The Region of Liguria

Gail Vilardo Frommeyer, Cuisine Editor

March 19, 2021                                                                       

The month of March brings our Italian culinary travels to the region of Liguria. As you can see from the map, “ Liguria is a thin strip of land where northwestern Italy hugs the Mediterranean Sea-or Mar Ligure, as it is called locally. Sheltered from the cold north by mountains, and basking in the sun’s warm rays reflected by the shimmering Mar Ligure. The whole of Liguria enjoys an ideal microclimate; it is a ‘True Paradise’.”  (Quote taken from Lidia ‘s book–Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy). The capital of the Liguria Region is Genova (the home of Cristoforo Colombo). Southeast toward the breathtaking stretch of Ligurian coast is the Cinque Terre—the Five Lands; which are the picturesque towns of -Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. This entire region is blessed with fresh herbs and greens thus the cooking is filled with many fresh uncooked pesto’s.

 

RIPIENI   aLL’ ANTICA       Stuffed Vegetables

For the Stuffing

4 cups 1 inch cubes of day- old -bread (country bread) crusts removed -about 4 slices)

1 cup milk

¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms (about ¼ cup loosely packed pieces) soaked in 2 cups of warm water

1 cup finely chopped scallions + 3 large basil leaves finely chopped

½ cup of freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs- lightly beaten

For the Vegetable Assortment:

2 medium zucchini (6 inches long)

2 or more colorful bell peppers

12 or more white stuffing mushrooms

3 or more ripe small tomatoes

2 or more large Vidalia or sweet onions

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed 11/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Butter for baking dishes½ cup of freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Recommended Equipment 2 or more large shallow baking dishes or casseroles, such as 4 quart, 15-by-10 inch Pyrex pans.

** To Make the Stuffing: Put the bread cubes in a mixing bowl,and pour the milk over them; toss the cubes, and let them sit for a couple of minutes to absorb the liquid. When softened gather and press the cubes together, squeezing out any excess milk-discard. Return the moistened bread to the bowl, tearing into large shreds.

** Lift the rehydrated porcini pieces from the soaking liquid, squeeze firmly (saving all the liquid), and chop them into fine bits. Scatter the chopped porcini, scallions, basil, grated cheese, and salt on top of the torn bread; toss and mix together with your hands. Pour in the beaten eggs and stir with a wooden spoon or mix with your hands to form a well-blended -fairly dense stuffing.

**To prepare the zucchini for stuffing: trim off the ends, and slice the squashes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the center pulp and any seeds with a teaspoon or melon baller, so each half resembles a hollowed boat. Cut the long halves crosswise into serving-size pieces- about 3 inches long (or shorter if you like).

** To prepare the bell peppers for stuffing: slice them lengthwise in half, starting at the stem, or in thirds if very long: trim away the stem and all the seeds and fiber, forming cuplike pieces.

**Pull out the stems of white mushrooms, leaving the hollow caps for stuffing.

** Cut tomatoes in half crosswise, and squeeze out the seeds to make concavities for stuffing

**Peel the onions, cut the crosswise into ¾-inch-thick slices

**When all the vegetables are prepped and all but the onions are hollowed, put the pieces (except the onion slices) in a large bowl. Toss with the olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Brush some of the oil on the onion slices, keeping them hole.

** To stuff and bake the vegetables: Butter the baking dishes, arrange a rack or two if necessary) in the oven, and HEAT 400 degrees. Fill each vegetable piece with a tablespoon of stuffing. For zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms, fill the cavities with stuffing and arrange all the pieces in a baking dish, with a bit of space between the pieces. Lay flat onion slices right in the dish and mound a spoonful of stuffing on top of each slice.

**When the dishes are filled (but not crowded), sprinkle all the vegetable pieces evenly with grated cheese and the remaining teaspoon of salt. Scrape any olive left in the vegetable bowl over the stuffed pieces and pour half of the reserved porcini -soaking liquid (leaving behind any gritty residue) into the bottom of the baking dish. Cover each dish with a tent of foil, pressing it against the dish sides and making sure it does not touch the stuffing or tops of the vegetables.

** Bake 30 minutes, until the vegetables have started to soften and release juices, then remove the foil tents and bake until stuffing is crisped and brown, another 30 minutes or so. Switch the position of the dishes in the oven once or twice so all the pieces cook and color evenly. Serve hot from the oven or let the vegetables cool and serve at room temperature.

 

*** In every region of Italy, Zeppole (fried dough) is made, in some form, sweet or savory with goodies embedded in the dough or stuffed after frying as a traditional dessert for Christmas Vigilia (Eve) and special holidays. However in the South of Italy Zeppole are traditionally prepared on March 19th , for the celebration of the feast day of San GIUSEPPE ( ST. Joseph) during Lent. When sweet they are usually dusted with powdered sugar and served hot “FANTASTICO!!”  You can find them in every Little Italy around the United States around the holidays.

 

Lidia’s Zeppole Recipe           Fried Sweet Dough

 

**Heat vegetable oil in a wide sauce pan to 350 degrees F (the oil should be an inch or two deep).

Ingredients:

** 6 cups of vegetable oil for frying

** 1 cup Mascarpone

** 3 Tbs. Amaretto

** ½ cup Confectioner sugar- plus more for dusting

2TBS. finely chopped candied lemon peel

2 TBS. finely chopped candied orange peel

2 TBS. chopped bittersweet chocolate or mini chocolate chips

DOUGH

**4 TBS unsalted butter

** 1 TBS. granulated sugar

** ½ teaspoon Kosher salt

** Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

**1 cup all-purpose flour—sifted

**4 large eggs—at room temperature

See the source image

Directions:

  • Heat vegetable oil in a wide sauce pan to 350 degrees F (oil should be an inch or two deep).
  • For the filling: Whisk together the ricotta, mascarpone, Amaretto and confectioner sugar in a bowl until smooth. Stir in the candied peel and chocolate. Refrigerate the filling while you make the Zepploe.
  • Combine 1 cup water, the butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to melt the butter. While stirring, add the flour and zest all at once. Cook, stirring constantly, until the dough dries out and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat, and add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously to incorporate one before adding the next, until dough is completely smooth.
  • Drop a batch of Zeppole in 2 TBS. dollops (a small ice cream scoop is perfect for this) into the oil, making sure you do not crowd them in the pan, because they will grow in size. Fry the Zeppole, turning on all sides, until light and golden brown all over, about 5 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels, and repeat with the remaining dough.
  • To serve, when cold cut the Zeppole in half with a serrated knife and with a pastry bag pipe the filling onto the bottom half. Cover and dust with confectioner sugar if desired. BONNISIMO !!

 

** All recipes in this article are taken from: “ Lydia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,” – cookbook.

 

CHAIO!       Gail Vilardo Frommeyer