Saturday, December 26, 2009

Polpette (meatballs)... to get rid of the leftovers


So Christmas has come and gone and now we are left with tons of shredded wrapping paper, five pounds parked on our bellies and asses (seriously, how do you gain 5 pounds in two days?!?) and, of course, tons of leftovers. If -like me- you have an Italian family, you probably have had fish on the Christmas Eve and meat on Chistmas -which means that you have less leftovers than someone who had turkey, ham and a roast of beef. Still, you might notice that you have a truckload of various meats leftover and the idea of having one more sandwich might make our stomach turn at this point. So do this instead: make meatballs. Not the kind that you simmer in tomato sauce and eat with spaghetti. Those barely exist in Italy, except for in Calabria, which is far, far away from where I grew up. No. Where I grew up, in Milan, meatballs are inteded to be a) an appetizer
b) a way to get rid of leftover meat

Ain't that wonderful?

Give it a try. This recipe almost isn't a recipe -not in the American sense of the word. There's no fixed quantities, no tablespoons of this or cup of that. It's one of those recipes that you have to "feel" and when it "feels" right you will know. Here's the guidelines to make the best polpette:

POLPETTE

Leftover ham, turkey or beef or a combination
Ham or prosciutto (if you don't have it lefotver already)
A couple of eggs
Breadcrumbs
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Minced parsley
Minced onion (optional)
A pinch of nutmeg

Pulse meat in a food processor until coarsly ground. Transfer in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and add parsely. Add an egg at a time, a little Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Keep adding until the mixture rolls up easily into balls but isn't too dry. Fry in a deep fryer or in a pan with vegetable oil.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spaghetti with red onions and bread crumbs

Are you about sick and tired of Christmas recipes? I kinda am, although I'm really happy that Christmas is finally here. I guess one needs a break every once in a while. From the craziness of people literally pushing you out of the way at the store. From the Chipmunk song. From the insane traffic. I mean, traffic is bad about anywhere in the country right now... but you have to keep in mind that on top of regular traffic here in Florida we have all the snowbirds driving around, God knows going where. They are 98 years old and they have somewhere to go all the freaking time. Naturally they do so driving at 35 in a 55, in the left lane. And we all sit behind them, screaming so loud we are most likely to give ourselves an aneurysm. Fun times.

Anyhow, that's how I found myself in the mood for something that isn't Christmas-y at all: a bowl of pasta. The recipe comes from Sicily and it's a bit different than your usual tomato-based sauce. It's incredibly tasty and aromatic and it's so good I made it twice in the same week. Yes. It's that good.

And so I'm happy now and I'm ready to get back in the Christmas spirit and eat Christmas-y foods. And since my mom is cooking both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner I won't even have to worry about breaking my knee again!

Have a happy, merry Christmas everyone!

SPAGHETTI WITH RED ONIONS AND BREAD CRUMBS


3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups bread crumbs
1/4 cup parsley
3 cups sliced red onions
2 anchovies
1 pound spaghetti
Crushed red pepper

Heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat until hot then cook bread crumbs, stirring constantly until deep golden and crisp.Transfer bread crumbs to a bowl and toss with dill or parsley and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Put remaining oil in a skillet. Add onions with 1/4 teaspon salt and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until very soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Add anchovies and cook, mashing anchovies into onions until dissolved.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water, then drain pasta.

Stir red pepper flakes and reserved water into anchovies sauce, then add pasta and half of bread crumbs and toss.

Top each serving with extra bread crumb mixture and a swirl of olive oil, if desired.
Serve sprinkled with remaining bread crumbs.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Baci di Dama (Dame's kisses)

I have no idea why these cookies are called "Dame's Kisses" and I'm so lazy these days that I can't even be bothered to google it. But they are very good, so I suggest that you give them a try. As for yours truly, after writing like crazy the first ten days of December I kind of got myself into a funk and haven't posted -nor cooked, to be honest- that much. It's a weird combination of feeling uninspired and having lots on my mind and I let day after day go by without even remembering that I have a blog. I'll try to be better from now on, I promise!

BACI DI DAMA

2 sticks of butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Nutella

Melt butter in a small pan and let cool. Beat butter and sugar until well mixed, then beat in the egg yolks.
In a separate bowl whisk in flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt. Stir into the butter mixture and chill for 30 minutes.
Scoop into 3/4 inch balls and bake for about ten minutes at 325F.
Let cool, then sandwich with Nutella (or jam, if you prefer jam. But really, Nutella is soooo much better!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Caramel Chantilly cream for panettone or pandoro (or anything you like, really)

I'm not sure why my highly intelligent blog has been publishing photos (like the one above) without my permission and most of all before I have a chance to write down the recipe and stuff. Anyway, this Chantilly cream is to die for and everyone, and I cannot stress that "everyone" enough, should try it. One look at the recipe and you'll see that it's incredibly rich, which is the reason why we eat only once a year for Christmas. As the title suggests, we eat it with panettone or pandoro -the two most typical Italian Christmas staples- but I bet tht it's good on any type of cake or, as the Kitchen Witch suggests, with spoon.

The caramel Chantilly cream is one of those grandma's recipe. This particular grandma's name was Licia and she was my sisters' grandma. Or maybe I should call them "half sisters" to make everything clearer, but I've never used the term because it makes it sound like I don't like them. Which isn't true. I love them to death. And when she was alive I loved their grandma Licia and her fabolous cooking. She hailed from Piedmont and cooked meals fit for a king. They were never light, nor diet-friendly, but they were always delicious. Also, they were her meals and her recipes. And when someone would ask her for the recipe she would give it to them. Only, she would not give the right one. We are not sure if it was because she didn't really have a recipe in the modern sense of the term -she tended to cook by "feeling", not by measuring- or if it was just that she wanted her version to be better and therefore "forgot" to mention an ingredient or two.

Fact is, to this day, whenever we are sitting and eating caramel Chantilly cream we think of her and we laugh because, to this day, our version is not as good as hers. And it will never be.

CARAMEL CHANTILLY SAUCE

1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
5 egg yolks

Mix whipping cream and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl. Whip with a whisk or with a mixer and place in the fridge.

Put 5 tablespoon of sugar in a small heavy pan with two tablespoons of water. Heat over medium heat until sugar melts and turns into caramel. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl mix four tablespoons of sugar, flour and egg yolks. Slowly stir in milk. Stir to combine. Stir mixture into the pan with the caramel and out it back on the stove over low heat. Stir constantly until the two are well blended. Remove from heat and let cool in the fridge.

Right before serving mix the caramel mixture with the whipped cream.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Oysters Rockefeller


I've been on an oyster kick lately. I've been ordering raw ones like crazy while I was in Key West and have been lucky enough to go to an oyster party the other night where I had amazingly plump oysters cooked on the grill. My favorite way to cook and eat oysters, though, is making Rockefellers. I used to order them in restaurants all the time and although most were good, I always thought they could be better. See, I'm picky about my oysters Rockefeller. A purist. Don't put any Hollandaise on them. And don't smother them in cheese. I like to taste the actual oysters, the spinach, the tabasco. So I went through my cookbooks and found a recipe that sounded authentic and delicious in a book called "America the beautiful". Once I made them that first time I was hooked, and so was my boyfriend and family. They are easy to make and they are delicious -perfect for a dinner party or for a holiday buffet. The hardest part is schuking them, but if you have the right tool I've discovered that even that is a breeze.

OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

24 fresh oysters, in their shell
10 ounce brick frozen chopped spinach
2 green onions
1 shallot
1 stalk celery
1/3 cup dry vermouth
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
A box of rock salt

Mince the shallot, green onion and celery and sautee them in a little butter until crisp tender. Add thawed out spinach, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer vegetable mixture in a blender or food processor and pulse until creamy. Add vermouth, hot sauce to taste and bread crumbs. Stir until blended.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place rock salt in a thin layer in a baking dish (or two, if your baking dish isn't big enough to accomodate all the oysters). Open oysters, discard empty half shell, and place oysters on their shell over the bed of salt. Spoon a tabelspoon of spinach mixture over each oyster. Sprinkle with cheese. Cook for 10 minutes in preheated oven and serve immedietly.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spiced almonds


I woke up this morning to find out that the cat, Ernie the terrible, had decided to take a few ornaments down from the Christmas tree and put them on couch. Apparently he thinks that they look much better there because he has been doing this every night since we put up the Christmas tree on Sunday. I also woke up to find out that my broken knee isn't getting any better -in fact it feels like it's getting worse. And since I also feel kinda lonely and bored I decided to do two things: make Christmas presents and moan and complain here on the blog. As The Kitchen Witch pointed out in one of her recent posts "This blogging stuff is kind of cool. I get to bitch to a much wider audience. It's very cathartic."

She's right. And she's a wonderful writer, so if you haven't done so yet, check out her blog.

Now, on with the complaining. I have just listened to a voicemail message that made me want to throw the phone out of the window. This morning I'm in such a grouchy mood I'm screening calls. All of them. So when my not-so-dear boyfriend called, I didn't pick up. Which is good, I guess, since the message alone made me mad enough to consider throwing a $300 iPhone out of the window. He was supposed to come home Monday night, but that quickly became Tuesday. Which is fine. I'm having such a great time sitting here with my broken leg, trying to keep the cat out of the Christmas tree! In the mean time he's in Key West, "working" on a boat and basically being on vacation. He's so busy he can't even bother to call, Sunday or Monday, and when he finally calls on Tuesday is to ask me if it's ok for him to come on Wednesday -today- by noon. Which, of course, is a retorical question, since it's more than clear that he has already made up his mind. Whatever. What threw me over the edge is the message I just listened to. At noon he calls to tell me that he's not even leaving for another couple of hours, which means that maybe -if he leaves on time, if there is no traffic, if he never stops to pee or get gas- he'll be home at 8 p.m.

By then I'll have somehow carted my ass to an oyster party -180 pounds of oysters... can you imagine that?- bring my spiced almonds as a gift. See? There was a connection between the bitching and the recipe!

SPICED ALMONDS
(adapeted from Cooking Light)

1 tablespoon water
1 large egg white
1 pound raw, unblanched almonds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon chili powder

Preheat oven to 300°.

Combine 1 tablespoon water and egg white in a large bowl; stir with a whisk until foamy. Add almonds; toss well to coat. Place almonds in a colander, and drain 5 minutes.

Combine almonds, sugar, and next 5 ingredients (through chili powder) in a large bowl; toss to coat. Spread almond mixture in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 300° for 15 minutes. Stir almond mixture; reduce oven temperature to 275°. Bake an additional 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from oven; cool 5 minutes. Break apart any clusters. Cool completely.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Spiked apple cider

As I was saying in yesterday's post, while my mom worked relentlessly on getting my Christmas tree decorated I was working as relentlessly on drinking a whole pot of hot apple cider -I figured it would help ease both the pain and the boredom. I don't remember exactly when I became such a fan of hot, alcoholic drinks, but I suspect it has something to do with going to the Christmas open air market in Bressanone, Italy. Nowadays going to this quaint mountain markets has become such a fad that people jam up every possible highway and road leading to the Dolomites, but back then, in the early nineties, only locals and people who had vacation homes in the area knew about them.

It was probably 1993 or so and my family and I were staying at our place in the Dolomites for a long weekend -December 7 is a holiday in Milano because it's Saint Ambrose, Milano's patron saint; Demeber 8 is a holiday in Italy because it's the Immaculate Conception. That long weekend, every year, was also the first weekend when the ski lifts would open, which is mainly why we were in the Dolomites to begin with. But I digress. The point is that that year we decided to go check out one of these Christmas markets in Bressanone. I was 13 and was entering that age when you can't possibly go anywhere without a) your Walkman b) your friends. So we had my very good friend Giovanna in tow and, as soon as we got to the open air market, the two of us started walking a few feet behind my parents, pretending not to know them, pretending to be there by ourselves. I know, I know. But, hey, we were 13. And while my mom and dad were checking out beautiful hand made, hand carved ornaments and trinkets, Giovanna and I followed the sweet scent of cinnamon and cloves wafting through the cold December air. It led us to an old man stirring a giant pot, a cauldron really, filled with vin brule', mulled wine. It was instant love. We each bought a cup and slowly sipped on it as the snow started to fall. It was the best drink we had ever had.

That's what I was thinking about the other day, as I sipped on my warm apple cider. I was thinking about Christmas markets, snow and hot mulled wine. It made me homesick and at the same time it made me feel better. But then again, maybe that was just the Vicodin kicking in.


SPIKED APPLE CIDER


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
10 black peppercorns
8 whole allspice berries
5 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cups apple cider
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 (2-inch) lemon rind strips
1 cup brandy

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugar and next 4 ingredients (through cinnamon sticks); cook 1 minute. Add cider and next 4 ingredients (through lemon rind); bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in applejack. Strain; discard solids.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spicy chocolate cookies

What is one supposed to do, home alone, with a broken knee? I wouldn't know because I never had a broken bone before, but I'm slowly learning to make the time go by a little faster and savor each daily activity like it's a treat. It helps a bunch that it takes me a good five minutes to put leggings on without bending the wounded knee and that after I'm done I kinda have to sit down and catch my breath as if I were ninety. But other than dressing myself and flipping through magazines at an alarmingly low speed I had to find something else to do to occupy my weekend. So I invited (begged) my mom to come over and make my Christmas tree while I sat next to it drinking spiked hot cider and giving her directions. While she worked on the tree I played Christmas music and went through the December issue of Cooking Light, trying to figure out what we are going to cook on the Eve for dinner and on the big day for lunch. Of course there were far too many good recipes to decide there and then, but in the mean time I bumped into these Mexican chocolate cookies, read the recipe twice and decided it was worth a try. So as soon as she was done decorating my tree I wobbled into the kitchen and we made the cookies, using Lindt chili chocolate instead of regular chocolate because, around here, we like everything spicy, including our cookies. They turned out delicious. They are light enough that you can eat more than one (or two or three), yet they are rich in flavor and go extremely well with coffee.

SPICY CHOCOLATE COOKIES
(adapted from Cooking Light)

5 ounces chili or bittersweet (60 to 70 percent) chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place chocolate in a small glass bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); stir with a whisk.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg; beat well. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until almost set. Remove from oven. Cool on pans 2 minutes or until set. Remove from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Comfort me with ham soup

Yesterday I finally went to the doctor to have my knee checked and was mildly surprised when he told me that I have a fractured knee cap. The good news, he said, is that it doesn't need surgery and doesn't need a cast. Only six weeks of crutches and a removable knee brace. At first I was giddy with excitement -who wouldn't be after finding out she doesn't need surgery? But then reality sunk in. The truth is, I wasn't expecting a broken bone for the simple reason that I had never broken a bone before. I skied like maniac for twenty years, went ice-skating, horse back riding, played tennis, soccer and volleyball, waterskied, wakeboarded and surfed. And I never broke a bone. Then I cook Thaksgiving dinner, I slip, and I end up with a fractured knee cap. Seriously. What the hell?!?

Anyhow, after this first realization sunk in another one dawned on me. Six weeks with crutches is a long freaking time. I mean, in six weeks we'll be in 2010 and Christmas will have come and gone, and so will have New Years. And for this long stretch of time I'll be limping around like little Timmy, only with a less cheery attitude and more alcohol in my free hand.

A bunch of questions immediately arose. How am I going to decorate the house? What about the Christmas tree? Who's going to cook now that I can't stand for more than 2 minutes without getting tired? How stupid am I going to look in my fabulous red dress, killer heels and crutches? What am I going to do about our plans to go to New Orleans next week?

The only one I could answer right away was the one about the cooking. I'll still cook. I'll take a chair and sit by the stove and limp around the kitchen to gather ingredients, but I'll cook nevertheless. Otherwise I'm going to go crazy and crazy right now is no good since I'm already pissed. So I cheered myself up by making one of my favorite soups in the world, my version of the US Senate ham and bean soup. I had leftover ham from when my friends were here for Thanksgiving and also some leftover mashed potatoes. Bean were in the pantry and my fridge was packed with fresh herbs -what else could I ask for? (Besides a healed knee, that is.)

HAM AND BEAN SOUP

One ham bone (with a little meat attached)
4 cups leftover ham meat, cut into strips
8 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs of thyme
A few sage leaves
2 large onions
2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1 pound navy beans, soaked overnight

Place ham bone, water and one chopped onion in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, add thyme and lower heat to low. Simmer for at least four hours.

Remove and discard solids. Add beans to ham broth, season with salt and pepper and add sage. Simmer on low for two hours, until beans are tender. Add a chopped onion, mashed potatoes and ham meat. Simmer for another 20 minutes, until warm. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Toast cups


What to do with the stupid turkey? When you happen to buy a 12 pound turkey and you only have a few people to feed leftovers can become kind of overwhelming. Especially if you don't particularly like turkey. Which I don't. I mean, I'll eat it -especially if brined and moist as the one I prepared this year!)- but after a few sliced of breast meat and a couple of turkey sandwiches I quickly become tired of it. You could say that us Italians have a thing against turkey. I know my family does, and that's why we had never roasted one before five or six years ago. And that's also why we don't have many ways of enjoying the leftovers, mostly because, well, we technically don't enjoy turkey meat.

Enters Tommy, who is a real American and likes turkey. And also happens to have this recipe to use up the leftovers that is simply delicious. The first time he made it for me I was amazed. Apparently there was a good way to use the stupid leftover turkey. So from that day on I started looking forward to roasting chickens and turkeys because I knew what I was going to do with the leftovers: toast cups. When Tommy was little his mother used to make the "cups" by buttering bread slices and stuffing them in a muffin pan. That happens to be my favorite way of making them too, but Tommy nowadays likes them better with Pillsbury puff pastry. and since he's the one who gave me the recipe to begin with, I happily comply.

TOAST CUPS

One package Pillsbury puff pastries
1 large can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 onion, minced
1 can sweet peas
Leftover turkey
Salt and pepper, to taste

Chop the onion and saute it with a little butter in a large Dutch oven for a few minutes. Add the cream of chicken soup, peas and leftover turkey. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Turn the heat to medium low and let the concoction warm up slowly.

In the mean time, bake the individual puff pastries according to the directions on the package (it takes about 20 minutes to cook them.)

Remove the top from each puff pastry and pour turkey mixture in them. Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Frollini, the cookies of my childhood

Sometimes the best discoveries happen by mistake.

When I was in elementary school my mom used to bake a delicious pear and chocolate tart. It was the perfect winter treat: the pears were in season, sweet and plump, and the gooey dark chocolate complemented them both in texture and flavor. But what was even better was the crust.

Buttery and crumbly, this version of “pasta frolla” (a type of dough every Italian kid loves) was especially good when dunked in milk.

So, when on one occasion my mom made too much dough for the tart, she decided to turn the extra into cookies — and named them “frollini” (small “frolla” cookies). Ever since then — even though she doesn’t make the tart quite so often — she always makes extra dough, on purpose, so we can treat ourselves to milk and cookies.

They are perfect to snack on while decorating the house and the Christmas tree, which reminds me that I have to get my beloved boyfriend to take the tree down from its hiding space in the garage and I have to dig out the ornaments from wherever I stuffed them last January. Something tells me I'll definitely be needing cookies. And most likely crutches.

FROLLINI:

2 1/4 cups white, all-purpose flour

3/4 cups sugar

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 egg yolks

Grated peel of 1/3 a lemon

A pinch of salt


Place the flour on your work space and make a well in it. Add all the other ingredients in the well and kneed the mixture with your hands until it forms a ball of dough.

Divide the dough in two equal parts. Place the first half on a sheet of parchment paper and roll it with a rolling pin until it’s less than 1/2 inch thick. Cut the dough with cookie cutters. Repeat with second half of dough.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or until done.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Best sausage and apple stuffing

Do I have a picture of the actual stuffing with deliciously browned bread and all? No. And why is that? Because this year I decided to go and injure myself right before Thanksgiving dinner was done. As a matter of fact, putting the stuffing together was the last thing I did before I slipped and hurt my knee so badly I had to spend the rest of the night with my ass parked on a chair and my left leg up in the air, ice on the knee and all.

How on earth did I manage to hurt myself that bad, one might ask. Actually a lot of people asked, including my mother. Her and dad showed up at my house shortly after the accident bearing gifts of cranberry sauce, pear pie and lots of good quality red wine, only to find their daughter sitting on a chair, chugging a martini and -I'm not ashamed to admit- crying a little. I wasn't crying for the pain, although it did hurt. I was crying because I was so royally pissed and I felt so useless, sitting there, having to tell everyone else what to do to finish the feast I had started to cook. My mother, of course, sprung into action and made the gravy for me, while someone else put my stuffing in the oven. The question though -how did you manage to fall- was still being asked because, according to my family and friends, only old ladies fall down in their house and break their hip. Granted that I didn't have a broken hip, they were still curious. And the answer is really simple: I was rushing around the kitchen and slipped on some water -water that had dripped from one of the coolers, possibly the one were I brined the turkey. Anyway, that's it. That easy. One second you are up and moving, the next you are sitting on a chair with a knee brace and a doctor's appointment on Wednesday. But the good news is that the stuffing turned out great, which made me particularly happy because I love stuffing and I made this one up instead of following the recipes I had. And for those of you who are wondering what happened to my great plans of making a second stuffing with oysters in it... well, you can figure I wasn't exactly in the right shape for that.

SAUSAGE AND APPLE STUFFING:

Cooking spray
2 links hot Italian sausage
10 ounces frozen pearl onions
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 small red Michigan apples, skin on, chopped
1/2 large fennel bulb, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 loaf of your favorite bread (I used potato bread), cubed and toasted
2 eggs
1 cup chicken broth

In a large skillet brown the sausage in its own fat, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add frozen pearl onions and sprinkle with brown sugar. Cool until the onions are tender and sugar has dissolved, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add celery, fennel and apple (I left the skins on for color, but you can remove them if you like.) Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with thyme and cook for about ten minutes.

Spray a 10x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Mix vegetable mixture and bread cubes in it. In a small bowl beat the eggs into the broth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over bread and veggie mixture, toss to coat. Bake in a 400F oven for 45 minutes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Country Cooking of Ireland

About a week ago my boss surprised me by asking me if I had time to squeeze in one extra story in my schedule and I said yes, blindly, mostly because she assured me it was going to be "a quick one". Little did I know, I was in for a treat. A huge treat. Turns out award-winning food writer Colman Andrews, co-founder of Saveur magazine, is coming to Naples -of all places!- to present his new cookbook, "The Country Cooking of Ireland". Also turns out, I get the honor of interview him. On the phone, but still. He e-maild me to tell me he would call me at 3 p.m. and from that moment on I was so excited I could barely function. I know, I sound like a big unprofessional dork, but Colman Andrews has won six James Beard awards -the highest award a food journalist can dream of- and he writes the kind of stories and articles that make me hope that one day I will write like him.

To make a long story short, he called me at 3 p.m. on the dot and he made every second of the interview so pleasant and easy I ended up feeling a little silly for being so nervous in the beginning. We talked about his book, about Gourmet magazine's folding, about ingredients and trends in journalism. It was a conversation I wish lasted longer. And to top off an already great converstion, when I walked into the office the other day I found a copy of his book sitting on y desk. The book itself is a 2-ince high work of art that will speak to your soul about Irish cuisine. Flipping through it remind me of the wonderful vacation my family took in Ireland when I was 10 and also inspired me to go back there asap AND start cooking some serious Irish fare. The recipe, and there is lots of them, range from the most common (think Irish stew and soda bread) to incredible soup, pork and salmon recipes I would have never dreamed of if it weren't for Colman Andrews. The pictures, too, are amzing and make your mouth water with every page you turn. Christopher Hirsheimer is a phenomenal photographer and she can capture detail in her pictures that the naked eye can't.

Well, the really exciting news is that Colman Andrews is going to be here today and I'm going to downtown Naples, at Sea Salt restaurant, to meet the man himself and also chef owner Fabrizio Aielli (a fellow Northern Italian). It's about the most exciting thing that happened to me in a long time so bear with me!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pear pie with caramel sauce

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was great, although maybe not as eventful as mine. I'm currently sitting on my couch with a big glass of red wine in my hand and a very swollen left knee that hurts like hell. Last night, as the turkey was almost done and we were about to start making oysters Rockefeller I slipped on a little bit of water that was on the kitchen floor and flew up in the air and down on the floor so fast I didn't know what hit me. One second I was happily skipping around the kitchen making Thanksgiving dinner. The next I was landing square on my left knee, putting all my weight on in. It hurt right away. Bad. Tommy and my friends put me in a chair, made me a Martini and elevated my leg (in that order). You know, the things good friends do when you injure your self in the midst of a freaking cooking marathon. Naturally there was no time for dwelling, for my parents were due to arrive in minutes and several things still had to be done -the potatoes had to be mashed, the gravy had to be made, the stuffing was sitting half made half not on the counter. So they left me sitting in my chair, in the kitchen, martini in hand and ice on my knee, and they started running around the kitchen, getting stuff done, following my orders as I barked them out. Within minutes my parents were in the kitchen also, dinner was almost ready and I had rightfully won myself the nickname of "kitchen nazi".

But what's important is that Thanksgiving dinner was fabulous. And boy, was I glad my mom had made this wonderful pie!

PEAR PIE WITH CARAMEL SAUCE

From Cooking Light:

3 ounces all-purpose flour, divided (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 medium firm pears, peeled, cored, and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
Cooking spray
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Sauce:

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare pie, weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 1/2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add juice and pears to flour mixture; toss gently to coat. Roll dough into an 11-inch circle; fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Fold edges under and flute. Arrange pear mixture in an even layer in prepared crust.

Combine remaining 1 1/2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) flour and 1/3 cup brown sugar in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons cold butter to brown sugar mixture; cut in with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle butter mixture evenly over pears. Bake at 375° for 1 hour or until lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes.

To prepare sauce, combine 1/3 cup brown sugar, cream, and 2 tablespoons softened butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in 2 teaspoons water. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed with pie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Italian style pumpkin "pie"

For those of you who were wondering, no, I haven't disappeared into thin air. I was out of town again for the weekend and then I was scrambling to get all my work done before today because I had asked for today off in order to get stuff done for the big Thanksgiving feast. Also my good childhood friend Margherita is coming into town tonight so I wanted to be ready to drink myself sillier-than-usual, without having to worry about prepping food and slaving in the kitchen.

This morning I woke up at 8 to see one of the crappiest, rainiest days of the year outside my window and all I could think was:
a) Margherita is going to be pissed because she's coming here from NYC to get a tan and go to the beach
b) On the bright side I'll get tons of crap done thanks to the inclement weather

Well, we all know what happens to good intentions.

So far I have only placed the bird in a cooler with its brine and cooked some veggies and sausage mixture for the stuffing. Not as much as I thought I'd get done, I admit. But, oh well, no point sitting here feeling sorry for myself, right? After all, I still have to prepare tonight's dinner, so I'm not quite sure why I'm freaking out about tomorrow's.

The only bit of good news that I have is that last night Tommy and I went to my parents' house for dinner and my mom prepared a wonderful, wonderful dish she learned to make while visiting her good friend Dora in Mantua this past September. It's not your average pumpkin pie, and no, it cannot be prepared with canned pumpkin, but it' a delicious appetizer, especially when pared up with good quality Italian cold cuts such as prosciutto, soppressata and breasola. It was so good we decided to make it as a side dish for Thanksgiving tomorrow.

ITALIAN STYLE PUMPKIN "PIE"

1 medium pie pumpkin
1 cup pine nuts
A few pieces of pear mostarda (available at specialty stores)
10 amaretti cookies, crumbled
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup pecorino romano cheese
3/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
Butter

Grease a pie tin with butter. Cut pumpkin into thin slices and place a layer into buttered thin. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, half the pine nuts, half the amaretti cookies and half the cheese. Make another pumpkin layer and season the same way. Top with a few small cubes of butter.
Cover pie with foil. Cook covered at 385F for about an hour. Serve with cold cuts if desired.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving countdown!



A week from today I'll be tackling Thanksgiving for the 4th time in my life and, also, for the 4th in a row. I have just written a "strategic guide to Thanksgiving" for the paper I work for and was surprised to receive many e-mails about it. Apparently I wasn't the only one to make a few dramatic mistakes the first time I hosted a turkey dinner. I'm no expert now, but I got better with the years and once again I'm pretty psyched to be the one cooking the Thanksgiving feast. If you want to read my witticism about turkey day, here's a link to my article in the newspaper. After long deliberation I have finally come up with my menu:

Oysters Rockafeller
Roasted herbed turkey with truffle gravy
Oyster dressing
Chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing
Mashed sweet potatoes with brown sugar and nut crust
Cranberry chutney
Brussels sprouts with walnuts and apples
Pear pie with strusel topping and caramel sauce

Wish me luck. And yes, I have asked my mother to make a couple of the dishes, especially since with the perfect timing that characterizes us we have been out of town last weekend and we are going out of town again this weekend, so I will have no time to prep for the big day other than Tuesday night and Wednesday (which thank God I have taken off work). Because, you know, we like to make everything a challenge.
We haven't left town for ten months and we decide to do so twice just before we host Thanksgiving and have friends staying with us. Again: wish me luck.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maritime pork tenderloin marinade


For those of you who are wondering, no, this pork tenderloin is not stuffed with crabmeat (which I'm allergic to anyway) or topped with a skewer of plump Gulf shrimp a la surf & turf. The reason why this pork tenderloin is called "maritime" is because it was made with a lot of love and lots and lots of swearing on a sailboat. I've been down in Key West since Thursday night and, unfortunately, I'm going home tomorrow. But still there have been many fun times, including the making of this pork.

Friday, the 13th, we had no bad luck. But over the weekend, and even today, we had some -let's call them- "moments". Today, for example, we went 7 miles out in the inflatable to dive a new wreck and, of course, the current was so strong we had to give up. Oh, well, we could still go sailing, no biggie. We get back to the marina, get on the sailboat (which is our floating house for the week) and get all read to go. Battery dead - no way we could idle out of the harbor. Yes. No comment.

So instead of going for a sunset sail and spending the night out in the bay on a hook, we went and watched sunset at Mallory Square missed it because traffic was more retarded than usual and ended up scarfing down raw oysters at the Half Shell again (that part of our day I enjoyed a lot!)

When we got back to the marina and on the boat, though, we had the pork I had so zealously marinated all day and Tommy cooked it on the grill with some sweet potatoes -the perfect ending to a less than stellar day. But you know what? I'm still on vacation. So who cares how stellar a day is or isn't or how crappy m food photography can be. This is Key West. People start drinking at 10 a.m.

Enough said.

"MARITIME" PORK MARINADE

2 pounds pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper
1 cup soy sauce
2 minced cloves of garlic
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup dijon mustard
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Sprinkle pork tenderloins with salt and pepper to your liking. Put pork in a ziploc bag and pour in all other ingredients. Swish around and refrigerate for a few hours, turning occasionally to coat. Discard marinade and grill pork on medium high.

Manatee time!

This post has absolutely NOTHING to do with food and recipes, but I thought it would be worth posting. I was just sitting on the dock here in Key West, getting ready to go diving when this manatee (see cow) came up on the surface and started playing with the hose we were using to rinse our gear. Check it out -I've lived in Florida for almost ten years and have never seen anything like this before!
video

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vacation


I'm on a mini-vacation in Key West, Fla., sailing, diving and trying not to drink before noon. I'll be back to reality on Wednesday and will have many recipe/food related stories to post. Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gravlax

So I have this thing for salmon -for me to eat it it must be either smoked or wild caught. I refuse to eat the farm raised type mostly because it tastes so fishy it makes my stomach turn and also because if you read how they live in captivity and what they eat it will turn you off it forever. Anyhow, I had a beautiful piece of wild caught salmon in the freezer, but it wasn't really big enough to make an entree out of it, so I decided to make gravlax instead. Gravlax is a Swedish dish and, to my knowledge, the only Swedish contribution to world cuisine. Those of you who have read Stieg Larsson's novels will probably know that all they eat in Sweden is toast, coffee and, when they get all crazy and reckless, cereal. Never in one of his huge books does Larsson mention gravlax -which is a pity because it's delicious and easy to make. The only tricky part is that you have to plan ahead for it because it has to marinate for 24 hours. Other than that it's completly idiot-proof.

GRAVLAX
One pound of salmon fillet, skin on
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
A large bunch of fresh dill

Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large piece of plastic wrap.

Mix salt, pepper and sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle evenly over salmon, until the flesh is completly covered with salt mixture. Place dill on top of salmon.

Wrap the salmon up, as tightly as possible, in the plastic wrap. Use a second sheet of plastic wrap to wrap again. Place the package in a container (I used a pyrex) and place in the fridge for at least 48 hours. You will notice some liquid forming in the container -it's normal.

After two days open the pacakge, discard the dill and gently wash the salmon with cold water. Place on a cutting board and cut thinly, from the tail end first, detaching each slice from the skin. Serve with dill, crackers, sour cream and slices of lemon.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Orecchiette with meatsauce


When I was little I didn't like meatsauce. This tidbit of information probably won't shock anyone since I have confessed more than once that I used to be a pain in the ass picky eater when I was little. It all started in preschool. I went to a Montessori preschool in Milan and absolutely loved it. We were free to learn what we wanted to learn at our own pace, we could move our little desks wherever we fancied and lunch was served in a beautiful room that had an aquarium in it. It was the best three years of my life and I wish that I could have gone to a Montessori elementary, middle and high school. Hell, I wish I could have gone to a Montessori university and maybe landed a Montessori-style job. Wouldn't that be fun? Being able to to as you wish, getting stuff done because you want to and not because someone is going to fire you? Instead I receive e-mails from HR that remind all of us that we should keep cutesy personal objects on our desk to a minimum and that leggings are not proper office attire. It goes without saying, I wear leggings pretty much every day and have taped the cutest picture of my cat to my cubicle. Yes, I'm a rebel like that.

Anyways, back to preschool. I only have one bad memory of those three years and it has to do with food. Meatsauce, to be exact. On the first week I was attending preschool, on Wednesday, the menu taped on the door read "Vulcano-style meat". It turned out to be nothing other than meat sauce and I hated it. Because we were not allowed to throw away food I sat in the dining room for two hours, well after all the other kids had gone out to play, and had to eat the whole thing. After that incident, every Wednesday, my mom would leave a not asking to subsitute my meal with ham and carrots. See, at the Montessori preschool they did that. They substituted your meal if your parents asked.

And so meat sauce, for a long time, was taboo at my house, until I grew out of this ridicolus stage and started loving it.

MEAT SAUCE:
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground pork
2 slices of bacon
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
1 onion
Salt and pepper, to taste
A bottle of good red wine
Beef broth
2 bay leaves

Mince the bacon and brown it in a little olive oil in a large stock pot. Mince the vegetables and add them to the same pot. Sautee them for about five minutes. Add the ground meat, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until browned, stirring frequently.

Add a couple of glasses of red wine, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add enough beef broth to cover the meat, throw in the bay leaves, cover and simmer on very low heat for a couple of hours. Serve over orecchiette.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Polenta, gorgonzola and speck bites


Polenta is in my blood. My mother's family hails from the region of Veneto, where polenta is an everyday staple. She was born and raised in Milano, but when she was little she often visited her cousins, aunts and uncles at their farm in the country, where fruit was freshly picked from the trees and an old aunt was roasting chicken on the spit or making polenta. Making real polenta, you see, is no easy task. You have to stir the thing for more than an hour, without interruptions. Imagine that? Stirring a thick, heavy mass for more than one hour with a wooden stick? Neither can I. Nor my mom, for that matter. She always bought instant polenta, which is lovely and takes 5 minutes to cook and virtually no stirring. And of course I've learned from her because if you think that I can stand there and stir a couldron of bubbly yellow stuff for more than an hour, you're sadly mistaken. I might be a witch from time to time, but not that kind of patient witch.

Instant polenta, as I was saying is perfectly ok and most people will not taste the difference. Some will say they do, but they are bluffing. So buy the instant stuff and make polenta as much as you can. Now that is colder out (at least in places that have normal climates, here in Florida I'm still waiting for some kind of relief from the humidity) it's the perfect dish: comforting, filling and, incredibly enough, low in fat. And if you have leftovers you can make this little appetizer bites, which are delicious.

POLENTA BITES
One package of instant polenta
A slab of creamy gorgonzola
A package of speck (smoked prosciutto, available at Costco)

Make polenta according to directions, then pour it into a large pyrex coated with cooking spray and pat it down. Let it cool completly.

Once the polenta is cool, cut it into bite sized squares and place them on a cookie sheet coated with cooking spray. Broil for a minute, so the polenta squares get a little bit of a crust.

Top each square with a little gorgonzola and a piece of speck.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gorgonzola and pear baskets

Gorgonzola and pears. A match made in heaven. If you have never tried it, do so immediately -you'll be hooked for life. It sounds like a strange combo, but the tangy and sharp gorgonzola shines when paired up with sweet pears. In Italian we even have a proverb that says "Al villan non far sapere come e' buono il formaggio con le pere", which means don't tell the farmer how good pears and cheese are together. I'm not sure why -perhaps the farmer would eat all the pears and there wouldn't be any left for us?- but then again most proverbs are silly to say the least.

Back to the dish in question... I made this on Saturday for my mom's Halloween party and it was quite the hit. The original idea was to use those little frozen pastry shells, but after seeing how expensive they are (something like $6 for a box of 12 or 15) I decided to experiment with wonton skins. I had used them recently to make ravioli and discovered that they are delicious and cheap, so I thought, why not try and make little baskets out of them? They turned out perfect -pretty to look at and crunchy- so I added one more thing one can do with wonton skins to my ever-growing list. Who would have thought?

GORGONZOLA & PEAR BASKETS

36 square wonton skins
8 ounces ricotta
8 ounces creamy gorgonzola
Salt to taste
3 pears
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 whole cloves
1/2 cup brandy

To make the baskets you'll need a mini-muffin pan. Spray it with cooking spay and gently stuff a wonton skin in each hole. Bake in three batches for 7 minutes in a 350F preheated oven. Remove from muffin pan and place on a tray to cool.

Mix the two cheeses in a bowl using an immersion blender and season with salt to taste. Set aside.

Cut pears into 36 bite-sized pieces, place in a skillet, sprinkle with brown sugar and douse with brandy. Add the cloves and simmer for about ten minutes, until caramelized.

Assemble the baskets just before serving, spooning a little cheese mixture in each and topping with a piece of pear.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Italian flag" mahi mahi

Green, white and red... get it? The colors of the Italian flag. It's ok if you didn't, neither did my boyfriend at first. He was too busy connecting and ohhhhing and ahhhhing over our new blue ray dvd player (courtesy of my mom and dad). In the mean time I was concocting this Italian flag inspired mahi mahi dish which turned out beautiful to look at and very yummy. The red is a sweet and spicy homemade tomato jam, while the green is a very healthy broccoli puree, both of which go together well with a mild fish like mahi mahi. I poached the fish in vermouth and garlic, mostly because I realized I didn't have any white wine on hand and it was way to late to go to the store. Vermouth gives food a pleasant sweetness so I use it often as a substitute for wine. I also use it often to make martinis, but that's another story.

Speaking of booze, since party season is coming up I will start posting some cocktail recipes soon, maybe as soon as tomorrow, but in the mean click here to read a story I wrote for today's paper with some recipes and ideas for Halloween parties.

ITALIAN FLAG MAHI MAHI
Serves 2

For the green:
1 steam-in-bag bag of broccoli
1/4 cup broth
Crushed red pepper and salt to taste

Steam broccoli in their bag in the microwave for 3 minutes. Using a food processor bland them until you have a puree, pour in a saucepan and season with salt and crushed red pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

For the red:
3 large tomatoes
1 small onion
1 jalapeno, minced or 2 tablespoons jalapeno jelly
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Grate onion and tomatoes in a saucepan, add jalapeno, sugar and salt and simmer until tomato water evaporates, about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and keep warm.

For the white:
2 mahi mahi fillets
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 clove of garlic
Vermouth

Season fish with salt and pepper, place in a pan with two cloves of garlic and a half inch of vermouth. Simmer gently, flipping once until vermouth is almost all evaporated, about 10 minutes. Serve with broccoli puree and tomato jam.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pork and sweet potato goulash


I know. Goulash isn't made with pork and usually you don't see sweet potatoes anywhere near it. But as it often happens with me, I had decided that that's what I wanted to cook last night and -dammit- nothing was going to stop me from having a delicious bowl of goulash. Not the fact that I didn't have beef in the fridge. Or potatoes in the pantry. Or pink paprika, for that matter. I decided that pork, yams and hot smoked paprika would make wonderful substitutes and well, they did. Of course my goulash had little to do with the stew I used to eat in the Italian Alps near the border of Austria. It was thicker and spicier, and at the same time sweeter because of the sweet potatoes. In one word, it was good, just the perfect way to end an almost flawless weekend. I served mine over egg noodles, but I'm sure it's very good by itself or, if you are feeling creative, with rice.

PORK AND SWEET POTATO GOULASH:

1 1/2 pounds pork loin, cubed
2 yellow onions, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cipolle bionde, tritate
3 tabelspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 carrot, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat a little oil in a casserole, add the onions and sautee for a few minutes, until tender. Add garlic and pork, season with salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Lower heat to low. Stir in paprika and cumin, mix well and pour in a cup of water. Simmer on low for about 45 minutes.

Add potatoes, carrot, bell pepper and more water, enough to cover the stew. Cook for ten minutes more, then add the tomatoes. Adjust salt and pepper, cook for ten minutes more and serve over egg noodles.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Concord grape muffins


When I was a kid we had concord grapes growing over our back porch -quite a curious fact since we lived in the middle of a big city. But the grapes grew plump and perfect and in early September I started noticing that day by day they would slowly change from green to dark purple. The anticipation almost killed me. I would beg my parents to harvest "just a few grapes", but we usually had to wait until the end of the month, when they were all of the sudden ripe and ready to eat. Of course my mother was presented with the problem of what to do with baskets and baskets of concord grapes and she usually started a campaign to give most of them away to friends and family members. It was a desperate endeavor, of course, because you know how hard it is to give away mounds of produce to people that already have tons of it at home. I wish she had known that concord grapes are amazingly good in muffins, something I discovered this morning after finding out that my grapes were getting dangerously close to that point where you have to throw them out. I made a big batch so that I can give some to her and make her, too, wish she had known about this recipe when we had our annual grape invasion.

Anyways, back to the muffins. I usually make them with bananas and today I thought I'd have to put something thickening in the batter instead of the bananas, something with a similar consistency that would help with the binding. So I thought, why not ricotta? Well... wow! What a discovery. It made them incredibly moist and fluffy -better than all the other muffins I've ever made put together. Yes. That good.

CONCORD GRAPE MUFFINS
Makes 12

9 ounces ricotta
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
3 ounces almonds, pulverized in a food processor (or you can use almond flour if you can find. I couldn't. Not even at Whole Foods)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups concord grapes

In a large bowl beat the eggs into the ricotta until smooth. Slowly add the sugar, flour and almonds, baking soda and baking powder. Stir with a spoon until just mixed. Fold in grapes.

Cook in 350F oven for about 25 minutes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two squash soup

I've been incredibly lazy lately. I had all these grand ideas for the blog and was determined to post on a daily -or at least regular- basis. And then it happened. I got slammed at work and have been writing so much that when I get home the last thing I want to do is write some more. And I have also been distracted by many different problems and thoughts, the biggest of all being that I'm seriously thinking about starting my own business and doing so in Italy. I know, I know. That's why I've been distracted: I have been wrecking my brain, trying to understand what I want and what I need.

Anyways, I was sitting at my desk this morning and all of the sudden I realized that it's October 22nd and that I'm not ready for Halloween. I have no costume ideas and no parties to go to, except for my parents' party where, I'm hoping, I won't have to cook too much. Crazy, right? For some weird reason I'm not even in the mood to cook these days. Maybe it's the weather. After a couple of beautiful, cooler days the temperature has gone up again and I abruptly stopped dreaming of stews and soups and turned the a/c on again.

But, before I got preoccupied, before I got lazy and before the temperature went up I made this lovely squash soup and I have to say that I can't wait for winter to start for real so that I can make it more often. It's absolutely delicious.

TWO SQUASH SOUP

1 acorn squash, halved and seeded
1 butternut squash, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cooking spray
2 sliced yellow onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
4 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground allspice

Preheat oven to 400°.

Rub the insides of each squash half with olive oil, place squash halves cut side up on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until tender.Scoop pulp out.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion; sauté until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add squash, 4 cups water, and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Blend until smooth with an immersion blender.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Potato gnocchi

This is probably the recipe that most reminds me of my paternal grandma, Mina. She used to make gnocchi for me every Wednesday for lunch and let me tell you, they were the best. They were soft, but not too soft, and she made them with melted butter, cheese and sage. They were simple, yet the most delicious dish in the world.

Needless to say, my grandma didn't have a proper recipe for her gnocchi. Like most cooks of her generation -class 1908- she knew how to make them by heart and never knew the right doses. When asked how much flour we needed, her reply was "Enough." Enough for the gnocchi to bind, but not so much that would make them doughy and hard.

So the other night my mom and I made gnocchi to celebrate my belated birthday. While we were making them we talked about grandma and when we tried the first one we all agreed that she would have been very happy with the result.

GNOCCHI
For 4

2 pounds russet potatoes
1 egg
about 1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt

Boil the potatoes, with their skin on, in abundant water until tender -about 45 minutes. Remove from water and peel. Using a potato ricer mash the potatoes in a mound on your working surface. Sprinkle with salt. Beat the egg and place it on top. Slowly add the flour as you work the dough with your hands. Work the dough until moist but not sticky.

Cut the dough into thick slices. Grab one slice at the time and roll it on your working surface (sprinkled with flour) until you have what my grandma called "dough snakes", as thick as our thumb. Cut each snake into 3/4 inch long gnocchi.

Holding a fork in one hand gently but firmly roll each gnocchi down the fork's tines, giving it a "C" shape and impressing the tines on one side of the gnocchi.

Heat a large pot of water and salt it as if for making pasta. When it boils cook gnocchi in batches. When they float on the surface they are cooked, remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm in a serving bowl until all gnocchi are cooked. Serve with your favorite sauce.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baked chicken with fennel


More poultry recipes? Well yes. I'm broke and chicken was on sale for a while, so now I'm living off what's in the freezer. I grew up in a family were poultry never ranked very high. To this day, every November, my dad asks full hope:
"Can we have ham for Thanksgiving?"
To which I reply:
"Absolutely not. Americans have turkey for Thanksgiving and we are going to follow the tradition!"
"But we are Italian..." Nice try. That's the only occasion when he conveniently forgets that we have both passports.
Anyways. Needless to say my mom never made chicken when I was a kid, with two exceptions: her famous and delicious chicken curry and her Sunday toasted chicken.

So I find it amusing that nowadays I cook chicken several times a week and that I actually enjoy eating it. When it comes to chicken I was a late bloomer (I was late bloomer for many other things, culinary and not, but that's another story). I started exploring chicken recipes when I was 22, living on my own for the first time -no parents, no roommates, no boyfriends. At the time I owned one cookbook, a hard cover binding copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, the red and white checkered one. I flipped through it from cover to cover and found out that chicken can be made in a million different ways, many of which only include my favorite part of the bird: the breast. It was all downhill from there. Once I started I couldn't stop and seven years and 130 cookbooks later I still cook chicken like it's my job. This one, inspired by a Weight Watchers recipe, is really simple to make and it has a wonderful fennel flavor -granted that you like fennel of course.

BAKED CHICKEN WITH FENNEL

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 red onion, sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 425F.

Season both sides of chicken breasts with salt and crushed red pepper to taste. Place sliced onion and fennel on the bottom of a pyrex or roasting pan, place chicken on top, add wine and broth and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan and shred or cut into slices. Set aside. Keep cooking the vegetables for about 30 minutes more. Put chicken back in the pan and cook for 5 more minutes. Drizzle with a little olive oil if you like.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bon Roll, turkey meatloaf extraordinaire


When I lived in Italy there was this amazing pre-packaged food, the Bon Roll. It started out as a pretty basic turkey meatloaf with a ham and cheese filling and then, year after year, they started making more exciting, different ones like speck and radicchio or tuna and capers. The original of course remained my favorite -simple, super easy to make and incredibly good to eat for lunch or dinner. You could find the Bon Roll at any grocery store, in the refrigerated section. All you had to do was take it our of its box, put it in a pyrex with a glass of white wine and a little olive oil and bake it in the oven for about an hour. The result was moist and amazing, especially if you took the time to collect the browned wine from the pyrex and use it as gravy.

To make a long story short, I miss my Bon Roll dearly. There is a long list of ingredients and dishes that I miss from my home country and it might sound a little crazy that a pre-packaged meatloaf would make it into the top 5 -but it does. So I looked it up on the Internet and found several forums discussing the ingredients and how to make one at home. Now, I'm not sure why someone who can go to the store and buy it would muse about how to replicate it home, but I'm happy that they are because thanks to their discussion I was able to make mine in my kitchen 5000 miles away from Italy. It turned out amazingly good and, even better, it tasted just like the real deal. I loved it so much that soon I'm going to try and make all the variations!
BON ROLL TURKEY MEATLOAF

1 1/4 pounds ground turkey breast
3 small potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
2 eggs
Bread crumbs (quantity depends on starchiness of the potatoes)
2 tablespoons minced parseley
4 ounces ham, minced
4 ounces grated white cheddar cheese or provolone
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray
A small glass of white wine or broth

In a large bowl mix the grouond turkey breast with two of the mashed potatoes, one egg, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough breadcrumbs so that the mixture is easy to handle and doesn't fall apart. Set aside.

In another bowl mix ham, cheese, one egg, one mashed potato and a little bread crumbs. Mix well and set aside.

Place the turkey mixture on a large piece of parchement paper and cover with plastic wrap. Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll out the mixture so it has a shape that resembles a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Take ham mixture and place it in the middle of the rectangle, shaping it with your hands in a brick shape. Using the parchment paper wrap the turkey mixture around the ham mixture so that the ham filling is completly enclosed and not visible anymore. You should now have something resebling a meatloaf in fron of you.

Spray a Pyrex with cooking spray, pour a glass of white wine in it and gently roll the loaf into the pyrex. Discard parchment paper. Cook at 350F for about an hour or until golden brown.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cabbage & apples


Man, am I getting old. First I start eating cauliflower (and liking it!), then all of the sudden I'm yearning for some cook cabbage. I'm getting old -that's the only explanation. I grew up loathing both vegetables, as my mother patiently said "One day you'll grow up and like them." I couldn't believe her. I was pretty damn sure that she was wrong and that never in my life I would consider cabbage a treat.

Well, now I do. It started off innocently enough with making -and loving- cole slaw. The next natural step was trying it cooked, something that I put off as long as possible. But the idea of eating slaw for the tenth time in a row convinced me that something had to be done. It was time to tame the red monster and cook it into submission. And that's just what I did. The idea of having cabbage with apples came from an old magazine of mine, Cooking Light of course, that suggests that mixing cabbage with apple is a great way to get kids to eat it. And since I'm a big baby about my vegetables I thought it would be a great way for me to approach it as well.

CABBAGE & APPLES

1 onion, chopped
1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1 apple, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a little bit of oil in a large skillet.

Sautee the onion until soft, then add the cabbage, honey and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is crisp tender, about ten minutes. Add apple, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover again and cook for about 5 minutes longer.

Pasta with pumpkin and sausage

Did you know that canned pumpkin doesn't exist in Europe? Or at least, if it does, is not something you can find at any old grocery store. So whenever you want to make something with pumpkin you have to buy an actual pumpkin, take your chainsaw out to cut it, roast it, puree it and all that. Not that it's impossible to do, but it requires a certain level of commitment and makes pumpkin one of those ingredients you can't use on the spur of the moment. You have to plan ahead and have time for it.

Imagine my joy when I found out that in the U.S. you can buy canned pumpkin and that it tastes great. It was one of those discoveries that made me giddy with excitement, kind of like when I saw a slow cooker for the first time. But that's another story. The canned pumpkin makes impossible to make recipes very possible. Even on a week day, even if you are tired. This pasta i a perfect example -using the canned stuff cuts the preparation time down to nothing and the result is finger licking good.

PASTA WITH PUMPKIN AND SAUSAGE

For 4:
3/4 pound short pasta such as rotini or penne
2 links fresh hot Italian sausage
1 onion, minced
1 sprig rosemary, minced
A pinch of sage
1/2 can of pumpkin
Good quality vegetable or chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in abundant salted water.

In the mean time crumble sausage in a large skillet and brown in its own juices with the minced onion and rosemary. When the sausage is brown add pumpkin and dilute with stock until it reaches a creamy consistency. Season with salt, pepper and sage. Cook for a couple of minutes, until warm. When sauce starts to boil stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and remove from heat.

When pasta is ready and drained add it to the skillet, return it on the stove and cook for a bout a minute, stirring constantly until pasta and sauce are well mixed. Serve with extra cheese on the side.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chicken stuffed with sundried tomatoes and cheese

So where's the chicken, you might ask? It obviously didn't make it into the picture, the main reason being that I was hungry and impatient and I butchered it in such a horrible way it wasn't much of a sight. Also you might notice that the recipe -even the title actually- calls for sun-dried tomatoes, something that isn't in the picture either. Well, here's the thing: I had a bag of sundried tomatoes in my pantry and I knew it, so I obviously didn't stop by the store to get more. Little did I know that the little buggers can go bad. Oh, yeah. Who knew? I certainly didn't. I thought they were indestructible, both because they were dried and because they were in an airtight bag in a dark pantry.

Well, I was wrong.

As soon as I opened the bag I figured that there was something weird going on. The tomatoes were... black. Still dried, but black. And didn't smell like tomatoes anymore. Further investigation led me to discover that they also didn't taste like tomatoes, but more like tar. So I had to improvise and make my own sun-dried tomatoes, or maybe I should say "oven-dried tomatoes". They turned out good. I cut them in halves, sprinkled them with salt and drizzled them with EVOO and a little balsamic vinegar and in they went, with a couple springs of rosemary to dry up. Try them, they are pretty damn good.


CHICKEN STUFFED WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATOES AND CHEESE


2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted
3 tablespoons soft cheese, such as Rondele or Aluette
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
1 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
A few leaves of basil

In a small bowl mix together the tomatoes, cheese and thyme and set aside.

Use a sharp paring knife to cut a horizontal slit through the thickest part of the chicken breast halves to create a "pocket". Stuff each pocket with the tomato and cheese mixture. Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste and dredge in flour.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet, add chicken and brown it on both sides. Remove it from pan and keep warm.

Add vermouth and bring to a boil. In a small bown stir together cornstarch and a couple tablespoons of stock, then add to the pan together with remaining chicken stock and tomato paste.

Return chicken to pan, bring to the simmer and cook covered over low heat for about 10 minutes, basting occasionally with the sauce.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pumpkin and smoked paprika soup

Although the folks at Weather.com and Weather Channel have clearly lied about the temperatures and the humidity dropping, I'm still cooking as if it were fall for real. So pumpkin it is again, this time used to make soup. In the near future, if it ever does cool off I want to make pumpkin risotto and pumpkin ravioli, but for now soup it is because this one is great served both hot or cold.

Either way it's incredibly easy to make and the results are definitely worth it if you like a nice combination of sweet and smoky flavors like I do.

PUMPKIN AND SMOKED PAPRIKA SOUP

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 carrots
1 onion
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 quart good quality chicken stock (or veegtable stock if you want to make it completely vegetarian)
Salt and pepper
1 15-ounce can pumpkin

Chop vegetables and heat oil in a dutch oven casserole. When oil is warm add chopped vegetables, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook everything on medium high heat for about 10 minutes.

Add paprika and garlic and toast for a minute, stirring vigorously.

Process soup with an immersion blender or in a regular blender, then put the pureed vegetables back in the casserole. Add remaining broth, pumpkin, and more salt, eppper and paprika if you'd like. Warm, stirring frequently , for about 10 minutes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tuscan cannellini salad

This has been quite a week and I'm mighty glad that it's almost over. Of course I still have to deal with today and of course today will be the busiest of all days, but I'm trying to stay positive and collected. Really. Last night I was leaving the newsroom at around 6:30 when I suddenly remembered that downstairs they were hosting something along the lines of the first annual health fair, a quick screening that can reduce the monthly medical insurance payment. After making sure that they wouldn't force me to take a flu shot (I seriously rather have the flu), I filled a million forms with my information and off I went to get the first part of my screening done. In a little less than 20 minutes they poked my finger for blood, weighted me (I had boots on, but the nurse mercifully subtracted 3 pounds to the total), calculated my BMI, my cholesterol levels and my blood pressure. Then I was sent off to sit down with a head nurse "to discuss my health problems and find solutions together." Well, apparently I have none. My blood pressure is on the low side, my bad cholesterol is low while my good one is high, my BMI is on the low portion of the normal range and so is my body fat percentage. In other words, the head nurse had nothing to talk to me about and when she assumed out loud that I must have a hell of an exercise routine I didn't dare tell her that I've never set foot in a gym. But when I got home and it was time to decide what to make as a side dish to my fennel crusted pork tenderloin, I decided to do the healthy thing. I put away the instant mashed potatoes and I made this Tuscan bean salad from scratch. So much healthier and much more satisfying!

TUSCAN CANNELLINI SALAD

1 can cannellini beans
1 bayleaf
Salt and pepper
1 tomato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
A bunch of basil

In a small pot gently heat up the cannellini with salt, pepper, bayleaf and a little water. Cook for about 20 minutes, until most water has evaporated. Place beans in a bowl and let them cool down.

When the beans are warm but not too hot anymore add tomato, onion, garlic and olives.

Whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and pour over salad. Mix gently with a wooden spoon and sprinkle with freshly chopped basil.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pumpkin bread

Happy first day of October, everyone! I was pleased to find out that this morning the temperature was below 75F and the humidity was almost gone. I'm sure it's just a tease and we will get some more gross, over 90 degrees days, but it's a start. It's a remainder that in less than 4 weeks summer will be gone for good, even in Florida. To celebrate the beginning of my favorite season I made pumpkin bread, an obvious choice, I agree, but see... I've been itching to make it since the middle of July, so I couldn't resist anymore. Eating the first slice with coffee was the highlight of a day that is already turning out to be a pain, so I'm exceptionally glad that I've baked it.

PUMPKIN BREAD

8 ounces all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil or applesauce
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup water
1/2 can pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine flour, baking powder, bakind soda, salt and spices in a bowl.

Place sugar, oil, milk, and eggs in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add water and pumpkin, and beat at low speed until blended.

Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Spoon batter in a greased loaf pan.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

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