Saturday, June 14, 2014

An Italian Feast

Our next stop on our around the world culinary adventure was delicious Italia! I spent all day in the kitchen making homemade noodles, fresh bread, chicken, dips, and all the other ingredients that came together to make our Italian feast. It was a daunting task, but I made it through. The results were well worth the time spent in the kitchen.


Here is our menu. I kept it a secret until we were sitting down to eat. The anticipation and suspense were high, and I think that I met the expectations. A traditional Italian meal structure has quite a few courses. These include the aperitivo (an alcoholic beverage to start), antipasto (the appetizer), primo (a carb dish), secondo (a meat dish), contorno (veggies served along with the secondo dish), formaggio e frutta (fresh fruit and regional cheese), dolce (dessert), caffe (coffee), and digestive (more alcohol). That's quite a lot of food, so I toned it down for our dinner. No one in my family drinks alcohol or coffee, so those courses were automatically eliminated. We had ice cream in the freezer, so that served as the "dolce", and I just did not have time for cheese, fruit, and a salad. We were unhealthy Italians for the night. The four courses I did serve were delicious, and we were too stuffed to have eaten any more.


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Thankfully I had some help in the kitchen. Harper volunteered to assist me make the bread. She measured flour, kneaded dough, and helped prepare it to rise. I'm so glad to have a happy helper.

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Crunchy Bread Loaf
makes 1 loaf
3 cups flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
¾ tsp salt
1 cup warm water (110 degrees)

Mix 1 cup of flour, the salt, the yeast, and the water together in an electric mixer. Slowly add in the remaining flour. Once a ball has formed, take it out and knead it for 15 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, coat it in oil, cover it, and allow it to rest in a warm place for three hours or until doubled. Once it is doubled, punch the dough down, cover it, and let it rest another 10 minutes. Sprinkle cornmeal onto a clean surface and roll the dough into a rectangle. Using the longer side, roll it up. Seal the edges with water and taper the ends off. Place it seam side down on a nonstick baking stone, cover, and allow it to rest for 40 minutes or until it has just about doubled. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees with a pan of water on the bottom rack. Slash the top of the dough with a sharp knife. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

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The loaf was not in loaf form for long. Soon after it cooled, I sliced the bread up to make the crostini. You can make the crostini and spread ahead of time. When you are ready to eat it, heat the spread up, and assemble the crostini.

Crostini with Cannellini and Sage Spread
Makes 2 cups of spread and about 15 crostini
For the crostini:
1 baguette
Olive oil

For the spread:
1- 14oz can of cannellini beans
2 tbsp of liquid reserved from the beans
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp oilive oil
1 small onion
5 sage leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Additional sage leaves, to serve

To make the crostini, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the baguette up into 1” thick slices. Spread each slice with olive oil, and arrange them on a large baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip each of the pieces of bread over and bake for another 4-5 minutes, or until lightly browned.

To make the spread, finely chop up the onion, garlic, and sage. Heat the oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, and sage. Cook for about 7 minutes until the onion is tender. Add in the beans and reserved bean water. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Pour the mixture into a food processor and process until there are no more chunks.

To assemble, spread each crostini slice with some of the hot bean mixture. Top with a sage leaf and serve immediately.


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We all surprisingly loved the bean spread. This is a miracle considering my dad doesn't like spices, I don't like beans, and my mom hates onions. I loved the leftover spread cold with baby carrots the next day for lunch.

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Fresh Linguine
Serves 6
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1-2 tbsp water
½ tsp salt

Mix together all of the ingredients, adding water until a hard dough has formed. It should not be sticky at all, but it should not crumble. Knead the dough until it all comes together. Divide it into 6 balls. Let the dough rest covered with a moist towel for 30 minutes. Using a pasta machine or roller, follow the instructions to make linguine. I rolled mine out to the 6th setting, and then made it into noodles.

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This pasta sauce is not your typical Americanized Italian spaghetti and meatball sauce or anything of the sort. Authentic Italian food is centered around simplicity. You don't need to have an excessive ingredient list when the ingredients you do have are fresh and of the highest quality. Fresh pasta and some specialty extra virgin olive oil helped make this simple pasta dish amazing. I recommend usin olive oil with a heavier taste.

 
 
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Garlic Olive Oil Linguine
Serves 6
Fresh linguine (recipe follows)
½ cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
3 small cloves garlic, minced
Parsley, to serve
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the garlic and cook until golden, about 5-7 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 3-4 minutes. Taste a piece to make sure it is cooked al dente before draining the pasta. Toss the pasta with the olive oil and garlic sauce. Serve topped with fresh parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Like the pasta, the chicken dish has only a few ingredients. You have to try the cooked sage. It is amazing, and does not taste anything like raw sage. Harper was hesitant to try it at first, but she ended up loving it.


Lemon Sage Chicken
Serves 4
4 skin on chicken breast with the ribs
½ cup chicken broth
Juice of one lemon
1 large clove of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
25 fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large pan with a lid over medium heat. Add in the garlic and half of the sage. Cook for 1 minute. Add in the chicken skin side down. Allow the chicken to brown for about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over, add the remaining ingredients to the pan, and cover. Reduce the heat to a simmer on low. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the chicken registers to 165 degrees. Season to taste.

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I made these artichokes just as something my dad could eat if he didn't like any of the other dishes. Everyone ended up loving them. He horded them away even though he enjoyed the rest of the food too. My only mistake was to not make more.



Sautéed Artichokes
1-9oz package of frozen artichokes, thawed
1 tbsp olive oil
Dash of salt
Dash of ground pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the artichokes. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes until the artichokes are golden, stirring occasionally. Serve warm.


We all loved Italian night. You would be surprised to see how many authentic Italian recipes you can find without cheese or tomato sauce. The bread turned out beautiful after I let it rise longer than usual, and I got high praises for the sautéed artichokes. My dad liked the pasta and even had an extra serving. I would have never expected a man who hates garlic to like "Garlic Olive Oil Linguine".

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