Mario Batali is a culinary legend, a bundle of energy who has had enormous impact on America’s culinary landscape. His capacity for activity seems boundless: television including Iron Chef, restaurants spanning the continent, personal appearances, cooking contests, and, of course, cookbooks. But not just any cookbooks, for Batali is an enthusiastic advocate for finding and recording authentic recipes. Batali has become a food historian, preserving the culinary past for all generations.
In Molto Italiano, Batali records local recipes, the city-specific ones that make Italian cuisine so richly varied. Travel twenty miles in Italy from one town to another, and you’ll encounter an entirely new set of dishes. You really cannot compare, you can only enjoy.
This particular recipe is from Brindisi, an historic port city in Southern Italy. You’ve probably heard of Brindisi, but you won’t recall where. At the end of this blog, I’ll tell you.
On our first visit to Italy, Suzen and I actually went to Southern Italy and ate in one of the portside restaurants of Brindisi. I ate fresh anchovies at that little place, so when we saw this recipe which uses anchovies and almonds we were intrigued. That’s an unusual pairing of flavors. Knowing Mario, we expected something awesome. We were delighted with the results. So will you be.
Oh, I almost forgot about Brindisi. Remember the movie, and now television series, Spartacus? Kirk Douglas as the Roman gladiator who kills his trainer and leads a slave rebellion against Rome? His goal was to lead the slaves to freedom by crossing Italy, boarding ships and fleeing back to Greece. The port was Brindisi. Something to contemplate as you eat your anchovies.
St. John’s Eve Pasta
Yield: 4-6 servings
¾ cup sliced blanched almonds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
4 salt-packed anchovies, filleted, rinsed, and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
6-8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
1 pound lasagnette or pappardele pasta
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons of salt.
Meanwhile, in a 10-inch sauté pan, gently toast the almonds in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat until golden brown.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the almonds to a plate. In the oil remaining in the pan, toast the bread crumbs, stirring, until golden brown and crisp. Combine the bread crumbs and almonds in a small bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons more olive to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the anchovies and crush them into the oil with a fork. Add the anchovies and oil to the bread crumb mixture and season with lots of black pepper. Set aside.
Add the remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil to the pan, add the onion and garlic, and coo gently until softened but not browned. Add the tomato sauce, being to a brisk simmer, and cook until the sauce has reduced by one-third. Add the basil, remove from the heat, and set aside.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain the past well, and toss into the pan with the sauce. Add half of the bread crumb mixture and toss to mix well.
Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving blow. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumb mixture over the top, and serve immediately.
Source: Molto Italiano by Mario Batali
There are sandwiches and then there are piadinas (pee-yah-DEN-ahs). Never heard of them? Neither had I until I picked up a copy of Grizzled Pizzas and Piadinas by Craig Priebe. Suzen and I are pizza fans so I truly bought the book for new pizza recipes, but we are now enthralled by the piadinas.
This is a Northern Italian flatbread sandwich, with a disk of dough that is flattened then hot grilled for a minute on each side. An infinite variety of fillings can be applied to the middle of the grilled dough, the piadina is folded, and the warm creature is devoured. Start to finish, it’s about an hour to make the dough, let it rest as needed, then grill and stuff. While the dough is resting, you have the perfect time to raid your refrigerator for filling options.
Not only are the filling possibilities endless, but so too are dough combinations. The dough ideas from the book inlcude:
- Classic Unflavored
- Tomato Basil
- Yellow Corn
With those ideas as a starter, you are free to craft a dough that can either complement or contrast with the piadina contents. Preibe offers classic fillings:
- Soppresata with Parmesan Crisps and Honey
- Eggplant and Peppers with Tomato Vinaigrette
- Grilled Chicken with Peso, Pine Nuts, and Olives
- Hard Salami with Greens and Fried Eggs
- Deli Meets with Olive Relish
- Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Basic
- Pancetta, Arugula and Tomato
I was personally in favor of that last one, an Italian BLT. But we had spectacular leftovers that seemed destined for fate in our very own piadina. So, we made the jalapeno dough, then filled it with thinly sliced steak topped with guacamole and onions. Add some good Italian beer and you have dinner for two.
I’ve included the recipe for the jalapeno dough below, along with the grilling instructions. This dough is a light green color with some heat thanks to the combination of cilantro and jalapenos. For classic dough, just leave out the jalapenos and cilantro, but increase the water from ¼ to ½ cup.
Just off the grill, the bare piadina looks big and very likely inflexible. But while still warm, there is no difficulty in topping with filling and then folding over. The dough is thick, but not puffy, and not really chewy. The feel and texture of the grilled bread alone are very satisfying. When you start sampling your filling, you hunger cravings will be soon be ameliorated.
I know that you’ve just gotten used to the idea of panini and now piadinas come along. I won’t say which is better, but when I want something new and exciting, I headed am down the piadina path.
Green Piadina Dough
Yield: 4 piadinas
12 slices of jalapeno chile peppers
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 ½ cups unbleached flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for oiling the dough
Place the peppers in a blender or food processor with the cilantro, water, and lemon juice and blend until smooth.
Add the flour, salt, and olive oil. Use a pulse action until the dough comes together. Continue to pulse the dough in quick bursts for about 3 minutes. This technique keeps the dough from overheating.
When the dough is ready, it will be soft, smooth, and firm. Lightly oil the ball of dough with olive oil. Wrap in plastic and let rest for about 30 minutes. This resting period allows the gluten to relax, creating soft, tender dough easy to roll out.
Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll them into rounds about 8 inches in diameter.
To grill, heat the cooking surface — a flat griddle or skillet or cast-iron frying pan — on medium heat, until it is extremely hot. Test with a drop of water, which will sputter across the surface quickly disappear, and the surface smoke lightly.
Cook one disk at a time. Lay a disk on the hot surface. If the cooking surface is hot enough, the dough will not stick. If it does stick remove the dough, and spray the cooking surface lightly with vegetable oil, or moisten a crumpled paper towel with a drop of vegetable oil and wipe the surface of the grill.
Cook the dough for about 1 minute or until bubbles form on the surface.
Lift the piadina with tongs to check its doneness. The cooked side should have charred little bubbles. Turn over, and cook for another 1 minute, until the bottom is a light brown.
Stack the cooked piadinas in a clean towel and wrap them so they stay warm. For best results serve within 30 minutes of cooking.
Source: Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas by Craig Priebe