Monday, November 30, 2009

Pizza di Patate (Potato Pizza)

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I have my husband’s cousin Mario to thank for introducing me to pizza with potatoes. It was back in 1994, when we were visiting my husband’s relatives in Abruzzo, Italy, including Mario, who owns a bread bakery in a small town in the region, not far from the Adriatic Sea.  My husband’s family has been baking bread for generations in Abruzzo and my father-in-law carried the tradition to the new world, after he emigrated as a young man to a small town about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Later in life, he was forced to close the bakery due to health problems and for many years that followed, people in town lamented the dearth of good bread available. To this day, you still can’t buy bread there that compares with what he was able to create from flour, water and yeast.

Bread Shop

Bread at the family bakery in Abruzzo, Italy

But let’s go back to Abruzzo. It was a Sunday afternoon, the only day of rest in a baker’s hard life, but my husband’s cousin Mario cranked up the ovens and mixed dough to make pizza for my family and a bunch of other relatives. We all helped out in the bakery’s kitchen, stretching the dough and spreading goodies on top of at least five enormous pizzas – everything from tuna to potatoes. It was one of those days you always remember, not just for the food, but the fun of everyone pitching in, having a great time together and feeling part of a tradition.  I have to admit that potato pizza sounded a little odd to me at the time, but after I tasted it, I became an instant convert.

mario - pizza in ovenMario and his pizzas in 1994 

I’ve since eaten it in many places in Italy, and my favorite is at La Renella, a great little bread bakery in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, where they also make a dizzying array of delicious pizzas. On any given day, among the dozen or more varieties, you might find potato pizza with sausage bits, or potato pizza with zucchini flowers and mozzarella cheese, both of which are mighty wonderful. They’re more like a foccaccia with toppings – and very different from Neapolitan pizzas.

I also like the potato pizza made by Jim Lahey – the owner of New York City’s pizzeria Co.,  as well as The Sullivan Street Bakery (now located not on Sullivan St., but on the upper West side), and creator of the no-knead bread recipe that made it possible to finally make really good, really crusty bread at home.  I have to give props also to GranDaisy bakery on Sullivan Street, which makes the same delicious pizza as Lahey - no surprise since it’s owned by Lahey’s ex-wife and the recipes not only survive the divorce, but thrive at GranDaisy. I always pop in for a slice before getting my hair cut at the Aveda Institute around the corner on Spring St.

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I was excited to see Lahey’s potato pizza recipe recently on How To Cook A Wolf and also glad to read that Lahey has written “My Bread,” a cookbook with many of the recipes from the bakery.  I made the potato pizza yesterday and it turned out exactly like what is available at the bakery – it’s not a really dough-y or thick pizza. It’s thin, crispy, crunchy and addictive. It’s great hot, cold or at room temperature and it’s appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I told you it’s addictive.

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Basic Pizza Dough
Jim Lahey/My Bread

Printable Recipe here
3 3/4 cups( 500 grams) bread flour
2 1/2  teaspoons (10 grams) instant or other active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt or fine sea salt
3/4 teaspoon plus a pinch (5 grams) sugar
1 1/3 cups(300 grams) room temperature ( about 72*F) water
extra virgin olive oil for the pans
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar
Add the water and using a wooden spoon or your hand mix until blended, at least 30 seconds.
The dough is a bit stiffer than most of the other doughs in the book, not as wet and sticky.
Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, about two hours. (It took my dough about three hours to rise.)
2. Oil two 13 by 18 inch rimmed baking sheets (I used one large rectangular baking sheet and one smaller round pan). Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape half the dough onto an oiled pan in one piece (I used about 3/5 of the dough in the larger rectangular pan and about 2/5 in the smaller, round pan). Gently pull and stretch the dough across the surface of the pan, and use your hands to press it evenly out to the edges. If the dough sticks to your fingers, lightly dust it with flour or coat your hands with oil. Pinch any holes together. Repeat with the second piece.
The dough is ready to top as you like.

1 quart/ 1 liter lukewarm water
4 teaspoons table salt or fine sea salt
1 kilo/about 2 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled (I didn’t have Yukon Gold potatoes and used white baking potatoes and it turned out great.)
1 cup(150 grams)diced yellow onion (I sliced the onion and caramelized it by sautéing in olive oil first.)
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) freshly ground black pepper
about 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 recipe(400 grams) Pizza Dough(recipe above)

about 1 tablespoon (2 grams) fresh rosemary leaves (I chopped the rosemary)

1.Pre-heat oven to 500*F ,with a rack in the middle.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the water and salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Use a mandoline to slice the potatoes very thing(1/16 inch thick) and put the potatoes directly into the salted water so they do not oxidize and turn brown. Let soak in the brine for 1 1/2 hours(or refrigerate and soak for up to 12 hours) , until the slices are wilted and no longer crisp.
3.Drain the potatoes in a colander and use your hands to press out as much water as possible, then pat dry. In a medium bowl, toss together the potato slices, onion, pepper ,and olive oil.
4.Spread the potato mixture evenly over the dough, going all the way to the edges of the pan; put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie , as the outside tends to cook more quickly.
Sprinkle the pie with the rosemary.
5. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the topping is starting to turn golden brown and the crust is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkey Noodle Soup

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If you’re like me, you’ve got a lot of leftovers from Thursday’s Thanksgiving meal and you reheated them on Friday in a second go-round of the holiday meal. Who’s got the energy to refashion the turkey into another fancy meal, and who wants to add even more cheese, cream or other ingredients into already highly caloric leftovers? Lighter fare is what’s called for the day after Thanksgiving, so if you’ve got a turkey carcass with some meat clinging to the bones, don’t toss it out. Recycle it for a meal that’s easy on the digestive system and is a welcome change from all the rich foods of the last two days.

I made the soup and ate some for dinner last night. But I must confess that I couldn’t just ignore all the leftovers from Thursday. So here’s what came after the soup - exactly the same thing I ate on Thanksgiving.

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At least I skipped all the prosciutto, soppressata,  cheeses, artichokes, and other goodies from Thursday’s antipasto platter (I ate those for lunch on Friday). 

November 2009 215 There is still some leftover homemade pie calling my name (pumpkin, apple and pecan) and oh dear, some of that butternut squash gelato I recently made too. Until these leftovers get used up, I may have to spend the next two weeks on the treadmill nonstop. Ciao ciao – off to have some tea and pumpkin pie. See you at the gym.

Turkey Noodle Soup

My son made the soup in a large, two gallon pot. It made enough for dinner and a bunch to freeze too. It’s simple to make – just fill  the pot with water, then add the carcass (ours was 21 pounds), some fresh carrots and celery, and any leftover onions from roasting the turkey if you have them. Otherwise, add a fresh onion cut in half. If your turkey was stuffed, make sure you remove as much of the stuffing as possible. The broth will be a little cloudier than if the turkey weren’t stuffed, but it will taste great in either case. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer on the stove for about three or four hours . Chill it overnight if possible so you can skim off the fat easier when it cools. Strain out all the bones, meat and little bits of herbs. Sift through the bones, removing the meat to add back to the soup when you reheat it. Add noodles if desired.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gobble Gobble

November 2009 176HAPPY THANKSGIVING! If you’ve got any energy or time left before the big turkey day, these cookies are a fun and yummy way to assign seating at your table and give everyone a treat as well.  But if you’re already overwhelmed by too little time and too much shopping, chopping and baking, take a deep breath and tuck this idea away for another holiday or any other event.

November 2009 149 I contacted cake decorator Elizabeth Hodes for this recipe, after eating beautifully decorated cookies she made last year for our mutual friend Kathy’s baby shower. She also made Kathy’s wedding cake several years ago and it was truly a work of art. Take a look at the gorgeous water lilies and cat o’nine tails she created out of sugar for Kathy’s cake – they look so real, but they’re all edible!

Elizabeth Hodes' cake

(Paul Papier photo)

This talented young woman is owner of Elizabeth Hodes Custom Cakes and Sugar Art in New York City and has been featured in national magazines and on cake competitions on The Food Network.  Click on her website to see more of her exquisite work. Elizabeth, who also holds a degree in classics from Princeton University and one in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music, told me she got the recipe for these cookies from Toba Garrett’s book, Creative Cookies.

November 2009 133 I colored some of the cookies a simple yellow, orange or red. Others I made multi-colored using all three colors on one cookie. To get the multi-colored look on the turkeys, I first piped an outline with frosting in one color and let that dry. Then, using a demitasse spoon and/or a tiny knife, I added separate blobs of yellow, orange and red frosting, then carefully smoothed it through the body of the turkeys, swirling the colors around to blend. Let that dry, then pipe the name on top.

November 2009 128-1 From Toba Garrett's book Creative Cookies.

printable recipe here

Butter cookies:

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

a teaspoon vanilla

3 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out

Preheat oven to 350*.  in a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, scraping down bowl as needed.  Beat in egg and mix until well combined.  Sift together baking powder and flour.  Add flour mixture to butter & sugar 1 cup at a time and mix thoroughly; mix last cup in by hand.  Divide dough into two balls and wrap one ball in plastic wrap until ready to use.  On a floured surface, roll out the other ball until about 1/8" (0.3 cm) thick.  Cut cookies out with cookie cutter and transfer onto ungreased cookie sheet or a parchment lined half sheet pan.  Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until edges of cookies begin to brown lightly.  Let cookies rest on cookie sheet until ready to use.

My hints on these are to try not to overwork the dough.  If the dough becomes too soft, stick it in the freezer for a minute.  I've also tried rolling the dough out and putting the entire sheet of dough directly on a rim-less cookie sheet and then cutting the shapes directly on the pan and removing the excess (this is a good method if the shapes are warping when you transfer them to the sheet).

Glace icing:

1 lb confectioners' sugar

3/8 cup milk

3/8 cup light corn syrup

flavor options: 1 tsp concentrated extract, 1 tablespoon alcohol or liqueur or 2 to 3 drops concentrated candy oil.

In a mixing bowl thoroughly mix sugar and milk first.  The icing should be very soft and should have a heavy cream consistency.  Add corn syrup and mix until just combined.  Divide the icing into several bowls and flavor and color each bowl as desired.  Cover bowls with plastic wrap when not in use.

Glace outline icing:

1/2 cup glace icing

6 to 8 heaping tablespoons confectioners' sugar. 

Mix until well combined.  The icing should be very stiff; if it is not stiff enough, add more confectioners' sugar until you have a medium consistency.

To decorate cookies:

Outline cookies with glace outing icing using a piping bag and a size 1 tip (aka a pretty small tip).  Allow to dry slightly.  Make a parchment or wax paper cone and fill with selected glace icing.  Cut off tip of cone and pipe/flow glace icing into the outline on cookie.  Allow to dry (takes a few hours; will take longer in humid climates).


Sunday, November 22, 2009

From the Heart of Lidia, part one

   Lidia book With her natural warmth and love of Italian food and family, she could be your next door neighbor or your Aunt Lidia. Most likely she’s not, but it’s a sure bet that when she calls everyone to the table at the end of her TV show, “Lidia’s Italy,” with her signature, “Tutti a tavola a mangiare,” you’d love to be actually sharing a meal with her and her clan.

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich exudes an easy affability and approachability that belies the empire that is Lidia. In addition to her cookbooks, her TV show and her restaurants, Lidia is also owner of a production company, a line of cooking products, co-owner of vineyards in Italy with her son Joe, and of a travel company with her daughter Tanya.

Maybe that’s the key to her success – the age-old mantra of “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”  She has honed in on her passion of cooking Italian and Italian-American cuisine in all its guises – from agnello to zabaglione and practically everything in between. In her newest book, “Cooking From The Heart of Italy,” Lidia takes her readers and viewers of her companion TV series on a discovery of recipes from some of the lesser-known villages, towns and regions that may not be as familiar as the well-known haunts of Italy.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Lidia on several occasions, including once when she graciously agreed to speak at an Italian cultural institution I’m involved with, and once in Turin, Italy where I was working as a journalist during the 2006 winter Olympics. 


She was no less generous with her time last week when I interviewed her for Ciao Chow Linda. This is the first of two-part series highlighting Lidia’s newest book, “Cooking from the Heart of Italy,” and some of her thoughts on food, family and her future.

Q. Why did you chose these particular recipes from lesser-known areas for “Cooking From The Heart of Italy?”

A. That’s the intent. Besides I’ve done the other ones. Italy has 21 regions. I’ve addressed some of the more popular ones, if you will. I used to get a lot of requests from people who were Calabrese, for instance, or other regions, to include some recipes from their regions in my books. It was just way overdue.

Q. Where do you draw inspiration for the recipes in your cookbooks and on your show?

A. They’re not my recipes. All of them belong to the Italian patrimony and as I go around, I take note of the little things, whether it’s something from a farmer, a salumaio, a cheesemaker, or a woman cooking at home.

Q. What effect has your background of growing up in Istria and emigrating to Trieste, then the United States had on your cooking?

A. A tremendous effect, in the sense that I think the whole philosophy of being close to food, growing food, having a little garden, started in those early years. For me it became a way of cooking, of living and I think I took it with me to America. In all of Italy, the relationship of the garden and the food that we eat, the markets, shopping on daily basis -  that’s a state of mind that maybe is not practiced as much in America but that was so much a part of how I grew up, and what I’m trying to bring to my cooking here. I know that in America it’s hard to go out and shop on a daily basis, but buying local products when they’re available is important and I want to get that across.

Q. What single dish for you evokes best a childhood memory?

A. There are many. The rice we used to cook - with a few leaves of sage, but with oil and a little grana padano. I remember that. It was so comforting and full of taste.

Q. Why do you think it’s important to pass down the recipes for these traditional foods?

A. Americans are looking for a connection. Italy is the number one ethnic cuisine in America. For me, I am once removed (from my ancestors and their recipes in Italy), but I feel that maybe my own children might not have this luxury. I want to put it down because all too often, I hear from people “Yes, my grandfather cooks that recipe, but I never put it down.”  These are the recipes. Maybe their relative added a little bit of this or a little of bit of that that is different, but it’s a basic framework for people to use.

chicken and pine nuts Chicken with olives and pine nuts (recipe below)

Q. Do you think part of your appeal with fans is because of the family connection you demonstrate on the show?

A. Absolutely. I think it’s in the simplicity of the recipe and a connection of a culture through the recipe. I think people appreciate not just the recipes, but the mannerisms, the incorporation of the family. I’m always told “You cook so relaxed.”  It’s real, it’s genuine. People really connect to that.

Q. How long does it take to produce one show? One season’s worth of shows? 

A. I do that in my house, in my kitchen. It means taking the whole living room out that because that becomes the control room. There are more than 20 people who come in. I do it in batches. We can do 13 or 26 episodes. We do two shows a day. It takes three to four hours to film one episode of cooking.


Q. How much time do you spend in Italy each year?

A. I spend about two to three months. We have the winery in Friuli, and our home in Cividale.

Q. Do you actually have time to do much cooking at home for the family, with all the activities you’re involved in? What’s a typical Sunday meal for example?

A. I do. We just sat down with my daughter to make the list for Thanksgiving. This Sunday I have a book signing and Great Grandma is going to take over and make chicken and potatoes. On Sunday, whoever is in the vicinity will call and say “What are you cooking?” and will come over.

Q. What’s on your Thanksgiving menu at home this year?

A. First we’ll have an antipasto, with octopus and some shrimp or seafood salad, prosciutto, mortadella, red cabbage salad.  We’ll have tortellini or anolini in brodo. I use organic chicken and necks from the turkey to make a soup. Because its Thanksgiving, an American holiday, we’ll have turkey. We need to celebrate America. My daughter-in-law is bringing a cranberry chutney, my sister-in-law is bringing apple pie and pumpkin pie, and my daughter Tanya is making a stuffing for outside the turkey. We’ll have yams, broccoli di rape, a radicchio salad, mashed potatoes, spinach for the children, sour cabbage and romanesco broccoli.


Q. How do you prepare the romanesco broccoli? (also called broccoli romano)

A. I cook the whole head, put it on a plate and when it’s steaming I cut it open, and grind over it some fresh ground pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and some grated pecorino.

Q. Any tips for home cooks on how to make cooking the Thanksgiving meal less stressful?

A. It’s all about getting the timing right. First of all, get great ingredients. If you do a lot of vegetables, use the oven a lot, make the stuffing on the side. Do yams and bake them in the oven, I do brown sugar and put in a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Use the oven as much as possible so you don’t get flustered on top of the stove. The vegetables - if you make them gratineed you can prepare them ahead of time, then at the last minute you can put them in oven. It gets nice and hot while you carve the turkey, and has a nice crust on top. You can do broccoli this way with some grated bread crumbs and cheese, even cauliflower.

To read part two of the interview, click here


Pollo con Olive e Pignoli 

Serves 6

Printable recipe here

From “Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy”

Pan-cooked chicken, caramelized and sticky to the fingers, moist and flavorful inside, is a favorite food around the world. If there are chicken lovers in your family (as in mine), this Le Marche version is sure to be a hit. Its special taste and texture come from the region’s big fat Ascolane olives, which imbue the chicken with flavor, and the crunch of native pine nuts.

Though authentic Ascolane olives are fantastic in this dish, they’re only occasionally available in the United States. But other varieties of green, brine- cured Italian olives (such as Castelvetrano or Cerignola) will be delicious, too; just keep in mind that the saltiness of olives will vary, and season accordingly. “How about black olives?” you ask. And I say, “Black oil-cured olives will be delicious as well; even a green and black combination would be nice.” Choose your preferred chicken pieces, too. A whole bird, cut up, is fine, though all dark meat— drumsticks and thighs—are my favorite. And if you are in a hurry (or watching your fat intake), use breast pieces. With these, you can cut the oil and butter in the recipe in half and, because breast meat cooks faster, brown the pieces initially for only 10 minutes, turn them, add the olives, then cook for an additional 10 minutes.

3 ½ to 4 pounds assorted cut- up chicken pieces

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

3 plump garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves, preferably fresh

1 cup brine-cured green Italian olives

or oil- cured black Italian olives

1/2 cup white wine

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

recommended equipment: A 12- inch cast- iron or other heavy skillet or saute pan, with a cover; an olive pitter

Rinse the chicken pieces, and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off excess skin and all visible fat.

Cut drumsticks off the thighs; cut breast halves into two pieces each. Season the chicken all over with the salt.

Put the olive oil and butter in the pan, and set over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted and hot, lay in the chicken pieces, skin side down, in a single layer; drop the garlic cloves and bay leaves in the spaces between them.

Cover the pan, and let the chicken cook over gentle heat, browning slowly and releasing its fat and juices. After about 10 minutes, uncover the pan, turn the pieces, and move them around the pan to cook evenly, then replace the cover. Turn again in 10 minutes or so, and continue cooking covered.

While the chicken is browning, pit the olives (if they still have pits in them). If you’re using small olives like Castelvetrano, use a pitter and keep them whole. If you have larger olives (such as Ascolane or Cerignola), smash them with the blade of a chef’s knife to remove the pits, and break them into coarse chunks.

After the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, scatter the olives onto the pan bottom, around the chicken, and pour in the wine. Raise the heat so the liquid is bubbling, cover, and cook, gradually concentrating the juices, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the lid, and cook uncovered, evaporating the pan juices, occasionally turning the chicken pieces and olives. If there is a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, tilt the skillet and spoon off the fat from one side.

Scatter the pine nuts around the chicken, and continue cooking uncovered, turning the chicken over gently until the pan juices thicken and coat the meat like a glaze.

Turn off the heat, and serve the chicken right from the skillet, or heap the pieces on a platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Spoon out any sauce and pine nuts left in the pan, and drizzle over the chicken.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

October 2009 952

I thought I’d be brave and try making gnocchi. I say brave, because they’re a lot of work and the results can sometimes be deadly. If you ask my husband, all gnocchi are to be avoided.  At worst, in his opinion, they’re gummy and leaden and at best they’re heavy and tolerable. But that didn’t stop me from forging ahead.

I wouldn’t say my gnocchi fit either of his descriptions, but they weren’t light as a cloud either. On those rare occasions when they are ethereal, I’d still prefer a nice bowl of home-made pasta. But if you’re curious to try them, take the challenge.

Gnocchi are traditionally made with potatoes, but I wanted to try a different version with the last of my squash harvest. I have to confess that after the gnocchi were cooked, there was little squash flavor, so the next time I get the yen for gnocchi, I might just stay true to the original potato version.

The recipe comes from Carol Field’s comprehensive book on traditional holiday meals throughout Italy called “Celebrating Italy.” In either version, the trick is to eliminate as much water as possible, so the gnocchi don’t absorb heaps of flour. For potato gnocchi, that means baking the potatoes rather than boiling them. For the squash gnocchi, bake the squash as well, then drain it overnight or longer in a sieve lined with cheesecloth.

The next step is to mix the flour and dry ingredients together with the prepared, pureed squash and eggs. If I could have found my ricer, which has been MIA for a while now, I’d have used that instead of pureeing the squash in a food processor.

October 2009 911

You have to keep incorporating more flour until the dough is workable, but not so much that you end up with lead pellets at the end. Ay there’s the rub. Use only as much flour as you need to roll it out into long cylindrical shapes. Then slice off little bits about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch long:

October 2009 912 To shape the gnocchi, use a floured gnocchi paddle or a fork, pressing down and rolling it off the board:

Cook the gnocchi in boiling, salted water for a very short time, then toss them in a saucepan with melted butter and sage:

 October 2009 933 You could serve them from the pan, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, or put them into an ovenproof dish and place under the broiler for a few minutes.

October 2009 941

I thought the time under the broiler toughened them a bit, so I tried them a different way the next time - boiling the gnocchi and tossing them in tomato sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and some parsley. This was our favorite way to eat them. It enhanced the delicate, soft texture of the gnocchi and lent lots of flavor too. 

October 2009 950

This recipe makes tons of gnocchi – close to 200 – enough to freeze for a gathering of family or friends. To freeze, just put the uncooked gnocchi on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Place in the freezer a few hours until hard, then transfer to a plastic bag.


Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Printable Recipe Here

(makes about 200 gnocchi)

Adapted from Carol Field’s “Celebrating Italy”

butternut squash puree (mine weighed about 1 1/4 pounds after cooking)

2 cups or more of flour, as needed

3/4 t. salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/2 t. ground nutmeg

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

3 egg yolks

3 T. melted butter, cooled slightly

To prepare squash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and roast in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or an hour, or until able to pierce without any resistance. Let it cool, scoop out flesh and place in food processor to puree, then drain in a sieve lined with cheesecloth, preferably overnight.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon zest and parmesan. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and put squash in the center along with the egg yolks and 3 T. cooled melted butter. Work dough with your hands until all of the ingredients are moistened and dough holds together. You most likely will have to add more flour than the recipe calls for, but it depends on how much the squash absorbs.

Divide dough into small portions and roll out small pieces into cylinders about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 3/4-inch pieces.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop gnocchi into the water and cook only about two minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in a saucepan with melted butter and sage leaves. Serve with parmesan cheese. Alternately, serve with a tomato sauce and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nonna Elvira’s Torta di Ricotta

October 2009 834

This is a classic Roman Jewish recipe from my friend Anna Rosa, whose family hails from the Eternal City.  Anna Rosa, a member of my Italian chit-chat group, fondly remembers her grandmother Elvira preparing this dessert, which is kind of a cross between a cheesecake and a custard.

Raisins and grated citrus peel are the traditional ingredients, but you could switch it up any number of ways by adding chocolate chips, nuts or candied citrus peel.  I didn’t have the large 11 or 12-inch cake pan called for, so I used a clay paella pan instead. It meant baking a little longer than normal and a little more difficulty in turning upside down after it cooled, but a sprinkling of powdered cocoa can cover up any mishaps that may occur. It would be much simpler though if you bake it in a large spring form pan. If it’s a smaller diameter than 11 or 12 inches, just leave it in the oven a little longer.

October 2009 829

Nonna Elvira’s Torta di Ricotta

printable recipe here

3 pounds ricotta, drained

8 T. sugar

8 eggs

pinch of salt

1 t. vanilla

1/4 t. cinnamon

1 1/4 cup raisins, soaked in rum for an hour, then drained

grated rind of one lemon and one orange

butter for greasing pan

breadcrumbs or matzo meal

Drain the ricotta for several hours or preferably overnight in a cheesecloth-lined colander.

Prepare the cake pan. I used a clay paella pan that measured about 11 inches in diameter, but a large spring form pan would be best. Butter the pan generously and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. (I used matzo meal instead.)

Using a fork, break up the ricotta in a bowl and mix in the sugar and eggs, one at a time. Do not use an electric mixer or you’ll incorporate too much air.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well with the fork.

Place the pan in a bagna maria (hot water bath) and bake at 350 degrees.  Bake for one hour to one hour and  15 minutes, depending on thickness of pan.

Let it cool, then flip upside down onto serving plate and sprinkle with powdered cocoa or confectioner’s sugar. Decorate with fresh fruit. 

October 2009 832

Friday, November 13, 2009

Faux Fennel Pollen

October 2009 881

Ever since I read Heat, the well-written and hilarious book by Bill Buford about his trial by fire working at Babbo, one of Mario Batali’s restaurants, I’ve been wanting to use fennel pollen.  Buford, a former New Yorker fiction editor, refers to it as a secret ingredient that elevates food to another dimension and that he sometimes smuggles into the U.S. from Italy.

On my last couple of trips to Italy, I searched for fennel pollen. Shopkeepers looked at me with such quizzical stares that you might believe I’d asked for fairy dust instead of fennel pollen.

Back at home, I found it online but never got around to ordering it. At $8.00 for one ounce, it wasn’t exactly something you could lavishly sprinkle on your food. But I also learned that pulverizing fennel seeds produces much the same flavor. So I experimented, grinding some fennel seeds along with coriander, black peppercorns, sea salt and a dash of cayenne. I used an electric coffee grinder, pulverizing the mixture to a powder.

October 2009 874 You can use only ground up fennel seeds, or add other spices as I did, or come up with your own additions – maybe try some cumin, oregano, dill seeds or paprika – whatever inspires you.

I rubbed the mixture on both sides of some boneless pork chops I had defrosted. Bone-in pork chops would be great too.

October 2009 876 Pork is such a natural foil for fennel, but this mixture would be great on lots of other things too – fish, chicken, beef, or even vegetables or risotto.

I smeared a little olive oil on my grill pan and cooked the pork chops for a few minutes on each side. At that point my husband walked in the door and announced “It smells like cookies in here.” In fact, it did smell just the same as when I make pizzelle – those anise-flavored Italian flat waffle-type cookies. For that reason alone, you’ve got to try this out. Your house will smell divine. And the pork chops?  Served with some roasted carrots, parsnips and onions - also divine.

Still, I need to order some REAL fennel pollen to see how the faux fennel pollen stacks up. Do you think Santa might bring me some? Santa – are you reading my blog? I promise to leave you some pizzelle in exchange for the fennel pollen.

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Faux Fennel Pollen Mixture

(makes enough for dusting both sides of four pork chops)

Printable Recipe

3 T. fennel seeds

1 t. coriander seeds

1 t. peppercorns

1 t. sea salt

dash of cayenne pepper

Place everything in a coffee grinder and pulverize.

Roasted Carrots, Parsnips and Onions

Printable Recipe

Lightly grease a cookie sheet with olive oil. Peel and cut up carrots, parsnips and onion into large pieces. Toss everything with the olive oil on the cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Take them out of the oven and turn them over on the cookie sheet, then roast for another 20 minutes or until browned and cooked through.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Butternut Squash Gelato with Candied Walnuts

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Butternut squash gelato? It’s not as loony as you think.  Once it’s roasted and pureed, butternut squash  develops a creaminess that is perfect for gelato.  And with so much squash that accidentally germinated and climbed all over our yew bushes from seeds tossed out as compost, I wanted to try something beyond the usual risotto or ravioli.

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This gelato has all the flavors of fall with cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, a combination I wasn’t sure I would like. But before altering the recipe, I thought I owed it to myself to try it as written by restaurateur Pino Luongo in his cookbook “La Mia Cucina Toscana.”

Well, I did make one small adjustment to the recipe, adding some dark rum to give it even more flavor. The rum really complemented Luongo’s flavor combinations perfectly and what emerged was a sweet and creamy ice cream redolent of pumpkin pie.  Now if only I can show a little more self-restraint every time I walk by the freezer, I might have enough leftover for Thanksgiving.  But don’t count on it.

If you’re curious to know the difference between gelato and ice cream, in general gelato is denser than ice cream since it doesn’t have as much air churned into it, and it usually has a lower butterfat content. I don’t know if you can say that about this recipe since it’s loaded with cream, but Luongo calls it gelato, so who am I to argue?

The candied nuts are a snap to make, although I will warn you, you’ll be left with a very sticky pan to clean. It’s worth it though. Besides, I used a cast iron pan and after soaking in water a bit, cleanup was easy.

Butternut Squash Gelato

from Pino Luongo’s “La Mia Cucina Toscana

printable recipe here

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

1 1/4 cups raw brown sugar (turbinado)

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

4 large egg yolks

2 cups homemade or canned butternut squash puree (I roasted mine in the oven by cutting the squash in half, scooping out the seeds and baking cut side down on a baking sheet for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Puree the flesh in a food processor.)

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

2 T. dark rum

  1. Pour the cream into a large heavy flameproof casserole and add the milk, brown sugar and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl and beat them with a whisk until they turn pale yellow. Gradually add the milk mixture, whisking continuously.
  3. Pour the mixture into the top of a double boiler set over low heat or into a bowl set on top of simmering water. Cook until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, then remove from the heat and let cool. Add the rum.

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4. Place the butternut squash puree in a bowl and add 1 cup of the milk mixture, whisking continuously. Add the butternut squash mixture, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and ginger to the milk mixture, whisking continuously.

5. Process in an ice cream machine, following the manufacturer’s instructions. If desired, serve with candied walnuts.

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Candied Walnuts

1/2 cup sugar

2 T. water

1 1/2 cups walnuts

In a cast iron or heavy gauge skillet, place the sugar and water and cook over low heat until sugar is melted. Toss in the walnuts and cook gently until walnuts are coated and the syrup begins to crystallize and turn golden. Be careful because it can burn easily. It will all begin to stick together and I use two forks to try to keep it separated.

Have a sheet of buttered waxed paper ready (or a Silpat mat) and dump the walnuts onto it, Use two forks to separate the walnuts.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rape

 October 2009 671-1 Maybe you already know, but this pasta shape is called orecchiette. Orecchio means ear in Italian. The diminutive is formed by adding the ette, leaving you with little ears, which is what this pasta resembles.  They’re very popular in the region of Italy known as Puglia, or Apulia as it is sometimes called in the states.  Puglia is the southeastern region of Italy that forms the “heel” of the country’s “boot.”

Puglia is not visited nearly as much as other parts of the country and that’s too bad because it’s got a lot going for it including beautiful beaches, great food and fascinating architecture. One of Puglia’s most intriguing towns is a place called Alberobello, where conical-shaped stone homes called trulli are omnipresent. Many of them are painted with symbols, as the one with the cross in the middle of this photo.

262 - Alberobello main street But back to the orecchiette, which are as common in Puglia as tortelloni are in Bologna. The first time I visited Alberobello, I ate the specialty pasta in a tomato sauce with friends who lived there.  I’ll take them any way they’re prepared, but my favorite way to eat them is with broccoli rape and sausage. 

Lucky me to receive a package of these vacuum-packed handmade orecchiette made in Italy from my fellow blogger Stacey, of Stacey Snacks:

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If you can’t find fresh ones, they’re available dry in packages too. This recipe takes about as long to make as it does to boil pasta, so have everything ready at the beginning. I start by peeling the lower part of the broccoli rape, which makes it more tender and less bitter. You should get the water boiling at this time and fry your sausage too. I usually cook the broccoli rape in the same pot with the pasta. It saves another pot, but you have to time it right so you don’t get overcooked broccoli rape, or overcooked pasta. Here’s the whole recipe. Like so many of my recipes, I don’t really measure, so don’t be so worried if you’ve got a little too much of this or not enough of that. It’s not like baking a cake, where measurements have to be exact.

Orecchiette With Broccoli Rape and Sausage

printable recipe

1 package of orecchiette (about 1 lb.)

1/2 large bunch of broccoli rape, trimmed

olive oil

two garlic cloves, minced

1 pound sausage

red pepper flakes

parmesan cheese


Take the casings off the sausage and fry it in a little olive oil, breaking it up into bits. When the sausage is almost cooked, add the garlic and saute. Meanwhile, start the water to boil for the pasta and add a bit of salt. Trim the broccoli rape, peeling the lower part of the stalks. Cut the stalks into two or three pieces, depending on how long they are. Put your pasta into the boiling, salted water and give it a stir. Depending on the thickness of the orecchiette and the broccoli rape, you can add the broccoli rape to the pot and cook them at the same time as the pasta. When cooked, I scoop the pasta out with a metal “spider” and place the pasta and broccoli rape it directly in the pan with the sausage, which should be thoroughly cooked by now. Some of the water will come along with the pasta and the broccoli rape. You want that to help develop a “sauce.” But note, this does not really have a juicy sauce per se.  Add the red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and more pasta water as needed. Stir everything together, then finish with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and another splash of olive oil to finish.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Upside-Down Apple Pie

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Throw out all your old apple pie recipes. This is the one to make from now on. It’s apple pie on steroids – with a caramel-gooey topping studded with pecans. It doesn’t get much better than this. It’s easy to make too, using pre-made pie crusts that come rolled up in the refrigerated case at the supermarket. I’m all for baking from scratch, but why bother with homemade crust when it’s going to get smothered in all that sticky sweetness anyway?

When I saw this pie on Noble Pig’s blog, I knew I had to try it. It did not disappoint. It was every bit as good as it looked and will most likely will make the cut for our Thanksgiving dessert table. I wouldn’t count on any leftovers.

I think you’ll love it too and I hope you try it. Just follow the instructions below.

Butter a pie plate then line with parchment paper and pour in the pecan-brown-sugar mixture. Place one of the pie crusts OVER the mixture:

Mix the apple slices with the sugar and spices and pile them on top of the pie crust. Cover with a second pie crust, crimp the edges and place a few slits on top. Bake as directed.

When pie is baked, remove from oven. Cover with a serving dish and flip over. Remove the pie plate and the parchment paper.


Serve to grateful guests and humbly accept kudos.

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Or just retreat to a quiet spot and indulge all by yourself.

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I got the recipe from Noble Pig, who found it on The Cutting Edge of Ordinary

 Upside Down Apple Pie

printable recipe here:

6 Tablespoons butter, melted & divided
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 refrigerated pie crusts
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
5 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored & sliced (Golden delicious or other baking apples would be fine too)

Coat a deep-dish pie plate with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper.  I used a regular glass pie plate. Coat the paper with cooking spray also. 

In a small bowl combine 4 Tablespoons of melted butter, brown sugar and pecans.  Mix well and spread evenly over the bottom of the pie plate, on top of the parchment.  Place one of the crusts in the pie plate, pressing it firmly against the nut mixture and up the sides of the plate.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of melted butter.  Mix well.  Add the apples in and toss gently to coat.  Spoon into the pie crust.

Place the second crust over the apple mixture.  Trim and fold the edges together to seal and cut some slits in the top of the crust for venting.  
Bake 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until crust is golden brown in a 375 degree oven.  (I baked it 1 1/4 hours but it would have better if I had baked it only 1 hour. A lot of the juices ran out and the apples were a little too cooked – but still delicious) Make sure to place a cookie sheet on the bottom oven rack to catch any drips from the pie.
Let the pie cool for 5 minutes and then place a plate that is larger than the pie on top of it and flip it over.  Use oven gloves as it will still be hot.  Remove the pie plate and gently lift the paper.  Allow to cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Duck Breast With Pomegranate Plum Sauce

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Who doesn’t love pomegranates, bursting with those colorful, flavorful, juicy seeds? OK, so maybe they’re a bit tedious to eat, but when you bite into a chunk of those juicy seeds, it’s like a party in your mouth. Add to that the crimson orb’s symbolism, captured over the centuries by artists and poets.  Here’s an example from Botticelli, in a detail from his painting of the “Madonna of the Pomegranate” at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence:


In the printed word, let’s not forget the Bard himself, and his reference to pomegranates when Juliet tries to convince Romeo that daybreak is far away.  Juliet insists to Romeo that it wasn’t morning’s lark he heard, but the nightingale: “Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree. ”

And anybody who knows me knows my weakness for Italian pottery, so it should come as no surprise that I bought this lovely hand-painted pitcher with a pomegranate design at a shop in Vasto, Italy last year.

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When the folks at POM contacted me and offered me a free case of their 100 percent pomegranate juice, how could I say no when I love pomegranates so much?  Aside from their great taste and artistic value, pomegranates are a great source of potassium and contain loads of antioxidants, an important anti-cancer agent.

I’ve been enjoying a bit of POM each morning in a smoothie, and have been eating lots of fresh pomegranates too, but with some duck breasts in my freezer waiting for a good recipe, and that fresh pomegranate juice, the time to get creative had arrived. I opened a bottle of the POM juice and combined it with some orange juice, balsamic vinegar and Italian prune plums in what turned out to be an easy, but perfect-enough-for-company dish. 

The duck came from a place near me called Griggstown Quail Farm, which sells free-range poultry, including chickens, quails, partridge, ducks and turkeys with no added hormones or antibiotics.  But you don’t have to live near Princeton, N.J. to enjoy their products. They’re distributed to many high-end restaurants and markets in New Jersey and New York, many under the name D’Artagnon.

If you’ve never cooked duck, don’t be scared. Cooking the breast is much easier than cooking the whole bird, provided you follow a few instructions given here. Otherwise, you could end up with a grease fire from all the fat that duck skin releases.  For this recipe, you need to render some of the fat on the outside of the duck breast, by scoring it and cooking it on the range at low heat in a heavy duty pan. I use a cast iron skillet. Keep it at low heat, otherwise you risk burning the outside fat layer before the bulk of the skin has had a chance to melt and render off.


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After the skin has cooked at low heat for about 15 minutes, you should have a nice color on the outside of the fat, but the inside meat will still be raw.

October 2009 598 Pour in the sauce you’ve prepared around the meat and roast everything in the oven, following the instructions below. Then when it’s roasted the appropriate time, you’ll remove the pan from the oven, take out the breasts and keep them warm. They need to rest a bit before slicing anyway. While they’re resting, place the pan with the liquid over the range at high heat to reduce the sauce. When it’s reduced, pour the sauce in a serving dish, slice the duck breast and serve.

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Duck Breast with Pomegranate Plum Sauce

Printable Recipe Here

1 duck breast, about 1.1 pounds (This serves about two people)

2 Italian prune plums, diced

1 cup POM pomegranate juice

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup white or dark balsamic vinegar (I have used both – they’re both fine, but the dark gives you a browner color. It’s what I used in these photos.)

1 T. butter

Score the fat side of the duck with a knife. Place in a heavy skillet (I used cast iron) fat side down. Cook over low heat, letting a lot of the fat render out. From time to time, pour the fat into a jar. Store the fat in the refrigerator to use in other recipes, if desired. Keep doing this for about 20 minutes. By then a lot of the fat will be rendered out, and the remaining fat on the duck should be browned. Remove the duck breasts to an oven-proof casserole.

In a separate pot, heat the pomegranate juice, orange juice and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil. Cook at high heat about 10 minutes. Pour the sauce (it will still be thin) over the duck breasts that are in the casserole. Place the casserole in a 400 degree preheated oven. Cook 8 minutes for rare meat (pictured above) or 10 minutes for medium rare. After the allotted time, remove casserole from the oven and remove duck breasts from the casserole onto a carving board. Cover to keep warm while you reduce the sauce. To reduce the sauce, place the heatproof casserole over a high flame and add the diced plums. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the liquid starts to thicken and become almost syrupy.  Don’t let it get too thick or it won’t pour properly.  Add the butter, stir until melted and blended with the sauce, and serve alongside the meat.