Category Archives: Tuscan Cuisine

TOASTED SPINACH GNUDI WITH A SAGE AND PUMPKIN SAUCE..GNUDI CON SALVIA E ZUCCA

002GNUDI!!!  pronounce it  NYUU-DEE, an Italian food from Tuscany is as it’s name implies, sort of a Nude Ravioli.  It’s a dumpling made with ricotta, eggs, spinach, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and just enough flour to bind it so it’s not quite a gnocchi but close.  Italian cooking is wonderfully full of dishes that closely resemble each other but nuances in ingredient amount or region make them separate and unique.  Fantastic!!  Let me give a foodie PSA here while I have your attention.  You know that TUSCAN recipe or dish you are eating in a restaurant or making at home?  You know, that ULTIMATE TUSCAN soup, chicken, whatever?  It’s more than likely NOT TUSCAN.  Drives me crazy.  As someone who shares food ideas and knowledge calling something TUSCAN when it’s not drives me insane.  Imagine this for a minute…in Italy…at a restaurant or supermarket/store selling American foods…there’s an item called….NEW YORK CAJUN GUMBO….or KANSAS LOBSTER…or MIDWESTERN CLAM CHOWDER….clearly you get my drift.  Louisiana gets the gumbo…Maine gets the Lobster…New England or Manhattan get the Clam Chowder.   The term TUSCAN gets placed on any dish someone (usually a corporate boardroom) wants to for marketing purposes. People are attracted to that term thinking it’s bona fide Tuscan food, or the implication is that all Italian food is Tuscan, or that the American created dish is Tuscan.  Let me do my part to promote real Tuscan influenced food by giving you this recipe I came up with using a Tuscan dumpling and some of the more common Tuscan ingredients..spinach, pumpkin, sage.

Gnudi can be eaten out of the pot, or with butter, or pan toasted, or lightly sauced with butter based sauces, or tomato sauce. A recent batch of gnudi I made, after poaching them i let them “dry” for 2 hours then toasted them in butter till they took on a golden brown crust then simply sauced them with sauteed onions, pumpkin puree, butter, sage, parmigiano-reggiano or Grana Padano, black pepper, and Vin Santo (Spanish sherry makes a decent substitute if you can’t find the Vin Santo).

serves: 4                                          time: 3 hours (which includes the time to let the gnudi dry)

First, the GNUDI

1 CUP  WHOLE MILK RICOTTA, DRAINED

1 CUP CHOPPED FROZEN SPINACH, THAWED AND SQUEEZED VERY DRY (important!!)

1 CUP FRESH GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR GRANA PADANO

3 LARGE EGG YOLKS (ORGANIC WORK BEST) at ROOM TEMPERATURE

1 CUP SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR OR TIPO 00 from ITALY

1/8  TSP EACH OF  FRESH GRATED NUTMEG, KOSHER SALT, FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

2 TBS UNSALTED BUTTER

You can use a food processor or bowl for this.  Mix together the Ricotta, Spinach, Parmigiano, and yolks.  Pulse or mix till blended.  Add the nutmeg, salt and black pepper.  Mix.  Now gently add in the flour until fully incorporated. Let sit for 5 minutes.  NOW to form the GNUDI.  Some are made in the small oval shape like I do and some are made in the same size, just under 1 inch, in a ball. Keep the size and shape uniform for consistent cooking. As you make them, lay them onto a kitchen towel covered baking sheet.  Bring a large pot of water to the boil.   When you have finished the gnudi and they’ve rested, gently drop them into the boiling water. Let them cook  and as they are ready, they will float to the top of the pot.  Takes up to 5 minutes.  I use the 5 minute mark as my gauge.  Using a slotted spoon or kitchen spider transfer the drained gnudi to a parchment paper lined sheet pat.  Leave these to dry out now for no less than one hour.

SAUCE:

1 MEDIUM ONION, DICED FINE

6 TABLESPOONS UNSALTED BUTTER (EUROPEAN STYLE OR EUROPEAN WORKS BEST)

2 TBS OF VIN SANTO OR SPANISH SHERRY

1/2 CUP PURE PUMPKIN PUREE (PUMPKIN ONLY)

1/8 CUP RESERVED GNUDI COOKING WATER

2 SAGE LEAVES, WHOLE

FOR GARNISH:

4 CHOPPED FRESH SAGE LEAVES

FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR GRANA PADANO TO TASTE

SLIGHT GRATING OF FRESH NUTMEG AND /OR BLACK PEPPER

In a wide heavy bottomed pan melt the butter and then add the onions…bring to medium and let them slowly get soft. Takes about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the 2 sage leaves.  Now add the Vin Santo or Sherry.  Let cook for 2 mintues then stir in the pumpkin puree.  Add the reserved cooking water and bring pan to  boil then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 5 minutes.   Now back to the GNUDI.

In a skillet heat the 2 tbs of butter and gently toast the gnudi on both sides, taking care not to overload the pan.  You may need to do this in 2 batches.  TOO MUCH CROWDING IN A PAN CREATES STEAM AND YOU LOSE THE BROWNING AND EVERYTHING IS RUINED!!!!!! When you have a nice color on the GNUDI like this:156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_nyou are now ready to sauce them.  Bring the pan of Pumpkin Onion Sage sauce up to medium heat and gently add the gnudi and make sure you coat all the gnudi with the sauce.  TAKE NOTE: I’m saucing it in the Italian manner…as Lidia tells us..”Sauce is merely a CONDIMENTO, the star is the pasta!”…You always want the pasta to shine through, however I understand that most Americans are used to much more sauce on their pasta then they would have in Italy.  Want more sauce on this? Simply double the recipe. Tutti i gusti son gusti!! (Everyone to their own tastes)…back to my recipe.  After you’ve coated all the gnudi and it’s heated thru for a good 3 minutes remove from the heat and garnish with the chopped sage, nutmeg and grated cheese to taste.  Serve.  I’m starving now as I type all this.  It’s such a tasty dish.  0041As always, thank you for letting me into your kitchens….enjoy this little bit of Tuscany, I actually think the region around Siena is noted for their gnudi.  BUONA CUCINA!!

 

 

 

 

 

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END OF SUMMER PANZANELLA STYLE SALAD

IMG_1707The last weeks of August are when tomatoes are at their peak in my region.  Jersey Tomatoes are prized for their full rich flavor after vine ripening and I happen to live in Jersey, so…there you go.  Our tomatoes are fantastic.  Truth be told I though our Staten Island, NYC tomatoes were fantastic too.  Ask my late father or my late Uncle Tony Scaramuzzi, two of Staten Island’s leading ItalianAmerican authorities and growers of tomatoes in their large home gardens.  They carried on that rivalry for years. They both grew amazing tomatoes. But I’m in Jersey where there’s a religion that worships the warm bright red orbs, big and small and this is the time of the year for them to be at their very best.  You can make sauces from them, oh yes, amazing pasta sauces but really…I’m way more interested in eating the raw product.  This is the only time of the year they will be this good.  August.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that we probably eat them raw at least once a day during the season.  While I don’t grow my own our farm markets are bulging at the seams with local tomatoes of all different varieties and your friends and neighbors who grow them in their home gardens are very generous with their bags of tomatoes as gifts for you.  I have such a neighbor.  Thanks Mike!  When I walked into the kitchen earlier today the aroma of the tomatoes I picked in his garden was floating somewhere in the air.IMG_1694That’s when I knew it’s time for ……..PANZANELLA.  Ok, Panzanella, what is it?  Well let’s start with what it’s not.  It’s not made with toasted bread.  The bread has to get stale.That means you can’t force it.  STALE. Let it sit in a paper bag for 2 days after you buy it, and buy brick oven Italian bread, no seeds, if possible.  The  toasted bread is a crouton, delicious, but not panzanella. One problem in being authentic to the Tuscan Panzanella is the bread itself. In Tuscany the bread is salt-less.  NO SALT.   When I went to Italy the first time in 1986, my maternal grandmother, a native of Avellino told me “be careful when you travel up North (in Italy)….senza sale..o’pane senza sale..no good.”  LOL.  She was right. Saltless bread must be one of those “acquired” tastes. If all the bread you’ve eaten all your life contains salt, it’s a strange taste without it.  So unless you are baking your own bread chances of finding good Italian saltless bread is going to be a problem. Even in Italy, outside of Tuscany, they use their local breads containing salt for this dish.  This salad is a balance of bits of only a few things.  There’s a small amount of red wine vinegar that helps to soften and flavor the bread and that allows the tomatoes full flavor to shine through. Imagine, I can wax poetically over a salad of stale bread and tomatoes.  If you notice in my title to this blogpost I say Panzanella “STYLE”…that’s like a get out of jail card for me.  It allows me to be close to what’s thought of as the closest to the original without misnaming the dish.  My panzanella I made tonight contains no Cucumber. Why?  I love cucumbers.  One of my daughters loves cucumbers.  My wife?  Hates them (so misguided isn’t she?). So, since one cooks to make the diners happy I always make my version of Panzanella without cucumber.  Feel free to add it, or, stick with my Panzanella STYLE.  And put down that bottle of Balsamic. It’s not , never now or ever..a substitute for Red Wine Vinegar which is what you use in this dish.  Italy generally is fiercely regional.  Balsamic is a traditional aged product of Emilia-Romagna.  Panzanella is generally a Tuscan dish.  Not the same region so pay attention here!! Alright, enough of my lecturing on this salad..let’s make it now.

TIME: 2 hours                                             SERVES: 4 people

4 thick slices of STALE (remember, Stale, plan ahead her, this isn’t a salad with seasoned croutons which is what “toasting ” them in the oven would do.  coarsely chopped

3 large tomatoes, JERSEY VINE RIPENED if possible..if not, find good local homegrown or farm market tomatoes.  Dice them and leave them in a bowl.

1 SMALL RED ONION, DICED

4 BASIL LEAVES

(1 PEELED AND THIN SLICED CUCUMBER IF USING)

SEA SALT

3 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

2 TBS RED WINE VINEGAR

WATER

1 TSP SEA SALT

FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Soak the bread in about 1/8 cup of water for 15 minutes, then gently squeeze out the water. Then season with 1/2 tsp Sea salt, 1/2 tsp Black pepper, 2 tbs, Red Wine Vinegar, blend, then add 2 tbs. of the Extra Virgin Olive oil. Let this sit for 15 minutes.  Now add all the other ingredients:IMG_1697Then mix gently with…YOUR HANDS.  It’s how it’s done.  There are 2 methods, mine and then everyone elses, lol.  In Tuscany the bread is mixed by hand FIRST and then the other ingredients blended in.  I mix it all together, let it sit for 1/2 hour. Then I mix it again making sure the bread is well soaked.  Let it sit for 1/2 hour again, check for seasoning then serve. It’s that simple.  Add a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oil before mixing prior to serving. Fresh ground pepper over everything.

It’s hard to enjoy this out of season which is why I’m highlighting it now.  If you attempt this in the winter months,  no matter how hard you try those winter tomatoes will stay rock hard and NOT give up the juices they do in the Summer.  Those juices are the real flavor in this salad and the soaked bread delivers it to you.  Note: seasoning. At every step give the salad a taste and if something is not quite right, a little salt and pepper will correct it.IMG_1700

 

 

A BEAN DISH FROM TUSCANY, FAGIOLI ALL’UCCELLETTO…TOMATOES,BEANS,SAGE

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One of the most nutritious and versatile foods on Earth is the humble bean.  Humble not in taste but in availability, they are grown everywhere.  They are the base of many diets around the world.  They are eaten by the very rich and the very poor.   Once dried they will have a very long shelf life.  They are, in short, an amazing food not to mention their very healthy makeup.  Simply put beans are an excellent food source, loaded with everything a human body needs.  They are truly delicious and can be made in many ways.  Let’s travel for a moment to Tuscany, that fabled and romantic central Italian region where the bean ( FAGIOLI in Italian) is King.  A typical Tuscan main dish or side will be Fagioli of some sort.

National Bean Day is on July 3 every year so this is my contribution to that celebration.  Let’s cook!

 

For 4 people and takes under 1/2 hour (if using canned beans..there are great brands out there, many domestic and many imported from Italy, simply drain the can and rinse the excess packing salt off them)

2 cans of Cannellini Beans (White Kidney Beans), drained and rinsed

1 28 oz can of San Marzano Tomatoes run through a food mill or food processor to make smooth

1 1/2 tbs. olive oil

2 sliced cloves of garlic

6 fresh whole sage leaves

kosher salt, ground black pepper

 

In a dutch oven, heat the oil, add the garlic, season with a salt…then add 3 sage leaves..and RIGHT as that garlic starts to turn golden add the tomatoes. Stir.  Bring this to a boil then add the beans.  Bring to a boil again and then place on medium heat/simmer and cook this, stirring periodically.  This will allow everything to infuse and the tomato to thicken.  Let it cook for 20 minutes like this.  If you need it to be “thicker”, continue for another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning at this point, add the salt and pepper and the remaining 3 leaves.  My tip for better flavor is to let it completely cool and reheat later on or better yet overnight.

I like mine with Pecorino or Parmigiano grated over it with a drizzle of really fruity olive oil.

So what’s up with the long Italian name of this dish? As with many Italian recipes there are stories and traditions and legends with each one, especially the colorfully named ones.  Apparently small birds (Uccelletti) are stewed in tomato in Tuscany and the people tagged the beans in tomato with the name since it resembles the bird dish.  No little birds were harmed in the making of this pot of beans, no worries.

You can also add seared Italian Sausages into this pot, but your cooking time would be about 10 minutes longer or until the sausages are cooked.