Monday, April 19, 2010

Worth Growing your own--Titina Plants Her Basil Crop

The soil has been turned and the plants are on order from a local farmer. In a few days Chef Titina will plant her basil crop in the kitchen garden outside the Capri Flavors retail store.

A mainstay in Titina's cooking, this classic Italian herb gets a lot of space in her garden.

When plants mature, she will use them in her classes, cutting branches early in the day, then washing and wrapping the basil in a towel to drain and dry on the counter.

After students arrive at 6 pm, the basil is chopped into Titina's delicious bruschetta, ground into her classic pesto or layered on a fabulous Caprese Salad.

It is the flavor of Southern Italy--

Titina also makes basil pesto to freeze and sell in the store. And she sometimes grinds and freezes a simple fresh basil, olive oil combination to use in other dishes.

But the best basil is fresh from the garden. And it's an easy crop to grow. Just add sun, soil, and water. Even a large pot will do if you have no garden space. Transplants are readily available. Look for four-packs in the garden center.
Basil likes heat, so wait until days and nights warm up. Then in a few weeks, fresh basil for your kitchen, just like Titina's. For recipes, click on one of the blog links above.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Titina's Back with Lobster and a Favorite Ingredient

Capri Flavors Chef and Cooking Teacher Titina Vuotto returned to her classroom-kitchen with a favorite (and fitting) recipe last Monday night. Her Lobster with Tomatoes is celebration food--simple but very special. And Titina is celebrating. She is teaching her popular cooking classes again after weeks of recovery from joint-replacement surgery.

"It was a happy class," said Titina's husband Costanzo. "The lobster was very delicious and the people were surprised that lobster could be done that way."

That way is the Italian way, pairing prized and pricey lobster tails with some of the world's best tomatoes.

Great tomatoes are one of Titina's favorite ingredients. In her classes she reaches for three different kinds:

Canned San Marzano Tomatoes--Italy's most famous tomato, these plum-types are Titian's favorite. She even has her own label, Titina's Tomatoes, grown by a co-op of farmers in the rich volcanic soil of Italy's Mt. Vesuvius.

Annalisa Cherry Tomatoes--Great flavor with almost no cooking, Titina uses these for pizza topping and fast sauces including Monday night's lobster.

Fresh grape tomatoes--When home-grown tomatoes aren't available, grape tomatoes are Titina's choice for bruschetta--her favorite appetizer--so easy any cook can make it at home.

For more on Titina's bruschetta, check out this earlier blog post. And here's her recipe for Lobster and Tomatoes:

Aragnosta al Pomodori
Lobster with Tomatoes

¼ cup butter
1 onion, finely chopped
11 ounces tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed or 1 can pomodori Annalisa
1Tbsp. tomato paste
6 Lobster tails, shelled
Scant ½ cup heavy cream
Salt and Pepper
Serves: 6; Preparation time: 10 minutes; Cooking Time: 15 minutes; Level of Difficulty: Easy

Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, then ass the tomatoes. Mix the tomato paste with 2 tablespoons warm water, stir into the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process to a puree, then, return to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the lobster and cook stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the cream and cook until the sauce has thickened. Arrange the lobster on a warm serving dish and spoon the sauce over them.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sweets for Easter and Beyond

This week in Titina's kitchen--wonderful smells of baking as half a dozen Pastiera Napoletana cooled on the counter. An ancient tradition in the Naples region where Titina grew up, these ricotta filled tarts have long been associated with Easter Italy.

Like Titina, Neapolitan cooks typically make the Pastiera a few days ahead to allow the citrus and cinnamon flavors to develop. Check out this previous blog post, if you'd like to make this spring-time classic at home.

Or consider something a little easier and lighter. Titina's Lemoncello Capri Cake is the desert she will be making when she returns to her classroom-kitchen on Monday night. Simple and delicious, it is made with olive oil and showcases the lemon favors her home island is famous for.

This cake would be fantastic served with some of the season's fresh strawberries.

Torta Caprese al Limoncello
Limoncello Capri cake

1 cup sugar
6 eggs
1 ½ cup almonds
4 ounces white chocolate
¾ cup CapriFlavors extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon liqueur
1 fresh lemon, grated as zest or a few drops of lemon oil
¼ cup plain water

Preparation: 20 minutes; Cooking Time: 50 minutes; Level of difficulty: Simple

Grease a 9” or 10” pan with olive oil, sprinkle with flour, and line with wax paper. Cut up chocolate with a large knife very coarsely. Coarse cut almonds in blender, not fine. Set both chocolate and almonds aside.

Beat sugar and eggs together for about 4 minutes, and then add coarse cut almonds and chocolate very slowly. Add 1 Tbsp. lemon liqueur and the grated zest of lemon. Turn mixer to slow and slowly add the olive oil and water little by little. Pour mixture into pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 1 hour. Garnish as desired.