risi e bisi

October 25, 2011 Comments Off on risi e bisi

It was freaking gorgeous out today.  75°.  In late October.  This had dramatic consequences, like I went out for my run in the new compression shorts and found myself sweating in odd places.

Sorry about that.

Anyway, I’d planned out a fairly cool-weather menu this week.  L made us braised spare ribs the other night, which kept the oven going for a while and seemed appropriately hearty for what should be a cooling time of year.  O wants chili one night this week and I’m debating between Cincinnati (2.5 hours) or Texas (4.0 hours).  Thoughts?

Tonight, though, was risi e bisi.  Rice and peas.  We’d tried risotto last winter and it hadn’t been a hit.  I’d done it kind of wrong–not enough fat, the rice was still a bit crunchy (which it’s supposed to be, but that’s kind of weird for a younger palate), and it quickly disappeared from the nightly options.  Which was too bad, because I really like risotto.  It’s definitely northern Italian–anything with a pot bubbling away for thirty minutes while you stand over it is really more about keeping warm than anything else, I think, and the Venetian version of it is particularly light and tasty.  The peas cut the huge starch hit of the rice, and they’re sweet, which mixes well with the salty stock.  Not that it’s a particularly light meal, but that run today?  Six hard miles, with little grains of Arborio rice dancing in my head the whole way.

I made risotto a lot in Chicago, so I know the drill.  Saute a shallot in a ton of butter and oil, brown some bacon or pancetta in the resulting bubbly goodness, then add the rice, a cup of wine, and get comfortable.  Dripping heated stock into the pot for 20 minutes or so is kind of a soothing ritual, and the stock itself was something else this time–a four-hour distillation of a roasted chicken carcass and a gallon of water into a sublime pint of solid flavor.

Definitely making my own stock again, because it made all the difference.  Not too salty, but lots of poultry flavor and just enough salt to make the peas work for it.  The kids were pretty impressed.  O announced that it needed pepper, and she was right.  That’s happening a lot more these days as she ticks off the foodista merit badges.  C said it was his favorite risotto so far, which means it was better than the January flop.  But he ate most of it and said he’d do it again, even though it had bacon in it.  He’s not a fan of bacon.

Frozen yogurt tonight to celebrate two awesome report cards.  Each of them got one B–one in science, one in art.  The rest?  Stellar stuff.  The thirty-minute enforced homework sessions may be playing a part, but mostly I think the two of them have hit their middle school groove.

suppli a telefono

January 17, 2011 Comments Off on suppli a telefono

We’ve eaten some pretty amazing street food on our travels.  Starting with potato knishes in New York, our low-budget dining has included exploding falafel, sausages in a small German town that were served in undersized buns (so as not to dilute the meaty experience), a shirtful of cheap baozi in a small Chinese village, and genuine New Orleans Lucky Dogs.  I once spent four days in Paris with almost no cash, and subsisted entirely on Nutella crepes.

All of these were great, but my favorite street food of all time have to be suppli a telefono, which a colleague in Rome introduced.  We’d been getting a daily slice of pizza at the neighborhood joint, and I finally got up the nerve to ask what the golden brown spheres on the top shelf were.  They seemed popular, but who knew what was inside?  “Suppli,” my colleague said.  “You should have one. They’re wonderful.”  And holy deep fried deliciousness, were they ever.  Inside the fried exterior was a soft, moist lump of risotto, and inside that, almost like a secret surprise, or the center of a Tootsie Roll pop, was a molten, lava-like core of creamy mozzarella.  The whole thing crunched and then just melted in your mouth, salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy, all at once.  I was hooked, and I added an extra mile to my morning jog to support my newfound habit.

K and I resolved to try making them when we got home, but we had a lot of stuff to try and somehow these got lost in the shuffle.  This summer, though, while we were in Montreal, I got into a conversation with a fellow researcher from Italy, and as the conversation turned–inevitably–to food, I asked her about suppli. “Ah,” she said.  “You must have had those in the north.”  Rome, of course, is northern Italy if you’re from Sicily.  “At home they’re called aranciata.”  She explained that, according to popular lore, wives took leftover risotto, added a protein punch in the form of a cheesy middle, and deep fried the entire thing in a protective crust to keep it clean for husbands to take into the mines for lunch.  The idea allegedly was that you’d crack open the crust, discard the fried bit, and have a still-warm lunch of cheesy risotto.  K and I reckoned that must have been a myth, because no one in their right mind would pass up the crispy outside.  Up north, apparently, without the appetites of miners, the same idea came down in smaller suppli a telefono. Both names make sense–a large one looks a bit like a (dark) orange, and when you bite into one through the molten mozzarella, the result is a long, cable-like string of cheese that looks like a telephone wire.

With a ton of leftover risotto from last night (how did that happen?) and a new-found confidence in deep frying things in the dutch oven, I figured tonight would be a good evening to self-indulge.  The kids wanted no part of them, and it was out-night anyway (I had a single side salad, knowing what was coming).  It took a little searching, but I found a few recipes (for things like “deep fried rice balls,” far less sonorous a name), and I interpolated a little bit.  The process was actually really easy; I set up a little assembly line of flour, lightly-beaten egg, and Panko bread crumbs.  While the oil was heating up, I made 1-1/2″ balls of the risotto, pushed one or two mozzarella pearls into them, dredged them in the flour, then covered them in egg and crumbs.  Once the oil hit 350° I dropped in about four at a time, turned them for four or five minutes, and let them sit for a while.  The first batch was too hot–a little too crispy on the outside, but after the oil cooled down the rest of them came out glowing orange, hot on the inside, and with that molten cheese core that strung springy strands of cheese when I bit into them.

No reliance on subtlety or craftsmanship here, just a really good idea and ingredients that can take a beating.  Ultimate street food.  High calorie and high carb, but so far I’ve been able to limit myself to three for dinner.  I’m going to throw a couple in the oven for lunch tomorrow and see how they reheat.  And Chris, if you’re reading this, thanks for the tip.  I think I still owe you a suppli lunch at Ghetto Pizza, and if you’ll come down for reviews from Switzerland next year, you’ll get your due.

risotto–meh…

January 16, 2011 Comments Off on risotto–meh…

Risotto has always been one of our favorites, and it was one of those dishes that blew our minds in Italy.  I made it a lot last year when I was on my own in Chicago and got pretty good at it–not quite to K’s standards, but passable.  I like the routine–a lot of patient stirring, plenty of time to let your mind wander while the arborio rice soaks up the wine and chicken stock, and a pretty wide margin of error when it’s al dente.  So, after a few runs at it, it’s not hard to get right.

I thought this would be tailor made for the kids, since it’s got a smooth texture and the taste is really nothing but rice, butter, salt, and a little bit of tang from the wine.  I told them what was in it, and they seemed game.  Nothing fancy, I promised.  No saffron, or shrimp, or mushrooms.  Just the straight stuff, and if you like it, then we’ll experiment.  (That’s mine up above with the lemon and the mozzarella pearls–not theirs…)

C took one bite and begged off, but after he got through the required three bites he changed his mind–a little.  Not the best, but not that bad, a 6.5 out of 10.  O was more critical, giving it a 5.75.  Both agreed they’d eat it again, but I doubt we’re going to get to porcini risotto before this experiment is over.

Now, the bread that went with dinner tonight?  That went down a treat.  All the loaves we’ve made so far have been pretty simple, and I’ve been looking for, you know, bread, like serious Italian peasant bread with a sturdy crust and some real chew to it.  The kind that gets thrown at you in no-star restaurants in Rome along with a bottle of olive oil and a slightly soiled dipping dish.  I watched La Strada one night last week after the kids went to bed, and there’s a great scene where Anthony Quinn is eating dinner, tearing huge hunks of bread out of a loaf the size of a football helmet and sponging up vast quantities of pasta and sauce with it.  That was what I was looking for.

And sure enough, in one of our cookbooks, there’s a recipe for “Rustic Italian Bread.”  So I went through it and figured that, assuming I had a whole day to tend to it, I could probably follow directions well enough to get it baked.  I made the biga last night and let it rise next to our bed–the warmest spot in the house.  (When I woke up this morning to go to the gym, I was starving and the whole upstairs smelled great).  That got mixed with simple flour, yeast, and water this morning, and then it sat in one of the new stainless steel bowls for three hours.  There’s a fairly complex folding routine to get the classic purse-shape, but I seemed to be able to do that OK, and after another hour’s rise I threw it in the oven, on top of a pizza stone, at 500°.  (My father-in-law will be pleased to know that I even used the pizza peel he made us a few years ago.  I felt like I should have been singing opera, while I was at it).

I took a peek after ten minutes and discovered that the simple, unassuming loaf had turned into Breadzilla.  A super oven rise, one that almost took out the broiler coil.  After half an hour it looked superb.  The crust was brown and black–probably thanks to the pan of hot water that went in with the pizza stone–and it had a nice, pleasing thunk, which I’d read was the mark of a done loaf.

The recipe called for a two-hour cooling period, which was agonizing since the whole house smelled, once again, of bread.  But the wait was totally worth it.  The crust was thick and just the right amount of tough, and the bread inside was dense and chewy–and still warm.  The kids just nommed it straight, but I got a (clean) dish of olive oil and it was almost like sitting in a cheap Trastevere pasta joint.  We’ve got a lot of it to get through, which I’m calling a good thing.

A quiet day around the house today.  We watched some football this afternoon and the kids have decided to be Bears fans this year, which will make much of the family happy.  I’m fine with that.  Riding tomorrow, and a school event in the evening, which means we’ll dine at a local establishment, probably Carlos O’Kelly’s.  I may nurse a Dos Equis and have leftover night at home, though, since we’ve got some Italian sausage leftover from pizza night.  And I”m just thinking that it would go pretty well on that bread.

And the risotto?  Well, we had a ton of leftovers.  Leftover mozarella, too.  All according to plan.  Tomorrow for lunch I’m going to fulfill a culinary dream two years in the making.  The greatest street food I’ve ever had, reproduced in our humble kitchen.  Maybe.  If I can do it without setting the kitchen on fire.

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