Cooking Italian simply

Published 12:15 am Saturday, January 10, 2015

On a trip to Italy 15 years ago, Nancy Silverton discovered the Umbrian hilltop town of Panicale, on the outskirts of Perugla. The medieval village was so charming she bought a house there. Nancy Silverton is a chef in Los Angeles, and has three restaurants there, and doesn’t spend much time in her home kitchen. But when she is in Panicale, she says, “I’m not just inspired to cook; I’m inspired to cook simply.”

I really like the idea of cooking simply so the article in the January 2015 issue of ‘Food and Wine’ intrigued me. What fun it would be to return to Italy year after year and cook like the locals!! In Umbria the food is simple and all the menus are the same. But according to Silverton, “Everyone does not cook well.” Mostly women do the cooking in this place and are very guarded as to who gets into their kitchen. Silverton was allowed to get into the kitchen at Restaurant Mascolino, her favorite local restaurant in Umbria, and the three women who run the restaurant showed her some of their secrets. She knew little Italian but she could figure out olio and rosmarino.

I tried some of the recipes given by Silverton and was so pleased at how delicious everything tasted. Everything was simply prepared so anyone could do these.

These onions are flavorful and are baked until they fall apart.

Taken from January 2015 ‘Food and Wine’ magazine.

Baked Onions with

Fennel Bread Crumbs

Serves 4-6

3 medium onions, peeled and halved lengthwise, root ends left intact

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

Kosher salt

½ cup chicken stock

6 bay leaves, preferably fresh

1 tsp. fennel seeds

¼ cup panko

1 ½ tsp. minced sage

Preheat the oven to 425°. Brush the onion halved with olive oil; season with salt and arrange cut side down in an ovenproof medium skillet. Add the chicken stock and scatter the bay leaves around the onions. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 1 ½ hours; until the onions are very tender.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, about three minutes. Transfer to a work surface and let cool, then coarsely crush the seeds. Transfer to a small bowl, add the panko, sage and the two tablespoons of olive oil and toss. Season with salt.

Carefully turn the onions cut side up in the skillet. Spoon the fennel bread crumbs on top and bake for about 15 minutes longer, until the crumbs are lightly browned and crisp. Discard the bay leaves and serve the onions hot or warm.

In every little restaurant in Umbria, there are sautéed greens on the menu. In this recipe the spinach is blanched and sautéed in a garlic spiked oil. Yum!

Sautéed Spinach with Lemon-and-Garlic Olive Oil

Serves 4-6

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

10 garlic cloves, thickly sliced lengthwise

2 dried chiles de árbol, broken in half

Kosher salt

Thick strips of zest from 1 lemon

2 ½ lbs. spinach, cleaned, thick stems discarded

Freshly ground pepper

In a small saucepan, stir together the olive oil, garlic, chiles and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir in the lemon zest. Bring the oil to a gentle simmer over low heat and cook until the garlic begins to brown slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the oil infuse for 1 hour. Discard the chiles and lemon zest and reserve the garlic.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spinach until bright green, 15 seconds. Using tongs transfer the spinach to a bowl of ice water and let cool for 10 seconds. Drain the spinach in a colander, pressing down to remove all the water. Pat dry with paper towels.

Heat a large skillet. Add the spinach and cook over moderately high heat until beginning to sizzle. Add the garlic oil and toss until the spinach is hot, about two minutes. Transfer the spinach and reserved garlic to a colander set over a bowl to drain. Mound the spinach on a platter, season with salt and pepper and serve.