Fried Smelt

Fried_smelt_with_light_flour

My grandfather was a trouble maker.

He was the youngest of seven children and I can safely say he never lost his mischievous and child-like streak. He was a prankster, a laugher and a storyteller. My sister loves to tell the story of when, as I was reading in a hammock in our backyard, my grandfather snuck out of the garden where he was tending to his tomatoes and got on this hands and knees to crawl under the hammock to knock me out of it from below. He was in his late 70s and was giggling during the entire episode.

My grandfather was always active too, constantly on the go. For many years when I was a child springtime meant late night trips to go smelt fishing. We’d drive to a pier on a lake north of the city, unfurl a square net and dip it into the water and pull it up full of wriggling small fish. We’d usually run into family or family-friends in the same location. It was a fishing tradition that my grandparents had took part in ever since they had landed in Toronto. Gathering food in any way that was traditional (and money saving) like fishing, mushroom hunting or collecting dandelion leaves for salad, were regular occurrences. In fact, in the 1970s my grandfather would go with extended family to Lake Ontario, near Ashbridges bay, to fish for smelt at night. And ever the jokster, he would slip live fish into his sister’s pockets when they weren’t paying attention.

As I got older, the smelt started to disappear. I remember the few times we would go fishing at 1 or 2 in the morning only to come back with just a few. The population crashed in Lake Simcoe in the mid-1990s and a series of invasion species are suspected to keep their populations at bay. I haven’t had smelt in years so when I found them at a local grocery store, I snapped them up.

Smelts were a treat – not a full meal, but a full plate that we would share after a plate of pasta. Other than the frying, they weren’t dressed up in any way. Just fresh fish, fried to a crisp. So my pictures for this recipe don’t have a sprinkling of parsley, or a gremolata for added colour. This is just pure fish, how they were enjoyed. The only thing missing is my Nonno, eating the fried smelt with the heads still on, head first into his mouth with a gleam in his eye, knowing it would gross me out. It always gave him a good laugh.

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Fried Smelts
1/2 pound fresh smelts, cleaned and patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
Canola oil for frying

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By |27/03/2017|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|0 Comments

Rapini with Potatoes

rapini_with_potatoes_impanata

Every once and a while my mind wanders to dark, winter nights in my grandparent’s kitchen, where the stove had already been on for hours by the time I got there. This was a time of quiet comfort. The windows reflected our actions in the dark outside and the TV played Wheel of Fortune in the other room. The air was warm with cooking and echoed the quiet shuffle of my grandparent’s slippers on the tile floor. We never bothered to set the whole table for dinner, but threw a tablecloth on half and used a jumble of mismatched glasses and forks with our food.

While so many of the meals served at Nanna and Nonno’s house were familiar, my grandfather also tried new things whenever he felt inspired. Though the one consistent was the food was cooked low and slow. I highly suspect that this recipe is one of his experiments that stayed a regular feature for us (or maybe a few other children of Italian immigrants can prove me wrong). We loved rapini as winter vegetables, their bitter hardiness appearing on our plates for most of the winter. When I was younger, rapini were a bit of a harder taste for me except when presented this way: fried up with mashed potatoes. The creaminess of the mashed potatoes, fried to a crisp on the outside, mellowed the taste of the rapini. Sometimes we’d pair this “impanata” (the name given to something breaded or encased) with a protein, or sometimes just eat it on it’s own. Now it’s more often the dish I use to introduce people to rapini, before they get a full-blown taste of it.

The inside of this dish was always piping hot, burning your tongue almost, while the winter winds blew outside and the snow gathered against the back door. It was, and is, comfort food.

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Rapini Impanata
1 half bunch rapini, washed and chopped
4 to 5 medium potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
salt (as desired)
hot pepper flakes (as desired)

potato_ricer_for_potatoes_and_rapini

Wash and peel the potatoes. Place into cold water in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil until just cooked through (a fork or knife inserts easily). Drain and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, clean and chop the rapini (for detailed instructions on that, click here). Chop the rapini into inch-long pieces.

rapini_cut_up_for_rapini_with_potatoes

After the potatoes have slightly cooled, mash them finely or put them through a ricer.

In a medium frying pan, heat the oil at medium heat. Add in the rapini, garlic, salt and hot pepper flakes (if desired). Cook the rapini until they are slightly soft. Add the potatoes to the frying pan and stir to fully combine, mashing the potatoes into the rapini.

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Smooth out the top of the potato mixture and turn the heat down to medium-low. Allow the potatoes to cook until a crust forms on the bottom, which could take up to 20 minutes. You can check the bottom with a thin spatula but also by shaking the pan slightly to see when the potatoes release from the bottom.

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When the bottom is browned, remove the potatoes to a plate and then flip it over while returning it to the frying pan to brown the other side, again for another 15-20 minutes.

Remove to a platter when done and cut, in pie slices, to serve.

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By |19/01/2017|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|0 Comments

Piselli Fritti (Fried Peas)

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I’m about to offer you one of the simplest – and best – of all my family recipes. It’s peas. Fried peas.

This recipe is so simple, and so second nature to me, I’ve been consistently forgetting to include it on the blog. But this spring, with fresh peas around the corner, I stuck a sticky note on the fridge to make sure I remembered to write this recipe down.

Now there’s two ways you can end this recipe: by making the peas juicy and moist (which most Nonna’s prefer) or by crisping up the peas just slightly for some texture (which is what my sister and I always preferred – though my mom complained we were burning them!). How you want to end it is up to you, but they will both taste great. Fresh peas or frozen will work just fine.

Fried peas were a go-to recipe for my sister and I growing up. Other than my sister’s tried and true pasta she always – ALWAYS – made when she was looking after me. We paired the peas with chicken cutlets or chicken fingers, or steaks. This is actually the only way I eat peas, other than raw, straight out of the pod which is my absolute favourite spring treat. I’ve never boiled them or steamed them, that seems rather boring. Or mashed them, what’s up with mushy peas?

At the same time, I’m aware some people might think – why fry peas? I’ll tell you why: flavour. Layered Italian flavours. Try them just once, and you’ll need to have them again. To this day, if fried peas are served at any family gathering, I always take the leftovers.

Piselli Fritti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped onions
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 garlic cloves, minced or 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 cup water or chicken stock (1/2 cup if you’d like the peas a little wetter)

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By |15/06/2016|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|0 Comments

Mixed Summer Vegetables with Cornbread (Impanata di Verdure)

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This dish is one hot mess. But delicious! I mean, look at it. Not exactly the most appealing thing you can cook, but it’s my favourite vegetable dish. It’s super tasty with minimal seasoning, showcasing what a home garden or farmers market can grow with love. This was a specialty of my Nonno’s – his garden yielded all the vegetables needed to get this dish in motion. And it was his cornbread he made in the early mornings that he’d add in.

“Impanata” traditionally means “breaded” or “to bread” something like meat cutlets or eggplant. In that process, the meat or vegetable is coated in flour, egg, then a breadcrumb mixture that includes seasoning and cheese. Check out my “fettini”/veal cutlets recipe for an example. However, in the case of this mixed vegetable dish, “impananta” means to mix in bread, in a way to fortify the dish and make it a bit more substantial. The bread used is “frizzini”, made when fresh hearty bread rounds (like cornbread) are sliced in two and dried out slowly in the oven. This was a method of preserving bread when ingredients were scarce. The bread can then be eaten hard or reconstituted with water, oil, soup or when added to a dish like this “impanata” I’m featuring today. You can make your own frizzini or purchase them at any good Italian food store.

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For the vegetables: look for the first tender garden produce, or young vegetables to get this recipe right: shiny small eggplant, young zucchini, and flat beans where the bean itself isn’t fully grown and plump yet. Add these into a pan for a little slow cooking and it’s vegetable heaven on your plate. Nothing says “summer garden fresh” more than this dish. I eat it as a main, but it works as a side dish as well, you just might have to convince your family or guests to take a bite first. Yes, it’s not pretty but it has all the things Italians love: fresh vegetables, slow cooking, using what you’ve got (the bread!) and eating as a family. This recipe makes enough for 6-8 people, but if you have leftovers just crisp them up in a frying pan the next day.

Impanata-di-verdure-recipe


Mixed Summer Vegetables with Cornbread (Impanata di Verdure)
3-4 frizzini (dried bread)
3/4 lb Italian flat beans
1 yellow onion (or one bunch green onions)
1 19oz can plum tomatoes (or 5-6 fresh, peeled and seeded tomatoes)
2 small eggplants
1 medium zucchini
5-6 large basil leaves, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
(optional: red peppers or hot peppers, seeded and thinly sliced)

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By |17/08/2015|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|1 Comment

Fried Garlic Scapes (Scapi D’aglio Fritti)

Fried Garlic Scapes

The tops of fresh spring garlic are popping out of the garden. I’m always so glad to see it’s survived the winter! I don’t have enough room to plant tons of garlic, but the 18-20 bulbs I do get in the ground always come in handy. The best thing about growing your own garlic – collecting the garlic scapes. But you can also buy them in bunches at local farmer’s markets.

I’ve written about garlic scapes before: scapes are the curling tops of the garlic plants. They should be picked before the developing flower opens. To eat them raw, you should pick them when they begin to emerge from between the main garlic leaves, even before they start to curl, when they are still tender. If you catch them a little later, they can always be blanched to soften them up a bit. Two years ago I posted two recipes for garlic scape pesto.

The pesto is still a favourite of mine, but with garlic scape season just around the corner, I thought I’d share another way to cook them up: lightly battered and fried. I’ve served these for dinner, over steaks or chicken, or even as an appetizer. Trimming and blanching them first removes any fibrous parts that aren’t so pleasant to chomp into. The batter makes them crisp as you bite into the light, fresh garlic taste.

Fried Garlic Scapes

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By |19/05/2015|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|1 Comment

Sautéed Rapini with Garlic

Rapini side dish recipe

It’s a little sad out in my garden. The tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and beans have spent their last energy. We’ve cleaned up the leaves and started prepping the yard for winter. As much as I mourn the loss of these fresh vegetables, fall brings later harvests of squash and the dark, green, leafy  branches of rapini. Rapini thrive in colder weather, popping up in very late fall or early spring. These greens are, of course, good for you and have an interesting bitter flavour that is favoured in Italy. But don’t be afraid of the bitterness – it can be mellowed with a little blanching. Even my English/German brother-in-law has come to appreciate the flavour, when at least mixed into dishes.

Rapini are also known as rapi or broccoli di rapa in Italy, but if you are watching food shows on TV, you’ll hear them being called broccoli rabe, which may just be bad pronunciation of the actual name. The buds, which look a little like broccoli (though they’re not related), leaves and stems are all  edible and feature often in Southern Italian cooking.

Served too crunchy and raw and you might find the bitterness overwhelming. Overcook them and they are mushy and stringy. But get this simple side dish recipe of sautéed rapini with garlic down pat and you can repurpose it for a variety of dishes. Chopped up smaller and fried up with potatoes, or tossed in to pasta or served over polenta, rapini are used in multiple ways.

Rapini side dish recipe

Sautéed Rapini with Garlic
1 bunch rapini
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
pinch of dried hot pepper flakes, if desired
salt to taste

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By |03/10/2014|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|3 Comments

Pitticelle di Riso

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The blog has been a little slow this summer because there are some big changes for me on the way which will be revealed here probably sooner rather than later. But just because the blog postings have been slow doesn’t mean all the ingredients for a great Italian summer have been missing too. In fact, I’ve been collecting up some recipes and stories to share with you and I’m glad to be back to blogging!

Today I’m featuring one of my favourite summer foods: pitticelle di riso. Pitticelle are like “fritters” (you’ll remember I’ve featured a few on the blog already like pitticelle cucuzze and pitticelle di pane). The ingredients for this fritter aren’t so “summery” really, but I’m used to having these crispy, fried treats at family outings, fishing trips, picnics and as snacks out in the backyard since they are good hot or cold. My mother’s parents would always make these for our annual family picnics where they were treasured by everyone: a huge batch was gobbled up in no time once the Tupperware container was opened. Slow frying, making sure the rice grains stay individual and fresh ingredients are the secrets to this recipe.

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I’m sorry to say, but not surprised, that I don’t have a recipe for small batch of these pitticelle. This recipe will make at least three dozen depending on the size you make. They are meant to be shared and, if you have leftovers, they are great crisped up in a toaster oven the next day too. Halving the recipe should work just fine, it’s the consistency of the batter for frying (not too loose!) that you need to watch out for.

Pitticelle di Riso
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon granulated garlic or finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup shredded mozzarella
salt, to taste
canola or vegetable oil for frying

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By |11/08/2014|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|1 Comment

Crocchette di patate (Potato Croquettes)

Recipe for Italian Potato Croquettes

Years back, we took a family trip to Italy for over a month. We basked in the sun, visited relatives, ate to our hearts content and struck out on road trips every so often.

Our relatives were amused that we recognized and knew all their foods and favourite meals. After travelling it was great to have some comfort food too. There’s something about being away from home that heightens our taste buds. Their patate fritte, though just like my Nonno’s, tasted fresher and more vibrant. Why? Who knows, but I still remember it well.

Well into our trip, we travelled from my mom’s small hometown to a nearby city to do some shopping. As the afternoon closure of shops approached, we grabbed some quick street food for our ride back. Among the typical southern Italian quick eats, like arancini, were crocchette di patate (potato croquettes). Have I mentioned I love potatoes? But these I have never tried before! I scarfed down two in record time. They were so good and I was so ticked off. I was convinced my mom had withheld this recipe, this glorious form of potato, from our regular Italian meals.

This food memory stayed with me for years and a few times I’ve tried to make great crocchette just like I remember them. My husband’s family makes a lightly pan-fried version of this, stuffing the middle with a chunk of mozzarella. Having something hidden in the middle is always a nice surprise, but I just love the potatoes, so I tried out this recipe until I found a mix that I loved. Crunchy on the outside, creamy and rich on the inside, these crocchette are great as a side dish or a snack.

Crocchette di patate
3 medium potatoes
3 eggs
1/4 cup Parmiggiano Reggiano (grated)
1/4 cup mozzarella (shredded)
1/8 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon cool water
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
canola or vegetable oil for frying

Recipe for Italian Potato Croquettes

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By |06/02/2014|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|9 Comments

Calabrese Fried Potatoes (Patate Fritte)

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Our memories from childhood stick with us throughout our lives and dinner with my grandparents (who lived right next door) make up so many of my good memories about food and this particular recipe: patate fritte (fried potatoes).

I’m a meat-and-potatoes-girl while my sister was all about pasta. So when my grandparents called to invite us over for pasta dinner, I dragged my feet. But when it was slow roasted chicken legs with roasted potatoes, I was out the door before my mother even finished hanging up the phone. The only thing that could move me even faster was patate fritte.

This is a mess of a dish that may not look gourmet but tastes heavenly. It’s a prime example of typical Calabrese home cooking that uses what you have around the house. It’s particularly best at this time of year when gardens are winding down – maybe you have one lonely eggplant left or need to get rid of some beans or onions. Slowly pan-fried, this meal results in crispy potatoes and a mix of vegetables that are irresistible. Of course, you can omit the vegetables all together and just come up with a great potato side dish, or you can add small pork tenderloin pieces to the frying pan to round out the meal.

I’ve grown to love pasta a bit more now, but in still – patate fritte is my ultimate Italian comfort food and my best memories in one dish.

[By the way if you like this recipe, and love this blog, vote for An Italian-Canadian Life for Best Canadian foodie Blog in the MiB Awards today!]

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Patate Fritte
Yellow or Yukon Gold Potatoes
Fresh romano beans
Sicilian Eggplant
Sweet Onion
Olive Oil
Dried hot pepper flakes or one fresh hot pepper (as desired)
Salt

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By |07/11/2013|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|0 Comments

Pitticelle Cucuzze (Zucchini Fritters)

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There’s zucchinis coming out of gardens all over the place and today I’m preparing one of my favourite uses for them: pitticelle cucuzze. These zucchini fritters are the ultimate summer snack: light, crispy and made with readily available ingredients. And boy are they available! Our Sicilian zucchini (called tromboncino)-which was featured in my recipe for Tenerumi Pasta-has produced massive zucchini at 4.25 feet long and 6.8 pounds for the largest one.

My grandfather always used to make pitticelle cucuzze during the summer and I struggled to say the Calabrese name for zucchini right: cucuzza. I often mixed it up with Cocuzza, the name of a mountain region in Calabria (Monte Cocuzza). Either way, it’s way more fun to say than the traditional Italian name: zucchino or zucchine.

These pitticelle are a great way to use the zucchini but also zucchini flowers. Many people fry up zucchini flowers on their own and my comare, in Sicilian-style, breads the zucchini flowers and cooks them up like a cutlet (also very good!). In these pitticelle, the flowers add colour and taste but you can make them without the flowers.

Here a tip about pitticelle cucuzze: they are best right out of the frying pan or the next day toasted up to crispy in the oven. Want a little some extra in the pitticelle? Sometimes if my grandfather had it, he would add some shredded mozzarella to the batter as well.

(If you missed my previous posting on pitticelle/fritelle/fritters, check out my explanation of these snacks along with my recipe for pitticelle di pane).

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Pitticelle Cucuzze
2 cups packed thinly sliced zucchini
5-6 zucchini flowers (optional)
4 eggs
1 cup room temperature water
1-2 tablespoons salt (to prepare the zucchini, you’ll wash this off after)
1/2 teaspoon salt (for the batter)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil (to taste, optional)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

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By |30/08/2013|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|5 Comments