Mozzarella in Carrozza (Fried Mozzarella Sandwiches)

This next recipe has a special place in my heart because it is the first thing that the Italian ever cooked for me, before we were dating. We had recently met and he made the sandwiches for a group of friends, although I could tell by his flirtatious laughter and sideways glances that he was trying to impress me (which he later confirmed was true!) And impress me he did. They were delicious, and one of my first thoughts as I bit into the crispy, melty perfection amid sideways glances at him and flirtatious giggles of my own was….hmm this person can feed me…

Mozzarella in Carrozza translates roughly to “mozzarella cheese in a carriage”.  The golden-crusted mozzarella sandwich is a Neapolitan specialty that could be theoretically comparable to a fried grilled cheese sandwich. They are typically served as an antipasto, usually allowing 1-2 sandwiches per person, although I’ve been known to eat three because they are so tasty. The sandwiches are a crowd pleaser and are good for large groups – the Italian and I once tested out the recipe on my family during a ski trip in Colorado to great success!

Thus far we’ve only made them with the mozzarella alone, although some variations could include adding leaves of basil and tomato sauce inside the sandwich which could turn it into almost a fried pizza sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • White bread, crust removed, cut into evenly shaped triangles
  • Mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • Bowl of flour
  • Bowl of beaten eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Directions:

Place a slice of mozzarella cheese between two of the bread slices to make a sandwich. Press edges of bread together.  Does not have to perfectly close.

Dip the sandwich into the beaten egg, then into the flour, making sure both sides are fully covered.

Fry in the oil over high heat until golden brown on each side.

When done, transfer sandwich to a rack or paper towel to dry. Serve immediately and sprinkle with salt and pepper before eating.

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Taralli

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The Italian and I made Taralli, a pretzel-like snack from the southern Puglia region that is often served as an appetiser with white wine or in a bread basket. Similar to bagels, they are briefly boiled before baking, giving them a unique texture.

We regularly buy these when we visit Italy, usually from the Coop (grocery store) where they come nicely packaged and perfectly shaped. But we were inspired to try making them ourselves when a friend did a really nice version served as an appetiser before dinner. (Her blog, which is pretty great, can be found here.) They are definitely worth making them by hand, and while ours were not as consistently and perfectly formed as the Coop ones I personally liked the charm of our multi-sized and rather misshapen taralli rings!

Taralli can be plain, or they can have a variety of different spices in them. The most common spices are fennel seed and black pepper, although you can also try a variety of seeds, garlic, chili or anything else that strikes your fancy. I divided my dough into three separate pieces and made some plain, some with fennel, and some with black pepper. They came out quite good although I don’t think they will last long in the house – think I shall be making these more regularly!

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Ingredients:

Flour – 4 cups (500 g)
Extra virgin olive oil – 1/2 cup (125 ml)
White wine – 1 cup (200 ml)
Salt – 1 tsp (10 g)

Extra spices:
Pepper, Fennel seeds – 1-2 tsp
(can also try chili, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion and garlic)

Directions:

– Mix flour and salt in large bowl.
– Add olive oil and wine. Mix until dough forms.
– Knead dough on a table or board for about 5 minutes. Add the extra spices if desired. Divide dough and add pepper in one and fennel seeds in another. Can also do plain.
– Cover the dough and let it rest 20-30 minutes.
– Pinch off small balls of dough (walnut sized) and roll between your hands or against a cutting board to form a long, thin rope. Should be about ½ inch (1 cm) in diameter and 4” long (10 cm).
– Shape the rope into a ring and seal the edges together. Can also look like a tear drop. Place the rings on a board and cover them.
– Boil a large pot of water. Carefully drop 7-10 taralli into the pot. They will sink to the bottom. After about 1 minute they will rise to the top of the water. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water, and place on kitchen towel to dry. Repeat with all taralli.
– Allow taralli to dry on the towel. Then, place them on a baking tray (no need to grease) and into the oven to cook at 375F (200C) for about 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.
– Remove from oven and cool.
– Store in air-tight container.

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Refrigerator Dill Pickles

One thing I’ve noticed about living in Europe is that pickles tend to be sweeter than they are in the States. In fact, I haven’t found a brand of pickles in London that I like yet. So one day, I decided I would try to make them myself so that I could have them just as salty and spicy as I’d like.

This recipe for refrigerator dill pickles was surprisingly easy. I got some beautiful cucumbers from the Sunday farmer’s market in Kentish Town, then I went straight home to prepare them so they would be nice and fresh. After some cutting, water boiling, and spice adding, the cucumbers went into the fridge where they stayed for a few days before turning into pickles. The end result was delicious – spicy and salty just as I like them!

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Dill Pickles

Makes 2 pint jars

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds cucumbers (fresh – Persian are good size)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons dill seed (or mustard seed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Wash and dry the cucumbers. Trim away the blossom end of the cucumber, which contains enzymes that can lead to limp pickles. Leave the pickles whole, cut them into spears, or slice them into coins, as preferred.
  2. Add the spices to the jars, dividing the garlic, dill seed (or mustard seed), bay leaf and red pepper flakes between the pint jars: 2 smashed cloves, 1 teaspoon dill seed, 1 bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar.
  3. Pack the pickles into the jars. Trim the ends if they stand more than 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Pack them in as tightly as you can without smashing the cucumbers.
  4. Boil the pickling brine. Combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a small sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Pour the brine over the pickles, filling each jar to within 1/2-inch of the top. You may not use all the brine.
  5. Remove air bubbles by gently tapping the jars against the counter a few times. Top off with more pickling brine if necessary.
  6. Tighten the lids on the jars.
  7. Let the jars cool to room temperature and store the pickles in the fridge. After at least 48 hours they can be eaten. The refrigerator pickles will last about two or three weeks in the fridge once opened.

Notes

  • Can use this recipe to pickle other vegetables, including carrots, tomatoes, beans, okra, garlic, onions, etc.
  • Experiment with other spices including: tumeric, black peppercorns, sumac, cloves, or others. Can also add a teaspoon of sugar.

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Vitello Tonnato (Veal with Tuna Sauce)

 

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Vitello Tonnato, or Veal with Tuna Sauce, is a typical dish from the northern Piedmont region of Italy, from where the Italian hails. In Italy it is usually served as an antipasto but can also make a good main course, and it is considered beautiful, elaborate and appropriate for a high-end dinner. It is a very summery dish as the thinly sliced meat is served cold, and it is also the traditional centerpiece of the Ferragosto dinner in Milan (Assumption Day, August 15). However, it can also work in the winter months, and many Piedmontese families serve it as part of Christmas dinner.

I’ve personally eaten the dish several times prior to attempting to cook it: once made by the Italian’s mamma in her classic Torinese apartment; once at a authentically rustic agriturismo (essentially a restaurant that uses local and farm-grown products); and once at a beautiful wedding of a friend in the sprawling hills of Turin.

It’s an unusual combination – veal and tuna – but somehow it just works and produces this incredibly tasty dish. The creative combination makes it seem as though it would be a more modern, inventive dish, but actually it is quite classic and traditional. A recipe for Vitello Tonnato can be found in Pellegrino Artusi’s well-loved “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”, first published in Florence in 1891.

The Italian and I have been talking about trying our hand at cooking the dish for more than a year now, and we finally decided to give it a go one warm and summery day in London. The end result was very good, although we did struggle to cut the meat slices as thinly as they would at a restaurant. Given our rather rudimentary selection of cookery and slicing tools, I think we did a pretty decent job!

*Note, the recipe can also be made with beef instead of veal, although if going this route it is best to choose a cut of beef that is less strong in taste (typically from younger cows or manzo as they say in Italian).

Ingredients:

  • 3 Hard boiled eggs
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Celery stick
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • Balsamic vinegar, to taste
  • Anchovies (6 fillets)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup white wine (3/4 cup)
  • 1 tsp Rosemary
  • Water
  • 1/2 kilo Veal
  • 15 Capers
  • 1 can Tuna
  • 1 tsp Cloves
  • 2 Tbsp Olive oil

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Place the veal in the pot along with the carrot, celery, onion (cut in half or quartered), rosemary, cloves, and a pinch of salt. Pour white wine over the contents of the pot and simmer for a few minutes to slightly brown the meat.

Add 8 cups of water to the pot or until the meat is completely covered in the water. Let the meat cook over low heat for an hour and a half or two hours. When the veal is cooked, turn off the heat and let the broth cool.

For the tuna sauce, place in a large bowl the canned tuna, chopped boiled eggs, anchovies, capers. Puree in a blender, adding a bit of olive oil and broth from the veal in order to make a soft, creamy sauce. Can also add lemon juice to the cause (to taste). Be careful to not add too much broth or the sauce will become too liquid and runny.

Cut the cooked veal into thin slices, as thin as possible. Place the veal slices onto a serving plate. Spread balsamic vinegar (to taste) on top of each veal slice. Then top that with the creamy tuna sauce. Garnish with capers, black olives, shaved parmigiano reggiano and a sprinkle of parsley.

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Bruschetta Caprese

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Bruschetta is one of my favorite appetizers, and it’s so simple and quick to make which renders it even more appealing! It’s great in the summer and a wonderful way to highlight the freshness and quality of good cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Bruschetta Caprese is made by adding mozzarella to the tomatoes, while Bruschetta Classica, or classic Bruschetta, is just with tomato and basil.

The Italian shared with me a little secret to making bruschetta even more wonderful – scraping cloves of garlic onto the crusty bread before topping it with the tomato/mozzarella mixture. The garlic adds a nice tang, bringing out the softer flavors of the tomatoes and mozzarella.

To make this a truly Italian-centric post I’ll add a side note about the correct pronunciation of “bruschetta”. A lot of times in the US or UK people will call this amazing appetizer bruSHetta. However, in the Italian language the combination of the three letters “che” makes a hard “k” sound rather than a softer “sh” sound. So, a real Italian would say “brusKetta”. The same goes for the word “pistacchio”, although, at least while speaking English I can’t quite bring myself to say “pistakio” (much to the dismay of the Italian!)

Bruschetta

Ingredients:

  • 10 plum tomatoes
  • 1-2 balls of fresh mozzarella
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, whole
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, chopped.
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 baguette French bread or similar Italian bread

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 450F (230C). Slice the baguette on a diagonal about 1/2 inch thick slices. Place the slices on a cooking sheet and top with a drop of olive oil. Toast them in the top rack in your oven for 5-6 minutes, or until the bread just begins to turn golden brown.

Finely chop the tomatoes and mozzarella. Place in bowl and add 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and mix. Add the chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste.

Place bread and bowl of tomato/mozzarella mixture on a serving platter, along with the cloves of garlic. Guests can either assemble their own bruschetta by first rubbing the garlic clove on the bread and then spooning the desired amount of the tomato/mozzarella mixture on top, or this can be done before serving.

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Torre di Melanzane (Tower of Eggplants)

Torre di Melanzane is a really great vegetarian dish that is a good way to use the healthy eggplant! It is also quite a fun dish to make as it involves stacking layers of melanzane, or eggplant, with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Oh and to top it off – it’s delicious!

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Torre di Melanzane

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggplants
  • 1.5 cups tomato puree
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 balls of mozzarella, sliced thinly.
  • fresh basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Drain the eggplants to get rid of the bitter juice.

  • To drain eggplants: Slice them into round slices and place a layer into a drainer. Sprinkle salt on the layer and then top with another layer of sliced eggplants. Continue this pattern until all eggplants are in the drainer. Place heavy bowls on top of the eggplants and let sit for 20 minutes until the bitter juice is removed.

Grill the eggplants on a grill pan, or fry them with oil.

Prepare the tomato puree by placing in a medium-sized pot and simmering on medium heat until the puree is reduced and thickened (approximately 7-10 minutes). Add red pepper flakes in the last few minutes for spicy kick.

On a plate, place a bottom layer of eggplants. Top with the spicy tomato sauce and slice of mozzarella. Continue with this pattern until the eggplant tower has reached the desired height.

Microwave the eggplant towers for approximately 30-45 seconds or until mozzarella cheese melts.

Finish with basil at the top of each tower.

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Farinata

Farinata is a thin, crepe-style food made of chickpea flour, water and olive oil. In Italian, “farinata” means “made of flour.” The dish originated in Genoa and later became a typical food of the Ligurian Sea coast, from Nice to Pisa. It is very simple to make, although it does require the unusual ingredient of chickpea flour. It is eaten very simply as well – cut into square or triangular shapes and seasoned with black pepper, salt and rosemary. The Italian and I have had farinata in Liguria, where it is a typical dish, as well as at a pizzeria in Turin. We’ve also made it ourselves a couple of times, which  has been fun, easy, and definitely tasty.

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Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups (300 g) chickpea flour, sifted

2 T (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp salt

4.2 cups (1 Litre) water

Directions:

Mix water, chickpea flour, salt and olive oil in a bowl and whisk to form a batter. Let stand at room temperature for 4-5 hours, or overnight, to allow the mixture to begin fermenting.

Preheat oven to 430F (220 C). Heat a large oven pan in the oven. When it is hot, cover the bottom with olive oil and pour in the batter no more than two thirds of a centimetre thick, ensuring the bottom is evenly coated.

Put the pan in the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes until the farinata has set and the edges are crispy.

Cut into slices, remove from the pan and repeat with the rest of the mixture.

Serve warm, with rosemary and black pepper or cheese.

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