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I'm pretty sure I've already told you that every year, comes May, I feel quite conflicted between my desire to eat more fresh fruit, vegetables and light fare, and all the temptations of Mother's Day, my birthday, and Shavuot - plus dozens more excuses…. (just to give you a couple of examples, last year I indulged in a pink meringue cake and a pistachio and cream Swiss roll).
I am also in the new Spring issue of Joy of Kosher magazine, with a feature on Cooking with Wine, where I really tried to crunch in everything you need to know about the topic, from techniques, tips, substitutions and recipes, to cool wine gadgets!
Our kitchen and dining room overlook a lovely garden, with a couple of old trees where lots of adorable little squirrels have made their nest. Every now and then, a big, bushy gray tail pops up on one of the windows, a sign that they are watching us and wondering if what we are putting on the table is more or less interesting than their usual fare. This week our little fuzzy friends might be paying us more visits: the ingredients I laid out to bake for Tu' Bishvat are an irresistible attraction.Tu' Bishvat may be technically a minor holiday, but its special eco-message that we should connect with God through nature resonates very deeply with many of us. Many people celebrate this special "Birthday of the Trees" eating dried fruits and nuts, particularly those associated with the Promised Land! A kabbalistic tradition teaches that eating three different types of fruits creates a mystical connection with the Tree of life from the Garden of Eden. The first type are those fruits and nuts with inedible exteriors and edible insides, like oranges, bananas and many nuts. The second type are those fruits that have soft edible exteriors but a hard pit inside (like dates, apricots, etc). Finally, fruit that is eaten whole, like figs and berries. You can taste all this fruity-nutty goodness in these special honey-rye breads. For more Tu' Bishvat recipes, you can check my old posts here.
After last week's snow storm, and Tuesday's record temperatures (we hit a record low of 4 degrees Farenheit or -15 C here in New York City), several friends emailed us or called us from Italy expressing concern for our safety and comfort. We loved the attention, but don't worry…. we are a tough breed! (here is what we have been doing:)
Of course, after a couple of hours of frozen fun at the park, we headed home to warm up by the fireplace ! In most families,a nice cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows would be in order. But my 7-year-old is the kind of kid who, asked by a friend's mom at snack time: "Do you eat parmesan cheese?" replied: "Would you mind cutting it into shavings and add honey and pears on the side?". So here is what we settled on.
My Italian fondue recipe hails from Valle d'Aosta, the smallest of all Italian regions, but dominated by two of Europe's top peaks—Monte Bianco (aka Mont Blanc) and Monte Cervino (aka the Matterhorn) on its borders with France and Switzerland. Skiing down such impressive slopes requires serious refueling, or at least I like to think so! Fonduta Valdostana is even simpler than Swiss Fondue. No wine or kirsch here, just a good pound of fontina (or other good melting cheese), milk and egg yolks. The calequons, those little fondue sets with the tiny forks are really cute, and I couldn't resist buying one at Zabar's, but come on - all you really need is a double-boiler made by layering two regular saucepans.
Even if you are not a health food nut, the combination of lots of butter with cheese and bread cubes might induce some feeling of guilt. That's where the egg yolks come in handy, because at least you are having some extra protein. Besides the bread cubes, you can dip stuff like steamed baby potatoes, slightly steamed cauliflower florets, red peppers, zucchini and pear slices, steamed broccoli or cauliflower or whatever fruit or vegetable you're in the mood for. I find that when I add fruit and veggies to the standard Italian or French bread cubes, I can tell myself that I'm having a perfectly balanced meal. Of course, don't forget a steaming cup of mulled wine!
Every winter, when new York City (or Venice) seems to turn overnight into one giant display of dazzling Christmas ornaments, it's hard for those of other religious denominations not to feel at least a tinge of Christmas envy! I decided to embrace it, by making a mean Panettone Trifle, and writing about it on this week's Jewish Week. (read)
I'm not sure if I've made it clear yet, but I am somewhat obsessed with saffron. It started when I was about 10 and read somewhere that in ancient Persia, saffron threads were woven into royal textiles, and ritually offered to divinities. The fact that Gualtiero Marchesi, the star Italian chef of those years, was pairing it with real gold leaves in his signature risottos, just added to the mystique, as did the fact that it takes thousands of flowers and many hours of labor to gather together just a pound of stems.
This sounded so special to me, so classy, that one of the first dishes I learned to make on my own and would treat my friends to in junior high, was the traditional Risotto Milanese. My experiments did not end here, unfortunately. As a teen-ager, I even tried using a saffron infusion as a face toner, to give my skin a beautiful golden tint. While this is said to have worked wonders for Cleopatra, the only result I obtained was that my then-crush asked me if I had jaundice (I have since limited my use of spices to food).
Adolescent traumas aside, I still think that there is something magical about saffron, with its unique, metallic honey-like aroma, and luminous yellow-orange color. From India to Persia, from Turkey to Spain, and of course Italy - it's constantly a symbol of prosperity and holiday.
Here is how to make it even more festive....
Another special presentation here
With all the hype about Thanksgivukkah this year, I also received a challenge to post something that would be perfect for both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah - and it had to be made with some type of mashed food. I normally panic when I get this kind of requests, but this time it was really brainless. These pumpkin fritters are one of my favorite recipes, and always a huge hit with guests.
It also has a way of enhancing rustic flavors, and it's perfect for eggs!
This October my column in the Jewish Week featured a recipe for butternut squash manicotti with goat cheese and pumpkin. But there are so many versions of these, that I couldn't resist posting one more! After all, for the past few weeks, I've been in a pumpkin frenzy. This time, I also added red radicchio, and a touch of Moscato wine. The result is slightly bitter, slightly sweet; buttery, creamy, and totally worth the splurge.
Cous cous is probably not the first dish that most of you will associate with Italy. However, if you look at a map, you'll notice that Southern Sicily is not that far from North Africa, and the locals have been enjoying this type of semolina preparation since Roman times. Much farther North, on the coast of Tuscany, in the sea port of Livorno, "Cuscussu' " is also a favorite: first introduced by the Jewish merchants, who had ties in North Africa, it slowly spread to the rest of the population. Not to mention the Sardinian version, Fregola: tiny 2-mm balls of semolina dough that have been toasted in the oven before being boiled like pasta. Let's toast to "fusion" with this easy salad, which surprisingly pairs cous cous with a staple of my region, Veneto: red radicchio!
This month I really spaced and forgot to post my recipe for my friends' Linkup! Ops!
The theme is "Spread The Joy", because everybody loves receiving home-made goodies. Enjoy these easy Jewish Italian Pumpkin (or butternut squash) treats: an old Jewish italian recipe perfect for this season!
At the end of Yom Kippur there is a widespread custom to break the fast joyously, since a Midrash (Jewish homiletic story) describes a heavenly voice speaking at the end of the fast with these words from Ecclesiastes:
"Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine ....." (Kohelet Rabbah 9:7).
The Jews of Piedmont, Italy, take this quite literally!
My monthly column in the Jewish Week this month deals with how tradition mixes with innovation, when a "lost" Jewish tribe decides to return to Judaism... what will they make for Rosh HaShana?
My article in the current issue of Joy of Kosher magazine : the history of ricotta-making and a few easy, yummy, low-fat recipes - from dumplings, to a savory farro cake, and a decadent espresso semifreddo...
May 22. When I was a child, the end of May marked the beginning of cherry-picking season in Italy, and for the next month or so I could often be found doing my homework with a big bowl of juicy fruit in my lap, and a few red stains on my books .
The decadence of sucking on the cherries is counterbalanced by the zen quality of spitting the pits into a saucer. Ciliegie are the perfect, meditative snack: "una tira l'altra" (one pulls the other, you just can't stop eating them) - that's also true of potato chips, by the way, but potato chips aren't being touted as the next "superfood".
Cherries are actually so good for you that they are now being marketed in the form of capsules. I find that a bit ridiculous: wouldn't you rather stick them into a pie? At least dip them into white chocolate? Or, if you are being truly virtuous, how about using them for a colorful salad?
Silvia is hands-down one of the best Italian food bloggers out there: on Silvia's Cucina, she shares lots of tasty, easy, healthy Italian recipes that she learned growing up in Milan from her mom and grandma. Just FYI, Silvia is also a successful movie and theater actress and mezzo soprano opera singer, trained at the prestigious music academy of Milan. For the past ten years, she has been married to one of the most beloved Australian actors, producers (and heart-throbs), Richard Roxburgh, and living in Sydney, where they are raising their adorable sons. Silvia somehow manages to do all of the above with remarkable grace and ease, and to look drop-dead gorgeous even when covered in flour.
Which, in theory, makes her one of those super-women we'd all like to hate: however, she also happens to be incredibly nice, modest, and laid-back, so you stand no chance: you are going to fall in love with her, and her delicious, authentic Italian food.
I was overjoyed when my friend Alessandra asked me if I could write a guest post on her blog DinnerInVenice. Alessandra and I both started our Italian food blogs back in 2011. Like Ale, I am an Italian-born woman, recently emigrated to an English speaking country (Australia) and, just like her, I have been fascinated and enamoured with the bounty of local produce and diverse cuisines my new home-land has to offer. However, I could not help but miss my Bella Italia, the very scents of it, its flavors. My most unsatisfied craving was "real" bread, Il pane. Fragrant, crunchy and bronzed, with its inviting crackly crust and a moist and airy crumb.
I have learnt to make it at home, from slow-proving sourdoughs to yeast-risen ones, for more immediate gratification. And every time a loaf is baking in my oven, I can simply close my eyes and smell my beloved Italy from my sunny Sydney kitchen.
Tiramisu is said to have appeared for the first time at a restaurant in the Veneto region in the 1970's, and has quickly become a world-renowned specialty.
Tiramisu is a non-denominational dessert: who wouldn't want to eat it? Everybody can find a good excuse. For us Jews, for example, it's the perfect Shavuot treat: layers of mascarpone cream to remind us of the sweetness of Torah, and several shots of espresso to get us through the night of learning (Tiramisu means "pick me up" in Italian!). Or what about Mother's day? You could surprise her with something girly and new, replacing the traditional coffee with sparkling wine and adding juicy strawberries: welcome spring!
2 cups (about 1 lb) mascarpone 1/2 pint whipping cream (makes about 1 1/2 cups whipped) 4 eggs* 26 Italian ladyfingers (savoiardi) 1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste) 1 1/2 lb strawberries 1 1/2 cups Prosecco or champagne (for kids, use Kedem sparkling grape juice) Mint and small meringues to decorate
In your blender or food processor, puree 1/3 of the strawberries with the wine or juice until smooth. Set aside in a small and shallow bowl.
Using an electric whisk, or in your food processor, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. When they become frothy, add the mascarpone; process until combined and set aside.
In a perfectly clean bowl (you can wipe it quickly with a few drops of lemon or vinegar to make sure it’s degreased) beat the egg whites (which should be clear, with no traces of yolk) with an electric whisk until they start forming soft peaks.
Gently fold the whites into the mascarpone cream with a spatula, using an upward motion. Fold in the whipped cream as well. Chop 1/2 of the remaining strawberries and add them to half of the mixture. Also add enough strawberry/wine juice to make it pink.
Dip each ladyfinger into the remaining strawberry/wine mix for 5 to 8 seconds, flipping them a couple of times (letting the cookies soak too long will cause them to fall apart). Arrange the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of a glass or pyrex 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or two smaller square or round pans). Spread the pink half of the mascarpone mixture on top. Make a second layer of soaked ladyfingers and top with the white mascarpone mixture.
Slice the remaining strawberries and use them to decorate. You can also add some fresh mint leaves and meringues. Cover tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. You can also make the tiramisu in individual Martini cups: tres chic!
Yield: 10–12 servings, or more according to serving size
*Raw eggs always carry a small risk of salmonella infection: to reduce the chance of contamination you can pasteurize the eggs prior to use. Or you can purchase pasteurized eggs – www.safeeggs.com. If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: you will need to add a touch of cream of tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar) to the whites; about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular eggs.
Now, talking about birthdays, I am turning 44 and becoming a little nostalgic. I became twenty in the Eighties, and while here in the US the cake that best represents that era of excess is probably cheesecake -in some 7-layer variation -, in Italy we had Meringata, a sinfully rich dessert made of layers of meringue combined with tons of whipped cream - the Pavlova’s Italian cousin.
Meringata was the dessert of choice to share with your date in any Northern Italian piano bar or panini bar. The main downside of those types of cakes (besides the fact that they can induce a diabetic coma) is that they need to be assembled a short time prior to consumption, or the meringue will dissolve in the cream. That's why I picked this alternative, which tastes less sugary and can be made the day before and transported easily.
Cakes made of layers of pan di Spagna (genoise) or pastafrolla (pastry dough) alternating with whipped cream and strawberries or other berries are also served in many areas of Italy for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which coincidentally falls in May.
In case you really need one more excuse to indulge.
The arrival of spring always inspires me to check out the neighborhood's farmers' markets and even community gardens in the quest for culinary ideas. After my FreshDirect-fueled winter hibernation, I crave flavors and colors beyond the boundaries of the chain grocery stores.
I'm embarrassed to admit that when I find anything new, or that I haven't cooked in a long time, I simply stick it into a pizza or a calzone - at least the first time. The reason is very practical: my kids will eat positively anything if it's deep-fried, or in the form of a pizza topping.
For the past two weeks, I've been on what my husband has deemed a "weed-spree": no, that's not what you think - I'm just referring to edible plants and herbs that sprout literally everywhere, on the side of the street and in your backyard; but while they are highly prized in Italian and French cuisine, here in the US most people never take advantage of them.
Growing up in Italy, I tried countless recipes with edible weeds. My mom made salads and frittatas with dandelion greens (the scourge of any lawn perfectionist!). One of our housekeepers, Pierina, would bring us baskets of "bruscandoli", hop shoots (yes - from beer hops) that literally invaded the street sides near her house in the suburbs of Venice: they tasted better than young asparagus and made fantastic risottos! My nonna, in Tuscany, would take me stinging nettle-hunting... armed with contractor's gloves and "jungle boots": her nettle soup and gnocchi were worth all the trouble. Finally, during a vacation in the Cinque Terre we discovered borage, which tastes like young cucumbers and the locals combine with ricotta in their traditional ravioli filling. Here in New York, most people consider it as a pest and will go to any lengths to get rid of it, bringing on the chemical warfare . They usually lose the battle, because borage and dandelions are among the most invasive plants. That's why I recommend that, if you can't kill it - you should eat it! (just make sure it's not treated with any dangerous pesticides).
This week, the nice weather inspired me to check out my neighborhood "community gardens", and I found a few fun things to cook with. Of course, if you live in the suburbs, you might already have a lot of these interesting greens growing in your own property.When it comes to that stubborn backyard weed... why kill them when you can eat them?
Dandelion greens, for example. They make a great addition to a salad, but you can also try something fancier. They pair perfectly with cheese. Make sure they are not treated with toxic chemicals. And stay tuned - more "weed" coming soon! Next is borage.....
Seven years ago, when I was planning my wedding and the florist asked me what I would like to put in my bouquet, I joked that my favorite flowers are those that I can eat. If I ever end up stranded on a desert island with only one food, I hope it's artichokes! Second in my top-ten list of edible flowers are zucchini and squash blossoms. They are gorgeous and ethereal (back to that wedding bouquet idea!), and quite popular in the cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to Turkey and, of course, Italy.
Here in the US they used to be pretty hard to find, but lately I have seen them at farmers’ markets and large organic supermarkets, and don't think I've ever been able to pass them up. When I was growing up, my mom would serve them as a special treat stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies and then battered and fried. That's probably still my favorite way to enjoy them, but I can see how some of you would prefer something lighter, and quicker.
Zucchini flowers (actually, any kind of squash produces this type of blossoms) have a delicious subtle flavor, slightly sweet and herbal, that will remind you of young zucchini, and a chewy texture. That's why you will love them raw, as a colorful addition to salads, or in pastas and soup. They also make a wonderful topping for pizzas and savory tarts (tarts - not pies! Why hide something this pretty?). Make sure to check the inside of the flowers well before you add them to your food, since some bugs can also appreciate gourmet ingredients!
The other day I posted instructions for grilling vegetables, and since these keep so well I couldn’t resist giving you an idea of what you could do with them, besides serving them as a side.
After almost twenty years in America, I have come to terms with the fact that here barbecue is an expression of national pride. Barbecue expresses American identity through food as accurately as jazz does through music. It’s simple, honest, and… manly. I ’ve come to love it. However, to stay true to my origins, I always make room on the grill for some vegetables! Italians (with the exception of Tuscany) are not so big on barbecuing meat, but grilling is a favorite cooking method for everything else! Besides the obvious advantage of being quick and easy, it preserves most of the ingredients’ nutritional qualities while enhancing their flavor. The secret of a good vegetable “barbecue” is the grilling temperature, which needs to be inversely proportional to the size/thickness of the food: the thinner pieces should be grilled quickly on high heat, and the thicker/larger ones should be cooked more slowly on lower heat. We don’t usually marinate the vegetables before grilling. In order to enhance (rather than hide) their flavor and texture, we just brush them quickly with a little oil while on the grill. Each vegetable needs some individual attention: eggplants, for example, tend to dry out a bit during grilling; besides, it’s best to salt them first, to cut down their bitterness, but this also removes some moisture.
For this reason, they should be sliced pretty thick (about1/2 inch) and cooked longer. Zucchini are delicate and should be sliced thinner and cooked very quickly. If you use a mandoline or your food processor disc, you will be able to set your desired thickness and cook the vegetable slices more uniformly. Tomatoes are quite watery, and should be seeded, salted and allowed to drain for twenty minutes before cooking. They should only be grilled on the side of the peel, or they’ll fall apart. Just make sure you give all your veggies some TLC and individual attention!
This recipe was included in This American Bite's roundup of lamb recipes.
While eating matzah (unleavened bread) during Passover is a commandment, eating too much of it could turn into a curse. I won’t go into details here, but by the time you serve dessert at the end of the seder, you will be praying for a break. I will always be thankful for the fact that most Italian Passover sweets are not made with matzah meal (ground matzah).
These lovely almond custards from Leghorn, in Tuscany, are called “Scodelline” (little bowls) or “Tazzine” (little coffee cups) because of how they are served in individual portions. They are small and elegant, just what you need to end a holiday meal on a sweet note without overdoing it. They are also gluten-free, and easy to prepare with wholesome ingredients (isn't it nice, when you are having all this sugar, to know that there is something nutritious mixed with it, like almond and eggs?) The Jews of Leghorn, drawing from their Spanish-Portuguese origins, make several interesting sweets with these, including the elaborate Monte Sinai, a macaroon-like almond cake covered with egg threads fried in syrup.
For the recipe, I turned to my friends Lea and Anna Orefice, mother and daughter, two inspiring generations of fabulous cooks. From her kitchen in Leghorn, Lea - who is 92 and still in charge of making dessert for the family seder - answered all my questions via email in real time while I was stirring my custard in New York City. Here is the result, and the detailed recipe, including Anna's microwave version in case you are in a hurry.....
Vintage pictures of the old synagogue of Leghorn (destroyed in WWII and replaced by a new one)
My Leghorn-Style Red Mullet and some history
The Mount Sinai Cake with threaded eggs
Emiko's Chickpea Cake, Leghorn's beloved Street-Food
More Vegetable Side Ideas for your Passover Seder (or any time!) from some of my favorite blogs: Tori's Stovetop Tzimmes Levana's Artichokes and Carrots Sarah's Passover Dumplings Jasmine & Manuel's Fennel & Cauliflower Soup
MORE IDEAS WITH ARTICHOKES:
Madonna del Piatto's Artichokes & Lemon Salad
Academia Barilla's Artichoke Fricassee
Jul's Omelet with Artichokes
Lidia's Stuffed Artichokes
JOK's Artichoke Chicken
Barbara's Lamb Shanks with Artichokes