Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Sweet and sour baby onions with balsamic vinegar and a review

There is a restaurant chain in UK called Carluccio's which serves authentic Italian fare. I am a big fan of their food and since there is one very close to where I live, I even pop in there just to grab dessert. And Jamie Oliver, who was mentored by chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, is not a new name to any of us. So when I was given an opportunity to review the DVD Two Greedy Italians- Series 1 featuring these two fabulous chefs, I grabbed it. The second series is due to air on BBC2 on April 2nd and is a must, especially if you are interested in Italian food.

This food and travel documentary consists of 2 parts, with each part containing two episodes each, and is a treat in every way. The two greedy Italians take you on a personal journey through Italy, with inputs of their traditional Italian upbringing and of course creating mouth watering dishes using local ingredients.  

You are transformed into a world where rolling hills, sprawling vineyards, beautiful houses, and quaint villages take over. From lunch with a traditional Italian family to cooking pasta, visiting shops selling ham, cured meats and cheese, tasting wines and visiting a local factory making pasta, Antonio and Gennaro keeps you entertained with their wit and humour in Bologna- their first stop. Next they move on to the South of Italy to the Amalfi coast, where Gennaro grew up. Personally this was the most favourite episode for me. Cooking by the sea side, plucking fresh lemons off the trees and biting into them, preparing a linguine dish on a boat using fresh octopus and mussels which Gennaro collected after his diving expedition and the wit and humour the two Italians share among themselves were absolutely fun to watch. Ah! the ricotta and lemon tart they made in this episode still holds fresh in my memory. Its high up there on my to-make list.
The second part takes you to Piemonte in Northern Italy, where Carluccio grew up. It is the home of the ever popular risotto rice, parmesan and of course balsamic vinegar. The episode which focuses on Regional Pride covers frog fishing, accepting new influences on Italian cooking and food and of course a glorious apple strudel and pork fillet with ginger and honey which Gennaro whips up. In the last episode they head to Puglia, a very religious region in Italy. It covers different festivals, a bread baking session and a factory where they make mozzarella cheese. If I'm being honest, this was my least favourite of all the episodes. I found it a wee bit dragging and very little emphasis was given to food per se.

But on the whole, the experience was a delight. Cooking in rustic kitchens, out in the open, no fancy gadgets used, just hands, both the chefs playing pranks on each other and of course the food which to me was the highlight. Personally, I would have preferred a lot more recipes to be featured. But I guess the series is more about the Italian lifestyle, how it has evolved over the years with regard to food and so on.

For those interested in the recipe bit, it doesn't end there. Accompanying the series is the book Two Greedy Italians' by Antonio Carluccio & Gennaro Contaldo, published by Quadrille (GBP 20, hardback) which contains over 80 fabulous recipes and even better photography. With a combination of both classic and traditional Italian recipes like the pizza and pasta and contemporary ones that take into consideration the changes in style and influences Italy has undergone in terms of food, the book is a must have for any one interested in Italian food.
I tried a couple of recipes from the book and everything turned out great. Below is an antipasti recipe by Carluccio (used with permission) which completely took me by surprise. The husband had been nagging me to make pickled onions and I ended up making something much more glamorous and tastier than that. These sweet and sour baby onions in balsamic vinegar is perfect as a starter at a party or a side dish to any meal. Try and have it the very same day its made and you will love it even more. I have reduced the quantities to suit the two of us and used small red onions instead of the white variety which is not readily available here. 

Also, as Carluccio mentions, the balsamic vinegar plays an important part in this recipe and the kind he talks about- the ones which are, by law, produced only in the province of Modena Emiloa-Romagna- is very expensive and a little goes a long way. Since I only had the basic balsamic vinegar, I am sure the taste would have been compromised a bit, but it was delicious nonetheless. So if you have all the original ingredients, don't think twice about using them in this recipe, you will thank me for it later.

Cipolline in agrodolce balsamico
(Sweet & sour baby onions with balsamic vinegar)
Small white onions- 250 gms, peeled
Olive oil- 1 tbsp
Caster sugar- 1/2 tbsp
Balsamic vinegar- 2 tbsp

Boil the onions in salted water for about 20 minutes or till they become soft, but not falling apart. Drain well and keep aside.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the onions
Fry for about 10 minutes on medium heat, tossing it around carefully.
Add the caster sugar and balsamic vinegar and continue frying for a further five more minutes or so
make sure you stir in between so that all the onions are evenly coated with the vinegar and flavouring.
Take it off the flame and serve hot or cold as antipasti or side dish.

Notes: I used small red onions.
Used a little more of the basic balsamic vinegar to impart more taste
Double the measurements to make a larger quantity
(...and since everyone's doing recipe cards, I though I'll do one too. Feel free to take a print)

Thanks to PPR Publicity for sending me a copy of the DVD to review and Quadrille Publishing for a copy of the cookbook


Pavithra Elangovan said...

Wow Nice review and the pickle onions is way too tempting to have these kinda of pickles in handy...awesome job Nisha..

Aarthi said...

i love to get that book...onions looks awesome


Archana said...

Wow awesome. I make onions in vinegar but this is more flavourful.

Namitha said...

I'm sure I will love these onions. Reminds me about a childhood favorite where we will fry shallots directly on coal and have it as it is,heavenly :)

Priya said...

Awesome review, those pickled onions looks fabulous..

Reflections said...

Great review, those roasted potatoes and tomatoes look delicious:-)

Anonymous said...

Nice review and I love everything Italian .. no kiddin!
That plate you used is super gorgeous :)

the Junkie book said...

Wow, a fresh take on something so simple!

Read the review...would love to hear a bit of their wit and humour!

And recipe cards....well I need to start from how do you get them done? ;p

Rookie Qookie said...

This looks gorgeous. Hubby has a soft corner for Italian food :)

Kitchen Flavours said...

Loved reading the that baby onion recipe....sounds tangy and yum....nice idea of printcard recipe....

suhaina aji said...

wow..that looks like a fantastic side dish. nice recipe dear.. will try for sure.