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Archive for December, 2010

It was great meeting everyone at Saturday’s dinner. We had 11 people, 8 liters of “secret” wine, and five courses of southern Italian food. I wasn’t sure what I expected from Hip Nana’s first dinner, but I sure got it. Paolo, an Italian winery worker, closed his eyes and took a deep breath when the sweet potato mezzelune (half-moon pasta) with spiced brown butter sauce was served; he looked as though he’d been transported home. Kristin and I were also transported — to southern Italy, where some of the best restaurants are operated out of people’s homes. The table felt warm, and this was just what we were hoping for.


Here is the recipe for the 3rd course of the night: Involtini di Carne, lovingly re-entitled “beef rolls” by my homie Chris (can I call you that?).

One of the most popular meat dishes in Puglia, involtini di carne are thinly sliced pieces of meat rolled around parmesan and parsley. Traditionally, the meat used is horse. Horse meat is the most commonly found meat in Puglia, and when we were taught this recipe it was with horse meat. Since this totally freaks out most Americans (including Kristin, until she tried it), this recipe will substitute thinly sliced beef. One of the kindest and most gracious women I’ve ever met in my life taught us how to cook involtini di carne in her home in Puglia. Reflecting Puglia’s cooking style, the recipe focuses on the ingredients, without any hoopla.

Involtini di Carne
(serves two)

Ingredients:
1 lb thinly sliced, tender beef (if you have a tenderizing mallet you could use it)
.15 lbs Parmesan
1/3 cup white cooking wine
1/2 bouillon cube
2/3 of 6 oz can of tomato paste
some parsley
salt
pepper
olive oil
toothpicks

Directions:

1. Cut your meat into rectangles roughly 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches (you should have 5-7 small involtini). Cut pieces of parmesan to put inside the meat. I try to put one big piece of parmesan in each involtini.
2. Place cheese on the meat, in a place that’ll make it easy to roll it up. Add a sprig of parsley, salt, and pepper. Make sure you don’t forget to add salt and pepper before rolling.
3. Roll up and secure with toothpicks. You want the rolls to be pretty tight or else all of the cheese will melt out. Try to wrap the cheese up with the meat very tightly at first, then roll it the rest of the way. Use 3-7 toothpicks per involtini (I know, it’s a lot, but that’s how I’ve always seen it done).
4. Saute in olive oil in a deep pan until brown on all sides. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half.
5. Add tomato paste and 1/2 bouillon cube, then refill tomato paste can 3-4 times, or until involtini are mostly covered.
6. Bring to a simmer, then cook for 30 minutes.

This recipe actually creates two courses! Italians always serve the Primi (pasta) course before the secondo (second course), and involtini di carne are a secondo. The extra sauce produced by this recipe isn’t wasted: cook up some pasta and use the sauce with it. Serve the involtini di carne immediately afterwards.

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We were surrounded by olive trees in Puglia. Some were newly planted — a gift to the generations to come — while others were planted 500 years ago. The oldest, now split down their centers, were planted in 1000 AD, when Puglia was ruled by the Byzantines and marauding pirates terrorized its coastal cities.

Kristin and I recently cured our own olives. The U.S. isn’t known for its olive trees, so we were pretty surprised when Kristin’s mom brought us a bag full of fresh green olives (they had been shipped from Greece). In general, fresh olives taste disgusting. They are very very acidic and their juice is white and viscous. Though some Italian nonne (grandmas) cook with fresh olives, it is pretty uncommon.

Curing them is supposed to be easy, but we totally failed. The olives taste almost as acidic as they originally did. We have some guesses as to what went wrong; I’ll include them, along with the recipe that we followed, below.

There’s no success like failure, and failure’s not success at all.—Bob Dylan

This recipe came from Barbur World Foods (a great market that has wonderful wine tastings). The fresh olives also came from there.

Directions:

1) Crack the olives using a stone (we used a rolling pin)
2) Prepare salted water at a ratio of 1 quart water to 1/2 cup pickling salt.
3) Wash olives in cold water, then let them sit in a cold water bath for 2 days (change the water twice a day)
4) Put into a jar
5) Add seasonings: salted water, lemon, garlic
6) Top the jar with 3 TBSP olive oil before sealing
7) Age two weeks before eating

We suspect that we let the olives get a little old before starting the process; they sat in our refrigerator for several days. Also, some say that you should let them sit in the cold water bath for two weeks, to get all the bitterness out. We might try that next time.

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