Menestra

Menestra By Marta Diaz Megias Menestra, a vegetable stew found in many parts of Spain, and which usually contains a nice mix of root and green leaf veggies. Some menestras are so substantial they can be served as a main course for lunch. There is no single recipe for a menestra and the dishes that go under this name are more than simple variations on a theme. All of them make use of vegetables in season and some include other ingredients for which a particular area is famous. But menestra usually means a dish of vegetables, so it's ideal for vegetarians. This dish is a very traditional recipe in northern Spain, especially around Navarra or La Rioja where they grow many of the ingredients needed for this dish. Ingredients: 2 medium potatoes 12 green asparagus spears 2 carrots 10 artichokes 1/2 lemon ½ lb. grams of green beans 1 finely chopped onion 1 lb. petite green peas Vegetable broth ¼ cup dry sherry wine Extra virgin olive oil Salt Preparation: 1. Peel the artichokes. To do so, cut the top part, remove all the outer leaves and the tail as well. Cut the artichoke in half and remove the “hairy” part that you’ll find in the middle using a spoon. Keep the peeled artichokes in a bowl with cold water and a few drops of lemon juice.2. Peel the green beans and carrots. Chop the carrot horizontally into medium-size pieces. Wash the asparagus spears and cut them into pieces as well. You can get rid of the thick bottom part. Peel and diced the potato into cubes. 3. Heat a small pan with two fingers of olive oil and fry the potato over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it starts to brown on the outside. 4. Remove the potato chips and place them in a bowl lined with paper towels. 5. Boil the peeled artichokes for 20 minutes, or until soft (you can pinch them with a fork to check them). Boil the broad beans for 5 minutes in the second saucepan. Strain them and reserve 1/4 cup of water from the artichokes. (Skip this step if you have bought pre-cooked artichokes). 6. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the carrots, green beans and cook for 20 minutes. Add the green peas and 1/4 cup of vegetable broth and cover the pan. 7.…

Caponata Siciliana

Caponata Siciliana By Elisabetta Ciardullo There is nothing more summery than this fiery Sicilian dish, based on one of the most easily available and cheap vegetable worldwide: eggplant. This weird looking, deep purple and shiny vegetable used to have a bitter aftertaste. In my youth I remember cut and salted eggplant layered on clean kitchen towels staying for hours to purge on the kitchen table. But this characteristic is not present anymore in the varieties commercialized in the US, so you can skip this step, making it even easier to use. The plant was probably introduced in Southern Europe by the Moors in the 8th century, as the Arabic name “al-badinjan” proves, slowly changed in many European languages as “aubergine” in French and “berengena” in Spanish. The Italian name, Melanzana, comes from the Greek version of it, where it took from the word “melas”, meaning the color black. Interesting enough the English name comes from a variety very rarely seen nowadays of small white round plants, resembling... eggs! In any case the consistency of eggplants is unmistakable: sponge-like and with the capacity to absorbs flavors. Select the varieties with as little seeds as possible, as they can be a little bitter and annoying in the mouth. Eggplant is particularly low in calories and high in fiber, which makes it a great food for a diet. But careful, because it can absorb a lot of sauce and oil, becoming a very rich dish! Caponata is a vegetable stew with just a few more ingredients apart from eggplant. It has a cousin in France called ratatouille, that has a similar preparation but much more mellow taste, and similar dishes in the whole Mediterranean area. But the unique characteristic of caponata is the sweet and sour taste, probably inherited from the Arab influence on Sicilian food. It was born as a vegetarian dish but is now mostly served as an appetizer or side dish. The fact that it is best when prepared the day before and served cold, makes it a fantastic recipe for entertaining or for those summer picnics on the beach. Variations on this recipe are numerous, as always in Italian cuisine, but I like to propose to you this one, who has accompanied me all my life without ever letting me down! [foogallery id="6926"] Ingredients (6 Servings): 2 large eggplants, washed, peeled following a zebra pattern Celery, approximately 3 sticks,…

Pan Roasted Branzino

Pan Roasted Branzino By Elisabetta Ciardullo Growing up in Italy, the best treat of all would be to go to a fish restaurant. Even with 4,700 miles of coastline, and numerous fishermen professional or not, eating fish is the ultimate treat for many Italians. So it was with great deference that I first approached the Spigola, as it was called in central Italy, or Branzino, in Northern Italy. And knowing that it was a very expensive dish made me savor every single bite as if it was a gift from the sea. When the first farmed branzino started to be marketed in Italy, I was startled by the drop in price compared to the wild caught ones of my youth. I bought one at the market with a little apprehension. I was in for a big surprise; perfectly delicate taste, tender and flaky texture, not oily: the fish is a great one even when farmed. Now, farming methods have improved hugely, and the fish is usually farmed in the sea: a technique used in Italy as well as in Greece, Turkey, and other Mediterranean countries. All in all, branzino is an exceptionally good choice, very low in mercury, offered at a reasonable price, and usually very fresh. Branzino is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and has a low calories count. It can be cooked whole, but for those who do not like to remove the bones while eating, you can ask the fishmonger to fillet it: you will have 2 beautiful filets, usually corresponding to 2 small or 1 large portion, depending on what else you are serving. This is the way we use it in this specific recipe. [foogallery id="6779"] Ingredients: 1 branzino, approximately 20 oz whole, cleaned, and filleted. 1 cup or more sweet grape tomatoes, cut in half Basil leaves, 6-8 Parsley, 6-8 stems Spinach (optional) 1 cup cut 1-2 garlic cloves, whole or cut in half 3 tablespoon white wine 1 tablespoon lemon juice EV Olive Oil as needed Salt and pepper Preparation: 1. Heat up a nonstick pan, large enough for all the fillets. 2. Drizzle with olive oil. 3. Add the tomatoes, cut basil, cut parsley, and cut spinach, garlic, stir once and let it sizzle gently for 5-10 minutes, almost until when the green leaves start to burn, and the tomatoes are caramelized. Add salt and pepper, a pinch…

Ajoblanco (Cold Almond Soup)

Ajoblanco (Cold Almond Soup) By Marta Diaz Megias Ajoblanco is one of the original and oldest of the cold soups, a very traditional dish in the southern Spanish region of Andalucia. Not as well-known as the other types of soups of this style, such as gazpachos or salmorejos. Ajoblanco is refreshing and full of flavor and 100% plant-based protein. The dish has its origins in the Roman cuisine, which was introduced by the Romans to the Province of Hispania; a name given to the Iberian Peninsula and its provinces, (218 BC – 5Th Century). This traditional Andalusian cold almond soup is known as the precursor of gazpacho. It originated during the Moorish Middle Ages, (years 711 – 1492) predating the arrival of tomatoes and peppers by several centuries, this dish is generally made of bread, water, oil, vinegar, fresh garlic, and almonds. Its origin can be traced back to some popular Roman soups made of vinegar, oil, and bread, all in equal parts. Although it shares origins with Roman cuisine, ajoblanco is greatly influenced by Arab cuisine, with its extensive use of almonds, which has influenced this recipe to make it today’s ajoblanco. (The Moors were in Spain for almost 8 centuries, from the year 711 to 1492). Andalusian farmers have been working in the agricultural fields for thousands of years, sunrise to sunset, under a suffocating temperature of 40ºC, sometimes more. And to feed themselves avoiding dehydration under such high temperatures, nothing better than a cold soup! Ajoblanco is one of those traditional dishes that belongs to the well-rooted tradition of Andalusian cold soups. Perhaps the gazpacho or the salmorejo are better known these days, but ajoblanco came first, dating back from a time when tomatoes had not arrived yet from the Americas, (today’s South America). The perfect starter for a summer meal (Spanish eat the main meal in 2 courses, starter, and main dish), ajoblanco should be served chilled and together with some sweet white grapes and/or some bits of melon. If we walk through the Spanish Mediterranean countryside, we soon see an almond or a hazelnut tree. Its flowering at the end of February constitutes a spectacle of great beauty. Behind this bucolic stamp there is an entire industry, which has led Spain to be the second largest producer of almonds behind the United States. Spanish almonds are characterized by a higher fat nutritional value, which provides…

Panzanella

Panzanella By Elisabetta Ciardullo Panzanella is a summer dish typical of Central Italy, very appreciated in Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Latium, Campania. It is once more a recipe born from poverty and necessity to reuse stale bread. But as always, the use of great ingredients makes of this simple food a delicious summer dish. It is documented that already in the XVI th century Bronzino, an important painter and poet at the Medici’s court, in one of his poems had elevated to celestial food a bread salad made with onions, cucumber, and arugula: basically, a Panzanella without the tomatoes. He didn’t know yet how greatly the recipe would be improved when tomatoes would be mixed in the salad, since they were imported from the Americas and didn’t start to be a common staple until the XVII century. So, what is the secret of the Panzanella? It’s the stale bread, preferably unsalted, mixed with great tomatoes and herbs, superior EV olive oil, onions. And the rest is left to your fantasy, you can add cucumbers, or hard-boiled eggs, or canned anchovies or sardines, or more, but you really don’t need to: try it to believe! Panzanella is a healthy dish: red tomatoes are a great source of lycopene a molecule that not only gives tomatoes their red color, but which has antioxidant properties with protective effects against certain cancers, and has the ability to lower the bad cholesterol LDL. Together with lutein and zeaxanthin, also present in tomatoes, lycopene protects your eyes from various forms of disease. In addition, all tomatoes are a great source of polyphenols and of vitamin C. Among many other benefits, raw onions help lower cholesterol, and their anti-allergen effect helps people with respiratory problems linked to allergies. The benefits of polyphenols and unsaturated fatty acids that are associated with the consumption of extra virgin olive oil have been explored at length and are summarized in The Gut Immune Connection, and have been covered in previous editions of this Newsletter. Basil also has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can fight many diseases. So in this dish, the only ingredient that may be less advantageous is bread, but you can easily substitute the white bread with whole grain bread, rich in fiber and nutritional properties. And don’t forget, the great satisfaction that you get from this dish is the feeling of satiety, that will not bring you back to the…