Pages Navigation Menu

An Interview w/ Italian Chef Pia Vallone :: Spring Vegetable Soup Recipe

Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Chef Interviews, Comfort Food, Entrees, Guest Feature, Italian, Italian Dishes, Italian Food, One-Pot Dishes, Pasta, Savory Dishes, Slow Cooked/Stews, Soups, Spring Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetable Dishes, Veggies, Winter Recipes | 2 comments

Pia Vallone / Mascarpone Mousse

Chef Pia Vallone / Mascarpone Mousse with Almond & Cookie Crumb

I love Italian food. I mean really loooove Italian food.. And who doesn’t? But especially authentic, homemade Italian – cooked with fresh ingredients and simple, healthy recipes that are downright divine. I recently took a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City with Chef and Culinary Instructor Pia Vallone, who teaches the Techniques of Italian Cooking course. It was a 5-week intensive class 6 hours long. Lots to learn in a short amount of time. Chef Pia, a native of Italy and graduate of ICE, taught us a a variety of recipes from different regions of Italy spanning the basic recipes and techniques.

Wild Boar Ragu w/ Matriaciani

Wild Boar Ragu w/ Matriciani

We made fresh pasta and risottos, hearty ragus and fresh and creamy sauces, roasted and braised meats, seafood dishes, soups and stews,

Baked Tomatoes with Oregano / Baked Shrimp with Garlic, Parsley & Crumbs

Baked Tomatoes with Oregano / Baked Shrimp with Garlic, Parsley & Crumbs

roasted and braised vegetables (my favorites were the Roasted Tomatoes and Stuffed Wine-braised Artichokes), desserts such as Classic Tiramisu, Mascarpone Mousse and Rustic Italian Apple Crostata,

Radish, Spinach, Romaine and String Bean Salad

Radish, Spinach, Romaine and String Bean Salad

and healthy, fresh Italian salads and small plates.

Making Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi

Making Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi

We always had red and white Italian wine and fresh Italian bread to accompany, and learned the customs of eating the way the Italians do – start with an “antipasti” (appetizer), next order a “primo” (first course usually consisting of pasta, risotto, minestrone or other soups), then pick your main “secondi” (second course usually a meat or fish dish), have a small bit of “formaggi” (cheese) after your main, then on to “dolci” (sweets/desserts such as cheese, fruit, sweet wine, and coffee/cappucino).

Sage Brown Butter

Sage Brown Butter

We made some of the most amazing Italian food during this class and learned classic authentic cooking techniques that I was able to bring home with me to prepare my own delicious Italian food. In fact, I was so impressed with Pia’s class that I had to interview her to share her culinary background and story along with a recipe with all of you! Enjoy.

  1. Can you tell me a little bit about your culinary training and professional background? What was your first job as a Chef and what was that like?

My first and only hands-on restaurant experience was in an Italian restaurant in London (cannot remember the name of the restaurant), near Victoria Station, in the summer of 1978. A friend of mine who worked as an executive chef there, offered me a job as a sous chef. After a month of hard work, I had to leave the restaurant, because my visa was about to expire and soon after, I returned to Italy. The second experience related to food, was working for several years as a bookkeeper for a restaurant and corporate catering. There I learned so much about food and was exposed to new ingredients and flavor profiles, although I worked in the establishment’s office. As for training, I graduated from The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC and hold a Culinary Arts diploma and a Pastry and Baking Arts diploma. I currently work at ICE as a Manager of Kitchen Assistants and as a Recreational Chef Instructor, though I have worked in different areas in the company, within the past 10 years.

  1. When did you realize you wanted to be a Chef? Who inspired you most as a young cook and what did you learn from them?

I always loved cooking and eating, but I began to spend time experimenting with recipes from various kinds of cuisines in my home kitchen, cooking for friends when I arrived to New York in 1980. Wanting to get involved with food and becoming a chef was a second career change for me, which began in 2001.

 My greatest inspiration was my father, who was a gourmand and a terrific cook. I spent many hours in the kitchen with him during my childhood, helping out, observing him and absorbing all the knowledge I could. From my father, I learned passion, love and appreciation of good food and the importance of using fresh ingredients.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about your culinary style and what makes your menus and recipes unique?

My style is mainly rustic. I like rustic food for its simplicity and because it is nourishes the body and soul. My menus and recipes are unique, because the ingredients I use are accessible and inexpensive.

  1. Is there a difference in the recipes you create/the food you eat in Italy versus the Italian food here in the United States and what are the main differences?

The difference between food in Italy and food here…? Food in Italy is extremely fresh, mostly organic and seasonal. Its flavor(s) cannot be replicated in dishes cooked outside of the Country. Food in Italy is also quite simple. In fact, most of the best food I have ever eaten there was prepared with just a few ingredients. On the contrary, Italian American food is the result of ‘imported’ traditions and transformations, mostly due the immigrant’s longing for the ‘Old Country’. Immigrants, who arrived here tried to capture flavors and freeze memories, by utilizing similar ingredients grown in a different terroir. Nowadays though, great Italian chefs live here in the States, so the differences between Italian food in Italy and the US is narrowing down.

  1. In your opinion, what are the most important elements when creating a recipe from scratch?

The most important elements are: fresh ingredients, simplicity and focus, Make sure to tastes the food while cooking it.

  1. What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe?

My favorite dish is ‘Roman Style Tripe’, a dish that brings back childhood memories.

  1. What is your favorite spice or ingredient to cook with and why?

I love black pepper, which I use in all savory recipes. Besides liking its pungent flavor, I add it to dishes because it helps improve digestion.

  1. What is your favorite cooking gadget or kitchen item you can’t live without and why?

I own many gadgets and often buy the new ones that are the latest invention in the market, but always tend to use the familiar ones over and over. A gadget I cannot live without is a hand held grater, because it is efficient and does not use too much space in the kitchen.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs and home cooks?

Start by cooking a simple recipe, one with 4 or 5 ingredients. Learn basic skills and techniques at first and then move on to a larger repertoire. Patience, practice and repetition are important to achieve success with cooking, as with other things in life.

  1. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

Yes. I am always looking to inspire others to cook. It is a pleasure to see that people are interested in cooking and familiarizing themselves with ingredients. Sharing passion for food and cooking with people is an all-around relaxing experience for me.

Spring Vegetable Soup

Spring Vegetable Soup

Spring Vegetable Soup

Yield: serves 6

2 small carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 small zucchini, diced
1 small butternut squash, diced
1 bunch escarole, chopped
½ cup peas, frozen
1 tablespoon basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for bread and for drizzling on soup
4 quarts chicken stock
1 small ciabatta bread
Sea salt to taste
Pepper to taste

  1. Sauté carrots, celery and onions in a large stock pot over medium heat, for approximately 5 minutes, making sure that you stir the vegetables while they cook.
  2. Add chicken stock to the pan. Increase the heat to high, cover the pan, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Slice bread into 1” thick slices. Brush slices with the additional olive oil on both sides and place in a sauté pan over low heat. Turn bread slices once and cook until they are golden brown. Place bread in a tray and lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Set aside.
  4. Add butternut squash to the stockpot and cook for 3 minutes.
  5. Add zucchini and peas to the stockpot and cook for 3 more minutes.
  6. Add escarole, basil, parsley, salt and pepper and cook for 4 additional minutes.
  7. Remove two ladles of soup from the stockpot and puree in a blender, then return the pureed soup to the pot (the puree will thicken the soup). Stir and cook for 1 minute, then turn off the heat.
  8. Add some grated cheese into the soup and stir. Ladle soup in individual bowls, drizzle oil and sprinkle additional cheese.

Recipe Copyright © Pia Vallone 2010.

Photo credits: Kristen Hess and Pia Vallone. 

Read More

Veal Saltimbocca & Roman Sauteed Peas w/ Pancetta

Posted by on Feb 3, 2012 in Comfort Food, Entrees, Ethnic Recipes, Fall Recipes, Italian, Italian Dishes, Italian Food, Side Dishes, Uncategorized, Veal, Vegetable Dishes, Veggies, Winter Recipes | 0 comments

Veal Saltimbocca

Veal Saltimbocca

Veal Saltimbocca is one of my favorite dishes, and makes a simple, elegant meal for any dinner occasion. This traditional Roman dish uses thinly pounded veal scallopine cutlets which are sautéed in butter and oil, then topped with crispy prosciutto and sage with a buttery white wine sauce.

This Romanesque Italian dish is usually served with a side of mashed potatoes or Piselli alla Romana – savory buttered peas sautéed with onion and pancetta (recipe follows). Make it a complete meal by serving with an Arugula salad, topped with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a dressing of EVOO and lemon juice and some fresh cracked black pepper. Enjoy with a glass of dry white wine and crusty Italian bread.

Veal Saltimbocca with Buttery Wine Sauce (Saltimbocca alla Romana)

1 lb veal scaloppine, ¼ inch thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 to 14 sage leaves
¼ lb thinly sliced prosciutto, slices halved
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
Sage leaves, for garnish

Place veal cutlets between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and with a meat pounder or heavy sauce pan, pound veal to 1/4 inch thick. Cut scaloppine in half crosswise and season on both sides with the salt and pepper.

Place 1 sage leaf on top of each scaloppine and cover each with a half piece of the prosciutto.

In a large skillet, combine 2 tbsp of the butter and the oil and heat over high heat. When the mixture starts to brown, add the scaloppine, prosciutto side down first for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium and flip over scaloppine, sauté turning as needed, until the scallopine are evenly browned and cooked through about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the scallopine to a warm platter and tent with foil to keep warm.

To make the sauce, add the wine to the skillet and with a wooden spoon scrape the pan bottom to deglaze it. Increase the heat to high and allow the sauce to reduce until golden and syrupy, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining butter. Season with the salt and pepper, and pour over the veal. Garnish with the remaining sage and serve warm.

Serves 6.

Roman Sauteed Peas

Roman Sauteed Peas

 Roman Sauteed Peas with Pancetta (Piselli alla Romana)

1/2 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
4 cups peas, fresh and shelled (or 1 package frozen peas*)
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. chicken stock or water
6 thick slices pancetta, chopped fine (can also use bacon or prosciutto)
1/4 tsp. sugar

Place butter and onion is a saucepan and saute over medium-low heat until the onion is soft and translucent. Add peas, salt, pepper, stock and pancetta; cook until peas are tender and pancetta and onions are cooked through. Add sugar, mix well and serve hot with Veal Saltimbocca.

*If frozen peas are used, follow cooking directions on the package after cooking the onion.

Serves 4-6.

Recipes from Techniques of Italian Cooking, Institute of Culinary Education.

 

Read More

Ricotta Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Posted by on Jan 7, 2012 in Comfort Food, Entrees, Fall Recipes, Italian, Italian Dishes, Italian Food, One-Pot Dishes, Pasta, Sauces, Savory Dishes, Special Occasion, Uncategorized, Vegetable Dishes, Veggies, Winter Recipes | 0 comments

Ricotta Gnocchi and Wild Mushroom Sauce (Gnocchi di Ricotta Con Sugo de Funghi)

Ricotta Gnocchi and Wild Mushroom Sauce (Gnocchi di Ricotta Con Sugo de Funghi)

As far as I’m concerned, gnocchi are little pillows of love, goodness and deliciousness. Especially when they are homemade..that is a true labor of love. It’s not that they are difficult to make, but definitely time consuming, but with a little patience the end result is worth the wait! Gnocchi (Italian plural for gnoccho) are basically homemade dumplings that can be made from flour and potatoes, or in this recipe made with ricotta, parmesan cheese and flour. These dumplings have a thick and creamy consistency with grooves for holding a rich sauce made with cream and cheese, or a chunky meat sauce such as a bolognese or a luscious wine and wild mushroom sauce made with porcini, cremini and chanterelles in the recipe below. The gnocchi can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer and then boiled just before serving with the sauce of your choice.

To make the Gnocchi:

2 c ricotta cheese
1 c grated parmesan
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
Sugo de Funghi (recipe follows)
4 tsp fresh tarragon leaves
1 c grated parmesan cheese

Ricotta and parmesan cheese

In a medium bowl combine the ricotta and parmesan.

Mix flour into ricotta and parmesan

Gradually stir in the flour, adding more if necessary, until a soft dough results.

Knead and form the dough

Turn the dough out and knead until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. If the dough becomes sticky while kneading, add more flour.

Divide and cut the dough

To form the gnocchi, divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a cylinder about 3/4 inch thick and cut each into 3/4 inch lengths.

Make ridges in the gnocchi with fork tines

Dip a fork in flour, and holding the fork in one hand, roll each piece of dough over the back of the tines to form ridges.

Freeze the gnocchi for 30 minutes

Refrigerate the gnocchi for 30 minutes or freeze.

Cook gnocchi until they rise to the surface

To cook the gnocchi, bring 4 to 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, stir in 2 tablespoons of salt, and cook until the gnocchi rise to the surface of the water, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain well, toss the gnocchi with the sauce. Garnish with tarragon leaves and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

Wild Mushroom Sauce (Sugo de Funghi)

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup dry Marsala wine
6 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb. chanterelles or other wild mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 tbsp tomato paste
4 c chicken stock
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in Marsala wine

In a medium bowl, combine the dried porcini and Marsala with enough hot water to cover and allow the mushrooms to soften about 30 minutes.

Strain the porcini and reserve the liquid

Strain the porcini through dampened cheesecloth or a coffee filter, reserving the liquid. Rinse the porcini to remove any sand deposits and chop roughly.

Chop the cremini and chanterelle mushrooms

Meanwhile, chop the additional wild mushrooms and place in a large mixing bowl.

Saute mushrooms, onions and garlic

In a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the cremini, chanterelles and porcini, and saute until cooked through about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add tomato paste to liquid and mushrooms in pan

Add the tomato paste to the reserved soaking liquid and add this mixture to the mushrooms.

Add stock and bay leaves and seasonings

Add the stock and bay leaves, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and simmer gently until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.

Add the heavy cream

Add the heavy cream.

Reduce by half

Reduce by half, about 10 minutes

Until sauce is thick and creamy

Until sauce is thick and creamy..

and completely delectable!

and ready to serve over the gnocchi.

Toss the gnocchi with mushroom sauce

Serve the mushroom sauce over the gnocchi. Toss with parmesan cheese and tarragon. Serve with a green salad and a robust red wine. Enjoy!

Makes about 3 cups.

Recipe from the Institute of Culinary Education

Read More

Italian Free-Form Apple Tart (Crostata Di Mele Alla Romana)

Posted by on Dec 17, 2011 in Baking, Comfort Food, Desserts, Fall Recipes, Holiday Recipes, Italian, Italian Dishes, Italian Food, Special Occasion, Uncategorized, Winter Recipes | 0 comments

Freeform-Apple-Crostata

I have been taking an Italian cooking series at the Institute of Culinary Education and it’s been an amazing opportunity to make fresh pastas, risottos, sauces and classic Italian dishes and desserts. I’ve decided I want to start baking more and was thrilled to learn how to make a lovely free-form apple tart called Crostata Di Mele Alla Romana. This delicious dessert is basically an Italian version of an apple pie but without a pie dish, made on a baking sheet. Super easy and super delicious, and perfect for the holidays.

The handmade dough is rolled out on to a sheet pan, with a delicious warm apple, rum, butter and cinnamon filling, then topped with a lattice crust and sealed together around the edges with rolled dough. The crusty is golden and flaky, with a buttery cake-like texture and is topped off with sprinkled confectioner’s sugar. You won’t be able to resist the smell of warm apples and cinnamon that permeate the kitchen making this the ultimate comfort food for your friends and family. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Pasta frolla:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter
3 large eggs

Apple filling:

3 lbs. tart apples, such as Granny Smith
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp dark rum
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Egg wash:

1 egg well-beaten, with a pinch of salt

For the dough, combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until finely mixed in. Add the eggs and continue to pulse until the dough forms a ball. Shape into a disk, wrap the dough and chill it for at least 1/2 an hour.

For the filling, peel, core and slice the apples thinly. In a medium saute pan, combine the apples with the sugar, butter, rum and cinnamon and simmer uncovered, over low heat until the apples exude their juices, about 10 minutes. Continue to simmer until the filling is fairly dry, about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and set a rack in the lower third of the oven. Cover a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment or foil.

making the crostata

Divide the dough in half, roll half into a 12 inch disk and transfer it to the pan. Using a plate or platter as a pattern, cut the dough into a perfect 11-inch circle. Spread the filling to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the dough.

Cut rolled pasta dough

Roll 2/3 of the remaining dough into an 8 by 12-inch rectangle and cut into sixteen 1/2-inch wide strips.

Making the lattice crust

Brush the strips with egg wash and arrange them on the filling in a diagonal lattice. Use the remaining dough and scraps to make a long cylinder.

Making the tart dough edge

Egg wash the edge of the tart and apply the cylinder. With the back of a knife, make diagonal impressions in the cylinder.

Bake the tart until the dough is nicely colored, about 30 minutes.

Italian Free Form Apple Tart

Top with powdered confectioner’s sugar, let cool slightly and slice. Serve with French vanilla ice cream.

*Note: You can also substitute 2 1/2 lbs pitted sour cherries or blueberries, (fresh or frozen) for the apples.

Read More

Ecco La Cucina: An Interview with Tuscan Chef Gina Stipo

Posted by on Apr 19, 2011 in Chef Interviews, Italian, Italian Dishes, Italian Food, Spring Recipes, Uncategorized | 3 comments

Gina Stipo at Ecco la Cucina, Tuscany

Gina Stipo at Ecco la Cucina, Tuscany

I recently took a Tuscan cooking class with Chef Gina Stipo at ICE in New York, and immediately fell in love with her rustic Tuscan recipes, her passionate, hands-on teaching approach and cooking philosophy; centered around fresh, seasonal produce and local ingredients from Tuscany. We learned the basics of Tuscan cooking, local ingredients, cheeses and wines, and a little bit about Gina’s culinary training. She explained Italian culture and ways of cooking, and we made some really delicious food which we thoroughly enjoyed at the end of the evening.

Pecorino Flan, Kristen making Gnocchi, Artichokes and Lemon

Pecorino Flan, Kristen making Gnocchi, Artichokes and Lemon

For starters, we made a savory Pecorino Flan, served with roasted pears and arugula and paired with a crisp, white Tuscan wine to complement the tangy cheese. We made fresh homemade potato gnocchi from scratch, along with two savory, simple cream sauces – one with fresh crumbled gorgonzola, onion and sage, another with walnuts, butter and parmesan.

For the Roasted Chicken dish, Gina demonstrated the ‘Tuscan’ way of cutting up a whole chicken (with a large pair of kitchen shears), then she threw it gently into a roasting pan along with our fresh trimmed artichokes, lemons, garlic, rosemary and sage and put it in the oven for awhile until it was crispy and browned. For dessert, we savored a light and fruity Strawberry Semifreddo drizzled with melted dark chocolate – straight from the heavens above!

Gina's Cooking Class, Ecco la Cucina Cookbook

Ginas Cooking Class, Ecco la Cucina Cookbook

In my interview with Gina, she discusses her culinary training and background and cookbook Ecco La Cucina, (“Here’s the Kitchen”). Having lived and trained in Italy, Gina specializes in Italian cuisine primarily from the Tuscany region. She also does personalized food and wine tours in Tuscany and around Italy, and offers hands-on cooking classes held on the rural estate of Spannocchia, south of Siena, focusing on Tuscan cuisine and wines. Gina is truly passionate about her work and has found her place in the culinary world. She’s truly an inspiration, and a talented Chef and cooking instructor… Read my personal interview with Gina below to find out more about her culinary training and career, cooking philosophy, her cookbook and a few of the recipes from our class.

Can you tell me a little bit about your culinary and professional career background?

I feel as if my life has always been food focused, I have so many early memories of different foods I loved.  Growing up in an Italian family, meals were very important.  We celebrated with food, we made special trips to buy the right ingredients, and we ate together as a family.  When I was six years old we moved to Italy for four years and the beauty of the country, the food that is such an integral part of their lives, made an indelible mark on me that formed a basis for the way I relate to both the beauty of my surroundings and food. I have been studying food all my life but made a career change when I was in my late 30’s to focus on food professionally.  I came into a little money and I used it all to go travel in Italy and study their cuisine.

When did you realize you wanted to be a professional chef and cooking instructor? Who inspired you most as a young cook? What did you learn from them?

For a long time as a young adult my dream was to live in New York City and go to culinary school but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  I lived that dream when I was in my late 30’s and then worked in restaurants for several years to gain experience, but I still hadn’t found my niche.  In 2000, some friends who own an estate in Tuscany asked me if I would come and do some classes for their guests.  I set up cooking classes and found that I’m really good at it, that my innate curiosity and constant study of the subject before I went to culinary school had given me a lot of information that people are interested in.

My mother inspired me as a young cook, she has a curious nature and was always buying strange things in the market and figuring out how to cook them or eat them.  The Italian food of my father’s family inspired me.  From my mother I learned curiosity and openness, from my grandmother and aunts I learned the importance of freshness and respecting your ingredients.

Can you tell us about your training at the Institute of Culinary Education as well as abroad in Italy? How were you trained and what was that like? What was your first job as a professional cook and what was that like?

I loved going to ICE, spending every day surrounded by food and talking about it; I got extra bonus points on tests, joyously studied and constantly felt thrilled to be learning and surrounded by people interested in food.  I learned that I love the technique and precision of beautiful desserts and enjoy making them perfectly.

I also trained in Italy, at a school in Bologna as well as by talking to little old people and home cooks about their food and cooking with them in the kitchen.  It’s important to have an open mind and realize that, no matter what you’ve studied or for how long, you don’t know it all, there’s always something new to learn.

How did you get started doing food and wine tours in Italy and can you tell us a little bit more about that?

After I started doing classes for the estate in Tuscany I hit upon the idea of doing a tour for their guests and taking them around the area to great restaurants and wineries, sharing with them the intricacies of the regional foods.  That grew a little every year.  Meanwhile I did single day classes for people who come to Tuscany.  In 2005 my sister came to work with me and is my partner in the States, coordinating the weeklong tours and coming to Italy when we have a group.

Can you tell us a little bit about your cooking style and what makes your cookbook and cooking classes unique?

I would say what sets my cooking apart is knowledge and respect for the ingredients, for the way the dishes developed and evolved.  My cooking style is simple, I don’t believe in making it complicated or scaring people away from food; I want them to have the same acceptance and understanding of the importance of it as an integral part of their lives.  While I enjoy entertaining with stories, my focus is on education, not on reinventing the wheel or making a dish so complicated it takes the joy out of cooking.

Tell us about your cookbook Ecco La Cucina, and what inspired you to write this?

My cookbook is a simple compilation of the recipes we use in my area of Tuscany and was put together by the requests of many of my students.  I put a spiral binder on the first several printings because i want people to be able to use it in the kitchen, not fight with it to get it to stay on the page.  It’s all about making it friendly and comfortable, like Italian cooking should be.

In your opinion, what are the most important elements when creating a recipe from scratch?

There are two questions there:  a recipe from scratch or a dish from scratch.  I do both.

When I went to Italy I worked with an Italian woman who was the cook on the estate.  The owners wanted someone to write down her recipes in English because they had so many requests from their guests.  It hadn’t been done before because she didn’t use recipes, she just cooked.  I worked with her for two months and watched her and learned a lot and wrote the recipes down into a saleable cookbook for the estate.  That exercise helped tremendously when I moved to Italy and traveled around learning about the cuisine and how the dishes were made and allowed me to write my own cookbook years later.

When making a dish from scratch it’s most important to understand the science of cooking; the why and how to make a dish taste good.  There are certain basics in cooking and if you understand those you can create authentic dishes.   But those basics can be different depending on the cuisine.  Indian food is put together differently than Chinese, which is different than French.  The fun thing is learning all of that and making great authentic food!

What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe?

There is my grandmother’s special baked lobster that’s a family favorite and has become my signature dish among friends.  You have to have the courage to kill the lobster and it’s stuffed with bread crumbs, herbs, garlic and drizzled with olive oil, baked and then served on top of thin spaghetti.  It’s fabulous!

What is your favorite spice to cook with and why?

I just did a series of classes on spices used in Italian cooking .  I am crazy about salt and talk a lot about the importance of using unprocessed sea salt, but I don’t think I have one particular spice I like to cook with.  I’m against the constant use of black pepper in absolutely everything without thinking of whether it adds anything good to the dish or whether you even like it.  I love making Indian food for all the wonderful spices there are and adore the smell of cloves, but really in Tuscan cooking we use more herbs than anything because they were free for the peasants, whereas spices cost a lot of money.

What is the most underrated ingredient in your opinion?

Freshness and the seasonality of food.  When you get a vegetable or fruit that is grown in season and is allowed to ripen before picking, there really isn’t much else you have to do to it but eat it.  And by using seasonal ingredients that are local and fresh your dish is elevated before you even begin.

As a professional chef, what was your funniest kitchen incident?

My first job as a professional was in a very hot, very small kitchen at an excellent French bistro in Atlanta.  I was garde manger until I got promoted to the grill.  The first day I was there it was 95 degrees outside and too hot in the kitchen for chef coats so we all wore our favorite t-shirts and ball caps.  After 10 minutes sweat was already trickling down my back and stomach so when the owner asked me if I thought they should turn on the air conditioning in the kitchen, I answered YES!  Everyone laughed because it was a joke they always played on new crew: there wasn’t any air conditioning in the kitchen and, to make it worse, if you kept the kitchen doors open it pulled the air conditioning from the dining room and the guests would be too hot.  I loved how tough you had to be to make it through your shift and the camaraderie you have with the other cooks, like surviving under fire.

When cooking at home, what do you like to prepare for yourself?

Sometimes I like to make complicated braised dishes that take all day, but when I’m hungry I’ll make myself a big fresh chopped salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, blue cheese and grapes.  Or cook up a batch of fried chicken or rabbit.  But I’ve been known to make dinner a bottle of red wine and a bowl of buttered popcorn!

What is your favorite cooking gadget or kitchen item you can’t live without and why?

I really love a decent rubber spatula and a microplane, but I tend to travel with my own special paring knives.

What 5 cookbooks would you recommend every home cook own?

That’s hard because I’m not a big fan of cookbooks, I prefer to read food history or food science.  But the Joy of Cooking is a go-to book in my kitchen for all those traditional recipes that no one knows by heart, plus the original Betty Crocker book from my childhood is great for straightforward American desserts and a bit of nostalgia.   The Greens cookbook from The Greens Restaurant in San Francisco is my all-time favorite book, it’s all vegetarian cooking and every recipe in there is amazing, yet simple.  The Essentials of Italian Cuisine by Marcella Hazan is also an excellent reference book.  My new favorite is by an Italian, Giorgio Locatelli who owns a restaurant in London; his book “Made in Italy” is a wonderful read and a great learning tool

Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs and home cooks?

For aspiring chefs:  respect your ingredients and spend time learning in depth a cuisine rather than trying to reinvent something you don’t understand.

For home cooks:  Don’t be afraid and don’t let them confuse you with complications.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

I’ve really enjoyed living in Italy, studying the foods of the regions and getting to know the people who make the food and preserve the roots of their cuisine.  I love being able to share that with visitors and help them to better understand Italy, to build memories and enjoy their vacation.

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

2 lbs red skinned potatoes
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
Salt

Preparation

Bring potatoes to a boil in salted water until cooked through, being careful not to cook too much or they become water logged. A fork should enter easily with no hard center. Peel and then put through a ricer onto your work surface. Make a well and add the egg and half of the flour and work until incorporated and evenly mixed, adding the rest of the flour as you go. Knead the dough until its just pulled together and you don’t see tiny potato pieces. Try not to overwork the dough. Form into logs, cut off half-inch sized pieces and roll them on a gnocchi board or fork.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

Gorgonzola Sauce

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 fresh sage leaves
8 oz gorgonzola cheese
½ cup cream
Fresh ground pepper
Salt to taste

Preparation

Saute the onion in butter until soft, add sage leaves and continue to cook gently without browning. Add gorgonzola and cook over low heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Add cream and heat through, being careful not to boil. Season with ground pepper and check for salt; some cheese is saltier than others. Serve over homemade potato gnocchi and top with some fresh ground Parmigiana cheese as garnish.

Walnut Cream Sauce

Walnut Cream Sauce

Sugo di Noci (Walnut Cream Sauce)

1 cup walnuts, chopped fine
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
White pepper, ground
Salt

Preparation

Put the cream, walnuts, Parmigiano, and butter in a saucepan and heat. Salt and pepper to taste; bring to a simmer and then turn off heat. Allow to remain hot until pasta is cooked, then toss and serve with a sprinkling of more Parmigiano and finely chopped parsley. Because gnocchi or pasta continues to absorb liquid, you will need to save some of the pasta water to add when you toss the pasta, as it may seem dry. Serve over homemade potato gnocchi and top with some fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese as garnish.

Strawberry Semifreddo

Strawberry Semifreddo

Strawberry Semifreddo

1 cup sugar
3 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 egg whites
½ cup sugar
1 pint whipping cream
Dark chocolate, melted
Strawberries for garnish, whole

Preparation

Combine the first cup of sugar together with chopped strawberries and lemon juice and bring to a boil, allowing to cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and cool completely.

Whip the egg whites with ½ cup sugar until stiff, then whip the cream. Fold together with the cooled syrup.

Spread the semifreddo in a pan, or into individual cups, and freeze until set. To serve, allow it to sit at room temperature 10 minutes then either slice or invert onto plates. Serve with fresh strawberries and chocolate drizzled on top.

To find out more about Gina, her cookbook and Italian culinary tours, visit www.EccoLaCucina.com

Read More

Artful Gourmet on ABC News!

Posted by on Apr 9, 2011 in Uncategorized, Video | 2 comments

Food Styling & Photography story – ABC News

ABC News Picture Perfect

Watch the video as Lauren Glassberg from ABC News interviews Kristen Hess, ICE instructors and students on their experience at Institute of Culiary Education’s Food Styling and Photography course. CLICK THE VIDEO OR LINK TO VIEW

READ THE FULL STORY HERE

http://cdn.abclocal.go.com/static/flash/embeddedPlayer/swf/otvEmLoader.swf?version=&station=wabc&section=&mediaId=8057068&cdnRoot=http://cdn.abclocal.go.com&webRoot=http://abclocal.go.com&configPath=/util/&site=

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Read More