Preserving Romano Beans

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If you love Italian food and love to eat local, fresh food all year, I can’t imagine a busier season than fall. All the plants produce their last burst of vegetables and fruit and you can pick them up by the bushel-full at some farmer’s markets. That’s exactly what you’ll find Italians doing at least. Once tomato passata is packed away, it’s time to see what else we can store and freeze to have for the winter. Lately, in addition to recipes, I’m trying to record our ways of preserving and uses of those preserves like green tomatoes and eggplants.

There is some preserving we don’t do anymore, like peas. I remember going to pick bushels of peas with my parents and grandparents and spending long hours on the front porch shucking them from their pods. (Though I ate more than I contributed to the bowl of peas destined for the freezer.) Now with local farms offering flash frozen bags for just a few dollars, it’s hard to justify all the work. I’d rather just spend the time eating peas fresh. But romano beans, also known as cranberry beans, aren’t so common that you would find them already done. But they are a staple of many Italian dishes, from pasta to mashes, soups and stews. I love the deep pink hues on the pods and beans when they are fresh. Cooked up, they are creamy and hearty. Here’s how to preserve a stash for the winter…

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First you’ll need to pick out your romano beans. You want pods that are a vibrant pink, but not purple (those are almost ready to be used as seeds). The pods should be full – that is you can feel each bean fully – and with very few black splotches on the outside. Take your beans home and immediately spread them out for at least two days on blankets or towels , this softens the shells so they are easier to split open after they dry a bit.

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By |30/09/2015|Conservare (preserving), Recipes|1 Comment

Quick and easy pasta dough (to freeze!)

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After a small dinner party last week, one guest pushed back her chair and threw up her arms. She told us that we must have some tricks to being able to whip up dinners so easily. I’m glad it looked easy – it was hard to balance with a six-month-old!- but we just love cooking and having people over.

So I usually say, no, I don’t have any tricks. But the truth is there are one or two things we rely on to get good food on the table. The first is the freezer – we do large batch preps in advance and when vegetables and meats are in season – so it’s all ready to go. The second is my FoodSaver. If you’ve been paying close attention to some posts you’ll see the FoodSaver bags in the background or note my suggestions to vacuum seal vegetables. That’s how all my freezer foods stay fresh.

Well the folks at FoodSaver noticed and sent me a new FoodSaver 4400 to try out. With it, I’ll show you a third trick – you can freeze pasta dough so you can have it fresh any day you want.

So for dinner guests that say, “I can’t believe you made fresh pasta!” Well, we did…we just did half the prep in advance! This comes in very handy when we get a few flats of eggs from my husbands’ families’  duck farm. One can only eat so much quiche and I’d hate for them to go to waste. So we make large batches of pasta dough and freeze them for later use. This was an experiment we did last year and it’s turned out pretty handy. If you ever make too much dough, want to prep for a dinner party or find eggs on sale, this is a perfect way to make your pasta in advance.

First – an easy pasta recipe:

Nonna makes pasta by eye, she knows just the right amount of flour by looking at it and when the dough is ready by the feel. I have yet to acquire that talent, so instead I use a rule of thumb: about 100g of flour to one large egg. If you want to get technical about it you can weigh your eggs since size can vary and weigh your flour as sometimes it can have more moisture in it and use a 3:2 ratio of flour to eggs. I’m not mathematically inclined, so I’ll stick to my rule of thumb.

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200g all purpose flour
200g semolina flour
4 eggs

This makes about one pound of pasta, or about four servings. Stick it all in a mixer and set it to medium. When the dough comes together, stop the mixer and dump it out on a floured surface and knead it five or six times. Form the pasta into a smooth ball.

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By |07/05/2015|Conservare (preserving), Primo, Recipes|1 Comment

Preserving Sicilian Zucchini

Preserving sicilian zucchini

The end of summer harvest is a great time to take a look at what you can preserve for winter so you can have fresh vegetables, without preservatives, year-round. This is one of the most common questions I get via email from readers: how to preserve certain vegetables and what they can be used for.  Most recently Sicilian zucchini have been gaining in popularity, particularly in urban backyards where many people from a variety of cultures, not just Italians, take on the challenge of growing the longest and largest zucchini. Check out this story from just this week from The Toronto Star – it features a 6-foot long zucchini!

These Sicilian zucchini, or cucuzza squash, need to dangle from fences or clothes lines to grow to their lengths, but the longer you grow them, the bigger the seeds get inside (and less flesh there is to eat!). They have a very light flavour, as opposed to the typical smaller, dark green zucchini you might buy at the store. The beauty of the Sicilian zucchini, other than they are always a conversation starter with neighbours and guests, is that even their leaves and shoots are edible. Check out this Tenerumi Pasta (Zucchini Shoot Pasta) recipe I posted last year. Today though, I’m featuring how to prep these monster zucchini for recipes and the freezer. Note, though, that you can use these techniques with other types of zucchini as well.

The biggest issue with dealing with these zucchini is finding a cutting board big enough! Below is our 3.5-foot zucchini getting prepped for preserving.

Preserving sicilian zucchini

Of course, the easiest thing to do is to chop up this giant into thirds to make it manageable. Try to keep the thinnest part, where there is the least amount of seeds, as one section. There’s two things to be aware of when dealing with these particular zucchini, as opposed to the regular zucchini you find in the store: they have a slightly “furry” skin that needs to be removed and though they are a pure white inside, once you cut them they sweat out a brown liquid. Be sure to use or process the zucchini as soon as you cut it.

Preserving sicilian zucchini

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By |12/09/2014|Conservare (preserving), Recipes|7 Comments

Potato and Pork Sausage

Potato Sausage RecipeThere’s been a little pause in the blog…mostly because I had a little excitement: I co-hosted the Italian morning radio show Amici on CHIN Radio here in Toronto yesterday! More about that tomorrow…but first we need to get to a recipe! The last recipe of All Food February is a big one. Firstly, it’s about sausages, which is a request I get a lot. But secondly, it’s for a sausage recipe I can’t find anywhere else. Have you ever made potato and pork sausages?

This recipe comes from my husband’s family. He fondly remembers eating these as a kid on family road trips. They would pack the sausages, straight from the freezer, into tin foil and place them in the back windshield of the car to warm up in the summer sun as they drove to their destination. The recipe itself is typical of southern Italian cooking, and Italian austerity measures, as it uses potatoes as a filler for meat (which there wasn’t a lot of years ago).

Last year my husband decided he wanted to make these sausage that he hadn’t had in years and we searched desperately for a recipe. We found nothing: not on food recipe sites, not in books, not even on blogs. I started to doubt that it was possible to even make these sausages (wouldn’t the potato go bad?) and only came around when I was watching an episode of Lidia’s Italy and she was mentioning different types of sausages found in Italy. Potato and pork were mentioned – so they do exist! Too bad she didn’t give a recipe for them! We ended up inviting over the Nonni and got to work putting this old recipe back together and making some mighty fine dried sausages.

The recipe is approximate, you’ll need to gauge your needs based on the amount of pork you use and the flavours you want. As always, before you dive into recipes that preserve meat be sure to read up on proper meat handling and curing techniques.

Potato & Pork Sausage
1 pork shoulder, ground
Equal part boiled potatoes (Yukon Gold preferred)
1 liter of red pepper sauce
2 handfuls of salt
1/2 a handful of fennel
2 tablespoons dried hot pepper flakes

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By |27/02/2013|Conservare (preserving), Recipes|14 Comments

Preserving Green Tomatoes

Recipe for preserving green tomatoesItalians across the country spend a better part of August and September processing bushels of blood-red tomatoes into jars of sauce to last all winter long. If you’re one of many that take pride in tomatoes grown in your backyard, you also know the pain of facing a pile of leftover green tomatoes. While some may eventually turn red, some small towns in Calabria have a unique way of preserving green tomatoes. This recipe comes from my grandparents who immigrated here from Lago in the province of Consenza and knew just how to use every part of the garden to it’s fullest.

You can use a bucket or any wide container for this recipe. If you have an old-fashioned clay preserving jar in the basement, bring that out, now’s the time to use it. The amount of each ingredient for this recipe must be made-to-measure to the amount of green tomatoes you need to process. Note that preserving vegetables, like tomatoes green or red, requires a careful use of ingredients and processing. Be sure to do your research about preserving before proceeding.

Preserved Green Tomatoes, Rustic Calabrese-Style
Green tomatoes (as many as you have)
Salt
Garlic
Hot Peppers
Fennel seeds
Bucket or clay preserving jar

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By |13/09/2012|Conservare (preserving), Recipes|7 Comments