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Tuscan-Style Fried Sage Leaves
Oct 11th, 2015 by

The light batter is reminiscent of tempura.

The light batter is reminiscent of tempura. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

This recipe was printed in the Boston Globe’s food section at least 15 years ago, probably closer to 20 years ago. I cut it out of the paper then and used it to make these today but unfortunately, there’s no date on the clipping.

The headline on the article was “Tuscany’s last secret,” and the recipe for the frying batter, which can also be used with vegetables and zucchini blossoms, was taken from the Fine Art of Italian Cooking, by Giuliano Bugialli. I think the Globe should ask readers for their favorite recipe from the Globe’s food section over the past fifty years and then print an article based on the top 10 selections.

Here’s the recipe:

TUSCAN FRYING BATTER

Ingredients:

  • All purpose unbleached flour, 1 1/8 cup
  • Kosher salt, a pinch
  • Ground black pepper, just a little
  • Nutmeg, a pinch
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Egg yolk, one from an extra-large egg
  • Dry, white wine, 1/4 cup
  • Vodka, unflavored 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Cold water, 1/2 cup

What to do:

In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, mixing very well and incorporating just a little of the flour from the rim of the well.

Add the egg yolk, wine, and vodka and incorporate more flour.

Finally, add the water and mix everything together very well. The batter should be very smooth with no lumps.

Let it rest at least one hour in a cool place.

FRYING THE SAGE LEAVES

Heat about an inch or two of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Insert a wooden spoon in the oil and if bubbles form about it, it’s hot enough to cook the leaves.

Dip the leaves quickly in the batter, being sure to coat well on both sides and cook in the hot oil in several batches. Cook each leaf about one minute or two on each side. Remove from the oil when they turn golden brown and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to allow the oil to drain.

Sprinkle salt on the leaves and a squirt of lemon juice.

Find More Recipes in the RootsLiving Recipe Index

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers The Way My Mother Made Them
Aug 1st, 2014 by

Drain on a paper towel after frying.

Drain on a paper towel after frying.

I hope you find the wait has been worth it. For several months I abandoned this column. But now I return with one of my favorite dishes: stuffed zucchini flowers.

My mother used to make these maybe once a year, or once every two years. They are a true delicacy. It requires that you get up early in the morning and pick the flowers from your zucchini plants while they’re open. If you don’t grow zucchini, you can usually find them at farmers markets. Avoid italian specialty shops as they’ll charge you a king’s ransom for them.

What you do is pick the flowers, early in the morning, and stuff them right away. If you have to wait to stuff them, place them face down between two paper towels. This will prevent the flowers from closing. Then follow these instructions:

Make a stuffing following the directions for my mother’s stuffed peppers, here.

Then, using a demitasse spoon carefully stuff each flower. Be very careful as the petals tear easily.

Dip the flowers in a beaten egg wash and then in bread crumbs.

Fry in a little olive oil until brown on both sides. Then let the oil drain off them on a paper towel.

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto
Sep 4th, 2013 by

Nepitella is a natural with mushrooms.

Nepitella is a natural with mushrooms.

It came to me in a dream: nepitella pesto. I thought that maybe I had invented the idea but a quick search online turned up one reference to it at a restaurant in New York called Osteria Morini.

There they team nepitella pesto with buffalo mozzarella on crostini or with fresh whipped ricotta topped with peas and asparagus. I’m sure that doesn’t taste bad, but what were they thinking? Everyone knows nepitella pairs perfectly with mushrooms and artichokes: everyone, in the small minority of people in this country who have heard of nepitella.

So let me let you in on the secret. Nepitella is an herb that grows wild in Tuscany (and in my driveway after I transplanted a small plant from my grandmother’s garden about 15 years ago). Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. And I wouldn’t think of cooking mushrooms or artichokes without it.

So when I was inspired to try to make nepitella pesto the logical use for it was to stuff mushrooms with it. And the result was perfect.

The pesto by itself, without any cooking, was much stronger than a basil pesto: more earthy and with a sharp bite, almost spicy flavor. But when it cooked inside the mushrooms, the taste mellowed into a more mild buttery flavor: still very earthy but without the sharpness of the raw nepitella pesto.

If you’d like to try this, finding nepitella will be a challenge, but a search online revealed a few places that sell the plant. Or just stop by my driveway: there this evasive plant grows wild in cracks and along narrow dirt patches along the fence.

NEPITELLA PESTO:

Ingredients:

  • Nepitella leaves (washed, about a half a cup)
  • Pignoli nuts (about 1/4 cup)
  • Garlic (4-6 cloves)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/4- 1/2 cup; Imported, freshly grated. Don’t use the stuff they sell in a jar; Or use freshly grated Romano and/or Pecorino if you’d like to save some money.)
  • Kosher salt and pepper.

What I did:

Put nuts and garlic in food processor with a steel blade and process for about 15 seconds.

Add nepitella leaves, salt and pepper.

With processor running slowly add the olive oil until it’s completely pureed.

Add cheese and process for another minute.

If you don’t use it right away, put in refrigerator with plastic wrap touching the top or with a film of olive oil on top. This will prevent discoloring.

To Stuff Mushrooms:

Pull off stems, clean caps with paper towel.

Put clean caps in a baking dish that has been greased with a small amount of olive oil.

Spoon in nepitella pesto and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.

You can serve it as is or with a shaved piece of parmesan cheese on top and/or a pignoli nut.

Picture Perfect Bread
Apr 3rd, 2013 by

Head baker and manager Ben Tock of Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End.

Head baker and manager Ben Tock of Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

I wrote a story for the Boston Globe about a North End bakery that specializes in old world Italian bread.

I thought a Globe photographer was scheduled to take photos at the same time I was at the bakery. When he didn’t show up, I took back-up photos.

Later, I found out he came and took the photos at another time. Those photos were used to accompany the article. I hate to waste anything, so I’m sharing some of the photos I took here. Surprisingly the one taken by the Globe and used with the article is nearly identical to one of the photos I took (above).


Old World Italian Breads Are Baked in an Alley in the North End

By Mark Micheli
Boston Globe Correspondent

The ingredients (as noted in the sign) are what sets this bread apart from others made in the U.S.

The ingredients (as noted in the sign) are what sets this bread apart from others made in the U.S. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

From the moment you turn off busy Hanover Street in the North End and into the alley, you know you’re in for a treat. A sign reading “Fresh Artisan Breads ” hangs on an old fire escape. Open the glass door at the end of the lane and the heady smell of fermenting yeast and flour rises up the stairs. Who knew a trip to a bakery could end up being a five-minute escape to Europe?

Restaurateur and North End resident Frank DePasquale opened Bricco Panetteria about a year ago to supply handmade Italian and French breads to his eateries. The tiny bakery is located in an alley behind Bricco. “I really didn’t think people were going to find it,” says DePas-quale, owner of Trattoria Il Panino, Mare Oyster Bar, Umbria Prime, Bricco Ristorante & Enoteca, and the new Quattro Ristorante-Grill-Pizzeria. “It’s almost like the traditions in Italy or France, where you go down an alley and find a little hidden secret.”

People are finding it. Once inside, you head down a flight of stairs and see one or two bakers working in a small white-tiled room. They’re rolling dough, pulling bread from the ovens, or stacking loaves on a large rack. Head baker and manager Ben Tock, 23, is making 1,300 loaves “on a good day,” he says. The Johnson and Wales grad worked at Au Soleil, the catering arm of L’Espalier and Sel de la Terre.

All of the breads are made by hand, following old world practices and recipes developed by Tock.

All of the breads are made by hand, following old world practices and recipes developed by Tock. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

Breads include ciabatta, a French sourdough miche, which is a puffy round, a baguette stuffed with Parmigiano and prosciutto, and the best-selling olive baguette. All have a crisp crust with a little char and lots of holes in the crumb, like you’d find in an Old World bakery. That was what DePasquale had in mind: to bring back the bread he enjoys on frequent trips to Italy.

“It’s very different,” says Michele Topor, who runs Boston Food Tours and has lived in the North End for more than 40 years. “The bread stores we’ve had are great, but they’re more Italian-American. This is more authentic, very flavorful, more airy and chewy.”“We use unbleached, unbromated flour, which is hard to come by,” Tock says. The baker also uses some white, silky 00 Italian flour. “We don’t use any additives or preservatives. And there’s no added sugar.”

Tock explains that breads are made with preferments, using a piece of dough that has fermented for 12 to 18 hours before mixing it with more flour, water, and salt to make a final dough. Because of this, all the breads take between 18 to 36 hours to make. “This fermentation allows for more development of flavor,” he says. “It allows us to get the nice texture, the crumb.”

Getting to this point took time. Before the store opened, Tock worked on the recipes to get them just right. Some of the breads took only a week or two, but others, like the French sourdough miche, took two months to perfect.

“The processes are old methods, but the way I do it down there is my way.”

Bricco Panetteria 241 Hanover St. (rear), North End, Boston. 617-248-9859,www.bricco.com.

The 12 Treats of Christmas
Dec 17th, 2012 by

A few of these recipes are misfits, but still very good.

A few of these recipes are misfits, but still very good.

There are some foods I make every year around Christmastime. They are tried and true classics that continue to make taste buds happy year after year. And each year, I also try some new recipes. Some stick and become a classic, others fade away either because they didn’t deliver on their promise or simply because of neglect: like a broken doll on the Island of Misfit Toys in the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special.

Here are a list of winning recipes. Most I make every year. But there are a few neglected misfits too that are worthy of a new chance in a New Year. We’ll start with the desserts because this time of year is so sweet:

DESSERTS:

This is more of a snack than a dessert but anytime you eat it, it's delicious.

Chocolate Bread is more of a snack than a dessert but anytime you eat it, it's delicious.

1.) Pane alla Cioccolata (Chocolate Bread)This lightly sweetened bread is great with a cup of coffee or a glass of red wine. You can spread cream cheese over it, but Mascarpone cheese is better.

2.) Chocolate Bark (Christmas Gift): The only thing that would be easier than making this sweet treat would be going out and buying it.

3.) Cenci (Florentine Rags): Cenci are a deep-fried Florentine winter treat, made from Epiphany to Mardi Gras.

4.) Christmas Befana Cookies: My grandmother, Bruna, made these Befana cookies every Christmas.

5.) Chocolate Kahlua Rum Balls: Another quick and easy treat to make. Makes a good gift too.

APPETIZERS:

Ribollita is a hearty soup for a cold December day.

Ribollita is a hearty soup for a cold December day.

6.) Ribollita Soup: One of the most loved recipes in the RootsLiving collection. Who knew, Tuscan Bean Soup, would be such a crowd pleaser?

7.) Asian Shrimp Salad: Trish found this recipe in an old cookbook a previous tenant left in her apartment about 30 years ago. It has become a traditional Christmas Day appetizer.

SIDE DISH:

8.) Nan’s Mashed Potatoes (with Cream Cheese and Sour Cream): No Christmas Roast Beast would be complete without a side dish of this. It puts the “comfort” in comfort food.

ENTREES:

Shrimp Saute can be served as an appetizer or as the main dish.

Shrimp Saute can be served as an appetizer or as the main dish.

9.) Shrimp Saute (For the New Year): I made this for the first time last year, but it’s a keeper. From Joshua’s Restaurant in Wells, Maine.

10.) Best Lobster Stew Recipe, Ever!: The recipe is from Morrison’s of Portland, Maine. It’s even easier to make if you have your lobsters steamed when you buy them.

11.) Pizza: Cheese and Fig & Proscuitto (from Figs Restaurant): My grandmother made pizza every Christmas Eve. This recipe is a combination of her pizza, Julia Child’s pizza, and Todd English’s pizza.

12.) Breakfast for Dinner: Gingerbread Pancakes: In these last, short, dark days of December sometimes it’s nice to stay in your pajamas all day and have breakfast for dinner. Here’s a suggestion in keeping with the holiday spirit.

Risotto (This time with mushrooms and eggplant)
Sep 24th, 2012 by

This is a perfect dish to welcome fall in New England.

This is a perfect dish to welcome fall in New England.

You can add many things to risotto but mushrooms (especially porcini) are my favorite. I made this dish up last night with vegetables I had on hand: crimini mushrooms and eggplant. Feel free to omit the eggplant, it’s just as good.

Making risotto is not hard, but it is an art. The key is adding small amounts of liquid to the rice, only enough for it to be absorbed a minute or two at a time. This ensures the dish will be not only flavorful but will have the correct texture: think al dente (with a little bite); never soggy or water-logged.

And of course, the main thing you do, is stir, baby, stir. (Tip: Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring and lower the heat if you think the liquid is evaporating too fast or if there is a danger of the rice burning.)

Ingredients:

  • Arborio rice (1 pound). Accept no substitutes, this is what makes risotto, risotto.
  • Chicken broth (About 44 ounces). You can use home-made stock (the best), or canned broth, or some bullion cubes with water or a mixture of all. You can also use a little white wine. Last night I used a combination of canned broth, chicken bullion cube, and a porcini bullion cube with hot water. Whatever liquid you use, be sure to heat it up before you add it to the rice.
  • Onion (1 small or a 1/2 of a large onion; chopped)
  • Olive oil (About 1/4 cup; enough to cover the bottom of a medium-sized pot; plus more to coat the eggplant and mushrooms.)
  • Mushrooms (About 8 oz.; chopped)
  • Eggplant (1 small or 3/4 of a large eggplant, sliced thin)
  • Nepitella (About 1 tablespoon. A mixture of dried basil and mint will also work).
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/2 cup, grated; or to taste)
  • Butter (About 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Pepper (Just a sprinkle, to taste)

What I did:

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot over low heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent.

Add rice and stir. Add more olive oil if needed, just enough to coat the rice. Cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally.

Ladle in the liquid, just enough to cover the rice and stir. When liquid is absorbed, add more liquid, just enough to cover and stir. Continue doing this until risotto is done (about 45 minutes).

In between stirring the risotto, coat a cookie sheet with olive oil and salt (kosher is best). Put down a layer of eggplant and brush tops of eggplant slices with oil and salt. Bake in a 400-degree oven, turning over when bottom is brown. Do the same with the mushrooms. Add nepitella to the cooked mushrooms and set aside.

When risotto is done. Stir in eggplant and mushrooms. Stir in butter and parmesan cheese. Add pepper to taste.

This dish takes about 45 minutes to make if you work fast. Add another 15-minutes to 30 minutes if you work at a leisurely pace.

You can serve this as a main meal (serves four) with a side salad; or as a side dish. And if you’re out to impress, try serving it as a side-dish inside a parmesan basket.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

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