Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis
Orzo Stuffed Peppers
Crispy Smoked Mozzarella with Honey and Figs
To get the recipes:
Giada looks just stunning against the Greek backdrop of a white-washed building set against brilliant sunshine. Of course, she'd look beautiful in a dusty old shed in the middle of a hailstorm.
She tells us that "the flavors of Greece and Italy complement each other in some surprising ways." Why is that surprising? When you think that the Romans have been borrowing from the Greeks (sorry, Giada), since they took Zeus and turned him into Jupiter, and Aphrodite and Ares became Venus and Mars, you'd think there would have been even more intermingling of the 2 cultures, not to mention cuisines. But I guess that when you have two proud peoples, they like to keep certain aspects of their heritages separate.
(According to some olive oil producing Spanish friends, Italians do like to pass off Greek olive oil as their own. I'm staying out of that feud. I like to use Spanish olive oil, sent to me by these same friends. It is awesome.)
Anyway, in the spirit of neighborliness, Giada is borrowing from both cultures to make her dishes today. She gets beautiful orange and red peppers ready for stuffing. She cooks 1 1/2 cups of orzo in 4 cups of chicken stock, just for 5 minutes, because it's going to cook longer in the oven.
She breaks up canned whole tomatoes with scissors, reminiscing about when she was a child and she and her siblings used to squoosh the tomatoes through their fingers. Ah, the memories of a fine Italian kitchen. (Sometimes, my mother let me measure the Minute Rice. Just kidding. Well, not completely. My mother WAS a fine cook, but she did avail herself of various anti-fine cuisine shortcuts.)
Giada grates zucchini on a box grater. Ok, if I'm sitting in Tuscany, surrounded by rolling hills and sun-kissed produce, I'll use a box grater. But if I'm home, I'll let it rip in the food processor. She adds the zucchini to the bowl of tomatoes. The orzo gets lifted out of the pot, reserving the stock that's left behind. Giada adds the orzo to the toms and zucc. She also adds some chopped mint. "Mint is to the Greeks as Basil is to the Italians."
Ooh, I love analogies! They don't have those on SAT's anymore, do they? Donkey is to Linux systems what Pacific Ocean is to Tom Arnold. (Okay, WHERE in the world was my mind there?)
Garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and cheese (an Italian one) gets thrown in too. Giada mixes it all together. Why aren't you using a fork? (The FN should give a seminar to its hosts to explain that grains and pastas get mixed with a FORK.) She fills the peppers all the way to the top, because there is some shrinkage. She pours the reserved chicken stock into the bottom of the dish and covers it with foil "to keep the peppers moist." It goes into a 400 deg F. oven for 45 minutes and then she sprinkles more pecorino on top and it goes back in, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
How do I feel about this dish? To be honest, I don't think ANYONE really likes the PEPPER part of stuffed peppers. Why not just have the stuffing part? I know they make attractive vessels for food, but it's such a waste of a good pepper. What you're really doing is virtually steaming them, which is what happens when they're baked under foil. It's just not the best to cook them. I'd rather slice them into strips and sauté them quickly in olive oil, garlic and salt. (Throw in a red onion for added punch.)
She starts on her Greek Caponata. She tells us how the Greeks and Italians have been influencing each other for centuries and then begins to prepare a JAPANESE eggplant! She explains they have smaller seeds and are less bitter. I prefer them myself. To the eggplant she adds zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, garlic and A POTATO. Really? That's odd, isn't it? She finishes off the mixture with extra virgin, olive oil, salt and pepper, oh, and dried oregano - Oregano is to the Greeks as ___ is to the Italians?*
She adds a can of tomatoes to the bottom of a baking dish. She spreads her veggies over and covers with foil. She bakes them for 400 deg. F for 20 minutes then uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes.
To serve with the caponata, Giada is grilling plain bread. She places that on a platter and the caponata goes next to it. See? It's being served on bread. I'm not getting why she added a potato to the mixture.
For her quick version of Baklava, Giada DOES use the food processor. She mixes together walnuts, almonds, dried apricots, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and a secret ingredient she learned from a fine Greek baker - fine breadcrumbs. Then she mixes in honey and melted butter. (I think honey is one of those ingredients where you get what you pay for. If you try a finer honey just once, you'll be hooked. It's more delicate and not quite a syrupy sweet as the standard brand.)
Giada is using phyllo dough for the next recipe. She covers it with a damp cloth to keep from drying out. She stacks up 6 pieces, brushing melted butter between each one. She cuts the stack into 12 equal pieces. She presses each rectangle into a mini muffin cup. A spoonful of filling goes into each one and then she presses the top edges closed. They look like adorable little pouches. She bakes them at 350 deg F. for 20 minutes.
To top off her next dish, Giada heats up some honey and adds dried figs to it to rehydrate them. She places a sheet of phyllo on work surface and cuts smoked mozzarella into 1 inch slices. She wraps each slice of mozzarella in a phyllo sheet like a burrito. She gets her oil ready. "Who doesn't like fried cheese?" I'm with you, G.
WOW!!! They look brown and melty and crispy and good! She plates them and spoons over the honeyed figs. (That's a great serving idea for a slab of bleu cheese, too.) The final touch is a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. She tastes it. It should get the gold.
Merging Greek and Italian elements isn't hard, when you take the best from both worlds. And when you have Giada putting them together, she's bound to make the gods, Greek OR Roman, happy.
*Parsley, Says Giada.