Yes, it's evening time at Casa Bramasole and another busy day is winding down. Packed a bit, worked a LOT, sent out more resumes, and daydreamed a bit about some lovely cool, Fall weather. It has been STEAMY here in NC and today was no exception. Our resident weatherman, Mr B, tells me that it will cool down by the end of the week, so here's hoping!
I've gotten a number of emails since starting this blog (I love them- keep 'em coming!) and a few have mentioned being surprised at some of the herbs and spices I use in what I describe as traditional Italian cooking. When I teach a class, this frequently comes up. Here's some info I found on the Web:
The Roman Empire suffered a long, excruciating demise and finally collapsed in the 4th century A.D. Among the many consequences was Italy's increased vulnerability, and a centuries-long history of attacks and seizures began. Some of the conquerors included the Visigoths, Vandals, Huns, Byzantines, Lombards, Franks, Arabs, Normans, Germans, and Austrians. Countries such as France and Spain controlled parts of Italy intermittently throughout several centuries until Italy's final unification in 1860. And, as conquerors tend to do, they all left behind pieces of themselves. Their customs, tastes, and culinary skills were assimilated into Italian life.
Arab Muslims had dominion over Sicily more than once and at one time ruled for about 250 years. During their reign, they introduced foods that would become integral parts of Italian cuisine
Inhabitants of Italy brought foreign foods into the country themselves as well. The conquering Romans brought back wealth and foods from their territories. Marcus Aurelius, the second-century Roman ruler, sent an expedition to China long before Marco Polo went (which is not to discount Polo's contributions-namely, spaghetti and tortellini, which closely resemble wontons). When the Christian Crusades began in 1096, Italian soldiers moved into Muslim-controlled regions and brought back with them the secrets of Arabian fare. Italian princess Caterina de'Medici is known to have brought Italian cuisine to France via her Florentine chefs; in turn, she brought French food back to Italy. By the 14th century, Venice had control of the Eastern Mediterranean and was the center of maritime commerce, bringing in foodstuffs from the East and South.
So you see, Italy has a centuries old culinary history that spans continents! There can be no minimizing the influence of the Middle East. My Nonna loved using herbs and spices in unique ways and passed that along to me.
Today I wanted to clear out the fridge a bit more. I had roasted tomatoes left from yesterday and roasted the head of garlic while I did some housework this morning. The following soup can be thrown together in literally minutes thanks to the use of a food processor. I got the original recipe many years ago from one of my aunt's cookbooks in Italy and translated it. Over the years it's been tweaked very little, but I do tend to throw in whatever herbs I have on hand. The madeleines are made from a corn timbale recipe I got from a magazine years ago. It's a basic custardy timbale recipe and can be made in small ramekins- increase the baking time a little bit. I've frequently served this as a first course at a summer luncheon and so years back started using the madeleine mold for the purposes of a pretty presentation. The soup can be served cold, room temperature (my preference during the summer months) or warmed. Make sure you taste prior to serving as tomatoes can vary in their flavor intensity and you should taste the various flavors- remember, a soup served cold especially needs to be seasoned well.
Tomato Soup al Fresco with Corn Madeleines
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
3 tomatoes (heirloom if available) chopped, preferably roasted (sliced thickly, 275 degrees for 3 hours)
1 large roasted red pepper
1/2 red onion chopped
1 jalapeno chopped and seeds removed or more to taste
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parsley chopped
1/4 cup basil chopped
1/4 cup mint chopped (I tend to use a bit more)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 spoonful tomato paste or leftover homemade tomato sauce- optional
1 large head garlic, roasted (slice off top 1/2 inch of head, wrap in foil, and roast at 400 degrees till soft- 45-60 minutes) Cool and squeeze roasted garlic pulp out into processor
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
a big pinch of cardamom
Sea Salt and pepper
Blend the ingredients until the mixture is puréed very smooth; if the soup is too thick, add a little more stock. Chill for at least 1 hour.
2 1/2 cups corn kernels freshly cut
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 1/4- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 big pinch grated nutmeg
2 x-large Eggs
1 x-large egg White
Fresh ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a medium-sized pot, add the corn, garlic, cream and nutmeg. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes. Cool quickly- an ice water bath works well or refrigerate. Blend together the eggs, salt and pepper, strain cooled corn mixture through a wire strainer into the eggs- press down hard to extract all the liquid. Whisk the custard and discard the solids. Spray 12, madeleine molds (you may only use 10 or 11) with the vegetable spray. Place the mold in a baking dish, pour the corn mixture into the madeleines and place in the oven. Next, pour hot water into the baking dish. The water should come up the mold about ½ in and touch the bottoms. Cover with foil and bake for 75 minutes.
Whisk the chilled soup and pour some into soup bowl, remove the mold from the baking dish and gently turn out the corn madeleines onto a platter. Place one into the center of the soup. Garnish with chopped herbs if desired.
Today is also a VERY special day for our family for another reason.
Our little Princess
The light of our lives...
is 5 !!!!!
Happy Birthday Dylan!!
Grandma and Grandpa love you SO much!!
Buon Cibo, Buon Amici,
Pattie and Allie