Saturday, December 26, 2009
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:
Leftover ham, turkey or beef or a combination
Ham or prosciutto (if you don't have it lefotver already)
A couple of eggs
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
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
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
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
2 sticks of butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
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
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
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.
24 fresh oysters, in their shell
10 ounce brick frozen chopped spinach
2 green onions
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
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!
(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
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
(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
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
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.
One package Pillsbury puff pastries
1 large can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 onion, minced
1 can sweet peas
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
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.
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.