One of the extraordinary aspects of Italian cuisine is that variations of recipes are seemingly endless. Ingredients can take on a whole different flavor and texture depending upon how they are prepared, combined and cooked. This week we present recipes that all incorporate four essential ingredients that should be in every Italian’s kitchen – olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic and fresh Italian parsley. The differences in the tastes are remarkable and much of it comes down to technique. Each is quick and easy to prepare. These recipes are perfect for families that maintain a hectic schedule, but please – slow down; take some time to enjoy your dinner with family. It is much better for you!
Flounder with Lemon and Caper Sauce
This recipe is from the Island of Pantelleria, which is located in the Strait of Sicily about 60 miles southwest of Sicily and is governed under the province of Trapani. In addition to the four staples of olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic and fresh Italian parsley, the recipe includes Sicilian lemons and capers. You can substitute domestic lemons, but use salt-packed capers for an authentic Sicilian taste.
4 flounder fillets, 6 to 8 oz. each
3 tbsp capers
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
2/3 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
fresh lemon juice from ½ lemon
grated zest of 1 lemon
lemon slices from ½ lemon
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Slice a lemon in half. Zest and juice ½ of the lemon and thinly slice the other half. Place the salt-packed capers into a small bowl, add cold water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain, rinse well and pat dry with a paper towel. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper. Heat a large sauté pan over a medium flame, add the olive oil and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute to infuse the oil and then add the butter. Cook until melted and mix well with the olive oil and pepper flakes. Add the fish fillets to the pan and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, but still moist – about 8 minutes total. Transfer the fish to a warmed plate and cover loosely with foil.
Add the shallots, garlic and lemon slices to the pan and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and lemon juice, increase the flame to medium-high and cook until the wine reduces and the sauce thickens – 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the parsley, capers and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the warm sauce over the fish, topping the fish with lemon slices and serve immediately.
Gambero Al Coccio
This recipe translates as ‘Shrimp in a Pot.’ It has a spicy flavor, softer than scampi or fra diavolo, but with a unique richness. It goes beautifully with risotto or served with fresh veggies.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 garlic cloves, sliced thick
½ cup red onions, chopped
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 pounds shrimp, deveined with the shell on
½ cup white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1½ cups tomato sauce
3 tablespoons softened butter
In a large sauce pan add the olive oil and red pepper flakes and cook over medium flame. Add the garlic, onion, two tablespoons of chopped parsley and stir well, cooking for one minute. Make sure that the shrimp that you use still have the shells on. Add the shrimp and stir well to incorporate all the ingredients, for about two minutes. You may have to adjust the cooking time according to the size of the shrimp.
Increase the heat to high and add the wine. Stir well and cook until the wine reduces by half. Scrape to deglaze the pan while continuing to cook for another two minutes. Add the stock and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a medium flame and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the butter and stir well until it melts into the sauce. Turn off the heat and add the remaining parsley. Serve in individual bowls either over risotto or with lots of semolina bread to soak up the sauce.
Pasta e Ceci
Pasta e Ceci in a traditional dish throughout much of central and southern Italy. Every cook puts their own twist on it. It is made as both a soup and as pasta dish. It mixes in different vegetables, but the essence of the dish is the same. The variations are endless. This recipe is for a traditional pasta. In Calabria, many of the pastas are made without eggs, using just flour and water. The hard wheat of the region produces a flour with glutton that will bind even without eggs. It is difficult to come by in the U.S. packaged, let alone fresh, but you can substitute fresh penne or rigatoni in the recipe.
1 lb fresh pasta
2 cans chickpeas (ceci)
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ cup vegetable stock
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
Add olive oil and garlic to a large pan and lightly cook over a low flame. You want the garlic to sizzle, but not brown. Add the quartered cherry tomatoes and cook 2-3 minutes, then add the vegetable stock. There is always some discussion among cooks about whether to drain the liquid from the can and add the chick peas or drain and wash them first. The liquid in the can adds plenty of flavor and the starches help to let the flavors combine – you don’t want to lose that, so never drain the beans completely. Add the chick peas and cook uncovered over a medium-low flame for 10-12 minutes. Cook the pasta until al dente in salted water according to directions. When the pasta is ready, toss it with the chickpea sauce and add the chopped parsley. Sprinkle the crushed red pepper on top and serve immediately.