetta, diced or chopped, if you are using the sliced kind. Stir until golden, then, one at a time, add your braciole. By now you should be smelling a fantastic aroma! If you have a piece of Pecorino, add it, too, as it will make your sauce taste really good!
When your braciole have browned, pour a glass of red or white wine, stir again and wait until the the alcohol evaporates. Now, the final stage: add your lovely passata, bring to the boil, the lower the heat to almost minimum, half cover with a lid and wait...
If the sauce appears to be thickening too much, to prevent the meat from sticking to the pan (some say that if this happens, it actually improves the flavour!) add a small amount of water.
A good ragù should cook for a good three to four hours, not less, otherwise your braciole will be so tough, you'll be able to play cricket with them. Nothing more off putting than a tough braciola. My mum's were always tender and succulent, but then, she really knew how to cook!

                                                         I sliced my braciola to serve

In Italy, ragù with braciole, or just meat (we don't mix meat, sausages and  meatballs, as it would be a lethal combination. We keep it simple) is often part of our Sunday dinner. We have the sauce on pasta with cheese, then the meat, as a second course with a contorno of patatine ( thinly sliced chips fried in olive oil, rosemary and garlic) and, in winter, a kind of vegetable tempura, using vegetables in season, or salad. We only and always have salad with meat or fish, and never before a meal.

As you can see, below, I cooked some pasta al dente, of course, and served it with some sauce and a sprinkling of ricotta romana (or ricotta dura, a kind of Italian Feta cheese, but nicer!)

This dish reminds me of home and, to me, it's the most Italian of dishes, as it unites the Nation from  the Alps all the way down to Sicily!