Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Romantic and rustic roast chicken

A scenic and nostalgic trip and recipe brought to you by Mary Jane Maffini, part of the Victoria Abbott team.

Roast chicken: romantic and rustic
When you look at great recipes, usually they are made up of ordinary ingredient, good quality and fresh, prepared well with spectacular results. This chicken reminded me and my husband of the dinners we shared in a tiny, perfect apartment we shared in the historic village of Anghiari, Tuscany, a few years back, when I was researching The Dead Don't Get Out Much, the fifth Camilla MacPhee mystery (yes, it contains a trip to Italy). We’d pick up the ingredients in the small shops around the piazza and carry them back up the steep and twisty medieval street to the apartment where we’d cook in a kitchen that was smaller than the typical desk. The meals were always terrific, in part because of the lovely herbs that grew on the little terrace by the door, in part because of the location and in part because of the vino that was served at every dinner. 

We were tickled to reproduce that flavor and feeling in freezing Manotick, Ontario, in the middle of winter. With the delicious meal, the simple setting, a candle, and an Italian red wine in stemless glasses, it felt like a mini-vacation. 

Here’s how we did it:

Half a loaf of rustic Italian bread cut in 1 thick slices, enough to provide a bed for the chicken
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 chicken about 4 to 5 lb
½ to one whole garlic head (rub off outside papery skin and slice in half horizontally through all the cloves)
½ lemon
½ lime
Sprigs of fresh rosemary or two tsp dried
1/2 bunch fresh thyme, coarsely chopped 

Preheat oven to 400 F (205 C). 2. Place bread slices in centre of a metal roasting pan.

Drizzle 2 to 3 tbsp (30 to 45 mL) of the olive oil over bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Season cavity of chicken with salt and pepper. Stuff cavity with prepared garlic head, lemon, lime, tarragon and thyme.

4. Rub outside of chicken with remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
5. Place chicken, breast side up, on bread slices.

6. Roast chicken for 1 1/2 hours, until it is very brown and crispy and pan juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh. Internal temperature should be 165 F (74 C). 7. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

8. Serve with slices of the fabulous bread from the pan.

This property is owned by one of my Canadian friends. If you’d like to get more details, click this link:

This is the book I wrote based on the research in Tuscany.  It's available in print through some outlets and in ebook format.  You can check out this and the other twelve Mary Jane Maffini books at Mary Jane Maffini

Here's a link to the ebook! The Dead Don't Get Out Much: A Camilla MacPhee mysteryi
Enjoy the food and the trip! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Pasta

by Sheila Connolly

This dish was the result to two happy finds.  The first was a box of magnificent black spaghetti in the Duty Free shop in the airport in Florence (yes, the one in Italy).  Why it was in that shop mystifies me—heck, maybe squid ink is a regulated substance in Italy. I bought it anyway.

The second was discovering a vendor selling fresh local mushrooms at a farmers’ market in Northampton, Massachusetts.  Northampton is definitely a foodie heaven (believe me, I’ve tried almost all of the restaurants, and then there’s the chocolate shop in the center of town…), and the vendors at this market, tucked in an alley next to the town administration building, which includes the state police offices, are very serious about their produce.

My first words to this lovely mushroom man were, “I want a pound of everything!” I did back off a bit after that first flush of excitement, but I brought home four pounds of assorted exotic varieties (I passed on the beautiful puffball because I had no clue what to do with it):  chanterelles, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, and something called Lion’s Mane, which I had never tried before.  We ate a lot of pasta at my house that week, to showcase the different varieties.

I’ve cooked with hen of the woods in the past, but I didn’t know about chicken of the woods.  It’s a hearty mushroom with good flavor—and it’s orange.  Light bulb moment:  black pasta + orange mushrooms = Halloween!  So I improvised a recipe that shows off both the spaghetti and the mushrooms.
From top left, chanterelles, Lion's Mane,
chicken of the woods, hen of the woods

Halloween Pasta

½ pound black spaghetti (this will serve two—you can expand the recipe)

1 pound chicken of the woods mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

2 shallots, minced

2 Tblsp butter

2 Tblsp cooking oil (you can use olive oil if you wish, but choose a light-flavored one)

Dash of soy sauce

½ cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste


Cook the pasta according to package directions.

To make the sauce, slice the mushroom caps and stems into strips about half an inch wide.  Melt the butter and oil together in a saute pan. Cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes over medium heat (do not let them brown).  Then add the mushrooms and saute lightly.  Add a dash of soy sauce (this is a trick I learned from Andrew Bittman, who writes a food column for the New York Times—the soy sauce brings out the mushroom flavor.  But don’t use too much, or all you’ll taste is soy sauce!), and salt and pepper if you like.

Add the chicken stock and let simmer gently while you’re cooking the pasta. 

When you’re ready to serve, drain the pasta and place a serving-size portion in a wide bowl and spoon the mushroom mixture over it.  You can add grated cheese if you want, but give the mushrooms a taste first.

Happy Halloween!

Coming in November, from Beyond the Page Press
(print and e-formats)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Irish Summer Salad

by Sheila Connolly

I'm almost done with the tales of my travels (unless you beg for more).  I am content to enjoy Italian cooking when someone else makes it, but I don't plan to change my own style (although there are a few more recipes…).

So now I'm easing my way back to the real world.  Sigh.  I may have mentioned that I bracketed my Italian journey with a couple of days in Dublin, theoretically for research, but mostly because I really like Dublin. 
On one end I stayed at the hotel I've been using since 2001—near the river, and close to Temple Bar.  But they were booked for the outgoing leg, so I tried a new place, the far side of St. Stephen's Green.  Very posh neighborhood, I must say.  I had a room that must have once been part of the servants' quarters, up on the fourth floor (and no elevator), with a tiny bathroom, but it had a view of the green. 

And it was close to my favorite cookware shop.  Yes, I planned my stay around visiting Stock, only a few blocks away.  I love that place.  I came away with a Pyrex cup with European measurements (I can never get the math right with my US cups), and some great new cookie-cutters, and a square 9" pan with removable bottom that I've been coveting for six months (the blessed thing weighs nearly three pounds, so it kind of skewed my suitcase weight).  And what's more, I had a lovely conversation with an Irish woman about my problems baking brown bread, and she recommended a cookbook by Tim Allen, who is married to Darina Allen, who runs the prestigious cooking school in Ballymaloe, which is in County Cork and which I really, really want to visit, and now I have the cookbook and I may know what I've been doing wrong… End of sentence.

Anyway, I had two nights in Dublin this month, thus two dinners, and they represented the extremes of Irish cooking.  The first night, after leaving Italy, all I wanted was a soft chair and a quiet place to sit and eat.  But Dublin was enjoying a string of incredibly nice weather so everyone was out and most places were full.  I ended up in a veddy posh (and expensive) hotel restaurant where the food looked like it came straight from Iron Chef.  I mean, the appetizer (cold-smoked hake) came in a glass bowl filled with smoke.  And for the main course, somebody whittled all the veggies down to miniatures about an inch tall.  I was beginning to feel like Alice through the looking glass.  It all tasted good, I will admit.

Can you see the smoke? (on the left)

The second night fell at the other end of the spectrum.  I went to a pub recommended by the hotel manager, and it kind of captured the worst of Irish cooking: I had a chicken breast stuffed with mashed potatoes and smoked salmon.  Now, I like all of these in their own right, but they just weren't working together.  Oh, and it was topped with gloppy white sauce with no particular flavor at all.  Not a great meal (but at least it was cheaper than the first one!).

But that got me thinking…  This past weekend I happened to be in Goshen CT, where they have an outstanding smokehouse store, Nodine's.  I came back with a bag full of smoked goodies, including smoked salmon.  And I happen to have a spare chicken breast all cooked and ready in the fridge.  So what if I deconstruct that bad Irish meal and get it right?  And make it a summer dish?  We've been having a heat wave, so how about a chicken and smoked salmon salad? And I'll call it Irish Salad, in honor of the source.

Irish Summer Salad

Smoked salmon
Cooked chicken breast
New potatoes (the waxy kind)
Greens of your choice
(Those of you who are fond of raw onions may add some chopped onion—red onions would be pretty)
Vinaigrette with chopped shallots (see, I fit the onion flavor in)

Shred or dice the salmon and chicken.

Make a simple vinaigrette.  Yes, you can buy it if you insist, but it really is easy:  olive oil or vegetable oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice, a dash of mustard, salt and pepper, and some chopped shallots.  Let it sit for a little while so the flavors come together and the shallots soften. I usually use the cruet I inherited from my mother, which conveniently has the lines for vinegar and oil marked on it.

Wash and dice your potatoes.  Since it was hot, I cooked
mine in the microwave with a little water.  It took all of five minutes on high, and I didn't have to boil anything.  (Don't let them overcook!) Drain them, then while still warm, toss them with some of the vinaigrette and let them marinate in that for a while.

Wash and dry your favorite summer greens—whatever's fresh from the garden.  Add the meats and the potatoes, then add the vinaigrette and toss lightly.  Sprinkle with capers.

The recipe reminds me of a salade niçoise, the kind made in southern France around Nice.  Maybe this is Dubliner Salad.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Italy Again

by Sheila Connolly

I'd love to write a post about gelato.  I adore gelato, and I made of point of trying as many new kinds as I could this past month.  Green apple gelato is lovely, as is melon (limone—meh).  Nociolla (hazelnut) still reigns supreme.

I took many, many pictures of gelateria, wherever I found them, which was basically everywhere.  But, alas, I will not try to make my own gelato.  I'm sure it's possible, but I'd rather let the experts do it and cherish the memories.

But! At the Tuscan villa where we stayed for the first part of our trip, I met my first panna cotta.

I've heard the term before, but if I ever looked at a recipe, I was probably put off because it includes gelatin.  I don't do gelatin.  I know, it's kind of odd since I grew up with Jell-O, in all its glory. (And Junket Rennet Custard, which still makes me gag—what was up with that?) I guess I'd have to say that when I hear "gelatin" I think of chewy rubbery glop.

Luckily the dessert that appeared before us at the villa did not have a name attached.  It was a pure white half-sphere, garnished with fresh berries.  It was light and airy and sweet, the just the right size to finish the meal.  It was only after everyone had inhaled it that the term was whispered, ah panna cotta…

It's easy to make.  It matches well with everything—fruit, chocolate, caramel.  And it can be made ahead of time if you're entertaining, and you can dress it up to look pretty.  It may be the perfect dessert, particularly in summer.  After gelato, of course.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

1 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin*
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

In a small bowl, dissolve the gelatin in 1 1/2 Tblsp water (room temperature).  Let it stand until the gelatin softens (it will swell up as it absorbs the water), a few minutes.

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the cream and the sugar.  Stir over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture barely begins to simmer (do not boil!).  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the gelatin.  Let the mixture cool, stirring occasionally, until it is just warm.  Stir in the buttermilk and the vanilla.  Pour into six half-cup ramekins or molds (note:  the size of the container is not critical, nor is the material, although it is easier to unmold them from a metal mold).

Cover and refrigerate until set, at least four hours.  Longer, even overnight, won't hurt.

I was experimenting with different molds

When you're ready to serve, run a sharp thin knife around the edges of the molds and invert them over a plate (in a perfect world they will pop out neatly).  Garnish with whatever you like.

*I found this lovely little measuring device at the book/cookware story Salt & Pepper, recently located in Occaquan VA, now in National Harbor MD (near Alexandria VA).  It will measure in any number of units, wet or dry, and it's convenient for odd amounts.  For example, the gelatin required for this dish was more than one packet but less than two, but I had the answer in hand!

Friday, June 14, 2013

La Cucina Italiana

by Sheila Connolly

Or something like that.  I do not speak Italian.  My entire vocabulary consists of terms like yes, no, how, where, what, and how much. I can also be very enthusiastic in Italian:  marvelous, beautiful, perfect, please, and thank you.

I just spent close to two weeks in northern Italy. Most of the time I didn't need language, since the amazing planners for this long-planned trip for college classmates, hatched at a reunion last year, pre-arranged everything, including most meals.  No decisions required.

The meals were incredible. In restaurant after restaurant, course upon course simply appeared on the tables in front of us.  Platters often held three or more goodies each.  And bottles of local wine were liberally poured. Since for at least the latter half of the trip we were near the sea (often in sight of it), we ate a lot of seafood—local sardines, squid the size of my finger, gamberoni (a kind of jumbo prawn).  We also tasted some interesting local delicacies, such as lardo (which is exactly what it sounds like:  pig fat, cured in marble vats for over a year with spices and herbs—I liked it) and ravioli with stinging nettles in the filling.

You will no doubt hear me raving on here about the cooking of northern Italy for a while, but most of it I can't hope to replicate, so I'll start with the simple stuff.  But first:  a tour of a Medici Renaissance kitchen, in the Castello di Trebbio.  No, it's not a museum—there are people living in the castle, not to mention the aged, uh, servants?, and we saw our meal prepared in the incredible kitchen, unchanged for centuries (except for the flat-screen television in the corner!).

I want these. And someone to polish them all.

The stone sink--still in use.

The kitchen table:  two boards only, over
two inches thick
Oh, right--a recipe. Farinata is, I am told, a specialty of the region of Liguria in the north of Italy. It's a kind of fast food, and in spirit it resembles pizza—you eat wedges of it, by hand.  But in its way it's much simpler than pizza:  the basic recipe has all of five ingredients (although you can add some toppings). The most complicated part is cooking it, since you end up using both your broiler and your oven.  And it's meant to be eaten immediately—it doesn't keep.


2 cups chickpea/garbanzo flour (finding this may be 
   your biggest challenge)

1 1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 3/4 cups water, at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil, plus a little extra for the pans

Whisk together the dry ingredients.  In another bowl, whisk together the water and olive oil.  Whisk the contents of the two bowls together until smooth.  Let sit, covered, for an hour.

While you're waiting, turn on your broiler and let your oven preheat.

The authentic version calls for a 12" round ovenproof pan.  I don't happen to have one, but cast iron skillets (9") work just as well.  You need something that will get good and hot!

A few minutes before you are ready to cook your farinata, place one skillet in the oven to preheat.  Remove from the oven when hot and add about a teaspoon of olive oil, tilting the pan to distribute it evenly.

Pour about a cup of your batter into the pan (it will sizzle! And don't make the layer of batter too thick) and distribute.  Place the skillet in the oven and broil for about 4 minutes.  Then turn off the broiler and turn on the oven to 450 degrees F and cook another three-four minutes, until your farinata looks crisp.  Remove from the oven and slide the farinata onto a cutting board (if you have a seasoned pan, it goes easily).  Let cool a couple of minutes and slice into six wedges.

Repeat with the remaining batter.  This recipe made about three farinata.

You can dress this up by sprinkling some grated Parmesan cheese over the top before broiling.  If you want you can get fancy and sprinkle other herbs, onion, olives, etc., but remember—this is not a pizza.  I'm not sure what it is, but it's kind of addictive.


Farinata from Monterosso
Oh, right, my next book came out while I was out of the country.

Looks appropriately classical--which of course I didn't know when I planned this trip.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Spaghetti alla carbonara

by Sheila Connolly

Eat your hearts out:  I'm in Italy.  If all goes as scheduled (she says, checking the itinerary that somebody else put together) today I'll be in a villa somewhere north of Florence, touring the Chini pottery museum and listening to lectures on Renaissance Humanism and Italian Villas of the Renaissance, or "chilling out" or taking a siesta (both items included on the schedule).  And eating a lot.

When I was growing up my mother did not cook anything ethnic.  It's a wonder she cooked at all, since her mother never learned.  She did well with meat/starch/veg, but there were seldom sauces involved.  I don't think I saw her make a basic spaghetti sauce until I was well into my twenties.

She and my father ate out (now and then we kiddies would be included, on our best behavior), but mainly in "Continental" restaurants in New York.  When we children were included we'd go to Trader Vic's (pupu platter!) or occasionally Mama Leone's (where Ed Sullivan was said to dine, not that we ever saw him).  For lunch it was The Women's Exchange or Robert Day Dean's or Rumplemayer's.  On a couple of memorable occasions, we were taken to Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Hotel. Apart from the pupu platter I can't remember anything I ate at any of them.

Isn't it a wonder I grew up loving to cook?  I'll be the first to admit that I didn't "get" it until my first trip to Europe, the year I was 21.  I didn't visit Italy until the following year, but I'd broken the ice by then.  One seminal moment that I remember well:  stopping at a street vendor for an ice cream, on my first day in Florence.  I had no clue what half the flavors were, so I boldly said, "nocciola."  One taste and I knew immediately:  hazelnut.  In fact, incredible hazelnut.  It was amazing, and I've never forgotten the Italian word. In fact, about the half of my Italian vocabulary comes from food terms (the other half is from art history, although one is seldom called upon to use terms such as chiaroscuro or sfumato in ordinary conversation). 

Most of the Italian cooking I've done comes from only one or two well-used cookbooks:  the Sunset Italian Cook Book (1972), which I bought first, and Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook (1973).  I'll admit I haven't been very adventurous, and the recipes I've used most often have been for pasta sauces (I gave you one for a vegetable cream sauce in an earlier post here) or simple pasta dishes.  Once my household discovered pesto, we've eaten it once or twice a month.  Spaghetti alla carbonara is another favorite.  (Guess what:  my husband makes both!)  They're quick and simple dishes, as long as you have the ingredients (fresh basil is a must for pesto!).

Spaghetti alla carbonara is a handy recipe because you can use up all the bits and pieces of sausage, bacon, ham, etc., that you have on hand.  If you want to be authentic, you can use prosciutto or pancetta, both more widely available in American markets than it was back when I started making this.  One more note:  this dish involves raw eggs.  Ideally the heat of the cooked spaghetti will cook the eggs.  There have been concerns about the safety of undercooked eggs, but I think these have been addressed by people who raise chickens.  If you have any issues, you might want to avoid this dish, but if you're an "over-easy" egg eater, go for it!

Spaghetti alla carbonara

¼ pound mild pork sausage
¼ pound prosciutto/pancetta/ham, diced
4 Tblsp butter
½ pound spaghetti (half a box, usually), cooked and drained
½ cup parsley, minced
3 well-beaten eggs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper

Dice the meat and sauté it in half the butter over medium-low heat (you don't want it to be crisp).

Cook your spaghetti according to your taste.  Drain it and return it to the cooking pot, then immediately add the cooked meats, the rest of the butter, and the parsley.  Mix to blend.

Quickly pour in the beaten eggs and lift and toss to coat the spaghetti evenly.  Sprinkle on the cheese, add pepper, and toss again.  Serve immediately.  Mangia!

I am informed that on my trip I will have the opportunity to sample regional Italian delicacies such as farinata, garganelli, trofie and sgabei.  I have no clue what they are, but I'll find out!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cecina Flatbread - made with Garbanzos & Gluten-free

This is grilled salmon covered with the tomato sauce/cecina on the side.
This flatbread was recommended to me by a waiter who knew I needed to eat gluten-free. He said back in Italy (the Tuscany region), where he was raised, this is the bread they served to anyone who had a wheat allergy. {If you didn't know, Italy has been way ahead of the US in discovering gluten allergies. From what I’ve heard, all children are tested by the age of two.}

The flatbread is called cecina (garbanzo is ceci in Italian) and it works as an appetizer or snack. Just like bread, it is best eaten right when it comes out of the oven. I read on the Internet (from someone else who read it somewhere..don't you love the Internet?) that cecina was "invented" by accident when a ship carrying garbanzo flour was caught in a storm. The flour got wet but the crew, not wanting to throw it away, added oil and baked it. I believe it, don’t you?  J  Hey, cheese was discovered when goat milk was transported across the desert. The milk, stowed in sacks that were loaded onto camels, rocked to and fro and churned itself.
Make sure to bake the cecina in a hot oven until it has a golden crust. Since baking times will vary depending on your oven, check on it often!  {I also will suggest that once it's done, if you want it crispier, cut into slices, remove the pieces from the baking pan, put on a new (non-oiled) pan and bake longer to "dry" them out. It's delish! Promise.  (And full of protein)


Serves: 4

2 cups garbanzo flour
2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly-ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, mix the garbanzo flour and add the water with a whisk. Stir well, making sure you don't have any lumps. Add the salt. The mixture should be silky smooth.

Cover and let the mixture stand for an hour (or longer…overnight is okay). Remove any foam that has formed at the top. Stir again.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour oil into a 15 x 10 x 1 jellyroll style pan. (It should cover the bottom.)

Add the garbanzo mixture. It should be low -- no higher than ¼ inch high...sort of floating on top of the oil.

Bake in the hot oven until the cecina has a golden crust all over, about 30 minutes.

Grind lots of fresh black pepper on top of the cecina as soon as it comes out of the oven. Cut into slices and serve warm.

I served this with my:

Homemade Tomato Oregano Sauce


10 Roma tomatoes (peeled, seeded, diced) (about 3 cups)
½ yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
10 grinds of a pepper mill
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
¼ cup olive oil


Chop and dice tomatoes (see below for removing peel). Chop and dice onions. Put all the ingredients in a 10” saucepan. Heat to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often.

**Peeling tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil.  Put the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 20-30 seconds. Remove with tongs and douse with cold water. The peel should remove easily with a serrated knife.  Once peeled, cut in half, remove the seeds, then chop fine for the sauce.

* * * * *

You can learn more about me, Avery, by clicking this link.
Chat with me on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you haven't done so, sign up for my mailing list
 so you can learn about upcoming events, releases, and contests!

DARYL WOOD GERBER? "She" has a new series that will start next year, 2013:

{"We" share a website portal.}

"Like" Daryl's page on Facebook and "follow" Daryl on Twitter.
She doesn't say all the same things I do.
And pretty soon she'll have some fun news to share!

You'll hear that first in Avery's newsletter!

Say cheese!