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Lidia's Italian-American Kitchenby Lidia Ma Bastianich
from Chapter 1
Among the many things Italians brought with them to this country is their love for antipasti-those little bites to nibble on before the meal. An antipasto can be as simple as prosciutto e melone, affetati (an assortment of sliced, cured meats), or a lemony seafood salad. Or it can take up the better part of a table with a display of vegetables that are grilled, pickled, tossed in vinaigrette, broiled to golden brown, or fried; fish that has been cured, preserved in oil or salt, tossed in a salad, or made into a terrine; as well as all kinds of cured meats, cheeses, legumes, salads, and crostate (savory pastries). Whether simple or elaborate, an antipasto is meant to stimulate the taste buds and start the gastric juices flowing with an assortment of flavors, textures, colors, and aromas.
At home antipasti were usually made up of food that could be found in the cupboard-cured, marinated, smoked, dried, or otherwise preserved foods and meats, and an assortment of dried or aged cheeses. In Italian-American restaurants of the 1970s and '80s, "antipasto" meant a plate of prosciutto, salami, cacciatorini, cheese, roasted peppers and all kinds of vegetables-artichokes, giardiniera, pickled mushrooms, assorted olives, beans-tuna in oil, anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs. All this would be dressed with some virgin olive oil and wine vinegar. Today, antipasti include a whole repertoire of hot preparations and salads in addition to these traditional favorites.
It is easier than ever to present an authentic family-style antipasto at home, because it is easier to get traditional products imported from Italy. Prosciutto, whether from Parma or the type of prosciutto known as San Daniele, from Friuli-is the king of any antipasto assortment and can now be found across the United States, as can many imported Italian cheeses, cured fish, and vegetables. The surest way to capture the flavors, colors, and textures of a culture is by using authentic products. If you take a bite of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or taste a drop of aceto balsamico tradizionale, there is no doubt in your mind, or on your palate, that you are eating Italian. Use that to your advantage and search out these authentic products, which will bring your table that much closer to Italy. And remember that cooking techniques are also important to the authenticity of a dish. In this chapter I share with you some of the antipasti that have become my favorites.
This appetizer was very popular at my first restaurant, Buonavia, which opened in 1971. It was a time when lots and lots of chopped garlic was used in Italian-American cooking. If you like a milder garlic flavor, use crushed or sliced garlic cloves instead, and remove them from the dish before you serve it.
Scampi Appetizer "Alla Buonavia"
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing dish
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 pound extra-large (about 25 to the pound) shrimp, completely shelled, deveined, and cut crosswise into 3
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
6 slices Italian bread (about 1/4 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches wide), toasted and kept warm
1 lemon, cut into slices
Whole chives and/or parsley sprigs, optional
Makes 6 servings
In this dish, high heat and speed are essential. Make sure the pan is good and hot when you add the shrimp and that it is wide enough to hold all the shrimp pieces in a single layer (so the pan doesn't cool down as the shrimp go in). And be sure to have all your ingredients right by the stove-once the shrimp go into the pan, it's "full speed ahead."
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, shaking the pan, until light golden, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the shrimp, and toss until they are bright pink and seared on all sides, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped chives, then add the wine, butter, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, and boil until the shrimp are barely opaque in the center and the sauce is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped parsley and crushed red pepper. Season with salt.
Place a piece of warm toast in the center of each of six warm plates. Spoon the shrimp and sauce over the toast, drizzling some of the sauce around the toast. Decorate the plates with lemon slices, and with the parsley sprigs and/or whole chives, if using.
The restaurant business is tough on family life. Joseph, my son, was only four years old when we opened our first restaurant, Buonavia, in Forest Hills, Queens. He would spend many days playing on tomato boxes, and when he got a little older, he would make pocket money by standing on a milk crate and helping with the dishes or the preparation of the day's vegetables. But he did have his rewards, and a plate of clams casino was one of his favorites.
36 littleneck clams
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 red or yellow bell peppers, roasted and peeled as described on next page, cut into 1-inch squares
12 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch squares
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
Makes 6 servings
You can prepare the clams right in their baking dish up to several hours in advance and bake them just before you serve them.
Preheat the oven to 450’ F.
Shuck the clams as described on page 7, reserving the clam juice and arranging the clams on the half shell side by side in a 13 x 11-inch baking dish. Strain the juice through cheesecloth or a very fine sieve into the baking dish. Sprinkle some of the parsley over the clams. Top each clam with a square of roasted pepper. Cover the pepper with two squares of bacon. Using about 3 tablespoons of the butter, dot the top of each clam with about 1/4 teaspoon butter. Cut the remaining butter into several pieces and tuck them in and around the clams in the baking dish. Add the wine and remaining parsley to the baking dish.
Bake until the bacon is crisp and the pan juices are bubbling, about 12 minutes. Arrange clams on a warmed serving platter, or divide them among warmed plates. Pour the pan juices into a small saucepan and bring to a boil on top of the stove. Boil until lightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon the juices over the clams and serve immediately.
Two Ways to Roast a Bell Pepper
Roasting peppers imparts a subtle flavor to them, softens the texture, and removes the skin-which some people find hard to digest. Here are two ways to roast a pepper. Whether roasting green, red, or yellow peppers, choose thick-fleshed peppers that are boxy in shape-they will char more evenly and be easier to peel.
Turn the gas burners on high and, working with a pair of long-handled tongs, place the peppers on the grates, directly over the flames. Roast the peppers, turning them as necessary, until evenly blackened on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove the peppers, place them in a bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 40 minutes.
Or place a rack in the uppermost position and preheat the oven to 475’ F. Put the peppers on a baking sheet and roast them, turning as necessary, until all sides are evenly blackened, about 12 minutes. Remove the peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 40 minutes.
To peel the peppers: Pull out the stems and hold the peppers upside down, letting the seeds and juices flow out. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and, using a short knife, scrape away the blackened skin, ribs, and remaining seeds.
This is a tasty dish adored by many people. Shucking the clams is easy, if you follow the directions on page 7. And it beats steaming them open, which toughens the clams.
Baked Clams Oreganata
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
36 littleneck clams
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper, chopped fine
2 cups coarse, dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup cubed (1/4-inch) peeled and seeded tomatoes (see Note below)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably the Sicilian or Greek type dried on the branch, crumbled
1 lemon, cut into thin slices
Makes 6 servings
I always add diced fresh tomato to this dish, because I think it contributes a little freshness. Now is the time to try to find the
Greek or Sicilian oregano dried right on the branch-it makes a difference. Many Greek and Italian groceries will have it.
You can buy powdered hot red pepper, but I like to chop up the flakes myself.
Let the oil and garlic steep in a small bowl 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 475’ F. Shuck the clams as described on page 7, reserving the clam juice. Strain the juice through cheesecloth or a very fine sieve into a 13 x 11-inch baking dish. Add the white wine, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the parsley, the butter, and half of the crushed red pepper.
In a deep bowl, toss the bread crumbs, grated cheese, tomatoes, 3 tablespoons of the garlic-infused oil, the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley, the oregano, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper until thoroughly blended.
Top each clam with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the bread-crumb topping, packing it down tight. Set clams in the prepared baking pan and drizzle the remaining infused oil over them. Bake until the pan juices are bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the clams to a warm platter or divide among serving plates.
To keep the bread-crumb topping crunchy, spoon the sauce from the baking dish onto the plates-not over the clams. Serve immediately, garnished with the lemon slices.
To Peel and Seed Tomatoes
Use this method with either plum or round tomatoes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and set a bowl of ice water near the stove. Cut the cores out of the tomatoes and cut a small x in the opposite end. Slip a few tomatoes into the boiling water and cook just until the skin loosens, 1 to 2 minutes depending on the tomatoes. (Overcooking will make them soggy.) Fish the tomatoes out of the water with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drop them into the ice water. If necessary, let the water return to the boil and repeat with any remaining tomatoes. Slip the skins off the blanched tomatoes and cut the tomatoes in half-lengthwise for plum tomatoes, crosswise for round tomatoes. Gently squeeze out the seeds with your hands. The tomatoes are now ready to dice or cut as described in the recipe.
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