|Polenta Pasticciata Ai Gamberi|
|A rosemary and parsley bouquet|
The recipes for tonight's meal are collected from a range of family friends, neighbors, a really cool blog and a beautiful coffee table/cookbook my Dad gave me many years ago. Divided by region and accompanied by gorgeous photographs and recipes, Culinaria Italy, is the type of book I leaf through when I'm looking for escape and inspiration.
The stuffed artichoke recipe comes from my dear friend and neighbor, Lina, a gorgeous, fiery Sicilian woman I wouldn't dare cross. She's an unbelievable cook and thinks nothing of hosting an "intimate" party of 60. Despite her crazy schedule, she made time to come over today to give me direct instructions, which I followed to the T - except for adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice because I just couldn't help myself.
|I love my neighbors|
Now, you may notice there are two grape cakes in this entry. That's because they're both so phenomenal that I couldn't make up my mind, so really, what could I do? I had to make both.
The Tuscan Grape Pie comes from an awesome foodie site, Oyster Culture that posted a wonderful story about eating grape cake on a trip to Italy, and included a recipe I had to try. The Grape Harvest Cake recipe comes from our longtime family friend, Joy - a badass cook of epic proportions who does her best cooking at midnight.
Located in Southern Europe, Italy is famously known for it's boot shaped peninsula along with the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. To the north, Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
Italy's culinary culture dates back the 4th century, BC, and is influenced by Etruscan, ancient Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Jewish and Arabic traditions. Depending on the region, ingredients and cooking techniques vary widely, however, the use of fresh, non-processed ingredients is a commonality shared throughout the country. Cheese, wine, espresso, olive oil, fresh fish, fruit and vegetables are but a few Italian staples.
Were I was lucky enough to be able to dine my way across the country, here's a small sampling of what I might find by region: Sicily, seafood; Sardinia, suckling pig, wild boar and beans; Tuscany Umbra, black truffles; Lombardi, rice and cheese; Vento, risotto with fish ........... I could go on and on.
|Black Beauty Grapes for Tuscan Pie |
(I could not find wine or wild grapes in November)
|Schiacciata con l'Uva|
|Red Table Grapes|
(I could not find Champagne Grapes this time of year)
|Northern Italian Grape Harvest Cake|
|Scoop out the hairy center of the artichoke with a melon baller|
|Bread crumbs, garlic, provolone, Romano, parsley|
and olive oil make the stuffing
|Baby Bella Mushrooms|
|Depending on what kind of edge you want|
any of these tools work well to cut polenta
|What's wrong with this picture? Nothing!|
Polenta Paticciata Ai Gamberi - Polenta with Shrimp (Adapted from Culinaria Italy)
- Polenta (I used Pastene)
- Generous 2 lbs. shrimp
- 1 handful of fresh mushrooms
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
- 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 4 cups vegetable stock (or less)
- Freshly ground pepper
- Prepare the polenta to a soft consistency. Cool and cut into slices, and place them on a greased baking. Preheat oven to 350-375F.
- Clean the mushrooms and chop finely. Peel the shrimp and saute them in a little butter in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and parsley.
- Pour on some of the white wine and vegetable stock and bring to a boil Add the rest only if needed.
- Season with freshly ground pepper and nutmeg, and arrange on top of the polenta slices.
- Bake for a few minutes in the preheated oven.
Lina's Stuffed Artichokes
- 4 artichokes
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup Romano cheese
- 1/4 cup Parmesan or Provolone cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Cut bottoms and tops off artichokes. Steam or boil artichokes until soft for about 15 mintues.
- Combine all ingredients.
- Gently open leaves on artichokes and stuff with bread crumb mixture.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake for about 1/2 hour in 350F oven.
Tuscan Wine Grape Pie - Schiacciata con l'Uva (Adapted from Kyle Phillips)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 1/3 cups flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/3 cup White wine or water sufficient to make a smooth, workable dough
- 2 1/4 lbs. wine grapes, stripped from their stems, washed and drained (you can use Concord, wild or table grapes if you can't find wine grapes)
- 1/2 tsp. anise seeds
- 1/4 cup chopped walnut meats
- 1/2 tsp. freshly chopped rosemary leaves
- Heat oven to 400F.
- Mix the egg, sugar, flour olive oil, baking powder, and enough wine or water to obtain a fairly soft dough. Knead it till it's smooth, and roll it out to make a sheet large enough to kine and over the pan - a bit thinner than a quarter of an inch thick.
- Grease a 9x13-inch cake pan and line the bottom with half the dough, making sure that it reaches about an inch up the sides of the pan. fill the pan with about 3/4 of the grapes; gently squeeze some between your hands as you add them, and leave the rest whole.
- Use the remaining dough to cover the grapes, sealing them in with care, then spread the rest of the grapes on top of the schiacciata. Dust the schiacciata with sugar and bake it in the oven for about an hour, or until the crust is browned.
Grape Harvest Cake (Courtesy of Joy Easter)
- Olive oil and flour for preparing cake pan
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup non-fat milk
- 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- Pinch of sea salt
- Grated zest of 2 lemons
- Grated zest of 2 oranges
- 1 1/2 pounds small fresh purple grapes (or red table grapes)
- Preheat oven to 375F
- Lightly oil and flour 9 1/2 inch springform pan, tapping out excess flour.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until thick nad lemon-colored, about 3 minutes. Add the oil, milk, and vanilla, and mix just to blend.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the lemon and orange zest and toss to coat the zest with flour. Spoon the flour mixture into the egg mixture and stir to blend. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids. Stir three-fourths of the fruit into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula.
- Place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter the remaining grapes on top of the cake. Bake until the top is a deep golden brown and the cake feels quite firm, about 40 minutes more, for a total baking time of 55 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. After 10 minutes, run a knife along the side of the pan. Release and remove the side of the springform pan, leaving the cake on the pan base. Serve at room temperature, cutting into thin wedges.
Final Assessment: I will have to come back to Italy several times because there are too many things I want to make. This meal was phenomenal. Both cakes were delicious, although very different, one combining sweet and savory flavors. And the shrimp and polenta - well, need I really expound?
|Busted....yes, we have chicken nuggets in the freezer :)|