Friday, June 13, 2014

Recipes from Calabria, Italy

So this week was supposed to be another non-country, but I've been a bit behind in my research. I used to be so on top of these things, and then I became employed. Sigh.

So Juan de Nova island will have to wait, pending a reply from an email I sent a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, I figured this was as good a time as any to go back and revisit one of those Italian provinces. This week, it's Calabria, Italy.

Stilo, Calabria, Italy. Photo by Flickr user mrholle.

Calabria is the toe of the Italian boot. Now I've never been to Italy, but if I did go I think I would visit Calabria. Calabria has got some cool stuff--a beautiful coastline, some gorgeous countryside, lakes, national parks and important historical sites such as Reggio Calabria, an 8th century seaside town that has botanical gardens, beaches, a castle and a number of historic works of art. Yep, that sounds like my kind of place.

And you guessed it, the food is good too. The cuisine is typical southern Italian fare with a mix of meat, vegetables and fish--and, of course, pasta. Because of the hot summer climate in Calabria, there has traditionally been a need to preserve food, so you'll also find a lot of pickled vegetables and meat, sausages and cured fish.

All of my recipes this week came from a book called A Taste of Calabria by Salavtore Vona and Niall Allsop. I tried to go with dishes that were a bit different (pasta seems so cliche), and here's what I settled on:

Galletto alla diavola (devil’s chicken)
  • 1 chicken, cut up
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • olive oil
  • breadcrumbs
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 1 3/4 oz uncooked ham, finely chopped
  • 7 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup dry Marsala wine
On the side:

Risotto alle verdure (vegetable risotto)
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cup rice
  • 2 tbsp white wine
  • 3 stalks asparagus, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups vegetable stock, hot
  • 1 thick slice cooked ham, diced
  • 1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
  • parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
And for dessert:

Buccellato Buccellato
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 10 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • Pinch salt
  • 10 1/2 toasted dried figs
  • 3 1/2 oz almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 3/4 oz walnuts
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 1/2 oz cooking chocolate, chopped fine
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 3 1/2 oz pistachios
  • 10 1/2 oz currants
And here's how:

First to make the chicken, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the eggs with the salt and pepper and mustard.

Dip each chicken piece into the egg mixture, then coat with breadcrumbs. Grease a casserole dish with a little bit of olive oil and then add the chicken pieces.

Pour a little bit of olive oil over the pieces and bake for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thickest piece reaches 165 degrees.

Meanwhile, fry the carrot in butter with the onion and ham.

 Season with salt and pepper, then add the white wine and Marsala. Reduce heat and let simmer until thickened. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes, then pour the sauce over and serve.

Now for the risotto:

First boil the spinach in salted water until it wilts. Chop fine and set aside. Now melt a tablespoon of butter in a large pan and add the onion. Sauté until translucent, then add the rice. Cook stirring for two or three minutes, then pour in the wine. Once the wine has evaporated, add the asparagus. Cook until tender-crisp, then add the spinach.

Add about 3/4 cup hot stock and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Add the ham and then start adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until each ladle is absorbed before adding the next.

When the stock is gone, remove the rice from the heat and stir in the rest of the butter and the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with the parsley.

And now for that dessert:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flour with the butter, sugar, a half cup of the Marsala and a pinch of salt. Wrap the dough in a clean towel and let rest for two hours.

Meanwhile, mix the figs together with the almonds, walnuts, lemon zest, chocolate, a pinch of cinnamon and the rest of the Marsala. Cook in a medium sized pan over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Now roll the dough out into a long rectangle just under a half inch thick. Spread the filling into the center of the dough, leaving about an inch on all four sides.

Roll up lengthwise and then join the ends to make a ring.

Poke a few holes in the top and transfer to a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the heat and brush with the beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle the pistachios and currants over and return to the oven. Bake for an additional five minutes or until golden.

So, my kids thought they were getting a giant doughnut. Again. One of these days I'm going to have to make them an actual giant doughnut, just so I'm not always so cruel to them.

The chicken was tasty, and from a carrot hater like me that's really saying a lot. The sauce was sweet with just a touch of savory from that ham and the skin was super crispy, which is tough to accomplish with a baked chicken. I think I may be modifying my oven-fried chicken recipe to use this technique, because the results were really perfect.

I liked the risotto too but I'm picky about risotto because I actually make it all the time and I already have my favorites (mushroom risotto mmmm). This was decent, as risottos go, but I've had better.

The dessert was definitely different from anything else I've ever made, or eaten. My kids were not impressed, probably because the Marsala flavor was quite strong. Martin, however, was impressed by the Marsala flavor, because in his mind wine+anything=good. I was kind of so so about it. I didn't devour the leftovers while everyone else was at school/work so I guess I didn't love it. But I did finish the one serving I did have.

Next week--giant doughnuts! No, not really. Kalimantan, Indonesia.


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