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Thursday, May 29, 2008

cooking my way through jamie's italy

grilled swordfish

My friend Lydia told me that she has a habit of reading cookbooks cover to cover, even curling up in bed with them like they were novels. I like cookbooks too, but never really understood what she meant until I discovered Jamie Oliver's "Jamie's Italy." I saw a review for it on Orangette, and ordered it immediately. As soon as it arrived, I started flipping through, and before I realized what had happened, it was an hour and half, and 300 pages, later. Normally, I dismiss "celebrity chefs" for the most part - I mean, if you're going to sell out and endorse the Applebee's restaurant chain, you lose a lot of credibility with me. But this guy's cookbook is amazing, and I know nothing about his "celebrity personality" behind the book. He basically traveled all around Italy for a few months in a camper van, collecting different regional recipes - and *amazing* photos of local people and their food. There hasn't been a thing from the book that I've cooked that we haven't raved about. Here are some highlights...

garlic and herb sauce for swordfish

The first photo above is for his "grilled swordfish with salsa di giovanna" (the second picture, immediately above, is the salsa). To make it, you just grill the swordfish steaks (brush with olive oil if you're using the outdoor grill especially) with salt and pepper. The sauce is simply juice of 1 lemon mixed with 3 times as much olive oil, salt, pepper, 3 cloves of garlic sliced very thin, a sprig of chopped mint leaves, and a sprig of chopped fresh oregano.

ricotta stuffed mushrooms

Who doesn't love stuffed mushroom caps? Jamie's recipe calls for 3oz ricotta, zest of 1 lemon, 1 fresh red chili chopped and deseeded (I substituted dried chili flakes), 2 T chopped fresh oregano or marjoram leaves, handful of freshly grated parmesan, 4 handfuls of mushrooms. Start by preheating the oven to 425 degrees, then pull out all the mushroom stems. Toss the caps with olive oil, salt and pepper, then arrange on a baking sheet, upside down.

ricotta filling for stuffed mushrooms

The filling is simple -- mix all the other ingredients together. Spoon into the mushroom caps, and bake for about 15 minutes. You could also turn on the broiler for a minute or 2 at the end, to make the tops more golden.

garlic and chard

In his section on first courses, I love how he pushes the concept of serving fresh blanched greens, dressed with a little olive oil, lemon, and garlic, as a starter. What a healthy way to add more greens into a meal. He recommends adding the chard stems to the boiling salted water a minute or 2 before the leaves, since they are a little tougher. I also tried his suggestion of adding a garlic clove to the blanching water, then slicing it thinly to top the chard. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sea salt, and you have a nice little salad.

roasted mushrooms and mozzarella

This is the recipe that Orangette blogged about that got me to try the book in the first place - "funghi tagliati a fettine sottili, con mozzarella fusa e timo" (sliced mushrooms with melted mozzarella and thyme). This was truly amazing - I could probably eat an entire baguette myself, just scooping up these mushrooms... It's so simple: arrange thinly sliced mushrooms (crimini, shitake, anything you have) in a single layer of a pan, then drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle finely chopped thyme leaves across, season with salt and pepper; tear apart a ball of buffala or scamorza cheese and drop little pieces all across the dish. Broil for a few minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Wow.

bruschetta with mixed vegetables and herbs

Jamie presents several different bruschette topping options; I tried the "mixed roasted vegetables" to start (I'll get to the others I'm sure, not soon enough!). Chop some vegetables (1/2 a bulb of fennel, 1/2 a yellow pepper, 1 red pepper - which I skipped because I wanted to cut the recipe down, 1/2 a zucchini), then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, 1 tsp dried oregano, and a handful of chopped fresh mint.

herbs and vegetables ready to roast

Roast for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees, then allow the vegetables to cool. Pulse in a food processor for a few seconds with a drizzle of olive oil, juice of 1/2 a lemon, and some herb vinegar (I actually used good balsamic, with great results). For the bruschette, you can brush slices of bread with olive oil then grill or broil - top with the vegetable mix.

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