28 December 2011

AUNTIE PASTA: Joys of Christmas Leftovers

SARONNO, Italy - At some point this week, the grocery stores in Saronno will put the stacks of unsold boxes of panettone on sale. It’s the week I’ve been waiting for. I’m going to buy three of them.  One I’ll use right away to make this super-simple, absolutely delicious bread pudding. The other two I’ll cut up and freeze so I can make bread pudding later in the year. 
 Yummy Panettone
Panettone, and it's cousin Polish Easter bread, are the best to use for this recipe. They are rich and eggy and the pudding bakes into an extra-silky custard that contrasts with a  buttery golden brown top. If you want to give your pudding a little extra flavor zing, you can add a little scotch or marsala to your beaten eggs before you pour them over the panettone – no more than a teaspoon full for you only want a hint of flavor.  If you’d rather not use alcohol, even to soften the raisins, you can use plain hot water. This recipe comes out best if you use a shallow pan.
(serves 8)
  • 1/2 cup golden (or regular) raisins
  • 1/4 cup brandy (or marsala, or scotch whiskey) heated
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 lb panettone, sliced 1 inch thick
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
 Serve with lightly whipped heavy cream or soft vanilla ice cream, or just on its own.

·         Soak raisins in hot brandy 15 minutes, then drain  
·         Meanwhile, butter panettone on both sides and lightly toast in batches in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.
·         Whisk together remaining ingredients.

·        Tear panettone into bite-size pieces and spread evenly in a buttered 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Scatter raisins over top, then pour in the egg mixture. Let stand for 30 minutes.

·         Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in the middle position.
·         Bake until pudding is golden and just set, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Add a little soft ice cream and dig in
Bread pudding can be made 2 days ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature or slightly reheat before serving. 

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25 December 2011

LIFE: Merry Christmas


 Click on the link for a little music to go with the words


21 December 2011

AUNTIE PASTA: Milan’s Best Kept Secret

SARONNO, Italy - Seeing as we are just days away from Christmas, I thought I'd give you a present. This is a nice present. A present anyone, especially a travel or food editor, would give his or her eye teeth for. It's an insiders list of the best lunch places in Milan. It's a list the Milanese don't want you to have so don't tell anyone you got it from Auntie Pasta.

Some of the restaurants are in the center, others are slightly off center, but all are worth a visit. But be prepared to find the menus in Italian only and the chances of finding someone on the staff with the ability (or time) to translate, slim to none.  Oh, and one more thing, these secret places the Milanese hold near and dear to their hearts are not for sissies, so be prepared to eat.
Dulcis in Fundo
Via Gianfranco Zuretti 55
Milano (MI)

Hidden away in a courtyard, this former factory has had a major make-over. From a place that specialized in grime and grunge it has been transformed into a bright and welcoming restaurant. With as little as 10 euros for lunch, you can choose from some rather exotic dishes. Open for dinner only on Thursday nights.  

Menu choices:  Puff pastry with artichokes, codfish balls, diced swordfish and turnip greens,  lasagnetta with speck, zucchini and saffron, pasta with artichokes and bottarga, risotto with port  and and gorgonzola, tortelli stuffed with truffles, stuffed artichokes, grouper with grain mustard, foie gras, tuna steak with sesame and couscous,  and fillet of veal roasted in a crust.
Prices: More or less 35, without wine

Open for brunch on Saturday, and for dinner on Thursday night. Closed Sunday and Monday  
 Emiliana Tortellini
Via Ariberto 17
Milano (MI)

Eating lunch at Nadia Magnani’s pasta factory is like going to your grandmother's house in the hills of Italy’s most famous pasta making region - Emilia Romgana. It goes without saying that the pasta dishes are exceptional. Yes, there are other things to eat, but it’s the pasta, in every way, shape and form, that steals the show.

Prices: If you try really hard, you can spend about 15 euros, without wine.
Open from Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and on Thursday and Friday nights for dinner.
 Bottiglieria da Pino 
Via Cerva 14
Milano (MI)

This old fashioned trattoria is always busy with the hustle and bustle of waiters bringing home style food to discriminating locals.  The most popular dishes are risotto, soups, quiche and a Lombard staple, boiled beef.
A fixed price menu includes a first and second course with a side dish, a half bottle of mineral water and a quartino of wine.  

The trattoria is only open for lunch but you can reserve the restaurant for a private party of up to 50 people.  Closed on Sundays and evenings.
Triennale Caffe' Design  
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6
Milano (MI)

This restaurant has a most splendid location on the first floor of Milan’s number one design museum,the Triennale. The outside wall is one great window so all tables have a view of Parco Sempione.  Chef David Dalma serves up some pretty spectacular dishes, including some created by award winning  chef, Carlo Cracco. The food is gourmet, but it won’t bust your budget.  For a first and second course you can expect to pay between €20-€25 euros, and Sunday brunch is priced at €28.  
Via Tagiura 5
Milano (MI)
Tel: 02

Tagiura is a resturant that you might mistake for a bar.  But once past the bar, you enter into a elegant dining room with a menu to match. Stuffed pasta dishes reign here, including tortellini and ravioli and other classic favorites. Look for gnocchi with zucchini flowers with a drizzle of melted butter, Cremonese ravioli stuffed with beef that has been cooked in wine and salamella salame, leek soup, cheese ravioli in meat broth and a spoonful of Lambrusco, roasts, stews and a wide selection of cheeses.

At lunchtime a first and second course are priced between €10 and €15 euros. The price increases slightly for dinner and range from €25 - €35 excluding wine.
Open for dinner on Thursdays and Fridays, and closed for lunch on Sunday. Reservations are essential.
Frutteto Viel  
Via Amatore Antonio Sciesa 2
Milano (MI)
Tel: 335.25.50.06

Break out your Sherlock Holmes hat and magnifying glass – this restaurant is difficult to find. If you succeed you will be rewarded with an array of dishes, including vegetarian dishes, such as eggs and asparagus, ravioli in a sweet pepper sauce and meatballs with rice. The menu varies according to the season and what is in the marketplace.
Prices range from 7-13 euros.
Open for lunch daily, and dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
 Da Teo
Da Teo
Corso Como 3
Milano (MI)

If you long for the taste of the culinary treasures of Puglia, da Teo is the place to go. Managed by Antoinette and Teo, this tiny restaurant delivers the flavors of the south with traditional favorites like orecchiette with cima di rape, tiny lampascione onions in oil, puree’ of fava and friselle, that southern relative of bruschetta.

If the weather is nice, you can sit outside and enjoy the sites and sounds of Corso Como. A first and second course is about €15.
Closed on Sundays and never open for dinner
 Il Bacaro del Sambuco  
Via Monte Napoleone 13
Milano (MI)

Il Bacaro del Sambuco is the little sister of Restaurant Sambuco on Via Messina in Milan. And like her big sister, simple, traditional dishes that are light and sophisticated are the order of the day. If the weather is nice you can sit in the restaurant’s sheltered courtyard, or in the elegant dining room.
Open only for lunch. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
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18 December 2011

LIFE: All Duked Out

SARONNO, Italy - There was an article in the newspaper the other day about the restoration of the wooden model of the Duomo that was built when the Cathedral was under construction. At some point it will be displayed at the Duomo museum. The key words here are 'at some point'. Whenever a public project seems to be taking a little longer to finish than the locals think it should, they shake their heads and say, “here we go again, another Fabbrica del Duomo – which translated loosely means “oh no, here we go again, another never ending project, just like the Cathedral of Milan.”  
 Milan's Piazza Duomo Today
The Duomo of Milan was started in 1387 by the Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and was ‘officially’ completed in the mid-1960’s when the massive bronze doors were finally installed. No, you didn’t read that wrong – it really did take 579 years to complete the project. And truth be known, work on the enormous structure has never really stopped. With four million people passing through those bronze doors every year there is always something, either inside or out, that needs to be repaired or replaced, especially if it is made of marble. 
A Partial Detail of the Exterior
The Duomo is built of marble that comes from the private quarry of the late Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconti. He stipulated that the marble from his quarry should be used exclusively for the construction of the Duomo. That was back in the 14th century, and the rule still holds.

After prying the enormous rough blocks of marble from the side of the mountains near Lago Maggiore in Piedmonte, the blocks were moved from the quarry to the lake, and then loaded onto special barges. They floated from the lake to the Ticino River, down the river and into Milan using the vast canal system that existed in the city at that time. The blocks of marble were delivered to a small lake that was near the Duomo building site and then transferred on a type of sled pulled by mules. That lake by the way, was paved over and is now called Via Laghetto, Lake Street.
 Close up of Some of the Statue Topped Spires
In the 14th century, when construction of the Duomo began, Italy was not a country as we think of a country today, but a collection of city states. Each area was ruled independently which meant that goods passing from one dukedom, or Duchy, to another were subject to custom duty. Of course Dukes had special privileges and in order to avoid payment on the large number of marble laden barges that passed from Piedmont to Lombardy daily, the words: “ad usum fabricate operis,” Latin for 'destined for the Duke’s building site, were painted on the sides of the Duke’s barges. Those four little words meant that he paid no import duty to the Duke of Savoy, who controlled Piedmont.   
Painting of One of Milan's Many Canals
It wasn’t long before the words “ad usum fabricate operis” were shortened to AUF, and you still hear the old Milanese using the expression “a ufo” to indicate something is free, or more to the point, "non ce' niente a ufo", nothing is free.

For the hundreds of years the Duomo was under construction, the center of Milan resembled a giant ant hill – workers scurrying here and there, climbing scaffolds, chipping stones, mixing mortar and running and fetching stones and slate for the artisans. 

The operational and financial areas of the project was managed by the Vereranda Fabbrica del Duomo, specifically created by Duke Gian Galeazo to oversee the construction of the Duomo and to manage the project finances. Today, Angel Caioia, the current president of the Vereranda Fabbrica del Duomo, heads a seven member Board of Directors and oversees the Fabbrica’s 130 employees, who still perform many of the same duties as their 14th century predecessors did.
Fabbrica Workers Restoring the Wooden Model of the Cathedral
It was a massive project, larger than any seen before. So large in fact that one of the unique problems the engineers faced was how to raise the massive stones needed to complete the top of the Duomo. They decided to get some outside help, so they called in a French architect. When he saw the size and scope of the project, the Duomo is 354 feet tall (108 meters), he threw up his hands and declared all the work done up until the time he arrived on the scene as in pericolo di ruina – in peril of ruin, and according to him it had been done sine science, without science, whatever that means.
He proved to be full of hot air, but his caustic comments did push Galeazzo’s engineers to improve their instruments and techniques and work on the Duomo not only continued, but actually picked up speed. When Gian Galeazzo died of the Black Plague in 1402, almost half of the cathedral had been completed, but with the Duke gone the project stalled due to a lack of funds and ideas.
The Work is Slow and Exacting
By 1447 Milan had come under the rule of the Sforza family. Under the first Sforza, Francesco, the nave and aisles were completed up to the sixth bay. Forty years later, when his son Lodovico Sforza, better known as Il Moro, took control of the Dukedom, the octagonal cupola was completed and the interior decorated with four series of fifteen statues each, each statue portraying a saint or a prophet, and characters from the Bible. Stained glass windows, telling the story of Milan’s patron saint, Saint Ambrogio, were installed behind the great apse.

In May of 1519 the Fabbrica commissioned a wooden model of the still uncompleted Duomo to be built. Engineers and architects have always made use of models as it is the easiest way to check the relationship between shapes and functions and to verify possible proportional or volume faults of large construction projects. At that time the Duomo had an apse, a transept, an incomplete dome lantern and the first 5-6 spans of the naves which extended from the transept towards the fa├žade. As the Duomo changed, the model was also changed so the   representation of the project was always true. Just carving the 3,400 statues that decorate the Duomo, must have taken years.
Every Piece is Checked

When the large dome above the transept proved to be a challenging construction problem, Leonardo da Vinci, who was working for Duke Lodovico at the time, was called in as a consultant. While he was solving that problem, Leonardo  took the time to design a complicated pulley system to raise and lower a basket which holds a Santo Chiodo, a Holy Nail from the true cross, the most important religious relic owned by the Archdiocese of Milan. 

This relic is believed to be one of the two nails of the Crucifixion discovered by Saint Helena in the Holy Land in 326 Ad. Many people believe the nail came to Milan during the Crusades, in the 12th or 13th century. A special mass, called the Rito della Nivola is still held every year in mid -September and the nail is lowered and raised using the same pulley system designed by Leonardo da Vinci. 

If you stand in the middle aisle of the Duomo and look up, above the altar, you will see a tiny red light. That light indicates the location of the Holy Nail. 

The first religious service was held in the Duomo in 1402. It was the funeral of Duke Gian Galeazzo. Work continued throughout the rest of the 15th century, and the Duomo opened for regular worship in 1418.  

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15 December 2011

AUNTIE PASTA: You Say Potato, I say Patate

SARONNO, Italy - Everyone loved this Gateau di Patate that Sara brought to our non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner last week, and I thought you might enjoyed it too.

Gateau di Patate
It is also a good example of why people who study Italian go off the rail. Here in Italy this recipe is called a gateau, but a gateau (or gatto’ if you want to Italianize it) is a French word, so sometimes it’s called a sformato, since it isn’t really cool to use French words when you are speaking Italian. However, the literal translation of sformato is flan, so while this may be a flan etymologically speaking, it really isn’t a flan at all, but no problem it tastes good no matter what it’s called.

Now that I have totally confused the issue how about I just get on with the recipe and you can call it whatever you want. For no particular reason, I’m going to call it a sformato.

This sformato of potatoes is a rustic, one-dish meal. It’s very tasty, but light and is made by mashing potatoes and adding seasoning, eggs, boiled ham, grated Parmesan cheese, mozzarella and scamorza (provola) cheese. 

It is easy to put together and all it needs is to be baked in an oven-proof dish, (a cake pan works well) for about 30 minutes.


Butter 6 curls
Mozzarella 100 grams
Nutmeg - a pinch
Parmegiano Reggiano 50 grams
Smoked scamorza cheese 100 grams
Potatoes  1 kilo (2 lbs)
Freshly ground black pepper –pinch
Boiled ham 120 grams
Eggs 2

For the oven proof dish: breadcrumbs and butter to coat the dish  
Wash and boil the potatoes in salted water for 40 minutes (1), let cook and then peel and cut them into pieces (2), mash them or put them through a ‘passavedura’ (3).  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Put the mashed potatoes in a bowl, and add the Parmesan cheese (4) the eggs, (5) salt, pepper and nutmeg (6) and mix all of the ingredients together with a wooden spoons.  

Cut the boiled ham into pieces (7) and cut the fresh mozzarella (well drained) into cubes (8) as well as the smoked scamorza (9)

Mix in the ham and cubes of cheese into the potato and mix well (10).  Butter an oven proof dish and coat it with bread crumbs. Pour the potato mix into the buttered dish and with even it out with a tablespoon (11).  Sprinkle the top of the sformato with the remaining breadcrumbs, the remaining parmesean cheese and butter curls (12), and put it in the oven. 

Cook at 180 degrees C for the first 15 minutes then raise the oven temperature to 200 degrees C for the remaining 15 minutes.  When the sformato is cooked let it cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes, then cut into portions and serve.

If you want you can use other types of meat or sausages in place of the boiled ham, and used other cheeses instead of scamorza or mozzarella as long as they are not too soft or too liquidy.

And that's it. This is the start-from-scratch recipe, but there is no reason why you can't use left over mashed potatoes and bits of vegetables. Sounds like a winning idea to me.

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