Blustery winter Sundays are the perfect occasion for long and leisurely family dinners. Gabriele Vaccaro, who spends his days keep-ing things running smoothly at a local hotel, relishes his weekends when he indulges in his passion for cooking. When Gabriele is in the kitchen, his wife, three children, parents, in-laws and a few lucky guests get to enjoy wonderful meals like the one described below.
This multi-course meal is hearty, delicious, makes for a beautiful presentation and is not difficult to prepare. The ingredients, all winter fare, rely largely on beef and a few special varieties of cheese. Stracchino, used in the appetizer, is a cow’s milk cheese with a soft, creamy texture and delicate flavor. Its name is derived from the Italian word stracca, meaning ‘tired,’ because it was believed that the best cheeses (those richer in fat and a bit more acidic) came from cows that were moved seasonally up and down the Alps to graze in different pastures. Ricotta di pecora (ricotta from sheep’s milk), used in the dessert, belongs to the pecorino family of cheeses, but unlike the aged and sharp varieties, this ricotta is un-aged and mild. The Valdostana fontina, used in the meat course, is a cow’s milk cheese made in the Aosta Valley since the 12th century. Mildly nutty in flavor, it has a soft texture and melts well.
This meal consists of an appetizer, a first course of pasta, a meat course, a delicious salad, and, finally, a light and sweet dessert. Not on the menu, but a worthy suggestion nevertheless, is a leisurely stroll through the countryside when dinner is over.PETTI DI POLLO ALLA BELLA FATTORESSA (SERVES 6)6-8 chicken breasts, filleted thinly
75 grams Fontina Valdostana cheese 100 grams cooked ham (one thick slice) live oil, white wine, saltSlice ham into thin strips (julienne), eliminating any fat. Remove rind from cheese and cut into thins strips. Dredge each chicken fillet in flour and dust off any excess.
In a large frying pan, sauté the chicken fillets in olive oil, salting lightly on each side. When both sides have been lightly browned, remove from pan and set aside. Discard the olive oil, return the fillets to the pan and scatter the ham and cheese over all. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add a glass of white wine and allow the liquid to reduce in order to make a flavorful sauce. When the cheese begins to melt, the dish is ready. Serve immediately.MOUSSE DI RICOTTA DI PECORA CON LE MANDORLE (SERVES 6) 250 grams ricotta di pecora (sheep’s milk ricotta) 2 sheets gelatina in fogli (thickening agent) dissolved in 1/2 cup of water 3 tablespoons miele di acacia (acacia honey) 1 cup whole milk 2 Tbsp. sugar 18 almonds (3 for each dessert)Pass the ricotta through a food mill to ensure smoothness. Place in a large bowl and stir in the honey. Add the milk and dis-solved gelatin and stir until well-combined. Place three almonds in the bottom of each ramekin or custard cup and pour the mix-ture over them. Refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, invert ramekin over a dessert plate and decorate with a drizzle of honey. Garnish with berries or jam if you like. CROSTINI DI SALSICCIA E STRACCHINO AL SAPORE DI PAPAVERO (SERVES 6)3 sausages, 250 grams stracchino cheese,1 tablespoon papavero (poppy seeds) 1 loaf fresh bread (baguette or frusta) Remove sausage skins and crumble sausage meat into a bowl. Add cheese and poppy seeds and blend well with a fork. Slice bread into thin rounds and spread the sausage mixture thickly onto each round. Arrange slices on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes in oven that has been preheated to 180 degrees Celsius.PENNE CON SUGO DI BRACIOLA (SERVES 6)
600 grams penne pasta
For the Braciola:
8 slices carpaccio (very thinly sliced pieces of beef), parsley, raisins, pinoli (pine nuts), Parmesan cheese, grated, salt and pepper (*see below for Gabriel’s secret seasoned salt recipe) For the sauce:
3 tbs. olive oil, 300 grams chopped meat, 2 shallots, sliced thinly, 1 glass white wine, 400 grams pomodoro pelati (canned tomato pieces).Make the braciole, little packets of seasoned meat, as follows. Place each piece of carpaccio flat on a chopping board. In the cen-tre of each piece, place a parsley leaf, a few raisins and pinoli. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Wrap each piece into a little packet, securing the edges together with a toothpick.
Meanwhile, sauté the shallots in olive oil for a few minutes and then add the chopped meat and brown slowly. Add the braciole and allow them to brown on all sides. Add the white wine and cook for about 10 minutes and then add the canned tomatoes and about one cup of water. Allow the mixture to cook slowly over low heat for at least an hour. Salt to taste. This sauce gets better the longer it cooks, so if you have the time allow it to cook longer, adding water when needed as the liquid reduces. To serve, remove the braciole from the sauce (remember to discard the toothpicks) and toss the cooked pasta with the remaining sauce. Serve in a large pasta bowl, arranging the braciole around the sides. *GABRIEL’S SECRET SEASONED SALT RECIPE In a food processor, blend 1 kilo fine, iodized salt with 15 cloves garlic, 30 grams each of rosemary and sage leaves, well washed. Mix thoroughly and place in clean jars with lids. Use throughout the year