Thursday, May 19, 2016

Il Circolo degli Artisti

Senza titolo
In the city of Torino, on a lonely stretch road, right behind a big wooden door of an historical building is this unexpected courtyard. Not a crink through the door reveals it's charm from the outside. There's no sign of the restaurant we're looking for, the street address, though, seems to be exact. Via Bogino, 9.  Lost, we ask the guard standing in front of the building if he can help.  We're looking for Il Circolo degli Artisti. The guard tilts his head in sign of consent and greets us in with his hand showing us the way. We walk in and there we stand in a dreamy state of bliss admiring the majestic courtyard. Quiet, peaceful, lovely, just lovely. The guard shakes us awake and tells us to take the stairs on the left.

As I run my fingers along the stone handrail that accompanies the large steps of Palazzo Graneri della Roccia, I feel there's something that goes beyond it's obvious bellezza. There's sentiment, passion, this place has a soul, a tangible elegant and discrete soul. I reach the first floor and the feeling materializes through magnificent paintings, a gentleman reading in a quite corner, the sound of a teaspoon swirling sugar within its cup, the breeze of a slightly open window that flips the page of a newspaper, the sound of glasses that cling, the whispers of those that converse, the old wooden floors that squeak and creak as I move around curious through the 11 rooms and 2000 square meter space of this old, very old building. As it was then, it is now, since 1847 Il Circolo degli Artisti, the Artist's Club, continues its art exhibitions, concerts, events and conferences in this incredible space.
The true heart of this club is found on the mezzanine floor where the traditional "Tampa" is located. A simple trattoria where members of the club would eat and drink. Today the restaurant still exists, it's just not a simple trattoria anymore. It's become an elegant, not too fancy restaurant. Throughout the years, self-portraits of club member artists were added on the walls forming an extraordinary collection of more that 500 paintings. This is why I came here in the first place without knowing what to expect and finding myself surprised in all its aspects.  Probably the most beautiful gem found in Torino. At least that's my thought.

So now lets talk food!

The meal was very impressive.  We started with a taste of typical cheese, several types, all so good served with bread sticks wrapped in a paper towel with a print of a poem on those who love to read. The restaurant in fact is called the il Circolo dei Lettori, The Readers Club. I took the paper towel from the table and tucked it away in my purse. It's now framed and hanging on my kitchen wall. I love it. Sly move, uh?!

We ordered a few typical dishes, caramelized onion served with crisp codfish and parmatier cream with lemon and thyme.  Ravioli del plin (small ravioli with beef, rabbit and pork). Veal tenderloin with Marsala reduction and Santena asparagus and for dessert, homemade violette ice cream, Moscato wine sorbet and Carpano vermouth sorbet.  Was it good?  Yes. Would I go back? Yes. I would go back over and over again without hesitation.

The enthusiastic me keeps this feeling going on for days and with it I have an urge to repeat a meal I particularly enjoyed.'s what I made at home.

Cipolla caramellata nella sfoglia, baccala' mantecato e parmatier al limone e timo, con germogli di ravanello; Caramelized onions, whipped codfish, parmatier with lemon and thyme, topped with radish sprouts.

My adaption was the whipped codfish instead of the restaurant's crisp fried version, just because I didn't feel like frying, and the simple topping with radish sprouts, just because it's good for you :-) and because it gives that extra twist.
BQ8A3115 BQ8A2971

Caramelized Onions, Whipped Codfish, Parmatier with Lemon and Thyme, topped with Radish Sprouts 
serves 4 people
adapted from the restaurant's menu Il Circolo dei Lettori

Caramelized Onion
1 sheet of ready puff pastry - I used the store bought
2 large red onions
4 teaspoons of brown sugar
salt to season
extra virgin olive oil

Cut 4 big round disks of puff pastry using a cookie cutter and fit each in a portion of a muffin tin. Remove the outer skin of two big round onions and slice each in half, horizontal wise. Place the onions in the puff pastry rounds, in the muffin tins.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar on each onion. Cook in a preheated oven for 20/30 minutes at 180ºC.  Lower the heat if the onions begin to brown and/or cover with parchment paper.

Parmatier with Lemon and Thyme
1 potato
1 leek
lemon zest
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock

In a saucepan, add the butter and extra virgin olive oil, stir in the previously chopped leek and diced potato.  After about 5 minutes add the warm vegetable broth, season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and fresh thyme. Allow to cook until the potatoes are tender. Mesh the mixture through a sieve to to form a smooth cream.

Whipped Codfish
200 gr dry codfish previous soaked and rehydrated or fresh
1 cup milk
extra virgin olive oil

Cook the codfish in 1 cup of milk until tender about 15/30 minutes (depending if you're using fresh or dry previously soaked codfish).  Drain the milk and set the fish aside to cool.  In a blender mix the codfish, add just a pinch of salt and pepper and slowly drizzle in a cup of extra virgin olive oil while it blends.  You can also use a wooden spoon and stir in the oil until the fish fluffs. This procedure is called baccala' mantecato.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

it's so darn easy!

Falafels and Chapati
quinoa falafel and chapati bread
the cloth in the background is handmade by the artist Assunta Perilli
I like making my own bread but I only have time on weekends.  It's on weeknights though, when I desire it most. That's why I fell in love with chapati bread, it gives you what you want in no time.

The Indian flat bread goes well with anything you can possibly think of.  You name it, it works!

burrito - check
panino - check
butter and jam - check
as pizza - check
use to mop the sauce - check
with hummus - check
with scrambled eggs and bacon - check
with chocolate and ricotta - check
as bruschetta - check
brushed with oil, garlic and parsley - check
with grilled cheese - check
as a panzanella or crumbed in salads - check, check!
wear it as a hat - I dare you to check :)

I've tried them all.  The thing is that it's so darn easy to make how could you not?!

Let me get to the point. Two cups of plain flour (I used wholewheat and it works perfect), one cup of cold water, a couple of pinches of salt. That's all. Combine the ingredients in a big bowl and knead the dough until it no longer sticks to the bowl.  Let it rest for 10 minutes. That's it!  No rising, no waiting.

Divide the dough in 8 round balls. Dust the surface of your working space with some flour and with a rolling pin, roll each piece in 8 round evenly thin disks. If the dough sticks to the surface, dust more flour on the dough and on the surface.

Preheat a non-stick pan, large enough to fit the rounds.  Place the flat bread on the pan, wait 3 minutes, flip it on the other side, wait another 2 minutes and flip again. Last flip is direct on the stove's flame or continue on the pan.  On the third flip the dough will inflate like a balloon.  Done.  Move on to the next disk. Watch this video to see how, click here.

Once the chapati bread is made, everything and anything goes well with it. I'm pretty sure you're thinking of something right now.

Chickpea and quinoa falafels, with veggies and a yogurt lemon zest and mint sauce - check! This ecletic mix of flavors has become a staple at my place.
quinoa and chickpea falafel
Chickpea and Quinoa Falafels with Chapati

250 g dried chickpeas
100 g cooked quinoa
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small onion
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1/ 1/2 tbsp flour
2 cups breadcrumbs
1 litre peanut oil for deep-frying

Soak the chickpeas over night in a big bowl with water.  The next day drain the chickpeas.  Alternate the chickpeas, garlic, parsley and coarsely chopped onion in a meat grinder.  Grind it twice.  If you don't have a meat grinder use a blender and blitz.  Place the mixture in a big bowl and add all the other ingredients.  Mix well with a wooden spoon, or use your hands.

Wet your hands with water and make small balls the size of a walnut.  Roll them in breadcrumbs and set aside. Place the falafels in the fridge for about 30 minutes before deep-frying.

Preheat a deep frying pan with the vegetable oil. When it reaches the appropriate temperature, 180ºC, fry until golden brown.

Serve with fresh chapati bread, your favorite veggies and a tahini and/or yogurt sauce.

To make the yogurt sauce: greek yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, some lemon zest, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mint leaves.  Mix thoroughly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

from Rome to Toronto and back again

bello di mamma
You see that hotdog up there? It’s not a hotdog, it’s a salsiccia or sausage, homemade, the way we like it at home. I choose my meat and I mince it with the tip of a sharp knife. I then add some spices, they may be hot or mild. There’s always a bit of lemon rind and I never miss out on the fennel seeds. Fennel seeds. What’s this world without fennel seeds?! Maybe once in a while I'll add paprika or saffron, a hot, really hot, chili or just salt and pepper. Once, I made sausages entirely with vegetables, vegan style, giving it a kick with pistachios. Try with boiled beets and potatoes, chop them up and once they’re in the pork’s intestine (ok, not entirely vegan), you’ll confuse them with the meat version, at least the sight of it. And if you think this is just too much work, go out and buy your sausages because today it’s not about my homemade hotdog salsicce. It’s about the caviar mustard that goes with it.

My friend Antonella intrigued me with her mustard caviar when she posted it on instagram. It would have been so much better if she was on this side of the globe to share more of our passion for food. We did have a chance that time she came to Rome when we went for an aperitivo on the beautiful terrace of a Hotel overlooking the roman rooftops. The sun was settling down, the sky was tinted gold and the Vatican's cupola was right there before our eyes. Easy and laid-back, drinks and apetizers kept coming as we conversed the night away. Between a bite and a sip, our food thoughts met as we mentioned a few cookbooks, a favorite brand for knives, a good restaurant, where to buy some excellent chocolate in Rome, a particular spice and a Chef. Chef Ema.

Chef Ema works at the George Brown Culinary school in Toronto.  She's from Italy and lives and works in Toronto. I'm from Toronto and I live and work in Rome. Antonella, who lives in Toronto too, takes cooking classes at the George Brown Culinary school where Chef Ema works.  All three of us have a passion for food and everything that goes with it. This, is what brought us in connection. I've learned so much from Chef Ema only steeling with my eyes what she posts on her instagram. Sometimes I'm so inspired that I try to recreate what she does in the little corner of my kitchen. Which brings me back to the caviar mustard.

It's to die for! I had to try it immediately. Chef Ema sent me the recipe and that same day I ran out and bought the mustard seeds. Now, I always have a jar ready and I'm ready to make more when I'm about to run out of stock. I use it for so many things which I'll show you sooner or later here on the blog, but this is how I first tried it. On this homemade salsiccia, with a homemade bun, some stir fried cabbage and ok, I bought the ketchup. Nobody's perfect!

To give you an idea of its tastes. It's just like caviar.  Once you bite into it, it pops on your tongue. The heat spreads in your mouth while the flavor fills your nose. Then, it hits you all at once, the sweet, the salty, the spiciness, the sage, the honey and the bourbon. You must try!
mustard caviar
caviar mustard
Here's the recipe the way Chef Ema gave it to me.

Mustard Caviar

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup water
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 large spring of thyme
1 bay leaf
20 black peppercorns
1.5 oz or 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1.5 oz or 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
2-3 tbsp bourbon
1.5 tsp maple syrup or honey
up to 3/4 tsp salt

Step 1
Combine vinegar, water garlic, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool and infuse.

Combine mustard seeds, and bourbon in a glass bowl. Strain vinegar water mixture over it. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight and up to 2 days.

Step 2 
Stir in maple syrup or honey and transfer mustard to a sterilized container and let stand at room temperature until it achieves desired spiciness, then refrigerate for months. Or leaving a head space of 2.5 cm (for 1 cup jars) seal and boil 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Rest in hot water 10 minutes then remove and cool.

Monday, March 7, 2016

this chicken ate better than me

A free range organic raised chicken. That’s all I ask for. Sometimes it seems impossible to find one that even looks close to a chicken, but then, one day at the farmer’s market, right behind the cashier, a sign catches my attention. “Qui si vendono polli, quelli veri!” Here we sell chickens, the real kind! As I hand over the money to pay for the crate of oranges I’ve gone there for, I ask the cashier what they meant by the real kind. She walks over to the other side of the counter and pulls out a chicken holding it from its neck. A whole chicken, head and feet included, was slapped on the counter before my eyes.  The cashier looks at me and says, do you find these at the supermarket? Of course, no! “These chickens eat better than me, they’re certified organic”, she says. Direct and straight to the point,“Signora, i polli li ammazziamo di venerdi’, se viene sabato o domenica ne trova quanti ne vuole, ma venga presto!” ...we slater our chickens on Fridays, you’ll find quite a few on Saturday or Sunday but make sure you’re here early!”  

Wrap one up for me, thanks! Soon later, the oranges and the chicken were on the back seat of my car as I chauffeured them home with me. 

For this chicken, I thought I'd dust off mom’s clay pot. The last time she used it was back in the 80s for a duck, I can’t remember if she ever used it again after that.  Any kind of oven pot will do, but a clay pot goes that extra mile you're looking for. The pot is soaked in water for at least 20 minutes, the time to absorb as much water as possible. It then goes in a cold oven and as the temperature rises the chicken cooks within the humidity that slowly builds and  releases from the pot itself. The flesh remains moist without any need of extra fat to do the job. A squeeze of a couple of oranges, a bunch of fresh herbs with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil are rubbed on every inch of the meat. After 50 minutes the lid is removed, allowing the skin to brown, and after a total one hour, this is what it looks like.