24 April 2008

Lisa's Spring Green Deviled Eggs

photo by Emi

Zia Lisa is quite often the smiling host of our Super Italian Sunday Lunches. It's almost humiliating how she always seamlessly prepares an infinite number of tasty and diverse treats and courses, apparently without ever breaking a sweat. For those of you who know some of Emilio's family, Zia Lisa (pronounced Leeza) is Zio Alfonzo's wife, Feli's stepmother, and a domestic goddess. Besides being an accomplished graphic artist, she is a magician in the kitchen. She continuously pulls out authentic and delicious family recipes from a seemingly endless supply. Last Sunday she once again delighted us all with a deliciously delicate egg dish.
It's basically a more sophisticated deviled egg, but much more flavorful than our traditional mayo-paprika variety. This recipe comes from the Piedmont region of Italy, which has a particular obsession with capers, an infatuation I firmly advocate. The parsley colors the creamy yolk filling a fresh shade of pale green, perfect for a spring appetizer.

This is the recipe as passed to Lisa by her 86-year-old cousin. They usually ate these at Easter and throughout the Summer.

Ingredients for 20 deviled eggs:
10 whole eggs
Tuna packed in olive oil - 160 grams (about 5.6 oz)
A nice handful of Italian parsley
Capers - 2 large Tbs.
A pat of butter
Mayonnaise - 2 Tbs.
Lemon juice

Hard boil the eggs*, peel and cut them in half lengthwise. Separate the yolks from the whites. If you wish, you can cut a thin sliver off the bottom of the egg white, so it will stay still on the serving platter. With a knife, carefully enlarge the bowls of the egg whites, so more filling can fit. In a food processor or blender, process first the capers with the parsley, then add the butter and the strained tuna. Lastly, add the egg yolks and the vinegar. Pour the mixture in to a bowl and add the mayonnaise. Stir, and add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Fill the egg whites with the mixture. Chill until serving.

*For a perfect hard boiled egg: Place eggs in a pot and cover them with about an inch of water. Cook over medium heat until they come to a boil. Promptly turn off the heat and let them sit for exactly 7 minutes, then throw them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Adesso in Italiano...

DOSI per 10 UOVA INTERE (20 ripiene)
Tonno sott’olio - 160 grammi
capperi – 2 cucchiai abbondanti
Un bel ciuffo di prezzemolo
Una noce di burro
Maionese – 2 cucchiai
Succo di limone

Lessate le uova, dividetele a metà, separate i tuorli; se volete, affinché stiano ferme nel piatto di portata, dagli albumi togliete una cupoletta sottilissima dal fondo, Allargare con un coltellino il foro da riempire. Nel tritatutto mettete prima i capperi e il prezzemolo e iniziate a tritarli, aggiungete il burro, il tonno sgocciolato dall’olio e continuate a tritare. Per ultimo aggiungete i tuorli con un cucchiaino di aceto e terminate di tritare.
Versate il composto in una ciotola, aggiungete due cucchiai di maionese. Mescolate bene, eventualmente aggiungete un po’ di succo di limone e farcite le uova.
Meglio servirle fredde.

12 April 2008

An American Breakfast

A pancake breakfast, in my opinion, is a quintessential American meal. Though America certainly has no monopoly on pancakes, "flapjacks" or quick, pan-cooked breads--the French have crepes and the Russians and Jews have blintzes to name just a few international examples--there's something about American pancakes that sets them firmly within our "native" food canon. Maybe it's our predilection for drenching them in maple syrup or molasses that makes pancakes seem so uniquely American. If nothing else, pancakes exemplify the American fondness for extremes, showing up on menus in petite "silver dollars" or giant, plate-dwarfing specimens. We have even exported IHOP (International House of Pancakes), a pancake-based restaurant chain (albeit a mediocre one), to Mexico and Japan. Whether or not we can rightfully claim pancakes as our own, many Americans love nothing more than a weekend morning breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs, though it most often necessitates a post-breakfast nap!

In the USA, pancakes come in many guises, from sweet to savory, buckwheat to buttermilk, but I would venture to guess that the sweet, buttermilk pancake is by far the most common. Buttermilk pancakes are light and airy, cooked to a golden brown color, and are a perfect foil for gobs of butter and maple syrup. Many people love buttermilk pancakes dotted with blueberries or even chocolate chips. Since I grew up in a natural-foods loving home, these kinds of white flour and sugar pancakes were usually just the special stuff of family roadtrips or complementary hotel breakfasts. If we made pancakes, we usually made them from scratch, with some if not all whole wheat flour. These pancakes made for heartier, if marginally healthier, fare.

As little girls, my sister and I occasionally got to spend the night with my parents' friend Grace, who has always gardened, raised chickens, and made things like tofu from scratch. Perhaps our palates were already predisposed to pancakes of the "all-natural" variety, but Grace's were something special. They most certainly were whole wheat, but instead of syrup, Grace served us pancakes with dark old-fashioned molasses. Though I'm sure many kids would have balked, we gobbled them up with a glass of homemade soy milk on the side.

Another family friend, Jeannette, who I got to visit for watercolor lessons for a special treat, once served me a "tea" with her Scottish family's favorite oatmeal pancakes. As an older person interested in food, I have recently become fascinated with the idea of oatmeal pancakes, and the recipe that follows is my latest experiment. They are tender and light, but also a filling breakfast, perfect served with fruit, yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup. The recipe is inspired by a source in Gourmet magazine. Enjoy! And please comment or post with your favorite pancake recipe.

Oatmeal Pancakes

**this recipe is supposed to make 4 pancakes, but I find it makes at least 12

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats (substitute regular rolled oats ground coarsely in the food processor)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
canola or veggie oil for frying

accompaniments: maple syrup, plain yogurt, fresh fruit...

Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Stir remaining wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until JUST combined.

Heat a griddle or heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over medium heat and brush or coat lightly with oil. When skillet/oil is hot, work in batches to drop about 1/4 cup batter into oil and cook a few minutes until bubbles appear on surface and underside is golden. Flip and cook a few more minutes on other side until golden. Add more oil between batches if needed. Best served hot straight from the pan but can be kept warm in an oven until ready to serve.