Italian Comfort Food

img_0563On a cold winter weekend there is nothing better than hanging out in the kitchen and whipping up some comfort food for lunch, especially if you’ve been working hard.  We had an unexpectedly nice Saturday weather wise and took advantage of it by working in the yard.  There was winter pruning to be done and while it wasn’t warm out, we are lucky to hit 40`F at this time of year, the sun was shining.  Mauro started pruning and I whipped up dough to make pizza for dinner before joining him in the garden.  While he climbed up and down our trees (2 apples, 1 pear, 1 giant cherry tree and  magnolia) I cleaned up a flower bed and finally pulled out the withered stalks of Tupinambur (Jerusalem Artichokes) that I have been staring at for months with good intentions.  The ground was actually thawed enough for me to dig out some of the tubers that will be cooked with anchovies, garlic and olive oil. After a few hours of solid work we have a cleaner garden and three big bundles of branches that we will use as kindling next winter and for BBQ’s and canning in the garden next summer.  Now it’s time to cook!

Freshly pruned with big bundles of branches stacked against the fence.

I am not going to share my pizza recipe as I am not a master of the dough.  I am still trying to make the perfect crust and while the pizza was good, the crust was still lacking.  For my latest crust, I experimented by adding almond meal.  I made almond milk earlier in the week and am loathe to throw out something healthy and edible so I stuck it in the fridge knowing I could always add it to yogurt, instead I added it to my dough.  The dough was very tender and crispy but still lacked something.  I made three pizzas, one with olive oil packed tuna and onion,  one with prosciutto cotto and for desert, gorgonzola and pear. Accompanied by beer…the Italians like beer rather than wine with their pizza, we are happy at the end of the day. The kids always love pizza night too whether we get take out, make it at home, or go to a pizzeria.  It is one of the rare occasions in which they get soft drinks and tonight they are drinking Lurisia Gazzosa.  This is a locally made product and one of the few soft drinks I actually like.  Their Chinotto is really good too, you can check it out by clicking on the the blue links. Curling up on the sofa at the end of the day to watch The Secret Life of Pets, life is good and we get to sleep in the next day.

Sunday dawns wet and cold…rain that turns into snow as the day goes on.  It is the perfect day to stay inside and cook.  Today is the day for comfort food and we’ve been talking about what to make since the middle of the week. Mauro has a colleague who raises a couple of pigs every year and we always buy salami and Cotechino from him. We buy enough to eat it three or four times during the year which is the perfect amount since it is not the healthiest of foods but very tasty!  The Salami gets vacuum packed and put in the fridge while the Cotechino  goes in the freezer…but what is Cotechino you ask?

Cotechino is a type of sausage, also called salami cotto, which literally translates to “cooked salami.” It is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve accompanied by lentils and/or mashed potatoes.  The Cotechino is boiled for about 30 minutes, then pierced with a fork and boiled for another 15 minutes or so.  This process lets some of the fat out.  If you decide to try this Cotechino, follow the instructions on the package as the one we buy is not precooked.

Lentils are something I hated as a kid and have learned to love.  The Italians eat them on New Years Eve as a symbol of prosperity for the coming year.  My kids think lentils are quite tasty and I cook them fairly regularly with or without the Salami Cotto. The recipe that follows is quite generous and I had another meals worth of leftovers.  If you end up with extra lentils try putting a poached or fried egg on top of the reheated lentils, it is delicious!  Here is one of my favorite recipes:img_0560

2 Tbls. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 medium onion

1 Leek

1 Medium sized carrot chopped fairly small (optional)

2 cups of green or red lentils

1 Cup of dry red wine (I use Dolcetto)

1 Can of tomato pulp (I use this brand)

Water to cover the lentils.

1 tsp Salt

Pepper to taste

Put the olive oil in a in a medium sized pot.  Chop the onion, carrot (I didn’t use carrot this time but often do) and leek and saute them for 5 minutes over medium heat before adding the lentils.  Add the wine and sweat the lentils for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato pulp and water.  I cover the lentils and make sure there is about an inch of water on top.  Add the salt, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat so they are simmering.  Cook uncovered for 30-40 minutes stirring occasionally.  If your lentils dry out too much add a bit more water.  I like my lentils slightly  firm but this is my personal taste. I covered them with a lid for the last 10 minutes.  Once they are cooked, turn the heat off and leave them covered so they stay nice and hot until you are ready to serve them.

Mashed Potatoes

6 medium sized potatoes

1/2 cup of milk

2 Tbls. of butter

Salt to taste…at least 1/2 tsp.

1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano (I use one that been aged 30 months but 24 months is fine too!)

Italian mashed potatoes are super easy as are all mashed potatoes. Peel your potatoes and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook until soft enough to mash, 20-30 minutes once they’ve started boiling.  I melt the butter with the milk in a saucepan and add a little salt so it dissolves.  When my potatoes are done I mash them with a ricer and add the butter and milk mixture.  The finishing touch is freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Putting it all together is easy enough.  Cook your Cotechino according to the instructions. They can be kept in their cooking water until ready to serve so you can start them before the lentils if you want or as soon as you’ve stated the lentils.  You will want to do the potatoes with the lentils too.  Because the lentils and the Cotechino  hold well, the potatoes are the last thing I whip up before sitting down at the table.  Put it all together and enjoy your comfort food…Buon Apettito!img_0565

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