While I was on #TheLongWayHome I received an email inviting me to take part in a cooking challenge…and two things caught my eye. The fact that it was promoting a classic, well known Italian product (Grana Padano cheese) and that it was going to be judged by Francesco Mazzei, formerly of L’Anima, who is a great ambassador of Italian cuisine here in the UK and like me, from Southern Italy. Of course I accepted. I came back to London and finding a box of ingredients and some Grana Padano goodies (including one of my favourite kitchen tools, a microplane) helped a little towards getting over the holiday blues.
To say Grana Padano is tasty goes without saying.
However, Grana Padano is also a healthy choice – there is nothing better than a guiltless pleasure, a wonderful experience for your taste buds that also boosts your general well-being.
Often confused with Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano is similar only in look and consistency. Both cheeses are hugely representative of our Italian heritage and culinary tradition but they come from different regions and each has its own history and characteristics. Grana Padano is high in protein, vitamin (particularly B12) and with 30% ‘good’ fat content. In fact, when we were kids, my mum used to give us small bits of Grana to snack on occasionally, as it was indeed good for us.
The challenge is to create a two course menu, using of course Grana Padano Gran Riserva (a starter/main or main/dessert). A few other ingredients in season have been provided as suggested by Francesco, and, although we are not obliged to use them, they surely provide a good springboard to create some interesting dishes. I started thinking what could I do that is a little different? Of course, Grana Padano is perfect with most pasta dishes, but that seemed too easy. Risotto is another dead certain perfect match. Dessert, it works too but the only thing I could really think of having a go at, would be ice cream yet I do not possess an ice cream maker nor am I best suited to prepare savoury ice creams. Grana is versatile and a great ingredient for a variety of combinations, so after a few ideas, brainstorming and some tests, here are my two recipes, which I think are quite good for the incoming Autumn as well and hopefully ‘capture the true spirit of Italy’, which is part of the challenge.
Grana Padano Biscotti with Squash and Split Peas Veloute’
I love a good, smooth and warming vellutata especially when it comes served with something of texture or, as my husband says, ‘munchy’. I usually make a pretty good version of the classic biscotti cantuccini so I played around with the ingredients and baked a savoury version which went great with the soup. I used pistachios and pine buts, which I really like, and sun dried tomatoes which add a little bit of extra saltiness to the biscuits. Grana Padano is a subtle but intense flavour on these biscuits, which go well with a slightly sweet soup. They keep for a couple of days and I kept snacking on them! Here is my recipe for the biscotti:
75gr white flour
75gr organic grain flour
20gr butter, melted
40gr mixed pistachios and pine nuts
100gr grated Grana Padano
1 free range egg
5 sun dried tomatoes, chopped in small pieces
a glug of dry white wine
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp baking powder
mixed dried herbs
salt, pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 180c (fan) and line a baking tray with oven paper or silicon mat. Sift the flours in a large bowl, add the beaten egg and mix well (I used an electric mixer). Add the melted butter, mix well then add the baking powder, the Grana Padano, the chopped tomatoes, the olive oil and mix well. If the mixture is too dry, add white wine little by little as to not over wet the dough. Finally, add a pinch of salt (not too much as the tomatoes and Grana are quite salty already), some freshly grated black pepper, a sprinkle of dry herbs and finally the nuts. With a large spoon (or by hand if the dough is not too wet) make two ‘sausage rolls’ on the baking tray, roughly 4cm wide, 2cm high and 20cm long. Smoothen the surfaces and edges as best as you can (as the nuts will give them uneven surfaces). Bake in the oven for about 20 mins, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool down for a little. Slice each ‘sausage’ in 1cm biscotti slices, then lay them back onto the baking tray, flat side down. Place back in the oven, lower the temperature to around 110c and bake each side for about 15 minutes until crunchy but not over cooked. Cool down on a wire rack and store in an air tight container or biscuit tin.
Note: with these quantities of butter and oil, they come out quite crumbly and softer; for a drier, crunchier texture, reduce the butter (or replace with a table spoon of pumpkin seeds butter) and use more white wine. I tried both versions and liked both!
Butternut Squash and Split Peas Vellutata
For 4 people
1 medium size butternut squash
50gr dried yellow split peas
1 cube of organic stock
1/2 white onion
50gr Italian pancetta cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp single cream (optional)
Finely chopped the onion and let it brown in a pan with some olive oil (I use as little as possible but it’s a personal choice). Peel and cube the squash and when the onion is ready, add to the pan with about 500ml of stock together with the split peas. Let it simmer on a low heat, covered, for about 50 minutes or until both the squash and the peas are soft. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Remove from the heat and using a whizz blender, blend to a smooth consistency (I actually used my Nutribullet and worked just as well). Add the cream, if using. Serve with a couple of biscotti and garnish with a few drops of good quality extra virgin olive oil (I use oils such as Conti from Cilento) and the pancetta, previously browned and roasted in a pan.
White Sartu’ with speck, provola and Grana Padano fondue
I am from Napoli and one of our traditional dishes is sartu’ di riso, a baked rice dish with a deep ragout sauce, meatballs, boiled eggs mozzarella, pears and more. There are a few different versions and my auntie makes a mean one without tomato sauce so I thought I would try and replicate her dish using some different, non Neapolitan flavours such as speck, its subtle smoky aroma a good match for Grana Padano. After consulting with zia, here is my recipe:
For 2 people
150gr risotto rice (very important to use a variety such as Arborio)
50gr provola (in London I buy it from Italian delis)
50gr Grana Padano, grated
1 tbsp single cream
1 french shallot, finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the mushrooms fondue
a handful of dried mixed mushrooms
30gr single cream
50gr grated Grana Padano
A shaving of nutmeg
Cook the rice in salted water following the instructions but stop the cooking when it’s really al dente (about 2/3 of the way). Leave it ‘wet’, eg drain it very little and set aside. In a shallow pan, cook the shallot until golden brown and soft, then add half of 1 slice of speck, chopped, let it all cook for a couple of minutes and remove from the heat. In a large bowl, mix the rice, the shallot with the speck, 1 other speck slice, chopped as well, the Grana Padano, the provola (previously cubed) and the cream, mixing well. Add some freshly grated black pepper. If it feels too dry, add some of the water from the mushrooms or some butter.
Line an oven dish (I used a terracotta one) with a thin layer of butter then fine breadcrumbs; place the rice in the dish and cover with the a couple of small flecks of butter and then the remaining speck and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. When ready, bake in a pre-heated oven (190c, fan) for around 20 minutes.
While the sartu’ is baking, place the mushrooms (previously softened in hot water and drained) in a shallow pan on a low heat and, once dry, on a high heat add a splash of wine, and as it evaporates, add the grated Grana and the cream, little by little, finally the nutmeg.
When the rice is baked and hot, serve in pasta bowl with the accompanying mushrooms’ fondue.
Note: as @bmcboy cannot eat mushrooms, I added them to the foundue, however I would otherwise add them to the rice itself.
I received a goodie bag, information on the product, a shopping voucher and ingredients in order to participate in this competition; opinions are my own.