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Ciao, Summer

An easy meal starts with bruschetta and ends with espresso frappes.

Make-ahead risotto includes fresh peas and Parmesan cheese.
Make-ahead risotto includes fresh peas and Parmesan cheese. (Photo / Jim Scherer)

An Italian menu is especially appealing in summer, because it incorporates so many fresh vegetables. This garden-driven cuisine uses the harvest in the simplest ways, and many of the dishes require very little cooking. Bruschetta is a good example: hearty bread thickly sliced, toasted, and then topped with chopped tomatoes and basil. We like the dish best when it is made with freshly picked cherry tomatoes that we quarter and heap on the bread.

Risotto requires a little more elbow grease, but it becomes streamlined when you use Julie's make-ahead version, which she learned when she worked in Todd English's first local kitchen, the former Michela's in Cambridge. The rice is cooked halfway, then reheated with peas and finished just before your guests go to the table. The main course, grilled steaks, which we think of as an American specialty, is also common to the Italian table. Or serve an aromatic Sicilian swordfish stew simmered with fennel and leeks. For dessert, whir a typically New England frappe with a typically Italian strong espresso for a cool, quick finish.

Italian menu for 6

* Bruschetta with tomatoes and basil
* Make-ahead risotto
* Grilled steaks or swordfish stew
* Espresso frappes

BRUSCHETTA WITH TOMATOES AND BASIL
SERVES 6

1 pint small cherry tomatoes or 2 large ripe tomatoes
1 loaf of Italian bread Olive oil (for sprinkling)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Handful of basil leaves, coarsely torn

If you're using cherry tomatoes, quarter them. If you're using full-size tomatoes, remove the skin the following way: First, with the tip of a knife, remove the cores. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, drop in the tomatoes, let them sit for 10 seconds, then lift them out and rinse them with cold water until they are no longer hot. Peel the tomatoes, halve them horizontally, and squeeze them gently over a plate so the seeds pop out. Discard the seeds; chop the tomato flesh coarsely.

Slice the bread 1 inch thick. Use a grill, toaster oven, or broiler to toast the bread on both sides. Watch it carefully. Sprinkle the warm bread with oil and salt.

Top each piece of bread with tomatoes and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle with a little more oil and serve at once.

MAKE-AHEAD RISI E BISI (RISOTTO WITH PEAS)
SERVES 6

4 tablespoons butter
1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
7 cups chicken stock, heated until boiling
1 cup fresh shelled green peas (about 1 pound)
12 sugar snap peas, trimmed and sliced on a diagonal
Salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra Parmesan cheese (for sprinkling)

In a flameproof casserole, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add 2 cups of the hot stock and cook the rice, stirring constantly, until almost all of the stock has been absorbed. Add 3 more cups of the stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly, until it is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat.

Spread the risotto on a rimmed baking sheet. Cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Refrigerate the remaining stock. Clean the casserole.

Just before serving, return the risotto to the casserole. Reheat the remaining stock.

Set the casserole over medium heat. Add the green and sugar snap peas. Add 1 cup of the remaining stock, 1/4 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice absorbs the liquid. Add the remaining 1 cup of stock a little at a time, only enough to make a risotto that is cooked through and creamy. You may not need all of the remaining stock or you may need a little extra.

Stir in the salt and pepper, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and the OE cup of Parmesan cheese. Immediately spoon the rice into 6 shallow bowls, sprinkle with extra Parmesan, and serve at once.

GRILLED MARINATED RIB-EYE STEAKS
SERVES 6

Though we think of steaks as typically American, they're also a Tuscan specialty. In Italy, steaks are charred on the outside, pink and juicy inside, seasoned only with salt and pepper. We rub them with a paste of garlic, mustard, and olive oil one day or a few hours in advance, but you can skip the rub and do it the Italian way.

1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 thick rib-eye steaks
(1 1/2 to 2 pounds each and 2 inches thick)

On a cutting board, sprinkle the garlic with the salt. Using a large knife, chop them together until the garlic dissolves into a paste.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add the pepper, mustard, and oil. Rub this mixture all over the steaks and set them in a dish large enough to hold the meat in one layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.

Remove the steaks from the refrigerator and pat them dry with paper towels.

Prepare a charcoal grill or turn a gas grill to medium. Cook the steaks on both sides, about 10 minutes total, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 120 degrees for rare, 125 to 130 for medium. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let them rest for 10 minutes.

Slice the steak into thick slices and serve at once with a green salad.

SICILIAN SWORDFISH STEW
SERVES 6

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 head fresh fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
1 leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 cups white wine
2 cups water
1 can (about 15 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 pounds thickly cut swordfish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
8 pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper

In a large flameproof casserole, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the fennel, onion, and leeks with plenty of salt and black pepper.

Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until the vegetables soften. Add the wine, water, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the fish into 6 even-sized pieces. Sprinkle each portion with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Cook the fish in one layer over high heat for 1 minute on a side or just until the fish is brown. If necessary, brown the fish in 2 batches.

Transfer the fish to the vegetable mixture. Cover the pan and continue cooking for 3 to 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through. Sprinkle with basil and parsley.

Set out 6 large shallow bowls and set a piece of swordfish in each. Ladle the vegetable mixture on top of the fish. Sprinkle with olives, raisins, and crushed red pepper. Serve at once.

ESPRESSO FRAPPES
SERVES 6

1/2 cup extra-strong hot espresso
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint coffee ice cream
2 cups whole milk

In a bowl, combine the hot coffee and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

In a blender, combine the coffee mixture, ice cream, and milk. Blend the mixture at low speed until it is smooth.

Divide the frappe among 6 slender tumblers or juice glasses. Add spoons and serve at once.

Ask the Cooks: Surface Cracks

I have a heavy French enamel pot in which I make things like pot roast. Some of the enamel has cracked and chipped off, and the metal (cast iron) is showing through. Is this dangerous? It doesn't seem to affect the cooking or the taste of the food.
Robyn Gittleman

Enamelware is made by coating metal with a special glass. Cast iron has great heating characteristics, but it reacts with acidic foods, which can cause food to turn black or to take on a metallic taste. Iron also must be seasoned with oil to make it somewhat nonstick. The porcelain enamel coating solves the sticking problem and guards against most food reactions. The drawback is that the enamel surface is fragile.

Your pot is most likely high-carbon iron that has been coated with a dust or paste of glass and then fired for a smooth surface. Chipping and cracking are common problems with such pots. Manufacturers recommend using wooden or heat-resistant plastic utensils and careful handling to avoid damage. Don't, for example, toss it into the cupboard with other pots and pans. Gently stack it or hang it on a pegboard.

The chipping may not affect the flavor of foods, but, personally, I'd like to be certain there are no fragments of enamel in my pot roast. If you continue cooking in the pan, be certain that the exposed metal doesn't come in contact with the food. Consider upgrading to the latest generation of enameled cookware, such as Staub's (www.staubusa.com), which is chip-resistant.

This week's answer is by Peter J. Kelly, chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

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