Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Le Caccavelle

The view is spectacular, isn’t it?  Just a few days ago, I was there, heading towards Sorrento.  The drive along the coast was of distracting beauty and made it difficult to keep eyes steady and concentrated on the road.  As we approached each curve, instinctively, we held our breaths before the precipitous cliff-edges, the infinite vistas over the deep blue waters, the gardens full of lemon trees, the villas terraced on the hillsides and the crazy drivers that were coming the opposite lane.

After several stops for pictures, sight-seeing, coffee, food and more pictures, we arrived in Sorrento.  Again, there were more pictures, more coffee, more eating and lots of wandering around. The evening came, and just before going back to the car, this time, with our gps heading home, I spotted a cute little corner shop that sold specialities from the area. Across the window I saw an incredible huge shape of pasta, a type I’d never seen before.  I walked right in.  

The shop was very well organized.  Walls were stacked with many varieties and brands of pasta that you wouldn’t find in a supermarket.  Right next to the pasta, there were shelves with different types of canned tomatoes, so many extra virgin olive oils, from tiny to large, from scented to classic, hot peppers, Italian spices.  There was an incredible selection of limoncello in beautiful bottles, wines, vinegars, candies, cookies, pastries.  Everything divided by section, brand and quality.  

The owner of the shop noticed my stop in the pasta section and must have noticed how I kept going back and forth to the huge pasta that had brought me there in the first place.  The man came closer, and with a very strong Neapolitan accent said:  chelle sò le Caccavelle (those are Caccavelle).  Right there and then, I didn’t pay attention to the name of that type of pasta, even though it was clearly printed on the package, but the shop owner continued and explained that Caccavelle in Neapolitan, means pot.  Now, I was looking closer at the pasta and noticed how it wasn’t shaped like the shell-shape I had thought it was. It had handles, was rounder on the sides and flat on the bottom.  Indeed it was a pasta shaped like a pot.  From shelf, to cashier, to bag, to trunk, to home they went.
As I was washing some greens, I thought I would give them a stir fry with some extra virgin olive oil.  Then use the stir fried greens to fill the caccavelle, together with a sauce made of blanched garlic. Something in between aglio, olio & peperoncino, and orecchiette con cime di rapa, which is not so Neapolitan but still from the south and, most importantly, very good.

Blanching the garlic is a technique I have been using alot lately, because it maintains the garlic's flavor, lessening the piquant and sharp garlic notes. The garlic assumes more of a mild delicate taste, it's easily digested and doesn't leave you with that strong breath that sticks around for the next two days. 
Caccavelle with Stir Fried Rapini and Blanched Garlic Sauce

Caccavelle pasta
Rapini greens
8 cloves garlic + 1 clove to stir fry
hot pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan slivers

Split 8 garlic cloves in half and remove the garlic germ in the center. In a small sauce pan, add the garlic and enough cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil and drain the garlic.  Repeat the process 4 times.  Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the previously washed greens for 10 minutes.  Drain the greens and place them in a bowl with iced water so to maintain their green color.  Drain the greens from the iced water.

Add 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil , 1 garlic clove and a few flakes of hot pepper in a pan and let them sizzle for 1 minute.  Add the greens and stir fry until most of the humidity evaporates.

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a bowl and cook the caccavelle.  No more than 4 caccavelle at a time.  While the pasta boils, remove some of its cooking water and add it to the blanched garlic. With a food processor puree the garlic until it forms a creamy liquid texture, if necessary add more cooking water, add some salt to taste.

Once the pasta is cooked.  Place one portion of caccavelle on a plate, add the stir-fried greens in the center of the pasta and pour the garlic sauce in and around the pasta, pour more on the inside of the pasta.  Add some hot pepper flakes, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a few slivers of Parmesan cheese.  Serve warm.

*Note: What makes this pasta so good is the blanched garlic sauce and what makes it so unique is the pasta shape.  Of course, if you don't have this type of pasta, any type will do.  You can use a smaller type of pasta.  Mix the pasta and greens together with the blanched garlic sauce, sprinkle with cheese and it will be just as good.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

happy belated new year!

Hello!  It's been quite a while since the last time I've made something good for you, but I know you'll forgive me because I'm here today with something sweet, chocolate and extraordinarily delicious.  Once you bite into it, you'll forget who you are, where you're from and what you're doing.  No guilt, no sorrow, just pure love and mouthfuls of mmmhs and awwws. 

So, I thought I'd kick off the New Year with Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Krantz cake from the cookbook Jerusalem. This is just one of the many recipes I've tried from their book but it is definitely one of my favorites, I've come back to it over and over again ... the creases on that particular page can prove the love.  

Happy New Year friends!  

A presto!


adapted from the cookbook Jerusalem 
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

makes two loaf cakes

530 g all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting (I used strong flour in place of all purpose flour)
100 g sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
grated zest of 1 small lemon
3 extra-large eggs
120 ml water
1/4 tsp salt
150 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
sunflower oil, for greasing

Chocolate filling
50 g sugar
30 g good quality cocoa powder
130 g good quality dark chocolate, melted
120 g unsalted butter, melted
100 g pecans, coarsely chopped (I used walnuts)

Syrup to cover cakes
160 ml water
260 g sugar

Start by making the dough:

Place the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest in a stand mixer.  With a dough hook mix on low speed for 1 minute.  Add the eggs and water, after a few seconds increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough comes together.  Add the salt and then start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until it is incorporated in the dough.  Continue mixing until the dough is completely smooth, elastic and shiny. During the mixing, scrape down the sides of the bowl and throw small amounts of flour onto the sides so that all the dough leaves them.

Place the dough in a bowl previously greased with sunflower oil, cover with a plastic wrap and leave in the fridge over night.

Melt the chocolate and butter.  Mix the melted chocolate and butter with the cocoa powder and sugar. You will obtain a spreadable paste.  

Divide the dough in half and keep the one-half covered in the fridge.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle (38 by 28 cm).  With a spatula, spread the half of the chocolate mixture over the rectangle leaving a 2 cm border all around. Sprinkle the pecans (or walnuts) on top of the chocolate.  Note:  at this point Ottolenghi sprinkles some extra superfine sugar on top of the filling and nuts.  I preferred to leave it less sweet by skipping this step.

Use both hands to roll up the rectangle, starting from the long side closest to you and ending at the other long end.  Rest the roll on its seam.

Trim about 2 cm off both ends of the roll with a serrated knife.  Use the knife to gently cut the roll into a half longwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam.  You are dividing the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves.  With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, and then lift the right half over the left half.  Repeat this process to form a simple braid.  Gently squeeze together the other ends.  Gently lift the cake into a previously greased and lined loaf pan.  Cover the loaf with a damp cloth and repeat the process to make the second cake.  Let the loafs rise for 2 hours

Preheat the oven at 190°C.  Place the cakes on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 30/35 minutes.

While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup.  Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a boil.  As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and leave to cool down.  Once the cakes come out of the oven, brush the syrup over them. Note:  Ottolenghi point out that it is important to use up all the syrup to cover the cakes.  I found it was too sweet for my taste, so I used only half the amount for both. Leave the cakes until they are warm, then remove them from the pans and let cool completely before serving.