Cooking With Foods Columbus Found Here

It was on this day 516 years ago that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus first reached the Americas.

For Italian-Americans, Columbus Day is a celebration of their heritage.

So, The Early Show decided Monday was the perfect day for one of American's favorite Italian chefs, the renowned Lidia Bastianich, to drop by. And Columbus Day never tasted so good!

Bastianich is a successful restaurateur and cookbook author, and host of "Lidia's Italy" on PBS.

When Columbus got here, he found such native foods as tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and squash, then brought them back to Europe.

On the show Monday, Bastianich prepared great dishes using some of those indigenous ingredients, particularly winter squash.

She says, "Squash is not one of the most popular vegetables, but I love squash and I love cooking with it. It is nutritious, versatile, and delicious. Northern Italy consumes more zucca -- winter squash -- than Southern Italy, especially in the areas near Modena in Emiglia Romagna and Padova in the Veneto.

RECIPES

FETTUCCINE WITH SQUASH AND CAULIFLOWER SAUCE (Bavette con zucca e cavolo)

Makes 6 servings

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 plump garlic cloves, crushed
1 small onion, thinly sliced (1 cup slices)
3 cups butternut squash, cut in ½" cubes
3 cups cauliflower, cut in small florets (about 1-inch)
4 tablespoons small capers, drained
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste plus more for cooking pasta
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino or to taste
2 cups (or a 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1 pound [dry] fettucine or bavette
1 cup freshly grated pecorino

Recommended equipment:

• A heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 14-inches diameter with a cover
• A large pot, 8-quart capacity or larger, with a cover, for cooking the pasta

Pour the olive oil into the big skillet and set over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic and let it start sizzling. Stir in the onion slices and cook for a couple of minutes to wilt. Spill in all the cut squash and cauliflower pieces, scatter the capers, salt and peperoncino on top and with tongs toss all together for a minute or so. Pour a cup of water into the skillet, cover tightly, and steam the vegetables for 2 or 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.

Pour in the crushed tomatoes along with a cup of water sloshed in the tomato containers. Stir well and cover; when the tomato juices are boiling adjust the heat to keep them bubbling gently. Cook covered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are softened, uncover and continue cooking to reduce the pan juices to a good consistency for dressing the pasta, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and keep at a low simmer.

While the sauce is cooking, heat the salted pasta cooking water to a rolling boil (at least 6 quarts water and a tablespoon salt) . Drop in the fettucine or bavette and cook barely al dente. Lift them from the water, drain for a moment then drop onto the simmering vegetables. Toss and cook all together for a couple of minutes, over moderate heat. Moisten the dish with pasta water if it seems dry; cook rapidly to reduce the juices if they're splashing in the skillet.

When the pasta is perfectly cooked and robed with sauce, turn off the heat. Sprinkle over the grated cheese, toss into the pasta and serve.

For more of Bastianich's recipes, go to Page 2.

MARINATED WINTER SQUASH (Zucca Gialla in Marinata)

This is a great side dish or appetizer. Traditionally, the zucca is fried before it is marinated, as I do here, but it is also delicious when made with grilled or boiled zucca. I recommend butternut squash but acorn, hubbard, and other varieties will work as well.

Serves 6 or more as an appetizer or side dish

1 cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt or more to taste
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
A butternut squash, about 2 pounds
1 cup vegetable oil or as needed
8-10 fresh basil leaves

Recommended equipment:

• A heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inches diameter or larger
• A 6-cup glass or ceramic casserole dish, preferably about 6-inches wide, to marinate the squash in several layers

Mix the vinegar, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a small saucepan. Over high heat, reduce by half. Remove from the heat, drop in the garlic slices and let the marinade cool. Stir in the olive oil.

Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scrape out all the seeds. Peel the halves, place cut-side down and cut crosswise, into 1/3-inch thick half rounds.

Pour vegetable oil into the skillet to the depth of 1/8-inch and set over medium-high heat. When the oil sizzles on contact with squash, fill the pan with a layer of slices, spaced slightly apart. Fry for about 3 minutes on the first side then flip the slices over. Fry on the second side another 2 or 3 minutes until the slices are cooked through (easy to pierce with the tines of a fork), crisped on the surface and caramelized on the edges.
Lift out the slices with a slotted spoon, draining off oil, and lay them on paper towels. Sprinkle salt lightly on the hot slices. Fry up all the squash, in batches, the same way.

Arrange a single layer of fried squash in the bottom of the marinating dish and scatter 4 or 5 basil leaves on top. Stir up the marinade and drizzle over a couple of spoonfuls. Scatter some of the garlic slices on the squash too. Layer all the squash in the dish this way, topping each layer of fried slices with basil leaves, garlic and marinade. All the seasonings should be used-drizzle any remaining marinade over the top layer of squash.
Wrap the dish in plastic and marinate the squash for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight in the refrigerator. If chilled, let the squash return to room temperature before serving.

HAZELNUT TORTE (Torta di nocciole)

This is wonderfully easy cake with flavors for which Piedmont is known.

Hazelnuts are called tonda gentile delle Langhe -- the "sweet round nut of the Langhe" -- and with a bit of chocolate, you have the match made famous in Torino, gianduja.

I love this torte for its versatility, as well. I serve it simply with powdered sugar or whipped cream and you can flank it with a scoop of chocolate ice cream or give it a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce. In Piemonte, I've had the torte with zabaglione-and if you turn the page, you'll find a perfect partner in Zabaglione al caffè nero.

Makes 10-inch cake serving 10 or more

1-1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed off
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus some for the cake pan)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (1/2 pound)
6 tablespoons soft butter (plus a bit for the cake pan)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 cup milk at room temperature
4 tablespoons semisweet chocolate, chopped by hand in small pieces

Recommended equipment:

• A 10-inch springform cake pan
• A heavy duty electric mixer fitted with the whisk

Chop the hazelnuts in a food processor or mini-chopper to small bits-not to a powder. Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Butter and flour the cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350° with a rack in the center.
In the mixer, cream the sugar and butter together until light, smooth and fluffy; scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Incorporate the eggs, olive oil and orange zest in several additions, blending each in at slow speed, scraping the bowl then beating at high speed for a couple of minutes to lighten.

On slow speed, incorporate the dry mix in several additions, alternating with splashes of milk. Scrape the bowl when both are added and beat briefly on high. Fold in the chopped nuts and chocolate by hand and blend in well.
Scrape the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. The top should be lightly browned and just spring back to a light touch.

Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes or so, remove the side ring of the springform and let the cake cook completely. Cut in wedges and serve, topped with powdered sugar or whipped cream.

The torte will keep in the refrigerator for a week, well wrapped in plastic, or freeze it for longer storage. When serving torte that has been chilled or frozen, toast the cut pieces in the oven (or toaster oven) to bring out the flavors.

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