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Filtering by Category: Appetizers

Caponata di Carciofi

Rosetta Costantino

Caponata di Carciofi (Sweet and sour artichokes stew)

A caponata featuring fresh artichokes, perfect to make in the spring when fresh artichokes are in season. Caponata is typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, at room temperature or cold.  Be sure to make the tomato sauce ahead of time.

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs small artichokes, 20 small artichokes about 1 – 1.5 oz each

One lemon

1/4 cup Olive oil

3 stalks celery, about 1 cup chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 1/2 cup tomato sauce (see attached recipe)

One tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed well

1/ 4 cup chopped green olives

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt and pepper

Fill a bowl with cold water and squeeze the juice of a lemon into the water.

Clean the artichokes by removing the outer leaves, until you see pale yellow leaves.  Trim the stem and cut off the top of the artichoke and discard. Cut in quarters for small artichokes or slice about 1/4 inch thick lengthwise.  Place in the bowl of water and lemon juice.  Continue until all the artichokes have been cleaned.

Place two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy duty saucepan, add the drained artichokes and stir for few minutes.  Add 1/2 cup of warm water.  Cover and cook for about 15 minutes until the water is evaporated and the artichokes are tender, but not fully cooked. 

Remove the artichokes from the pot and set aside.  Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the celery and onion until soft and translucent, add the artichokes and salt to taste. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, capers and olives.  Continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the artichokes are soft and fully cooked stirring occasionally.  Add the vinegar and sugar and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.  

The caponata should have a sweet and sour flavor.  Use more wine vinegar or sugar to adjust the balance.  Transfer to a bowl and let it cool.

Serve at room temperature or refrigerate overnight and serve cold.

Copyright 2015, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Funghi ripieni di ricotta (Wild mushrooms stuffed with ricotta)

Rosetta

Here is the second recipe that we prepared during the culinary tour.

When the tour group went foraging in La Sila mountains near Camigliatello, we found a distinctive type of mushroom called macrolepiota procera, which is known as mazza di tamburo in Italian and “parasol mushroom” in English. Here is a picture of one that I found on that day.

I was not familiar with this mushroom, but our mycologist guide told us that this one was edible and to pick them all. It comes in various sizes; when they are small they have a tight cap but as they age the cap opens up and looks like an umbrella.

And let me reiterate the warning I've given in previous posts: please, please, PLEASE, don’t pick mushrooms unless you are trained to identify them or are with a mycologist. Some wild mushrooms are poisonous and can lead to severe illness or death.

I went to my grocery store to look for a similar mushroom and the closest I could come up with were portobellos and shiitakes. I used them for this recipe and both worked well.

Like the recipe of mushroom and potato soup in the previous post it is very simple and easy to prepare. The filling has fresh ricotta, breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese, and fresh herbs.

Mix all the ingredients well. Add salt and pepper.

I typically clean mushrooms with only a damp cloth or small toothbrush to avoid getting them wet. But for this recipes Chef Pietro Lecce of La Tavernetta washed the mushrooms. He explained that he actually wanted some moisture, which would help in cooking the mushrooms. I rinsed the mushroom caps and drained them completely, so whatever was absorbed was a small amount of water.

Remove the stems and sprinkle with some salt. Stuff the mushroom caps with about two tablespoons of ricotta filling, less if you're using small cap.

Oil a baking dish and place the stuffed mushroom caps next to each other. Drizzle with olive oil.

And bake. We had these stuffed mushrooms warm as an appetizer but they work well as a side dish also. Give it a try!

For a printable recipe

click here

Funghi ripieni con ricotta(Wild mushrooms stuffed with ricotta)

One dozen mushroom caps,  more if small

1 cup well-drained ricotta

¼ cup dried breadcrumbs

¼ cup grated pecorino cheese

2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, chopped

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven at 400F.

Remove stems from mushrooms and quickly rinse under water.   Drain well.  Set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients until all blended.

Coat a baking dish with some olive oil.  Sprinkle the mushroom caps with salt. Stuff each cap with one to two tablespoons of ricotta filling, depending on size.

Place the stuffed mushroom caps inside the baking dish right next to each other.

Drizzle with olive oil.   Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes for large caps, 15 minutes for small caps.

Pitticelle di Zucchine (Zucchini Fritters)

Rosetta

July is the month when my eight zucchini plants produces more zucchini that I can keep up with. I pick quite a few of them each day; as you can see below, each plant produces lots of them.

A typical daily pick of zucchini:

My parents never pick zucchini when they are small. That would be wasteful! Why not wait until they are larger, and thereby get a lot more food out of them? Like good Calabrians, my parents have many ways to preserve zucchini for the winter. In fact two of my favorite recipes that preserve zucchini use only large zucchini. One method is to dry the zukes in the sun during the summer; they are then called cose siccati or seccatini. The other is to cook them with vinegar and preserve them with olive oil, garlic, fresh mint and hot peppers, known as zucchine sott’olio. I love them both and a large portion of my zucchini end up preserved both ways. Both of these recipes are included in the preserves section of my upcoming book.

I love zucchini every which way you can think of and I prepare them in many dishes from appetizer to dessert. I will share more of my zucchini recipes that didn’t make it in my book in the coming weeks. I even started doing a cooking class a couple of years ago where the entire menu is based on zucchini. In fact  this class is coming up on July 24, and if you are interested in attending it there are still some spots available.

Today, the first recipe that I will share  is one that my mom would always make for me as a snack,  and it is now my children's favorite summer snack. They are zucchini fritters: pitticelle di zucchine in Calabrese, or frittelle di zucchine in Italian. My mother would fold some zucchini slices into a simple batter and fry each individual fritter. But when she started making these for my kids she noticed that they  would pull out the zucchini slices and eat just the fried dough. So she started chopping the zucchini and fold them into the batter. This did the trick. I will show you both ways and you decide which way you prefer. Eat them as an appetizer or as a snack. The problem is you can’t stop eating them.

How to make pitticelle di zucchine:

Slice the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds, or dice the entire zucchini.

Prepare the batter by  mixing flour with salt, parsley, basil, grated pecorino cheese, egg and water.

Place the zucchini rounds on top of the batter or fold the diced zucchini into the batter.

Fry the fritters until golden on both sides

Here is what they look like when done. The top photo has fritters with sliced zucchini and the bottom photo fritters with diced zucchini.

Pitticelle di Zucchine

Zucchini Fritters

1 large zucchini (about 1/2 pound), in 1/4-inch-thick rounds or diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the batter:

1 cup  unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino cheese

2 teaspoons minced flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon minced fresh basil

3/4 cup cold water

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying

In a bowl, sprinkle the zucchini with salt and toss to coat. Let stand 10 minutes to draw out some of the water.

Make the batter: Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a shallow well in the center. Place the beaten egg, cheese and herbs in the well and mix into the flour with a fork. Add the water and beat well until the mixture resembles thick pancake batter. When you lift some batter with the fork, it should fall in a ribbon. If the batter is too thick, add more water, a teaspoon at a time. If too thin, add a little more flour.

Heat 1/4 inch  of olive oil in a frying pan over moderate heat until it sizzles when you insert the end of a wooden skewer or chopstick (about 365ºF).

Drain the zucchini but do not rinse. Put a half-dozen slices of zucchini on top of the batter and spoon batter over them to coat. Transfer the battered zucchini to the hot oil with the spoon, making sure they are completely coated. Continue adding battered zucchini to the frying pan until it is filled but not crowded. Fry zucchini until golden brown on both sides, turning with a fork halfway through. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. Repeat battering and frying zucchini until done. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

If you choose to make the fritters with the zucchini diced, fold them in the batter and using a spoon transfer a spoonful to the hot oil.  Fry the zucchini fritters until golden on both sides, turning with a fork halfway through.   Transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain.  Repeat until all the batter is used.

Makes 2 dozen, to serve 6 to 8

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

1

Bruschetta with Fresh Fava Beans

Rosetta

My garden is a little behind from last May. The weather has been unusual for California this year, with lots of rain and cold. We have planted all the tomatoes, eggplant and romano beans, but have not planted our peppers yet. Fresh peas are still on the vines because they were late coming out this year.

And of course we have been picking lots of fava beans on a daily basis.

Eating fava beans every day prompted me to write about them. We plant the variety of beans that we brought over from Calabria. The bean pods are very long compared to the ones that you find here at the farmers' market. Typically fava bean pods are about six inches long with 5 or 6 beans inside, but our variety is 10 to 12 inches long with 8 to 10 beans inside the pod. Each plant produces lots of pods.

Here are the beans inside the pod.

The beans themselves have an outer skin that most people here in the United States always remove, making for lots more work. Calabrians usually leave them on when making pasta or minestra with fava beans  but I do remove them for certain dishes. The recipe for a fava bean "spread" that I will show you is one of these. You can put it on top of bruschetta or serve it with grilled fish, toss it with pasta, or fold it into a risotto. It is so easy to make that you can just follow the photos below to make it at home.

To make enough for six people you will need about four pounds of fava bean pods. Shuck the beans from the pods,  blanch the beans in boiling water for about a minute, put them in cold water to stop cooking, drain them and then remove the outer skin.  Place them in a skillet with a good amount of olive oil, three cloves of  minced garlic and a sprig of fresh thyme.  Cook until soft for about  20 minutes, adding a little water if dry. Remove the thyme sprig and mash with a potato masher. Add some lemon juice to taste.  If the puree is still dry add some good extra virgin olive oil at the end.

While it is still warm spread it on top of bruschetta and top it with some shavings of ricotta salata or pecorino.

The next time you go to the farmers' market grab the fava beans because their season is short. Look for bright fresh pods. If they are wrinkly or brown don't buy them. And remember to buy lots of pods. Five pounds of pods give you only about 2 pounds of shelled beans.

P.S.  Here is a formal portrait of my chickens. They have finally lost their fear of open spaces and have become proper country chicks. This photo was as hard to take as one of kindergarten children (they just wont stand still). I managed to corral all four of them in one corner of the yard.  They love being outside and eating greens. Can't wait for that first egg!

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Bruschetta con Fave Fresche (Bruschetta topped with fresh fava bean spread)

Ingredients

4 pounds fava beans
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
One small sprig rosemary
One small sprig thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
Six slices of grilled country-style bread

1. Shell the fava beans and discard the pods.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the shelled fava beans. Cook the beans for about one minute. Drain and place in a bowl of ice-cold water, to cool. Drain them again. Using your thumbnail, break the outer green skin and squeeze the pod between your thumb and forefinger - the bright green bean inside will pop right out. Discard the tough, outer skin.

3. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a medium size skillet. Add the fava beans, garlic, rosemary and thyme sprigs, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of water.

4. Cook over low heat until the fava beans are soft and absorb the flavors of the garlic and herbs, about 20 minutes. Add more water if the beans are drying out. Remove from the heat. Remove the herb sprigs and mash the mixture to a coarse puree or use a food processor and briefly process the mixture, if you prefer a smooth paste. Taste for salt and pepper. Add more olive oil and the lemon juice to taste. If the mixture seems dry, add more olive oil.

5. Spread the bean mixture on the grilled bruschetta. You can finish the bruschetta with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and topped with some shaved, fresh pecorino cheese or ricotta salata if you like.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Sarde ripiene (Stuffed baked sardines)

Rosetta

This is the third week in a row that I have found fresh sardines at Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley so I decided it was time to write about them. Every time I put fresh sardines on the menu for my cooking classes not many people sign up! If you're like these students, then I hope that this post will change your mind.

I grew up eating fresh sardines and fresh anchovies. These small fish, caught in the early morning around Scalea, were small enough to transport to my inland town of Verbicaro. We had them often when they were in season and prepared them in many different ways.

Sardines, anchovies and mackerel belong to the pesci azzurri family, literally translated as “blue fish” because of the blue tone to their skin. Fresh sardines in particular are very good for you.  Not only are they high in omega-3 fatty acids, but they are also a good source of vitamin D, calcium, B12, and protein. They are also very inexpensive. Here in California I usually pay $1.99 a pound for them. They are sustainable, cheap, and delicious, so what is keeping you away from trying them?

You'll want to buy fresh sardines ideally the same day they are caught; they spoil very quickly because of their high omega-3 fat level. For that reason you'll also want to clean them immediately, unless you have a fishmonger that will do it for you. Look for sardines that are fresh looking and not smelly, with shiny silver skin, and are whole. They should look like they just jumped out of water. Avoid them if they are bruised or look dark in color. Don’t buy them frozen! Sardines do not freeze well; the oils in them turn rancid even in a freezer, and the flesh becomes a mushy mess when thawed.

In Calabria people cook fresh sardines in many different ways. One of the easiest preparations is sarde ripiene, stuffed and baked. I've given you the recipe at the end of the post;  it was in the manuscript of my forthcoming book, but because it was removed (I had too many sardine and anchovie recipes because I like them so much) you're in luck.

If I buy very small sardines I will prepare them whole the same way I do with fresh anchovies, just coated with flour and fried in olive oil, known as sarde fritte. Here are some more of the many ways we prepare fresh sardines in Calabria:

Polpette di sarde (sardine "meatballs", with the fish taking the place of meat)

Cotolette di sarde (breaded like a cutlet and fried)

Sarde al pomodoro (braised whole with tomatoes and onions)

Sarde alla griglia (grilled with just olive oil, lemon juice and parsley)

And I can’t forget my other two favorite ways of cooking fresh sardines, from my husband’s hometown of Palermo:  sarde a beccafico, stuffed and rolled up, then baked with fresh oranges slices, and pasta con sarde, pasta with wild fennel, fresh sardines, pine nuts, raisins, and saffron, which I plan to make as soon  as the wild fennel is ready to be picked.

To clean fresh sardines:

Hold the fish under cold running water and rub off the scales with your thumbnail. By hand, snap off the head and pull down; most of the innards will come out with the head. Use your thumbnail or a small paring knife to slit the belly down to the tail. Remove any remaining innards and rinse the interior.

I spared you the pictures and will show you what they need to look like when they are clean:

Once cleaned you will need to butterfly the sardines for this recipe.  To remove the backbone from each sardine grasp the end of the backbone closer to the head and lift it out. It usually pulls away cleanly from the flesh, although sometimes it clings. If it does cling, gently work the backbone free with your fingers, damaging the flesh as little as possible. Keep the tail intact.

Sprinkle the sardines on both sides with salt.  Spread about a tablespoon or so of filling on each half butterflied.

Top it with another butterflied sardine.   Drizzle with olive oil and bake.

Ready to eat!  Yummy!

Sarde Ripiene

Stuffed Baked Sardines

1 dozen fresh sardines, about 1-1/2 pounds

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling:

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese

2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon finely minced capers

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

Lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 400ºF .

Remove the backbone from each sardine by grasping the end of the backbone closer to the head and lifting it out. It usually pulls away cleanly from the flesh, although sometimes it clings. If it does cling, gently work the backbone free with your fingers, damaging the flesh as little as possible. Keep the tail intact.  Lay the boneless sardines open “butterfly” style.  Remove as many of the other fine white bones as you can. Season the fish on both sides with the salt.

For the filling:  In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, capers, lemon zest, garlic, and olive oil. Mix with your fingers until well blended.

Using 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, generously oil a baking dish large enough to hold six of the butterflied sardines. Arrange six of the sardines in the dish, skin side down. Top with the filling, dividing it evenly and pressing it into an even layer. Top each sardine with another sardine, skin side up. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Bake until the fish are sizzling hot and the flesh is white and flakes easily when prodded with a fork, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving. The dish is best warm, not hot. Divide the sardines among serving plates, drizzle each portion with a little extra virgin olive oil, and accompany with lemon wedges.

Serves 6

Peperoni Cruschi

Rosetta

December is a month of many celebrations, both religious and secular. Often each celebration is accompanied by the serving of a particular food or dish. December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic Church, and marks the beginning of the Christmas holiday season and its wonderful dishes in Calabria. My town also has a non-religious celebration that day, known as “Perciavutta” day. The word “percia” means “to make a hole” and “vutta” means“barrel”; therefore “put a hole in the barrel”, and as I remember it when I lived in Calabria, Perciavutta is the day when all the townspeople that made wine that year would go to each other's cellars and taste the new wine. Two snacks are traditionally served to the guests. One is grispelle, in which dried peppers are softened and folded in yeasted dough. I'll be writing more about this Calabrian specialty as the holiday season continues. The second snack that is brought to the wine cellars is peperoni cruschi, called pipi arruschkati in my dialect.

For peperoni cruschi, you need sun-dried sweet Italian peppers. Peperoni di Senise are ideal but any dried sweet Italian pepper will work. In future posts, you will see how we use these dried peppers in various dishes throughout the winter months.

To make peperoni cruschi, first remove the seeds and stems from the dried peppers and cut into pieces. Place the cut peppers with some extra virgin olive oil in a pan.  Toss to coat with the olive oil and place the pan over medium heat.

Keep on stirring them with a fork as the oil in the pan warms up. As soon as they puff up and become crispy you can remove them from the heat; be careful not to burn them.  Add a sprinkle of salt and you're done. They are sweet and smoky, unbelievable good and downright addictive!

If you have bought peperoni cruschi that are packaged and exported, you've wasted your money. They need to be eaten as soon as they are prepared, not months later out of a cellophane bag. So plan to dry some sweet Italian peppers next summer or buy the whole dried peppers and then make this easy dish yourself.

Zuppa di Zucca (Roasted Butternut Squash Soup)

Rosetta

As I promised you last week,  here is my recipe for butternut squash soup, a dish that always shows up on our table on Thanksgiving day. It is extremely simple to make because it has only a few ingredients. If you can, make your own chicken or vegetable broth for it; it will make a world of a difference in the taste. Cut the butternut squash in large chunks, removing the seeds. Place the cut-up pieces in a baking dish along with an unpeeled onion cut in half vertically and an unpeeled head of garlic, with its top cut off to expose the cloves.

Sprinkle with some fresh thyme and drizzle with olive oil

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 400 for 1 hour or more until soft.

Once cool, using a spoon remove the squash pulp from skin and place in a food processor with the onion (remove outer skin) and squeeze as many garlic cloves as you like into the bowl.

Puree until smooth.

Place in a pot and thin it out with 2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth.

Sprinkle with a little bit of chopped parsley; or you can fry a few sage leaves and place them on top of the soup.

Enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving!

Zuppa di Zucca

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

2 pounds butternut squash, unpeeled, seeds removed, cut into 10 pieces

1 unpeeled garlic head

1 large onion, unpeeled cut in half, vertically

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 fresh thyme sprigs

2 cups (or more) chicken broth or vegetable broth

Minced fresh parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut 1/3 inch off the top of the garlic head, exposing the cloves.  Arrange the garlic, squash and onion cut side up in large baking dish.  Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil.  Scatter the thyme over the vegetables.

Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.  Uncover the vegetables and cool for 10 minutes.

Scrape the squash from the skin into the processor work bowl.  Peel outer layers and trim root end from onion halves.  Add onion to processor.   Separate 6 garlic cloves from head and squeeze the garlic in the bowl.   Puree the vegetables until smooth.  Add more roasted garlic if desired.

Transfer the puree to heavy large pot.  Wisk in 2 cups of chicken broth.  Stir over medium heat until heated through, adding more broth if thinner consistency is desired.

Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley.  You can serve the soup with crostini (toasted bread) spread with the remaining roasted garlic.

Serves 6

Zucca con la menta (Butternut squash marinated with garlic and mint)

Rosetta

This is the time of the year when I have to buy some vegetables at the market. (My family lives off what we grow in our backyard until November.) All the summer vegetables are winding down in my garden, and I can start buying my favorite fall vegetable, butternut squash. The easiest way to use butternut squash is to peel it, cut it in small cubes, and toss with salt, pepper and olive oil.  Then roast the cubes at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes until soft.

How do I love butternut squash? Let me count the ways: tossed in pasta or farro, added to a risotto, as a filling for stuffed pasta, tossed with arugula for a salad,  pureed  as side dish, or on top of pizza. Another of my favorite ways to use it is to make a simple roasted butternut squash soup for Thanksgiving. I will share this recipe with you next week in time for you to make it for the holidays.

Two of my most favorite methods of preparing butternut squash are the Calabrian, as zucca con la menta, and the Sicilian, as zucca in agrodolce. They can be served as a side dish or part of an appetizer buffet. I can’t give you the recipe for the Calabrian version word for word as it will be included in my upcoming cookbook, but I can show you with pictures and, it being a simple dish, you can make it right now rather than wait until next year!

Peel the butternut squash, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds from the lower half, and slice it into ¼ inch slices. You will get half moon slices from the upper section and C shapes from the lower section.

The slices are fried in olive oil until golden.

As you fry them, place them on a platter and sprinkle them with salt. Drizzle with red wine vinegar, and add some sliced garlic and fresh mint.  Continue this layering process until done.  Drizzle with additional olive oil if it seems dry. Let it marinate for at least a couple of hours.

If you want to make the Sicilian version, zucca in agrodolce,  meaning a dish that is sweet and sour, which my mother-in-law makes,  do the same layering processing by adding the garlic and the mint, but skip the vinegar on each layer and do the following instead:  keep two tablespoon of olive oil in the pan in which you fried the squash, and add 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar and three tablespoons of sugar.  Heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Pour over the fried pumpkin slices.

Crostone con i Funghi (Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese)

Rosetta

When I was growing up in Calabria my family never purchased cultivated mushrooms from the supermarket. My parents mastered the secrets of mushroom hunting at an early age. They knew where to look for them and which ones were edible and which were not. We foraged for porcini, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and many other varieties. Although we live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, my father still manages to find the same mushrooms. In Calabria we cooked wild mushrooms in many different ways. We grilled them, baked them with a sprinkling of fresh breadcrumbs and herbs, layered them with sliced potatoes, cooked them with tomatoes, and preserved them in oil. I can still taste my grandmother's wild porcini dish; she would slice them thickly and quickly sauté them with olive oil, garlic and parsley. It is still one of my favorite ways to cook wild mushrooms; I will give you a variation of this recipe below.

A couple of years ago a student asked me to teach a cooking class based entirely on wild mushrooms. The class was so successful that I now offer the class annually at the beginning of November called “A Feast of Wild Mushrooms”.   In this class I bring my favorites: porcini, chanterelles, and oyster mushrooms. Here is a basket that I brought to class last week filled with these three types:

This is the only time of the year that they are available at the market, so try them now. For my all-mushroom class I like to purchase them at Monterey Market in Berkeley. They have an extensive selection of mushrooms foraged in California and Oregon.

And please please PLEASE--don’t venture out to pick mushrooms unless you are trained to identify them or are with a mycologist. Some wild mushrooms are poisonous and can lead to severe illness or death.

Here are the porcini mushrooms:

...and some beautiful chanterelles:

...and wild oyster mushrooms that my dad foraged last week!

My cooking class features wild mushrooms from appetizer to dessert.  Well, not quite.  The dessert just looks like a truffle; but it is a dessert specialty of Calabria called “tartufo di Pizzo”. You will have to wait for the recipe for when my cook book comes out next year. In the meantime, I will share with you, the recipe for an appetizer from the class, that  I had in Rome many years ago at a “bruschetteria”, a restaurant where all they serve are large bruschettas and salads. The "appetizer" was an over-sized bruschetta called a “crostone” topped with melted taleggio cheese and mushrooms.  I created my own version by topping a bruschetta with wild mushrooms cooked the way my grandmother used to. With this simple technique you can create many dishes. You can toss the sauteed mushrooms in pasta or risotto, or eat them as a side dish with grilled meats.

To make the appetizer as a crostone I like to use Acme Bread pain au levain or as a bruschetta their Italian loaf. As a crostone it is great for a lunch with a nice salad of winter greens.

Brush the bread generously with olive oil and grill or broil on both sides.

Rub with garlic and top each toast with a slice of Taleggio:

Melt the cheese in the oven

Saute the wild mushrooms

and top the crostone with them:

Give it a try and enjoy it as an appetizer or as a light vegetarian meal!

Crostone con i Funghi

Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese

Four 3/4-inch-thick slices crusty Italian bread 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 4 cloves garlic: 1 cut in half, 3 grated on Microplane or finely minced 4 ounces Taleggio, cut into four 1/8-inch-thick slices 1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, shiitake, oyster) cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat a charcoal, gas, or stovetop grill to high heat or preheat broiler with an oven rack positioned about 6 inches below the heat source.

Generously brush both sides of bread with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Grill until toasted with a little color on both sides. Transfer to a baking sheet and rub both sides of toast with the cut garlic. Discard garlic. Top each toast with Taleggio and set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. When oil is hot enough to sizzle a mushroom, add mushrooms and salt. Don't stir until steam starts rising from sides of pan. Sprinkle with grated/minced garlic and sauté quickly, stirring frequently, just until mushrooms soften, about 3 minutes. Add parsley, stir, and taste for seasoning--add more salt, if necessary. Set aside. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.)

Just before serving, place toast under broiler just until cheese melts. Transfer to individual dinner plates, top with mushrooms, and serve immediately with a knife and fork.

Serves 4

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Roasted peppers Casa Janca Style

Rosetta

Here is my newest favorite pepper recipe that escaped my mom's repertoire. I learned this recipe just last year when I was staying at Casa Janca, a rustic agriturismo near the fishing village of Pizzo, just northeast of Tropea. The owner, Rita Callipo, is a highly regarded cook that runs a restaurant out of her home. Eating there is like eating at my aunt’s house. She makes the best Calabrian dishes, and always bases her meals on what she finds that day at the market. Every time I am there I barge into the kitchen to see what she is cooking. I have included a few of her recipes in my book, My Calabria, but this one wastoo late to submit, so you can try it out now in anticipation of additional delicious recipes when the book is released next year. I watched her make this dish; she just sprinkled "a little of this and a little of that" of what was available in her kitchen. I took notes so that I could duplicate it at home and it has become a favorite at our house. It's very easy to prepare and has all the flavors of Calabria.

Peperoni ripieni della Casa Janca

(Roasted peppers Casa Janca style)

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (see note below)

1/4 cupgrated pecorino cheese

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, finely chopped

4 large red or yellow bell peppers

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon capers, chopped if using large capers

6 anchovy fillets cut in small pieces

18-20 small cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarter if large

In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese, garlic and parsley.

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the stem and seeds.

Coat a 9x13 baking dish with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and place the peppers cut side up. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of salt evenly over all the peppers. Add chopped capers, anchovy pieces, chopped tomatoes and a nice coating of the breadcrumb mixture inside each pepper.

Drizzle generously with the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil and bake at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes or so, until the peppers are soft and fully roasted.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4

Note: to make fresh breadcrumbs use day-old bread (good Italian or French loaf), cut it up in cubes and place it in a blender. Puree until you have fine, even breadcrumbs.

Copyright 2009, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved

Frittelle di fiori di zucchine (Zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella)

Rosetta

It is that time of the year again, when my prolific zucchini plants start producing beautiful blossoms. I picked the first ones last week and since I planted six plants I pick lots of zucchini blossoms on a daily basis. So far I have enjoyed them stuffed and fried, one of my favorite way to eat them. In Calabria zucchini blossoms are very popular. In fact you can see from the picture below how they are sold at the market: in beautiful bunches, picked in the morning and brought to market that day.

The most common way to eat them in Calabria is coated in a batter and fried, or mixed in with pasta.  Last year while in Calabria at one of my favorite restaurant, Dattilo, I ate them in spaghetti with clams. They are wonderful in a frittata or on top of pizza. I have a recipe for pizza with stuffed zucchini blossoms in my upcoming cookbook.

If you grow your own zucchini, you will notice that the plant produces two types of blossom, a male and a female. The female blossom is attached to the zucchini and falls off as the fruit matures. The male flower, with the long stem, serves no purpose other than fertilization, so these are the ones you'll want to pick and cook.

I pick the male blossoms early in the morning while they are still open and place them in a glass of water if I plan to use them the same day. When I want to make a dish that requires lots of blossoms, I put them in a plastic bag, blow some air into it, and close it tightly. I then store the bag in the refrigerator upright until I collect enough flowers for the dish.

If you are buying them at the farmers' market, look for flowers that are fresh and perky, and avoid the limp or wilted ones. Once they are closed it is very hard to open them (which you need to do to stuff them) without damaging the flower. You can use closed flowers in dishes where they will be chopped or sliced.

Here are the many ways I cook with zucchini blossoms:

  • Stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy, and coated in a batter and fried;
  • Stuffed with ricotta and fresh herbs and baked;
  • Mixed in at the last minute in a risotto;
  • Tossed with pasta;
  • Cut in strips and added to a frittata;
  • Stuffed with goat cheese on top of pizza.

If you are interested, please join me in my July 10 cooking class and we'll prepare the blossoms picked from my garden with the following recipe:

Frittelle di Fiori di Zucchine

Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Mozzarella

Batter

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup cold water

Olive oil for frying

12 zucchini blossoms, stems attached if possible

6 ounces whole milk mozzarella

6 salted anchovies filets, cleaned, rinsed and cut in two pieces

For the Batter: Place the flour and salt in a bowl and make a shallow well in the center. Place the beaten egg in the well and mix it into the flour with a fork. Stir in the water, pressing any lumps with the back of the fork to remove. Mix to a consistency that resembles thin pancake batter. When you lift some batter with the fork, it should fall in a ribbon. If the batter is too thick, add more water, a teaspoon at a time. If too thin, add a little more flour. Set aside.

Heat the Oil: Heat about 1 inch of oil in a Dutch oven or frying pan over medium heat until it is hot enough to sizzle the end of a wooden chopstick (about 365 degrees F for olive oil).

Prepare the Blossoms: Just before frying, rinse blossoms, remove the pistil and any insects that might be hiding inside.

Slice the cheese into squares or "logs" small enough to fit deep inside the blossoms so that you can fold over the petals to fully enclose the cheese. Place a piece of anchovy in each blossom along with the cheese cube and fold over the petals to close the opening.

When the oil is hot enough, dip a flower into batter and turn with a large spoon to coat. Using the spoon, transfer the battered blossom to the oil, pouring any batter that accumulates in the bottom of the spoon back atop the frying blossom, making sure it is coated. Fry the blossom on both sides just until the batter is cooked through, about 1 minute total. When done, the batter will be lightly golden, not brown. Drain on paper towels and repeat battering and frying the remaining blossoms 2 or 3 at a time without allowing them to touch each other in the oil. As necessary, regulate the temperature to keep oil at 365 degrees F while frying. Be careful when turning the blossoms as they tend to splatter when any residual water spills into the hot oil.

Serve immediately with a napkin and a salt shaker, if desired. Be careful of the molten cheese inside when you eat these.

Serves 4 (makes 12 blossoms)

Copyright, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.