April 3, 2008

The Unnamed Italian Dish

I can't remember what this is called! I've resorted to making it from memory.

This isn't seafood, but since Iron Stef requested the recipe I am happy to put it here -- it's the dish I took to the St. Louis Foodbloggers Potluck last Sunday (see Jonahtan's fantastic photos on this page). Thanks, Stef! Request away!

I used to have this darling, teensy little Italian cookbook. I don’t know where it went. But it had the most authentic recipes, and this is one of them. I don’t know for sure that I’ve remembered it all exactly, but it’s one of those dishes you can fudge on and adapt a bit without dire consequence. It’s pretty basic. I’d love to know what region of Italy it hails from, but I don’t remember that, either. I’ve been making to a good 20 years, though, and I never grow tired of it. I find it very comforting.

Essentially what you're doing here is making a filling of ricotta, spinach, parmesano-reggiono and cooked chicken livers; rolling it up in buckwheat pancakes; pouring a béchamel sauce over it; and baking it for an hour.

You’ll need a 3-quart baking dish, oiled or buttered.

For the Filling:

2 pounds ricotta cheese (use the best you can find)
1 pound organic chicken livers, cleaned of connective tissue
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 pounds fresh spinach, washed, steamed, and chopped (frozen is OK, too)
Two eggs
½ cup grated parmesano-reggiono
Olive oil
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg (I grate my own)

Sauté the onions in ¼ cup olive oil until the just begin to get transparent. Add the chicken livers and to cook medium well. Set aside to cool a bit. Once it’s cooled a bit, put the liver in a small, hard bowl and chop with a pastry cutter until they’re roughly chopped and slightly pulverized – but don’t turn them to mush. You want them to have some texture.

In a large bowl, toss together the ricotta, eggs, and parmesano; add the spinach, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust the seasoning. Add the liver mixture, toss with your hands, and taste again for seasoning.

Let the bowl sit at room temp while you make the pancakes. Obviously if you have toddlers and it's going to take you two hours to make the pancakes between chasing them around making them dinner then refridgerate the mixture.

For the Pancakes:
Whole Foods 360 Organic Buckwheat pancake mix

Olive oil

Have your pancake skillet or griddle heating to medium high while you mix the batter. Also, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Note: Big rolls will require 8-10 pancakes for the 3-quart dish. If you want smaller rolls adjust accordingly.

Make the pancakes according to the direction on the package, but double the eggs and double the water. It should be runny enough to spread easily around the pan. You can make larger or smaller pancakes, depending on how you prefer the finished dish to look and taste. I do it either way, depending on my mood. The ones I took to the potluck were very large, covering more than half of the bottom of a 12-inch non-stick skillet.

Stack the pancakes as you remove them from the pan in such a manner that each has a little channel to vent steam.

--> Now get your assembly line together. You’ll make the béchamel after you’ve assembled the rolls. From left to right, line up the pancakes, liver-cheese mixture, a board to roll on, and the baking pan. Unless you’re good at estimating volumes, you may want to use my method for uniformity of filling: lay the pancakes out in a line and distribute the filling evenly between them. Then roll them up and begin placing them gently in the pan, touching one another, but not squished together. It’s ok to leave a little room around the outside; it makes a nice repository for some béchamel. That done, do your sauce.

For the Béchamel Sauce:

4 tablespoons unsalted, cultured butter (you can use regular unsalted butter)
4 tablespoons unbleached white flour
2 cups half and half (organic or local -- just don’t use the ultra-pasteurized kind)
Quick grate of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Heat the half-and-half over medium heat. You’re going to bring it almost to a boil.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until foaming.

Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Keep stirring with the whisk for a minute or two, to cook the floury taste out of the flour.

When the half-and-half is almost at a boil, pour it in a stream into the flour mixture, whisking all the while. Simmer and whisk over medium-low heat until it’s thickened to a custard consistency, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes.

Stir in nutmeg and salt. Season with ground pepper. Cool sauce slightly.

Pour the sauce over the rolls in the pan. There should be enough sauce to cover the rolls to ¾ of their height, and fill the gaps at the edges of the pan. Make sure to put some sauce directly over the top of the rolls, too.

Sprinkle the top with ¼ parmesano.

Oil enough foil to cover the pan, and set it loosely on top of the dish. Put the dish in the center of the oven and bake for half an hour. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. The sauce should be bubbling vigorously.

Cool for 15-20 minutes or so, and serve. A very fresh salad with and warm crusty bread goes well. For wine, I'd do sparkling (when wouldn't I?) or maybe a nice white Burgandy if you want depth, or a half-dry Reisling if you want a crisper counterpart.

Note: Everything I used in the dish for the potluck was organic, except the ricotta, which was local and hormone/antibiotic free, but not organic. For all of this I went to whole foods. The difference in the quality of the dairy products is huge.

1 comment:

ironstef said...

yay! thanks for posting this!