Annurca Apples of Campania

annurca

My dad inherited his way of cutting an apple from his father, who left his little mountain valley town of Italy for the United States almost a century ago. With a paring knife held a certain way, they both shave off little slices and bits. I’d never seen anyone else eat an apple like this–that is, until I visited my cousins in Italy for the first time. Sitting at the table after our pranzo, my dad’s first cousin took one of the glistening local annurca apples from the plate, picked up a knife, held the apple in that familiar position, and began to carve. In that moment, I realized time and distance could not erase the bond that is family.

Like my grandfather, the annurca apple is a native of this region of Campania between Naples and Benevento. A popular apple throughout Southern Italy, it has an IGP designation, meaning it must be grown in a specific geographical area in order to be called annurca. The apple is an old one, even Pliny the Elder wrote about it, and it appears in frescoes in the ancient city of Herculaneum, destroyed like Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Sweet and juicy, the apple is not only delicious but, according to a 2010 article in the Journal of Nutrition, it can protect against cancer.

While we visited, my cousin made the annurca apples into a delightful apple cake.

And while we visited Sant’Agata de’ Goti, the town where Mayor de Blasio’s mother’s family is from, we saw a shop selling annurca gelato.

annurca

Lucanian Peppers and Eggs

Peppers are a mainstay of Italian cuisine. Of course, they do not come from Italy but were one of the many gifts from the Americas. In Basilicata, the southernmost region, in the instep of the boot, also known by its more ancient name, Lucania, the peperoni di Senise are a popular pepper brought by the Spanish in the 16th century. Since 1996, these peppers have an IGP designation, which translates to protected geographical indication, meaning they are to be grown in a particular region in order to carry this label. The peppers are hung on strings to dry. The dried peppers are called peperoni secchi. There are many ways to prepare these peppers. Because they are also used to season food, they are known in local dialect as zafaran, or saffron. They can be crushed and added to a sauce, such as a breadcrumb sauce for pasta. These peppers are sweet and impart a smoky flavor to dishes. A popular way to prepare them is to create a snack food or an accompaniment to a recipe or dish by just frying them in olive oil. These are called peperoni cruschi. I used them to make peppers and eggs.

Peperoni cruschi e uova (Peppers and eggs)

6 eggs

3 peperoni cruschi (I used packaged peppers from Zingerman’s.)

about 1 T olive oil

salt

Reconstitute the peppers in a little water for about 10 minutes. (You don’t have to do this, but I did to soften them.) Drain and slice. Heat olive oil in pan as you would to make scrambled eggs. Add peppers and eggs and scramble. Add salt to taste.

–Dina Di Maio

Broccoli Rabe or Broccolini®: Is There a Difference? Yes!

broccoli rabe

I have seen a new bait and switch tactic going on in food circles these days.  When I order broccoli rabe at some restaurants, I’m not getting the familiar leafy vegetable of my upbringing, but a stalky substitute called broccolini.  In some magazines, I’ve seen articles on recipes for broccoli rabe with pictures of broccolini. Is there a difference between broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, and broccolini?  Yes!

Broccoli rabe, or rapini, is in the same family as other well-known vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. It most resembles turnip greens or mustard greens that are popular in the southern United States. In fact, turnips are in the same species as broccoli rabe, Brassica rapa.  Broccoli rabe, like turnip and mustard greens, has a bitter flavor that dissipates when prepared properly.

We know broccoli rabe, or rapini, by its Italian name, as it is most associated with Italian cuisine, particularly southern Italian cuisine, although other cultures prepare it and it now grows all over the world.

broccoli rabe

The most common way to prepare it is simply blanching it, then sauteeing it in olive oil, and serving it dressed with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. In the southeastern heel of Italy, Puglia, there is a popular pasta dish called orecchiette with broccoli rabe or rapini.

Italian immigrants of 100 years ago had grown broccoli rabe in their gardens, and the Andy Boy company in California is credited with commercially bringing broccoli rabe, or rapini, to the United States.  Their website lists all the attributes of rapini and has a plethora of recipes.   In the first decade of the 1900s, Sicilian immigrant Andrea D’Arrigo came to the United States, learned English, and earned engineering degrees.  His brother, Stefano, joined him and founded Andy Boy produce company.  In 1926, they invented a way to ship produce across the country in refrigerated cars.  The first vegetable shipped across country was broccoli, grown here from seeds they brought over from Italy.

broccolini

Broccolini is a hybrid of broccoli and gai lan, a vegetable popular in Chinese cuisine, also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale.  It was developed by a Japanese seed company, Sakata Seed Inc., that was looking for ways to extend the growing season of broccoli.  After seven years, it was developed and brought to the U.S. market in 1993.  Sakata trademarked the name Asparation because its stalks resembled asparagus.  Mann Packing Co. in California is the grower who trademarked the name broccolini.  (The COO’s wife, Debbi Nucci, came up with the name.) Mann’s website has product information and recipes for broccolini.  Mann’s was founded in 1939 by H.W. “Cy” Mann, a Stanford graduate, and became known for its broccoli.

Both rapini and broccolini end in -ini, which is an Italian suffix meaning “little,” and are often used interchangeably in recipes and restaurants. But they are different. Broccoli rabe is more leafy while broccolini has longer stalks with more broccoli heads. They also differ in taste with broccolini being more mild, and broccoli rabe being more earthy.  They are both nutritionally sound. From a culinary standpoint, they can be used interchangeably in recipes.  But from a traditional standpoint, broccoli rabe is the vegetable eaten for years in Italy and brought to the United States by Italian immigrants.  If a restaurant purports to sell broccoli rabe, it shouldn’t be switching it with broccolini, and vice versa. It comes down to personal preference whether or not one chooses broccolini or rapini, but it should be a choice, not the result of a convenient switcheroo.

–Dina Di Maio

Neapolitan Nzogna e Pepe Taralli

nzogna e pepe taralli

Taralli are a Southern Italian snack. I’ve written about taralli before.  Today, I’m sharing a recipe for the Neapolitan taralli known as nzogna e pepe, which translates to “lard and pepper,” in the Neapolitan language.  These make a crunchy savory biscuit.  Unfortunately, you can’t substitute the lard because that’s where these biscuits get their flavor and texture.  (You could make taralli with olive oil but it would be an entirely different biscuit.)

Nzogna e Pepe Taralli

4 cups flour

10 oz. lard

3 packages (3 tablespoons) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper (can add more, to taste)

Dissolve yeast in about 1/4 cup warm water and sugar.  Add about 1/5 of the flour and mix.  Cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour.  Add remaining flour, lard, salt and pepper.  Work into a dough and knead for a few minutes.  Here, you can add more water if the dough is too dry or add flour if it’s too sticky.  Roll out on a floured surface.  Cut into small pieces and roll into ropes of equal size.  Intertwine the ropes to form a pretzel shape, joining them at the ends to form a ring.  Let these rest for a few minutes.  Then, bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.  If they are larger, they can go in for an hour.  You want them to be somewhat golden brown.

–Dina Di Maio

10th Annual Taste of the Upper West Side This May

I’m a downtown girl, but my favorite reason to head uptown is the Taste of the Upper West Side. It’s a great celebration of restaurants and chefs in the neighborhood. This year, it is being held Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20. Each night there’s a unique and fun event with a DJ and plenty of food from your favorite area restaurants.

Summer in the City: Surf & Turf, an event hosted by celebrity chefs Alex Guarnaschelli & Adam Richman, along with Frank Bruni, former New York Times restaurant critic and author of A Meatloaf in Every Oven
When: Friday, May 19, 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Where:  Grand Tent, O’Shea Complex Schoolyard, Columbus Avenue between West 76th and 77th Streets
Participating restaurants include Maison Pickle, The Fat Monk, Kirsh Bakery, Sugar Factory American Brasserie, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, Momofuku Milk Bar, Shake Shack, Playa Betty’s, The Meatball Shop, Han Dynasty…to name a few.
Cost:  $105 per person or 2 for $185
The first 200 ticket purchasers will receive a copy of Alex Guarnaschelli’s OldSchool Comfort Food or Frank Bruni’s A Meatloaf in Every Oven: Two Chatty Cooks, One Iconic Dish and Dozens of Recipes from Mom’s to Mario Batali’s.                                                      

 

Best of the West VIP Reception Presented by 21 West End, an event hosted by Jesse Palmer, host of Disney’s ESPN and ABC Networks, along with James Beard Award-winners Chef April Bloomfield and Restaurateur Ken Friedman
When: Saturday, May 20th, 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm
Where: Grand Tent, O’Shea Complex Schoolyard, Columbus Avenue between West 76th and 77th Streets
Participating restaurants include Jean Georges, Boulud Sud, Rosa Mexiano, The Leopard at des Artistes, Jacques Torres Chocolate, Carmine’sto name a few.
VIP Cost: $225 per person (VIP ticket holders have a private lounge area and receive a gift bag.)
The first 100 VIP Ticket purchasers will receive a complimentary,
signed copy of April Bloomfield’s new book (one per order, only).

 

Best of the West Presented by Park West Village, an event hosted by Jesse Palmer, host of Disney’s ESPN and ABC Networks, along with James Beard Award-winners Chef April Bloomfield and Restaurateur Ken Friedman
When: Saturday, May 20th
General Admission: 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm
Where: Grand Tent, O’Shea Complex Schoolyard, Columbus Avenue between West 76th and 77th Streets
Participating restaurants include Jean Georges, Boulud Sud, Rosa Mexiano, The Leopard at des Artistes, Jacques Torres Chocolate, Carmine’sto name a few.
General Admission Cost:  $135 per person or 2 for $250

 

The Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District (“BID”), a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit, created the annual event and donates all net proceeds to the area for improvement and beautification projects.

 

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://tasteuws.com/

Natural Dye for Easter Eggs

This year, when coloring eggs, I experimented with some natural Easter egg dye from vegetables and spices.  The top row are various shades of blue from red cabbage on brown eggs (the left two) and white eggs (the right two).  The second row are reds, pink and browns from onion skins and beets.  From left to right:  red from yellow onion on a brown egg, pink from beet juice on a white egg, brown from onion skin on a white egg and brown from onion skin on a brown egg.  The bottom row are shades of yellow from turmeric.

This method is more time-consuming and laborious than just buying a PAAS kit. The results are not instantaneous either.  And the colors are not as exciting…but it is SAFER and HEALTHIER.

I used onion skins, turmeric, beet juice, and red cabbage to get brown, yellow, pink, and blue eggs.  The red cabbage worked out the best.  Turmeric would be the winner because it made a nice yellow and it was the easiest to do.  For all the eggs, be sure to refrigerate them as they are soaking in the dye, especially overnight.

Blue Eggs

2 heads red cabbage

6 cups water

6 tablespoons white vinegar

a dozen hard-boiled white and brown eggs

Roughly chop the cabbage. In a large pot, add water and vinegar.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the cabbage and reserve the “dye.”  Let it cool.  Put it in a smaller pot or bowl so that it will cover the eggs.   This should be enough for a dozen eggs, give or take one or two.  These will take on good color in no time.  I left some in overnight.  The brown eggs are a deep bluish-green and the white eggs are a nice blue.  If you soak them for only a few minutes, they will be a lighter blue.

Red eggs

12 yellow onions

4 cups water

4 teaspoons white vinegar

6 eggs, not pre-boiled

Skin the onions. Put onion skin, water and vinegar in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the skins and reserve the “dye.”  Let it cool. Put it in a smaller pot or bowl so that it will cover the eggs (add a little water if you need to). Boil the eggs as you would for hard-boiled eggs.  I brought them to a boil, then shut off the heat and let them sit, covered for 10 minutes.  The color on brown eggs is very deep red.  Leave in overnight for best color.  I did not try these on white eggs because I ran out, so I want to do it again on white eggs.

Now, if you don’t boil the eggs in the dye and just soak them in the onion dye, they will be brown, not red.

 

Brown eggs

1 bag red onions

4 cups water

4 tablespoons vinegar

6 hard-boiled white and brown eggs

Skin the onions. Put onion skin, water and vinegar in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the skins and reserve the “dye.”  Let it cool. Put it in a smaller pot or bowl so that it will cover the eggs.  Leave in overnight for best color.  You can see the brown eggs are darker and more reddish-brown than the white eggs.

Yellow eggs

3 teaspoons turmeric powder

3 tablespoons white vinegar

6 white eggs, not pre-boiled

water to cover eggs

Put all in a pot.  Boil as you would hard-boiled eggs. I brought it to a boil, turned off the heat, covered it and let it sit for 10 minutes.  Then, I rinsed them and let them dry.

Pink eggs

Juice from two cans or two packages of beets

6 white hard-boiled eggs

Add some water so that the juice will cover eggs.  Soak overnight.

OK, these don’t really get very pink.  I want to try these again using fresh beets because the color is supposed to be hot pink.  Stay tuned.

 

Gluten-Free Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Chiena/Pizza Rustica

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica, or Savory Italian Easter Pie

Pizza chiena or pizza rustica is a savory Neapolitan pie served at Easter time.  My family is from the area surrounding Naples and they called it pizza chiena, pronounced like pizzagaina, or pizzagain, as they pronounce the hard ch sound as a hard g in Neapolitan dialect and the last vowel is often left off.

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena

For the crust:

5 cups gluten-free flour, not sifted

5 teaspoons xantham gum

3/4 cup shortening

4 eggs

warm water

olive oil

Put your flour on your work surface.  Dot with shortening and incorporate until it becomes somewhat crumbly (won’t be as crumbly as gluten flour would be).

Make a well and add eggs, incorporating them.  Add enough warm water until you have a workable dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes.  Put a little olive oil in a bowl.  Add the dough ball.

Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for about a half hour.

For the filling:

People use different ingredients in the filling.  It usually always has ricotta, eggs, grated cheese and salami.  From there, it varies.  You can also use gluten-free soppressata, capocollo, mortadella, or Italian sausage.  We only used soppressata, capocollo and salami.  One of my grandmas used provolone.  Also, some provolone can be sharp and you don’t want it to be too dominant a flavor.  Some people lump all the ingredients in there, some people chunk it, some people dice it very small, some people layer it.  It’s all your preference. 

1 lb. ricotta (Use a good brand with no added gums or thickeners.)

1 lb. basket cheese (If you can’t get this where you are, you can just use another pound of ricotta.  Or you can let one pound of ricotta sit in a colander or in cheesecloth the night before to drain out water.)

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1 cup gluten-free salami, diced or not (You can use any of the above listed meats, as long as they are gluten-free.)

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1 cup gluten-free prosciutto, diced or not

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8 eggs

1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

black pepper to taste

egg yolk for egg wash

In a bowl, mix all ingredients.  Just stir it all together.  No mixer needed.

Grease and gluten-free flour a 10-inch springform pan or a 13×9 rectangular pan or a large cake pan or pie dish (depends on how much filling you have).

Cut off 2/3 of dough.  Roll it out into a circle and line springform pan.

Fill with filling.

Roll out remaining dough into a circle.  Top pie with it.  I used an Italy-shaped cookie cutter to decorate the top.  You can use any shape you like or no shape at all.  Brush with egg wash.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Lower heat to 350 for 1 more hour.  Let cool for a few hours.  Refrigerate.  We eat this at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

–Dina Di Maio