Kale Crostini by Stefania Barzini

For all you kale lovers, and I know that there are plenty of you! Here is a recipe that is heartily delicious to enjoy and really simple to make.  All it requires is top notch ingredients, including proper good olive oil and ‘lardo’, i.e. slices of cured lard.  If you are vegetarian you will eschew the latter naturally; if you cannot find lardo, a good substitute would be streaky bacon.  For those of you who are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, you are still in time to think about making these to serve as pre-dinner snacks.  They are tasty enough to satisfy an encroaching hunger pang and light enough not to ruin one’s appetite.

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Here are some kale crostini I made last September.

I learned to make them from Stefania Barzini.  Let me tell you a little about her below.  If you are in too much of a hurry or are not interested, by all means go straight to the recipe further down.

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What I love about Stefania Barzini is that she not only knows a lot about food and its history, she really – but really really – likes to cook, it’s a passion we share.  Contentedess beams out of her as she goes about her cooking; and she is also very calm and collected, not a nervous kind of cook.  And not just Italian food, but French too (she is practically bilingual in French) and a bit of Greek, and a bit of Middle Eastern.  When her husband who is in the film business worked in California for a few years, Stefania hooked up with the Italian Culinary Institute in Los Angeles and taught classes there but she also learned plenty about American food.  Only a few weeks ago she was giving one of her themed dinners on Cajun food, for instance, and will be hosting a proper Thanksgiving dinner with all the frills in Milan tomorrow, after having hosted another one in Rome last week.  One of the soirées  I attended at her house earlier this year (don’t you just love the word ‘soirée’,? Humour me, I am in a soignée mood today)  was in honour of Honoré de Balzac and she had arranged for one of the guests to read out passages about him or from his books as we enjoyed the meal (including apricot stuffed goose if you want to know).  I would hate to give the impression that this was a blue stocking affair … good grief no, there was plenty of banter and requisite laughter to colour and highlight the evening.

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Here is a not-very-good photo of the goose and apricot stuffing.

Goodness knows who/what I was in a previous lifetime or why I am particularly taken by the idea of good conversation in a salon à la Mme de Stael, but to me good food, fine wines, and refined and witty talk, not to mention a bit of good-natured gossip, come pretty to close to heaven on earth.    It explains why I love socialising at dinner parties and prefer them, on the whole,  to going out to eat at a restaurant for this purpose.  People behave differently in a home, they try harder I suppose?  Or are more grateful? Or can relax more?  Whatever.  Vive dinner parties! and may we never see their demise despite what glossy magazines have been writing on the subject for many years now.  I beg your pardon? Expensive? Yes, true, dinner parties can be expensive.  Yet I have pulled off very decent and enjoyable dinners with the cheapest and humblest of ingredients: pasta, rice, chicken, potatoes, some kind of veg and fruit salad.  It all depends on how you present your food and hospitality, or so I like to think.

So, yes, a little more about Stefania.  I can’t remember how I stumbled upon her but I think it was because I read her book “Fornelli d’Italia” on the beach two summers ago and found it not only well researched and written but also very necessary in this age of cookery obsession; she looks into how women bolstered and made their way in kitchens from 1861 onwards, i.e. since the creation of modern Italy, herding together a historical timeline, fact and anecdote as well as recipes.  I suppose I might have chased her up on facebook and she befriended me straight away.  Stefania has opinions and she likes, and is not afraid, to express them, not a few of which are guaranteed to raise people’s political or civil behaviour hackles.  I doff my hat to her outspokenness and insouciance of others’ opinion because it takes guts and moral high ground to bang on the way she does and have such an open mind at the same time.  I first  met her in person when Rachel Roddy asked me whether my husband and I might fancy attending a Sicilian food dinner that Stefania was giving, together with Fabrizia Lanza, using the fantastic island products of the Tasca Lanza farm.  Rachel herself has taught there, at the farm (https://racheleats.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/cook-the-farm/).

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Stefania greeted us warmly at the door, told us where to hang our coats and then made off to the kitchen to get on with the work, and basically that’s all I saw of her for the rest of the evening – her home was buzzing with people, enjoying this stand-up dinner.

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Stefania is nothing but hands-on about the whole meal preparation business and does not shirk from the hard work involved.  It leaves her exhausted afterwards but she has now come to expect that.  On one of these occasions, she carried on stoically despite a dreadful chest infection that had her enduring the evening with a high fever; the good thing was that it made her give up smoking.

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This is a photo at the end of the evening, wiped out but still looking minimal-chic/maxi pearls glamorous.

Stefania was part of the spearheading team that built up the Gambero Rosso TV food and wine channel in Italy.  I don’t know when she began her own website: http://www.follecasseruola.com/.  She has written several books as well as articles for magazines.  And she loves to teach!  She taught Itailan cooking classes, with her trusty friend Paola, last Spring in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles.  She confided that at the end of one cooking lesson she noticed she had lost a precious ring and realized that it had been accidentally thrown in the rubbish bin outside the workspace.  Please forgive what I realize is an annoying habit of forgetting important narrative details but right now I shall just cut to the chase.  The long and the short of it is that in an attempt to climb through a window to reach out to the rubbish bin, she ended up finding herself uncomfortably wedged there.  The good news is that she was able to retrieve her ring and was finally able to dislodge herself out of this tight and claustrophobic position but not before a long and scary struggle.  How did  you cope? I asked.  (I personally would have had a panic attack – but then maybe I wouldn’t have braved the window the way she did.)  She said that all she could do was laugh, her laughter helped her out of this fix, literally.  So … there you go, that’s Stefania for you.  Always chic even when the situation isn’t.  She also teaches Italian food history at one of the American universities in Rome.  A lover of nature and an inveterate traveller, she is a doting grandmother and one of those people who, I think, will never get ‘old’, her spirit and sense of adventure simply won’t allow it.

Thus, it was not totally unnatural that I should have turned to Stefania when I came across another spirited Italian lady, a spritely ‘young’ lady of almost 100 years of age.

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I asked Stefania if we could meet one day to discuss whether we might go down to Naples to interview her.  Her name was (yes, sadly she died last May) Marinella Peppa de Penta.  Again, I had ‘stumbled’ upon her, have no recollection how, and most probably over the internet in search of a recipe.  This wonderful lady who had recipes in her family that date back to the 17th century, obviously a family of some social standing, decided it would be a crying shame not to make them known to younger generations and so learned how to make videos of herself preparing them and posting them on Youtube (there is also a facebook page called “Fan di Marinella Penta de Peppo”).  For all her charm and coquettishness, Marinella’s video presence clearly implied that she would brook no nonsense and lived according to adamantine standards, and I fell for her hook, line and sinker.  Such a lover of life, such a generous teacher, such an upholder of culinary troves that might otherwise be lost! I could only look on admiringly as she went about her cooking in a tiny kitchen, dripping in jewellery, standing easily in heels, eye-catching attire and painted nails, imparting tips and secrets, and holding forth on good manners, all the while making sure she wasn’t cutting into the programme’s time.

One of the things I have learned from her is how to serve coffee.  She scoffed at the idea of letting guests serve themselves to coffee after a meal.  No, no, no!  The hostess must serve the coffee cup to the guest herself, one at a time, that’s how it’s done.  I was explaining all this to my forbearing husband and told him from now on that it would no longer suffice for him to make coffee for me in the morning if he knew what was good for him; he would have to serve me the coffee cup as well –  “Marinella Penta de Peppa says so and she should know!”.  Even if you don’t speak Italian, do click on the following link to get an idea of how wonderful she was; the recipe is a chicken alla cacciatora Neapolitan style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUsklFX5l1w.

The world that is interested in Italian culture via its food and recipes needs ambassadors (although really they are all ambassadresses) like the late Marcella Hazan and Marinella Peppa de Penta. It needs people like Anna del Conte.  Stefania Barzini does not write in English, more is the pity.  I reckon more people need to hear about her outside of Italy.

And now for the kale crostini recipe.

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Stefania Barzini taught this recipe in the course of a workshop I attended for food writers and photographers at a breathtakingly beautiful venue called Casamora, in Tuscany, last June.  Casamora is a farm near Pian di Sciò, in the Valdarno region (http://www.casamora.it/eng/fattoria.html), and the owners of the estate, who are friends of Stefania’s, put her at the helm of the cooking classes.

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Here are Stefania and friend/assistant Paola trimming the kale (please notice earrings and bangles). 

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Once the kale has been trimmed, it has to be washed, obviously.  Grimy kale doth not a good crostino make.  After that, all it takes is to cook some garlic and a little bit of chilli in a puddle of olive oil.  Once it has turned golden, add the kale.  It will hiss and spit, so be careful.  Let it cook for about five minutes then add a good splosh of white wine, season, cover with a lid and cook until the kale has become tender. That might take about 40 minutes altogether, it will depend on the amount and quality of kale.

6789While that is going on … turn the oven on and toast the slices of bread that make up the crostini.

10Once the kale is ‘done’, you have to mash it up.

11Use a food processor or a mouli-type food mill.

12Time to season the kale with a little more salt and pepper too this time, and with heaps of dribbles of excellent olive oil.  This Casamora olive oil won the gold prize at this year’s Los Angeles Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards.  What can I say ?

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Time to assemble !

15Spoon a layer of the kale over each slice of toasted bread.

14Here are the slices of the Lardo di Colonnata.

16Deftly pick at the lardo (it’s very sticky) and place a slice over the kale.

17Into a hot oven they go … for just the right amount of time it takes for the lardo to melt.

18And now they are ready to eat.

19And now enjoy – eat them while they’re hot!

Stinco di Manzo con Uva di Frascati

 

I simply intuited that I would want to attend a themed dinner chez  food writer, teacher, journalist and caterer Stefania Barzini last November (i.e. 2015) in Rome (Stefania can be quite the gadabout – more about her in another post).  She and friend Paola run these evenings that bring acquaintances and strangers to the same table, and the atmosphere can be made even more interesting just by that very fact.  Food is guaranteed to be special, not just good.

Anyway the menu that evening centred around Tuscany, based on all things bright and beautiful sourced directly from the delightful  Badia di Coltibuono estate.  Indeed, so directly that Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti herself brought  all the ingredients over from the farm (including olive oil and award winning wines) and helped cook the meal.  Emanuela’s mother Lorenza De’ Medici is famous for her cooking:

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Another reason for me to want to attend the evening was that my darling Uncle James, who had died only just a few weeks before, had treated us to lunch at the Badia only three years previously and the memory was still sweet, if poignantly so now.  He was enchanted by the place, the food and the atmosphere … and mesmerised by the enormous cedar tree on the estate.

Uncle James was a pretty good cook himself and made his own bread right to the end. In our family, he is well known for enjoying anything you put before him and making the best cocktails.  My son’s mates here in Frascati remember Uncle James’s cocktails too; they sipped them at an age when they couldn’t conceive fully of their after effects but at least they learned the difference between a good and a bad one!  Evenings at Uncle James’s tiny house in Chiswick, London, always began with cocktails, served in vintage glasses and accompanied by delicious appetisers.  Despite the casual attire he favoured after retirning from a bank job where he always had to look sharp, he always had that touch of class about him.   Anyway … back to the Tuscan dinner and the inspiration for me.

The menu at Stefania’s that evening was the following:

Crostini al cavolo nero Crostini toscani classici (Crostini with kale)
Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (Papparadelle with wild boar sauce)
Stinco all’uva (Shank cooked with grapes)
Purè di patate (mashed potatoes)
Semifreddo al caffè (Coffee ice cream)
Cantuccini (Cantucci, the typical Tuscan biscuits)
Trappoline Bianco Chianti Classico
Chianti Classico Riserva Cultus Boni
Chianti Classico Riserva Vinsanto

It was a fabulous  meal, I remember plenty of interesting conversation, an easy atmosphere and more than one languge being spoken although it was definitely a predominantly Italian evening.  There isn’t much ‘fuss’ at Stefania’s dining table … people have to help themselves and pour their own wine and just get along.  (It reminded me a little of the table-side manners we had to adhere to at boarding school.  However shy one was, one had to make conversation and just get along.)

emanuelaThe dish that struck me the most was the beef shank, cooked slowly with wine and grapes.  The photo below, unfortunately, does not do it any justice.img_2217You shall just have to take my word for it – it was melt-in-yout-mouth tender, savoury with a hint of sweetness and there was even the tiniest bit of crunch brought about by the grape pips.  I decided that I wanted to make some at home.  Thank you Emanuela !

Because home is Frascati, I was going to use Frascati wine naturally.  The word for shank in Italian is ‘Stinco’ and hence the title of my adaptation of Emanuela’s recipe.

RECIPE

This is a recipe that takes a long time to cook but it’s not in the least bit difficult.  I expect it can be made the day before – some stews taste even better the following day.
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4So, let’s begin at the beginning.  Ask the butcher to cut the beef shank in half; that way it will take less time to cook.  Adorn the roasting tray with some onion, garlic, and a few tomatoes.  Coat the meat with olive oil.  5
Turn the oven on at 125°C.   That is a temperature I just guessed.


I let the shank cook for about two hours.

10This is what the  shank looked like after two hours in the oven.

I changed the position of the meat around and left the shank to continue cooking until 7 p.m.
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In the meantime I washed some grapes and put them into a very large saucepan.13I coated the individual grapes with a little evoo and salt and added a few peppercorns to the mix.

14When the shank had cooked for almost 4 hours (i.e. 3 and three quarter hours), I took it out of the oven.
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And this is what it looked like.  Ravishing already!

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But I wasn’t finished with the cooking.  Not yet.  Wine o’clock !18

Red wine at that, only red wine for this stew.  The Frascati Casale Marchese “Rosso Eminenza” – the eminence in question referring to a cardinal in the estate’s owners family, Cardinal Micara.  He gave the last rights to the opera composer Giacomo Puccini, how’s that for blogpost trivia.
20What I did next was to debone the shank … not hard to do, it literally back apart with my fingers.
22Place the meat on top of the grapes .
24Add all the ingredients and juices too …
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30Cover with a lid and when it starts to simmer, cook over a low heat.


32This is what it looked like after about one hour.  I tasted it and thought it need a little bit more cooking.  Without a lid now.
3435About 15 minutes later, I added two bayleaves.

39The meat was almost done.

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Time to add some Cognac.  About 2-3 tablespoons.  The cognac added a bit of ‘depth’, can’t explain better than that.  It was a ‘trick’ I used when making coq-au-vin: add a bit of cognac towards the end.

Time to switch the heat off.  Please note: total cooking time was from 4 p.m. to 9:40 p.m., i.e. almost 5 hours.41And this is when I added twists of pepper.  This is a valuable tip I got from Gareth Jones – always add the pepper only towards the very end.

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I used a pair of scissors to chop up the shank a bit.

Add some fresh grapes to the mix … just for colour and vitality.

And then serve and enjoy.  I am so sorry that, just as with Emanuela’s photo of her shank stew above, the photo of my Stinco doesn’t look anything as good as it tasted !
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We chose a Principe Pallavicini Mororello to accompany the meal.

It was not the same as Emanuela’s but it was good, very very good.  And I shall be making this again when the temperatures drop and we need some slow cooking, slow drinking, bonding and befriending.

In honour of Uncle James, who would have noddingly approved !

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Ducky Deconstruction

Or … how to deal with a messy, uncrispy duck might be another title.  It wasn’t supposed to have been that way.  I have prepared duck using this technique many times and the result has always silly-grin on people’s face pleasing.  I had read about this technique as far ago as last century,  probably in the mid 1990s.  In a magazine article.  The easiest way to cook duck is to – wait for it – boil it first!

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The duck is simmered for about an hour in plenty of water and then drained.  It’s surprising how much fat transfers from the duck to the cooking water.  And yet ducks are so fatty in and of themselves that the prior boiling does not dry them out when it comes to roasting them.  The result is genius! Crispy skin on the outside and tender, moist flesh within, not to mention very little fuss overall.

2-23I decided I would stuff the  boiled duck with one presimmon, one orange and a couple of bayleaves.

4I dribbled a bit of persimmon over the duck and dribbled a bit of olive oil too – and then the usual : salt and pepper.

The oven was already preheated at 200°C.

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About 35 minutes later, I took the duck out of the oven, rolled it on to the other side and squeezed some fresh orange juice into the roasting pain.  Back in the oven again for another 30 minutes or so (i.e. roast for about 1 hour).

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It looked good … well, on this side at least.

12Not quite so appealing on the other side.  Sigh.  Hopes dashed and duck dilemma begins. It was all about the consistency of the skin – normally it is ingratiatingly crispy, this time it was ever so slightly on the soggy side, that is: it WAS cooked but it wasn’t crispy cooked.  How very disappointing.  What to do? Wash greasy fingers, dry fingers and then a bit of soul-searching head-scratching for a solution.

13Mental light bulb switches on! Deconstruct the duck, that’s what.  Prise the flesh from the carcass and present it that way …

14I used two spoons.

15aAnd this was what was left – not to be thrown away, but to make a hearty soup, the next day!

1617Pour all the juices onto the duck.

18And all’s well that ends well and, all things considered,  a lot easier to serve too.  We had some pan fried artichokes to accompany this dish; some plain rice would have complemented it too.

Note to self for next time: the duck must  be roasted in a VERY hot oven: 250°C as opposed to the 200°C – and that would have given us the the crisp I was clamouring after.

20And these bright little things did a good job – their nuance in the final count added a pleasant sweetness to curb the gameyness of the duck.