Big Chill Cheese Fondue

big chill fondue by dinnerinvenice 1

big chill fondue by dinnerinvenice 1

After last week’s snow storm, and Tuesday’s record temperatures (we hit a record low of 4 degrees Farenheit or -15 C here in New York City), several friends emailed us  or called us from Italy expressing concern for our safety and comfort. We loved the attention, but don’t worry…. we are a tough breed! (here is what we have been doing:)

dinnerinvenice snow

Of course, after a couple of hours of frozen fun at the park, we headed home to warm up by the fireplace ! In most families,a nice cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows would be in order. But my 7-year-old is the kind of kid who, asked by a friend’s mom at snack time: “Do you eat parmesan cheese?” replied: “Would you mind cutting it into shavings and add honey and pears on the side?”. So here is what we settled on.

Fondue step 1-2 by Dinnerinvenice.com

My Italian fondue recipe hails from Valle d’Aosta, the smallest of all Italian regions, but dominated by two of Europe’s top peaks—Monte Bianco (aka Mont Blanc) and Monte Cervino (aka the Matterhorn) on its borders with France and Switzerland. Skiing down such impressive slopes requires serious refueling, or at least I like to think so!  Fonduta Valdostana is even simpler than Swiss Fondue. No wine or kirsch here, just a good pound of fontina (or other good melting cheese), milk and egg yolks. The calequons, those little fondue sets with the tiny forks are really cute, and I couldn’t resist buying one at Zabar’s, but come on – all you really need is a double-boiler made by layering two regular saucepans.

Fondue Step 3-4 by Dinnerinvenice.com

Even if you are not a health food nut, the combination of lots of butter with cheese and bread cubes might induce some feeling of guilt. That’s where the egg yolks come in handy, because at least you are having some extra protein. Besides the bread cubes, you can dip stuff like steamed baby potatoes, slightly steamed cauliflower florets, red peppers, zucchini and pear slices, steamed broccoli or cauliflower or whatever fruit or vegetable you’re in the mood for. I find that when I add fruit and veggies to the standard Italian or French bread cubes, I can tell myself that I’m having a perfectly balanced meal. Of course, don’t forget a steaming cup of mulled wine!

S 26 00 1 FONDUTA VALDOSTANA

Big Chill Cheese Fondue

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puff Slices with Dandelion Greens and Cheese

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese - DinnerInVenice

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese - DinnerInVenice

This week, the nice weather inspired me to check out my neighborhood “community gardens”, and I found a few fun things to cook with. Of course, if you live in the suburbs, you might already have a lot of these interesting greens growing in your own property.When it comes to that stubborn backyard weed… why kill them when you can eat them?

Dandelion greens, for example. They make a great addition to a salad, but you can also try something fancier. They pair perfectly with cheese. Make sure they are not treated with toxic chemicals. And stay tuned – more “weed” coming soon! Next is borage…..

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese 2 - DinnerInVenice

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna by DinnerinVenice.com

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna by DinnerInVenice.com

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 60 minutes

serves 8

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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


Farro Salad with Pears and Cheese

FARRO CON RUCOLA, MIELE E PERE


FARRO CON RUCOLA, MIELE E PERE

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

FARRO NEL COLINO

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

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

K3106 FARRO CON RUCOLA H

Warm Farro Salad with Pears and Cheese

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

40 minutes

4 to 6

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

More with Farro:

My Chestnut & Farro Soup

NYT’s Farrotto with Mushrooms

Lucullian Delights’ Chocolate Farro Cake

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 :-)

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/

“Masconod” – Sweet Cheese Rolls

“Masconod” / Sweet Cheese Rolls (Dairy)

Masconod - Sweet Cheese Rolls by DinnerInVenice

One of the most traditional Italian pasta dishes for Shavuot has ancient roots and a mysterious name: “Masconod”. The original recipe features parmigiano mixed with sugar and cinnamon (the same unusual combination used to dress gnocchi in some areas of North-Eastern Italy), although the less adventurous palates replace the sugar and cinnamon with black pepper. The pasta is rolled-up manicotti-style, but tighter, like Moroccan cigars: since Shavuot commemorates God’s giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it’s customary to eat some “rolled” foods, resembling Torah scrolls. This is also true of Simchat Torah (which marks the conclusion of the annual Torah reading cycle and the beginning of the next), but the rolls of Shavuot are usually filled with cream or cheese, since “Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11)….

While Masconod is traditionally made with fresh lasagna sheets, this  year I’ve tried it with crespelle (Italian crepes) and it was love at first taste! Move over, blintzes! Here are both options:

“Masconod” / Sweet Cheese Rolls (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • (serves 6)
  • fresh lasagna sheets OR crespelle (Italian crepes) (double the amount in the crepes recipe)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (to taste)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (to taste)
  • 3 cups freshly grated Parmigiano, Grana or Parmigianito
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, or to taste

Directions

Make fresh pasta, cut into 25-30 5-inch squares, cook in boiling salted water a few at a time, drain and dry on an old towel.

If you prefer, make the (round) crespelle following the recipe, and cook in a non-stick skillet.

Combine the cheese with the sugar and cinnamon (or with simple black pepper if you don’t like sweet and savory combinations).

Brush each pasta square or crepe with melted butter, and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of cheese mixture.

Roll up like tight manicottis and arrange in one single layer in a buttered baking tray.

Brush the rolls with more melted butter, and top with the remaining cheese mixture.

Depending on the size of your baking dish, you can make a single layer or a double layer.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/09/masconod-sweet-cheese-rolls-dairy/

Cheese and Pepper Pasta

Cheese and Pepper Pasta (Dairy)

Cheese and Pepper Pasta (Dairy)

Pasta Cacio e Pepe  (Cheese and Pepper) is the perfect example of a minimal dish that packs maximum flavor. The only tricks are using really good ingredients (the cheese and the butter), and cooking the pasta perfectly al dente. Pair it with an arugola salad and you won’t miss your Mac ‘n Cheese! 

Cheese and Pepper Pasta (Dairy)

serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • a package of Italian pasta (tagliolini, linguine, bucatini, or thick spaghetti)
  • coarse salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 tablespoon freshly grated black pepper (or to taste)
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Italian Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Directions

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Melt half the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper and cook for one minute.

Add half of the reserved pasta water to the skillet, bring to a simmer and add the pasta and the rest of the butter.

Remove the skillet from the heat; add both the Parmigiano and the Pecorino cheeses, tossing well and adding more pasta water if the pasta is too dry.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/07/25/cheese-and-pepper-pasta-dairy/

Risotto Primavera

Risotto Primavera
Risotto Primavera

Risotto Primavera

We don’t know for sure how rice made its way to Italy, if through the Arabs of Sicily, the Crusaders, or Venetian merchants (or all of them independently).

In any case, after its arrival it was considered for centuries not a food, but a costly medicinal spice used for making digestive teas. 
In the fourteenth century the use of rice started expanding to desserts, but it was still uncommon and imported from abroad. Its cultivation was forbidden, due to the fear of diseases like malaria, linked to stagnant water. It took a long series of famines and the devastation caused by the great plague (1348-1352), which almost exhausted the production of traditional staples (spelt, millet, barley, etc), to persuade the local governments to invest in the production of this new cereal, which in Asia was already the main source of nourishment for millions of people.

Together with corn and potatoes – which were introduced after the discovery of the Americas – rice was critical to the rebuilding of human life and activities in Europe after the tragedies of the late Middle Ages. By the end of the fifteenth century its cultivation was blossoming, especially North of the Po river, in the Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto regions.  It’s not clear at which point someone came up with the idea of cooking rice with the patient and gradual addition of hot liquid, resulting in “al dente” grains enveloped in a mouthwatering, thick starchy sauce that gives the illusion of cream. In any case, once risotto was invented, it became to Northern Italy what pasta was to the South: the signature recipe that could make any ingredient, from vegetables to fish, from meat to cheese, into a perfectly satisfying meal!

Risotto Primavera

Ingredients

  • (serves 4-6)
  • ½ large onion or 1 shallot, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 to 1 ½ pound total mixed spring vegetables diced (such as carrots, zucchini, peas, green beans, and if liked artichokes and asparagus)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2/3 pounds Italian rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 to 2 qt hot vegetable broth
  • 3-4 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup (or to taste) grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese

Directions

Dice all the vegetables into small pieces (max 1/3”). If using artichokes, keep them in a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat; add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, stirring.

Add the vegetables (except for the asparagus tips), and cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the rice, and add the white wine.

Let the wine evaporate completely as you continue to stir.

Start adding the hot broth one ladleful at a time (the rice should almost absorb all the broth between additions), and cook the rice, stirring continuously.

After about 10-12 minutes add the asparagus tips, and keep cooking until the rice is al dente and the mixture still moist and creamy (cooking the rice takes between 18 and 30 minutes, depending on the type).

Stir in the butter and allow to rest covered for 3 minutes. Adjust the salt, stir in the cheese, and serve

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/05/29/risotto-primavera/

Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes

Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes
Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes

Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes

Italian Jews have always enjoyed a wide variety of cheeses, both as a simple accompaniment to bread, and as an ingredient in our recipes. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand,  historically had access to only a couple of kinds of the soft variety, and never developed a cuisine around them – or a real taste for them. In recent years, however, the kosher marketplace in Israel and (to a lesser degree) in the US has expanded to include an ever-increasing range of options.

The newer generations, in particular, have even learned how to appreciate more complex flavors. In this context, a reader emailed me last week to ask how she could serve blue cheese to her friends at a casual Golden Globes get-together, and the quick, easy recipe below (learned from a friend in Modena, who makes it with Gorgonzola) would be perfect for that type of party.
It also gives me the chance to chat about cheese pairings, which are a lot of fun because the possibilities are almost endless. Depending on their texture and flavor, cheeses can be accompanied by fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, herbs, fruit preserves and compotes, and honey. Fruit and cheese, in particular, are a match made in heaven, because they highlight each other’s characteristics: the juiciness and fresh fragrance of fruit complements the creaminess and deep flavor of cheese, and vice versa.

Obviously, this perfect balance derives from the essence of these two foods – one, fat-free and sugar-based; the other, virtually sugar-free and full of fat, sort of a culinary Yin/Yang.
Some ideas of pairings with not-too-hard-to-find cheeses:
- Soft, creamy cheeses with strong, sharp flavor (like Brie, Camembert) with canteloupe or grapes;
- Soft, fresh cheese with bland, milky flavor (Cottage, Mozzarella): fresh tomatoes or oranges;
- Medium-hard and medium-strength (Asiago, Gouda, Edam, Cheddar): pears, apples, berries;
- Hard, strong (Parmigiano, Pecorino Romano, Cheddar): pears, red grapes, dried fruit, honey, preserves, fruit chutneys.
And now…..

Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes

Ingredients

  • 8 to 12 slices of crunchy bread, depending on the size (pugliese, Ciabatta or Baguette)
  • ½ pound blue cheese
  • 1 ½ tablespoons mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • a small cluster of pale red grapes

Directions

Remove the crust from the bread slices (optional) and toast them in the oven or on a grill until crunchy.

In the meantime, cut the blue cheese into small pieces and mash it with a fork. It works perfectly on its own if it’s creamy. If it’s drier and crumbly, you can add a couple of tablespoons of greek yogurt or ricotta to it.

Spread the toasted slices with the blue cheese, and decorate with the sliced grapes.

Blend the mustard with the honey and drizzle over the top; end with a touch of black pepper.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/05/22/tartines-with-blue-cheese-and-red-grapes/