An easy to use dictionary to understand Italian Food terms
bah-BAH ahl ROOM
This yeasted sweet is attributed to Polish King Stanislao Leszczynsky, father-in-law of Louis XV. Exiled to Lorraine (a French province) after losing the Polish Succession War in 1738, he decided to improve upon the region's famed Kugelhupf (a sweet leavened cake) by spiking it with rum. The dough is basically a brioche dough; it is baked, then soaked in a rum syrup until it is entirely imbued with the rum's aroma and flavor. Babà became especially popular in Naples thanks to French cooks who worked in the kitchens of aristocratic homes.
This is dried codfish, either salted or sundried, often present in the menus from Veneto. A legacy of the Norwegians, and found in the cuisine of many Mediterranean countries, it can be prepared in a variety of ways beginning with a long soak in cold water (24 to 48 hours). The water should be frequently changed during the softening process. Though baccalà can be fried in strips or even eaten raw, the most familiar version involves cooking the cod very, very slowly in milk with onion, garlic, parsley, and anchovy filets for at least four hours. Baccalà mantecato, a classic recipe from Veneto, cooks the cod slowly in water or milk, then drains, skins, and bones the fish and pounds it into a paste, gradually adding olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper until the finished dish has a velvety quality but still maintains a hint of fish texture.
bah-cah-LAH een tsee-ME-no
This Tuscan codfish recipe is of ancient Arabic influence. In zimino denotes a dish cooked in butter (although in Tuscany extra-virgin olive oil is used instead) with vegetables. In some versions, onions, garlic, and parsley are sautéed in olive oil, codfish (soaked in water and drained) is added and browned, then peeled tomatoes are stirred in; the whole is cooked about ten minutes, then spinach or Swiss chard is added and cooked a little longer. In other versions, the vegetables are all cooked together, then the codfish (soaked in water and drained) is placed on top and cooked fifteen or twenty minutes. In Liguria, baccalà in zimino is prepared without tomatoes.
In a dialect of Piedmont, this means sauce ("little bath"). A red and a green version are common, and both are used to accompany bollito misto, a typically Piedmontese assortment of boiled meats. The red bagnèt features tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic that are cooked for half an hour, to which wine vinegar and sugar are added; the sauce is then simmered for two more hours. The green bagnèt is a piquant blend of anchovies, hard-boiled egg yolks, parsley, garlic, capers, bread that has been soaked in milk and squeezed dry, extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper; some cooks add pickled gherkins, chopped onions, and lemon juice in various amounts.
Literally translated, "hot bath", this is a typical sauce of Piedmont. Flavor from crushed, sliced, or minced garlic is underscored by a generous amount of minced anchovies; these are skillfully incorporated into olive oil and unsalted butter, which are melted and kept hot at the table in a fondue pot. Raw vegetables like radishes, peppers, cabbage, carrots, and cardoons are used for dipping in this sauce, and cooked vegetables like turnips and potatoes are often served as well. The original recipe called for walnut oil, and the quality of the olive oil, now commonly used, is considered the key to a successful sauce. The difficulty is in keeping the ingredients of the sauce emulsified; many cooks feel the proportion of olive oil to butter is crucial.
A dish consisting of cubes of meat from pigs' feet, marinated in vinegar, dipped in batter, then fried. Recipes for this Piedmontese dish are not easily available, but it seems likely that the pigs' feet are slowly cooked in the marinade (which can be flavored with aromatic vegetables, spices, and white wine) for several hours before they are cooled, cubed, dipped, and fried.
A type of pasta from the Veneto region in which the dough (flour, eggs, melted butter, salt, milk) is worked until pliable, cut into small stick shapes, and extruded through a special instrument called a bigolaro. The resultant rough texture gives a surface that is excellent for absorbing sauce (often based on duck stock and giblets). Egg noodles are a workable substitute if a bigolaro cannot be found.
bee-STEHK-kah AHL-la fyor-ehn-TEE-na
In Italy, this dish reigns as the epitome of steak. Florentine steak consists of a hefty T-bone cut of Chianina beef. This rare race of unusually large cows is raised in Tuscany's Val di Chiana, and is considered one of the best for the quality of its meat. The cows are slaughtered while relatively young, and their meat is not at all fatty. Chianina beef is also prized for its exceptional flavor, which Tuscans consider more savory than other types of beef. The meat is grilled quickly over charcoal and seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper; for best results, it should be at least 2" thick. Other cuts of beef can be used, but the results are never as tender and flavorful as the prized T-bone cut.
A sweet or savory dish with roots in medieval France, from where it probably arrived to Val d'Aosta, blanc manger (biancomangiare in Italian) always includes ground almonds or almond milk; the word blanc is an indication of its creamy white color. Many older versions called for chicken or capon. One of the oldest printed recipes, found in "Il Libro della Cocina," has the cook simmer chicken breasts in sheep or goat's milk with sugar and melted lard; the mixture thickens to a specific density and is served with more melted lard and sugar. The same cookbook offers a Lenten version which relies on fish instead. Today blanc manger tends to be sweet rather than savory; the most common recipe results in a sweet almond gelatin.
This dessert is a specialty of many trattorie and home cooks in Piedmont. First, a caramel is prepared and poured while hot into the bottom of a baking dish. An egg custard typically flavored with crumbled Amaretti di Saronno, rum, and melted chocolate is poured over the caramel base, then the whole is baked in a water bath. While Amaretti di Saronno are almost always incorporated into the egg custard, other flavors are sometimes used instead of the chocolate and rum: Grand Marnier or Sambuca, and puréed fruits like raspberry or peach, are among the variations.
Also called Sardinian caviar, bottarga is made with salted and pressed mullet roe. It looks like a square brownish-orange salami and keeps for months in the refrigerator if well wrapped. Bottarga is sliced paper-thin and served with olive oil as an antipasto, and it flavors one of Sardinia's most famous pasta dishes, maccheroni alla bottarga.
The word bresaola is derived from the Italian verb brasare, meaning 'to braise'. This cured meat is a specialty of the Valtellina area in Lombardy, but is cherished all over northern Italy. Bresaola is made from lean beef - top-round, rump, or filet - which is lightly salted, marinated in wine and herbs, and dry-cured. It can be aged for long periods of time, or very briefly; most bresaola, in fact, is aged only for a few months. Bresaola's leanness and delicate flavor make it a popular choice for calorie-counters, but its taste is luscious, especially when paired with a dollop of creamy cheese. Aged bresaola is drier and sharper in flavor than briefly aged bresaola; try it marinated for 1 hour in extra-virgin olive oil with black pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. Briefly aged bresaola is pinker in color and more tender; it is lovely unadorned and thinly sliced as an antipasto. Bresaola is best savored raw, and is often paired with arugula, seasoned with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and topped with shavings of Parmigiano.
A peasant food that is virtually unknown outside the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, based on sliced turnips macerated for a month or so in grape skins. The turnips are most often served as an accompaniment to meat dishes, but they can also be folded into pasta e fagioli or other soups. Brovade sautéed with garlic, lard, salt, and pepper often share the plate with cotechino friulano or musetto.
BROO-tee mah BOO'OH-nee
Their name, 'Ugly but Good,' is a reference to the irregular homely shape of these almond macaroons from Northern and Central Italy. The town of Borgomanero in Piedmont is famous for its rendition of these light cookies.
Sometimes called bròs, this is a cheese preparation typical of Piedmont and Liguria. It is made by mixing together left-over bits of robiola or goat cheese, adding grappa or brandy, olive oil, vinegar, chili pepper or peppercorns, and salt, then placing the mixture in hermetically sealed terra-cotta pots to ferment and become spicy. The fermented cheese is slathered on warm toasted bread and grilled polenta.
A dried pasta made throughout Italy, bucatini look like thick spaghetti and earned their name because they are hollow (buco means 'hole'); while they are called bucatini in Latium, in Naples they are called perciatelli. Bucatini are typically served with aromatic tomato-based sauces like amatriciana, but ragù is also a common choice. In Sicily, they are dressed with a traditional sardine and wild fennel sauce.
A traditional wreath-shaped sweet of Lucca in Tuscany, buccellato was often prepared to celebrate confirmations. It is a simple dessert, made of a leavened dough enriched with eggs, sugar, and butter or lard; dried citron or Marsala are sometimes folded in. There are endless variations of buccellato, and every baker has his or her special touch. Some buccellati measure an impressive three feet in diameter (adding to their celebratory impact), although most are quite a bit less imposing. There is a Sicilian Christmas sweet called buccellato as well, but it is different from the Tuscan dessert despite its spherical shape: it is stuffed with dried figs or raisins and is more heavily spiced.
This deliciously creamy cheese is a specialty of Southern Italy, especially the regions of Apulia, Campania, and Basilicata. Traditionally made from buffalo's milk, today most burrata is made from cows' milk. Basically a fresh mozzarella whose soft center is a combination of cream and finely chopped mozzarella curds, burrata is highly perishable, given its creamy center, and lasts only a few days in the refrigerator. When you bite or cut into burrata, the cream oozes out irresistibly. Burrata is wonderful paired with fresh tomatoes, fragrant basil, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Its name derives from its buttery center: burro means butter in Italian.
This Sardinian specialty is not a soup like the similarly named buridda of Liguria, but rather a way of dressing fish from the shark and skate family. The fish is poached in an aromatic broth with onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and a wedge of lemon, then served with a flavorful garlic sauce stretched with mild vinegar and thickened with crushed pine nuts or walnuts.
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