Hi, everyone. My apologies for the lack of frequent updates here, but the next two months are going to be just brutal at work, so you can expect short posts, and mostly on weekends. But I didn’t want to let much more time go by before I told you about our Italian weekend because it was that good.
It was just about a year ago that Gil and I visited Milan as part of the CPHI conference. OK, Gil attended the conference and I attended to sightseeing, eating out, and lots of picture-taking. Being a bit neurotic, I do a lot of research on cities before we visit so I don’t miss out on anything, and naturally, one of the first things I research is local food specialties I have a fighting chance of getting past customs. As it turns out, pretty much any fish is ok to bring into the states, so I thought my first bottarga would be just the thing to bring home last year. Unfortunately, my research wasn’t nearly extensive enough, and I bought grated instead of pressed and was very disappointed in the flavor.
Lucky for me, Claudia of cookeatFRET happened to have a bottarga experiment right about about the same time, so I quickly realized my mistake, but did nothing about it until a couple of weeks ago when I stopped by Buon Italia for some sheep’s milk ricotta (also on her recommendation). Of course, I couldn’t help but pick up other goodies, too, and set about to cooking that weekend with a song in my heart.
To get things started, I grated about half of the bottarga and let it flavor some fruity olive oil, grated garlic, lemon zest, and a touch of lemon juice.
While the bottarga was infusing the olive oil (and I was sampling liberally), I broke out my stand mixer and pasta machine to see if semolina flour really makes for a better fresh pasta experience than plain old all-purpose flour.
I’m happy to report that yes, in my limited experience, this dough was approximately 20 bazillion times (give or take a dozen) easier to work with than dough made with all-purpose flour alone.
The higher gluten content of the semolina produced a dough that was completely easy to work — no tearing or sticking — and I got to the required thinness of less than 1/16 of an inch pretty quickly.
So I rolled the dough into little cigars before cutting into fettucine.
Yes, the pasta machine does come with a couple of cutters, but I haven’t used them yet and didn’t want to sacrifice my whole batch of dough to the metal shavings gods. Maybe next time, though; keep hope alive.
But wait, there’s more!
The next day, I threw caution to the wind and decided to make a grilled eggplant parm. Well, I started out thinking eggplant parm, but couldn’t resist loading it with ricotta, mozzarella, and parmigiano-reggiano, so it ended up being a lasagna without noodles or a very cheesy version of what I started out to make.
I’ve usually been disappointed with grilled eggplant in the past, finding it pretty bland despite all of my ministrations, so I put more effort into it this time. I roughly chopped a few cloves of garlic and threw them into a small saucepan with about 1/3 cup of olive oil, then turned the heat to its lowest setting so the garlic would infuse the oil without burning. After a few minutes, the kitchen smelled like heaven and the garlic started to sizzle. Once the garlic turned golden, I removed the pot from the heat to cool.
At that point, I whisked it together with balsamic vinegar, salt and oregano, then brushed both sides of sliced eggplant before grilling. The vinegar really did the trick, infusing the eggplant with flavor and providing a good base for the lasagna.
For the sauce, I just made a really simple one — chopped canned tomatoes with loads of garlic, olive oil, and basil. I should’ve cooked it down more than I did, because the lasagna was still a little soupy after baking (no pasta, remember), but it was very, very tasty even so. I layered the grilled eggplant with sauce, sheep’s milk ricotta and slivered basil, then topped the whole thing with slices of buffalo milk mozzarella and lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
We’re staying put this October (no conference for Gil), but I’m hoping to sample some jamon in Madrid next year. Fingers crossed.