Four Cheese Pasta – Italian Mac & Cheese

Four Cheese Pasta

Four Cheese Pasta

Macaroni and cheese occupies a special place in the American heart, as the ultimate comfort food.

To tell you the truth, when I moved here from Italy and found out that people were so crazy about this abomination in a box, I thought you guys were all a bit eccentric. Really – why would you want your (processed, powdered) cheese to be orange? Not that it was a big deal: I have my own issues with junk food – namely, digging into the Nutella jar when under pressure.

However, when my children started coming back from school demanding Mac & Cheese, I went from mildly entertained to outraged (after all, I spend hours canning made-from-scratch tomato sauce!). I did try to lecture them about the superiority of fresh ingredients, the importance of vegetables, blah blah blah, but they ignored me. I needed a better strategy. Here is how I gained back my cool factor.

Meet Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi, the Italian ancestor of Mac & Cheese. While it’s probably terrible for you (I can’t imagine another dish that packs in as much butterfat), at least this homemade recipe does not include any chemicals, plus it tastes infinitely better than Kraft’s packaged version. You might still end up needing a bypass, but at least you’ll have enjoyed getting there!

Four Cheese Pasta

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

30 minutes

yield: 6-8

Calories/Fat: ignorance is bliss

Ingredients

  • 1 package (1 lb) rigatoni or penne pasta (I like Garofalo, De Cecco and Barilla)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream + 1/2 cup milk (if you feel too guilty, just 1 cup whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese (or a sharp and creamy cheese like Brie, Camembert) shredded or cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup taleggio (or Fontina, Asiago, Gouda), shredded or cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, Emmenthal or Gruyere, shredded or cubed
  • 1/3 cup Parmigiano, Grana or Parmigianito, freshly grated, plus more for topping
  • Black pepper

Directions

Bring water to a boil and add salt.

Heat the milk in a saucepan; add cream and the cheeses to the hot milk and stir continuously, until all the cheeses are melted together. If you like living dangerously, you can even add 1 tablespoon butter.

When the water boils, add some coarse salt, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, according to the directions on the box. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and drain the pasta.

Toss the rigatoni and the cheese sauce together, adding a little of the cooking water (it acts as an emulsifier and thickener); sprinkle with black pepper and serve accompanied by extra parmigiano. Those of you who feel fancy can go with a touch of grated nutmeg, or even shaved truffle! You can also transfer into a baking dish and broil on high until golden and crisp on top (3 to 5 minutes).

(***if you keep strictly kosher, here are some imported kosher cheeses available in the US. The site specifies each cheese's kosher certification, since we often joke that "Two Jews, three opinions" and do not always share the same standards: http://www.kcheese.com/ )

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/07/four-cheese-pasta-italian-mac-cheese/

Hazelnut Cocoa Tea Cookies

biscottini da te alle nocciole

biscottini da te alle nocciole

Biscottini da Te’ al Cacao e Nocciole

Italy’s Langhe region, in the heart of Piedmont, produces some of the finest wines in the world. However, to many foodies, Langhe is first and foremost synonymous with nutty and chocolaty treats.  The local hazelnut, “Tonda Gentile”, is in fact considered the highest-quality hazelnut in the world, and the jewel of the Italian production. Even the famous food writer David Lebovitz writes, “I do not like to speak in superlatives, so when I say that the hazelnuts from Piedmont are really the best I’ve ever tasted—believe it”.

The pure, fresh air of these vine-covered hillsides does seem to work some kind of magic on both the flavor and texture of the nut.  And magic it could well be: the Langhe hills, topped by medieval churches and often wrapped in a mysterious fog, which fades the natural colors into soft purples and muted greens, inspired in the past many superstitions about witches’ gatherings! Of course, after the Piedmontese confectioners came up with Torrone (Italian honey nougat) and then with Gianduja (chocolate with hazelnut paste) , everybody figured out that those mysterious witches they feared must in fact be good fairies.

My personal Langhe fairy was my mother’s friend Matilde. Matilde, an elderly Piedmontese piano teacher with a formidable gift for baking, was solely responsible for turning my sugar-hating self (I did not eat dessert until age 10) into the cookie monster, and all with this easy recipe below.

Hazelnut Cocoa Tea Cookies

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

1 hour, 15 minutes

6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 and ¼ cups flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 and ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ lb blanched (peeled) hazelnuts
  • 1 cup (or 2 sticks) butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 4 yolks
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • salt

Directions

Grind the hazelnuts in your food processor with 2 or 3 tablespoons of the confectioner’s sugar (taken from the total. The sugar absorbs the nut oil so that you don’t end up with marzipan). Sift the flour with the cocoa, and combine it with the butter – either in a stand mixer or using ice-cold hands (keep a bowl of ice nearby).

Add the ground hazelnuts, the rest of the sugar (but reserve 2 tbsps for decorating), the yolks, and a large pinch of salt, and knead into a ball. Wrap in plastic and place into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes .

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Using a cold, flour-dusted rolling pin, roll the dough on a floured surface (even better: roll between two sheets of parchment or wax paper*). When it’s about 1/3” thick, cut it into discs using a cookie cutter. Arrange the cookies about 1” apart from one another on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.

And bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and dust with the remaining confectioner’s sugar. Serve with a hot pot of black tea!

TIPS FOR ROLLING OUT A STICKY DOUGH:

• If the dough is very sticky, dust its surface with flour before placing it between the two sheets of parchment or wax paper.

• Lift the sheets out and put them back on several time, to prevent them from sticking to the dough and creating creases.

• Turn the dough over several times, so that it is rolled out evenly

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/01/31/hazelnut-cocoa-tea-cookies/

A FEW MORE IDEAS FOR COOKIES BY SOME OF MY FAVORITE BLOGGERS:
Brutti ma Buoni by AglioOlio&Peperoncino

Nutella Cookies by SundayAtTheGiacomettis

Amazing Sugar Cookies by CouldntBeParve

Margarita Cookies by SmittenKitchen

 

Frisinsal – Pharaoh’s Wheel

double.frisinsal

 For this article and recipe in The Forward, click here

double.frisinsal

 

For this article and recipe in The Forward, click here

Potato Puree

S 10 880 PURE DI PATATE

S 4 950 2 pure

The term “comfort food” originated in the US, and I’ve heard it used In Italy only recently, mostly by food-bloggers. That’s not to say that we didn’t have comfort food before, we just didn’t have a name for it. On top of that, our choices are often different. Where you go for hamburgers, we dig into spaghetti; when you take out the ice cream, we open the Nutella jar. There is one exception, a unifying, universal ingredient: mashed potatoes.  In Northern Italy, when a mom wants to comfort her kids after a not-so-great grade at school, a broken heart, or simply a long week of rain, she will serve this crowd-pleaser as a side: Pure’ di patate  (potato puree), a silky, creamy and scrumptuous blend of starchy potatoes, milk and butter.

While mashed potatoes can be dry, lumpy, hyper-garlicky, and even gloppy, puree is velvety smooth, and will win the pickiest palates over with its decadence. Not even your carb-phobic friends will be able to resist it.

* for a non-dairy version, replace the butter and milk with olive oil and vegetable broth.

* *if you are watching your weight, you could replace the whole milk with 1% and halve the butter; but do add some butter for flavor.

*** If you need to reheat it, you should add a little more hot milk or broth.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds starchy potatoes (Yukon gold or russet, not too young)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup milk, or a little more
  • salt to taste
  • a pinch of nutmeg

Directions

Cook the potatoes with the peel (whole, if they are small-ish, or halved or quartered if they are very large) in a pot of salted boiling water (30-45 minutes). If you are in a rush, you can cook them much faster in a pressure cooker or even in the microwave (about 15 minutes). Test them with a fork to make sure they are soft, and drain, discarding the cooking water. Allow them to cool until they are still very warm but not too hot to handle, and peel them.

1757_1 Patate

Put them through a ricer or potato masher, gathering them back into the pot. Place the top over low heat and add the butter, and then slowly the hot milk, stirring with a wooden spoon.

STEP 3 PURE' BICOLORE

Keep stirring until the puree is soft, smooth and silky! Adjust the salt, add a pinch of nutmeg, and serve immediately.

S 10 880 PURE DI PATATE

 

Potato Puree

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 hour

6 servings

CALORIES AND FAT: ignorance is bliss!

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds starchy potatoes (Yukon gold or russet, not too young)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup milk, or a little more
  • salt to taste
  • a pinch of nutmeg

Directions

Cook the potatoes with the peel (whole, if they are small-ish, or halved or quartered if they are very large) in a pot of salted boiling water (30-45 minutes). If you are in a rush, you can cook them much faster in a pressure cooker or even in the microwave (about 15 minutes). Test them with a fork to make sure they are soft, and drain, discarding the cooking water.

Allow them to cool until they are still very warm but not too hot to handle; peel them, and put them through a ricer or potato masher, gathering them back into the pot.

Place the top over low heat and add the butter, and then slowly the hot milk, stirring with a wooden spoon. As you add milk, you can also switch to a whisk. Keep stirring until the puree is soft,

Smooth and silky! Adjust the salt, add a pinch of nutmeg, and serve immediately.

* for a non-dairy version, replace the butter and milk with olive oil and vegetable broth.

* if you are watching your weight, you could replace the whole milk with 1%, but do add some butter for flavor.

* If you need to reheat it, you should add a little more hot milk or broth.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/01/18/potato-puree/

 

 

Venetian Jewish Fish Balls

S 17 00 POLPETTE DI PESCE

S 17 00 POLPETTE DI PESCE

 

In spite of the many tourist traps that give Venice, and many other popular destinations, a bad rep, if you have a chance to spend some quiet days there you will appreciate how the absence of cars has crystallized this city into a different dimension, with a magical sense of time. The pedestrian way of life is not something Venetians are forced to, rather they embrace it – after all, they have access to water buses – but they prefer to leave them to the hordes of tourists. Walking to and from work does not only provide us with a built-in form of daily exercise; it makes it very likely to bump into friends unexpectedly (only 60,000 people live in Venice), which usually results into a stop at one of the city’s bàcari (wine bars) to catch up over an ombra (a “shadow”, or a small glass) of wine or a Spriss cocktail, and cicheti, the signature snacks.  Cicheti is a Venetian term used to describe a wide range of bite-size local treats, from deep-fried seafood and rice croquettes to grilled radicchio and baby artichokes from the nearby island of St. Erasmo; from boiled eggs served with anchovies, to meatballs, to the legendary bacala’ mantecato (stockfish mousse) and sarde in saor (fried sardines marinated in sweet-and-sour onions).

Among my favorite finger foods are these fish balls, which you can also keep cooking in a light tomato sauce after frying them, if you prefer to serve them as part of a meal, on top of polenta. Fish balls, like meat balls, are a staple of Jewish Italian sustainable cooking, and were traditionally made with leftover boiled or roasted fish. However, these are so good that when I don’t have any leftovers I cook some fish in order to make a batch.

Venetian Jewish Fish Balls

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds leftover cooked fish (white)
  • 2 medium/large eggs
  • about 4 slices white bread, crust removed
  • the fish cooking water (where the fish was cooked with celery, carrot, onion), or vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tbsps freshly minced parsley
  • 2 anchovies, salt-or oil-packed, drained and minced (optional)
  • a large pinch of nutmeg and one of cinnamon (optional; or thyme)
  • salt, pepper
  • flour to dredge
  • olive oil for frying

Directions

Soak the bread in the broth or fosh stock until soft. Drain and squeeze. Mash the fish with the bread, anchovies, season with salt and pepper, add the parsley and spices. Taste and adjust the salt if needed. Add the eggs, combine well and allow to rest in the fridge for a few minutes. If it’s still too soft you can add a tbsp of bread crumbs.

With wet hands, form little balls (about 1 to 1 /2” in diameter. Dredge them in flour and deep fry in olive oil, in a deep fryer or in a heavy pot with tall sides. To deep fry, heat at least 2" of the olive oil to frying temperature (you can test it by dropping a small piece of bread in the oil: if lots of little bubbles form around the bread, the temperature is right). 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 towels.

Serve warm.

Serves 6

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/01/14/venetian-jewish-fish-balls/



Prosecco and White Grape Risotto

7109 Risotto allo champagne uva bianca

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If you read my previous post about our New Year’s traditions, you know about the importance that Italians place upon some food symbols of plenty. This occasionally verges on the superstitious, and on New Year’s Eve you will see some people stuffing themselves with lentils and grapes as if there’s no tomorrow. The Spanish also follow this custom of eating grapes at midnight, but they stop at 12, one for each month of the new year.

Both in the Judeo-Christian and in the pagan/Greek-Roman traditions, grape clusters deliver such a symbolic punch that it’s quite clear why they have become the center of our celebrations for Capodanno (New Year’s Eve); either in their natural form, which can be appreciated by everybody beyond age, cultural and religious barriers, or in the form of wine – the bubbly, sparkly spumante for the midnight toast! As proven by countless sculptures, frescos and paintings, grapes in Italy have been for hundreds of years the allegory of wealth and well-being.

In Venice and the Veneto, another food associated with images of fertility and of prosperity is rice. Rice is thrown at the bride and groom at a wedding to wish them a lifetime full of blessings (in Roman times, wheat was used for this purpose – but given the role that rice has played in Northern Italian economy and gastronomy for the past 500 years, it has long earned pride of place!)

Finally, all of these ingredients together – grapes, spumante and rice – find their place from time immemorial on my family’s New Year’s table. About half an hour before midnight, I start cooking my signature risotto, which I keep “all’onda” (like the waves, creamy and liquidy – that’s how we like it in Venice) and toss with really good butter and parmigiano. With a pomegranate salad and sides of lentils and salmon, followed by a slice of panettone and a fragrant flute of spumante or prosecco, it’s the perfect start to a delicious new year!

Happy 2013! Here are a few recipes from some of my favorite bloggers that would also be perfect for an Italian New Year’s Eve:

And Here is my New Year’s Risotto:

  • 4 cups or as needed, vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 shallot or ½ white onion, very finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Vialone Nano or Arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup Brut Spumante, Prosecco or Champagne
  • 1 cup white or rose’ grapes (seedless or seeded), halved
  • 1/4 cup or to taste freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions (serves 4, about 30 minutes)

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep at a low simmer.

In a large heavy or non-stick saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter, add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes until tender. Add the rice and stir , coating it in the butter. Continue “toasting” the rice, stirring, for 3 minutes Add the Prosecco, Brut or Champagne, and simmer until it has evaporated. Add 1/2 cup of  hot broth and stir until almost completely absorbed (2 minutes). Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth a ladleful at a time, stirring almost constantly and allowing the broth to absorb before adding the next ladleful, until the rice is “al dente” (tender but firm to the bite) and the mixture is very creamy. About half-way through the cooking add the halved grapes. It usually takes about 20 minutes total. Turn off the heat, adjust the salt and pepper, stir in the remaining butter, and parmigiano cheese to taste. Serve immediately.

Turkey Hazelnut Skewers with Pomegranate Sauce

bocconcini di tacchino in crosta di frutta secca

Turkey Hazelnut Skewers with Pomegranate Sauce

In case you haven’t figured it out on your own yet, Italians love to party, and even if Christmas (or, as in my case, Hanukkah) has left us exhausted and bloated, we would never give up an opportunity to celebrate again – and here comes New Year’s Eve!

As opposed to the religious holidays, New Year’s Eve is usually spent with friends rather than family – which can translate into much wilder festivities! Over-the-top midnight fireworks welcome the new year in the center of most towns (Naples boasts one of the best), but people also tend to include firecrackers and sparklers in their private parties, which keeps the ERs quite busy., Talking about accidents, some places in the south follow the puzzling custom of throwing old things out the window to symbolically accept the freshness of the New Year: watch out for appliances such as washers and dryers around midnight!!!!

In Venice, where I grew up, people stick to safer games, such as playing Italian bingo (tombola), and perpetuate the suggestive tradition of wearing red underwear (for love, and good luck), hoping to be kissed under the mistletoe at midnight.

But what can’t be missed is the breathtaking midnight celebration in St. Mark’s Square, complete with fireworks, music, prosecco and bellini toasts, and exchanges of kisses at midnight. The most sophisticated make sure to by tickets for the spectacular Concerto at La Fenice Theater, while the adventurous take a chilling swim in the waters of the Venice Lido.

As always in Italy, food also plays a major role. Everybody seems to serve lentils, which, thanks to their coin-like shape, symbolize money for the coming year. The traditional dinner often includes a cotechino, a large pork sausage, or a zampone, stuffed pig’s foot, which I am going to skip since I keep kosher – but you can check them out on my friends’ websites,  Memorie di Angelina and Academia Barilla  (the idea is that the fat in pork also symbolizes wealth). Lastly, grapes, which everybody gorges on following the saying “eat grapes on New Year and count money the rest of the year”, and the pomegranate, which is associated with abundance and fertility. From ancient Egypt and Greece, to Persia, to Judaism and Christianity, the Hindus and the Chinese, so many different cultures have seen the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity, that it seems to me like the perfect choice for a celebration that in Italy today unites people of different backgrounds (much like the American Thanksgiving). In the Jewish tradition we also serve it on Rosh haShana, the Jewish New Year, as a symbol of prosperity and of all things good (our sages say that all its seeds represent the 613 commandments in the Torah). What a better way to ring in 2013 with high hopes of health, peace and love?

Turkey Hazelnut Kebabs with Pomegranate Sauce

  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 clove garlic, slightly pressed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or prosecco
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 lb ground turkey (if you are on a low-fat diet, ask for white meat only)
  • 1 scallion, very finely minced
  • 1 slice of bread, crust removed (for GF,1 medium mashed potato)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup plain breadcrumbs or panko crumbs (you can use GF crumbs)
  • 1/2 cup warm stock
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1/3 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions (prep time: 20-30 minutes; cooking time: 30 minutes; total time: about 1 hr)

Halve a pomegranate, and set aside the seeds. Press them with a potato masher to obtain about a cup of juice. Set aside.

In a heavy (or non-stick) saucepan or skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add a sprig of rosemary and 1 clove of garlic.When the garlic is golden brown, discard it and add ½ cup wine and the pomegranate juice to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and allow to thicken on low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the pomegranate seeds and cook for 2 more minutes.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet, add the scallion or onion and cook until translucent, adding a little water if needed to prevent it from sticking or turning brown. Drain the scallion from the oil and let it cool.
In the meantime, soak the bread in broth until soft, then drain, squeeze all the liquid out, and set aside.
In a bowl, combine the ground turkey with the cooked scallion, the salt and pepper, parsley, drained bread (or mashed potato), nutmeg, egg;  mix everything together, working quickly with your (if you are not on a low-sodium diet you can also add two slices of a natural salami, very finely minced). Allow to rest for two minutes until it firms up, making the mixture easier to shape.
Only if necessary, add 1 tbsp bread crumbs: the mixture should be soft and wet. Shape into 1” to 1 ½” sized meatballs. Roll the meatballs into a dish filled with the hazelnuts and bread crumbs. Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Brush or spray the parchment lightly with a small amount of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil (do not use baking sprays! Just transfer a good olive oil into a spray bottle). Thread the meatballs onto skewers (If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before cooking or you’ll cause a fire.)

Arrange the meatballs on the parchment in one layer and lightly spray the top with a little more olive oil.
Bake until golden (about 30 minutes) in a preheated oven at 400 F. Serve with the pomegranate sauce. Enjoy!

Surprise Holiday Chest

Surprise Holiday Chest

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From Chanukkah to Christmas and of course birthdays, most of you will have to admit that part of the fun about giving and receiving presents lies in the packaging and wrap, which add an element of mystery and surprise to any gift. They conceal the object’s shape and any writings on the box, and increase our excitement and anticipation. For the aesthetes among us, the packaging can outshine the gift (or it can be used to hide a more metaphysical content – for more on this, you can read one of my favorite children’s books, “The Gift of Nothing”).

This rule of course applies to food, which is why chocolates seem to taste so much better when they come in a gorgeous box. The Japanese take this to the next level, cutting their vegetables into beautiful shapes and serving their kids’ school meals in lacquered bento boxes.  This probably sounds like too much work and most of us would not be willing to do it everyday, but when it comes to holiday desserts, I know that we are all willing to go the extra mile.

So here is a special edible gift that your family will love! The mascarpone mousse, which will remind you of Tiramisu, is hidden in a treasure chest made of “Croccante” (Italian almond brittle). This type of candy, popular throughout Italy around the holidays and at fun fairs, is a mixture of caramelized sugar and almonds, easy to make, and easy to eat: you can break it into pieces and serve it with coffee, give it to kids in lieu of candy, or grind it up and sprinkle it over gelato. The only problem is that once you taste it, it will be hard to stop.

Happy Holidays!

SURPRISE HOLIDAY CHEST (Scrigno di Croccante)

(For the chest)

  • 2 and 1/3 cups blanched almonds
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ cup sugar

(for the filling)

  • 2/3 pounds Mascarpone
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped or coarsely grated.
  • ½ cup sugar

Grind the almonds very coarsely in your food processor, or chop them with a knife. In a saucepan, melt the sugar on medium heat with the filtered juice of half the lemon. Yum, caramel!

Add the almonds and keep cooking until the sugar has completely melted and has turned dark golden brown. Double-Yuml!!!

Cut a circle from parchment, about 9 ½” in diameter. Place it on top of a larger sheet of paper or foil. Now pour the caramel on top of the circle and spread it all over, it should be between 1/3” and ½” thick.

Carefully lift the circle and trasfer it onto a round 8 “ baking pan, lifting the sides and pressing them against the sides of the pan with a tablespoon dipped in lemon juice, until the caramel has molded to the shape of the pan. On a smaller disc of parchment, make a second disc of caramel (slightly less than 8″ in diameter), which will become the “lid’.

Whip the cream with an electric whisk, and combine it with the sugar, mascarpone, and amost ¾ of the chocolate. Pour into the caramel container, and top with the lid. Decorate with the rest of the chocolate, melted in a bain-marie, poured on top of parchment and cut into stars – or simply grated.  Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Chocolaty Vienna-Style Coffee

CAFFE' ALLA VIENNESE

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Have you ever heard of “Caffe Viennese” or “Vienna Coffee”?

I have to confess that I never really checked if it actually has anything to do with Vienna, or if it does my version may not be the most authentic: I discovered this perfect beverage during my college years, in the historic cafes of Venice and Trieste – such as the Florian and the Tommaseo – and regarded it as my grown-up upgrade from Italian hot chocolate. My roommates and I found that it helped immensely with the cold, the fog, the all-nighters before exams, and heartless boyfriends .

While in general I find that most elaborate coffee drinks are just bad examples of “gilding the lily”, please trust me with this: it’s an improvement upon perfection!

Keep in mind that we are not talking about ordinary ingredients. Yes, chocolate tastes great, but there is more to it than what meets the lips: it’s full of chemicals that are associated with mood and emotion (phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan, since you are asking), to the point that a shocking percentage of women report to prefer chocolate to sex (sorry, guys!). Daniele Piomelli, from the University of California, compares its effects to those of marijuana.

And don’t get me started about coffee. How many of us would have graduated from college had it not been for those midnight Americanos, and could we still call New York “the city that never sleeps” without the omnipresent to-go cups of joe?

Obviously, the pairing of the two is a marriage made in heaven – as long as if you don’t suffer from gastric ulcers.

Do not ask me how many calories are in a cup of this concoction. I have no idea. And besides, thinking about the calories may just make you crave it more. Go ahead and  enjoy it, just try to stop after the first two cups!

CAFFE’ VIENNESE

Serves 4

  • 4 small cups of espresso “ristretto” (strong and concentrated)
  • 4 ounces really good bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar, or to taste
  • Whipped cream to decorate, if you like (I prefer it without)
  • Ground cinnamon, if liked

Bring some water to a boil in a saucepan and place a second saucepan or heat-proof bowl on top to create a bain-marie. Add the chocolate pieces or shavings to the top saucepan or bowl, and allow them to melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the heavy cream and sugar and keep stirring. Add the espresso and keep heating until some bubbles form and it thickens. Remove from the heat, and add cinnamon or chocolate liqueur if liked. You can also decorate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.                                                                                   I probably don’t need to tell you this, but… serve immediately!

Rebecchini – Fried Polenta Sandwiches

Rebecchini- Fried Polenta Sandwiches
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Rebecchini- Fried Polenta Sandwiches

Maize polenta is creamy, delicious and filling, and for centuries represented the main staple in the poor, everyday cuisine of a large part of Northern Italy. Once it cools off and hardens, it can be recycled into a variety of dishes, from a “pasticcio” with meat or cheeses, to a cake, to these savory fried sandwiches (a classic Jewish Italian recipe, and perfect for Hanukkah). If you don’t like anchovies ( I LOVE them!), you can replace them with smoked cheese.

If you have never made polenta before, check out these detailed instructions on one of my favorite Italian food blogs in English, Memorie di Angelina.

  • 1 cup polenta (finely ground or quick cooking)
  • salt (about 1 tsp)
  • water to make polenta (follow instruction on the package, or about 3 cups)
  • 12 anchovies (salt packed is better, but oil-packed is OK))
  • 4-5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil to make anchovy paste
  • 1 clove garlic (whole)
  • dredging flour
  • 3 eggs
  • olive oil for frying

 In a large heavy pot, boil water and add salt. Pour in the corn meal in a thin stream whisking vigorously (use a whisk, not a spoon, to avoid clumping) and cook for about one minute or two before switching to a wooden spoon as the polenta thickens. Keep stirring until the polenta is fully cooked  (about 30 minutes for regular polenta, and 3-5  minutes for “instant” polenta). Pour onto an oiled marble surface or cookie sheet or parchment paper. Spread out flat in a layer that’s about 1/4-inch thick, and allow to cool completely.

In the meantime, rinse the anchovies (removing any bones). Heat olive oil in a small skillet on medium heat with the garlic clove. When the garlic is light brown, discard it and add the anchovies, stirring until they melt into a paste. Set aside.

Pour about 2” oil into a heavy-bottomed wide pot with tall sides (I use my le Creuset Dutch oven) or into your deep fryer. Heat the oil until it forms many tiny bubbles around a piece of bread or cracker thrown into the oil. If you have a candy thermometer, or are using a deep fryer, the right temperature is about 355 to 365 F.

Using a knife or a cookie cutter, cut the polenta into regular triangles or rounds about 2” wide.

Spread half of the polenta pieces with the anchovy paste and cover with a second piece, making “sandwiches. Dredge the sandwiches in flour and then in the slightly beaten eggs, and fry for about 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, making sure to maintain the temperature of the oil and to flip them only once (if you keep turning them, they absorb more oil).

Drain on a triple layer of paper towel and serve hot.

Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style – by Jayne Cohen

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Today I have a very special surprise for you: a guest post by my friend Jayne Cohen, a food writer and expert whose passion for Italy and its cuisine should earn her an honorary Italian passport. Among many other accomplishments, Jayne is the author of one of my most treasured cookbooks, Jewish Holiday Cooking, which includes 200 tasteful, elegant and special recipes for the holidays. My personal favorite is her hamantaschen with dates and pistachios (yum!).

Visit her blog, Beyond Brisket, on JWI Magazine! For Hanukkah, Jayne is sharing her version of Italian Fried Chicken, and her memories of Casale Monferrato: enjoy!

A Hanukkah Story from Casale Monferrato

Text and recipe adapted from Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations by Jayne Cohen(print and e-book, John Wiley & Sons)

Like most travelers, we were lured by the taste of Barolo, the scent of truffles and extraordinary hazelnuts, but what we will remember most about Piedmont is the synagogue we found in Casale Monferrato.

The small Jewish community in Casale, located about fifty miles east of Turin, most likely began with the refugees Ferdinand and Isabella expelled from Spain in 1492. Although there were periods of crisis and some restrictions, life under the Italian Gonzaga dukes was relatively calm for the Jews, even prosperous for some. The synagogue was built in 1595.

But when the French House of Savoy annexed the district, conditions quickly deteriorated. In 1745, Jews were crowded into a ghetto around the synagogue. Contacts between Jews and Catholics were limited, and at night they were strictly forbidden. Not until 1848 were the Jews of Piedmont granted full rights.

Now there are no longer enough Jews to make a minyan in Casale, except on the High Holidays, when Jews from other communities attend the services.

From the narrow little street, La Sinagoga degli Argenti looked  like one of the apartment buildings, but inside was one of the most exquisite synagogues we have ever seen. It was late afternoon in July, and light filtered through the windows of the sanctuary highlighting for us the subtle pastels, gilded carved symbols, and gold filigree work. Our guide–who like one we had had years ago in Venice, was not Jewish but extremely knowledgeable about the synagogue and Jewish life–pointed out the beautifully painted ceiling, a fresco of sky and clouds, whose panels announce in four Hebrew words, “This is the Gate to Heaven.”

There is also an impressive museum, showcasing art and furnishings acquired from other Piedmont congregations, antique dealers, and private collections, and life-size dioramas of many of the holidays. The basement of the museum, where matzoh once was baked for all the Jews of the Monferrato region, now houses the Museum of Lights, a remarkable collection of menorahs.

The Hanukkah story of the tiny flame that produced a lasting light is the story of Jewish continuity, and the Jewish community of Casale has adopted it as its own. The museum commissions new hanukkiyot from renowned contemporary artists, Jewish and non-Jewish, who, in the museum’s words, “form a bridge between the lights of the past, which must never go out, and those of the future, which must continue to be lit.” One menorah is formed of two sculpted hands, the thumbs entwined to form the shamash, the flames shooting up from the fingertips; another was inspired by the notes people insert into the cracks of the Western Wall.

In the courtyard, our guide told us that for the past several years, the synagogue has invited members of all the other monotheistic faiths in the area when Hanukkah begins. Another Hanukkah story–a miracle too, perhaps–that has particular resonance for Casale.

For it would be dark, of course, when the Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and Jews gathered to light the menorah candles here between the elegant colonnaded courtyard columns–where once upon a time any contact between Jews and Gentiles after nightfall would have been prohibited.

“Hanukkah,” as Antonio Recalcati, one of the Catholic menorah artists has said, “celebrates life and light after centuries of darkness.”

Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style

”The logs of Jerusalem were of the cinnamon tree, and when lit, their fragrance pervaded the whole of Erez Israel.”–Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat

Jews have appreciated sweet-smelling cinnamon since ancient times. Centuries later in Europe even poor Jews usually had access to the spice: inhaling its heady aroma was central to the Havdalah ceremony that ushered out their Sabbath every week.

This fried chicken lightly flavored with cinnamon is a traditional Hanukkah specialty in Italy. Used without any sweetening, the cinnamon acts in concert here with savory garlic and lemon to produce a very fragrant yet subtle marinade. Because of the Havdalah connection, it makes an especially lovely main course on the Saturday night that occurs during Hanukkah week.

To accentuate the delicacy of the dish, I dip the chicken in egg after dusting it lightly with matzoh meal. And I fry each batch with a few pieces of celery–a trick sent in to Cook’s Illustrated magazine by one of its readers–which makes the chicken beautifully golden and more flavorful.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for frying
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken cutlets, trimmed of fat and gristle
  • About 1 cup matzoh meal (use commercially ground–you’ll need a very fine, powdery consistency here)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 or 3 celery stalks, including leaves, washed, dried well, and cut into 4- to 5-inch lengths
  • Accompaniment: lemon wedges
  • Optional garnish: parsley sprigs

In a large bowl or nonreactive baking dish, whisk together the cinnamon, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and marinate for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator, turning the chicken occasionally. Or marinate the chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag.

Set up a work station near the stove. Spread 1 cup matzoh meal on a large sheet of wax paper or a plate and season it with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste. Next to it, in a wide shallow bowl or pie pan, beat the eggs with a few drops of water until well blended and smooth.

Dredge the cutlets well with the matzoh meal, rubbing it lightly into the chicken. Make sure each cutlet is covered all over with meal. If necessary, add more matzoh meal, remembering to add more seasoning.

Heat about 1/2 cup olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot and fragrant but not smoking. Shake a cutlet to remove all excess matzoh meal, then coat it thoroughly with the egg and slip it quickly into the hot oil. Being careful not to crowd the pan, add more chicken, dipping each piece in the egg just before placing it in the pan. Slip a few pieces of celery in between the cutlets as they fry. Using two spatulas (tongs would ruin the delicate egg coating), carefully turn the chicken when it is light golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Sauté the other side for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until cooked through. Turn the celery pieces when you turn the chicken. Transfer the cutlets to a platter lined with paper towels so they can drain. Discard the cooked celery. Keep the chicken warm in a 200 degree F oven until the remaining pieces are done. Continue frying any remaining chicken in batches, in the same way, adding fresh celery to the pan with each batch. Wipe out the skillet and replace the oil if some of the coating falls off and burns.

Serve the chicken right away, accompanied by the lemon wedges and garnished, if you’d like, with fresh parsley. It really needs no sauce.

Panna Cotta alla Melagrana – Pomegranate Cream Custard

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Panna cotta (cooked cream in Italian) is a traditional dessert from Northern Italy, prepared by simmering milk, sugar and cream and mixing them with gelatin. It literally takes minutes to make, but never fails to “wow” the guests. For a holiday version, I spiced it up with ponegranate seeds – a symbol of prosperity and good luck in many different traditions, not to mention a perfect contrast of color and flavor with the cream. Serve it for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year, or a romantic anniversary dinner!

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup whole milk,
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into 2
  • 1 package powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

Soften about 2/3 of the gelatin in a few spoonfuls the cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk with the sugar and the cut vanilla bean. Once it’s hot, stir in the gelatin mixture and mix until smooth. Allow to cool, discard the vanilla bean, and stir in the heavy cream. Pour about 3/4″ of this mixture into 4 glass cups and transfer into the freezer for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.

Soften the remaining gelatin in about 2 or 3 tbsp of the pomegranate juice. Heat the rest of the pomegranate juice, stir in the softened gelatin, mix well and allow to cool. Once the first layer of cream mixture has thickened, pour in a layer of pomegranate mixture, mixed with a few pomegranate seeds, and put the cups back into the freezer. Repeat with one more layer of cream and one of gelatin and pomegranate seeds. Top with a few more pomegranate seeds right before serving.

Pagine Ebraiche- Italian Jewish Publication

Pagine Ebraiche (in Italian)

Pagine.ebraiche.Dec.2012

Bread and Spinach Dumplings – Strangolapreti

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In contrast with today’s rampant carb-phobia, bread was considered for many centuries the most sacred of foods. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, bread was always a symbol of God’s generosity toward mankind and of the fecundity of the earth- it’s still the center of countless religious rituals, not to mention superstitions and everyday idioms.

As a consequence, in many cultures there was always a stigma associated with wasting it or throwing it out, not only among the poor, but even in wealthier households; which is how bread became the main protagonist of the history of sustainable cooking.

Growing up in Italy, I learned how to store bread in paper bags so it wouldn’t become moldy. Rather, it dried out: after a couple of days it could be soaked in water, milk or broth and turn into thick soups or bread cakes, or add fluffiness to meatballs. If we waited a bit longer, we would simply grate it into crumbs. Each region has its traditional recipes, but it was during my vacations in the Italian Alps that I discovered what became my personal favorite.

In northeastern Italy, mountains and glaciers soar to almost 13,000 feet, contributing to a panorama so majestic that some say it makes you feel closer to God. My dad loved rock-climbing, and ever since I was a little girl, he would take me along for his more leisurely hikes. This was our special time together, while my mom would wait for us down in the chalet because she suffers from vertigo! That would give her plenty of time to experiment with the local cuisine, which she learned from the local women, in particular the phenomenal Nonna Plava, an old lady who used to run a small hotel with her son and daughter-in-law, and loved sharing her recipes. One of the best is the Strangolapreti, gnocchi-size stale bread and greens dumplings that are served with melted butter and cheese.

In the Italian Alps, especially in the Trentino region, you can find many different versions of dumplings made from stale bread; the most famous are canderli (similar to knoedels, and to matzah balls), and strangolapreti.  This curious name, which literally means “priest-stranglers” (!) is also used to describe different types of pasta and dumplings in other regions. When I was little, I thought that the recipe must have been invented by some anti-clerical, communist grandmother!

I later learned that after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) prohibited the consumption of meat on Fridays, this became one of the traditional dishes for that day, and the legend goes that the clergy enjoyed it so much that they almost choked on it. Who could blame them? These dumplings are simply addictive, and I’ve risked the same fate more than once.

The most important thing to remember when making them (as with potato gnocchi) is to keep a light hand with the flour, and add it only a little at a time; if you add too much, rather than with priest-stranglers, you’ll end up with weapons.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Swiss chard or fresh spinach, hard stems removed
  • 8 ounces stale bread, coarsely chopped in the food processor
  • 1 ½ cup  milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 to 6 tbsp white flour
  • 2 pinches grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons butter, or to taste
  • a few fresh sage leaves

Instructions

Place the bread in bowl, cover with the milk, and mix.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and the greens, and blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain, and dip in ice water to preserve the green color. Drain and squeeze well trough a colander and chop finely.

Squeeze any excess milk out of the bread; combine with the greens, eggs, flour and nutmeg until the mixture holds; if necessary, add more breadcrumbs rather than flour, but the mixture should be very wet. On a floured surface, divide the dough into 5 pieces. Dust your hands with flour, and  roll the pieces into 1/2 inch thick logs. Cut the logs into 1-inch lengths, and place the dumplings onto a floured pan or parchment..

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add salt, and cook the dumplings in batches without overcrowding them.  They are ready when they  rise to the surface; remove them with a slotted spoon, and place on a sheet pan (in a single layer).

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the sage leaves and cook until the butter begins to brown. Remove from heat, toss the dumplings, and serve, garnishing with the whole sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining butter and top with little black pepper and abundant grated cheese.

Espresso-spiked Chocolate Ricotta Mousse

CREMA AGLI AMARETTI E CIOCCOLATO

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One of the immediate consequences of receiving a Syntia machine as a thank-you token after my lecture for Lavazza Coffee and Philips Saeco  at Eataly last September, was that I started putting espresso into everything.

Literally: I experimented with stews, fish, fennel, fresh pasta, smoked cheese… with a couple of exceptions, everything seemed to taste more interesting. It’s probably because our sense of smell is responsible for about 4/5 of what we taste – that’s why we lose our appetite when we have a cold and our nose is blocked! With its intense and unique aroma, high-quality coffee is an extraordinary ingredient and can add sophistication to a variety of dishes, savory or sweet.  However, I have to admit that it was its performance in desserts to really capture my culinary imagination. You see, I wasn’t really born with a sweet tooth and I can truly appreciate sugar only when I mix it with something different, whether it’s sour (lemon gelato), salty (chocolate pretzels!), or bitter (any espresso-spiked desserts!).

Tiramisu, one of the most recent and successful “classics” of Italian cuisine, is my favorite example of the perfect marriage of sweet and creamy (mascarpone, cream and sugar) with deep and bitter (espresso and unsweetened cocoa powder). A match made in heaven! Unfortunately, it’s a bit rich, and after seeing me down it for breakfast for three days in a row, my husband politely pointed out that I was showing clear signs of addiction. Switching to a ricotta-based coffee treat seemed like a better option if I wanted to indulge myself so often. Whole milk ricotta is a cheese by-product, not a cheese, and naturally low in fat and high in protein, while still very rich and creamy in texture (cannoli, anyone?).

Let me know what you think of this espresso-spiked chocolate almond mousse. It’s light enough that you can enjoy it after a multiple-course meal without feeling too guilty!

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs (I prefer pasteurized eggs)
  • ¼ lb whole milk ricotta, drained
  • 1 shot chocolate or almond liqueur (Godiva, or Disaronno)
  • 2 shots strong espresso
  • 5 tbsps crumbled amaretto cookies or other almond cookies
  • 5 tbsps sugar
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • dark chocolate shavings and slivered almonds to decorate

Directions:

Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the sugar until light and frothy. Add the ricotta  liqueur, coffee, cocoa and chocolate and combine well. Add the crumbled cookies.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and incorporate them into the ricotta using a spatula.

Pour the mix into individual bowls, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Decorate with chocolate shavings and slivered almonds before serving.

*RAW EGG WARNING and PASTEURIZING EGGS:
 some people are uncomfortable consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs due to the slight risk of food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade AA eggs with intact shells. Still nervous? If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: for the yolks, you will just need to beat them longer with an electric mixer; as to the whites, you will need to add a touch of cream of  tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar); 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 egg whites You can buy pre-pasteurized eggs in many stores (test are not the egg-beaters but actual whole eggs, that can be separated at home into whites and yolks); or you can pasteurize them following this method.

* Disclosure: I was not paid for my review of the Philips Saeco espresso machines, apart from being given one Syntia machine to try and review. All comments are my own, honest opinion after my experience with the machine.

Thanksgiving Cornmeal Cake from the Veneto

Torta di Polenta (Corn Meal Cake)

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It was eight years ago, just a few months after moving to the City, that I experienced my first Manhattan Thanksgiving: ironically, I ended up celebrating the quintessential American holiday at an Italian friend’s home. Daniela had arrived in New York one year before me, and was so smitten with it that she scored higher on the Time Out Magazine test “Are You a Real NewYorker?” than all our American friends. It was her idea to throw an Italian-style Thanksgiving dinner, incorporating the various traditional foods of the holiday into Italian recipes. Given that she is a superb cook, carrying the extraordinary legacy of three different Jewish Italian culinary styles – the Piedmontese, the Venetian and the Ferrarese –  it’s no surprise that the meal was an absolute masterpiece. I had the impression that for the American guests, eating these Italian delicacies instead of the classic turkey with cranberry sauce also felt a little naughty! While I can’t replicate the special atmosphere of that night, after Daniela moved to Israel I adopted her tradition of remembering the Pilgrims with the regional dishes from my own country.

I’m used to cooking around symbolic foods for Passover and Rosh haShana: turkey and pumpkin, the most recognizable Thanksgiving ingredients, also appear on my Rosh HaShana table, and again on Sukkot. The connection with Sukkot runs even deeper, as both holidays are harvest festivals: some historians have gone so far as to trace the roots of Thanksgiving in Sukkot, based on encounters the Pilgrims supposedly had with Sephardic Jews in Holland before they left for the Americas.

But whether or not this story is true, Jews celebrate Thanksgiving Day with an intensity usually reserved to our most sacred holidays: it’s easy for us to empathize with the pilgrims, who had to flee religious discrimination and persecution and travel across an ocean to find freedom – and with their sweat and faith, fought against illness and scarcity, finally turning America’s wilderness into their “Promised Land”.

While the turkey and pumpkin are symbols of bounty, one food on the table is meant to remind us of the harsh winter before the first harvest, when the pilgrims barely had enough to eat. It’s the corn, as it is said that at one point there was so little food that each person was given only five kernels of corn per day. Corn bears a similar type of double-symbolism in Italian history: when it found its way to Italy from the Americas, it immediately spread through the North, and landowners started reaping huge profits by feeding their workers only maize polenta – creamy, delicious and filling, but so poor of vitamins and protein that it caused an epidemic of Pellagra, the same deficiency disease that spread in the American South during the great Depression, leading to deterioration and death. Somehow, native Americans had avoided it because they added wood ashes and lime to cornmeal, correcting its nutritional imbalance.

Cranberries can also be read as a symbol of suffering: of course we combine them with a lot of sugar to make them palatable, but their nature is extremely sour. This reminds me of the symbolism of sweet and sour dishes in Jewish Italian Cuisine, in which the sugar or honey represent the need to appreciate our present and future, while the vinegar or lemon keeps us rooted in our people’s past suffering.

While giving thanks for the plentiful new crop, and the many blessings that we enjoy each year, we also remember those who didn’t make it through that terrible first winter. 
Have a meaningful Thanksgiving!

Ingredients

  • 1 scant cup (150 gr) cornmeal maize (for polenta) or 2 cups cooked polenta (cooked dense, not liquidy)
  • 3 tbsps grappa or brandy
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries (or raisins)
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup candied fruit (mix of orange and lemon or citron) (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 organic lemon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (about 85 gr)
  • 1 scant cup flour (about 100 gr)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder (10 gr)
  • 1/4 cup oil (mild olive oil , vegetable oil or coconut oil)
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare the polenta with one scant cup of maize according to instructions on the package, using only about 1 1/4 cup boiling water (traditional polenta tastes better than instant, and you can make it quickly using a pressure cooker… however, instant is OK! Beretta makes a nice product). The polenta has to be on the thick side. 
When cooked, pour it over a large cutting board or platter in a wide and low heap and allow it to cool (feel free to pop it into the fridge).
 Plump the cranberries or raisins in the grappa or brandy. Dice the candied fruit very small. Discard the film that has formed over the polenta. Cut the polenta into pieces and place it into a food processor. Process it with the eggs, salt, sugar, oil, sifted flour with baking powder; add the raisins in their liqueur, the candied fruit, pine nuts, and the lemon zest and mix well. If the batter is so thick that it’s hard to pour into the pan, you can add just a couple of spoonsfuls of water or non-dairy milk.
Grease a 9″ springform pan and dust it with corn meal. If you have parchment, you should line the bottom of the pan before greasing it: this type of batter is very sticky. Pour the mix into it and bake in a pre-heated 400 F oven for about 15 minutes until it forms a golden crust, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-45 minutes (the cake should bake for 45-60 minutes total). Allow to cool before turning out. Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

Carrot Cream Soup – cream-less and dairy-free

Creamy Carrot Soup with No Cream (Parve)

Creamy Cream-Less Carrot Soup (Parve) GF

In Italy, creamy soups – or “vellutate” – are not usually made with cream (an ingredient that we like to leave to the French): the texture is given by the addition of a simple potato or a handful of rice.

The starches in the rice are slowly released during the cooking, and act as a thickener and an emulsifier at the same time. Slowly-released starches are what gives creaminess to authentic risottos, and also the reason why we add the pasta cooking water to our sauce (the starches released by the pasta turn the cooking water into an emulsifier, and a thickener). Better than fairy dust! This method obviously helps limit saturated fats, but it’s also a great resource for the dairy-intolerant, or the kosher cooks who need dairy-free dishes to serve with meat.

If you love smooth textures, you can turn any vegetable soup into a vellutata simply by throwing in a boiled potato and some water and processing everything in the blender. An easy way to recycle your second-day minestrone!

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):

  • 2 pounds carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 ½ quarts vegetable stock or to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 or more tablepoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup Italian rice (short grain – Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley (or basil/parsley mix)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Peel the carrots and slice them thinly.
Chop the celery, onion and garlic very finely.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy pot and cook the mix of celery, onion and garlic ( “il soffritto“) on medium/low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and the bay leaf and cook for 5 more minutes. Add 2/3 of the hot stock and bring to a boil, then add the rice, lower the heat, cover almost completely, and allow to simmer for about an hour.
Discard the bay leaf, process with a hand mixer, add the rest of the hot stock and the herbs, and allow to simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring continuosly. Drizzle with 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and serve.

Baccalà Mantecato – Salt Cod Mousse

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This article and recipe appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward – to read them, click here

Baked Pears with Sorbet and Berries

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Baked Pears with Sorbet and Berries (Parve or Dairy) GF

My grandmother used to serve a lot of simple, not-too-sweet fruit desserts such as baked fruit and compotes. After the spread of commercial bakery products, many of us have forgotten about this option: it always seems easier to buy a box of cupcakes… however, when you start feeling like you’ve had way too much sugar, and you need a break, it’s time to go back to the good oldies! While you may choose them mostly because they are waistline-friendly (especially if you are switching from cupcakes), cooked fruit desserts have the added bonus of  vitamins and fiber, and many find them more appealing than raw fruit on cold fall and winter nights.

Buon appetito!

  • 4 ripe pears
  • 1 cup lemon sorbet
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, or other berries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • peel of one organic lemon
  • a teaspoon of unsalted butter, or nut oil for a non-dairy/parve version (almond, coconut)

Wash the pears and cut of a small slice from the bottom so they can stand straight.  Without peeling them, place them in a  parchment-lined pan. Sprinkle them with brown sugar, and a few flakes of butter (or brush with the almond or coconut oil).
Bake in a pre-heated 350 F oven for about 30 minutes or until soft, but still firm.
Allow to cool off for a few minutes. When they are still warm, but not hot, slice off the top and core the inside. Fill the cavity with the lemon sorbet and the berries. Put the tops back on and decorate with lemon zest.

* if you don’t feel like anything frozen, you can replace the sorbet with a mix of ricotta, greek yogurt,  and honey.

The Spiders

I RAGNI (The Spiders)

I RAGNI (The Spiders)

I grew up in Italy being told not to take candy from strangers, and still find it a bit shocking when strange kids knock at my door on Halloween night! While the more religiously conservative are offended by Halloween’s pagan roots, the holiday seems to have become completely secularized and to focus on pumpkins, spooky costumes and tons of candy. Many people love it because it seems to address children’s natural fears (monsters, darkness, etc), and by presenting them in a social and funny context, it could help diffuse them. I’m not making this up, it’s called “virtual reality therapy”: basically, people who are afraid of spiders pay big bucks to a psychologist to be put in a room full of them… well, if it’s so effective, it might be worth a try, even for those of us who would rather do it at a different time of the year. It works with grown-ups too: here are the cutest little spiders, created by my friend Lucilla to address my own proverbial fear. 

Ingredients (makes 6 spiders): 

  • 1 chocolate cake (home-made or store-bought)
  • red M&Ms
  • licorice sticks
  • vanilla pudding (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 pounds pumpkin, diced
  • 2/3 pound whole milk ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest

Bake the pumpkin, covered, in a 375 F oven for about 20 minutes or until soft, then mash it with a fork. Using your food processor or hand mixer, combine the ricotta with the pumpkin, honey and zest.  Halve the cake  horizontally with a long and sharp knife. With a round cookie cutter, cut about 12 discs from the cake. Spread the pumpkin/ricotta mix over the bottom discs, and top with the other discs.
Spread the vanilla pudding on a large serving platter. Melt the chocolate in your microwave then use it (with an icing syringe) to draw concentric circles on top of the pudding. Draw “rays” with a toothpick starting from the center of the circles, creating a web. Place the discs filled with pumpkin/ricotta cream on top of the web, make the eyes with red M&Ms or jellybeans, and legs with licorice sticks. YIKES! 

Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears (Sfogliata al Gianduja e Pere)

Sfogliata Gianduja e Pere (Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears) (Dairy or Parve)

Sfogliata Gianduja e Pere (Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears) (Dairy or Parve)

The combination of hazelnuts and chocolate is wildly popular in Italy – I’m sure you have heard of Nutella!  The original version is Gianduja – a concoction made of chocolate and hazelnuts invented in Turin during the Napoleonic blockade, when the precious cocoa beans had become scarce and the famous Piedmontese chocolatiers had to find a way to make them go further-. It didn’t hurt, of course, that their hazelnuts (from the Langhe area of Piedmont) were said to be the best in the world, and that Turin was the birthplace of solid chocolate. As you can imagine, the result was much more interesting than other hard-times-inspired products (such as the French chicory “coffee”), and even after the end of the blockade the Torinese kept enjoying their new delicacy, and named it “gianduja” after a local marionette character.

Besides enjoying the tasty combo in the form of a spread or in confections (the delicious gianduiotti – the first-ever chocolates to be individually wrapped!), make sure you try my gianduja puff cake!

Ingredients

1 pound of puff pastry (home-made, or 1 package store-bought)
3 medium pears
5 ounces dark chocolate (I used 70 % Scharffen Berger) 
½ cup ground hazelnuts
6 chocolate-flavored tea biscuits, or small biscottis
2/3 cup (scant) sugar
pinch of salt
1 organic lemon
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons butter, or hazelnut or almond oil
2 tablespoons milk (or non-dairy almond or soy milk)
flour (to dust the counter)

Directions

Peel and core the pears, slice them thinly and combine them with the lemon juice, the sugar, and the grated lemon zest. Grate the chocolate and coarsely chop the cookies. If using butter, melt it in a pan or in your microwave.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a rectangle and brush the top with the melted butter or oil; top with the crumbled cookies, the drained pears, and the grated chocolate. Roll up the pastry as if making a strudel, sealing the edges and closing the ends.
Brush the top with the yolk (mixed with a couple of tablespoons of milk or parve almond or soy milk) and bake in a pre-heated 250 F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden. Enjoy warm or at room temperature, on a cold winter night :-) .

Chestnut and Apple Cake – GF

Chestnut and Apple Cake

Chestnut and Apple Cake (Dairy or Parve) GF

The chestnut tree can live for up to 500 years, and its fruit has been a staple in the Italian diet since ancient times. In some Northern and central regions, people ate mostly chestnuts until well into the twentieth century! While this is no longer the case, towards the end of October stands pop up in most cities selling hot caldarroste (roasted chestnuts), which people enjoy while walking with friends when it’s too cold for gelato. However, they are just as tasty when boiled with some fresh herbs (try bay leaves), or mashed and used to make very special gnocchi! In Tuscany, where my mother grew up, chestnut flour is also widely available and used to make the traditional castagnaccio, a rustic cake with raisins, pine nuts, rosemary and olive oil. My nonna used to serve it with a little warm ricotta mixed with a few drops of honey, which was a killer pairing and so much healthier than whipped cream. Try it with my apple cake! You won’t believe it’s gluten-free…

Ingredients (serves 8)

1 lb chestnuts
4 eggs, separated
3 apples
1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar or brown sugar
1 heaped tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
4 ounces graham crackers or tea cookies (you can use GF cookies if you prefer)
2/3 cup milk (or parve soy or rice milk)
butter or oil to grease the pan

Wash the chestnuts, make a slit in the side of each one, and cook in boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender but firm.  Skim them out, and the brown skin should come off easily.  Taste them, and if they are not well cooked you can put them back in the boiling water or in the microwave for a few minutes until tender.
Using a food processor, grind the graham crackers into a powder; add the grated apples, and the mashed chestnuts (you can use a potato masher. you can also mash them in your food processor, but it won’t get rid of any residual peel, which is why I prefer the potato masher).
Add the cocoa, sugar, milk or soy milk, salt, and egg yolks, and combine well.
In a separate, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and incorporate them carefully into the mix.
Pour the mix into a greased baking pan dusted with brown sugar,  and bake in a pre-heated 350 F oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve cold.

Orzotto: Barley “Risotto”

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto” (Parve or Dairy)

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Last fall I gave a demo on healthful and elegant Italian cuisine at the JCC Manhattan during their Fitness for Everybody Fair. One of the ingredients I presented was barley, a grain with many beneficial properties. Unlike wheat, it contains a high amount of soluble fibers (betaglucans), which have a positive effect on cholesterol and provide an immediate sense of satiety – something that will be appreciated by those of you who are trying to keep their weight in check. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has been shown to help liver and kidney function. What’s not to like? This way of cooking barley, with the same technique that Italians apply to rice in risottos, is typical of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in the North-East, and I tried it in dozens of variations when I was a student in Trieste.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 a large onion, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups pearl barley
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 6 cups hot vegetable stock or as needed
  • 1 cup total diced vegetables (you can use 3 or 4 of your favorites, such as carrots, peppers, asparagus, zucchini, green peas, corn…)
  • about ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese (optional, for a dairy version)
  • salt and pepper

Directions
Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed or non-stick pot over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent, adding a tablespoon of water if it starts sticking to the bottom. Add any of the vegetables that require a longer cooking time, such as carrots, peppers or potatoes, and cook stirring for 4 minutes. Add the barley, and cook for 2 minutes on higher heat, stirring . Add the wine, and allow it to evaporate. Season with salt and pepper, and begin adding the hot stock ione or two ladlefuls at a time, stirring frequently, and adding more stock as soon as the liquid is absorbed. After about 10-15 minutes add the diced zucchini and/or asparagus (or any quick-cooking vegetables) and keep cooking, stirring and adding hot stock, until al dente, about 30-35 minutes. It should be creamy and not too thick: add enough liquid. When cooked, remove from the heat, season with more salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of your best extra-virgin olive oil. If you are eating dairy, add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmigiano or grand cheese, and serve immediately.
(At the JCC I made this dish with onions and fennel, added at the start, and an exotic touch of saffron)

Stuffed Cabbage, Italian-Style

… or simply wrap your Meatloaf in Cabbage Leaves! (Meat)

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The long marathon of Jewish Holiday ends each Fall with Simchat Torah: on this day, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and paraded around the synagogue while people dance and sing around them. Every Shabbat a different portion of the Torah is chanted in synagogue, and it takes a year to complete the cycle: on Simchat Torah, the end of Deuteronomy is reached, and we start again from Bereshit (Genesis).

Because its shape resembles that of Torah scrolls, one of the most traditional foods for Simchat Torah, found in Jewish communities all over the world in different variations, is stuffed cabbage. Italy is no exception: in Venice, we cook it in stock; in Rome they use oil, onion and tomato; others make a Sephardi version, using lamb instead of veal/beef; some add raisins and pine nuts. If you’d like to try something different, instead of stuffing each leaf you can make a large meat loaf and wrap it in several leaves: Italian Jews have many versions of “Polpettone” (meat loaf) made with beef or poultry and stuffed with different vegetables, frittata or boiled eggs, and encased in turkey or chicken skin, or in a goose neck.


Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 1 lb ground beef, or veal (or a mix)
  • 2 slices bread, crust removed
  • beef or chicken stock
  • 4 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • ½ cup peas, blanched
  • 1/2 cup carrot, cooked and cut into small cubes
  • ¼ tablespoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.
Soak the bread in meat stock and set aside. Blanch the best leaves of a cabbage in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft.
In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, bread mixture (liquid squeezed out), nutmeg, salt, pepper, the egg, and after everything is well combined, fold in the carrot and peas. Allow to rest for five minutes and the mixture will firm up. Only if it’s still too soft, add some breadcrumbs  to thicken it.  Shape the mixture into a meatloaf and wrap it in the cabbage leaves.
Tie well with kitchen string (to make sure it won’t break you can also place the meatloaf in a muslin bag.
Place in a deep pan, cover with stock (enough to reach the top of the cabbage), and cook on medium/low heat, covered, for 1 and 1/2 hours (checking every 30 minutes and adding stock if it’s drying out).  Uncover the pan and if there is still a lot of liquid, allow most of it to evaporate.
Serve with the juices from the pan.

 

Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolata Calda)

Cioccolata Calda (Italian Hot Chocolate)

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Most of us know that the Mayas and their ancestors were already gobbling unsweetened hot cocoa 2000 years ago. Some historians believe that we also have to thank the Jews – for introducing sweet, hot chocolate drinks to Europe. In fact, many Conversos fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition ended up in South America in the early 1500s, where they learned how to grow and process the cocoa beans, which they started exporting to the Old Continent, together with cane sugar. Hot chocolate and coffee were both such a hit In many parts of Europe, that they put many wine bars out of business. In Venice alone, where the first coffee house in Europe was opened around 1645, some 400 (!) more sprouted in the next 150 years. However, while most could afford coffee, because it was imported directly from Arabia, chocolate (which came from the Americas and had to pass through many intermediaries) was expensive, and for a while it remained an exclusive habit enjoyed by the aristocracy, the wealthy merchants and the high clergy.   I hope I’ll make you feel just as fancy as you slowly sip a cup of this thick Italian-style cioccolata!

  • 4 oz bitterweet chocolate (or 4-5 tsps unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
  • a small pinch of sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon potato starch

With Cocoa: Place the cocoa, potato starch, salt  and sugar in a small and heavy or non-stick saucepan. Add the milk very slowly, whisking continuously (use a whisk, not a spoon to avoid clumps). Move the saucepan to the stovetop, and bring to a boil on low heat, stirring continuously; allow to simmer for about one minute or until it thickens and serve accompanied by small cookies.
With Chocolate: use only  high -quality dark chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa – the more, the merrier!); place  a saucepan with the chocolate  in a large pan of shallow warm water, and bring the water to a gentle simmer on top of a range until the chocolate has melted. Add the milk, sugar, salt and potato starch to the chocolate very slowly, stirring continuously; discard the pan of water and place the saucepan with the chocolate on the flame; on low heat, bring to a boil and allow to simmer until it has thickened to perfect creaminess.

 

Classic Tiramisu and my Espresso Addiction

TIRAMISU

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Last month I was invited to give a lecture on the history coffee in Venice at New York City’s Italian Food Wonderland, Eataly (a place that everybody who calls him/herself a foodie needs to check out at least once!). I could hardly contain my excitement, because the event was co-sponsored by Lavazza Coffee and Philips Saeco and I was dying to see their new bean-to-cup coffee machines in action!

Before I start telling you all about it, I actually have a confession to make, a deep dark secret to share: I’m a late bloomer. Until my late thirties I was one of those rare Italians who prefer tea – a calm, ritualistic beverage that I had romanticized since my days as an exchange student in England…

Enter the two adorable pests, their 2 am “bad dreams” and their 6 am awakenings on weekends: in my forties, I finally turned to coffee as my legal drug of choice, as a matter of survival.

Which brings me back to the excitement about the Syntia, which reached new heights when the Philips guys gave me one to take home: for those of us who grew up on the Jetsons, like me, it’s a dream come true: you throw a handful of coffee beans into the top, press a button, and voila’ – the perfect cup of espresso or cappuccino! The machine does everything- it grinds the beans, measures the right amount of grounds, tamps them, extracts the flavor at a professional pressure, and froths the milk if required. Now, if it could also be programmed to brush the kids’ teeth…. seriously, you get the quality of a barista’s espresso machine and the convenience of a capsule machine, rolled into one.

Once you get used to making perfect coffee, it will be hard to stop, and soon you won’t be satisfied with your 7 am double shot: you’ll want to pour it over gelato, stir it into cocktails, add it as a secret ingredient to your winter stew … not to mention that used coffee grounds are great as a deodorizer, insect repellent, plant food, and even (I kid you not!) cellulite reducer!

However, the first recipe you should master – whether you want to wow your family and friends, seduce a date or win over his parents – is Tiramisu! Who could resist alternating layers of sweet and creamy mascarpone and espresso-soaked ladyfingers?

CLASSIC TIRAMISU

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 lb. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • at least 3 cups espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 25 savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers )
  • 3 tablespoons Swiss bittersweet chocolate shavings
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Directions

In a large bowl, beat the yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale (about 2 minutes). Beat in the mascarpone until smooth.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a clean bowl with a clean electric mixer or whisk, until they form peaks. Add the remaining sugar in a slow stream and continue to beat the whites until they hold stiff peaks. In a third bowl, beat the cream until whipped. Fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in the whites.
Dip the ladyfinger in cooled coffee, one at a time, about 4 seconds on each side (if you soak them for too long they’ll break);  transfer them to an 8-inch glass tray or baking dish at least 2″ high. Arrange half of the dipped ladyfingers on the bottom of the pan, then  spread half of the mascarpone mixture evenly over them. Make another layer of ladyfingers and top with mascarpone mixture. Sprinkle the top with the cocoa and the chocolate shavings. Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.

*RAW EGG WARNING and PASTEURIZING EGGS:
 some people are uncomfortable consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs due to the slight risk of food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade AA eggs with intact shells. Still nervous? If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: for the yolks, you will just need to beat them longer with an electric mixer; as to the whites, you will need to add a touch of cream of  tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar); 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 egg whites You can buy pre-pasteurized eggs in many stores (test are not the egg-beaters but actual whole eggs, that can be separated at home into whites and yolks); or you can pasteurize them following this method.

* Disclosure: I was not paid for my review of the Philips Saeco espresso machines, apart from being given one Syntia machine to try and review. All comments are my own, honest opinion after my experience with the machine.

Pumpkin and Radicchio Risotto

RISO ALLA CREMA DI ZUCCA E RADICCHIO

Pumpkin and Radicchio Risotto

How could we possibly welcome fall, and celebrate Thanksgiving, without pumpkin? For me, this also one of the symbols in my family’s Rosh haShana seder and under the sukkah. One of my favorite ways to serve it is in a creamy and delicious risotto!

Those who were born in the Veneto region, like me, also celebrate red radicchio and like to incorporate it into many different recipes. While a similar type of lettuce was already grown in North-Eastern Italy before the 16th century, the exact kind  we eat today, with its white-veined leaves, was engineered in the late 1800s by a Belgian agronomist. The different varieties are named after the Nothern Italian regions where they are cultivated: the easiest to find here in the United States is radicchio di Chioggia (maroon and round), and sometimes the radicchio di Treviso, which looks like a large red Belgian endive. Its mildly bitter flavor blends beautifully with the sweetness of the pumpkin or squash!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound fresh pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 2/3 head of red radicchio
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano type)
  • 1 medium white onion,  finely diced
  • 1/2 cup dry wine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • About 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 7 to 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet. Add the pumpkin and half of the onions and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Season with salt,  nutmeg, pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pumpkin is tender, another 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and puree the pumpkin. Rinse the skillet and heat another tablespoon of oil in it. Add the radicchio (sliced into thin stripes) and cook for 5 minutes, seasoning with salt. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep it hot.
In a heavy pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the remaining onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for a few minutes. As soon as it starts sticking to the bottom, pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate.  Immediately lower the heat and pour in one ladleful of the hot stock and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Gradually add more hot stock, 1 ladleful at a time, stirring frequently until absorbed before adding the next. After about 15 minutes, stir in the pumpkin puree and continue cooking, adding more stock, 1 ladleful at a time, until the rice is tender but “al dente” (about 5 to 15 minutes longer, depending on the type of rice). The risotto should be creamy and loose. Add the radicchio, and more salt if necessary. The risotto will be quite loose. Spoon the risotto into warmed soup plates and drizzle with little balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately. Of course if you want to be really fancy and impress your guests, you could also serve the risotto in the pumpkin shell.
*** For a slightly different result, you can also cook the pumpkin with the rice. Just add the pumpkin to all the onion at the beginning, and then add the rice. Try both versions, and see which one is your favorite! In the context of a dairy meal, this risotto tastes delicious with the addition of butter and parmigiano. On the other hand, the creaminess and sweetness of the pumpkin make it very enjoyable as a Parve (non-dairy) dish!

Bucatini Pasta in Cheese sauce with Hazelnuts and Thyme

Bucatini Pasta in Fontina Sauce with Hazelnuts and Thyme (Dairy)

Bucatini Pasta in Fontina Sauce with Hazelnuts and Thyme (Dairy)

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 3/4 pounds bucatini* pasta 
  •  8 ounces of a sharp, creamy cheese that melts well (Italian Fontina/Fontal, or Brie or Camembert)
  •  4 small leeks
  •  2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
  •  1/4 cup heavy cream 
  •  1/4 cup milk (or less)
  •  1/2 cup coarsely ground hazelnuts
  •  f1 1/2 tablespoons freshly minced thyme
  •  salt and pepper to taste

*(Bucatini are very thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle. Most major Italian brands make them, but if you can’t find them you can substitute linguine)

Clean the leeks, discarding the green and harder parts, and slice them thinly. Heat the oil or butter in a skillet, add the leeks and cook until soft.  In the meantime, toast the hazelnuts in the oven for a few minutes, and grind them coarsely.
Place the cheese in a heavy or non-stick skillet with the milk and cream, and allow it to melt, stirring frequently. Remove the skillet from the heat, and combine the cream/cheese mix with the cooked leeks and the ground hazelnuts.
Cook the pasta ‘al dente’ (for instructions, check my article here) and drain it, setting aside a few tablespoons of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with the cheese sauce and a little cooking water; sprinkle with pepper, decorate with thyme and serve hot.

** If you are watching your diet, you can play with the proportions of milk and cream (or just skip to one of my vegetable-based pasta sauces :-)

Pumpkin Soup with Pomegranate and the meaning of Sukkot

Pumpkin and Pomegranate Cream Soup (Dairy)

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Sukkot is an eight-day harvest holiday that starts four days after the fast of Yom Kippur; it is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.
In ancient Israel Jews would build huts (Sukkah = hut) near the end of their fields during harvest season, so that they could spend more time in the fields and harvest more efficiently. For us, Sukkot is a reminder of how our ancestors  lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years (Leviticus 23:42-43), moving from one place to another and using tents (sukkot) for temporary shelter. Associated with these two meanings are three  main traditions:

1 – Building a sukkah.
2 – Eating inside it.
3 – Waving the lulav and etrog.

(above, Sukkot seen by Italian artist Emanuele Luzzati)

Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot , those observant Jews who have the space construct a sukkah in their backyards or decks (in cities like Manhattan or Venice with a lot of small apartments, it’s normal to just share meals in the synagogue’s sukkah). In ancient times most people would just “move” to their sukkas for the whole holiday and even sleep there: nowadays few do, especially in colder climates, but it’s still customary to eat meals in the hut, or at least snacks, reciting a special blessing.

 

Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest, there is a custom of waving the etrog and lulav: (a kind of citron, similar to a big lemon/lime, and a bunch of myrtle,willow and palm twigs). The lulav and etrog are waved in all directions representing God’s power over the whole creation. All kids love decorating the sukkah with drawings, and mine are no exception!

 

As a fall harvest holiday, Sukkot celebrates the bounty of the new crops, and its food traditions revolve around seasonal vegetables and fruit. In this sense, some believe that the pilgrims may have come up with the idea of Thanksgiving inspired by the Biblical descriptions of Sukkot: after all, the Puritan Christians had landed on American shores in search of a place where they would finallly be free to worship as they pleased – a recurrent theme in Jewish history. Besides, just like the ancient Israelites, the pilgrims also had to dwell in makeshift huts (built with the help of the Indians) during their first cold winter in Massachusetts!

That’s why so many of you, unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, will immediately notice how Thanksgiving’s culinary themes mirror those of Sukkot.

All kinds of  vegetables and fruit grace our tables, together with stuffed pies and pastries: stuffing one food inside another is in fact another metaphor for abundance. Many of these symbolic foods have already appeared on our Rosh haShana table, often in the form of a seder (served in a specific order and reciting blessings on each one).

Among these seasonal offerings, both the pumpkin and pomegranate stand out: in Venice we like our favorite local variety of pumpkin so much that we call it “suca baruca” (from the Hebrew “baruch”, “blessed / holy pumpkin”); as to pomegranate, it is so important in the Jewish tradition that Torah scrolls are decorated with silver ones – apparently because this fruit contains more or less 613 seeds, the number of the Mitzvot (commandments)  that Jews are given to observe.

Why not combine these two symbols into a super-pretty and super-festive soup?

 

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs cubed pumpkin
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • vegetable stock
  • 1/2 orange (or 1/3 cup orange juice)
  • 1 pomegranate (or 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds plus 1/3 cup pomegranate juice)
  • 3 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons coarsely ground hazelnuts (optional)

Directions

Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and allow it to cook until soft (add little water if it starts sticking). Add the pumpkin and allow it to cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the orange zest and 1/3 cup of pomegranate juice (you can skip the juice if you prefer a less tangy flavor and a lighter color). Keep cooking until the juice has evaporated, then add enough hot vegetable stock to barely cover the pumpkin, salt and pepper, and cook until very tender. (at least 30 minutes).
Process with a hand mixer; adding more salt and stock as needed, and pour into individual bowls; decorate with the hazelnuts (if using), a few pomegranate seeds and  salt. In the context of a dairy meal, you can decorate it with a little sour cream or Greek yogurt. Serve warm.

Fish in Saor – Venetian marinated sweet-and-sour fish

S 87 970 SARDE IN SAOR

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Most American Jews love to mark the end of the Yom Kippur fast with a spread of smoked fish, lox, whitefish, herring, and of course bagels and coffee.

In this spirit, last year I had posted a recipe for a simple fish with raisins, which is served in several Italian communities on the same occasion. However, this year I couldn’t resist sharing with you a more elaborate option, one of my favorites: Fish “in Saor”.

Saor” means  “flavor”, in our dialect, and indeed this sweet-and-sour preparation bursts with such flavor that over the centuries it has become THE signature dish of Venice: it’s served as “cicheti’ (tapas) in the many osterias, and as hoers d’oeuvres in the finest restaurants, or passed from boat to boat under the fireworks at the traditional Redentore festival in July.

Many Italians believe that the raisins and pine nuts in savory dishes (as in our stewed carrots, or our spinach frittata for Passover, and dishes with salt cod) always betray Jewish origins. However, Saor was known in Venice long before the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, as witnessed by a recipe in the Libro per Cuoco, compiled by an anonymous Venetian at the end of the 14th century. Obviously it’s still possible that the recipe was introduced by some Jews who passed through venice before the expulsion, but it’s not the only explanation.

Venice after the Crusades (1069-1270) had become the most prosperous city in Europe thanks to international commerce. At the peak of its power, it had more than 3,300 ships: the merchants would bring spices from India and China, olive oil from Southern Italy and Greece, sugar from Sicily, unusual fruit from North Africa, and Venetians in general were experimenting with culinary “fusion” like nobody else in Italy or Europe!

The fact that it made fish last for weeks without refrigeration made the Saor a huge hit with the Venetian merchants/mariners, who spent months at a time at sea. As to the Jews, they might have known it from the countries they had to leave, and may have contributed to its increasing popularity in Venice. Besides featuring some of their favorite ingredients, Saor could be made in advance and eaten cold for Shabbat and the holidays!

HERE IS A STEP-BY-STEP:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lb. large sardines, OR small soles; scaled, cleaned, gutted (heads off! :-)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup olive oil for the marinade
  • more olive oil for frying
  • 2 lb. white onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

INSTRUCTIONS

Ask your fishmonger to wash the sardines (or soles) accurately, gut them, scale them, take the heads off. At home, rinse them in fresh water and lay them well on paper towel.

Soak the raisins in the wine for at least 30 minutes. Heat oil in a 4-qt. pan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until browned, 10–12 minutes. Add vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until soft, 6–8 minutes. Stir in raisins, nuts, and salt and pepper; let cool.

Drench the sardines in flour (I do this by placing flour in a plastic bag. I add the fillets and shake the bag), and fry them in hot oil for about 3 minutes or until slightly golden. Drain them well on  paper towel and salt them.

When both the fish fillets and the onion marinade have cooled off, start layering them in a serving pan: start with a layer of onions, then a layer of fish), then again onions, fish, etc to end with the onions.

Seal with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate for al least 1 or 2 days before eating. It actually tastes even better before 4 or 5 days, and I’m told that with this preparation you could even forgo the refrigeration……

BOLLO – FRUIT CAKE TO BREAK THE YOM KIPPUR FAST

Bollo

Bollo is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet bread with raisins, candied zest, and/or anise seeds (depending on which city you live in), served in many Italian and Sephardic communities to end the Yom kippur fast.  Its name means simply “cake” in Spanish and Portuguese, a sign that we need to thank the Iberian exiles for  yet another yummy treat!

In Venice, we are literally handed a slice as we are walking out of synagogue at the end of services, on the steps. Obviously, even a piece of cardbord would taste great accompanied by a tall  glass of lemonade after 25 hours without food or water! However, this cake keeps being served over and over all through the fall holidays, upon entering the sukkah and until Shemini Atzeret. By then, we are usually stuffed, and I still love it – especially with jelly, for breakfast.

The Bollo is also one of the key elements of the “Tavola dell’Angelo” (the Angel’s table), a ritual table setting that several Venetian families prepare on the eve of Yom Kippur in their homes. The table is dressed in white, and decorated with harvest symbols such as pomegranates, flowers and corn. Jewish ritual objects, like prayer books Kiddush cups and candlesticks are also present. Finally, many families use sprouting wheat grains to write auspicious messages such as “Shana Tova”, or to draw symbols (like hands with the fingers spread out for the priestly blessing).

The center of the festive table are always the bollo and a cup or pitcher of water: a tease to humans during the long fast, these treats are in fact strictly reserved to a mysterious “angel”, in case he/she decides to pay a visit: Yom Kippur is, in fact, the holiest day in the Jewish year, the “Shabbat Shabbaton”, and… you never know!

If you happen to be in Venice around the fall holidays, don’t forget to try the bolo from the local kosher bakery, Volpe . You can also pop into the Giardino dei Melograni kosher hotel (by the Hosteria del Ghetto kosher restaurant) and check out their beautiful Angel’s Table.

But back to the Bollo….

  • about 5 cups flour (a little over 1 lb of 00 or all-purpose)
  • 25 gr fresh yeast, or use dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (mix 1/2 cold water and 1/2 very hot water)
  • 1 scarce cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs (if they are quite large, use 3 yolks and 2 whites)
  • 1/2 cup mild olive oil or seed oil
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm water or brandy and drained
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp candied lemon or orange zest (optional) OR aniseeds (optional)
  • 1 shot brandy, cognac or grappa
  • 1 egg yolk or more to glaze the surface

In a bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water and only about 1/4 of flour and 1/4 of the sugar . Mix well, cover with foil and allow to rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour (even overnight) or until doubled in size.  If your apartment is cold, you can turn the oven on and then off: once the oven is warm but not scolding hot, place the bowl with the mix inside, covered with aluminum foil.

Once the mix has more or less doubled in size, add the rest of the flour, the sugar, 3 eggs, and mix well by hand or in a stand mixer. Cover again and allow to rest again in a warm place for 2 hours or until it doubles in size again.

Add the rest of the ingredients and knead again for a few minutes, then shape it into two oval breads.

Cover again with a towel and allow to rest and rise for at least 2 more hours or until light and fluffy and doubled in size.

Brush the top with the egg yolk (slightly beaten with very little water). If your oven tends to be dry, you can also spray lightly with a fine mist of ice water (to prevent it from darkening too much), and add a small pyrex pot or pan full of water in the oven, to keep the air moist. Your oven should be preheated at 450F. Bake at this temperature only for the first 5 to 7 minutes, then lower to 360 for another 35 or 40 minutes. Baking time varies depending on your oven.

***P.S. if you are not much of a baker, there are quicker ways to break the fast Italian-style: try quince paste with any simple cookies, or – if you can tolerate alcohol – the Piedmontese “Bruscadela“: layers of toasted challah soaked for a few hours in mulled wine (simmered with cinnamon, cloves and sugar). I had this once and it made me sleep for 13 hours.

Fluffy Honey and Orange Cake

Fluffy Honey Cake (Dairy or Parve)

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In Italy, “Miele” (honey), is classified as compulsively as cheeses and olive oil – by area of origins, type of flower, and depending on whether pieces of honeycomb were included… we have strawberry-tree (corbezzolo) and Eucalyptus honeys from Sardinia, chestnut honey from Piedmont, millefiori (thousand flowers) from Tuscany, orange blossom from Sicily, acacia from the Pre-Alps, and many more. Every fall, I take a trip to Zebar’s or Eataly where I stress out about which kind will grace my cake this Rosh HaShana!

Rather than blaming this on my all-Italian obsession with ingredients, you should try for yourselves! After all, when the Almighty promised our forefathers that they would be freed from Egyptian bondage, the Promised Land was described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus. 3: 17, etc.) – and not with “milk and sugar”!

In this cake, the orange balances out any excessive sweetness of the honey.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium/large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup oil (canola oil or 1/2 light olive 1/2 almond oil)
  • about 300 gr (3/4 a medium/large jar) liquid honey
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1 1/2 cup 00 or all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp orange liqueur (like triple sec) or brandy
  • zest of one organic orange
  • 1/4 cup of the orange juice
  • 1 package (16 g) baking powder
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

Using a hand mixer, beat the yolks with the honey until frothy and thick (about 3 minutes). Very slowly add the oil, and beat until creamy. Add the honey, the potato starch, orange zest and the liqueur. Now add the flour (mixed with the baking powder) a bit at a time, alternating it with the orange juice.

In a separate, clean and degreased bowl, or in your stand mixer, beat the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Now combine the egg whites with the batter, with the help of a spatula, using upward movements.

Pour into a 9.5″ or 10″ Savarin or bundt pan (well greased and dusted with flour). Since honey cakes tend to darken more than sugar-based ones, I prefer these cake pans, with a hole, because the inside will cook faster, before the outside has time to darken. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 30-35 minutes, or until done when tested with a toothpick. To keep the color lighter, you can cover with aluminium foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.


Quince Paste for Rosh HaShana

Cotognata (Sweet Quince Paste) (Parve)

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Quinces are from the same family as apples and pears. They are much uglier than both, and they taste horrible when eaten raw (I tried!). Feed them to the geese? Think again: as usual, our great-great-great grandmothers were able to turn even this ugly-duckling of a fruit into a delicious treat. So delicious, in fact, that many communities in Italy and elsewhere eat them instead of apples and honey as Tapuach, the first element in our Rosh HaShana seder symbolizing a sweet new year.
(Other Italian traditions begin with dates – in Aramaic,Temareh – for the first blessing, and conclude with figs, apples or quinces).
I hope you try this easy recipe and offer it next to your apples and honey. You will understand why, when quinces were still hard to come by in Manhattan stores, a friend of mine’s 80-year-old Italian grandmother (who shall go unnamed) would be found climbing up the trees in the garden of the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan before Rosh HaShana. We saw her in action and she was quite agile.

Ingredients
– 2 pounds quinces
– 1 and 1/2 pound sugar
– 1 organic lemon
– 4 or 5 cloves

Directions
Clean the quinces, eliminating all the fuzz and any parts that are damaged..
Cook them in a pot of boiling water with half an organic lemon and the cloves.
When they are as soft as boiled potatoes (about an hour) drain them, discarding the lemon and cloves and setting aside about a ladleful of the cooking water.
Halve the quinces and allow them to cool off; then peel them, eliminate the cores, and reduce them into a smooth puree using a food mill or an electric mixer.
Combine this puree with the sugar and 1/2  a ladleful of the cooking water. Cook on low heat for about an hour, stirring regularly. The paste is ready when it sticks to the spoon.
Wet a large cutting board or your countertop, and pour the cotognata on top, forming an even 1/2-inch
layer.. After it has started to dry, you can cover it with parchment paper. After at least 24 hours (48 is better), cut into shapes with cookie cutters.

The Jewish Press: Italian Comfort Food

The Jewish Press

The Jewish Press

Tri-Color Frittata

FRITTATA TRICOLORE

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Frittata is the omelette’s Italian cousin: just like the omelette, it can be a great vehicle for using up any leftovers you happen to have around (even cooked pasta!), but it’s quicker and easier to make.

It tastes great warm or cold, and once cut into wedges it is easily transportable, which is why  in Italy it’s common to take a wedge to work for lunch. Of course it works just as well on your day off, whether you are having a picnic or hitting the beach. Frittatas are usually cooked on the stovetop, but if you dread the flip… feel free to bake yours in a regular oven! They are really quite foolproof, not to mention a quick, easy and inexpensive way to add some protein to any vegetables you have in your fridge and make them into a meal.

In Italy, we don’t usually serve frittatas for breakfast, but at either lunch or dinner. They can be a main course at a light meal, or an appetizer before several other courses. While Italians in general love this kind of food, Italian Jews are particularly fond of them because eggs are “parve”/ neutral, and can be consumed with either dairy or meat (incidentally, frittatas were probably introduced by the Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal, who also brought much more complex egg preparations, especially desserts).

Such a traditional Italian recipe deserved an Italian color theme, which is why we are going with green, white and red.

Ingredients

8 eggs

2 green peppers

1 leek

2 tomatoes or one small basket cherry tomatoes

½ cup diced mozzarella or feta cheese

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons milk

1 handful flat leaf parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Cooking Directions

Slice the leek thinly. Seed the peppers and dice them, or cut them into thin strips. Seed the tomatoes and dice them (if using cherry tomatoes, cut them in half).  Mince the parsley, discarding the stems.

Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet. When the oil is hot, add the leeks and the peppers and saute’ until soft (about 3-4 minutes). In a bowl, slightly beat the eggs with 2 tbs of milk, salt and pepper. Combine with the diced tomatoes, the parsley, and the diced cheese.

Pour the egg mixture into the skillet over the peppers. Allow  thbottom of the frittata to cook, using a spatula to lift the sides to allow more liquid to run under. When the bottom is cooked, carefully flip the frittata with the help of a platter, and cook the other side.

If using an oven-proof skillet, you can also transfer the pan into the oven and cook the top under the broiler for a few minutes, to avoid flipping.

Watermelon and Cantaloupe Bruschetta

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Bruschetta (which, by the way, should be pronounced [bru’sket:ta] ( listen) and not [bru’shet:ta], please!!!) is a snack that Italians have been  enjoying for centuries. It’s a simple slice of roasted bread, rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh tomato and basil. Tuscans, always the chic minimalists of Italy, skip the tomato and stick to olive oil and garlic; they call it Fettunta, “greased slice”. Of course they use the very first and very best oil of the season, which makes everything else seem redundant!

Just like bread soups or bread puddings, bruschetta was born as a way to salvage bread that was going stale (note to Americans: real bread does get stale!), at a time when it was considered precious and nobody was watching their carbs and worrying about Atkins. Some Italian peasant, who never reached the fame of the Earl of Sandwich but remained nameless, had a culinary epiphany that would revolutionize the concept of snacking.

Who doesn’t like giving their fork a rest and eating with their hands at picnics and cocktails? Although most of us tend to think of bruschetta in terms of tomato and basil, it’s actually a great base for most Mediterranean appetizers and salads, which it turns into finger foods. Just pick your favorite summer ingredient and build your own! Here is mine:
 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 ripe cantaloupe, diced
  • 1/4 small ripe watermelon, diced
  • 3/4 cup goat cheese, or crumbled feta
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
  • fresh mint or basil
  • 2-3 tbsps of the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find (not too strong or acidic)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf Italian or French style bread, sliced and toasted, broiled, or grilled

Directions

  1. Rub the toasted or grilled bread slices with the garlic cloves while they are still hot. Discard the garlic. Brush with very little oil.
  2. Spread a little cheese on the slices.
  3. Dress the two melons (separately) with the rest of the oil, and little salt and pepper. If using feta, which is saltier, you can skip the salt.
  4. Top some slices with the cantaloupe and others with watermelon. Decorate with fresh mint.

 

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)
Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (scarce) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches arugula (thicker stems removed)
  • 1/2 pound radishes, thinly sliced (use a mandoline if possible)
  • 1/2 pound green apple, peeled and sliced thin (or hearts of palm)
  • (if liked, 6 ounces goat cheese)

Directions

Wash and dry the arugula, and toss it with the radishes and apple together.

While it’s not very “Italian”, I always crave hearts of palm (it all started with my second pregnancy), and like substituting them for the apple in this recipe.

Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, shallot, salt and pepper, and toss the salad with this dressing right before serving.

** If you are not serving this as a side, but having it as a very light summer meal , you could add some goat cheese and serve with warm multi-grain bread.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/07/24/insalata-tricolore-three-color-salad/

Gelato in a Phyllo Nest

GELATO ALLA VANIGLIA CON MACEDONIA DI FRUTTI DI BOSCO

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One of the things that don’t cease to surprise me, after 18 years in the US, is how strongly, deeply, philosophically anti-air conditioning my fellow Italians can be. It’s not only about being more ecologically aware than our American counterparts – we really hold on to our grandmas’ belief that artificial cooling can cause a plethora of maladies, from headaches to stomach congestion (whatever that is), to pneumonia. Of course, when it’s 100+ degrees outside, we have our own cooling methods.

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1)    (also called: Italian air conditioning) leave your windows open from about 10 pm to 7 am, to allow the cool breeze to come in. Keep them shut during the day. Grab a fan.

2)    Limit “real food” to dinner time; the rest of the day, eat mostly fruit and vegetables and indulge often in frozen desserts.

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To those of you who are cringing at the idea of daily ice cream, I’d like to point out that Italian gelato is made with milk instead of cream. Not only that, artisanal gelato includes real eggs, real fruit: it’s definitely more “real’ than a box of mac & cheese! On the other hand, in this land of advertising and additives, it might sound about as interesting as broccoli to the younger ones. Try to explain to your 4 and 5 year olds that home-made is better than the  treats from the local ice cream cart with its hypnotizing chime.

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Even when I can convince mine to forgo the colorant-laden packaged Dora stuff, they still demand at least cones. This has been a problem for me when trying to serve them my home-made gelato…. I was not thrilled about storing wholesale quantities of cones in my Manhattan apartment, and the idea of what could happen to our Persian rugs gave me the shivers.

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My “Eureka” moment came when I saw something that my talented and sophisticated friend Lucilla served at a dinner party…. gelato in edible cups! It made me realize that, for my two demanding little customers Gabo and Bianca, it was all about being able to polish off every possible trace of their dessert. Lucilla was kind enough to share her secret, and here it is. Enjoy your Summer!

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RECIPE INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb phyllo dough (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 lb vanilla gelato (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 lb bittersweet or dark chocolate (grated, or use chips)
  • 1 basket berries
  • milk and butter

DIRECTIONS

Cut the phyllo into 16 squares. Place 4 of them into 4 muffin pans lined with parchment, and brush the top with melted butter. Top each square with another square (without making the corners overlap), and repeat with 4 phylo squares for each muffin pan, brushing with butter in between. Bake in a pre-heated 360 F oven for about 10 minutes or until slightly golden. While the phyllo nests are baking, melt the chocolate in a saucepan on low heat with a few tablespoons of milk (enough to make a smooth but thick sauce). Allow the nests to cool off before unfolding them. Before serving, place a large scoop of vanilla gelato in each nest, and decorate with warm chocolate sauce and red berries. Enjoy!



Minestrone – Italian Vegetable Soup

S 55 01 STEP 1 MINESTRONE

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The word minestrone derives from the Latin verb  ministrare, which means ‘to administer’.
Maybe because, as any Italian mother can witness, it is the most efficient way to administer lots of healthy vegetables to picky children, with few complaints!

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In many households, minestrone is made at least weekly and (thanks to the fact that it tastes even better when reheated), served several times as a primo piatto (first course) with both dairy and meat meals. I usually serve it plain on the first day; on the second day, I reheat it with some leftover cooked rice, pasta or even spelt. If it’s cold outside, or I’m simply too busy for multiple courses, I just throw in some beans to transform this light soup into an earthy meal. At the end of the week I add a boiled potato and turn the leftovers into a creamy passato (blended soup) with my hand blender.

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Just keep in mind, if you plan on stretching your soup over the course of a week, that you should skip tomatoes or it will spoil too quickly. In Italy we have countless regional and seasonal variations for this soup, depending on the local produce! Just to give you a few examples, the Genoese minestrone is flavored with pesto; my Tuscan grandmother liked to add rosemary, and the Lombard one preferred Arborio rice in it.

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The only key rules are that all the ingredients should be very fresh and the oil high quality; the soup should be cooked very slowly, on low heat; and finally, the vegetables should be chopped very small, Israeli salad-style…. other than that, have some fun!

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Ingredients (serves 8-10 as an appetizer, 6-8 as a main course)

  • vegetable stock, 1 1/2 quarts
  • 2 whole cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 6 leaves of kale or Swiss Chards, chopped
  • 1 large slice of butternut squash or pumpkin
  • 1/2 a small cabbage (1/4 if large)
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 small (or 1 large) zucchini
  • 1 cup peas
  • OR asparagus tips, or green beans
  • 1 small or medium potato (optional)
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra-virgin olive oil (I use a low-acidic, mild Ligurian or Tuscan)
  • fresh rosemary or parsley, if liked
  • (tip: if you rarely make it to the green market…. it does work even with frozen vegetables!)

Peel the carrots and potatoes with a vegetable peeler and wash and clean all the vegetables, discarding any outer leaves and inedible parts. On a chopping board, cut all the vegetables into regular dice max 1/2″ (except for the peas, obviously). In a large pot with a heavy base, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the minced onion and the whole garlic cloves and cook until the onion is translucent. Discard the garlic (if using – I usually don’t),  add the vegetables and little salt, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes on medium/low heat, making sure they don’t burn or change color. Cover the vegetables with the vegetable stock and cook, in a partially covered pot and on low heat, for about an hour or until the vegetables are  soft and the liquid has absorbed all their flavor. If using asparagus tips, add them later, about 15 minutes from the end. If you are pressed for time, you can also cook minestrone in a pressure cooker (it should take less than 15 minutes). When ready, pour into individual bowls, drizzle with some more extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a touch of freshly ground black pepper. It also tastes great with some freshly grated parmigiano on top, if you are in the mood for cheese!.

Grandma’s Eggplant and Apple Jam

S 01 02 I MARMELLATA DI MELE E MELANZANE

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Few things are more American than a PB & J sandwich. However, jelly itself has been a staple all over the world since antiquity, when someone figured out that even quince (a fruit that looks like an ugly apple, and that’s too hard to be eaten raw) could taste delicious when slow-cooked with honey (incidentally, the word Marmalade derives from the Portuguese Marmelo (quince). Unlike our American children, spoiled by constant sugary snacks, it seems that people back then actually PREFERRED fresh fruit, because they didn’t attempt to make jelly with anything other than quince for centuries!

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It was the Persians or the Arabs, who had been producing sugar from cane, who finally came up with the idea of syrup and started using it to manufacture various preserves, experimenting with pectic fermentation and creating the first citrus fruit marmalades. With the conquest of Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, the Arabs introduced all their confections, changing the European palate forever, much to the joy of children and… dentists.

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Preserving fruit or vegetables in syrup, just like drying or pickling, also prolonged their shelf life; this became critical in the Age of Discovery, starting in the 15th century, for the sailors, merchants and pirates (!) who had to spend months at sea with no access to fresh produce.

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However, jam makes me think of far more familiar adventures, such as climbing up my grandmother’s fig, apple and peach trees as a child. I didn’t mind a scraped knee if I could feel that I was part of our little production line: I picked the fruit, nonna stirred the jam, my mom (the pharmaceutical chemist) jarred it, and my dad kept stealing spoonfuls from the pot.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 pounds small (Japanese) eggplants
  • 3 small golden delicious apples (or 2 large)
  • 1 medium orange
  • 1 organic lemon
  • 6 cups sugar

DIRECTIONS:

peel the eggplants, cut them in 2-3 pieces each, and pierce them with a fork. Place them in a bowl of salted water for 1 hour. Rinse and cover with fresh, unsalted water. Let rest for another hour. Drain and lace in a large (it will froth up like crazy) copper or stainless steel pot, with the peeled and sliced apples, and the orange and lemon juice and zest. Add the sugar and 2-3 tbsps water,bring to a boil, and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. remove from the heat and pass through a food mill or sieve 9even a potato masher will do!). return to the pot and simmer for 30 more minutes, or until it has thickened. Pour into sterilized glass jars and close them tightly. Store in a cool, dark place.

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Gratin Tomatoes

POMODORI RIPIENI

Ask any Southern Italian, or Italian American, to imagine cooking without the color and the fragrance of tomato, and they will probably tell you it’s impossible.

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However, the use of tomato spread in European kitchens fairly recently: although it was first introduced in the 16th century, the vast majority of people treated it as a pretty, but possibly poisonous, decorative plant for at least the next two hundred years. In Peru, Mexico and Chile, where it originated from, the natives also treated it as unedible.

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While nobody was stirring Marinara, alchemists were concocting plenty of potions featuring the new fruit, which was believed to have aphrodisiac powers when ingested in small amounts. This accounts for the romantic names the plant was given, from England and France (Love Apple, Pomme d’Amour) to Italy Pomo d’Oro, Golden Apple) .

It’s still unclear where and when, in Baroque Europe, someone first tasted the mysterious fruit. Maybe it was a brave and hungry farmer in Southern Italy, in times of famine. Maybe the Sephardic merchants of Livorno, who had first imported the seeds (this may be the reason why many tomato-based local dishes are called “Jewish-style” or “Moses-style”). Or it could have been a bored aristocrat in France, where tomatoes were only eaten at the Royal Court until well into the 18th century.

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In any case, once Europeans actually bit into it, there was no way back! According to Neapolitan screenwriter Luciano De Crescenzo, “ The discovery of tomato represented, in the history of food, a revolution comparable to what the French Revolution constituted in social history”.

Gratin Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • GRATIN TOMATOES
  • 8 medium tomatoes, firm (on the vine)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 1 1/2 cup to 2 cupsplain bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsps freshly chopped parsley, or 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3-4 minced anchovies (oil-packed, or salt-packed and rinsed) (optional)
  • salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon or less)
  • black pepper
  • pine nuts, olives or basil leaves to decorate

Directions

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, scoop out the seeds and pulp, sprinkle the inside with salt and drain upside down for 30+ mins. Save the pulp.

In a food processor, mince the garlic, anchovies and herbs, and blend with the tomato pulp that you had set aside. Add the olive oil and the bread crumbs. Add the bread crumbs gradually and stop once the mix holds together without being too firm.

Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture, brush the top with little more oil, and bake for 35-40 minutes in a pre-heated 400 F oven.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/28/gratin-tomatoes-12/

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How to Dress a Salad, Italian-Style

INSALATA E OLIO

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As much as I love America, there is one thing food-wise, that I haven’t gotten used to in almost twenty years: salad dressings! Besides the fact that most store-bought dressings include a lot of processed ingredients, I find that most of these concoctions (even when home-made) combine so many different flavors that they hide, rather than enhance, that of the salad itself. Another issue is texture: most dressings are so thick that, rather than enveloping the leaves, they sit on them.  In Italy, we dress salads very simply with oil and vinegar, or oil and lemon,and in some cases just oil and salt, in a similar way to the French.  The proportions are simple: one part of vinegar or lemon to 4 of oil for a milder dressing, or one part of vinegar or lemon to 3 parts of oil (and some salt) if you like tart flavors. Most Italians don’t actually measure, but you should calculate about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons oil per person, or just 1 if you are on a diet. Skipping oil altogether and going fat-free is not as healthy as it sounds, because some of the vitamins in vegetables are lipo-soluble and can only be absorbed when accompanied by a fat. Choosea nice extra-virgin olive oil, and not the cheaper, “light” varieties. As for vinegar, balsamic is very popular these days, but its complex flavor works only with very flavorful vegetables and can be overpowering on simpler types of lettuce. Simple white or red wine vinegar is much more versatile, as is lemon juice. Other great options are apple cider vinegar, and rice vinegar.  I must confess that most of us don’t even bother to blend the ingredients for our everyday meal. Right before eating the salad, we just sprinkle with salt, and pour some oil and then vinegar straight from their bottles. But this is not necessarily the best method, and you should blend the ingredients first for a better result.Everybody knows that vinegar and oil do not emulsify well and tend to separate. The best way to combine them, reducing them into micro-droplets, is in a blender. Honestly, I only do this if I have guests. For everyday, I just put the salt in a stainless or glass bowl, add the vinegar or lemon (do not add the salt after the oil, or it won’t dissolve), and combine well with a whisk or simply a fork. Gradually add the oil, whisking well, and use immediately to dress a salad. The ingredients should be at room temperature, and never cold, or they won’t blend well. Remember that you should never dress salads in advance, except for very “resistant” vegetables such as cucumber or radicchio – delicate salad leaves tend to react to vinaigrette and wither. Sometimes, when I want my salad to be really special, or if I need to plate it for a picture, I add a touch of honey to the dressing: honey stabilizes the emulsion for a long time,  so that the oil and vinegar will not separate all over the plate.If you do use your blender and add honey, it’s actually best to let the vinaigrette rest for a few minutes or even an hour before using it, so that all the flavors can meld; but don’t refrigerate it!Last, but not least: even if you are using bagged salad, always rinse it first – not only because… you never know!!! but also because if the salad is too dry you will end up using way to much dressing.

Buon appetito, and let me know how it goes!

Lemon and Lavander Tart

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Lemon Lavander Tart by DinnerInVenice

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town” (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses).

One of my first olfactory memories features a lemon lavender crostata, baked by my grandmother on a summer afternoon about four decades ago.

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When we think of lavender fields, most of us conjure up images of Provence: maybe because they were often depicted by French impressionists. However, this plant (a member of the same family of savory herbs which also includes sage, thyme, and oregano) is cultivated all over the world, from England to Brazil, from Russia to Japan and new Zealand – and of course, Italy.

My grandmother lived in Pistoia, a town about 30 minutes North-West of Florence, and just over an hour drive from the Chianti region and its stunning landscapes of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, vineyards, olive groves and (surprise!) lavender fields, in a patchwork of incomparable natural beauty. That’s exactly where my parents and I used to pick our flowers. Only after a generous tip to the farmer we would be  allowed to leave with a large bundle.

I remember that I would often come back with a bee sting, promptly treated by the local pediatrician, Dottor Federico: lush lavender shrubs are  always humming with fuzzy bees, and the product of this romantic relationship is the most elegant of all honeys.

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My grandmother was never a remarkable  cook or baker, but somehow this particular tart, made using her next-door neighbor’s recipe, and almonds and lemons from her own orchard, always came out so delectable that it was gone in five minutes – however, its exquisite memory has lingered on for over 40 years….Image

Ingredients:

  • 1 disc puff pastry or short pastry, home made or purchased
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (heaped) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (heaped) potato starch
  • 2 1/4 cups 2 % milk
  • juice of 2 small lemons, or 1 large lemon
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender

Grease a springform pan (about 9″ to 9 1/2″) and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees if using puff pastry, 360 if using short pastry.

Roll out pastry and transfer pastry to the prepared springform pan, trimming edges using a paring knife

Prepare the custard: beat the egg yolks with the sugar until foamy. Add the lemon zest and juice.

Dissolve the potato starch into the warm milk, adding little milk at a time. Once combined, add it to the egg mix. Cook in a Bain Marie over low heat, whisking frequently, until the custard thickens. Add 1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms/petals to the custard.
Pour the custard into the crust, and sprinkle a little more lavender on top. Bake at  400 (for puff) or 360 (for pastry dough) for 30 to 45 minutes or until the crust is golden. You can also use mini-pans and make individual size tartelettes.

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Salad

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Salad

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Salad

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 head curly endive
  • 1 pound goat cheese (I used Natural and Kosher goat cheese log)
  • pink peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • green peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • chives, finely minced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste

Directions

With a wet melon ball cutter or with your wet hands, shape the goat cheese into little balls .

Roll 1/4 of them into the freshly grated green peppercorns, 1/4 into the chives, 1/4 into the pink peppercorns and 1/3 into the grated carrot, then place the cheese balls in the refrigerator to harden.

Wash the pepper and zucchini; cut the pepper into thin strips after discarding the seeds and white membranes; cut the zucchini into thin slices lengthwise (with a mandoline if possible).

Grill the zucchini and peppers on a heavyweight grill pan (I like this ).

Wash the endive and cut it into pieces.

Gather all the ingredients in a large bowl and dress with the olive oil mixed with a little salt and pink pepper.

Stir gently and serve in individual bowls or cups.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/25/zucchini-and-goat-cheese-salad/

Edible Mosaic with Yogurt Sauces

Edible Mosaic with Yogurt Sauces

Edible Mosaic by DinnerinVenice.com

Growing up in Venice, I was always fascinated with glass mosaic – an ancient art that can create, through the careful rhythm of colored enamels and gold leaf, a magical world where time seems to stand still.

Edible Mosaic by DinnerinVenice.com 1279

Why not experiment with summer fruit? Your kids will love this project!

Edible Mosaic by DinnerinVenice.com 1287

Edible Mosaic with Yogurt Sauces

Ingredients

  • watermelon
  • cantaloupe
  • white melon
  • mango or pineapple
  • kiwi
  • 3 small containers or 1 large container plain yogurt
  • brown sugar and honey to taste
  • mint, lemongrass or lavender, lemon and lime juice
  • 1/2 container blueberries
  • cocoa and cinnamon to taste

Directions

Dice the different types of fruit into pieces, all the same size. If using white fruit, drizzle with lemon to prevent it from darkening.

Make layers of fruit cubes on a serving platter, alternating the different colors, and even creating patterns if you feel particularly artistic.

Decorate with fresh mint.

Serve with at least 3 different yogurt sauces made by blending yogurt with any of the following:

1) blueberries and sugar; 2) honey and fresh mint; 3) lemon or lime, brown sugar and lemongrass or lavender; 4) cocoa powder, cinnamon and sugar....

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/24/edible-mosaic-with-yogurt-sauces/

Shabbat Meals: Red Mullet Livornese-Style

4103 TRIGLIE ALLA MOSAICA

… and the Cosmopolitan Cooking of the Jews of Livorno.

This article and recipe appeared in The Jewish Forward.

Click here to view it.

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Mount Sinai with Threaded Eggs

Mount Sinai with Threaded Eggs (Dairy)

Mount Sinai Cake with Threaded Eggs by DinnerInVenice

For years, I had been intrigued by this curious cake from Livorno (Leghorn), a dessert that features sweet egg threads on top – a sign that it was introduced by the egg-loving Portuguese Jews and marranos who were invited to settle in the city by the Grand-Duke of Tuscany in the sixteenth century. With the help of the Jewish merchants, Leghorn became one of the most important port cities in Europe (but also a center of the printing press), and became known as “the city with no ghetto”.

I was already familiar with the local cuisine, and decided to try my hand at this tart, which looked like no other. Unfortunately, the yolk threads proved to be a huge challenge: I didn’t seem to be able to control the flow through the colander (the tool of choice in all the books that listed the recipe).  My Livornese friends couldn’t help either: apparently they had always encountered the same problem and ended up with a sticky blob or with burns… they said that they used to buy the cake for Shavuot and for Purim from a well-known patisserie, but that when the owner died his tricks were buried with him. I had to wait until the blogging and YouTube era to figure this all out, with the help of some non-Jewish foodies from Portugal, where threaded eggs are often featured on Christmas recipes… in particular, thank you chef Fernando Canales for  teaching me that in the 21st century it would be silly to use a colander when most of us have easy access to a pastry syringe (or at least a large syringe to dispense pediatric drops)!

Mount Sinai with Threaded Eggs (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • Cake base:
  • 1 1/3 cup finely ground almonds (200 gr)
  • ½ cup sugar (100 gr)
  • pinch of salt
  • grated zest of 1 medium orange
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 or 4 tbsps candied etrog or lemon peel, finely chopped (optional)
  • Egg Threads:
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsps water (250 ml)
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp lemon or orange juice
  • 1 ½ tbsps orange flower water, if liked (or 1 more tbsp orange juice)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 320 F (yes, it’s very low, but if the temperature is higher the “macaroon” will be too crunchy to cut).

Place the sugar and water for the base in a heavy saucepan and simmer until sticky (I have also skipped this step and used plain sugar instead of making the syrup, with an acceptable result). Add the almonds and zest, stirring with a wooden spoon until everything is well combined.

Allow to cool, and when it’s just lukewarm add the egg.

Line the bottom of a 9 to 9” baking pan with wet parchment (squeeze it well) and grease the sides. Pour in the cake mixture and press it down gently with your wet fingertips.

Bake for about 30 minutes and set aside.

For the egg threads, boil the sugar, water and juice in a frying pan (about 10” wide and with tall-ish sides so the syrup doesn’t splatter all over your stovetop), and simmer until the syrup is thick enough to stick to a spoon (coating it).

Slightly beat the yolks in a small bowl and then fill your pastry syringe with as much beaten egg as it can hold.

Now press the yolk out of the syringe and into the simmering syrup, starting at the center and moving the syringe in an outward circular motion so that the egg makes a long spiral thread into the syrup.

When you are done, press the thread down into the syrup with a wooden spoon or a spatula and let cook for a few seconds, until it holds together (but it should still be soft).

Remove with a slotted spoon and dry on a double layer of paper towel.

Repeat the same process with the rest of the yolks.

When all the yolks are cooked and drained, place them in a colander and rinse some of the syrup off with water.

Allow them to dry well.

Invert the almond base into a platter, top it with the candied peel and decorate it with the egg threads. It’s worth it!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/23/mount-sinai-with-threaded-eggs-dairy/

Crostata di Visciole (Sour Cherry Tart)

Crostata di Visciole (Sour Cherry Tart) (Dairy)

Sour Cherry tart - Crostata di Visciole by DinnerInVenice

The ancient Jewish community of Rome maintains many traditions that will never fade. One of its highlights is this double-crusted tart, stuffed with ricotta cheese and sour cherry jam.

If you visit Rome, try it at Boccione’s, the famous kosher bakery in the ghetto! Theirs is made with really fresh sheep milk ricotta, and it’s worth putting up with the long lines….

Sour Cherry tart - Crostata di Visciole by DinnerInVenice

Crostata di Visciole (Sour Cherry Tart) (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 300 gr (22oz) flour (about 2 ½ cups but it’s best to weigh)
  • 125 gr (4 ½ oz) sugar (a little more than ½ cup)
  • 125 gr (1 stick plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of 1 untreated lemon
  • 1 large egg + 1 yolk (large, not XL)
  • for the filling:
  • 1 pound whole sheep or cow milk ricotta
  • 100 grams (scant ½ cup) sugar, or more to taste
  • (optional: 1 egg and 1 tbsp rhum or anise liqueur)
  • 1 jar sour cherry jam such as Rigoni Asiago (or regular cherry jam mixed with little lemon juice)
  • OR 2 cups sour-cherries and ½ cup sugar

Directions

Place the sifted flour and salt into your food processor, add the cold butter cut into cubes, the sugar, salt, eggs, lemon zest, and pulse a few times until crumbly.

Remove from the food processor and work quickly with your hands (keep them cold by rubbing them on ice cubes) until smooth.

Wrap in plastic and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

If using fresh sour cherries, cook them (pitted) for 25 minutes on low heat with ½ cup of sugar and 4-5 tbsps water.

Combine the ricotta with the ½ cup sugar (and egg and liqueur if using: I don’t).

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Grease and dust a baking pan (I also like to line the bottom with parchment as an extra precaution).

Cut the dough into 2 pieces: one should be about 2/3 and the other 1/3 of the total volume.

Roll out the larger piece on a lightly floured counter and place it on the bottom and sides of the prepared cake pan; brush the bottom with the cherry jam and follow with the ricotta filling.

Some people do the opposite and spread the ricotta on the bottom, followed by the cherry jam on top: in this case the ricotta becomes colored by the cherries while the pie is baking.

Roll out the remaining dough into a smaller disc and use it to top the pie, sealing the edges (you can also decorate with strips, but the ricotta stays moister if you “close” the pie.

I cut it into a large flower shape, which I felt was large enough for this purpose). Bake for about 45-55 minutes.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/21/crostata-di-visciole-sour-cherry-tart-dairy/

 

Rice Cake with Pine Nuts and Rose Water

Rice Cake with Pine Nuts and Rose Water

Rice Cake with Pine Nuts and Rose Water by DinnerInVenice

The milk and honey are a reference to the divine love described in the Song of Songs; the rose water is linked to the tradition of Shavuot as the Feast of Roses; finally, the rice symbolizes the marriage between God and His people.

Can you find a more symbolic dish than this lovely cake of clear Sephardic origins?

Rice Cake with Pine Nuts and Rose Water

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb Italian rice such as Arborio, Vialone nano or Carnaroli
  • 1/2 lb sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cups pine nuts
  • 1 qt milk
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of Rose Water, OR Orange Blossom water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • (*** If you don’t like Rose Water, you can substitute the juice and zest of one orange)

Directions

Pour the milk, sugar and vanilla extract in a pot and bring it to a boil (enameled cast-iron or non-stick pots work best, if you use a steel pot the rice will tend to stick to the bottom and burn).

Add the rice, and cook for 15 to 18 minutes on low heat, stirring frequently.

When the rice has absorbed all the milk, remove from the heat and pour into a large bowl.

Once the mixture has cooled off, add the eggs one at a time, the pine nuts, the butter (softened at room temperature and cut into small pieces), and the rose water (or orange blossom water, or orange juice and zest).

Mix well with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients have blended together.

Grease a cake pan with butter and dust it with flour, and pour the mixture into it (you can use a Bundt pan, or any cake pan with a nice shape. I like to use one that looks like a flower).

Bake for about 30 minutes in a 400 F oven.

Let it cool on a rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/15/rice-cake-with-pine-nuts-and-rose-water/

Rotolo di Spinaci e Ricotta

Rotolo di Spinaci e Ricotta

ROTOLO DI SPINACI E RICOTTA by DinnerInVenice

Shavuot commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and Jewish communities around the world have developed special culinary customs to give due honor to the holiday.

Meals are characterized by dairy dishes, as the Bible itself compares the Torah to milk and honey (“honey and milk shall be under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). Some commentators add that, before the revelation at Sinai, the Jews were allowed to eat meat that was slaughtered normally, but after the Torah was given on Shavuot, they became obligated to follow the rules of kasherut . Until the end of that first festival,  they had no alternative but to indulge in dairy foods! Mystics also like to mention that  the numerical equivalent of halav ( Hebrew for milk) is forty – the number of days Moses waited on Mount Sinai.

Another tradition is eating foods that are rolled, to remind us of the shape of the Torah scrolls that are read in synagogue. Among Ashkenazi jews, the most popular Shavuot food incorporating both customs is cheese blintzes.  However in Italy, it’s all about pasta, creamy ricotta and aged parmigiano cheese! Buon appetito….

Rotolo di Spinaci e Ricotta

Ingredients

  • Fresh Pasta
  • 2 pounds of spinach (or a bag of chopped, frozen spinach)
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese (regular, do not use fat-free!)
  • salt and peper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 5 teaspoons grated Parmigiano cheese (grated, not shredded)
  • 1 whole egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in hot water and drained (optional)

Directions

Make fresh pasta (I like the recipe here http://www.lacucinaitalianamagazine.com/recipe/pasta_fresca ) and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes, wrapped in plastic.

Put two pounds of spinach in a pot with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 whole cloves of garlic. Salt and sprinkle with very little water.

Cook covered for about 5 minutes, then uncovered until soft and until most water has been absorbed (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Once the spinach has cooled off, drain it through a colander (you can line it with cheesecloth if the holes are too wide), squeezing most of the liquid out.

Chop the spinach and mix it with the ricotta cheese, the egg, salt, spices and parmigiano.

If you like, you can also add raisins and pine nuts. Set aside.

Roll the pasta out into a thin sheet and cut a rectangle of at least 10’ x 20” or wider.

Lay the pasta sheet over a cheesecloth or a sheet of parchment.

Spread the spinach/ricotta mixture over the pasta and roll up tightly.

Wrap the roll in the cheesecloth and tie it with twine at both ends, like an oversized piece of candy.

Boil it for 35 minutes in a large pot of salted water, drain and slice.

Arrange in one layer in a baking tray, dress with sage butter (butter melted with sage leaves till golden brown) or a tomato sauce, and extra grated parmigiano. If you added pine nuts and raisins to the filling, sage butter is preferable.

***EASY ALTERNATIVE: if you don’t have time to make the pasta from scratch you can cook dried Barilla or De Cecco lasagna (the regular tipe, NOT the “No-boil”) sheets in salted boiling water for 5 minutes, making sure they don’t break. After draining, lay the lasagna sheets on paper towel, stuff with filling and roll up. Put in a baking pan with either marinara sauce or sage butter on the bottom and on top. Sprinkle with Parmigiano and bake at 400 F for 40 minutes (no convection or they will dry out).

Slice after baking with a sharp knife.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/13/rotolo-di-spinaci-e-ricotta/