The Daily Dish: Tips for grating cheese

block of parmesan cheese
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Grate that cheese, please!

Here are my favorite grating tips for three wonderful Italian cheeses. Whether its Grana Padano, Parmeggiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, I always buy my fresh cheese in a chunk at the store rather than already grated. I like to grate my cheese as close as possible to when I plan on serving my dish.

I add freshly grated cheese to the pot of the fire right before serving. And when I have grated all I can I always save the rinds and plop them into my soups and sauces. This imparts a delicious depth of flavor.

For more tips, check out my latest cookbook, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy.
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lidia bastianichLidia Matticchio Bastianich was born in Pola, Istria, on the northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. She is a cookbook author, restaurateur, and TV chef extraordinaire. Watch Lidia’s Italy Saturdays at 1:30pm on WGBH 2 or Sundays at 4pm on WGBH 44.

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The Daily Dish: Rice and Lentils

rice and lentils in bowl

Riso e Lenticchie

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Serves 8 or more as a first course or soup

Ingredients
2 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut in pieces
1 cup onion cut in 1-inch chunks
1 cup carrot cut in 1-inch chunks
1 cup celery cut in 1-inch chunks
6 fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine
8 to 10 cups hot water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 ½ cups Italian short-grain rice, such as
Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano
1 cup chopped scallions
½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing

Directions
Drop the pancetta or bacon pieces into the food-processor bowl, and pulse several times, to chop the meat into small bits. Scrape all the chopped pancetta right into the heavy saucepan. Put the onion, carrot, and celery chunks and the sage leaves into the empty food-processor bowl, and mince together into a fine-textured pestata.

Put the butter and olive oil into the saucepan with the minced pancetta, and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, as the butter melts and the fat starts to render. When the pancetta is sizzling, scrape in the vegetable pestata, and stir it around the pan until it has dried and begins to stick, 4 minutes or so. Clear a space on the pan bottom, and drop in the tomato paste, toast it in the hot spot for a minute, then stir together with the pestata.

Raise the heat, pour in the white wine, and cook, stirring, until the wine has almost completely evaporated. Pour in 8 cups of hot water and the tablespoon salt, stir well, and heat to the boil. (Add all 10 cups of hot water if you want to serve the rice and lentils as a thick soup rather than a denser riso.)

Cover the pan, and reduce the heat slightly, to keep the water at a moderate boil, and let it bubble for 20 minutes or so, to develop the flavors.

From Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy

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lidia bastianichLidia Matticchio Bastianich was born in Pola, Istria, on the northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. She is a cookbook author, restaurateur, and TV chef extraordinaire. Watch Lidia’s Italy Saturdays at 1:30pm on WGBH 2 or Sundays at 4pm on WGBH 44.

The Daily Drink: Rice and Lentils

When it comes to flavor, the pancetta, tomato paste, and white wine are the workhorses of this recipe. When it comes to texture, it’s the rice. For the beverage pairing, you want something that pulls it all together yet is light enough to go alongside the first-course or soup of today’s recipe. That something is rosé wine. Try the 2009 Domaine Couly Dutheil Rene Couly Rosé ($15), which Boston and Paris-based importer Cynthia Hurley describes this way: “Arnaud’s rosé brings beautiful warm spring and summer days right to my lips. You can taste the hint of red berries (rosé should never just taste like pink white wine) and there is that zing of fresh, perfect acidity in your mouth. The color is like a perfect sunset after a perfect day of summer.”

The Daily Dish: Sausages in the Skillet with Grapes

sausages
Salsicca all’Uva

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Serves 6

Ingredients
¼ cup extra- virgin olive oil
8 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 ½ pounds sweet Italian sausages, preferably without fennel seeds (8 or more sausages, depending on size)
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1 ¼ pounds seedless green grapes, picked from the stem and washed (about 3 cups)

Directions
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, toss in the garlic cloves, and set it over low heat. When the garlic is sizzling, lay in all the sausages in one layer, and cover the pan. Cook the sausages slowly, turning and moving them around the skillet occasionally; after 10 minutes or so, sprinkle the peperoncino in between the sausages. Continue low and slow cooking for 25 to 30 minutes in all, until the sausages are cooked through and nicely browned all over. Remove the pan from the burner, tilt it, and carefully spoon out excess fat.

Set the skillet back over low heat, and scatter in the grapes. Stir and tumble them in the pan bottom, moistening them with meat juices. Cover, and cook for 10 minutes or so, until the grapes begin to soften, wrinkle, and release their own juices. Remove the cover, turn the heat to high, and boil the pan juices to concentrate them to a syrupy consistency, stirring and turning the sausages and grapes frequently to glaze them.

To serve family-style: arrange the sausages on a warm platter, topped with the grapes and pan juices. Or serve them right from the pan (cut in half, if large), spooning grapes and thickened juices over each portion.

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lidia bastianichLidia Matticchio Bastianich was born in Pola, Istria, on the northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. She is a cookbook author, restaurateur, and TV chef extraordinaire. Watch Lidia’s Italy Saturdays at 1:30pm on WGBH 2 or Sundays at 4pm on WGBH 44.

The Daily Drink: Sausages in the Skillet with Grapes

Is it weird to drink wine — made from grape juice, of course — with a recipe that already features grapes? Not exactly, but it is potentially clamorous, assuming that the table grapes you use in the recipe will not be the same kind as those used in the wine you’ll be drinking. This leaves us with a wide swath of options for beverages that pair well with the sweet heat of the sausages and the concentrated juices of the grapes.

When many people think of what to drink with sausages, they think beer. Choices like Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager, Kingfisher Premium Lager, and Stone Ruination IPA would work quite happily with this dish. But for an unusual twist that can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, try elderflower. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur is an exceptionally popular ingredient right now in cocktails at bars all over the city (it’s also available on the shelves of many wine stores to take home), and in specialty food stores you can find juices pressed from elderberries. Use either and play with your own version of a trumped-up, out-of-the-ordinary “lemonade” that will be refreshingly compatible with today’s Daily Dish.

The Daily Dish: Baked Penne & Mushrooms

baked pasta on a plate

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Pasticcio di Penne alla Valdostana

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces fontina from Valle d’Aosta
1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano- Reggiano, plus more for passing
4 tablespoons soft butter
1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms (such as porcini, shiitake, cremini, and common
white mushrooms), cleaned and sliced
1 cup half and half
1 pound penne
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400º. Fill the pasta pot with 6 quarts water, add 1 tablespoon salt, and heat to the boil. Shred the fontina through the larger holes of a hand grater, and toss the shreds with ½ cup of the grana (grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano).

Put 3 tablespoons of the butter in the big skillet, and set it over medium- high heat. When the butter begins to bubble, drop in the mushroom slices, stir with the butter, season with the teaspoon salt, and spread the mushrooms out to cover the pan bottom. Let the mushrooms heat, without stirring, until they release their liquid and it comes to a boil.

Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, as they shrivel and the liquid rapidly evaporates. When the skillet bottom is completely dry, stir the half and half into the mushrooms, stir, and bring the sauce to a boil. Cook it rapidly for a minute or two to thicken slightly, then keep it warm over very low heat.

Meanwhile, stir the penne into the boiling pasta water and cook until barely al dente (still somewhat undercooked to the bite). Ladle a cup of the pasta cooking water into the mushroom sauce and stir. Drain the pasta briefly, and drop into the cream-and-mushroom sauce. Toss the penne until all are nicely coated, then sprinkle over them the remaining ½ cup of grana (not mixed with fontina) and the chopped parsley. Toss to blend.

Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with the last tablespoon of butter. Empty the skillet into the dish, spreading the penne and sauce to fill the dish completely in a uniform layer. Smooth the top, and sprinkle the mixed fontina-grana evenly all over.

Set the dish in the oven, and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese topping is crusty and deep golden brown and the sauce is bubbling up at the edges. Set the hot baking dish on a trivet at the table, and serve family-style.

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lidia bastianichLidia Matticchio Bastianich was born in Pola, Istria, on the northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. She is a cookbook author, restaurateur, and TV chef extraordinaire. Watch Lidia’s Italy Saturdays at 1:30pm on WGBH 2 or Sundays at 4pm on WGBH 44.

The Daily Drink: Baked Penne & Mushrooms

Think mushrooms, and you probably think Pinot Noir. At least that’s been the rule of thumb within the food-wine pairing world for a long time. There’s a good reason for that, as the earthy, woodsy character of mushrooms matches well with the same qualities in a glass of Pinot Noir. Look for Anne Amie Pinot Noir from Oregon for about $18.

Or, depending on your mood when you make this dish, you might want to think outside the mushroom-Pinot Noir box. Just for kicks, consider what other liquid ingredients go into mushroom recipes you know. Port wine, for example. Or even white vermouth. Get a little retro. Invite some friends over. Have a little fun. This recipe — and the pure comfort of pasta, cream, cheese, plus mushrooms — makes plenty to share.