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Black squid risotto can be found in many restaurants in Italy but not often anywhere else in the world. I suppose it is because it isn’t easy to find sepia ink. It is a powerful dye made from the ink of the cuttlefish. Where to buy it is the question. You can try to collect the ink bag when cleaning the squid, but this is difficult. It is often sold in small packets or bottles in some Italian specialty stores. You can ask your fish monger if he can order it for you. I buy it in small bottles at the fish section of the market in Switzerland or in Italy and store it in my refrigerator. I often make black tagliatelle and risotto and it always makes a big impression with guests. The ink is mild and doesn’t have a strong fishy flavor. It’s beautiful black silky color is impressive and best of all it is delicious mixed with shell fish of squid as I have here in this recipe.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings as a side dish, 2 servings as a main course
1 cup Arborio rice
5 cups chicken broth or vegetable or fish stock broth
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (light flavor)
1 small white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup good white wine
2 tablespoons seppia ink
Salt as needed
Heat the stock and seppia ink in a pan and leave it on low temperature to keep it warm.
Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil in a sauce pan. When they are translucent, add the rice and allow the rice to become opaque in color stirring it for about 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add the wine enough to cover the rice and stir. Cover the rice with broth until the rice has absorbed the liquid and then add more doing the same thing until the rice is al dente.
The cooking should be about 20 minutes. Remove the risotto from the stove and stir in the butter until it has melted into the rice. This will create a nice creamy risotto. Add salt to taste.
Note: If you wish you can add some squid rings or chopped the tentacles at the very end and cook only a few minutes. Squid cooks very fast and it will be nice and tender with just a few minutes cooking time.
Remove the tentacles, sac, beak, eyes and spine and wash any sand off the squid. Using a kitchen scissors cut the squid lengthwise. You can either cut it in quarters or in half lengthwise. Make small incisions in both directions with a very sharp knife on the inside flesh of the squid.
This will help to keep the squid flat instead of curling up.
Place them on long wet skewers.
Place them on a very hot grill a few minutes on each side. You will see when they start to brown. Squid can become very rubbery so the timing is critical. Salt them immediately.
We have spent our summers on Cape Cod ever since we were kids and we loved to fish. Our family always thought that we should have the talent to be geat fishermen because my grandparents came from Gargano on the south of the Adriatic Cost of Italy, and my grandfather was a fisherman (pescatore). We stayed in a big house with my aunts and cousins and my father and uncles alternated days off during the week to join us. My family was in the food and restaurant business and the markets and restaurants were open 7 days a week at that time. We waited for them to arrive and prepared for our fishing trips to the Cape Cod Canal. We would come home from these trips sleepy, smelling of bait, no fish and disappointed but not deterred. After all, our grandfather was a fisherman; we must have inherited this passion from him.
We went to every bait store searching for the right bait. We talked to anyone who could give us fishing secrets or lures that were a sure thing. We paid attention to the tides and set our alarm clocks so that we were at the suggested fishing spots at the exact time the fish were running, and we caught no fish. Later when we older we bought a sailboat and continued the same routine, maybe this was the answer. We had tried fishing off the canal docks, off the rocks, on the beach and we bought all kinds of fishing poles and gear. We would see all the other boats pulling in the fish, the fish leaping out of the water all around us and still no fish. Then my brother decided the sailboat wasn’t the right boat and bought a Boston Whaler. This was surly the answer and the ritual went on and still no fish. I remember he caught a flounder and a bluefish once and this was a great occasion with photo’s and excitement and a grand fish dinner. I have to say that we had lobster traps and were much more successful catching more lobster then we could eat so not all was lost. There were summers when we decided we would catch everything we ate during a weekend. We were great at clamming and carried home buckets of steamers, little necks and mussels. We made calms on the half shell, chowder, pasta with clam sauce, calms casino, stuffed mussels, grilled, boiled, baked, stuffed lobster and pasta with lobster sauce, but no fresh grilled fish. We just couldn’t understand it, what was the problem after all we must have the gene; our grandfather was a fisherman in Italy how could we miss.
The next generation continued this search for the answer and was about to give up. My brother-in-law Peter and my nephew Nick experiencing the same curse went fishing one day and met up with a man who had caught several huge stripped bass. As usual they befriended him and he told them how to make his special lure. As we all laughed at them and said, “Oh here we go again” out they went searching for all the components and proceeded to make this new, magic lure. With trepidation mixed with a lot of hope they headed out to Nantucket Sound. They not only tackled the curse, they have been catching huge blue’s and stripped bass ever since, they broke the curse!
As all this was happening I went to Vieste, Italy searching for information about our grandparents. I was in a state of shock when I noticed his profession in the documents I found. He was not a fisherman but a shepherd (pastore). We should have been raising cattle not fishing. This just goes to show you how the translation of a word can effect your whole life. Our family being mostly 1st & 2nd generation Italian-American never learned to speak Italian and translated the word incorrectly. Well so goes the fishing talent that we thought we should have inherited.
We had a great time in our search for the big fish, and thinking our grandfather was with us, probably he was laughing at us. The most wonderful stories, laughs and memories of our efforts might not have been the same fun. It is like being told that Santa doesn’t exist and not being upset. Being together as a family on Cape Cod in the summer was the best part.
Grilled Whole Fish In Foil
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
1 18 lb. Fresh whole bluefish, striped bass, cleaned and gutted
1 large orange, skin and segments
2 fennels with stems
Salt & pepper to taste
Other things needed
2 large pieces of foil or parchment paper
Scale and gut the fish and wash it inside and out. Salt and pepper the inside and outside of the fish.
Lay out enough foil or parchment paper large enough to place the fish and eventually covering it with another piece of foil to form an envelope. Lay the fish on the foil.
Remove the skin of the orange and separate the orange segments. Cut the fennels into thick slices including the stocks and leaves.
Salt & pepper the fish outside and inside the cavity. Stuff cavity with the fennels, orange segments and orange rind.
Place the fish on a hot grill or in the oven. If grilling the fish turn it over after 10-15 minutes. And grill it for another 10-15 minutes. The time depends on the size of the fish. Puncture the fish in the thickest part with a knife, if it is done it should go through easily. Don’t over cook as it will dry out.
Remove it from the grill and carefully open the envelope. Remove all the fennel and oranges.
Remove the head and tail and fins on the top and bottom of the fish. With a sharp knife remove the skin on one side pulling it gently away from the flesh. Make a cut down the center and cut the fish into segments removing them with specula. If the fish is done the flesh will come off the bone easily. Turn the fish over and do the same to the other side.
Serve the fish with fennel and orange salad. Make a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
NOTE: Other fish can be prepared in this manner such as salmon, trout etc.
The basil of Liguria is intense in aroma. They produce small leaf basil that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The essential oils of basil are in the veins of the leaves. I was told that making pesto requires patients and love. The motion of the wooden pestle against the stone mortar brings out the oils. Add the leaves a little at a time, listen to the sound of the pestle as you move it against the mortor. The aroma is intoxciating. I love the way Italians talk about food, it is always so sensual.
I make Genovese pesto without cheese, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it for soups or sauces. I store it in a glass jar, topped with olive oil and refrigerate it. Top it off with oil each time to assure it doesn’t oxidize. It is at my disposal whenever I want to add it to a dish such as chicken salad or drizzled over fish and always ready for pasta.
Often in Liguria the cheese is left out and used to flavor many other dishes. Soup, sauces, vegetables, topping for pizza, tossed with pasta, drizzled on fish, salads, a little pesto wakes up the flavors.
Mix the pesto with cheese such as Ricotta or Pecorino are also used. One of my favorites is a soft fresh chèvre with freshly ground pepper tossed with pasta. There are some lovely formaggi di capra made in the Alpe Liguri.
Trofiette Liguri is the traditional pasta with pesto and is served in every restaurant and household. Thank goodness you can buy trofiette packaged because hand making this pasta would truly be a labor of love.
Yield: 4 Servings
4 oz. fresh basil
4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pinoli nuts (pine nuts)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (light in flavor)
Salt to taste, (Don’t use large grain salt)
Wash the basil leaves in cold water and dry them on a towel. With a marble mortar and wooden pestle pound the garlic into a paste. The garlic should not overwhelm the basil. Add some salt and grind it into the garlic paste. Add the basil a little at a time and with a gentle swirling motion grinding it into the garlic. You get the best taste by gently grinding the leaves. At this point add the pine nuts, a handful at a time. When the nuts are soft and incorporated start adding the cheese. Begin to add the extra virgin olive oil. It is important the flavor of the oil is light so that it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the basil. The light olive oil of the Luguria blends perfectly with the basil mixture.
The preparation should be done at room temperature and as quickly as possible to avoid oxidation.
Trofiette Liguri is served everywhere and is a specialty of this region. Boil the water salting it sufficiently and drop in the trofiette. It will take longer then most pasta to cook, about 19 minutes. Toss it well with the pesto and serve the grated cheese either Parmesan or Pecorino on the side. Drizzle the same light extra virgin olive oil over the top.
Years ago I had these succulent stuffed calamaritti in a small Italian restaurant in Monaco and have been making them ever since. They are so simple, but whenever I make them for a grill party, they are the hit of the meal. Calamaretti are a little difficult to stuff since the openings are so small and the mixture doesn’t go through a pastry bag very easily no matter how fine you chop the mozzarella. So you have to stuff them by hand. But the advantage is that you can prepare them before your guests arrive and put them on the grill for a little something special with a glass of cold white wine, and you will be rewarded with “special thanks to the chef”.
If you don’t have the time to stuff them, just clean them, grill them, lightly salt after grilling, and drizzle with a little good balsamic vinegar.
Involtini di Calamaretti con Mozzarella e Basilica
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 3-5 minutes, as soon as the squid will shrink and begins to brown. Do not over cook.
Yield: Antipasti-12 calamartti
12 very small squids
2 medium size mozzarella balls
Several basil leaves
Salt, to taste
Put the mozzarella and several basil leaves into a food processor and chop until the basil and cheese have melded together. Or you may chop both by hand very finely.
Remove the tentacles, sac, beak, eyes and spine and wash any sand off the squid. Fill each tube with the cheese and basil mixture and close the opening with a toothpick. The opening of the squid is very small and is a little difficult to fill.
Place the filled squid on a hot grill and cook for only few minutes turning them on all sides. Any longer and the squid will be very rubbery.
Salt them immediately after taking them off the grill and serve them immediately when they are hot and the mozzarella is still stringy.
It is quite amazing how people swam around vendor stands in the markets in Italy when funghi porcini are in season. The king of mushrooms are as impressive as they are delicious. They are tossed with pasta, cooked in risotto, are simply delicious grilled with herbs – a meal in itself, served fresh as a salad, sautéd with olive oil and herbs or baked, they can be marinated in olive oil or topping on pizza.
When selecting porcini the gills should not be yellowish-brown, which means that the mushrooms are becoming over-ripe. Do not buy them if they have dark under-caps or black spots and also check for holes in the stems where there might be worms. The short round stems should be firm and white. They have a rich woodsy rustic flavor and are simply beautiful to look at.
Brush off any dirt you may find and wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth. Store them in a paper bag, not in a plastic bag or wrapped in plastic wrap. You do not want mosture to form on them. Prepare them as soon as possible when fresh or they will dry out.
Porcini mushrooms are also dried, found year round in supermarkets and must be hyddrated and have a more intense flavor when cooked. When making risotto or pasta sauce you can also use the hyddrating liquid in the sauce adding a deep concentrated flavor.
Porcini can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia. Fresh Porcini are not as popular in the US as they are in Italy where they are almost over harvested and the collection is regulated. Taking pictures of Porcini is a passion as they are such a beautiful mushroom.
Risotto Funghi Porcini
Risotto With Porcini Mushrooms
Prep Time: 7 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings as first dish 2 servings as main course
1 cup Arborio rice
5 cups broth (homemade or store bought, vegetable, chicken)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 lb. fresh Porcini mushrooms, cut into bite size pieces
1 medium chopped onion
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of chopped garlic
1/2 cup white wine
Freshly ground pepper
Put the butter and oil in a saucepan and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the rice and allow it to cook until it becomes opaque. Pour in the wine so that it just covers the rice. Stir and allow the rice to absorb the wine on medium heat. Heat the broth and begin to add it in by just keeping the rice covered with liquid. As soon as the rice absorbs the liquid, add a little more. Stir constantly, continue this process until the rice is almost done (has a bite). Add the mushrooms and allow them to cook in the rice for another 2-3 minutes. The entire cooking process takes about 20 minutes. Remove the rice from the stove and add the grated cheese, stir and add a little freshly ground pepper. Stir in the cold butter.
Note: Risotto cannot be leftover. It must be served immediately as the rice will absorb all the remaining liquid and it will be uneatable.
Note: You can substitute fresh Porcini with about 2 oz. dried Porcini mushrooms, which can be found in the most markets. Soak them in tepid water for 30 minutes before using them. Add some of the hydrating liquid to the risotto giving it a more intense flavor.
Known as the Bündner Herrschaft, and the Five Villages (Fünf Dörfer) Zizers, Malans, Jenins, Maienfeld, and Fläsch, are located in the district of Landquart and the Chur Rhein valley in the Canton of Graubünden.
Maienfeld is dominated by the Schloss Brandis built from 1270-1275. Narrow streets curve through the small village like a ribbon wrapped around a perfect gift. The beautifully frescoed Rathaus (town hall) stands proudly in the center of the village. Scholss Brandis – now a restaurant has a small garden where you can enjoy the beauty of this village with a glass of local fresh light Pinot Blanc.
The wine route (Weinbergweg) runs from Chur to Fläsch through the five villages. The main variety of grape grown is Pinot Noir. Riesling-Sylvaner (Müller–Thurgau) and Chardonnay, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) are now also being grown. The route is best visited by walking or biking and taking in the beauty of the vineyards decorated with roses and artist ateliers scattered about the villages displaying works of art. You can catch a bus or train back to your starting point if you don’t want to walk back. Wineries are open for wine tasting and little hotels and restaurants with terraced gardens interrupt your walk as you just can’t resist going in and sitting down to a glass of wine and a Bünderteller (air dried meats and cheeses). Some of the restaurants have jazz evenings serving local specialties while people patiently wait for the vendange. The lively music seems to stimulate the sugars in the grapes. Cows graze lazily, and friends enjoy horse and carriages rides as they spend a day together laughing and waving to people as they pass-by.
“Städtlifest” celebrates the harvest and is held on the last weekend of September or the first in October. This year it will be in Maienfeld from Friday, October 2 until Sunday, October 5. The quite villages and typical Bündner chalets are decorated with huge sunflowers covering the doorways and fountains filled with roses and fall flowers. Locals, dressed in traditional costumes are entertained by small musical groups and Alpenhorn billowing music over the vineyards. A typical Swiss fest full of tradition and color has people waiting in line to get a portion of Racelette in huge wheels melting and scraped onto hot boiled potatoes. Grills are placed throughout the village with huge wood skewers of goat (zigerspitz) grilled in flashes of fire as seasoned oil is scooped over them in what looks like a flamethrower performing amazing tricks. We watch munching on our zigerspitz; the bratwurst grilling, wine being poured into cups while people and children scurry around visiting friends and making this one of the most colorful local fests in the region. This is Switzerland at its best.
As early as 1291 according to documents from monasteries, Wilhelm Tell called the cheese “Bratchäs” and Raclette cheese was born. Raclette is a Swiss cheese specialty that is made by melting Raclette cheese. It is believed that it originated in the Valais Canton of Switzerland.
Old tradition has it that farmers took the cheese up into the mountains when they tended to their herds. They placed the cheese over heated stones, the cheese melted and was scraped onto cooked potatoes. Of course as legend goes, it is also believed that they put the cheese too close to a fire and it melted. Whatever the story, it is one of the most popular Swiss dishes.
Raclette is a pungent mountain cheese that is creamy, powerful, full-fat, semi-hard cheese made from whole milk. The maturity period is about 4 – 5 months. It can be bought in a wheel or a square. The original cheese is made in Switzerland but you also get cheeses from Italy and France. The Italians also use Fontina.
The key is to get the cheese when it is perfect and this is the challenge. If it is too young, it is to mild and doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Too mature and it tends to be oily and very strong and the rind is sticky. Still I lean towards the more mature. The cheese should have a dark beige rind with no cracks or reddening. The texture should be creamy and it should have a pungent aroma. Raclette stores very well in the refrigerator. Cut it when it is cold and bring it to room temperature before serving.
Today most Swiss prepare Raclette with electric machines. They can be bought from 1 to 8 servings and come with wooden scrapers and small non-stick palettes. The cheese is cut into squares the size of the palette and placed in the Racelette oven. The cheese melts and is scraped off onto a waiting hot plate. The biggest advantage to this method is that everyone can eat at his or her own pace and no one is slave to the preparation. A metal grill or granite piece covers the grill and keeps the plates warm. If the machine has a grill, meats or vegetables can be grilled at the same time. However, traditionally this was not part of the original dish.
Another version of the machine holds a half wheel of Raclette cheese. The cheese is secured onto a holding tray. The heating element is placed over the cheese and when the cheese melts it is scraped off with a knife onto a hot plate.
We have both machines and I prefer the half wheel machine, as the cheese tends to get slightly crispy on top giving it a smoky flavor. The disadvantage is that this machine is not inexpensive and is hard to find. The person preparing the cheese has to be dedicated to the preparation eliminating him/her from joining in the party. This type of machine is used in the mountains for large groups and during festivals and adds a lot of atmosphere to a party.
Boiled potatoes (Charlotte) and cornichons (French pickles) always accompany the cheese. A twist of a pepper mill is ground over the top. Small pickled onions and small pepperoncini peppers can also be served. I love the pepperoncini, which adds a little Italian twist to the dish. Covered cloth bags or baskets are specially made for holding and keep the potatoes warm. Dry white Swiss wines such as a Fendant or Lavaux (Epesses, St. Saphorin) is an excellent compliment to the cheese.
Most people tend to have this dish in the winter. It is perfect for an après ski dinner and we have had many evenings sitting around the table with a fire blazing after a day of skiing enjoying a Racelette dinner. But we have found it is a wonderful summer meal as well sitting out on the balcony enjoying the view of the mountains.
I always look forward to enjoying a dinner of Raclette. But be prepared to air out the room. When you’re enjoying this meal and savoring a glass of wine and good conversation, you don’t notice the aroma. Once the meal is over the smell of the cheese is overwhelming. Never-the- less, there is a block of Raclette in my refrigerator at all times during the winter.
Hunting season has arrived and hunters head for the mountains in search for deer, elk and mountain goat. The hunting season is only about 3 weeks or the time that is needed to meet the culling goals of the herds. Hunters deliver their game to the local butchers who prepare them and sell the meat. Hirsch, Reh (venison and elk) are prepared into steaks, racks, sausage, Hirsch Peffer (marinated venison in wine) and Hirsch Bündner Fleisch (air dried meat a Graubünden speciality. The meat is rubbed with a mixture of pepper, juniper berries, herbs and salt and hung to dry in small barns in the mountains about 5,500 ft. for several month. During this time the meat loses about 50% of the water content. The Bündner Fleisch is then sliced into razor thin slices and served with cornichons (sour pickles), rye bread, small pickled onions and tomatoes. It is a Bündner specialty, although it is also made in the Ticino (Italian part of Switzerland). Veltliner wine is often consumed with Bündner Fleisch. Veltliner is a blend of Ciavennasca, Pinot Noir and Merlot grapes, produced in Graubünden and Lombardy, Italy. Veltliner is mostly sold in Switzerland and Northern Italy.
Today some factories reduce the drying process using air blowers. The product made internationally does not compare to the one made in Switzerland. In Graubünden it is offered in every restaurant and served on rustic wooden pallets.
We put our order in for Reh and Hirsch medallions, racks and steaks with our local butcher and have it frozen so that we can have local venison during the winter months. Grilling it over an open wood fire adds a slightly smoky rustic flavor. Traditionally Spätzli (a dumpling made by making a batter and scraping small pieces off into boiling water), wine poached pears with cranberry sauce and glazed chestnuts are served with venison. But I have created a chestnut fettuccine that I think compliments grilled venison.
Cervo alla Griglia
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2-3 minutes on each size depending on the weight
Yield: 2 servings
2-6 oz. venison medallions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Bring the venison to room temperature. Rub each one with olive oil, salt and pepper on both sides.
Allow the fire to burn down to red coals, but it should be just a little smokey. Place the medallions on the grill and cook them on the wood fire until the meat slightly springs back to your touch. If it is resistant it is over done. This usually takes a few minutes on each side. The venison should be a deep rose color in the middle.
Venison can be grilled on an electric or coal grill, but the woody, smoky flavor when grilled over a wood fire gives the venison a wonderful rustic flavor.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes for the sauce and 3 minutes for the fettuccine
Yield: 4 Servings
1 1/2 cups flour 00, (if you can’t find 00 use all purpose flour)
1/2 cup chestnut flour
Pinch of salt
2 medium sized eggs
2 tablespoons tepid water
In a food processor, place all the dry ingredients except for the water. Add the eggs. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to blend for 30 seconds, then add the water. As soon as it starts to look like it is a heavy corn meal, stop the processor and feel the dough. It should be very dry, but when pinched between your fingers, it should stick together. Don’t add additional water unless the dough is not sticking together. Remove the mixture and knead for 10-15 minutes by hand. The amount of water may be needed.
If you are making the dough by hand, place the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs in the well and mix the wet ingredients into the flour with a fork. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, cover it with a clean kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.
Using a pasta machine, roll a piece of the dough through each level. Once you have rolled it through the last level the dough will be ready to roll through the noodle cutter of the pasta machine. Rolling the dough through these levels also kneads it. Using the noodle cutter, roll a piece of dough through and take half the noodles and roll them around your hand to form a little nest. Put them on a kitchen towel and let them dry. If you have a pasta hanger, don’t make nests, but hang them to dry. You can also roll the dough into a cylinder and cut it with a knife about 1/4″. Toss with a little flour.
Drop the fettuccine in a large amount of lightly boiling salted water and test after a few minutes. They should take only about 3 minutes to cook.
Note:. Chestnut flour may be found in specialty stores
Sage & Pine Nut Sauce
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 6-7 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
1 lb pasta
12 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
Several leaves of fresh sage
Salt to taste
In a deep pan, boil salted water and cook the fettuccini. If the pasta is boxed, cook according to directions. If the pasta is fresh, it will take less than 3 minutes to cook.
While the water is heating up, prepare the sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter and the oil. Cut the sage leaves lengthwise and place them in the saucepan along with the pine nuts. Sauté it in the butter and oil, watch the pine nuts very carefully as they will brown very quickly. Remove from the stove as soon as they start to turn golden brown and allow them to finish browning in the hot butter. If the sauce needs more liquid, add a little boiling water from the pasta.