Monday, March 23, 2015

Recipes from Lombardy, Italy

Are you sick of Italian food yet? Of course not, no one ever gets sick of Italian food, even though we really have a kind of bastardized version of it over here on this side of the pond. Anyway this is my third week in a row of doing an Italian menu--this week we're in Lombardy.

Milan is in Lombardy; that's where a large number of Italy's art galleries and museums are located. If you want to see The Last Supper, The Brera Madonna or Correggio's Adoration of the Magi, you go to Milan.

Besides being a Mecca of Italian art, Lombardy is the most populous and the wealthiest region in Italy--home to 1/6th of the population and responsible for about 1/5th of the entire nation's GDP.

Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy. Photo by Eric Hossinger.

When Americans think of Italian food, the first thing that usually comes to mind is pasta--but in Lombardy rice is often favored. With that in mind, I chose a popular risotto recipe:

Risotto Milanese
(from The Italian Chef)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 cups risotto rice, such as arborio
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
And although I've often served risotto as a main course, I kind of wanted some protein to go with it. So this is the second recipe I chose:

Skillet Perch with Lemon and Capers
(from Jovina Cooks Italian)
  • 1 1/2 cups each: flour, fine cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 lbs lake perch fillets, skinned*
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1 lemon, sliced (for garnish)
* I often have to find subs for fish when cooking for TbS. This time I used red snapper.

And I found this one for dessert:

(from Italian Addiction)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 11 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • jam or nutella (I used black cherry jam)
For this meal you do have to multi-task a little, since the risotto and the fish both need to be cooking at the same time. So let's start with the crostata just to get that out of the way.

First make that volcano that pastry recipes are always wanting you to make, and add some yeast and a pinch of salt. Add the eggs, sugar and room-temperature butter to the flour and mix well (you may need to use your hands). Don't overmix because then the butter might actually start to melt.

When the dough is smooth, move it to the fridge and let it rest there for 15 minutes or so. Then take it out and roll it to a thickness of about a third of an inch.

Now put your cake pan on top of the dough and draw around it with a sharp knife, leaving a border of about 2/3rds of an inch all the way around. Don't toss the dough you cut off, instead set it aside.

Line the cake pan with some waxed paper and put the dough on top of that, so the edges come up the side of the pan.

Now add your filling (the black cherry jam was really good, but you could also use chocolate or a different kind of jam). Finally, use those extra pieces of dough to make the basket-weave top, like in the photo below: 

Fold the edges down to meet the edges of the weave, then bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

OK, let's do the risotto next. First heat the broth to a simmer. In a separate pan, cook the onion in the olive oil and two tablespoons of the butter over a medium flame. When the onions are translucent, add the saffron and stir for one minute. Now add the rice and give the whole pot a good stir until each grain of rice is coated in oil.

Add the wine, and then pour in one ladle of the simmering broth. Stir until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Continue to add one ladle at a time--don't add another ladle until there isn't any more liquid in the pan. Repeat until all the broth is gone. The rice should be tender but firm, and the texture should be creamy.

Finally, add the rest of the butter and the cheese. Let the lid sit on the pot for a couple of minutes, then stir one more time and serve.

OK now on to the fish. First mix together the flour with the cornmeal, paprika, salt and pepper. In a second bowl, mix together the eggs and milk.

First dip the fish filets in the egg mixture, letting the excess drip off. Now dip in the four and cornmeal mixture. Give each filet a shake to get any loose mixture to fall off.

Now cover the bottom of a large skillet with oil and heat. Fry the filets in the hot oil for about two or three minutes on both sides, or until golden. When done, drain on paper towels and transfer to a warm oven to keep warm.

To make the sauce, drain the oil from the skillet and add the lemon juice and capers. Cook for one minute or until the mixture starts to bubble up. Now add the chives, salt and pepper. Transfer the filets to plates and top with the caper sauce. Garnish with the lemon slices and serve.

I thought this meal was delicious. The fish was quite simple but I like simple, as long as it's got flavor. The risotto wasn't the best risotto I've ever made, but it was still good. Martin complained a little because it tasted too much like the canned beef broth, and he was right. When you make this dish in Lombardy, you use a stock made from beef marrow, which of course isn't the sort of thing you can buy at Safeway. Though in retrospect, I think I've bought marrow bones there before so I probably could have done a less lazy job at this if I'd thought it through.

The crostata was really good with the black cherry jam. It was actually a lot like a scone in texture and flavor, but who doesn't like scones? It was my kids' favorite part of the meal (of course) and easy to make, too. In fact I'd have to say the whole meal was pretty low stress, as TbS meals go.

Next week we're going east, to Lithuania. I had some fun (haha) with that one and am looking forward to telling you about it.


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