Mushroom Caponata

There must be hundreds of recipes for Caponata. The dish originates from Sicily and should contain (at least, we think so) eggplant (aubergine), celery and vinegar. Sugar is often added to enhance the sweetness and intensity. Nowadays it’s often a combination with tomatoes, shallot, capers, olives and perhaps raisins, pine nuts, oregano and basil.
The flavour of caponata should be slightly bitter (the eggplant) with a touch of sweetness (sugar, onion), acidity and saltiness (celery). The texture should be moist, but not sauce-like.
We love to enhance the flavours by adding mushrooms. And since we’re not keen on using sugar, we make sure the onions bring sufficient sweetness.

Enjoy your caponata as an appetizer, for instance with some crusted bread or bruschetta. A nice glass of white wine or rosé will be perfect with it. It’s also great as a side dish, with fish or even merguez.

Whatever the combination, caponata must be made one day ahead.

What You Need

  • 1 Aubergine
  • 200 grams of Mushrooms (preferably a mix with Shiitake)
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1 cm Red Chilli Pepper
  • Parsley
  • Celery
  • 2 tablespoons of White Wine Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Fine Salt

What You Do

Wash the eggplant and slice. We slice the eggplant lengthwise in 8 and then we slice these strips. Salt them generously, transfer to a sieve and allow to drain for one or two hours. The more liquid they lose, the better! Rinse the eggplant with cold water and dry them with a kitchen cloth. Fry the aubergine in a heavy iron skillet until nicely golden brown. Set aside. Slice the red onion, clean and chop the mushrooms. Chop the garlic and the chilli pepper finely. Add some olive oil to the pan and fry the onion. Remove and set aside. Now fry the mushrooms. After 5 minutes or so add the garlic and the chilli pepper. After a few minutes add the mushrooms and the eggplant to the pan. Add chopped parsley and celery. Mix well. Add two spoons of white wine vinegar and leave on low heat for 10 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Keep in the refrigerator for the next day.

The Quiet Hunt

Antonio Carluccio’s The Complete Mushroom book is more than a cookbook. The first part of the book discusses foraging and collecting mushrooms, with clear descriptions of each mushroom and poisonous look-alikes. It’s a pleasure to read, but we’re not brave enough to start our own quiet hunt.

Fortunately, mushrooms are becoming more popular and greengrocers and supermarkets have started selling chestnut mushrooms, button mushrooms and shiitake. Asian supermarkets in most cases sell (king) oyster mushrooms, shiitake, enoki and shimeji.
Don’t be tempted to buy dried mushrooms: expensive, no aroma, nasty taste and not even close to a fresh mushroom.

Recipes

The second part of the book includes some 150 mushroom recipes, ranging from classic Italian dishes to culinary treats. Carluccio’s recipes are well written and informative. You’ll get the feeling that he lets you in on some of his secrets. And given he started foraging mushrooms as a young child, there are a lot of secrets to share!

One of our favourites is a salad made with maitake, fresh scallops, crab and shrimps. It’s an amazing result, with lots of pleasant flavours, also thanks to the cilantro, dill and parsley. Part of the fun is that the scallops are not seared but prepared like ceviche. Maitake is also available as a cultivated mushroom.

Caponata

More favourites? Of course! How about Mushroom Caponata or Tagliolini with black truffle? The caponata is a combination of mushrooms, egg plant and various herbs, so if you can buy button mushrooms and for instance shiitake, you’re ready to go.

Our all-time favourite from this book is the combination of fresh oysters with white truffle (bianchetti). A starter we prepare once or twice a year, depending on the availability of the truffle. Always a pleasure…

The Mushroom Book – the Quiet Hunt was published in 2001. It’s available (in most cases second hand) via channels such as Amazon and e-Bay for prices between 25 and 50 euro.

One of the very best books on mushrooms, written by a true expert.

Antonio Carluccio’s Oysters with Bianchetto

Last Saturday we were extremely lucky. Not only did we buy the very first fresh morels of the season, we also bought a small bianchetto. This affordable white truffle is available from mid January to the end of April. It is also called March truffle (marzuolo).

In his book Complete Mushroom Book, Italian chef Antonio Carluccio combines fresh oysters with a white wine sabayon and white truffle: Ostriche con zabaglione e tartufo bianco. The result is spectacular. The combination of the distinct aroma of the white truffle with the oyster is intriguing. The sabayon brings everything together in terms of taste, consistency and structure. And just to show you how clever Carluccio’s combination is: the sabayon in itself is not pleasant. We prepared the dish with bianchetto. Maybe less subtle than when prepared with a white truffle, but the result is nevertheless wonderful.

Wine Pairing

With such a great dish you many want to drink a glass of Chablis or Champagne. We enjoyed a glass of Crémant de Bourgogne, produced by Vitteaut-Alberti. A refined wine, soft and with delicate fruit. The bubbles are small and pleasant.

Oysters a la Carluccio © cadwu
Oysters à la Carluccio © cadwu

Carpaccio

With A Twist?

Carpaccio has evolved into an anything-goes combination of something sliced (beef, veal, (smoked) salmon, beetroot) with a dressing and garnished with for instance pine nuts, cheese, lettuce, capers, tomatoes, spring onion etcetera, which is a pity because the original Carpaccio is actually rather perfect.
We’re not culinary puritans but nevertheless we were slightly shocked when we found the next version of Carpaccio in our local supermarket: with wasabi mayonnaise, teriyaki glaze and roasted sesame seeds. Help?

Original Version

Let’s go back to the original Carpaccio as it was created (in 1950) by chef Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice for one of his regular guests, the Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo. Her doctor had ordered her to eat uncooked food, especially raw, red meat. Most likely she suffered from anemia. The poor Contessa was used to excellent food, so something raw on a plate wasn’t very appealing. Chef Cipriani created a special dish for her, which he named after, indeed, the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio. Some say this was a tribute to the whites and reds as used by Carpaccio.

Sauce

The sauce is a very clever combination of mayonnaise, Worcester sauce, lemon juice, white pepper and milk. The velvety mayonnaise works very well with the lean meat, the acidity of the lemon is a perfect match for the sweetness of the beef and the Worcester sauce brings umami and depth. The milk gives the sauce the right consistency.

Next time when you think about preparing Carpaccio, why not try the original version and forget about all the extra’s.

Wine Pairing

We suggest enjoying your Carpaccio with a glass of Pinot Grigio or a Soave. It should be a fruity, not too powerful wine. Carpaccio is about the flavour of the meat. The sauce and the wine should simply support this. You could also go for a Pinot Noir, provided it has a light character.

What You Need

  • 50 grams of Excellent Tenderloin or Sirloin (per person) thinly sliced, cold but not frozen.
  • (Homemade) Mayonnaise
  • Worcester Sauce
  • Lemon
  • White Pepper
  • Milk

What You Do

Take one or two spoons of mayonnaise and add two teaspoons of Worcester sauce, one or two teaspoons of lemon juice and freshly ground white pepper. Taste and adjust until you have the perfect balance. Now add milk, creating a thinner sauce. Remove the meat from the refrigerator, flatten the meat if so required and transfer to a cold plate. Create a nice pattern with the sauce, using a sauce bottle. Serve immediately.

Pasta Alle Vongole

This is a truly delicious and simple starter, one that will only take a few minutes to prepare. The dish comes with two challenges: you need fresh, excellent vongole and you need to resist the temptation to add shallot, tomato, chilli, wine, lemon or butter.

Hey, we can hear you thinking, no wine? Indeed, no wine. We’re not fan of the acidity that comes with the wine plus we don’t want too much liquid. Basically we’re happy with the liquid as provided by the vongole. The idea is to steam the vongole in their own juices. This requires closely monitoring the cooking process. Next time you prepare Pasta Alle Vongole, please try to forget the wine.

Another ingredient to forget: salt. No need to cook the pasta with salt because the vongole will bring enough saltiness.

Obviously the vongole need to be clean, meaning without sand. Sometimes we’re lucky and our fishmonger offers washed vongole. If not lucky, we wash the vongole a few times with salted water.

Wine Pairing

Enjoy this classic Italian dish with a Soave: a beautiful, dry, crisp white wine from Italy. We opened a bottle of Cuvée XX, Soave Classico DOC, produced by Guerrieri Rizzardi. It proved to be ideal with the clams: refreshing and dry with floral and mineral notes.

What You Need

  • 500 grams of super fresh, washed Vongole
  • 2 Gloves of Garlic
  • Parsley
  • Spaghetti
  • Olive Oil
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Make sure you have everything ready: crushed garlic, chopped parsley, a pan with boiling water, a heavy pan (warm through and through), two warm plates. Discard vongole that are broken or damaged. Ready? Cook the pasta as mentioned on the package. Increase heat, add a generous amount of olive oil to the heavy pan, add garlic, count 30 seconds, add vongole, close the pan and cook the vongole for 3-5 minutes in total. After 1 minute (so 2-4 minutes to go) check if all is okay. If too dry, then add extra olive oil or a splash of water. When clams have opened, drain the pasta, remove the pan with the vongole from the heat, add pasta, chopped parsley and black pepper, mix and serve on two warm plates. You could remove some, but not all, of the shells to make eating the dish a bit more elegant, although it’s fun eating the vongole with your hands. Discard shells that have not opened.
PS Some recipes suggest cooking the vongole, preparing a sauce and then reheating the vongole with the pasta. If you do, the poor vongole will become rubbery, so not a good idea.

The Art of Sauces: Classic Tomato Sauce

This recipe goes back to the days of Antonina Latini who published a recipe for a tomato sauce in his Lo Scalco alla Moderna (The Modern Steward, or The Art of Preparing Banquets Well) in 1692. Marie-Antoine Carême wrote about Latini’s recipes and Auguste Escoffier positioned the sauce as a leading (mother) sauce.

The sauce is different from a modern, vegetarian tomato sauce, for instance because one of the ingredients is salted pork, which obviously brings saltiness and depth to the sauce, in a very natural way. 
The sweetness of the tomato is supported by carrots, onions and various herbs, making it a much more complex sauce. The flavours and aromas of the tomatoes benefit from the rich and tasteful context. This also supports the concept of a leading sauce: you can use it as a starting point for other sauces.
The texture of the sauce (it’s not smooth) in combination with the fat creates a very pleasant mouthfeel.

Sauce Tomate has many derivatives, such as Sauce PortugueseSauce Marinara and even Ketchup. In one of our next posts we will describe how to make Sauce Provençal and Oeuf à la Provençal (eggs poached in tomato sauce).

What You Need

  • 200 grams of Salted Organic Pork (not smoked)
  • ½ Leek
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Celery Stalk
  • 1 Shallot
  • 2 gloves of Garlic
  • 4 – 6 Excellent Ripe Tomatoes
  • White Stock (Veal preferably)
  • Bouquet Garni (Parsley, Thyme, Bay Leaf, Rosemary)

What You Do

Start by cleaning and chopping the vegetables. Wash, dry and dice the salted pork. Render the pork meat on medium heat in a Dutch oven. Once lightly coloured add the leek, carrot, celery and shallot. Allow to cook for 5 to 10 minutes. You’re looking for a bit of colour, but not too much. Now add the tomatoes and the garlic. Once warm, wait for a few minutes before adding some white stock. This is a tricky part: if you add too much stock your sauce will be thin. Therefore some recipes suggest adding flour. We decided against it because we want a natural consistency. Now it’s a matter of simmering, either in the oven or on low heat. Allow to simmer for 90 minutes.
Remove the pork meat from the sauce. Pass the sauce through a sieve, making sure you capture all those lovely juices. It’s hard work, but the remainder in your sieve should be as dry as possible.

Fleurs de Courgettes Farcie

Such a pleasure to see courgette flowers in your garden or at the greengrocers. The young courgette is firm and tasty; the flowers a beautiful yellow. Simply stuff the flowers, fry in a pan or cook in the oven and you have a great side dish or starter. And then you start wondering: ‘Stuff with what? Cheese? Salmon? Mushrooms? Tomatoes? Ricotta? Vegetable Mousse?’
Earlier we described a simple, tasty vegetarian version. This recipe requires a bit more work, but the result is delicious and beautiful. Crab and courgette go together very well; it’s a well balanced combination with surprisingly delicate flavors.

Wine Pairing

Obviously a nice glass of Côtes de Provence Rosé is an excellent choice. But you could also go for a white wine, for instance a Macon-Villages as produced by Bouchard Père & Fils. In general a subtle wine that goes well with the gentle flavors of both the crab and the courgette.

What You Need

  • One Courgette (small and firm)
  • One Garlic Clove
  • Olive Oil
  • Six Small Courgettes with their flower
  • Crab
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Wash the courgette, dry and grate coarsely. Warm a small cooking pan, add olive oil and the grated courgette. Fineley grate the garlic and mix with the courgette. Leave for 20 minutes minimum on low heat. When ready, set aside and let cool.
Best is to use a leg of a fresh (littoral) crab, but you could also buy a can of most excellent crab. If using fresh crab, heat a pan with water, bay leaf and crushed black pepper corns; cook the crab for 10 minutes, remove from the water, set aside until cooler and then remove the meat from the shell. Be sure to remove all shards of shell. Set aside and let cool.
Remove the stamens from the flowers. Remove the end of the small courgette. Use a very sharp knife to slice the courgettes lengthwise in 3, making it look like a fan. Heat water in a pan and poach the small courgettes (not the flowers!) for 60-90 seconds depending on the size. Add some crab meat to the courgette mixture and taste. Keep adding crab until you’ve reached the perfect combination (or the end of the crab). Add some black pepper. Stuff the flowers, close them by slightly twisting the leaves of the flower, sprinkle with olive oil, making sure they are completely coated with oil. Heat your oven to 200° C or 390° F. Using the grill is a good idea. Transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. The flowers should be crisp and perhaps a touch golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

  • Fleurs de Courgettes Farcie ©cadwu
  • Macon Villages and Cotes de Provence ©cadwu

Prosciutto e Melone

Is it an ancient recipe combining wet and cold (melon) with dry and hot (cooked meat, later cured ham)? Is it an invention of famous author Pellegrino Artusi? Is it a typical sixties dish? Or is it the ideal starter for a lazy chef?

Regardless what it is, the success is the result of the quality of the ingredients. You need an excellent melon, preferably a cantaloupe. Ripe and sweet, one that fills the room with honey. And you need the best ever cured ham. Could be from Italy or Spain, as long as it paper thinly sliced with nice layers of marbled fat.

Sweet and salty, moist and dry, soft and with texture, intense aromas and long-lasting flavours. Every aspect you can think of is on your plate. No need to add anything, no ricotta, no salad, no balsamic vinegar, no pesto. It’s about the combination of two very different yet beautiful products.

Wine Pairing

Enjoy your Prosciutto e Melone with a light, refreshing wine that reflects summer. A glass of prosecco, bubbly, refined and with a touch of sweetness. But if you want to open a bottle of rosé, please do so!

What You Need

  • A ripe Melon (Cantaloupe)
  • Dry-Cured Ham (Prosciutto or Serrano)

What You Do

The melon must be cold, the ham should be at room temperature.
Slice the melon, probably in eight wedges. Remove the seeds. Use a sharp knife to cut off the rind. Wrap each wedge of melon with a slice of prosciutto, making sure you can still see the melon at the ends.

PS

It’s definitely not a recipe from Pellegrino Artusi. He describes the combination of fresh green peas (also sweet and moist) with Prosciutto. 

Asparagus with Basil and Olives

End of June means end-of-season for asparagus, morels and ramson (wild garlic). But let’s not be sad! It’s also the beginning of Summer; time to dine al fresco and serve vibrant, light flavours. We combine the very last white asparagus with green asparagus, black olives and basil. Feel free to use green asparagus only. The dish will lose some of its bitterness and complexity but it’s still a great combination of flavours and aromas.

Wine Pairing

Best to enjoy with a full bodied and elegant red wine. Flavour-wise you’re looking for lots of fruit, mild tannins and a touch of wood. We enjoyed our asparagus with a glass of Cantine Due Palme Salento Il Passo Nero 2019. This wine from Puglia (Italy) is made from late harvested negroamaro grapes. Dark berry fruit, medium full tannins and a beautiful deep colour.

What You Need

  • Asparagus
    • Equal Amount of White and Green Asparagus
    • Basil
    • Black Olives (preferably Cailletier or Taggiasca)
    • Olive oil
  • Lamb Chops
    • Olive Oil
    • Thyme
    • Garlic
    • Black Pepper

What You Do

Peel the white asparagus and cut of the end. Wash the green asparagus and cut of the end. Slice the asparagus in nice chunks (4 centimetres or so). Combine the asparagus with olive oil and a nice amount of black olives. Transfer to the refrigerator.
When ready for your al fresco dinner, heat your oven to 190˚- 200˚ Celsius (or 375˚- 390˚ Fahrenheit). Mix after 10 minutes and again after 20 minutes. The asparagus should now be ready (if not, another 10 minutes should do the trick). Add half of the basil leaves.

If you serve the asparagus with lamb chops: leave the chops to marinate in olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Remove thyme. Heat a heavy iron skillet and fry the chops in olive oil (4 minutes depending on the size). When ready keep the chops warm in aluminium foil. Fry the thyme in the remaining oil. In parallel add more basil leaves to the asparagus and mix.

  • Asparagus with Basil and Olives ©cadwu
  • Ingredients of Asparagus with Basil and Olives © cadwu
  • Asparagus with Basil and Olives Ready to go into the Oven© cadwu

Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

We enjoyed this dish as a starter when in Milan, on a beautiful evening, eating al fresco and enjoying the wonderful combination of the sweetness and bitterness of the asparagus, the slightly caramelised sugars as a result of grilling the asparagus and the salty and sweet cheese. A glass of Pinot Grigio was all we wanted.
In Milan we enjoyed grilled green asparagus, but it works equally well with white asparagus.
This is typically a dish to prepare when the asparagus season is at its high and outside temperatures feel like summer.

Wine Pairing

Serve with a glass of Pinot Grigio, a Muscat or Pinot Gris from the Alsace region or a rosé with character. The wine needs to combine with a range of very diverse flavors so it should be a bit complex.

What You Need

  • 3 Asparagus per person
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Peel the asparagus and cook or steam until slightly tender. Depending on the size we would say 10-15 minutes in the Russel Hobss steamer. Leave and let cool. Take a plate, add some oil to the plate and use it to coat the asparagus with oil. Heat the pan and grill the asparagus for 4*1 minute, making sure you have a lovely brown (not too dark) pattern. Or use a contact grill for 2*2 minutes. Serve on a plate, add some grated Parmesan cheese and pepper. Add a generous drizzle of very excellent olive oil.