Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Napoli, Music and Potatoes

Fig.1. Antonio De Curtis, in the role of Toto. De Curtis sang in many commedie musicali in the 1960's.

I had supper with an Italian expatriate last weekend. He began to tell me how impressed he was with the way in which the majority of young, Montreal Italians held on to the Italian language along with certain traditions, but, in the same breath said something that truly made sense to me: that we also need to hold on to traditions which define a culture. This Italian expatriate’s name is Enzo De Rosa, a music professor, composer and concert pianist. (Quite an exceptional one I might add) The traditions De Rosa is alluding to are musical ones; specifically, old folkloric music from Naples and the outlying areas encompassing Campania, Molise, and Puglia. So important is this music of old to De Rosa, that he has organized a concert entitled, 'O Paese D'o Sole', which will take place at the Leonardo Da Vinci center in St-Leonard. De Rosa will be accompanied by his wife, Isabelle Metwalli, herself a very accomplished soprano opera singer, and tenor Francesco Pellegrino, as they flow through a repertoire of old melodies from Naples; sung of course, in a very Napolitana dialect. Songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti, D'Annunzio and Antonio De Curtis--famous for his role as Toto--will be sung, along with some visual entertainment.

Artisan songs from Naples derive from operas, poems and romance songs known as romanza da salotto (salon songs). Singers, often referred to as cantautore, vocalized stories rather than songs, always in dialect, and always from the heart.

'O Paese D' 'O Sole, "Un appassionante viaggio nella canzone Napoletana tra melodie, immagini e poesia" will take place at the Teatro Mirella e Lino Saputo in the Leonardo Da Vinci center, February 25th and 26th at 8:00pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 514-955-8370

Fig.2. Very old and very Napolitana. The consistency of this dish is what makes it beautiful. That and the taste.

What De Rosa is doing with music I do with food. This dish has Napoli cooked all over it: rustic, traditional and fervently old school, Nonna stuff. Use any short pasta you have lying around for this recipe, if fact, in Italy they’ll often use several different pasta shapes in an effort to clean out small amounts of dormant pasta. This dish is unique because of the way the pasta is cooked, not separately, but together with the sauce. And don’t worry about cooking the pasta al dente here, a long slow simmer will release more starch thereby thickening the dish: mushy, gooey and very hearty, a wonderful example of Italian culinary ingenuity. This staple of cucina povera is a perfect cold weather meal. If, for some reason this dish has too much starch for you, might I suggest adding some bacon, the best protein in the world.

Pasta e Patate

Fig.3. Ingredients at the ready.

Serves 4

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 medium onions, diced
3 large potatoes, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced fine or pressed
2 large garlic cloves, crushed and left whole
1 28 oz can of whole plum tomatoes with the juice, crushed by hand (you can also use 2 cups of homemade tomato sauce if you have.)
App 250g of short pasta
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped or torn by hand
Chili pepper
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan cheese


In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the carrot, celery and onion and sauté until slightly softened but not browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and fry for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, stir well and fry for 1 minute. Add some hot water, (I boil some water in an electric kettle and keep it on standby) just enough to barely cover the potatoes, and stir making sure you scrape the bottom of the pot. Semi-cover and simmer (stirring once in a while) for about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the pasta and enough water to just cover the pasta, bring the heat down to medium, stir and semi-cover with lid, (make sure you stir a few times while it's cooking to prevent the pasta from sticking, if you need to add more water, just add enough to barely cover the ingredients.) Once the pasta is cooked, the potatoes tender, and the sauce slightly thickened, you're ready to eat. (at this stage the sauce should have thickened, if it hasn't, continue to simmer semi-covered until everything thickens and comes together.) Add the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve in a warm bowl, sprinkle with some dried chili pepper, some grated pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Fig.4. After you add the potatoes, cover with just enough water to barely cover the vegetables.

Fig.5. Again, after you add the pasta, add just enough boiling water to barely cover. At this stage stirring is important because the pasta can stick to the bottom.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A New Orleans Sandwich with Sicilian Roots

Super Bowl Snacks, Part 3

Fig.1. Olive salad on the bottom, followed by meat, cheese, more meat, more cheese, and more olive salad. It all fits because the interior of the bread is hollowed out.

A muffuletta is a sandwich steeped with tradition in New Orleans. Claimed to have originated in 1906 at the longstanding, Italian grocery store, Central Grocery. A muffuletta is basically a sandwich of cured meat, cheese and pickled vegetables and olives. (A mixture referred to in New Orleans as olive salad.) The Sicilian connection to this sandwich, however, rests not with its ingredients, but with the word muffiletta. The linguistic book, Introduzione allo studio del dialetto Sicilaino, has the word muffiletta defined as, pan buffetto, or aerated bread.
Muffiletta bread, as it's still referred to today by many Sicilians, (including my barber, Nino) is crusty and hard on the outside and soft in the middle, and usually braided; a bread that's meant to be ripped apart. This inability on the bread's part to be turned into a sandwich prompted Muffuletta creator, Salvatore Lupo--himself a Sicilian immigrant--to find a bread suitable enough to hold vast amounts of cured meats, cheese and pickled giardiniera. Lupo settled on what is now referred to as a muffuletta loaf: a soft, round, almost focaccia style bread.

Makes 1 sandwich

Fig.2. That's a mighty big "sandweech" you got there.

This is just my version of a New Orleans' muffuletta style sandwich. It can also be made with a larger, round "pagnotta" style bread, just add more ingredients. This sandwich is big, messy and requires napkins. Prepare "the muff" one hour before kick off and let it rest in the fridge. Eat it over a plate to catch all the bits that can't fit into your mouth.


For the olive salad

1/2 cup marinated eggplant (mild or spicy, your choice)
1/2 cup pickled vegetables, chopped
1/2 pitted olives, chopped (again, your choice, just make sure they're good quality brine cured olives)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

For the sandwich

1 soft, round Italian style or sourdough bun
5 slices salami, sliced thin
5 slices capicolo, sliced thin
4 slices ham or prosciutto cotto, sliced thin
4 slices of provolone, sliced thin


For the olive salad: combine all of the ingredients and mix. Cover and refrigerate olive mixture for four hours or overnight.
When you're ready to assemble the sandwich, cut bread in half and remove some of the interior part of the bread. Spread the bottom bread with 1/3 of the olive salad, and the top bread with the rest. Add your sliced meat and cheese, wrap the muffuletta tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for one hour.

Fig.3. Make sure you chop the olive and pickled vegetables. I'm using the Spanish Crespo anchovy stuffed olives here, but feel free to use whatever pitted olives you like. Garlic is a must. Read the recipe and don't just look at the picture like some of you have been doing.

Fig.4. Begin layering.

Fig.5. Press the sandwich, wrap tightly and refrigerate for one hour.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who Wants a Pork Cone? I do I do!
Super Bowl Snacks, Part 2

Fig.1. Mortadella cones. The purée does begin to soften at room temperature so treat it like real ice cream and start licking.

No, it’s not a strawberry cone, it’s a swine cone. Nothing soothes the Y chromosome quite like puréed pork. Super Bowl night, like any other gathering, requires a dessert course, and in my opinion, there’s no better dessert than sweet, succulent, salted hog. This cone is made of puréed mortadella that has been hardened in the fridge. The olive oil incorporated with the meat hardens in the fridge making it possible to form in whatever shape you want.

Warning: once you lick pork, there's no going back.

Mortadella Cones

Makes 6 to 7 cones

Nothing far-fetched in this recipe, it’s just another variation of a pâté.

Fig.2. Made a second batch but made it look like an ice cream sundae instead. I drizzled the mortadella with vin cotto, thickened balsamic vinegar, and some pine nuts.

Follow the recipe for Spuma di Mortadella posted on January 12th 2011. Pour puréed mortadella in a loaf pan (a loaf pan facilitates scooping), cover with plastic wrap (make the plastic wrap touch the mortadella) and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of four hours, or up to a day before. When you’re ready to serve, scoop with an ice cream scoop and serve.