1 August 2010
By creating this challenge what better way to emulate Elizabeth Gilbert's sojourn in Italy than to create a menu based on local ingredients, as the Italians do, and her own adventures in Italy. I hope you will feel my excitement as I travel on my own personal journey for the next few weeks leading up to opening night. Italian cuisine is all about the freshest, most flavourful ingredients prepared simply yet exquisitely. The food of Italy places a big emphasis on regional specialties and artisanally produced products. Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, Tuscan olive oil and wines up and down the peninsular boot are famous the world over. Gilbert's time in Italy is spent immersing herself in the romantic language and cuisine of Italy that we all love. My menu does not concentrate on just one region in Italy but embraces the entire country in my own culinary adventure to celebrate the release of the movie.
Eating in Italy is a main event and the descriptions provided to the reader of Eat, Pray, Love and the food consumed were absolutely mouth watering and ultimately inspired this challenge. The EAT part of the book highlights Elizabeth's gastronomical indulgences and creates vivid and beautiful imagery of all things Italian. Her writing on the food she samples, is a toe curling narrative for any "foodie". She entices us with "zucchini blossoms with a soft dab of cheese", "lamb,truffles and carpaccio rolled around hazelnut mousse", "ravioli with a puree of crustaceans and octopus served like a hot salad", "airy clouds of ricotta sprinkled with pistachio", "bread chunks floating in aromatic oils", or "a salad of chilled oranges tossed in a dressing of raw onion and parsley".
To begin my journey I will begin with the antipasti. L'antipasto is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal, which literally means "before the meal." The antipasti is the appetizer or hors d'oeuvre course. Antipasti is the plural form of the word, but the singular form, antipasto, is often also used. The antipasti may consist of a number of different foods, depending on the meal and the circumstances. In a general sense, it could be almost anything served as an appetizer. More often, however, antipasti refers to a number of traditional Italian appetizers, which can be categorized into four different groups... meats, olives, vegetables, and cheeses. Even such offerings as crostini, bruschetta, and mozzarella in carrozza. Antipasto is served at the table and signifies the beginning of the Italian meal.
To begin our meal I am starting you off I with this simple antipasto which is traditionally made with friselle (ring-shaped rolls). Friselle are baked twice, giving the rolls a very crunchy texture. To soften the bread slightly, it's dipped in water and brushed with olive oil before serving. If friselle aren't available, toasted ciabatta is an easier-to-find substitute.
Burrata is a type of fresh mozzarella cheese from Puglia in southern Italy. In appearance, burrata resembles nothing more than a ball of cow's milk mozzarella with a topknot. But there's a surprise inside, a creamy, soft, lava-like center that, once the cheese has been cut open, slowly and irresistibly oozes out onto the plate. Burrata derives its name from "burro", Italian for butter, but it is actually filled with a mixture of heavy cream and stracciatella, "little rags" of mozzarella curds. The runny center is held intact by the skin of fresh mozzarella, which, in turn, is wrapped in the protective and flavorful blades of Apulian asfodelo (an herb-like plant similar to leeks). The end result places it in the company of the world's finest fresh cheeses. With all its wonderful delicate creamy, sweet, sour, and earthy flavours Burrata is best when it's taken from the fridge and left on the counter for 30 minutes, then served with the crusty calabrese bread as it is here. All you need is some good olive oil, good pepper and sea salt. Burrata is difficult to find so in a pinch substitute fresh whole milk mozzarella or buffala mozzarella or you can make your own when following these instructions.
**Toasted Bread with Burrata and Basil**
6 3x2-inch pieces friselle or crusty ciabatta bread, halved horizontally
5 tablespoons (about) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, peeled, halved
1 8-ounce ball burrata cheese(or substitute fresh mozzarella of buffalo mozzarella), cut into 12 wedges
Finely grated peel from 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 400°F. Fill a small bowl with water. Place bread halves, cut side up, on baking sheet; brush bread with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toast bread in oven until crisp and light golden around edges, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Lightly brush each bread half with water (do not soak). Rub cut sides of bread halves with cut sides of garlic halves.
Place 2 bread halves, cut side up, on each of 6 plates. Drizzle each bread half lightly with olive oil. Top each half with 1 burrata wedge; sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Mound chiffonade basil atop burrata on each bread half; sprinkle each with grated lemon peel and serve.
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