To me, travel is like church. When I go to a new place and experience new things, it puts all my problems in perspective and reminds me of how small I really am. It also gives me an enormous sense of place, and connects me to the earth on a completely different level. Getting outside and diving head first into the culture I’m visiting is always transformative, which is why I can’t wait to get back on my bike with Tourissimo for my second bike tour in Italy.
Last June, I was fortunate enough to join Beppe and his crew for an impressively planned ride through the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. Famous for its Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, I knew that I would be in chef heaven. What I didn’t expect is how intimate of a look I would get at the locale. Cycling through the countryside next to fields and fields of grapevines was one thing, but our planned stops along the way gave us unforgettable, hands-on experiences that no other tour could provide. Our visit to a cooking school where we were able to cook with area chefs is an example of one of the many fresh angles this tour yields. We ate so much there, but felt no guilt since we knew we were going to burn off every last calorie as we rode to our next destination. You never know what surprises you’ll encounter when you roll into a new town. Check out the enchanting town of Bagno di Romagna.
The last time I was in Sicily, I went with the State Department as part of the Culinary Diplomatic Corps where I competed in the Annual Couscous Festival. This very friendly competition is more of a celebration of culture, as around fifteen nations bring in chefs to show what they can do. It was here that I got a glimpse of the Sicilian compassion and way of life- and it’s stuck with me ever since. I’ve always wanted to go back, and I’m excited to see what new perspectives Tourissimo can give me during our tour in a few short months. If you come along with us, you’ll get the opportunity to view the culture of Sicily through a chef’s eyes. Traci Des Jardins and I have been traveling together for the better part of 20 years, and we love discovering food together. We would love to share that love for discovery with you as well, and May is the perfect time to travel to the region, as the landscape is utterly breathtaking. We’ll play games, eat delicious foods, drink exquisite wines, get our exercise, and achieve a real feeling of reverence being on such ancient ground. Traveling on the roads that centuries of our predecessors have traveled helps us connect with each other on a deeper level- and that’s something we need now more than ever.
You’ll love this combination of roasted green chiles and luscious rich cheese. It’s amazing that all it takes is a great cheese and a great salsa to make a terrific tamale. This recipe can be split up by preparing the stuffing a day in advance.
Makes 12 to 16 tamales
1 pound ground masa for tamales
1/2 pound lard, clarified butter or vegetable shortening
4 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled and seeded*
1/3 cup Tomatillo Salsa, see recipe
1 cup chicken stock, cold or at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons salt
Place the masa and lard or other shortening in separate containers in the freezer for 30 to 40 minutes, until cold but not frozen.
Combine the roasted poblanos and tomatillo salsa in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth and set aside. Mix together the chicken stock, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
When the masa is cold enough, empty into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer with a paddle. Beat on medium speed until the masa is light in texture, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the speed up to medium-high and drizzle in the chicken stock mixture.
Remove the lard or other fat from the freezer. Turn the mixer speed up to high, add 1 tablespoon of the fat at a time, making sure each spoonful is incorporated before making the next addition. Continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 15 minutes total. Test for lightness by dropping 1 tablespoon of masa into cold water: If it floats, the mixture is light enough. If not, continue beating at high speed a few minutes longer. Add the pureed chile mixture to the masa, and mix well to combine. Reserve at room temperature.
8 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced*
1/2 cup Tomatillo Salsa, plus extra for serving
1 teaspoon salt
3 packages dried corn husks, separated and soaked in hot water at least 2 hours or overnight
1 1/2 pounds panela cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
To make the stuffing, mix together the poblanos, 1/2 cup tomatillo salsa, and salt.
To make the tamales, spread 1 large or 2 small softened corn husks on a counter, with the narrow end pointing away from you. Leaving about 2 inches bare at the top, spread a 1/2-inch layer of masa over the center and one side of the husk. Divide the poblano mixture evenly and sprinkle over the portion of masa in the center of the husk. Top the chiles with some of the cubed cheese.
Fold the side covered with masa over the chiles and cheese, and then fold over the other side to enclose. Fold down the top flap. Place the folded tamale on a large square of aluminum foil and wrap to enclose. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Line a steamer or a pot fitted with a rack with corn husks. Cook over simmering water 45 minutes, or until the corn husks can be pulled away from the masa without sticking. Serve hot with Tomatillo Salsa.
Pozoles, more like stews than soups, are even heartier than caldos, thanks to the key starch ingredient of hominy, a form of corn. These heavy hitters are a whole meal – like a crunchy salad served over a thick meaty broth.
Serves 8 to 10
2 tablespoons lard, vegetable oil or chicken fat
2 medium onions, diced
4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups canned hominy, drained
4 cups Carnitas, see recipe
4 cups Tomatillo Salsa, see recipe
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
2 limes, cut into wedges
Melt the fat in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onions until golden brown and limp, about 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook briefly, just until the aroma is released.
Add the chicken stock, hominy and carnitas, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatillo salsa and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook an additional 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve with the garnishes for sprinkling at the table.
Tortilla Soup is as easy to make as it is to love. All it takes is some leftover chips, salsa and chicken broth to make this wonderful, traditional soup. We like to go overboard when it comes to garnishing. Feel free to add diced avocado, a handful of your favorite grated cheese, a spoonful of sour cream and more crisp tortilla chips for that added bit of crunch at the end. Since Tortilla Soup thickens as it sits, you can always thin leftovers with additional stock or water.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups Red Tomato Salsa, see recipe below
7 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed and seeded (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 pounds fried tortilla chips
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup crema, creme fraiche or sour cream
2 limes, cut into 4 wedges each
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until pale brown and caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 10 minutes longer.
Add the tomato salsa, chicken or vegetable stock, optional chipotle chile and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 20 minutes. Stir in the fried tortilla chips and simmer 10 minutes longer, until the chips soften. Remove and discard the whole chipotle chile. Ladle into soup bowls and top each with cilantro, a few avocado chunks, a dollop of crema, creme fraiche or sour cream and a lime wedge. Serve hot.
Red Tomato Salsa
If you’re looking for an easy sauce to keep in the freezer for instant Mexican meals, this is the one. It provides the flavor base for such traditional dishes as tortilla soup, fideo, red rice, and chilaquiles, and can also be served as a sauce for strong, rich foods – like chiles rellenos – that call for something sturdy but not too assertive in the background.
Makes 1 1/2 quarts
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large jalapeño chile, stemmed and sliced
4 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes
1 cup tomato juice
Heat vegetable oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Sauté onions with salt and pepper until soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook another 2 minutes. Transfer to a blender. Add tomatoes and tomato juice and puree until smooth.
Pour into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Set aside to cool for table salsa or use warm for tortilla soup, red rice, or chilaquiles. Store in refrigerator 2 to 3 days or in freezer for weeks.