Category Archives: Olive Oil

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.

Taralli, an Italian Snack

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Taralli are a Southern Italian snack food.  If you’ve visited Italian-American bakeries or grocery stores, you may have seen the ring-shaped snack food sold in different varieties, such as fennel-flavored.  These crunchy snacks originate in Southern Italy.  Like much of Italian food, taralli are different in different regions.

In Naples, they are traditionally made with lard, pepper and almonds.  They were first made from scraps of leftover bread dough.  To this dough was added lard and pepper.  In the Neapolitan language, lard is “nzogna,” so you will see these as nzogna and pepe.  In Naples today, you will see this variety also has almonds.  Almonds were added in the 1800s, but the older version of these did not have almonds.  This older version is what my mother remembers at bakeries of her youth, bakeries that carried on Southern Italian traditions from the late 1800s here in the United States.  In fact, there were other crunchy breads that also had lard and pepper added to them.

In times past, the taralli vendor would sell the snack from a cart.  In Napoli today, miniature depictions of taralli vendors are sold on Via San Gregorio Armeno where you can find the famous presepio, or Nativity figures.

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In Puglia, taralli, or tarallini, are usually smaller, more crunchy and smoother with no almonds.  They are not made with lard but with olive oil and are often flavored with fennel or chili.  These are the ones most often found in Italian-American bakeries and stores.  They can also be made sweet instead of savory, which is popular in Basilicata.

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The origin of the word “taralli” is unknown, but it is thought to derive from the Greek word toros, meaning toroidal or round.  Or the Greek word daratos for a kind of bread.  It could also be from torrere, Latin for toast, or for a French type of bread.

Taralli are served year round but also during Carnevale.  They are made by either baking or by boiling then baking, similar to bagels.

They are plentiful at bakeries in Naples.  I like the nzogna e pepe from Leopoldo Infante.

Sessanta, Southern Italian in Soho

I was walking through Soho and decided to stop in for some pasta at Sessanta.  Sessanta is another restaurant in the trend of regional Italian cuisine.  Its focus is on Southern Italy, particularly the Neapolitan area.  The menu has items that are similar to other regional Italian restaurants like burrata, fritto misto, meatball, malloreddus, branzino.  Other dishes are standard Italian and Neapolitan like eggplant parmesan, spaghetti with tomato sauce and linguine with garlic and olive oil.   My friend and I were walk-ins on a Saturday night, and it was crowded but not overwhelmingly so.  Not too hungry, we didn’t order a full meal.  Even though we ordered only entrees, we thought we would get bread with the meal, but we didn’t.

I got the malloreddus with sweet sausage ragu, whipped ricotta and pecorino sardo.  It was good.

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My friend got the busiate with Spanish octopus, cherry tomatoes, capers and oregano and thought it was good but not great.

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Escarole and Beans

escarole and beans

escarole and beans

Escarole and beans is an Italian soup. It’s great this time of year because it’s a healthy recipe that’s perfect for a post-holiday detox. We always called this shka-roll and beans, as the Neapolitan dialect pronounced sc as a sh sound (which is done in Tuscan/standard Italian only when followed by e or i).

Escarole and Beans

1 lb. dried cannellini beans (or 2 cans cannellini beans)

2 medium bunches of escarole

1/4 cup olive oil

1 or 2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced or not

salt and red pepper flakes to taste

parsley

If using dried beans, soak them in water overnight. (Make sure they are covered with water but do not cover the bowl.) The next day, drain the water. Put them in a soup pot and add enough water to cover them. Add the salt, red pepper flakes, parsley, tomato paste, olive oil and garlic. Cook beans for 2 hours. While they cook, wash the escarole. You want to do this carefully, as escarole can be dirty. Chop it into bite-size pieces. In the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, add the escarole. Stir it in and let it cook down. Serve with parmesan or romano cheese. If you are using canned beans instead, rinse and drain them. You do not have to cook them for two hours. Just bring to a boil with all the other ingredients, simmer a few minutes, add the escarole and cook for 10-15 minutes until escarole is cooked.

Pumpkin or Butternut Squash Risotto

I have some carnaroli rice from Italy and decided to make this risotto di zucca by Antonio Carluccio, or pumpkin risotto by Antonio Carluccio, one of my favorite chefs.  I got a locally grown butternut squash so I used that instead of pumpkin.  I think most people are familiar with arborio rice but not carnaroli.  Carnaroli is also from Northern Italy and is used to make risotto.  It is considered the “caviar of rice.”  It has a higher starch content and can stay firm longer as you cook risotto.  This particular dish is a wonderfully creamy and delicious one for autumn.  It comes from Antonio Carluccio’s Italian Feast but he says it originally comes from Hotel Cipriani in Venice.  I adapted it to suit our tastes.  The original recipe calls for Parmesan and I used pecorino romano.  I also used water instead of chicken stock to make it vegetarian friendly.  And I didn’t use rosemary.

risotto, carnaroli, zucca, pumpkin, butternut squash, Antonio Carluccio

 

 

Fake or Counterfeit Olive Oil Nothing New

There are many reports circulating the Web these days about fake or counterfeit olive oil, as if this is a new phenomenon.  I want to clarify that it is not.  Back in the turn of the last century, this problem existed, and I guarantee it existed long before that.  My great-grandfather imported products from Italy in his store back then, and he encountered the same problem.  Keep in mind that “extra virgin” olive oil is a fairly new term–created in the 1960s, and that prior to that, olive oil had been created for thousands of years in the Mediterranean using ancient methods without that designation. What happened in the 1960s to inspire this change?  New technology, of course.  An expensive stainless steel milling technique.  Some people believe that in order to counteract costs of this new technology, some producers skimp and add inferior quality oil like soy, canola or nut oils to the olive oil.  This may be true, but as I mentioned before, cheap, inferior, fake, counterfeit olive oil was around before extra virgin came into being.

One consistency amongst these recent articles is the touting of California olive oil as a sure bet to the real thing.  This pronouncement makes me suspect of these articles–are they a California olive oil industry marketing ploy?  I don’t know.  (A Google trending search reveals that California is the only state where this topic is a regional interest.)

Modern chefs and food writers tout olive oil from the North of Italy as being superior in taste.  However, Southern Italy, especially the southeastern region called Puglia (Italy’s heel), has had a long history of olive oil production dating back to ancient times.  Before the unification of Italy in 1860, when Southern Italy was under the Bourbon empire, olive oil production in this area was at its peak with the most advanced technology to produce olive oil.  And even today, superior olive oils come from Southern Italy.  (And let’s also not forget the olive oils of Greece.)

There is “counterfeit” olive oil on the market, and I suspect there will be more counterfeiting to come with the report of poor olive harvests recently.

How do you tell if olive oil is real or not?  I’ve tried the test of seeing if it hardens in the refrigerator, and I have to report that the better quality and better tasting olive oils do.  I would say a good indicator is price–better oils will most likely be more expensive.  Many of these articles also claim that “authentic” olive oil has a peppery taste.  I was always taught that good quality olive oil has a taste like artichoke.  In the past, I, and my family, remember olive oil having a golden color as opposed to the greenish hue seen with most olive oils today.

In short, I’m still keeping my faith in Italian and Greek olive oil.

6 Cool Cucumber Recipes

Here are 6 cucumber recipes that I have recently made.  I’ve been on a cucumber kick lately.  I love cucumbers because they are a great source of water and fiber.  They help keep you hydrated in the hot weather.  Plus, they are a healthy and tasty vegetable.   These recipes are delicious and highly recommended.

1.  A tomato and cucumber salad with fleur de sel from My Kitchen Antics.  I really enjoyed the clean freshness of the salad, the bit of tang from the lime and saltiness from the fleur de sel.

photo used with permission of My Kitchen Antics

photo used with permission of My Kitchen Antics

2.  A refreshing spa water made of cucumbers, lemon and mint from Food Folks and Fun will keep you cool and help you detox from too much ice cream!

photo used with permission of Food Folks and Fun

photo used with permission of Food Folks and Fun

3.  Scandinavian cucumber salads, one sweet and sour and one with dill from Outside Oslo.  Sweet-and-sour cucumber salad is one of my favorite cucumber salads, so I really enjoyed this one.

photo used with permission of Outside Oslo

photo used with permission of Outside Oslo

4.  Sweet and spicy cucumber salad from A Teaspoon of Happiness adds a bit of heat to the usual cool cucumber salad, and I liked the change.

photo used with permission of A Teaspoon of Happiness

photo used with permission of A Teaspoon of Happiness

5.  Classic cucumber salad with sour cream from Cookistry.  This is one of my favorite cucumber salads.

photo used with permission of Cookistry

photo used with permission of Cookistry

6. Cucumber salad with yogurt and mint from the Baker Chick. I really liked this salad. I adjusted it a bit and added more of all the ingredients and used zero-fat yogurt, but I didn’t use garlic at all. This is refreshing, and that amount of sour cream is just enough to make it creamy.

photo used with permission of the Baker Chick

photo used with permission of the Baker Chick