Genovese Style Pesto

Bring Out the Marinara Sauce

Munich has a Beethoven Ambassador, the brilliant young pianist Sophie Pacini, but Genoa in Italia has a Pesto Ambassador, one Roberto Panizza. Pesto alla Genovese even carries a special designation from the Italian government. Leave it to the Italians.

I am all out of basilico Genovese, the only basil officially allowed for their genuine pesto, so I made this with just garden variety sweet basil. I also substitued sunflower seed kernels for the mandated pine nuts.

Ingredients

Basil leaves, enough to pack a Food Processor

Sunflower Seed Kernels

2 cloves Garlic

2 pinches coarse Sea Salt

Time to turn this into a paste. Give it a few buzzes with the processor. There isn’t a lot else that these things are good for.

Add the following.

1 cup grated hard Cheese

The standard cheeses are parmesan and peccorino, but all I had was piave, so I used that. Buzz that in, then start to drizzle in olive oil. Keep adding until you get the consistency you want–the current standard is a paste. Then I preserve mine by freezing them in an old ice tube tray, and then storing the cubes in a zip-lock freezer bag. Then my processor gets a break for another week or more.

The framework for this recipe comes from Panizza himself, and an interview he gave to Domenica Marchetti for the book Preserving Italy. That’s why the man is the Pesto Ambassador.

Pickled Sweet and Sour Peppers with Capers

Free Oatmeal Cookie Recipe

Our seventies vintage Mirro-Matic has a couple of new parts, and pressure canning has gone into overdrive–it will process 16 pints at one time. Our local supermarket, not to mention the entire tomato farming regions of Italy, could go bankrupt.

Speaking of Italy, these pickled peppers are a take on a classic Italian condiment. Their’s is preserved in olive oil, but it’s pickle country here. This will make two half pints.

Ingredients

8 sweet Peppers

1 clove Garlic (I used Elephant Garlic)

A few Capers, chopped

White Wine Vinegar

Sugar

A wine glass of Water

Salt (not much)

Olive Oil

Cook the peppers and garlic in olive oil, just until they are soft. Dissolve the sugar in vinegar and water–the sweetness is up to you. Combine all with the capers, and pressure can, or just use an interminable hot water bath. Or find a Mirro-matic at a flea market.

My mother almost burned down our house, because she let a pressure cooker boil completely dry, and the top blew off of it. No one was harmed, but we thought our parakeet was a goner. A little fresh air, and he was chirping like crazy again. Don’t let that happen to your Budgie.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School, Part Four–A Shrine to Italian Flour, and Pizza Dough

“00”” in Italy Means Extra Fine

Now that the brick oven just needs just needs some trim and a little more paint to be completed, we dedicated the prep end to Italian flour, in particular the style that Naples made famous. That’s a cover of a bag of extra fine Italian flour, that I framed and painted with homemade gold glitter paint, in true shrine fashion. I just happen to come from a county that has a convent, a monastery, and a huge shrine, which has its own television and radio networks.

At any rate, this flour makes the best pizza dough, and is required by the city of Naples if you want to call your pizza authentic.

Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cup Italian “00” Flour

3/4 cup Water

2 teaspoons Yeast

Olive Oil

I always cheat by leaving a little of the water out, and dissolving the yeast in it with a touch of sugar, after I have mixed up the dough (flour, water, and olive oil) with our Kitchenaid. The dough hydrates while the yeast is rising. Let rise, and this will make two large pizzas. For large quantities, I use one cup of flour per pizza.

Just last weekend I cooked five pizzas in less that an hour for a ravenous horde of folks. They would have been more impressed if I had had a portrait of Pope Francis back there, instead of a flour bag. Maybe I should email the Vatican about that.

Focaccia Bread with Fresh Tomatoes and Rosemary

Ready to Slice

When I was growing up, there were essentially two kinds of cheese–Cheddar and Velveeta. Cheddar meant your family was in the dough for a change, and Velveeta was for when you were almost broke. We mainly had Velveeta, until American cheese singles came along.

How times change–now I am making regularly a classic Italian snack, in a piece of Lodge Tennessee made cast iron. The ingredients here are all either local or Italian.

Focaccia Dough

1 1/2 cups Tipo “00” Fine Italian Flour

Salt

1 tablespoon Italian Olive Oil

3/4 cup Water

2 teaspoons Yeast

1 teaspoon Sugar

Mix all the ingredients together, or dissolve the yeast and sugar in some water first. Knead, let rise, and and shape it as if making a pizza dough. This amount of dough will make two 11″ x 7″ Focaccia.

Toppings

Simplicity itself.

One medium Tomato, sliced, from the Festhalle

Hard Cheese, Grated

Chopped Rosemary, Rosemary grown by yours truly

More Olive Oil

Get Out the Grater

Freshness is the key to all Italian dishes. This cheese was new to me, when I stumbled across it at our supermarket, as a two for one deal. It’s a typically superior hard Italian cheese, this one being from the Italian Alps. It is considered to be the northern Italian equivalent of Parmesan, at a much lower price. That, alas, will not last long.

So there are more than two kinds of cheese, after all. The Piave is every bit as good as Parmesan. In a fit of nostalgia, I once bought organic American cheese singles from Whole Foods. That’s yuppie to the point of crossing over to the dark side.

Italians and Their Egg Yolk Rules

Some of These Eggs will have Orange Yolks

Italians buy their eggs according to the color of the yolks. Yellow yolked eggs are labeled giallo dell’uovo, and the prized orange yolked egg is called (actually) red yolked egg, rosso d’uovo. I’ll do chemistry first, and then the backstory.

Since Dr. Leroy Palmer first published his research in 1915, it has been known that yolk color is caused by the chicken’s diet. Different carotenoids called xanthophylls are the determinants. More recent research has narrowed down the two main chemicals to Lutein and Zeaxanthin, and one scientist has determined the first is the source of the yellow yolked egg coloring, and the latter for the orange color. That led me on the search for the second one.

Veg! Feed the birds leafy greens, corn, wheat and carrots, as all are good supplements to the diet. This supports my observation that their favorite food is Dandelion greens. I can start a chicken riot with those every time.

Now to the backstory. I was fascinated by the great food book by Bill Buford called Heat. He became so fascinated with Italian food that he goes to Italy regularly to learn from the best of the best cooks. Even though he was the fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine, he was born in Mississippi, and knows his eggs. Hence his experience with a woman who is a legendary pasta maker in Italy.

Bill describes the master of pasta, and why he went to study with her:

It was also why I’d got so interested in the egg, because on my first morning, watching Betta prepare the dough, I saw that an egg was a modern pasta’s most important ingredient, provided that it is a very good egg, which was evident (or not) the moment you cracked it open. If the white was runny, you knew the egg had come from a battery-farmed animal , cooped up in a cage, and the pasta you made from it would be sticky and difficult to work with, exactly like the unhappy batch that Betta produced one evening after Gianni fell asleep, having had too much wine at lunch, and failed to buy eggs from the good shop before it closed and had to drive to the next town to the cattivo alimentarii, the nasty store, and pick up a dozen of its mass-produced product. The yolk was also illuminating. The nasty store’s were pale yellow, like those most of us have been scrambling for our urban lives. But a proper yolk is a different color and, in Italian, is still called il rosso, the red bit …

Heat, Bill Buford

Poor urban folk, deprived of all the goodies. I have a mixture I now feed my birds. The basic bit is as follows:

16% Protein Organic Chicken Crumbles

Corn and Wheat Scratch

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Carrots

Various Greens in Season

Maters, Precious

Other Fruit and Veg that are left over (Squash and Pumpkin are especially good)

Ours yolks just keep getting more and more orange. I may one day even get one of the legendary red tinged yolks.

The Medicis, and the First Drive Through/Walk Through/Pick Up Window

There was a good reason that the Medicis ruled Florence and Tuscany for centuries. Besides funding guys named Leonardo and Galileo, they performed many public services. One of the Medici popes even hired an artist to paint his ceiling, though the ceiling happened to be in the Sistine Chapel, and the dude’s name was Michelangelo.

The most interesting invention of the Medici family these days was the take out window, aka wine window. Leave it to the great journalists of Agence France-Presse (French Press Agency) to catalog these gems (for a picture of one, go to the reprint of the article by the website Raw Story).

This is how it happened: the Medicis returned to power in Florence in 1532, and wanted to promote both agriculture, and give the average wine drinker a price break. It was a PR miracle, as both farmers and drinkers were thrilled with the setup. The solution was genius in its simplicity.

First, there needed to be strict regulation. The Medicis only allowed wine windows in palaces, and the selling had to be direct from winery to customer–no middleman. A drinker could only buy 1.5 liters at a time, though apparently there was no limit to the number of windows someone could visit. This rule also assured that there could not be the creation of a monopoly.

Then 1634 rolls around, and everyone’s favorite plague, the Bubonic, hits Florence and Tuscany. Even then, before the germ theory of disease transmission, one local writer noted that the use of wine windows protected people from contracting the disease, in that there was a thick stone wall and a heavy wooden door between buyer and seller. In current terms, there was enforced social distancing.

Fast forward to the present, and everyone’s second favorite plague, Covid-19. Suddenly long unused wine windows are back in operation, except this time there is an entire menu. Various bars are selling wine, as well as mixed drinks, coffee, gelato, and sandwiches, through the windows. The association called Le Bouchette del Vino has an excellent website with a tour of the wine windows of Florence (some saucy French person translated that as “wine holes”). AFP reports that there are officially 149 wine windows in central Florence, and a grand total of 267 known wine windows in the entire province of Tuscany.

So grab some Chianti or even some Morellino di Scansano, and take a virtual tour of the wine holes on https://buchettedelvino.org/home%20eng/home.html. It beats riding on a plane for eight hours with some already addled anti-masker.

Ciao!

Cookbook Bench

Let’s Cook

MJ wanted a bookstand for our cookbooks that can be moved around in the kitchen, so I dove into my scrap pile and came up with some goodies. My total cost for new components for this stand was 9 1/2 cents.

Most people make these out of plywood, but I had some 1/4″ thick poplar boards in the scrap pile, along with some cherry pieces parts, and I made just a very few saw cuts. The molding on the front is actually some crown molding, which I grooved with an old Stanley 45 combination plane. I used the same plane to cut the bead at the top.

My contribution to the design was to drill eight holes in the base, and use handmade French nails as a means of keeping the books open. There are actually sixteen possible arrangements for the nails, to accommodate different sized books.

Because there are three different varieties of wood used, I finished it with a dark amber shellac, which was also made by yours truly. I did have some help from the lac bugs, which is where shellac comes from. It is also used in making candy like Raisinettes and Jelly Beans, so there is another food connection. I doubt that people who eat those even know that they are eating bug parts.

That’s it in action with one of my favorite cookbooks. You have to like a book that has both a cow and chicken on the cover.

Investing in Pepper Futures

Uncle Samuel decided to remit us some of the tens of thousands of dollars that we have unwillingly sent him over the years. It truly is a paltry sum, but I have decided to invest some of it in pepper futures. It’s a better use than sending money to defense contractors, or bailing out giant banks.

The amount I chose to invest was a total of $8.05. That gets me seventy five pepper seeds, more or less. My rate of return is likely to be enormous, as a small bag of fresh peppers at the Festhalle usually goes for around three bucks. At any rate, these are the three heirlooms I bought.

 Piment d’Espelette

Another of the official peppers of the Basque region of Spain. Mildly hot, it has only been around since 1523. Strangely enough, that was the year when I was born.

 Sigaretta De Bergamo

Let’s go to the Lombardi region of Italia, virus or no virus. A long sweet pepper, which surprisingly is the diameter of a cigarette. Try and find these at your local market.

Fushimi

Time to go to Nippon! That would be Japan. Another slim sweet pepper, and I can’t wait to try this one.

Moral of this story: grow your own, grow your own.

I am now at sixteen different peppers. Life is good. Thank you to the Federales for floating me eight bucks for pepper seeds. I threw in the nickel.

Pickled Elephant Garlic Scapes in Oil

Elephant Garlic is really a Variety of Leek

Though people have been pickling garlic scapes (blooms and stems) for centuries, I may be the first to try the traditional Italian method of doing so with so-called Elephant Garlic. It’s really a type of leek, but it was renamed Elephant Garlic by the person who rediscovered it, the owner of the Nichol’s Nursery, out in Oregon. They also reintroduced it to the commercial market.

It has naturalized itself in my semi-abandoned veg garden, which was left dormant after two record breaking droughts. Now three alliums are taking over, including softneck garlic and Rakkyo, the famous Japanese delicacy. We are gradually bringing back other crops, and have a nice patch of potatoes coming on. But to keep the place from being overrun with Elephant Garlic, I have begun harvesting some of the scapes. The recipe is very simple.

Ingredients

Elephant Garlic (or Garlic) Scapes

Vinegar

Salt

Olive Oil

Cook the scapes for five minutes or so, in the salted vinegar. Then bottle them in olive oil and let age a day on the counter, and a week in the fridge. Be aware that they have a short shelf life, so eat them in a week or so.

The taste of Elephant Garlic is intermediate between Garlic and a Leek. It is a plant that requires eternal vigilance, to keep it from overtaking your property.

Last Night I Dreamed About Tomato Sauce

I Really Did.

To quote my man Will Shakespeare, this is the “The stuff that dreams are made of,” as adapted by Bogey and John Huston in The Maltese Falcon. I woke up at six in the morning with the taste of tomato sauce in my mouth. It was then that I realized that I had been dreaming about it, possibly all night long..

It was a classic example of one part of what Dr. Freud said that dreams are made of, and this is not a particularly good translation, but it is the standard one: “the day’s residues.” For lunch the previous day I had a slice of leftover brick oven pizza, and it was still superb warmed up. It had Vidalia onion slices, Italian mozzarella, and a crust made from Caputo 00 flour from Italy. The star was still Melanie Jane’s tomato sauce. That’s what I dreamed about. Here’s her recipe, which will sauce two pizzas.

Ingredients

1 quart locally grown home canned Tomatoes–I believe these were Romas

1/2 of a diced Onion

Italian Tomato Paste in a tube–Tuscan, in this case, the brand being Tuscanini. (Aside–I had to buy this, as Toscanini is one of our favorite conductors of classical music, and his daughter married my wife’s favorite pianist, Vladimir Horowitz.)

Italian Pesto in a tube

Italian Garlic Paste in a tube–the secret weapon used by many pros

Oregano and Thyme

Salt and Pepper

This is considerably more complicated than what most Italians would make, but we aren’t Italian, at least the last time I checked. MJ then cooked it down to a concentrated strength, which gave me just enough time to get a roaring fire going in the brick oven.

Did it ever get hot. All I had was oak dead fall pieces, and they created an inferno. I didn’t burn the crust–I actually burned the sauce, as you can see from the little black line on my slice in the picture. I’ve never had that happen before.

It was still delicious. As I always tell people, don’t eat the burned part.