What to Eat in Italy
What to Eat in Italy

On The Marcella Hazan Trail

By Monday, June 13, 2016 Permalink

On The Marcella Hazan Trail: Paschal Lamb or Abbacchio alla Cacciatora

Publication of Marcella’s last book, Ingredienti, on July 12, 2016, translated and edited by Victor Hazan

by Madeleine Morrow

At Easter Rome is bursting with pilgrims. They gather from across the Catholic globe and descend on the Eternal City like flocks of birds returning from their wintering grounds. Nuns cluster like crows, standing in line for the wonderful gelato, then swish down the narrow streets, rosaries jostling against coni.

I too visited Rome at Easter on a pilgrimage and, while my quest was corporeal, it was no less spiritual, for I had come in search of the Paschal Lamb. I wanted to cook Abbacchio alla Cacciatora. This dish of early spring lamb can only be prepared during a few short weeks as the lamb required is but one month old. The Italian sheep are a smaller breed to those farmed in the UK and, consequently, the lambs are smaller too. At their tender age, the lambs have only drunk milk. The thigh bone is no longer than that of a chicken drumstick. The meat is tender beyond description.

I discovered this dish while searching for recipes to prepare on a family holiday in Rome — as the old adage suggests, “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” My chosen recipe was from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook, a treasure trove of Italian cuisine. She describes the dish as a celebrated Rome speciality, which suggested to me that to cook it in Rome was imperative.

the classic italian cookbook marcella hazan italian cooking recipe book food Victor Hazan Ingredienti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the morning of our anticipated feast, my family set out early for the Campo de’ Fiori where I expected to find the full list of my ingredients, as the market stalls and small shops surrounding the square sell every culinary delight one could need for a happy life. On arriving at the Campo, my young sons were immediately intent on securing football shirts before my attention was diverted. For the princely sum of 10 Euros apiece, they each walked off in a “fake” footie shirt bearing the name of Totti, Roma’s favourite son. Their attire had a magical effect as they were soon patted on the head and smiled at by every man we passed, from the local stall owner to the guards in the Vatican! The universal language of football and the passion it evokes is at least equal to the glories of cuisine amongst Italian men. Perhaps the food served up at the Stada di Roma is an improvement on the hotdog and chips ubiquitously sold to English football fans attending a game on home turf.

But what of the lamb? The Campo hosted a butchery stall where I explained my mission. The butcher set about chopping up the meat of tiny carcasses, not a sight for the squeamish or sentimental nor for vegetarians or the virtuous. The meat was delicately wrapped in greaseproof paper and settled in my shopping bag. I set off for the Salumeria in search of salted anchovies. The Italian delicatessen was an Aladdin’s cave filled with oils, vinegars and relishes of every kind. Huge hams formed a sculptural installation on the ceiling. Tiny tins contained exotic ingredients. There was an array of pancetta, prosciutto and other meats, fresh pasta of every hue and flavour, pesto and parmesan wheels, an endless store of delights to bring a rush of excitement to the most jaded palate.

cesaro eating abbacchio romana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The customers discussed their requirements with the shop assistants who acknowledged the importance of every purchase and handled the food courteously, each item wrapped with care. My request for salted anchovies led to a debate between two assistants as to which anchovy would be better suited to Abbacchio. A third joined in and asked to see my recipe which I had removed from my bag to check on whether any guidance was offered by Ms. Hazan herself. He shook his head gravely and announced to my fellow customers that he had never prepared Abbacchio in this way and that, in his opinion, the anchovies had no place in the dish. I decided to have the casting vote and soon 10 anchovies were laid out. My shopping trip gave slow food a new meaning. Every ingredient was deliberated over, the assistants presented as specialists in their field who contribute their knowledge to enhance the food that will end up later on your plate.

salt-packed anchovy creative commons photo serious eats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although described as a dish that is slowly pot roasted, the cooking time was surprisingly short due to the tenderness of the meat. The lamb was browned in batches. Then salt, pepper, chopped garlic, rosemary and dried sage were added before the meat was dusted with flour. Once the meat had been turned and it had darkened, the vinegar was added. The recipe does not specify what sort of vinegar to use but I think that balsamic adds great value to meat and so in went more vinegar than seemed sensible. The aroma that filled the kitchen at that moment was exquisite and the gathering guests were drawn to the tiny galley to discover the source. The anchovies were mashed and added at the end of cooking, giving the sauce a salty punch.

Within an hour we sat to eat on a terrace up above the city, the weather warm enough, even on an April evening, for al fresco dining. The Chianti flowed and the conversation was convivial but it was the lamb that stole the show. Meltingly tender, the meat was basted in its sauce which married the sweet balsamic and salty anchovies with the garlicky back note of herbs. A simple accompaniment of fave alla romana was served. It is true that food is best enjoyed when much anticipated and I had been waiting all day. It was declared by many as the best lamb they had ever eaten and who am I to disagree? Even the football shirts proudly bore the stains of a meal well savoured.

The Abbacchio grows ever more delicious in my memory as the years go by, tormenting me with the knowledge that I cannot recreate it in my own kitchen. Perhaps I too will have to make an annual Easter pilgrimage to Rome. As for the football shirts, they unravelled on their first wash and Totti will someday be sold to a rival team. In a world where everything is transient and football heroes are fickle, my sons are learning that when it comes to food, some things don’t change and old traditions can always be relied on to provide enduring pleasure

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Madeleine Morrow is a freelance food and travel writer based in London and writes for several newspapers based in the U.S. and in South Africa. She also has two blogs. Kitchen Journeys (www.kitchenjourneys.net) has a focus on travelling with family in search of culinary adventure. It also covers restaurants reviews in London. From The Healthy Heart (www.fromthehealthyheart.com) has a focus on lowering cholesterol through eating delicious food. 

***

From the publisher Simon and Schuster’s website:

When Marcella Hazan died in 2013, the world mourned the passing of the “Godmother of Italian cooking.” But her legacy lives on, through her cookbooks and recipes, and in the handwritten notebooks filled with her thoughts on how to select the best ingredients—Ingredienti, coming out on July 12. Her husband and longtime collaborator Victor Hazan has translated and transcribed these vignettes on how to buy and what to do with the fresh produce used in Italian cooking, the elements of an essential pantry, and salumi, resulting in this new book.

Before you know how to cook, you must know how to shop. From Artichokes to Zucchini, Anchovies to Ziti, Ingredienti offers succinct and compelling advice on how to choose vegetables, pasta, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, and all of the key elements of Marcella’s classic meals. Organic isn’t necessarily best, boxed pasta can be better than fresh. Marcella’s authoritative wisdom and surprising tips will change the way you cook. Her clear, practical guidance in acquiring the components of good cooking is helpful wherever you choose to shop—in supermarkets, farmers’ markets, specialty food stores, or online.

Based on sixty years of almost daily visits to the market to choose the ingredients of that day’s meal, Ingredienti is a life’s work, distilled—an expression of Marcella’s judgments, advice, and suggestions. Uncomplicated and precise, this volume will be essential to home cooks eager to produce meals in the same delicious style Marcella was the first to introduce to America.

 

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What to Eat in Italy

Venetian Hours: How Not to Visit Venice

By Tuesday, March 29, 2016 Permalink

Venetian Hours: How Not to Visit Venice

by Jonell Galloway

There are many ways to visit Venice, but if you want a real Venetian experience without disappointments, here are some tips.

  1. Don’t stay near Rialto or San Marco. There’s nothing at all wrong with the neighborhoods, but they are more expensive and more touristy.
  2. Don’t eat in restaurants with colored photos of all the dishes on a plastic sign outside. They tend to be touristy and unauthentic.Santi Maria e Donato basilica/church, Murano, Venice, Italy, travel
  3. Don’t take the vaporetto everywhere. The vaporetto is good for seeing the palaces on the Grand Canal on a sunny day or at night when they’re lighted, but walking lets you fall by chance on hidden palaces, churches, bridges, canals and cafés. These are the great joys of Venice.
    vaporetto water bus rialto bridge venice
  4. Don’t take Alilaguna if you’re coming from the airport. You can’t see a thing through the windows, and the trip takes about twice as long as the No. 5 airport express bus to Piazzale Roma (20′), which leaves from directly in front of the main airport exit.
  5. Don’t walk the streets looking for a restaurant. Choose restaurants in advance instead of walking in spontaneously when you’re hungry. Venice has its full share of tourist traps, especially around San Marco and the Rialto. Note: there are good restaurants in these neighborhoods, but do your research and reserve ahead of time and you’ll have a happier experience.View from Campo San Vio, looking down Grand Canal into San Marco Basin or Bacino, at Santa Maria della Salute church and Punta della Dogana art museum
  6. Don’t go to just any shop or restaurant. Try to frequent places run by Venetians and Italians. This is not racist or chauvinistic; it simply means you’re more likely to have an authentic experience and support the economy in Venice.canal venice san polo
  7. Don’t set out on your day’s sightseeing without studying where the major landmarks in Venice are located. Know where San Marco, Rialto, Accademia, Ferrovia and Piazzale Roma are in terms of north, south, east and west and your day will go much more smoothly. It’s also good to memorize the vicinity of major landmarks and the names of the sestieri or six city districts: Castello, Cannaregio, San Marco, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce and San Polo.sestieri or districts of venice map courtesty of http://www.italyguides.it/en/veneto/venice/interactive-map-of-venice#!/catid=36
  8. Don’t think you can get everywhere like you do in a city with a grid layout. Maps are not always the best way to get around. Let yourself get lost. When you’re really lost, look for the arrows near the street names marked San Marco, Rialto, Accademia, Ferrovia and Piazzale Roma.
  9. Don’t buy tickets each time you get on the vaporetto. Buy a Venezia Unica Citypass for one, two, three or seven days. Yes, it’s expensive, but so are individual tickets at 7.50 Euros a shot.
    Ponte di Chiodo, only bridge without parapet/side rails in Venice Venezia
  10. Don’t go to Venice uninformed. Do your homework before arriving. No matter what, you’ll spend a lot of wonderful hours getting lost, but you’ll make better use of the restricted opening hours.
  11. Don’t sleep in. Museums and churches tend to close early and some even close for lunch.
  12. Don’t rely on your guide books for opening and closing hours. They’re invariably out of date and times tend to change according to the season and the budget. Web sites are not always up-to-date either, but they’re more reliable. City museum opening times can be checked on the MUVE site. Otherwise, look at websites for individual museums.

Interactive map of Venice.

 

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What to Eat in Italy

Happy 1,595th Birthday, Venice!

By Friday, March 25, 2016 Permalink

San Marco and Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy

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What to Eat in Italy

A French Cook in Venice: Fegato alla Veneziana

By Sunday, March 6, 2016 Permalink

Franco-Venetian Cuisine

What to Eat in Venice: Fegato alla Veneziana, or Venetian-style Calf’s Liver with Caramelized Onions

by Jonell Galloway

Many say this is the ultimate Venetian specialty, but considering that Venetians eat mainly fish, one could easily argue that point. A good fegato can be the highlight of a day or weekend, however.

Everyone loves caramelized onions, but some people dislike even the idea of eating liver. Calf’s liver is finer than beef or chicken, and when it’s topped with sweet onions, it is indeed a highly refined dish.

You’ll see the influence of my background in French cuisine; I went a bit heavy on the white wine when deglazing the pan, but it renders a succulent sauce.

One of the crucial elements to the success of this dish is that the liver be of exceptional quality and thinly sliced. Thick slabs simply don’t work and take away from the refined aspect of this dish.

Another secret is to slow cook the onions and to just seize the liver, no more. If you cook it more and on slow heat, it will become leathery.

Recipe

Ingredients

400 g onions
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
400 g calf’s liver cut in extra-thin slices
1-2 cups white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Italian parsley, chopped
Skillet large enough to spread liver in a single layer
White polenta

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Venetian Hours: Looking for a Nonna

By Thursday, March 3, 2016 Permalink

Venetian Hours: Lost in Italy and Looking for a Nonna

by Jonell Galloway

If you live in Italy, you just have to have a nonna. Having just lost my “adopted” Italian grandmother, Nonna Margherita, in Switzerland, the time was right, and it happened in the most unlikely place: Bellaria-Igea, a seaside town in Romagna, known as the Italian region of land-and-sea because of its plentiful bounty of both fish and meat. As a result, the cuisine is varied and copious, playing on unending themes of the two. The hillsides beyond the shores are verdant and rolling, producing excellent wine, meat and cheese, while traditionally, the inhabitants by the seaside are fishermen.

Fishing net of a batana fishing boat in Adriatic Sea, Igea-Bellaria Marina, Nonna Violante, #lovingromagna

Originally, Bellaria-Igea was a village of solely fishermen and their families. Their wives supplemented the family income by renting out rooms in their seaside cottages. While the men were fishing, the wives tended to the guests by cooking, cleaning and generally making them feel at home.  Over the years, they added extra rooms and their homes became locande, or “inns,” and eventually pensioni, or “small hotels,” and this became a seaside resort. This is the story of the family of my new nonna, Nonna Violante.

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