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Posts Tagged ‘parmigiano’

Uova alla contadina is the oddest little recipe I may ever have come across – but a good one. While it translates as farm-style eggs, a more descriptive name would be eggs poached in molten mozzarella.

The recipe is from Le Ricette della mia Cucina Romana, one of a series of small cookbooks on the regions of Italy that I’ve acquired on trips there. I’ve found all the books useful and reliable, but this dish just didn’t seem Roman to me. However, checking in my other Roman cookbooks, I found one had essentially the same recipe made with provatura, which is a traditional cheese of Lazio, Rome’s province, and is similar to mozzarella but a bit stronger. Then, looking under the name uova alla provatura, I found many recipes for it on the Web. I’m sure this is real home and country cooking: I’ve never seen it on a restaurant menu anywhere.

It’s a simple enough preparation. For a small lunch for two it took only 2 eggs, 3½ ounces of mozzarella, 3 tablespoons of butter, and 1 ounce of freshly grated parmigiano.

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And simple cooking, too. The first step was to melt the butter in a skillet.
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Next, add the mozzarella, diced, and stir constantly to melt it too.
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As soon as the combination is fully liquid, scrape two shallow depressions in the cheese puddle and slip in the eggs.
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Sprinkle the grated parmigiano on and around the egg whites, along with salt and pepper.
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All this bubbled gently along over low heat while I kept nudging the edges of the mixture to be sure the cheese wasn’t sticking. In fact, enough of the melted butter coated the bottom of the pan to keep everything moving freely. When the whites had firmed up and become opaque, I slid half of the pan contents onto each of two plates and served them.
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While that lunch was small in quantity, it was rich and filling. All those butterfats! The texture of the egg white and cheese blend seemed a little strange – and you had to eat quickly before the mozzarella began to resolidify – but the yolks made a perfect sauce.

We could see that, especially if you had a farm with chickens and cows (or better, water buffalo!), this would be a very handy dish for a quick bite to eat. It would also be fine served with or on a thick slice of country bread. I’d love to try the recipe with provatura, but I can’t remember ever seeing that cheese in this country. The inventiveness of Italian cooks with few and simple ingredients is just amazing.

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For the first course of Christmas dinner last week, I turned to a recipe of my own from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen: a savory pie of ham and mushrooms in a béchamel sauce enriched with parmigiano cheese. It has several advantages in the context of a festive menu for guests: It needs no unusual ingredients, it’s easy to make, and it can be prepared several hours in advance – no last-minute attention required.

In English, “torte” properly means a cake, but in Italian this dish is called a torta. It’s a sort of gentrified pizza rustica, a sleeker modern version of that hearty peasant pie filled with assorted cheeses and cured meats. In any language, it’s very good.

The pastry – an all-butter short crust enriched with an egg yolk – can be made up a day or so ahead and refrigerated until needed. (Or use any good basic pastry recipe.) For the rest, here are the ingredients as I assembled them on Christmas morning.
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Beloved Spouse had obligingly sliced the half pound of cremini mushrooms for me (plain white ones instead are good too), and I sauteed them in butter for about five minutes.
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Then I made the béchamel sauce, using a cup of milk, a tablespoon of flour, and two tablespoons of butter. When it was done I grated in some nutmeg, stirred in 3½ ounces of freshly grated parmigiano, and folded in the mushrooms.
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I rolled out half the pastry, fitted it into a 9½-inch pie dish, and filled it with alternating layers of the thinly sliced boiled ham and the mushroom mixture.
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With the addition of a top crust, the torte baked for about an hour at 350° and sat peaceably on a sideboard all afternoon, to be reheated briefly in the oven at dinner time. It’s always quite plain looking, but the taste makes diners forgive the appearance. The ever-popular combination of ham and cheese, the latter infusing the béchamel, which in turn blends in the mild woodsy flavor of the mushrooms, all make the torte more complex and interesting than the simplicity of the ingredients suggests. It’s an example of the kitchen alchemy that makes a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
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Note to my regular readers:

For eight years now I’ve been doing a post on this blog every week. I’m going to loosen the intervals a bit this year – especially for the rest of this month, when I’ll be concentrating on very plain cooking so I can shed a few extra pounds from the holiday overindulgences. I’ll be back online when I again start exploring recipes that will be interesting for me to write about and, I hope, for you to read about.  Meanwhile, best wishes for 2018.

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