Creating Italian dishes, region by region


May 23, 2007|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun reporter

Lidia's Italy

By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich with Tanya Bastianich Manuali

Antonio Carluccio's Italia

By Antonio Carluccio

Quadrille Publishing Ltd. / 2007 / $35.95

With several British Broadcasting Corp. cooking shows under his belt, Antonio Carluccio, raised in Italy and now a chef in London, is something of the British equivalent of Lidia Bastianich. His lovely book penetrates even further into Italy's regional variety, with chapters that divide the country's cuisine into 18 geographic sections.

Alastair Hendy's photography is stunning, with painterly landscapes and food close-ups that evoke a sense of place.

The recipes are mostly rustic. Oxtail, pig's feet, blood sausage and sweetbreads all make appearances. The Pesce Spada a Ghiotta (Braised Swordfish) features ingredients more familiar to American readers - and if you're reluctant to use swordfish, my substitution of mahi-mahi worked well.

Braised Swiss Chard and Cannellini Beans

-- Serves 6

1/2 pound dried cannellini beans or 3 cups canned cannellini, drained and rinsed

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste

2 pounds or more big, unblemished Swiss chard leaves

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste (divided use)

4 garlic cloves, sliced thin

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 tablespoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste

1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand

Rinse the beans (unless you are using canned) and put them in a bowl with cold water to cover by at least 4 inches. Let soak in a cool place for 8 hours or overnight. Drain beans and transfer to a large saucepan with fresh cold water to cover by two fingers.

Bring to a boil, partially covered, and cook beans about 40 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Turn off heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, then let beans cool to absorb the cooking liquid. Taste and adjust salt if needed.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a stockpot. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the Swiss chard leaves. Cut off stems at the base of the leafy part. Slice leaves crosswise every 2 inches or so into long strips.

When the water is boiling, drop in all the cut chard at once, stir and cover the pot. Bring the water back to a boil and cook chard for about 15 minutes, until thoroughly tender - check a piece with a thick middle vein to be sure. Drain cooked chard well in a colander. Drain cannellini (and rinse them, too, if using canned beans.)

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the sliced garlic in the skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is sizzling, about 2 minutes. Drop the tablespoonful of tomato paste into a clear spot in the pan, stir and toast it for a minute. Toast the peperoncino in a hot spot too, then pour in crushed tomatoes and stir everything together.

Bring the tomatoes to a boil and spill in all the beans. Stir, season well with salt, and heat the beans rapidly, stirring constantly. When they're simmering, stir in the chard and bring to a boil over high heat.

Cook rapidly for a couple of minutes to reduce the liquid, tossing beans and greens over and over. As the juices thicken, drizzle the remaining olive oil all over. Toss it with the vegetables and simmer another 2 or 3 minutes, until most liquid is evaporated. Serve right away or set aside the skillet, covered, and reheat later.

From "Lidia's Italy"

Per serving: 266 calories, 8 grams protein, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 900 milligrams sodium

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