Cooking Class: Rustic Italian

Soup, pasta, risotto – what could be more satisfying on these cold, rainy days?

Pasta melanzane (photo credit: Tamar Palter)
Pasta melanzane
(photo credit: Tamar Palter)
Last winter, chef Mena Strum, one of this country’s top Italian chefs, opened Campanello (230 Ben- Yehuda, Tel Aviv), an Italian delicatessen-café, together with chef Arik Lupo. A cross between a quiet neighborhood café and a trattoria, the place serves Italian delicacies, thin pizza, delicious pastas and more. Their breakfasts are among the best in town.
Patrons can eat on the premises or order food to take out.
Strum, known for his rustic Italian cuisine, trained with Don Alfonso in southern Italy and was the chef of many leading restaurants in Tel Aviv.
These days, he divides his time between Campanello and advising other restaurateurs.
The following are his takes on classic Italian dishes that are perfect in the winter.CHESTNUT AND PORCINI SOUP Serves 6-8
This flavorful winter soup, made with porcini mushrooms and chestnuts, is delicious, filling and warming, yet elegant enough to serve your special guests. Strum stresses the importance of using only the best-quality chestnuts for this recipe.
✔ 1⁄2 onion, chopped ✔ 1⁄2 sprig sage ✔ 2 Tbsp. butter ✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil ✔ 20 gr. dried porcini mushrooms ✔ 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed ✔ 400 gr. chestnuts in vacuum (preferably by Ponthier) ✔ 1 shot brandy ✔ 1 liter water ✔ 1 cup milk ✔ 1⁄4 cup olive oil ✔ White-truffle oil (optional but makes a big difference)
Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes.
Strain and reserve the water.
Chop the mushrooms.
Heat oil and butter in a skillet and sauté onion and sage over medium heat until the onion is transparent.
Reserve 2-3 chestnuts for garnishing. Add the rest of the chestnuts and the chopped mushrooms to the skillet with the onions and sauté for 5 more minutes over medium heat.
Turn heat up and add the brandy. Cook for 2 minutes until all the alcohol has evaporated.
Add 1 liter of water, a little salt and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to minimum and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the milk and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove the sage.
Using a hand blender, blend the soup, slowly adding the olive oil until the texture is smooth.
Serve garnished with very thinly sliced chestnuts, sage leaves fried in olive oil and a few drops of truffle oil.PAPPA AL POMODORO Serves 6-8
This is a rustic Italian tomatobread soup, originally designed to make use of day-old bread.
Use Tamar tomatoes and a good olive oil.
✔ 1⁄4 cup olive oil ✔ 5 cloves garlic, minced ✔ 1 red hot chili, seeds removed, halved lengthwise ✔ 2 cans Italian peeled tomatoes ✔ 1⁄2 cup white wine ✔ 1 liter water ✔ 1⁄2 cup fresh basil leaves ✔ 1⁄2 day-old country bread, crust removed, cubed ✔ Olive oil for seasoning
In a soup pot, sauté the garlic and chili in 1⁄4 cup of olive oil.
Add the tomatoes, using a wooden spoon, mix and crush the tomatoes. Add the white wine and cook until evaporated.
Add the water and basil and cook over low-medium heat for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and whisk until the texture is homogeneous. Add the bread cubes, mix and season with a little olive oil. Serve immediately. If cooking the soup in advance, add the bread just before serving.ACQUERELLO RISOTTO WITH GORGONZOLA Serves 4
This method of cooking risotto is suitable only for acquerello rice. This flavorful large-grain rice can be cooked like pasta in plenty of boiling water. When the rice is ready, strain it, put it in a bowl and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. In this recipe, the sauce is made with pears and sharp Gorgonzola cheese. The risotto can be prepared in the classic method, and you can use other cheeses.
✔ 70 gr. butter (about 1⁄3 cup) ✔ A little olive oil ✔ 250 gr. acquerello rice ✔ 1 flat Tbsp. coarse salt ✔ 2 pears, peeled and cored, cut into cubes ✔ 100 gr. Gorgonzola (or other sharp cheese) crumbled ✔ 4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese ✔ Salt and pepper
Boil 4 liters of water in a large pot. Add coarse salt. Pour rice into the boiling water and cook for 14 minutes. Strain and place in a bowl. Add the pear cubes, Gorgonzola, butter and Parmesan. Fold gently, taste, season with salt and pepper if needed.PORTOBELLO, ARTICHOKE AND DRIED TOMATO RISOTTO Serves 4-6
In this recipe, the risotto is prepared in the classic way – gradually adding soup stock and mixing until done.
✔ 200 gr. portobello mushrooms, chopped ✔ 200 gr. Italian artichoke quarters (use canned), chopped ✔ 100 gr. dried tomatoes in oil, chopped ✔ 1⁄2 cup olive oil ✔ 1⁄4 package butter (50 gr.) ✔ 5 cloves garlic, peeled and halved ✔ 250 gr. risotto rice ✔ 1 tsp. salt ✔ 1 cup white wine ✔ 1 liter stock – use either vegetable or parve chicken flavor ✔ 4 Tbsp. Parmesan, grated ✔ 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves ✔ Black pepper
In a deep skillet or a large pot, heat 1⁄4 cup olive oil with a little butter. Add garlic and mushrooms and steam over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the rice, mix until rice heats through and is covered with fat. Season with salt, add the wine, mix and cook for 3 minutes until the wine evaporates.
Meanwhile, boil the stock in another pot and keep it simmering gently.
Start adding boiling stock into the rice one ladle at a time, mixing the rice constantly with a wooden spoon.
Add the next ladle of stock only when the liquid has been completely absorbed into the rice. Repeat until the rice is cooked. To check if it's ready, taste the rice from time to time – it should be tender but not too soft. The Italians call it “al dente.” The process should take about 20 to 30 minutes.
At the last minutes of cooking, add the artichoke, tomatoes and thyme leaves.
Then add the rest of the butter and Parmesan when the rice is done and gently fold it in. Add salt or pepper to taste. Remove from heat and leave in the pot for 2 minutes before serving.PASTA MELANZANE
Melanzane means “eggplant” in Italian. The eggplant is considered the queen of Italian cuisine. Here is an easy and tasty pasta dish eaten in the south of Italy.
✔ 500 gr. short pasta ✔ 1⁄2 liter Italian tomato sauce ✔ 2 cloves garlic, minced ✔ 1 eggplant, cubed ✔ Olive oil ✔ 1 bunch parsley leaves, chopped ✔ 250 gr. ricotta cheese (optional) ✔ A little Parmesan, grated
Heat oven to 220º. Place the eggplant cubes in a lined baking sheet. Brush the eggplant with a little olive oil and sprinkle a little coarse salt. Bake the eggplant in the oven until browned.
Cook pasta in salty water according to instructions on the box.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the tomato sauce in a large pot. Add the roasted eggplant cubes. Add the garlic, parsley and more salt if needed.
When pasta is cooked, strain and add into the sauce.
Cook together 1 more minute. Divide into plates and sprinkle lumps of ricotta and a little grated Parmesan on top and serve.
Recipes and photos courtesy of chef Mena Strum and Campanello, café delicatessen, 230 Ben- Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv, Tel: (03) 544-5558. Open daily 7 a.m. to midnight. Friday until 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m.