Radicchio and blood orange salad

 . Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco Inspired . 

As the month of March comes around, I notice that my enthusiasm for root vegetables has deteriorated into something similar to lukewarm acceptance.

Meanwhile, my days fade one into another covered by a blanket of quietening grey skies. Although these words might sound melancholy, they are simply a reflection of the times. Actually, I am grateful for the arrival of late winter and for the goodness of crisp, bitter leaves. This is the season for gathering ideas about the beautiful radicchio.

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Polenta . part viii . almond polenta cake

. Sweet polenta ideas from Biagio d’Angelo . 

Polenta is the new yellow and my Marostica memories 

You might been to the small town of Marostica, one of the most fascinating and romantic places in the Veneto, famous for it’s real-life chess game event. Back in my university days I had the luck to actually live there. It was here that I became friends with Claudio, a true artist and art critic, who decided to Economics to make his family happy, despite his aesthetic heart. Many years have passed since then, but I it is with Claudio that reminisce, sharing the marvelous memories of our university days.

Claudio tells me that although many are familiar with his home town, I lived the life of a “prince” with the place. Allow me explain what he meant. When I was a student, I was unable to travel home to Sicily very often to stay with my parents, so I spent many a grateful weekend at Claudio’s parents’ house. It was here that I enjoyed holidays and late nights, where Daniela cut my hair, where I made my first meringue and ate nonna Maria’s crêpes. . . .Much later, when I broke my arm and couldn’t stay alone in my apartment in Venice, I sought refuge once again to Marostica, where Claudio’s parents and sister welcomed me like a son.

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Polenta . part vi . Marcella’s shortcake

. Sweet polenta ideas from Biagio d’Angelo . 

As freely translated from Italian. . .

” Today I’m in the mood for confessing the unconfessable  When I was younger (and as I write these words I mean that some time has passed since then), I completely ignored the Italian kitchen. When I began living abroad, I focused on the art, literature and culinary history of the countries I resided in, and rightly so in my opinion. As a side note to this thought, let me explain that I not only detest any form of colonialism, I also dislike the term denoted by the word “expat”. 

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and this is where my confession comes in! With age comes knowledge and a fair bit of nostalgia for one’s native country. It might come to you as a surprise that one of the first cookbooks I bought was “The Essentials of Italian Cooking”, published by Marcella Hazan in 1992. For those of you unfamiliar with her, Marcella is a spiritual master of “Nigella-like” proportions from another generation. 

To give a sense of place to the magnificent M.H., allow me to sketch the broad strokes of her career. Born in 1924 in Cesnatico, Italy, Marcella’s cookbooks established traditional Italian cooking in the United States as well as Great Britain. Winner of numerous prestigious culinary awards in her lifetime, gossip goes that her husband Victor Hazan (born in Italy and originating from the Big Apple) was actually the translator of her books from Italian to English.  Who were both considered quite the couple!

Now back to the story of my first cookbook. . . The polenta recipe I have chosen as my third contribution to this wintry polenta project, is from Marcella’s  “The Essentials of Italian Cooking”This authoritative volume was printed without a single photograph and yet it is truly a vision of beauty. Despite the fact that it oozes of Italian food mastery, Marcella wrote a surprisingly short chapter on desserts. 

Tucked away in the book’s last 50 pages, I found an utterly comforting, delicious, irresistibly buttery and incredibly easy dessert. According to Marcella, this shortcake was recommended to her by the famous culinary critic and chef James Beard, who found himself fascinated by it during his stay in Venice. The kind of cake capable of creating such rapture is studded with dried figs, sultana raisins and pine nuts . . . ingredients that remind one that the glorious city of Venezia was once the gateway to the Orient.

Ingredients . for 6-8 persons . for a cake tin 22 cm in diameter 

  • 140 grams coarse cornmeal for polenta 
  • 500 ml water 
  • 120 grams fine wheat flour
  • 25 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of sea salt 
  • 125 grams granulated sugar
  • 50 grams pine nuts 
  • 50 grams sultana raisins
  • 115 grams dried figs . sliced thin
  • 30 grams unsalted butter 
  • 5 grams unsalted butter for the cake tin 
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 tablespoons of crushed fennel seeds 

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, fan on. Smear the cake tin in with butter. Sprinkle it lightly in with flour, then shake out any excess left in the tin. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Turn down the heat to medium and pour the cornmeal in a thin stream, while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Once the cornmeal is incorporated, allow it to thicken for about 15 seconds, then remove it from the heat. 

Add the sugar, pine nuts, raisins, figs, butter, egg and fennel seeds to the cornmeal. Mix thoroughly to combine, then add the flour and stir into a batter. Pour the batter into the cake tin, leveling the top with a spatula. Place the cake tin on the upper shelf of the oven and bake it 45-50 minutes, or until golden and baked in the middle. 

Remove the shortcake from the oven. While still warm, loosen its sides with a knife and turn it over on a plate. Allow the cake to cool before serving. Marcella recommends serving it with whipped cream!

This shortcakes keeps well if covered 3-4 days. 

Sincerely, Biagio .

author of gloggtheblog.com ”

Notes 

Fennel seeds are quite intense in flavor. The amount recommended in the original recipe can be decreased or simply replaced with a milder aromatic like lemon zest.

Polenta . part v . Veneto-inspired pasticcio with mushrooms

Ask anyone from the Veneto, and they will tell you that mushrooms are as essential to  winter  as golden cornmeal itself. It is fitting that a polenta-inspired recipe includes two traditional ingredients, that fit together like the perfect married couple.

Before moving on to the recipe, allow me to tell you a bit about the Italian word pasticcio. This term is most readily translated by the culinary terms pie, pastry or even casserole.   A pasticcio is used in the Veneto to describe any type of layered, oven-baked dish made from pasta or other grains. A savory pasticcio invariably includes layers of cooked vegetables, thick sauces or both. Last but not least, it almost always involves the use of dairy.

This dish takes some time to make, so find a meditative moment to slow cook. If you need some kitchen encouragement, just imagine aromatic mushrooms layered between creamy layers of polenta, laced with ground white pepper. Add melting Parmigiano cheese and butter to the story and an amber-colored ode to comfort food is born.

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Polenta . part ii . sweet almond crostata

. Polenta stories and a blog collaboration  .

. Introducing sweet polenta ideas from Biagio d’Angelo . 

In his words, translated from Italian. . .

” It all started with the mixed blessing known as Instagram. Let me explain what I mean! Instagram is a place where one can make great friends, especially because there is a vast opportunity to connect around mutual interests, like culinary subjects.

This is how I met Terri. She hasa Finnish last name, and I actually thought she spoke it. While exchanging our appreciation for a classic among cakes on Instagram, I discovered that Terri actually speaks Italian fluently. Italy is where her heart lives, she told me. In one of our first message exchanges, she explained she was reading cookbooks on the culinary tradition of the Veneto. Sometime in late autumn, I suggested we create a “club” to collaborate on our mutual interest in polenta. We gave our project the title “Polenta is the New Yellow”, which made us both laugh.

What is extraordinary is that our collaboration is completely virtual (And yes, that is definitely very typical of the global pandemic years.) I live in Brazil and Terri lives in the Netherlands. We consulted each other, via voice messages, each discussing and choosing our own recipes to write about. And this is what the results of our plan looks like:

During the next few weeks, I will prepare and publish four savory dishes with polenta as its main ingredient. I will concentrate on sweet recipes (if you know me, you know that is the obvious choice haha). We will translate each other’s recipes in Italian and English respectively, and post them on Instagram as well as on our individual blogs. Call it a project in friendship.

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Polenta . part i . minestra de farina zala

With winter in full swing, now is the perfect time to bring up the subject of polenta. It is an ingredient that sparks highly conflicting opinions. Many adore it, while others are convinced it is tasteless. That being said, I grew up in the Veneto. In this part of the world, polenta and risotto are not only food staples, they are food icons.

So to those who say polenta is inedible, I can only promise that they must try a bowl made by someone who understands how to make it. To those who love it, I feel a recognizable connection. All opinions aside, as with many foods it is a question of texture. Think of polenta as a soft, silky mash that replaces the potato for example; imagine it as the comforting neutral base to stews and thick, chunky minestrone style soups. I am convinced that like me, you will jump at the chance to have some.

Read the nostalgic recipe below, to learn how to make a creamy, pale yellow soup, known as minestra di farina zala, in Vicentino dialect. I believe it is the perfect starting point in the appreciation of simplicity.

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Zuppa !

Zuppa is the Italian name for soup made with a mixture of vegetables, cooked in broth. The word zuppa can also describe any general mix-up of things outside the soup bowl or the kitchen for that matter . . . such as a chaotic meeting or a confusing conversation for example . . .  It is derived from the word inzuppare which literally translates as to drench or to soak. 

Now back to the story of soup. The wonderful thing about zuppa is that its composition is a free-for-all for individualists. A limitless possibility of ingredient combinations are open to interpretation, depending on the cook’s mood and the availability that comes with the season. Continue reading

Polenta porridge . a basic recipe

This morning I sit at my desk to tell a short story that seems fitting for the times. My subject is yellow like saffron, but with much humbler origins. My ingredient is flour made from corn. My recipe is for something essential to every northern Italian table and it goes by the name of polenta.

Polenta is like porridge. In the Veneto it is symbolic of simple sustenance. To make it only a few ingredients are needed, namely cornmeal water and salt. To create the perfect bowl of golden, soft, pillowy polenta requires the tools called patience and time. Continue reading

Raw fennel and blood orange salad

I cannot remember the first time I ate a salad made with raw sliced fennel mixed with beautifully dramatic blood oranges.  Surely it was while having lunch at our neighbor’s house just outside of Pozzuoli,  close to the baroque city of Naples….

At first glance this combination may seem to be a strange mixture of flavors.  Yet crunchy and savory fennel tossed, with sweetly-juicy orange wedges, is the perfect example of light, bright and fresh. In other words, the making of this salad makes the moodiness of winter weather in the midst of spring promises somehow disappear.  Continue reading

Chili and citrus marinated olives

My adoration of olives was born in my teenage years, when visits to the food markets of Naples were heavily encouraged by my mother’s pleas to help her with the daily grocery shopping. Little did I know,  as I strolled unwillingly past vibrant market stalls overflowing with tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, that all the colors and sounds of Italy were making a profound impression on my senses. Continue reading