pecorino

Balsamic Pear & Fennel Salad

For the new year I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to shop more locally for my groceries, especially since I am less than 5 minutes from one of the best markets in Florence. During my holiday break, I was lucky enough to travel throughout Northern Italy with my parents, and eat many seasonal and locally sourced dishes that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford on my college student, study-abroad budget. Through this I was able to taste a lot of salads composed of ingredients that the Westerner in me wouldn’t recognize as components of your typical salad. There was a lot of cured meats, or salumi, wafer thing slices, not chunks, of pecorino and gruyere, and fresh, vibrant seasonal fruits. Oddly enough there were very minimal greens or other “salad staples” in these salads. Nonetheless, they were all so delicious and bursting with flavor that I was inspired to create an artisanal salad of my own!

I perused the San Lorenzo food market for a couple of days, and researched the winter produce of Northern Italy. Finally, I settled on a salad of balsamic glazed pears, sautéed fennel, and soft pecorino. Although you may read this and think “What a wimpy salad!” These 3 ingredients are so packed with flavor and pair oh so well together. In fact, this dish is the perfect example of decadent simplicity. IMG_4735 Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized pear
  • 1 fennel, sliced
  • 100-200 grams soft pecorino
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to season

If you’re making this salad as the main course, these ingredients yield about 2 servings. However, if you’re making it as a starter, you should be able to get about 3-5 servings.

Before you begin crafting this beautifully tasty dish, I suggest prepping all of your ingredients. This means thinly slicing the pears, and breaking down the fennel. Now, I have never cooked with fennel before, so preparing this foreign root vegetable took a bit of research and evaluation. I’m going to save you my butchered description of how to prep fennel, and provide you with this handy, dandy link that helped me! Feel free to shave off some pecorino now, or while the other ingredients are cooking. It’s really never a bad thing to be prepared, and be able to focus on whats in the pan!

Start by warming a small sauté pan over medium-low heat, and add about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Add your fennel, salt and pepper to taste, and lightly sauté for no more than 3 minutes, tops. Then, in a medium-sized sauté pan add the pears, spreading them out so there is little over lapping, and cover with 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Let this cook on medium-low heat, until the pears start to become translucent, and all the balsamic has reduced. You may need to add more balsamic during the cooking process if it cooks off too quickly, or hasn’t glazed the pears to your liking.

The cooking is done. Now it’s time to plate! There are so few ingredients in this dish, so I really wanted to put forth the extra effort in presentation. I placed the sautéed fennel on a bed on spinach, evenly dispersed the shavings of pecorino, and topped it off with the warm, balsamic pears and a dash of salt. I also added a little aesthetic touch with some fennels sprigs. Then, let it sit for a moment to allow the cheese to melt in between the warm layers of fennel and pear. IMG_4738 Pause for a second, step back, and appreciate this gorgeous dish you just created. This salad deserves to be eaten slowly, to truly appreciate the sweetness of the balsamic marrying with the bitterness of the fennel , and the juxtaposition of crunchy vegetables and soft, gooey cheese. Savor and enjoy!

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Fresh Pasta, and Why There is No Need for Boxed

I don’t think I would have fulfilled my role as a food blogger studying in Italy if I didn’t post about how to make fresh pastas. Quite honestly, that would be sacrilege! Last week I took a cooking class with the amazing Andrea and Julio, chefs of Florencetown, where myself and 20 other lucky participants got a tour of Il Mercato Centrale through a local’s eyes, and a hands on lesson in fresh pasta, Bolognese sauce, and tiramisu.

Prior to this class I had been to Il Mercato Centrale many times to buy my fresh, local produce, but was always so overwhelmed with the variety of butchers, fishmongers, and cheese counters to know which ones were the most authentic, a rip-off, or a diamond in the rough. Although, exploring it on my own has definitely helped improved my Italian. Thankfully, Julio was kind enough to introduce us to all of his favorite vendors, such as the butcher who sells the best Florentine steak, the bakery with the best olive and truffle oils, and tastiest cantucci, known to others as biscotti, but they are not the same! Throughout the tour Chef Julio was picking up the ingredients for our meal, and once we were ready we headed around the corner to the kitchen to get started.

The one thing I didn’t expect was how easy it is to make pasta from scratch! All you need is 2 simple ingredients!

That’s right, just eggs and flour.

  • 3 cups of “00” flour
  • 3 eggs

Now it’s time to get handsy. Pour your flour onto a cool, smooth surface and make a small well in the center for the egg. Crack the eggs into the well, and working from the center, begin to incorporate the flour with a fork until a thicker consistency begins to form and sticks to the fork. Then get in there with your hands and begin to knead. Be very liberal with the flour here folks and continue to add until dough is smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands.Lastly, wrap it up real tight in plastic wrap and let sit for 15-30 minutes. During this time you can start prepping your sauce or ravioli filling.


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Once the pasta is ready to be cut, roll it out so you can barely see through to the table underneath (about 3 mm thickness). Then fold the dough over itself using at 3-finger width and cut it length wise. The size of your pasta is up to you! Are you in the making a thinner, creamier sauce? Then go for linguine (0.5cm thick) or are you making a hearty Bolognese that needs a pasta strong enough to carry all that meat? If so, pappardelle (2cm thick) is what you’re looking for. You can also cut off the ends and make one wide panel to fill, and make ravioli. During this class our ravioli was a simple Tuscan ricotta and parmesan mixture, but the ingredients you can use are endless. Ravioli are receptive to pretty much anything you can squeeze into them! Just make sure you seal of each ravioli properly, free of air pockets, so they don’t burst. Make them extra secure by pressing down the edges with the prongs of a fork!

The final step, before you get to enjoy the delicious fruits of your labor, is to boil the pasta in salted water for 2 minutes, until al dente. Al dente here in Italy is slightly different from in the states. Italians would consider the way we eat our pasta overcooked. Upon tasting it, the texture should seem slightly more underdone than your used to. But, don’t second guess because it’s actually perfect!

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Ravioli w/ Tuscan ricotta & parmesan in sage butter sauce

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Pappardelle w/ Bolognese sauce

Serve with the sauce of your choice. In class, the chefs prepared a butter and sage sauce to accompany the cheese ravioli, and added the Bolognese sauce to our fresh pappardelle.

I had never imagined making fresh pasta would be this easy, and now I can’t wait to add my own innovative touches! Chef Andrea suggested adding chopped herbs such as sage and rosemary, or even pumpkin puree to the dough to create a more earthy flavor profile. I plan on experimenting with coffee grinds and cocoa powder as well!

It is really as easy as it looks. Also, notice we didn’t use a pasta roller. Everything was done by hand with a little flour, a rolling-pin, and some elbow grease. No, it’s not as quick as 10 minute, boxed pasta, but it isn’t that much longer. Plus, c’mon you gotta know that the texture and flavor is 10 times better, and you get this warm fuzzy feeling from enjoying something you prepared from start to finish!