The Olive Oil Miracle

Joy of Kosher Olive Oil

Joy of Kosher Olive Oil

If you’re an olive oil fan, be prepared. This year has been described as “The Black Year of Italian Olive Oil,”: in Italy, the weather was truly horrible (I spent the summer there, and can testify); on top of that, there was a rare and extreme infestation of a fruit fly  known as the “olive tree leprosy”.

The result is that the olive harvest in Italy is down 35 percent from last year, which means that we should expect to pay much more than usual for Italian olive oil, and to see even more olive oil fraud than last year — cheaper oils imported from abroad being sold as Italian, lower grades labeled extra-virgin, and worse, cut with vegetable oils that have nothing to do with olives.

What’s an olive-oil lover to do? (a good idea, of course, would be trying oils from Greece and those countries unaffected by the issue). If you believe in miracles, you can also pray that your stack will last eight times as long as it normally would, much like in the story of Hanukkah.

An eternal optimist, I still published a whole feature on olive oil, complete with recipes, cooking tips, and ideas for olive oil parings and tasting parties, in the current issue of Joy of Kosher magazine. In the meantime, I wish Italy a gorgeous, gigantic, perfect olive harvest next year!

 

Homemade Flavored Pasta and the King of Italian Herbs

2 Fancy.Pasta.collage.dinnerinvenice

S 04 05 092 fancy pasta.dinnerinvenice

In the current issue of Joy of Kosher, check out my articles on fancy homemade pastas and on the king of Italian herbs: basil!

hanging fresh pasta to dry

hanging fresh pasta to dry

 

 

 

Chocolate Cream and Strawberry Frozen Delight

Chocolate Cream Strawberry Frozen Delight.by Dinnerinvenice.5702

Chocolate Cream Strawberry Frozen Delight.by Dinnerinvenice.5702

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).

Chocolate Strawberry Cream Frozen Delight

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

serves 4 to 6

ignorance is bliss

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dark chocolate (shavings or chips)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • pinch of Sarawak pepper
  • 4 tbsp sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 lb strawberries
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • fresh mint leaves to decorate

Directions

Melt the chocolate shavings or chips on low heat in a bain marie (double boiler) with a pinch of Sarawak or pink pepper. Tape a very large piece of wax paper to your counter. Pour the melted chocolate on top and spread it into a very thin layer with a silicone spatula. Allow to cool.Wash the strawberries and cut them into small pieces. Whip the cream with the sugar until it forms stiff peaks, and incorporate the strawberries.Heat the blade of a knife over the stove, and use it to cut the chocolate into 16 rectangles.In a baking tray, arrange 4 individual desserts by alternating chocolate rectangles with layers of strawberry cream (for each dessert, 4 rectangles and layers). Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the freezer for at least 1 hour. Decorate with more strawberry, mint and the powdered sugar before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2014/05/20/chocolate-cream-and-strawberry-frozen-delight/


Warm Radicchio Salad with Red Onion and Dates

8293 Warm radicchio salad with red Onion and Dates.Dinnerinvenice

8293 Warm radicchio salad with red Onion and Dates.Dinnerinvenice

After one of the longest winters that I can remember, it felt quite exciting to finally put all my winter gear in storage and switch to easy tee shirts and jersey dresses. There was, however, one downside – all the cream, cheese and butter-laden recipes I’d been posting to help you brave the elements, had left a couple of unwanted inches around my waist . Time to go easy on the béchamel, pasta and desserts for a week or so!

Today, I am treating myself to a salad made with red radicchio (probably my favorite leafy vegetable). and the exotic addition of Medjool dates to temper its slight bitterness. Let me know what you think!

Warm Radicchio Salad with Red Onion and Dates

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

40 minutes

serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 2 heads red radicchio
  • 3 medium red onions
  • about 12 juicy dates
  • about 1/2 cup parmigiano or grana cheese shavings (or more to taste)
  • 3 to 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Peel the onions and slice them into quarters or eights depending on the size.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a skillet on low heat (prefer a heavy or non-stick skillet); add onions and thyme, and cook for 10 minutes covered, stirring often. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and cook, stirring until caramelized. Add the balsamic, and cook covered for 15 more minutes, still stirring frequently to prevent the onions from sticking.

In the meantime, cut the washed and dried radicchio into strips and arrange them into individual bowls. Add the warm, caramelized onions, the cheese shavings and the pitted, coarsely chopped dates.

Deglaze the pan with the remaining 1 or 2 tbsp oil and 2 tbsp water, pour onto the salad (filtering first if needed), and serve!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2014/05/15/warm-radicchio-salad-red-onion-dates/

Bianca’s Super Veggie Medley

7230 BiancasSuperVeggieMedley copy

Biancas Veggie Medley 1

My 5-year old loves Brussels sprouts and broccoli, and this is her favorite way to eat them! It’s so delicious that I thought I’d also share it with you guys.

SuperFoods by Dinnerinvenice

After all the cheesy pasta dishes I posted this winter, I really owed you a recipe with some vitamins and fiber…..

Biancas Veggie Medley

Bianca’s Super Veggie Medley

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

25 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small cauliflower (or ½ one large)
  • 1 head broccoli
  • about 12 Brussels Sprouts
  • 1 red onion
  • 12 black or red grapes
  • 12 white grapes
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Cut the cauliflower and the broccoli into pieces, and halve the Brussels sprouts. Cook all three vegetables separately until tender but firm: you can steam them for about 10 minutes or cook them in your microwave (covered with plastic wrap, leaving an opening for the steam) for about 4 or 5.

Halve the grapes, and eliminate any seeds.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Cut the onion in very thin slices and sauté them in the oil with the grapes for about 5 minutes. Add the cooked cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and cook for 8 more minutes. Toast the pine nuts in the oven or in a second skillet brushed with little oil. Add the pine nuts to the veggie medley, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 more minute. Decorate with the thyme and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2014/04/01/biancas-super-veggie-medley/

MORE ITALIAN PASSOVER IDEAS

Cucinare Bene

Hello again! I’m so excited to share that my Levornese Almond Custards (Scodelline) are in the April 2014 issue of Cucinare Bene magazine, a special Italian Passover treat among tons of Easter treats (in Italian! But for all the English speakers, I had already posted this recipe here, last year).

Cucinare.Bene.Scodelline.Passover Almond Custards by DinnerInVenice2014 (1)

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!

alessandra rovati JOK article Spring 2014

 

Warm Farro Salad with Cranberry Beans and Red Beet Mousse

7376 Beet & Bean Farro

7376 Beet & Bean Farro

I think I already told you that I don’t mind a little extra padding in the winter: it’s way more practical than having to wear an extra puffer coat, and gives me a great excuse to overindulge in cheesy dishes. However, I’ve lost count of all the snowstorms we’ve had this year, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll start wiggling my way out of hibernation. This morning I even made it to a workout class, and no cheese tonight!

7379 Farro w beet and beans

Warm Farro Salad with Cranberry Beans and Red Beet Mousse

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb farro or spelt
  • 1 cooked beet
  • 1/2 lb cooked Borlotti (cranberry beans) (canned OK)
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 cup Greek Yogurt (OK to leave out for a dairy-free version, just add 1 more beet)
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the farro or spelt, and cook it in salted boiling water according to the package instructions (if you are in a rush, you can use the quick-cooking farro by Pedon).

Drain it, dress it with the oil, toss and set aside.

Peel the onion, slice it very thinly (I prefer to use a mandolin) and soak the slices in a bowl of cold milk or ice water until use (this step takes the bite out of the onion... and helps with onion breath!).

Dice the beet and place it in your food processor with the cream (or greek yogurt), salt and pepper. You can process until smooth, or leave it somewhat chunky.

Add the drained onion and beans to the warm farro, dress with the remaining oil. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and serve with the beet mousse

* the beet and yogurt should be kept at room temperature, not cold.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2014/02/27/warm-farro-salad-with-cranberry-beans-and-red-beet-mousse/

Italian Chocolate Kisses

The Jewish Week

Baci - Italian Chocolate Kisses

My latest article is all about kisses…. the chocolate kind!

 

With a recipe for an easy home-made treat (perfect for Valentines with a sweet tooth!): read it here

Pressure Cookers and Slow Cookers

In the new issue of JOK Magazine, the third chapter of my series on Pots and Pans deals with what I once considered two diabolical appliances: Pressure Cookers and Slow Cookers!

pots

Tips, tricks, and tidbits of their curious history…

by the way, this is what many consider the progenitor of our modern pressure cooker, invented by Denis Papin in France in the 1670s:

papin Digester

magazine

Fruity Nutty Tree Day Bread

Fruity Nutty Tree Day Bread by Dinnerinvenice.com 1

Tree Day Bread by Dinnerinvenice.com 1

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.

Dried Fruit Tu Bishvat by Dinnerinvenice.com

In the Jewish Tradition, 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.

Fruity Nutty Tree day Bread by Dinnerinvenice.com 2

 

Auto Draft

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup dried figs
  • 1/2 cup dried raisins
  • 3/4 cup medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup almonds and/or hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup shelled walnuts and/or pistachios
  • 1 tsp candied citron, if liked
  • tbsp pine nuts, if liked
  • 1 organic orange
  • shot of grappa or brandy
  • 1/4 lb fresh rye bread dough (recipe http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/01/new-york-deli-rye-bread/ )
  • large pinch of cinnamon if liked
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • butter and flour to grease cookie sheet (or use parchment)

Directions

Soak the raisins in hot water until soft, drain and pat dry. Coarsely chop all the nuts and dried fruit and place them in a bowl with the raisins. Add the grated orange zest and the orange juice, and the grappa or brandy. Allow to restfor at least 6 hours at room temperature (overnight is great). Add the rye dough (for the rye dough, I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/01/new-york-deli-rye-bread/ ) and combine well, kneading until everything is well combined. Divide into two parts and shape two oval, slightly flattened, breads.

line a large cookie sheet with parchment, or grease it with butter and dust with flour.

Place the breads on the cookie sheet (allow space for raising) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 40 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool. Melt the honey in a small saucepan on low heat, and brush it over the fruit breads. Enjoy on their own or with the addition of whipped cream.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2014/01/14/fruity-nutty-tree-day-bread/

Big Chill Cheese Fondue

big chill fondue by dinnerinvenice 1

big chill fondue by dinnerinvenice 1

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:)

dinnerinvenice snow

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.

Fondue step 1-2 by Dinnerinvenice.com

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.

Fondue Step 3-4 by Dinnerinvenice.com

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!

S 26 00 1 FONDUTA VALDOSTANA

Big Chill Cheese Fondue

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fontina or other good melting cheese, cubed or thinly sliced
  • scant cup whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg if liked

Directions

Place the cheese in a bowl, cover with the milk, cover the bowl with wrap and allow to rest for at least 2 hours at room temperature or in the least cold part of your refrigerator, stirring occasionally.

Make a double boiler by pouring some water into a saucepan, and placing a second smaller saucepan inside the first one. Alternatively, you can use a very heavy enameled cast iron sauce pan on very low heat.

Melt the butter in the saucepan on low heat, stirring. Drain the cheese from the milk and add the cheese to the butter, with only 3 tbsp of the milk. keep stirring with a wooden spoon or with a whisk, until the cheese is all melted, making sure it doesn't stick to the bottom or sides.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and remove from the stove top. Adjust the salt and sprinkle with white pepper (and nutmeg, if liked. Or even white truffle shavings, if you want to splurge!)

Serve in warm bowls (or in a shared fondue set) accompanied by bread cubes for dipping. You can also offer polenta cubes, cauliflower florets, pear slices, etc.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2014/01/09/big-chill-cheese-fondue/

Xmas-Envy Panettone Trifle

S 64 00 PANETTONE FARCITO

7zrxbkIOnHnhUmbvChN1knyhNV__sC4LcWSl073-N7MEvery 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)

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

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.

saffron by dinnerinvenice.com

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).

Saffron diluted by Dinnerinvenice.com

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….

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

55 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup Arborio or other risotto rice (Vialone nano, Carnaroli)
  • 3 leeks
  • 1/2 tbsp saffron threads
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Slice one leek very thinly into rings (I use a mandoline), and cook it in 2 tbsp butter until soft. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate. Add the saffron, diluted in 3 tbsp hot broth, and start adding hot stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring almost continuously. As soon as the stock absorbs, add more hot stock. Cook until creamy and "al dente" (about 18 minutes).Add the remaining butter and cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

Slice the 2 remaining leeks length-wise into strips. Blanch the strips for 1 minute in boiling salted water. Use tongs to transfer into a bowl of ice water. Drain and dry on paper towel.

Brush muffin or creme caramel pans with oil (or use silicone ones), line them with the leek strips leaving about 1" hanging out. Press the risotto into the pans with your hands or a spoon, and close the leeks over the risotto. You could also "tie" the packages with chives (blanch first). Bake for about 15-20 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350 F. Turn out carefully and serve warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/12/06/gift-wrapped-risotto/

Another special presentation here

Symbols of Plenty – Symbols of Tears

Autumn mini pumpkins

The Thanksgiving table is exquisitely symbolic. Aside from pumpkin, and of course turkey, which clearly represent bounty, some other harvest symbols are fraught with ambiguities – and not only in American culture.

Read about them in my latest column for the Jewish Week:

Autumn mini pumpkins

Venetian Thanksgivukkah Fritters

Venetian Thanksgivukkah fritters by Dinnerinvenice

Venetian Thanksgivukkah fritters by Dinnerinvenice

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.

venetian Thanksgivukkah Fritters 2 by Dinnerinvenice

Venetian Thanksgivukkah Fritters

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cleaned and diced small
  • 2 eggs
  • grated zest of 2 oranges
  • ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of salt
  • 1 and ½ cups flour
  • scarce tbsp baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon, if liked
  • 1/3 cup Raisins or Sultanas
  • 1/3 cup grappa or rhum
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup candied citron or lemon (optional), finely chopped
  • Rice bran oil, peanut oil or vegetable oil for deep-frying, at least 3 cups or more
  • Confectioner’s sugar for decorating

Directions

Plump the raisins in the liqueur.

Place the diced squash in a large platter and cover almost completely, leaving a small opening for the steam to come out, and microwave on high for 10 minutes or until very tender (or bake covered for 40 mins in the oven).

Beat the eggs in a food processor with the sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange zest; add the cooked squash and process until smooth.

Drain and pat dry the raisins, and add them to the mix.

Transfer to a large bowl and gradually add the flour (sifted with the baking powder), using an electric or manual whisk.

In a frying pan, heat the oil to frying temperature (you can test it by dropping a small piece of bread in the oil: if bubbles form around the bread, the temperature is right).

Take the batter with a tablespoon, filling it to about ½, and push the batter into the oil with your index finger or a second spoon.

Fry in small batches until golden all over, turning to cook evenly.

Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer onto a platter lined with several layers of paper towel.

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/11/19/venetian-thanksgivukkah-fritters/

Butternut Squash and Zucchini Frittata

Pumpkin Frittata w Pink peppercorns by dinnerinvenice.com

 

Pumpkin Frittata w Pink peppercorns by dinnerinvenice.com

 

This month my article in Joy of Kosher magazine reveals the secrets of cooking with cast iron, and carbon steel:

 JOK.winter.2013.scan

Cast iron is one of my favorites because it lasts forever (unless you drop it, in which case it will break – along with your foot).

Butternut Squash and Zucchini Frittata with Pink Peppercorns

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 7 minutes

17 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • About 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 large slice butternut squash or pumpkin
  • 1 zucchini
  • salt
  • ½ tsp pink peppercorns
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 2-3 tbsp milk (optional
  • 1-2 tbsp parmigiano cheese (optional)

Directions

Roast the slice of butternut squash wrapped in foil, in a 350 F oven for about 20-30 minutes or until soft but not mushy (you can also use leftover cooked squash). Allow to cool, cut into thinner slices and sprinkle with little salt.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy cast-iron skillet , add the garlic and the thinly sliced zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes and discard the garlic.

??In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk, salt and cheese if using. Pour into the skillet, add the slices of pumpkin (or butternut squash), sprinkle with the peppercorn t and transfer the skillet into the preheated oven. half way through the cooking, tp with the fresh oregano if using.

Cook for about 6-7 minutes (more if doubling the amounts), or until the eggs are set and the frittata is golden and just slightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/11/06/butternut-squash-and-zucchini-frittata-with-pink-peppercorns/
It also has a way of enhancing rustic flavors, and it’s perfect for eggs!

Bittersweet Manicotti with Moscato Wine Sauce

Bittersweet Manicotti with Moscato Wine by Dinnerinvenice

Bittersweet Manicotti with Moscato Wine by Dinnerinvenice

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.

Bittersweet manicotti with Moscato Wine Sauce by Dinnerinvenice.com

Bittersweet manicotti with Moscato Wine Sauce

Ingredients

  • 12 lasagna rectangles
  • 1 head radicchio (or just over 1/2 lb)
  • about 2 1/2 cups peeled cubed pumpkin (just over 1/2 lb)
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta (just over 1/2 lb)
  • 1 scallion
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup moscato wine
  • 3/4 cup clear (no tomato) vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 to 3 tbsp slivered almonds
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Chop the radicchio coarsely and cut the pumpkin (or butternut squash) into small cubes.

Heat 1/2 the butter in a skillet and add the minced scallion. Cook on medium/low for 3 minutes. Add The pumpkin and radicchio and cook on medium/high for 10 minutes, stirring often. Allow to cool and combine with the ricotta, salt and pepper.

In a saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar; add the flour, then gradually the wine and broth until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, and cook in a bain marie (http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Double-Boiler-(Bain-Marie) ) over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it thickens; at the end, add the remaining butter to the sauce. Keep warm.

In he meantime, cook the lasagnas according to instructions in a large pot of salted water.

Drain them with a slotted spoon, place them on paper towel (blot them dry on both sides. Spread one side with the ricotta/vegetable cream, leaving 1/2 " margins, and then roll the pasta up on itself into cylinders.

Arrange them on a baking tray lined with parchment, brush them with little melted butter, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for about 15 minutes at 350F in a pre-heated oven. Serve warm, topped with the Moscato sauce and the slivered almonds. You can serve some parmigiano or grana for those who prefer to add some grated cheese on top.

*** if the semi-sweet egg sauce is not your thing, you can top the manicotti with a bechamel sauce or simply some melted butter and grated cheese.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/11/01/bittersweet-manicotti-with-moscato/

Cous Cous salad with red Radicchio and Pomegranate

Cous Cous Radicchio Salad with Pomegranate by DinnerInvenice.com 2

Cous Cous Radicchio Salad with Pomegranate by DinnerInvenice.com 1

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!

Cous Cous Radicchio Salad with Pomegranate by DinnerInvenice.com 1

Cous Cous salad with Red Radicchio and Pomegranate

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups "instant" cous cous
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 heads red radicchio
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 cup black olives
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions

No need to cook the cous cous! Just place it a bowl with about 1/2 cup lukewarm water, 8 tbsp olive oil, and the juice of an orange, salt and pepper. Toss and fluff with a fork, add salt and pepper. let it stand for about 1 hour covered, adding about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of water every 10-15 minutes and re-fluffing each time with a fork. In less than an hour, the moisture should be absorbed and the cous cous should be tender, fluffy and light.

In the meantime, cut the radicchio into thin strips and peel the second orange. divide it into slices and also peel the individual slices (or at least eliminate the white membranes!) and cut them into pieces. Combine the radicchio, orange, olives and pomegranate seeds with the cous cous; Adjust salt and pepper,and distribute into 8 individual cups or bowls. Decorate with a few sage leaves fried in hot olive oil.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/09/25/cous-cous-salad-with-red-radicchio-and-pomegranate/

Jewish Pumpkin Treats

Jewish Pumpkin Treats by DinnerInVenice 2

Jewish Pumpkin Treats by DinnerInVenice 2

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!

Jewish Pumpkin Treats by DinnerInVenice

Jewish Pumpkin Treats

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs cubed butternut squash or pumpkin
  • about 2 cups sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cinnamon, if liked
  • chocolate sprinkles or/and crystal sugar to decorate

Directions

Bake the pumpkin in the oven at 350 F wrapped in foil until soft.

Mash it and, if possible, weigh it and combine it with the same weight in sugar (if not, use about 2 cups). Cook on low heat in a heavy pot (I like enameled cast iron), stirring constantly, until it starts darkening. Remove from the heat, add the spices if liked, and allow to cool.

With a wet watermelon baller or coffee spoons make small balls, roll them in the crystal sugar first and in the dark chocolate sprinkles second, and arrange in mini baking cups.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/09/18/jewish-pumpkin-treats/


Bruscadela – Bread and Wine Trifle

Bruscadela.Collage.by.Dinnerinvenice

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!

Find out how in my new article for The Jewish daily Forward

Bruscadela.Collage.by.Dinnerinvenice

Lost Tribes and Tables Regained

lost tribes collage medium

lost tribes collage medium

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?

http://www.thejewishweek.com/food-wine/eating/recipes/lost-tribes-and-tables-regained

Ancient Pots for Modern Cooks

Copper and Clay Pots  by Dinnerinvenice.com

 Copper and Clay Pots  by Dinnerinvenice.com

In the new Fall issue of Joy of Kosher Magazine (pages 33-37) you will find my new article on “Ancient Pots for modern Flavors”, and a possible answer to why your grandma’s food always tasted best and you were never quite able to replicate it…. and this month, you can get this issue of Joy of Kosher Magazine  for FREE , to read on your iPad:
http://www.joyofkosher.com/2013/08/free-issue-of-joy-of-kosher-magazine-now-on-your-ipad/

Alessandra Fall JOK

Pasta salad with Egg, Radishes and Mache’

3530 Insalata di pasta con songino rapanelli uovo e pepe

Pasta salad with Egg Radishes and mache' by DinnerInVenice

Nothing in the kitchen spells summer and vacation for me the way cold rice and pasta dishes do. I grew up with no air conditioning in the kitchen and dining room: to survive the summer, we resorted to a an endless variety of dishes that can be served cold or at room temperature.

Pasta salads were always my  favorite (and I just wrote about them in my monthly column for The Jewish Week NY), because they can easily be packed and eaten outdoors. Meet me in Central Park!

Pasta salad with Egg and Radishes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

25 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb (or up to 1 lb if you are four hungry men!) pasta, "wheels" or half-rigatoni or other short pasta
  • 1 bunch radishes (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup lamb's lettuce or mache' salad, stems removed (or more to taste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Cook the pasta "al dente" in a large pot of salted boiling water, according to instructions on the box. Drain, dress with 2 tbsp oil, and allow to cool.

Boil the eggs in cold water (cooking for about 7 minutes from the moment the water starts boiling).

In the meantime, slice the radishes very thinly (easier with a mandoline or food processor). Separate the lettuce leaves.

When the eggs are cooked, rinse them under cold running water, peel them and chop them coarsely.

Top the cold pasta with the eggs, the lettuce, the radishes, salt and pepper.

Emulsify the remaining oil with the lemon juice, salt and pepper, add to the pasta salad and toss. Enjoy!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/08/13/pasta-salad-with-egg-radishes-and-mache/

Ally’s Ciambellini with Wine and Olive Oil

Ally's 1

Ally’s delicious Ciambellini (photo by Alice D’Antoni Phillips)

It’s not only that I happen to love this particular cookie recipe (which I often make myself in a slightly different version including red wine and fennel seeds) –  Alice also picked the best possible time to contribute to Dinner In Venice! I’m taking a short family vacation and this guest post means: “YAY! More play time with the kids”. While Allie is not Italian herself, her trademark cuisine, showcased in her addictive blog Ally’s Kitchen,  is simple but sophisticated, a perfect balance of flavors – qualities that many identify with contemporary Italian taste.  Her dishes are eclectic and show many different cultural influences, but this time she is actually taking us on a virtual trip to Central Italy……

ALLY SAYS:

Italian roots run deep in my life—married first time around to a D’Antoni, I was very influenced in my culinary growth in early years by being in the family.  With three sons who could eat you out of house and home, some of their favorite dishes were all Italian inspired—pastas especially!

Ally's 1

Still having a close connection to this part of my life, recently Ben and I traveled to Italy and visited our D’Antoni family there staying in their gorgeous home in Poggio Mirteto where food is the heart of living and breathing.  Amid the stunning olive orchards, wine vineyards and listening to the gentle crowing of roosters in early morning, each day began with deliciousness!  The long table set for family and friends and prepared by the expert hands of Antonella, ‘breaking bread’ was more than food, it was layers of entertainment, hours of laughter and sharing, and all with even more family in a rustic warm setting of food, wine, good stories, and laughter!

ally's bread

One recipe that captured my heart was ‘Ciambellini di Magro’—Italian cookies crispy and subtly sweet with distinct hints of the rich olive oil and wine in them!  I couldn’t get enough.  Antonella, who spoke limited English, and I, who speak even less Italian, had no problems communicating in the kitchen—she shared with me the recipe writing it in Italian and ‘talking’ with her hands and gestures explaining how to execute.  We laughed as we both knew we were in a festive game of ‘charades’ talking recipes, food, and cooking!

ally's ciambellini

Here is Allie/Alice, working her magic into the dough!

I’ve made these cookies three times since returning—sharing them with friends who come sit in my kitchen, I retell the story of Antonella & Ally in the kitchen—and, sharing them on my website and Facebook proved to be one of my most popular recipe posts!

Ally’s Ciambellini with Wine and Olive Oil

Makes about 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 4-5 cups self-rising flour (divided) (I’m also going to try them with all-purpose flour and rice flour.)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 cups sugar (divided)
  • 1 cup white wine (I used chardonnay.)

Directions

Yep, messy at first, but hang in there, it gets better! Preheat your oven to 350 F.

On a large clean surface (I used a large wooden cutting board.) put about 2 cups of flour and make a center well.

Add the olive oil then 1 ½ cups of sugar and the salt. With your fingers work the sugar into the oil. Then add about a cup of flour and start working in with your fingers.

Continue working in the flour that is surrounding the oil. Add another ½ to ¾ cups of flour.

Then slowly start working in wine, a little at a time. The dough batter will be gooey and messy—not to worry. Keep adding flour until you dough consistency that can be shaped into a ball.

Put about ½ cup sugar (or more) in a pie plate. This is for coating the cookies before putting on the partchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Cut off a bit of the dough ball at a time and begin rolling into snakes then shape into pinwheels, make knots, or make donut holes.

Place in the pie plate of sugar and coat well. Place on cookie sheet. Repeat process until all the dough is used.

Bake in a preheated 350 oven about 17-21 minutes or until the cookies are somewhat golden brown (not much). -

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/07/08/allys-ciambellini-with-wine-and-olive-oil/

Ricotta

Ricotta History & recipes

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…

Ricotta History & recipes

Strawberries in Love

Strawberries in Love  - with Balsamic. By @dinnerinvenice

Strawberries in Love by @dinnerinvenice

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m taking a little blogging break to recharge my creative batteries and spend some quality time with my family. That also means sticking to the basics in the kitchen. However, basic doesn’t have to be boring.

Strawberries in Love

Ingredients

  • 1 basket of juicy strawberries
  • 4 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup prosecco or champagne
  • 4 tsp sugar or more to taste

Directions

Wash the strawberries and arrange them in individual shot glasses or all together in a glass bowl.

Drizzle with the prosecco and balsamic and sprinkle with sugar. The balsamic brings out the sweetness, color, and flavor in the strawberries, and is a great thirst-quencher!

Enjoy as it is, or indulge and use as a topping for some good gelato.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/06/24/strawberries-in-love/

 

Quick Pipe Pasta with Swiss Chard

Quick Pipe PaSTA WITH CHARDS BY DINNERINVENICE

Quick Pipe PaSTA WITH CHARDS BY DINNERINVENICE

Don’t get me started. I’ll just mention that when the doctor heard how I got injured, he laughed. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it involved an epic fight with the mini-blender blade falling into the stand mixer bowl (in action), AND the unlocked dishwasher door. In case you ever wondered why  I don’t teach knife skills demos. Today, the saga continues with water flooding our building through the upstairs neighbor’s apartment.

I hope I’m forgiven if I post this recipe without a proper intro!

To cheer me up, feel free to share your most surreal kitchen accidents in the comment box.

Quick Pipe Pasta with Swiss Chards

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb "pipe" pasta (penne or rigatoni work too, and use 1 lb if you are a group of football players)
  • 3/4 lb Swiss chard
  • 1/2 can (1/2 lb) peeled tomatoes, possibly Italian San Marzano quality (or use fresh, seeded)
  • 1/2 cup black olives (pits removed)
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 3or 4 tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp grated pecorino romano
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Wash the chard and remove the stems and harder part. You CAN use the stems, they taste great! But they will need to cook for twice as long, so it's easier to do it separately.

Steam or boil the chard in salted water (about 5-10 minutes for the leaves, and 15-20 minutes for the stems, if using). Drain, pat dry and choap coarsely.

Heat the oil in a skillet, add the chili (broken into 3-4 pieces), the sliced olives, and the chard.

Drain the tomatoes from the liquid; chop them coarsely (or crush them with your hands) and add them into the skillet.

Cook for about 5-10 minutes on medium heat, and adjust the salt and pepper.

While cooking the sauce, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the directions on the package, keeping it "al dente".

Drain the pasta without rinsing it, and transfer it into the skillet with the sauce. Saute with the sauce for a minute, stirring.

Sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve immediately.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/06/13/quick-pipe-pasta-with-swiss-chards/

 

 

 

Strawberry Risotto Straight From the Eighties

Strawberry Risotto straight from the Eighties by DinnerInVenice

Strawberry Risotto straight from the Eighties by DinnerInVenice

All of us have dishes we have always loved. And then there are flavors that we learn how to love, later in life. Finally, those that we appreciate because they remind us of when we were young, and/or in love.

As an Italian teenager in the Eighties, trying to fit in (shoulder pads and all), I had a hard time getting used to the new food trends that we were importing from the US, such as burgers and club sandwiches. I would have traded any Panini for a bowl of my nonna’s ribollita soup! As to the other culinary movement that was going on – namely, the spread of Nouvelle Cuisine from France to Northern Italy – I was too young and poor to experience it!

I did hear about it, of course. I was aware of its most cultured and creative representative, Gualtiero Marchesi, and of all the copycats who tried to get on board by simply sticking kiwi, vodka and arugola into everything. But all my student budget allowed me to eat out was lots of arugola pizza!

The surprises of the new cuisine were mostly reserved to the Yuppies, the young and flashy finance or law professionals who loved to impress their peers with gold Rolexes, fast cars, and dinners in exclusive restaurants with outrageous prices. The others (who couldn’t afford such extravagances) made fun of them, laughing at the idea of such adventurous and un-Italian flavor combinations.

That’s how my friends and I, having to make do with pizza or the occasional panini, totally missed on the strawberry risotto craze. At home, our moms were too traditional to venture beyond mushroom or saffron!

Finally last month, to celebrate my 44th birthday and upcoming middle age, I decided to experiment with a few recipes from that era. If my teenage years have officially made it into history books, I should at least give them the respect they deserve!

I must confess that this was not my first choice. At first I really wanted to try my hand at the symbol of Italian Nouvelle Cuisine, Gualtiero Marchesi’s signature Risotto with Saffron and gold leaves. However, I wasn’t sure how my husband might react if he saw me pop my wedding band into the microwave, and on second thought I went for this more sensible option.

Some of you might worry that strawberries could make this risotto too sweet; on the contrary, the end result is slightly tart and very fresh, perfect for summer and incredibly fragrant – not to mention the pretty color!

Strawberry Risotto Collage.by.Dinnerinvenice

 

Strawberry Risotto Straight From the Eighties

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 and 2/3 cups Italian rice, preferably Vialone Nano type
  • 1 to 2 quarts hot vegetable broth (prepared without tomato)
  • about ½ stick butter
  • ½ onion, very finely chopped
  • ½ cup prosecco, champagne or dry white wine
  • 8 medium strawberries (fewer if large)
  • salt to taste
  • pink or white pepper to taste
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese (or more to taste)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, if liked

Directions

(to prepare a vegetable broth, simmer a carrot, an onion and a stick of celery in salted water for about 30 minutes and season with salt); or you can use packaged vegetable broth, but make sure it’s made without tomatoes and doesn’t have too many added spices).

Cut the strawberries into small pieces, setting 3 or 4 whole ones aside for later.

Melt 2 tbsps butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, stir in the finely chopped onion and cook on medium heat for about 3-4 minutes (don’t allow it to brown). Add the rice, and cook for 2 minutes stirring. ?Pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate.

Start adding hot broth 1 or 2 ladlefuls at a time. Allow for the broth to be absorbed before adding more. ??After about 10-12 minutes, stir in the chopped strawberries, and keep adding more broth and stirring until done (total cooking time is usually around 18-22 minutes). Adjust the salt and check for doneness. The rice should be cooked but firm (“al dente”), and the sauce not too dense. Remove from the heat, stir in the remaining butter and the grated cheese, and allow to rest covered for 2 minutes. Serve immediately, topping with the remaining fresh strawberries.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/06/06/strawberry-risotto-straight-from-the-eighties/

Fregolotta – Giant Italian Crumb Cookie

Proust madeleine Collage

Fregolotta - Giant Italian Crumb Cookie by Dinnerinvenice.com

The episode of the madeleine in Marcel Proust’s epic novel In Search of Lost Time is probably the most famous example in Western literature of how a particular flavor can elicit a stream of rich and intimate memories. Even those of you not particularly familiar with French literature will remember the basic outline: the grownup narrator dips a cookie in tea, which causes him to reminisce so intensely about childhood afternoons at his aunt’s home, that he follows with 3,000 pages of such fond memories.

Proust madeleine Collage

Of course you don’t need to be French to have a favorite childhood sweet. Yours could as well be brownies; while for many Northern Italians in my generation, the cliché cookie is actually a giant crumble, as big as a cake. Whether home-baked or packaged in its distinctive clear wrapping, this is what I fought over with my dad, to the point that we would each lock up our half, to protect it from the other’s attacks. This is what I munched on with my friend Rachele on countless afternoons, between homework and daydreaming of our high school crushes.

In the Veneto, we have Fregolotta (from the local dialect word for crumb: “fregola”) or Rosegota (from the word for “crunching on”), depending on the area. In Mantova, it’s Sbrisolona (from “brisola”).

Fregolotta Giant Italian Crumb Cookie Collage by DinnerinVenice

The ingredients are slightly different, depending on the area and the baker, but what they do have in common is the crunchy, crumbly texture – which gives you a great excuse to dip into cappuccino, wine, or even grappa- and the fact that they are impossible to cut with a knife. Having to use your hands adds an element of playfulness that can turn any get-together from formal to fun, or even romantic.

Of course that’s assuming you are willing to share. If you have a sweet tooth, this could present a challenge.

Fregolotta - Giant Italian Crumb Cookie by DinnerInVenice

 

Fregolotta – Giant Italian Crumb Cookie (classic, from Castelfranco Veneto)

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups flour (a little over 1 lb)
  • large pinch salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar (plus more to decorate)
  • grated zest of 1 lemon and/or 1 shot grappa, if liked
  • 1/4 cup fresh cream (you'll use less, but just in case)
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)
  • butter for greasing the pan
  • handful of almonds to decorate

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Sift the flour with the salt and combine with the sugar. Butter a 10" round baking pan or pie dish, and line it with parchment. Whisk the cream with the yolks until they are well combined. Some people use only the cream, without the eggs.

Wet your (very clean!) fingers in the mix of eggs and cream, dip them into the flour and then rub your hands against each other over the flour. You will create 'fregole' (large crumbs of dough), which you will drop into the dish as they come, or press into larger "crumbs". Honestly, you can also process the ingredients very quickly (start with only 2-3 tbsp cream, and add more only as needed) in a food processor, pulsing until the mixture forms crumbs and is evenly moistened. However, the traditional method is much more fun!

Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan until they all touch, and bake the Fregolotta at 350 F for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden and firm to the touch.

Allow to cool completely on a rack before unmolding. Serve at room temperature with a cup of hot coffee, or a glass of prosecco.

*** this is the traditional Fregolotta from Castelfranco Veneto, near Treviso. Another famous crumb cookie of this type is the Sbrisolona, from Mantova, which contains eggs, ground almonds, and a mix of flour and sometimes corn meal. I also added that recipe in case you like "richer" flavors.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/28/fregolotta-giant-italian-crumb-cookie/

Giant Italian Crumb Cookie with Almonds

Ingredients

  • 2 scant cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal ("polenta")
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teasp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (unsalted), cold, cubed. (plus more for greasing the pan)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 1 small shot grappa or liqueur if liked

Directions

This second version of the Crumb Cookie was given to me by my mom's friend Fausta, and the added almonds and cornmeal show the influence of the Sbrisolona cake from Mantua.

Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees. Line a 10-inch round pie pan with parchment and grease with butter..

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely ground, about 20-30 seconds. Add the, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar and pulse for 30 more seconds until combined.Add the chopped butter butter and pulse until all the ingredient start combining into "crumbs".

Add the yolks, lemon zest (and a shot of grappa if liked) and pulse until combined into a mixture of more or less even crumbs.

Press the crumbs into the prepared pan, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until golden and firm.

Allow to cool before unmolding.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/28/fregolotta-giant-italian-crumb-cookie/

Summer Cherry Salad

Summer Cherry Salad by DinnerinVenice.com

Summer Cherry Salad by DinnerinVenice.com

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”.

ciliegie Collage

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?

Summer Cherry Salad

Ingredients

  • 10 oz baby spinach, washed and patted dry
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted
  • 1 cup cubed feta or crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup shelled walnuts, halved
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp honey

Directions

Whisk the oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper to make the vinaigrette and set aside.

Toast the walnuts in a small skillet for a couple of minutes. If you are feeling fancy, toast them with a bit of sugar until they become caramelized.

Place the spinach in a bowl with the cherries, the cheese, and the walnuts.

Toss with the vinaigrette right before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/24/summer-cherry-salad/

Silvia Colloca’s Pumpkin Seed Rolls

Silvia Colloca - Silvia's Cucina - Italian Food blogger

Silvia Colloca's Pumpkin Seed Rolls - SilviasCucina.net

We all have weaknesses. One of mine is that I tend to be quite impatient. That’s why, even though I adore homemade bread, I’m not going to babysit that dough for several hours!

Enter this week’s guest, Silvia Colloca, my go-to expert (the other one is Vittorio of  Viva la Focaccia) when it comes to bread making, including tips on cutting corners and reducing the waiting time.

Silvia Colloca - Italian food blogger, actress. SilviasCucina.net

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.

Silvia Colloca's Pumpkin Seed Rolls - SilviasCucina.net for Dinnerinvenice.com 2

SILVIA SAYS: 

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.

Silvia Colloca's Pumpkin Seed Rolls - SilviasCucina.net for Dinnerinvenice.com 3

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.

Silvia Colloca’s Pumpkin Rolls

makes 6-8 rolls

Ingredients

  • 2 cups wholewheat flour
  • 1 cup high gluten flour (or all purpose, or 00 flour)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dried yeast stirred into 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp honey or barley malt syrup
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • milk or non-dairy milk for brushing
  • 2-3 handfuls shelled pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds)

Directions

1. Place the flour in a large bowl, add the water and yeast, honey (or barley malt syrup) and oil.

2. Knead onto a floured surface for 3-4 minutes, then add the salt and keep keading for 3-5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and soft.

3. Transfer the dough into a floured bowl and cover with a kitchen towel.

4. After 30 minutes, stretch the dough to shape a rectangle, then fold it into three and onto itself. Place the dough back in the bowl. Repeat a second time after 30 minutes. Folding the dough will ensure the softest, moistest crumb.

5. Prove the dough in a warm spot until it has doubled in size.

6. Shape the dough into 6-8 rolls, and place them close together on a baking tray lined with parchment. Brush the top with milk, or buttermilk (or non-dairy milk) and top them with the seeds. Rest the rolls covered with a kitchen towel for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 C (390 F)

7. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes, or until crusty and bronzed, and until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool at room temperature before eating.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/21/silvia-collocas-pumpkin-seed-rolls/

Pistachio and Cream Swiss Roll

ROTOLO AI PISTACCHI

Pistachio Swiss Roll by DinnerInVenice

This week my family and I will observe one of my favorite holiday traditions, that of indulging in creamy dairy treats for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. After all, who am I to say no to extra helpings of lasagna and tiramisu, especially when our sages encourage me?

Another custom typical of Shavuot (and Simchat Torah) is eating preparations that are rolled, a visual reminder of the Torah scrolls that are read in synagogue. It may be a no-brainer to celebrate by smothering your dishes in butter and cream; however, rolling up foods can be  challenging for inexperienced cooks. Take cake rolls, and raise your hand if you don’t end up buying the pre-packaged version rather than risking a disaster.

The truth is that, if you follow  instructions, these guys are not that hard to make. Just don’t cheat on the pan: the only type that works is a  jelly roll pan (usually a 15x10x1-inch pan, regular or disposable).  This is also the kind of recipe that you don’t want to attempt if you have just ran out of parchment paper. Last, but not least, do not over-bake: the cake needs to be a bit flexible and “springy” to be rolled up.

After baking the cake, remove from the oven and loosen the edges from the pan with a knife, then turn it out the cake onto a large parchment sheet. Peel  the existing parchment from the top (what was previously on the bottom of the baking pan) and discard.

Now the tricky part: starting with one of the shorter  sides, roll up the parchment with the warm cake inside into a spiral. Once the cake is all rolled up into the parchment, secure it with tape or by stapling the ends of the parchment, and place it on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Unroll the cake, spread with your preferred filling staying within 1 inch of the edges; then roll it up again, but this time use the parchment only to lift and guide leaving it on the “outside’ of the cake roll. Place the roll in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.

Pistachio Swiss Roll by DinnerInVenice

Pistachio Swiss Roll

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or ½ tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 shot orange liqueur
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • whipped cream
  • powdered sugar to decorate

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line the base of a 10 by 15-inches jelly roll pan with parchment, brushing the sides with butter and dusting with flour.

In an electric mixer, whisk the eggs with the sugar and salt until light and frothy, and then add the zest or vanilla extract; start sifting in the flour and baking powder, gradually, a bit at a time.

When the mixture is well combined, pour into the prepared pan, and bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until the cake is a bit springy and the edges have shrunk a little from the sides.

Spread out a large sheet of parchment on a counter and dust it evenly with powdered sugar to prevent any sticking. Invert the pan onto the parchment, and then carefully remove the pan and parchment from the cake.

While the cake is still warm but not hot, dust it with powdered sugar, cover it with another parchment sheet and roll it up in a spiral leaving the parchment sheet on the inside and outside. secure with tape and allow to cool on a wire rack for about one hour.

Coarsely grind the pistachio. Combine the whipped cream with 1 or 2 tbsp powdered sugar, the orange liqueur or extract, and the pistachios.

When the cake is cool, unroll it and carefully remove the parchment; spread the whipped cream sparingly over the cake, leaving a 1-inch border. Roll up again, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Dust with powdered sugar to finish.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/14/pistachio-and-cream-swiss-roll/

 

Strawberry and Prosecco Tiramisu

Strawberry Prosecco Tiramisu by DinnerInVenice

Strawberry Prosecco Tiramisu by DinnerInVenice

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!

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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!

Notes:

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.

 

 

 

Raspberry Cake with Whipped Cream and Pink Meringues

Raspberry Cake with Whipped Cream and Pink Meringues by DinnerinVenice

Raspberry Cake with Whipped Cream and Pink Meringues by DinnerinVenice

In some areas of Central Italy, there is still a custom of  going from house to house adorned with garlands on the first night of May, playing and singing merry tunes to welcome the warm season.

I’m bringing this up – kind of randomly – because this morning I woke up with a verse stuck in my head: it’s from an Italian children’s poem about the months of the year that I learned in kindergarten, and the part about May goes “Maggio di canti risuona” (May resonates with songs).

While I’m not the type to go around the neighborhood with a lute serenading strangers (my fellow Manhattanites would call the police), I am all for celebrating this beautiful month, which I associate with a variety of pleasant concepts.

At last, the sun is out, the bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping, and the flowers in Central Park are blooming…. but not only that: at the risk of sounding very self-involved, I’m excited because my birthday and Mother’s day also come this month. I’m not sure about resonating with songs – but it sure will smell like cakes!

Raspberry Cake with Whipped Cream and Pink Meringues by DinnerinVenice

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.

Raspberry Cake with Whipped Cream and Pink Meringues by DinnerinVenice

Raspberry Cake with Whipped Cream and Pink Meringues

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

1 hour

serves 8-10

serves please stop at one slice!

Fat & Calories: Ignorance is Bliss

Ingredients

  • Ingredients:
  • (Cake)
  • 3/4 cup cake flour (or mix AP flour and potato starch)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup super-fine or granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted?
  • (Syrup and finish)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 or 4 tsp. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 lb raspberries (or you can use strawberries),
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • a dozen meringues, possibly pink

Directions

You can buy the pink meringues or make them with this recipe: http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/rachel-allen/pink-meringues-with-raspberry-cream.html

Preheat an oven to 360°F. Line the bottom of a 9- inch springform pan with parchment.

Whisk the eggs and sugar just until combined in the bowl of your stand mixer. Place the bowl over (not touching) a pot of simmering water, and whisk gently for about 3 minutes. Transfer the bowl to the mixer and whisk at high speed until pale, frothy and fluffy (7-8 minutes).

Sift the flour over the mixture in 2 separate additions (incorporate the first half with a spatula, before adding the second half). Add the melted butter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden (do the toothpick test). Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before inverting it. Cut the cake into 2 equal layers before removing the parchment. Put the first layer (cut side up) on a platter.

To make the syrup, boil the water with the granulated sugar and the lemon zest for about 3-5 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

Whip the cream with the confectioners' sugar until it forms soft peaks. Place half of the raspberries or cut strawberries in a bowl, and combine them with about one-fourth of the raspberries. Brush the first cake layerwith syrup and spread with the cream/berry mix.. Top with the remaining cake layer, cut side down, and peel off the parchment. Brush the top with more syrup, spread the top and sides with the remaining whipped cream.

Arrange the remaining berries and meringues on top and around the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/02/raspberry-cake-with-whipped-cream-and-pink-meringues-2/

Silvia’s Fennel and Red Onion Gratin

Silvia Nacamulli at Relais dei Ciclamini
Photo by Ryan Bartley; Recipe by Silvia Nacamulli

Photo by Ryan Bartley; Recipe by Silvia Nacamulli

Today I have a special surprise for you: I am quite thrilled to introduce you to my friend Silvia Nacamulli. Silvia, who grew up in Rome, is a fellow foodie, who learned all her tricks from three generations of  talented Jewish nonnas. In London, where she lives with her husband and adorable daughters, she runs the successful cooking school La Cucina di Silvia – Cooking for the Soul, and caters very chic private parties (so chic, in fact, that she was featured in Elle magazine).

Silvia Nacamulli at Relais dei Ciclamini

Silvia Nacamulli at Relais dei Ciclamini

However, Silvia is probably most famous for her culinary vacations in Italy (she is now getting ready for the next one, coming up in June), during which English-speaking Italophiles from all over the world learn how to cook a variety of Italian, and Jewish Italian dishes while relaxing in the gorgeous setting of  Relais Nature La Tenuta dei Ciclamini.

City-dwellers, in particular, can’t get enough of the all-encompassing food experience that Silvia offers beyond the cooking lessons, including truffle or mushroom and chestnut hunts (depending on the season), lessons in cheese- and jam-making, fresh vegetable picking, and great wine. Luckily, the Relais has a giant gym and swimming pool where they can burn it all off!

Relais dei Ciclamini, Umbria (Italy)

Relais dei Ciclamini, Umbria (Italy)

Last September, Silvia and I were both part of a panel at the Museum of Jewish Heritage here in New York, organized by Jayne Cohen and including the über-talented Cara de Silva and Walter Potenza. Before the event we were exchanging favorite recipes, and I practically begged her to guest post this one on my blog. As you may have heard, Italians like to procrastinate – that’s how, between the two of us, it took about six months… but at last Silvia’s recipe is here,  in all its mouthwatering splendor!

Silvia’s Fennel and Red Onion Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3 large red onions
  • 3 heads fennel
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • 4 tbsp freshly minced flat parsley
  • 4-5 tbsp breadcrumbs or panko
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the fan (convection) oven to 375 F and line 2 large sheet trays with parchment paper.

Peel the onions and wash the fennel, eliminating the choke.

Cut the fennel in half thorugh its root and boil it in salted water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and cut again lengthwise: you will have 4 long slices for each head of fennel*.

Cut the onions crosswise into 1 inch-thick slices.

Arrange the fennel and onion on the baking sheet as a single layer.

Sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder on top of each onion and fennel slice. Cover with breadcrumbs and parsley, and drizzle with the olive oil.

Bake for about 45 min or until golden. .

*If the fennel is large, cut it into more slices.

Distribute the onions and fennel slices

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/30/silvias-fennel-and-red-onion-gratin/

 

 

Spring Fling Pizza

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerinVenice

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerinVenice

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.

Borage-Collage-by-DinnerInVeniceGrowing 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).

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerInvenice 2

Spring Fling Pizza

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

1 hour

serves seres 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza dough (home-made or store-bought)
  • ¼ lb haricot verts
  • ¼ lb romano beans (wide, flat string beans)
  • ½ head red radicchio
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 cup (unpacked) borage leaves
  • 6 oz whole milk ricotta
  • 6 oz Italian Stracchino, OR cottage cheese
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

If using store-bought dough, take it out of the refrigerator (not freezer) and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

Prepare the haricots (I snip off the ends and eliminate the “thread”, unless you buy them already cleaned); clean the romano beans. Steam both together for about 15 minutes. Drain and cut into pieces.

Cut the radicchio into thin stripes. Slice the onion thinly.

Heat the oil in a skillet, add the whole garlic cloves and cook for 1 minute; add the haricots, the romano beans and the radicchio, and little salt, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring. Discard the garlic and allow to cool. In the meantime, blanch the borage for 3 minutes in salted boiling water, remove with a slotten spoon and gently pat dry with paper towel.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta with the cheese until smooth, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Combine with the haricots, romano beans and radicchio.

Dust the dough with flour, and also flour a work surface. Start by pressing out the dough using your fingers, and once it’s thinner and more malleable roll it out on a sheet of parchment with a floured rolling pin, to a thickness of about 3 mm. Distribute the dough in a parchment-lined baking pan (you can use a square “half-sheet pan” or experiment with other shapes. Build up the edges (the “crust”) with your fingers. Cook the "pizza crust" in your pre-heated oven at 400 F for 10 minutes without any topping, then take it out, spread the ricotta/vegetable mix on top, and decorate with the red onion rings and the borage leaves. Brush with a little olive oil, sprinkle with pepper, and bake for an additional 15 or 20 minutes or until golden. If the topping starts to brown too much, cover it with aluminium foil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/24/spring-fling-pizza/

Puff Slices with Dandelion Greens and Cheese

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese - DinnerInVenice

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese - DinnerInVenice

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…..

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese 2 - DinnerInVenice

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 puff pastry sheet
  • 1 cup (unpacked) dandelion leaves
  • 4 to 6 ounces semi-soft, ripened cheese such as taleggio, Brie or Camembert
  • extra-virgin olive oil to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. Wash the dandelion leaves and pat dry.

Roll out the puff pastry and cut it into rectangles. Arrange them on a baking tray lined with parchment, leaving some space in between because they'll raise. . Brush with little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Decorate with the thinly sliced cheese and the dandelion. Drizzle with little more oil and add a touch of black pepper. Bake at 350 F in a pre-heated oven for about 25 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden. Enjoy immediately.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/22/puff-slices-with-dandelion-greens-and-cheese/

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna by DinnerinVenice.com

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna by DinnerInVenice.com

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 60 minutes

serves 8

Ingredients

  • A little over 1 lb freshly made lasagnas OR just under1 lb dry lasagna (not the pre-cooked type)
  • 2 1/2 lb fresh eggplant
  • 2 lb strained tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 8 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • extra frying oil (olive or grape seed)
  • 1 1/2 lb whole milk ricotta (if you find salted ricotta, mix 1 lb fresh ricotta with 1/2 lb crumbled salted)
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano cheese, or to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • baking pan, about12 x 9 1/2 inches

Directions

Slice the eggplant into regular slices. For best results, slice vertically: when sliced in this direction, the eggplant fibers soak up less oil when fried. Cover with coarse salt (more than you think you need), and place in a colander in your sink, to sweat out their water or bitter juices (30 to 60 minutes). This is important because if they are too juicy inside, they’ll soak up oil like crazy when fried. In the meantime, heat 8 tbsp oil in a saucepan, add 1 clove garlic and the tomato, salt, and cook on low/medium heat for 10 minutes until thickened, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Cook the pasta according to instructions and dry the sheets on kitchen towels. After allowing the eggplant slices to “sweat” for at least 30 minutes, rinse them very well, one by one under running water, rubbing them, and then rinse again (more than you think you need). Now dry them (again… more than you think you need!) with paper towel. Heat the frying oil in a deep pan (I know it’s scary, but use a ton of oil. Like, close to 1 quart. The less oil you use, the more oil the eggplant will absorb – because the oil temperature will be more likely to drop when you drop the slices in). If you like using food thermometers, heat the oil to about 330-340F, or just do what I do: test it by dropping a tiny cube of bread or eggplant into it, and if lots and lots of tiny bubbles form around it, you are good to go. Fry the eggplant slices in batches (do not overcrowd the pan, or you’ll lower the temperature of the oil, ending up with greasy soggy slices). Oh, and I almost forgot: use tongs to put the slices in the oil, they are too heavy to be dropped in without getting splashed with hot oil. Fry on both sides until golden, and dry them on several layers of paper towel. Feel free to press the paper towel into the eggplant if you want to remove even more oil. Chop finely, setting only 4 or 5 whole slices aside. Brush a baking pan with little oil and start with a thin layer of the tomato sauce. I like to use earthenware but other materials also work, and as far as size you can go with something about 12 x 9 ½ in. Combine the rest of the sauce with the chopped fried eggplant. Alternate layers of lasagna, eggplant sauce, and ricotta, dusting each layer with little grated cheese. Decorate the top layer with the whole fried eggplant slices and extra grated cheese. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 30 minutes.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/16/eggplant-ricotta-lasagna/


Zucchini Flower and Strawberry Savory Tart

Savory Tart with Zucchini Flowers Asparagus and Strawberries by DinnerInVenice

Savory Tart with Zucchini Flowers Asparagus and Strawberries by DinnerInVenice

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!

zucchini.flowers.by.DinnerInVenice

Zucchini Flower and Strawberry Savory Tart

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet unsweetened frozen puff pastry (or make your own!)
  • 1 basket large ripe strawberries
  • 12 asparagus
  • 1 zucchini 4 to 6 zucchini blossoms/flowers
  • 3 eggs (only 2 if extra-large)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano or grana cheese
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Pre- heat your oven to 375 F (do NOT use your convection setting).

Eliminate the hard bottom part from the asparagus stems. Blanch the asparagus for 2 minutes in slightly salted boiling water, drain them and place them in an ice bowl to preserve their green color.

Cut the zucchini and the strawberries into thin slices.

line a 10 x 7" or a 9 x 9" baking sheet with parchment. Roll the puff pastry into a rectangle , place pastry on a baking sheet, trimming the edges with a sharp knife. leaving about 1 extra inch from the sheet edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork or a toothpick, pierce dough at 1/2-inch intervals. Arrange the strawberries (set a few aside for later), the asparagus, the zucchini and the blossoms on top of the tart. Lightly beat the eggs with salt, pepper and the grated cheese, and pour over the tart. Decorate with the strawberries that were set aside.Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until golden, and serve warm accopanied by a simple arugola salad.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/11/zucchini-flower-and-strawberry-savory-tart/

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

Grilled vegetable salad

 

 

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

“Interesting” salads are not exactly what Italian food is famous for, I know. However, some time in the 1980es, when I was a high school student, many firms and stores in Italy gave up the traditional long midday break, and large salads with more than just vegetables started popping up in the local trattorias as a quick and healthy lunch option.

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

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.

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken breast
  • 1 bell pepper (red or yellow)
  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 slices bread
  • 8 tbsp (to taste) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Peel the garlic, and place it (whole or minced, it's up to you ) in a cup with the oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Allow to rest for a few hours. Cut the chicken breast into chunks or strips. Cut the eggplant into 1/2" slices (with a mandolin) sprinkle them with coarse salt and place them in a colander in your sink for at least 30 mins. to sweat out any bitter juices. Seed the pepper, remove any white membranes, and cut it into slices. Slice the zucchini sideways, thinner than the eggplant. After 30 minutes of salting, rinse the eggplant slices well and pat them dry with paper towel.

Remove the crust from the bread, cut it into cubes, and toast it in the oven for about 5 minutes or until golden. Grill the chicken and the vegetables on a cast iron grill pan or on the barbecue, one type at a time (see my post on grilled vegetables for different cooking times and temperatures), brushing them with the prepared oil and turning them only once or twice. Arrange in a platter and serve warm, with the toasted bread cubes, and drizzled with the remaining flavored oil.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/08/grilled-vegetable-chicken-salad/

 

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

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.

salting eggplant

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!

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and halved or quartered
  • 2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 1 or 2 Japanese eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 head red radicchio or/and fennel, halved or sliced lengthwise (depending on the type and size)
  • ** you can also useother vegetables, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, asparagus etc.
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 to 2 tsp freshly chopped Italian parsley
  • (optional) chopped basil leaves,or rosemary and sage

Directions

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat (or feel free to use your barbecue). If using eggplant, salt the slices and leave them to sweat out the bitter juices for half an hour before you grill them. Rinse them and pat them dry before grilling. Right before placing them on the grill, brush the vegetables with oil. Grill one type of vegetable at a time, because depending on their texture and thickness (see intro) they will require different temperatures and cooking times. Working in batches, cook the vegetables until tender and lightly charred (about 8 minutes for the eggplants and peppers; 5 minutes for the zucchini; 4 minutes for the radicchio, fennel or onion). Don't shift them or turn them frequently or the grill marks will look too irregular. Arrange the vegetables on a platter and drizzle or brush them with more oil. Add salt, pepper, minced garlic and herbs to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/04/italian-grilled-vegetables/

Italian Lamb Fricassee

Agnello in Fricassea - Italian Lamb Fricassee

Italian lamb fricassee - fricassea

In French, the term Fricassee refers to some kind of stew, usually with a white sauce, in which cut-up meat is first sauteed and then slow-cooked  with the addition of liquid. However, ask any Italian (or Greek!) and they will tell you that to them “fricassea”  is any type of meat or poultry served in a traditional egg-lemon sauce. The Tuscan side of my family used to make this sauce to recycle meat (usually veal) that had already been boiled. We would make soup with the broth, serve the meat boiled with a side of green sauce, and the next day we would turn the leftovers into a creamy egg-lemon fricassea. There are several regional versions of this quick and easy recipe, some made with chicken and others with a mix of different types of meat, including liver. In Rome, however, the ingredient of choice is lamb, a symbol of the spring holidays (whether you choose to celebrate Easter or Passover), often with the addition of seasonal vegetables, such as baby artichokes. Serve accompanied by your favorite starch: potatoes or rice are great.

lemon

Italian Lamb Fricassee

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 lb cubed lamb
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp freshly minced parsley, if liked

Directions

Rinse the lamb and pat dry.

mince the garlic and chop the onion and carrot.

heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic, onion and carrot, and cook for about 3-5 minutes on medium heat. Add the lamb and brown it on all sides for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate on high heat. Lower the heat and allow to cook covered for about 30 to 40 minutes or until done. if there is a lot of liquid, towards the end of the cooking uncover the lamb and allow most of the liquid to evaporate.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the lemon juice until emulsified. remove the lamb from the heat, adjust the salt and pepper, and pour in the egg lemon sauce, stirring quickly. If you like, you can add some fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/28/italian-lamb-fricassee/

This recipe was included in
This American Bite’s roundup of lamb recipes.

Passover Almond Custards – Scodelline

6250 Scodelline

6250 Scodelline

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…..

6244 Scodelline

Passover Almond Custards – Scodelline

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

40 minutes

serves 8-10

serves full espresso cup or half-full tea cup

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks, room temperature
  • a little over 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom or rosewater, OR fresh lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup water (less if using the microwave)
  • grated cinnamon to decorate, if liked

Directions

Place the sugar in a small pot, barely covered by water (more or less the same amount of water and sugar). Cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until it starts simmering and turns into a dense syrup. Do not allow it to brown and turn into caramel: as soon as it melts and thickens into a thick syrup, add the almonds and the flower water (or lemon zest), stir a couple more times and remove from the heat. In a separate bowl (I like to use pyrex) whisk the yolks until frothy. It will be easier with an electric whisk or mixer. Slowly pour the whipped egg yolks into the syrup until the mixture is smooth. Cook the mixture on very low heat in a double boiler (you can use the pyrex bowl on top of a pot filled with some water), stirring continuously until it begins to thicken (about 20 minutes) and the surface turns shiny, almost glaze-like. To save time, Lea’s daughter Anna uses a microwave instead of the double boiler: use about 25% less water; once everything is combined, place the pyrex bowl with the mixture in the microwave, and cook on medium for 4 minutes uncovered. Stir, and cook for 3 more minutes. Whether you used the double broiler or the microwave method, once the custard is cooked allow it to cool down, stirring occasionally, and once it’s lukewarm pour it into individual espresso cups (full) or tea cups (half full), and dust the top with some grated cinnamon. Serve accompanied by some fresh fruit. Using 6 yolks, you will make about 8-10 espresso-cup sized "scodelline"

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/19/passover-almond-custards-scodelline/

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

Sweet-and-Sour Seder Carrots

Sweet-and-Sour Seder Carrots

Sweet-and-Sour Seder Carrots

Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is an eight-day (seven in Israel) holiday that celebrates freedom, by retelling the story of the ancient Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. Special symbolic foods are arranged on the seder table, and we read out loud the haggadah, a book that tells the story of the exodus. One of the main goals of having a seder is teaching children about the exodus, encouraging questions from them in the hope that they will learn to appreciate (and fight for – my father would add) the gift of freedom. It’s not that hard to keep kids interested and involved, as this is one of the rare occasions when they are allowed to stay up REALLY late at night, which in itself feels like a big deal to the young ones. However, if a family seder with a couple of cousins can be fun, a whole community seder with a couple of hundred people and a bunch of kids of different ages can be a total blast, and if you ever visit Venice for Passover and make sure to reserve a spot on time, you will be able to witness just that (you may want to bring ear plugs). The tradition of the public seder in the social hall in Venice goes back to 1891, making it the oldest in Italy. Apparently, it was nothing short of revolutionary, for a traditional community with an orthodox rabbi to have a public seder (which is generally more of a reform tradition, unless one is at a vacation resort). However, the Venetian mutual aid society “Cuore e Concordia” (heart and concord), which initially created the seder only for children and the poor or people left without a family,  later realized that, with the increasing level of assimilation, there were many families that lacked a person capable of leading a traditional seder and reading from the Haggadah in Hebrew, and opened the event to the whole community.

Cuore.concordia

Fast-forward more than 120 years, and every Passover, about 200 people (half of the Jews of Venice… plus some tourists, of course) celebrate with a degree of energy and joy that are rarely seen in a smaller context, culminating in the children’s loud singing of “Capretto” (Little Goat), the local version of the famous Passover song “Had Gadya“. One of the consequences of having a large public meal every year is that the traditional menu for the whole community has become crystallized, and changing any item would feel like converting to a different religion. In particular, we are all very attached to the vegetable sides: artichokes, of course; stewed fennel; and this sweet-and-sour carrot stew, which will remind some of you of Tzimmes, but it’s much less sweet. Make sure you use the best organic carrots you can find, and to cook them until they are quite soft: they are supposed to be stewed, and not sautéed.

carote.mazzah.001

Sweet-and-Sour Seder Carrots

Ingredients

  • 2 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in hot water
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or a mix of olive oil and schmalz, for the tastier classic version!)
  • 2-4 tbsp white wine vinegar, or to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • water

Directions

Place the oil (or oil and chicken fat) in a pot or skillet with the sliced carrots, and drizzle with about 1/2 cup water.Add salt, and cook on low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes. Add the raisins and pine nuts and some black pepper, and cook uncovered, over high hear, for 2 to 5 minutes longer or until desired tenderness (the carrots should be soft). When they are almost done, add the vinegar and cook for one more minute or until it's absorbed.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/18/sweet-and-sour-seder-carrots/

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

 

Naughty Potato Chocolate Budino

Potato Chocolate Budino

Potato Chocolate Budino

I can’t claim to have ever been the “meat and potato” type in the classic sense – someone who prefers them to vegetables, or even fools herself into thinking they are one. No, thank you: as a side, I’d much rather have something very green, such as artichokes, or kale .

However, I’m obsessed with potatoes as the main ingredient in more elaborate dishes: from gnocchi to pancakes, from croquettes to breads, and especially desserts.

In our carb-phobic day and age, potatoes have been accused of being too starchy, but that’s exactly what makes them so perfect for breads and cakes: yeast thrives on these starches, and the end result is a baked good with a light, fluffy, and yet moist texture. Not that I was always so particular about texture – I have to confess that my fondest memory of a potato “dessert” is actually a concoction much less refined than what I enjoy now. I was probably in 6th grade and it was a lazy winter afternoon, doing homework at my friend Rachele’s house, when her older brother, probably to fight boredom, brought a bowl of French fries and dared us to dip them in Nutella. After a few shrieks of disgust, we accepted the challenge, and discovered that the pairing was quite addictive.

Chocolate.Potatoes.001

My friends’ mom called us “porcelli” (pigs) for eating such a non-standard snack: if only I could send her a a photo of the ridiculously overpriced package of chocolate-covered potato chips now being sold at Crumbs bakery in New York! We were not crazy, but rather, adventurous! It turns out that there are a number of old recipes, in Italy and elsewhere, for potato desserts: from fluffy doughnuts to moist cakes, and creamy puddings. Let’s call them extra-comfort food! Last, but not least, they are gluten-free, and Passover-friendly. Which is why my contribution to this month’s Passover-themed challenge for the Kosher Connection is a decadent, almost naughty, fluffy and yet creamy Budino, an Italian custardy pudding/cake, with all the richness of potatoes, almonds, chocolate, and if you like even whipped cream. I guarantee you won’t miss the flour!

Almonds.Cream.002

Naughty Potato Chocolate Budino

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

1 hour, 10 minutes

6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • ¾ lb russet or idaho potatoes
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup butter (or coconut butter for margarine or a non-dairy version)
  • ¼ cup potato starch
  • 2 heaped tbsp ground almonds
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, grated (or chocolate chips)
  • 1 vanilla bean or little vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp rum or almond or chocolate liqueur
  • few drops of lemon juice or vinegar to beat the egg whites
  • powdered sugar to decorate
  • whipped cream or/and chocolate syrup to decorate

Directions

Peel the potatoes, cut them into pieces them and place them in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes or until tender. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. If using the microwave, cook for only one minute at a time, check, stir, and proceed in this way until most of it is melted. Add the melted butter (or coconut butter, or margarine), the liqueur, sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the potato starch, the egg yolks, and the ground almonds. Mash the potatoes and combine them with the mixture.

In a clean bowl beat the egg whites with a few drops of lemon juice or white vinegar until they form peaks, and incorporate them to the batter with a spatula, using upward motions.

Grease a mold (the one I used was about 7 1/2" w by 3" h). If possible, also line the bottom with parchment. Pour the batter into the prepared mold, and cook for about 40 minutes in a pre-heated 350 F oven. Allow to cool, unmold, and decorate with powdered sugar and either whipped cream or chocolate syrup (or both).

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/17/naughty-potato-chocolate-budino/



Bocca di dama with Orange Caramel

almond cake BOCCA DI DAMA.HD

almond cake BOCCA DI DAMA.HD

Whenever I bite into this delicious almond cake, I can’t help but wonder about the origins of its name: Bocca di Dama means “Lady’s Mouth” in Italian. Was a romantic baker in love with a beautiful customer? Or is the cake so sweet, soft and moist that it reminded someone of a passionate kiss? This Passover dessert, popular among the Jews of Leghorn and in several other Sephardic communities, is so ancient that nobody really knows. The only thing that’s certain is that, just like kisses, it’s highly addictive, and you probably won’t be able to stop at the first bite. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: if it’s just you, and the cake, you are set for failure. Surround yourself with lots of guests. My husband once made the whole thing disappear overnight. In this version, the tanginess of orange complements the mild and buttery texture and flavor of the almonds: use organic fruit for the best results.

sedertable1867livorno_500px

A Passover Seder in Leghorn (1867 haggadah)

Bocca di Dama with Orange Caramel

Ingredients

  • 2 small/medium organic oranges
  • 2 cups (250 gr - a little over ½ lb) almond meal or freshly ground blanched almonds
  • 1 1/4 cup (250 gr - a little over ½ lb) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 large egg yolks (add 1, if medium eggs )
  • 7 large egg whites (add 1, if medium eggs)
  • 1/8 cup or 3-4 tbsp matzah flour. For GF, use GF matzah or potato starch.
  • oil or margarine, and parchment paper, to prepare the pan
  • FOR DECORATING
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ orange cup cooking water (see instructions)
  • 1/3 cup finely sliced almonds (toasted if liked)
  • zest of one of the oranges
  • *** if you don't feel like making the caramel, just use orange marmalade and sliced almonds to decorate
  • (I like to use an 8 x 11" baking pan or a 10" springform round pan. You can vary the dimensions, but the baking time will change also)

Directions

Grate the zest of an orange and set it aside. If planning to decorate with the caramel, place the peeled oranges in a small pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, covered (skip this step if decorating with orange marmalade).

Beat the egg yolks and 2 whites with the sugar and the salt until frothy. Add the ground almonds and the matzah meal, the zest of one orange , the liqueur if using, and combine well. In a separate bowl beat the whites with an electric whisk until stiff; gently incorporate them into the batter with a spatula, using an upward motion. Grease the sides of a baking pan and dust with matzah meal, and line the bottom with parchment.

In a pre-heated oven, bake at 350 F f(on a regular – NOT convection – setting) for 30 minutes, then lower the heat slightly (to 335 or 340) and cook for another 20 to 30 minutes (50-60 total), checking periodically with a toothpick until the cake is moist but not liquid inside. Once the top is golden, you may want to cover it with foil for the last part of the cooking. Once the cake is done, turn off the oven setting the door slightly ajar and allow the cake to rest inside for an extra 15 minutes (similarly to what you would do with a cheesecake!). Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely. In the meantime, melt the remaining ½ sugar with 1/2 cup of the water in which you boiled the orange. You can double the dosage for a thicker layer. Make sure to use low heat, stirring constantly, until it forms a caramel. Stir in the remaining shredded zest of the first orange, and brush on top of the cake. Decorate with sliced or slivered almonds. If you don’t feel like making the caramel, you can just glaze the top of the cake with about 4-5 tablespoons of orange marmalade diluted with 2 tbsp hot water.

* For those of you who love oranges, there is also a version of this cake that incorporates the boiled pulp of the 2 oranges into the batter. The recipe is pretty much the same, except that you should use only 4 yolks (beaten with the sugar), and 4 egg whites (beaten stiff). After removing most of the white membranes, place the cooked oranges into a blender, and add them to the batter. Other than that, proceed in the same way. Because the cake will be much more "orangey", you can decorate it with simple powdered sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/12/bocca-di-dama-with-orange-caramel/

Farro Salad with Pears and Cheese

FARRO CON RUCOLA, MIELE E PERE


FARRO CON RUCOLA, MIELE E PERE

Farro is a “cousin” of spelt, and a grain so ancient that it is said to have sustained the Roman legions with its nutty flavor, chewy texture, and high fiber, vitamin, and protein content.

FARRO NEL COLINO

When I was growing up my mom would always bring back some from our visits to Nonna in Tuscany. Our friends in Venice would taste her soups or cakes with a combination of curiosity and suspicion: at the time, in fact, farro was used only in a few Italian regions, and mostly in peasant dishes. By the way, these are the same friends who were puzzled by her use of olive oil, which they considered a heavier and less healthy alternative to butter or margarine!

In more recent years, however, farro has made it onto the chic tables of all northern Italy , and even to the United States, where it flies off the shelves of gourmet grocery stores such as Zabar’s and Citarella’s.

K3106 FARRO CON RUCOLA H

Warm Farro Salad with Pears and Cheese

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

40 minutes

4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb farro (you can substitute spelt)
  • 1 large bunch arugola
  • 3 medium pears
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 4 oz gorgonzola or blue cheese (you can substitute feta)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4 or 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the spelt and cook it until al dente in salted boiling water (about 30-40 minutes in a regular pot or 5-10 minutes in a pressure cooker, follow instructions on package). Drain, allow to cool, and transfer to a salad bowl. Whisk the oil with the vinegar and honey, salt and pepper. Peel and slice the pears and drizzle them with lemon juice to prevent them from darkening. Dice or crumble the cheese, and break or cut the arugola into smaller pieces. Add all ingredients to the farro and dress with the honey vinagrette. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/12/farro-salad-with-pears-and-cheese/

More with Farro:

My Chestnut & Farro Soup

NYT’s Farrotto with Mushrooms

Lucullian Delights’ Chocolate Farro Cake

Artichoke Sformatini

sformatini di carciofi

sformatini di carciofi

Behind a tough, thorny covering, the artichoke hides a tender and fragrant heart. Through the centuries, this contrast has inspired a number of literary productions, from Greek legends to contemporary poetry. And with all due respect to my Israeli friends, the artichoke’s reputation  in this sense even precedes that of the “Sabra”! While we think of the artichoke as a vegetable, it is technically the edible and tasty bud of a flower, which makes it even more romantic – not to mention the satisfaction of finally eating something that it took us two hours and a couple of knife accidents to clean.

In Italy, we are all notoriously obsessed with local food, and we all insist that our particular regional variety is the best (note to my Roman friends: please don’t even bother to comment and criticize under this post, our differences on the topic can not be reconciled!). Italian Jews like me are possibly even more passionate than the others about this topic, given that until at least the 1800s in Northern and Central Italy the Gentiles would not go anywhere near artichokes, which were considered some crazy Jewish ingredient.

In Venice, we buy the purple artichokes that come from Sant’Erasmo, the largest island in the lagoon. In the spring, if you are lucky, sometimes you can find the cream of the crop, the first tiny artichoke to grow on each plant, out of more than one hundred: these are called  “castraure” (kas-tra-OO-reh), because they are “castrated” (cut off ) in order to encourage more to flourish. I have seen my fellow Venetians get into violent fights at the Rialto market over these treasures, which are prized for their relative lack of pricks and their tender, melt-in-your-mouth interior.

While it’s not the same as eating the real thing along the canals of Venice, you can find pretty good artichokes right here in the U.S (my favorites are the ones from Montrey County, in California). Ever since the Italian immigration wave in the early 20th century, artichokes quickly became popular, and started selling for a high price. In the 1920’s, even the mafia invested in them, and when Ciro Terranova, “the Artichoke King”, took the artichoke wars to such extremes as to terrify produce distributors all over the country, Fiorello La Guardia, the legendary mayor of New York, declared illegal “the sale and possession of artichokes” iin the City. The ban was lifted after only one week: it seems that La Guardia, himself the son of Jewish Italian immigrants, admitted that he loved the vegetable too much to prohibit it!

artichokes.001

Sformato is a kind of savory custard, but fluffier, almost soufflé-like and usually including pureed vegetables. The name (sfohr-MAH-toh) means “unmolded” in Italian — from sformare, to turn out. It’s a very traditional recipe, found in many Italian regions and in most classic cookbooks, from “Il Talismano della Felicità” to “Il Cucchiaio d’Argento”. Tuscans, like my mom, are particularly fond of it and make it with every vegetable they can find!

Artichoke Sformatini

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 hour, 15 minutes

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 artichokes (or 2 lb frozen artichoke hearts or bottoms)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 large eggs
  • For the Bechamel Sauce:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp grated parmigiano or grana cheese (or more, to taste)

Directions

Clean the artichokes, eliminating the outer tough leaves and the chokes. Slice them. In a saucepan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil with a thinly sliced shallot for 2 minutes. Add the artichokes and barely cover with water or vegetable oil. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until soft and until the water has been fully absorbed. Adjust salt. Blend in your food processor until smooth.

Make the béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Add the flour, whisking continuously to prevent clumps. Cook on low heat until the flour disappears into the butter, without letting the butter turn brow. Start adding warm (not hot!) milk to the mix, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring the sauce to a simmer, add salt and pepper and keep whisking almost constantly for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Taste, and add more salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. If you still ended up with some lumps, strain through a sieve. Remove from the heat, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and allow to cool before combining with the eggs.

Whisk 2 eggs lightly in a bowl; stir in the béchamel sauce and artichoke puree and parmigiano cheese, and combine until smooth.

Butter the ramekins (you can use 6 6-ounce ramekins, or 4 larger ones, or 8 smaller. Baking time will vary depending on size). Dust with bread crumbs. Pour mixture into ramekins, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 25 to 40 minutes (depending on size), or until a light golden crust forms on top and the sformati are nice and firm. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, unmold and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/27/artichoke-sformatini/

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

Crespelle with Asparagus

CRESPELLE AGLI ASPARAGI E FORMAGGIO DI FOSSA

CRESPELLE AGLI ASPARAGI E FORMAGGIO DI FOSSA

This post is very special: it’s a virtual wedding surprise for a young and talented food blogger, Ali (check out her yummy recipes on AliBabka), who just tied the knot with her lucky and well-fed Matan yesterday.

A Jewish wedding is not complete without 7 special blessings over the couple (Sheva Brachot). At the ceremony, they are recited by friends and family members first under the chuppa (wedding canopy) before the breaking of the glass, and then again after the meal.

Among more traditional Jews, the Sheva Berachot are recited again for the whole week following the wedding, at festive meals that friends and family of the couple take turns throwing in their honor every night. While it’s impossible not to pack on a couple of extra pounds, and the honeymoon needs to be postponed, many Jewish couples remember the week of Sheva Berachot with more affection than the wedding itself, simply because it’s so nice to be cared for and pampered by the ones we love!

In this spirit, a group of kosher bloggers is throwing a virtual Sheva Berachot for Ali and Matan. Shhhhhh! It’s a big surprise. Each one of us is posting a favorite food as a blessing for a delicious life together.

 

Crespelle with Asparagus

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

1 hour

4 to 6 servings

calories: ignorance is Bliss

Ingredients

  • For the Crepes:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk
  • 1 scant cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Filling:
  • 1 lb fresh asparagus
  • 1 lb fresh ricotta
  • freshly grated Parmigiano–Reggiano cheese, to taste
  • 2 medium eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Bechamel sauce (if using) :
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) flour
  • 6 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated parmigiano or grana cheese (or more, to taste)

Directions

Place all ingredients for the crespelle in a bowl, and whisk until smooth. Allow to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes (in the meantime you can make the filling). Heat a nonstick pan brushed with butter or oil and pour 1 large tablespoon of mixture into the pan. Spread it and cook each crepe (turning it with the help of a large lid or platter) on both sides. Use up all the batter and set the crespelle aside.

Wash, clean, and steam or boil the asparagus, discarding the harder bottom part. Chop.

In a bowl, comine the ricotta with the grated cheese, eggs, asparagus, salt and pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Blend and set aside.

Prepare the béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Add the flour, whisking continuously to prevent clumps. Cook on low heat until the flour disappears into the butter, without letting the butter turn brow. Start adding warm (not hot!) milk to the mix, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring the sauce to a simmer, add salt and pepper and keep whisking almost constantly for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Taste, and add more salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. If you still ended up with some lumps, strain through a sieve. Remove from the heat and cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

Combine 1/3 of the béchamel sauce with the ricotta mixture, and use this mix to fill the crepes, which you will roll up manicotti-style.

Lightly grease a baking pan or casserole. Arrange the filled crespelle in the dish, top with more béchamel sauce and freshly grated cheese. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes or until the top is golden.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/18/crespelle-with-asparagus/



Venetian Carnival Galani

Galani 1

Galani 1

In case you were wondering, “Dinner in Venice” did not grow up with the Carnival: when I was little, all that was left of the old glories was a few fried sweets and children’s costume parties of the same scale as an average birthday. Imagine my excitement  at age 10 – and my mom’s concern – when the local government announced that, in an effort to promote the history and culture of Venice (read: boost tourism and the resulting income) they were going to bring back the historical Carnival. It was 1979, and about 3 millions extra visitors have been literally flooding Venice each winter ever since.

iStock_000015955188.Small.carnival

The first record of some type of Carnival celebrations in Venice is in a document from 1094, which describes plenty of partying and dancing in the weeks before Lent, a penitential period for the Christians;  however, the history buffs among you will be quick to point out that the roots of Carnivals can also be traced in those ancient pagan rituals for the passage of seasons, such as the Greek cult of Dionisus and the Roman saturnalia. Indeed, it was the Romans who best summarized the concept in their famous motto: “Semel in anno licet insanire” (it’s acceptable to go crazy, once a year).

Many scholars, like Edward Muir, suggest that far from being just for the sake of having fun, all these festivities offered our Early Modern European friends an important “safety valve”. Not that anybody would discuss “stress” back then, but think of the pressures of such a structured society! Basically, give the crowds lots of doughnuts and wine, and permission to make fun of the local lords and cardinals, and they’ll forget about actually rebelling against them. Much like the idea of the Roman circus.

Masks, the main symbol of the Venetian Carnival, are only mentioned starting in the 13th century, and we don’t really know why they were first introduced. What we do know is that, while covering up the face and the body is encouraged by many traditional cultures as a means to preserve modesty – in the city of Casanova, it always promoted vice rather than virtue!

Just to give you an idea of the atmosphere, the government even had to issue a specific law in 1339 to forbid sexually provocative disguises and “visiting nuns’ convents while in disguise”(!)

MASCHERE DI CARNEVALE

Masks provided the perfect cover for illicit romantic encounters, facilitated conspiracies, and fulfilled Cinderella-like fantasies by breaking down the usual barriers between different strata of society. The Venetians loved their new-found anonymity, and started wearing masks for longer stretches of time: in the Renaissance and Baroque ages it would have been hard to find anybody in normal attire between October and February!

Among lavish balls, plays, parades and music, people still found the time to indulge in desserts, in particular several kinds of fried sweets, from fritole to galani.

I’ve been looking for some kind of symbolic explanation for this custom, something along the lines of the Jewish tradition of eating fried things on Hanukkah to remember the miracle of the oil. It turns out that the reason behind the Carnival customs is much more prosaic: in the old days, January or February – before the restrictions of Lent – was the time when pigs were slaughtered; all parts of the animal were considered precious, and the lard (in its melted form, called “strutto”) was used for cooking and frying. Apparently, it resists high temperatures and tastes delicious –  those of you who don’t need to follow any religious or health-related restrictions might want to give it a try. The rest of us will have to stick to olive or vegetable oil! Galani (or “crostoli”, “chiacchiere”, “cenci”, as they are called in other regions) are addictive no matter what you fry them in.

Galani.double.001

Venetian Carnival Galani

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

1 hour

yelds about 30

calories: ignorance is bliss

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup (heaped) sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 stick butter, cubed
  • 1 shot grappa or rhum
  • half a pod vanilla beans, if liked
  • powdered sugar for decorating

Directions

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and salt in your stand mixer bowl or on a counter. Add the eggs, the liqueur, vanilla, and the butter (softened at room temperature). Process the dough until smooth, adding little liqueur or water if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest on the counter for 30-40 minutes. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface using your rolling pin to 1/8", or you can simply use the lasagna attachment if you own a pasta machine. Using a sharp knife (or a fluted pastry wheel if you feel fancy), cut the dough into rectangles and add two cuts near the center.

In a heavy wide pot with tall sides (or in a deep-fryer), heat abundant oil (peanut oil, vegetable oil or mild olive oil) until tiny bubbles form when you throw a small piece of bread into it.

Fry the galani in batches, and dry them on a triple layer of paper towel before decorating them with powdered sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/07/venetian-carnival-galani/

OTHER FRIED RECIPES THAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK OUT:

Frank’s Pizzette Fritte (yay! Fried pizza!)

Ronnie’s Kichels

Silvia’s Savory Donuts

My Recie de Amman (the Jewish version of these galani, for Purim) in The Forward

Tons of fried treats in my Hanukkah category – but they taste good any time of the year,provided you are armed with Alkaseltzer