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/

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

I’m not sure if I’ve made it clear yet, but I am somewhat obsessed with saffron. It started when I was about 10 and read somewhere that in ancient Persia, saffron threads were woven into royal textiles, and ritually offered to divinities. The fact that Gualtiero Marchesi, the star Italian chef of those years, was pairing it with real gold leaves in his signature risottos, just added to the mystique, as did the fact that it takes thousands of flowers and many hours of labor to gather together just a pound of stems.

saffron by dinnerinvenice.com

This sounded so special to me, so classy, that one of the first dishes I learned to make on my own and would treat my friends to in junior high, was the traditional Risotto Milanese. My experiments did not end here, unfortunately. As a teen-ager, I even tried using a saffron infusion as a face toner, to give my skin a beautiful golden tint. While this is said to have worked wonders for Cleopatra, the only result I obtained was that my then-crush asked me if I had jaundice (I have since limited my use of spices to food).

Saffron diluted by Dinnerinvenice.com

Adolescent traumas aside, I still think that there is something magical about saffron, with its unique, metallic honey-like aroma, and  luminous yellow-orange color. From India to Persia, from Turkey to Spain, and of course Italy – it’s constantly a symbol of prosperity and holiday.

Here is how to make it even more festive….

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

55 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

Another special presentation here

Bittersweet Manicotti with Moscato Wine Sauce

Bittersweet Manicotti with Moscato Wine by Dinnerinvenice

Bittersweet Manicotti with Moscato Wine by Dinnerinvenice

This October my column in the Jewish Week featured a recipe for butternut squash manicotti with goat cheese and pumpkin. But there are so many versions of these, that I couldn’t resist posting one more! After all, for the past few weeks, I’ve been in a pumpkin frenzy. This time, I also added red radicchio, and a touch of Moscato wine.  The result is slightly bitter, slightly sweet; buttery, creamy, and totally worth the splurge.

Bittersweet manicotti with Moscato Wine Sauce by Dinnerinvenice.com

Bittersweet manicotti with Moscato Wine Sauce

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost Tribes and Tables Regained

lost tribes collage medium

lost tribes collage medium

My monthly column in the Jewish Week this month deals with how tradition mixes with innovation, when a “lost” Jewish tribe decides to return to Judaism… what will they make for Rosh HaShana?

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

Pistachio and Cream Swiss Roll

ROTOLO AI PISTACCHI

Pistachio Swiss Roll by DinnerInVenice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pistachio Swiss Roll by DinnerInVenice

Pistachio Swiss Roll

Ingredients

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

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Strawberry and Prosecco Tiramisu

Strawberry Prosecco Tiramisu by DinnerInVenice

Strawberry Prosecco Tiramisu by DinnerInVenice

Tiramisu is said to have appeared for the first time at a restaurant in the Veneto region in the 1970’s, and has quickly become a world-renowned specialty.

Tiramisu is a non-denominational dessert: who wouldn’t want to eat it? Everybody can find a good excuse. For us Jews, for example, it’s the perfect Shavuot treat: layers of mascarpone cream to remind us of the sweetness of Torah, and several shots of espresso to get us through the night of learning (Tiramisu means “pick me up” in Italian!).  Or what about Mother’s day?  You could surprise her with something girly and new, replacing the traditional coffee with sparkling wine and adding juicy strawberries: welcome spring!

Ingredients:

2 cups (about 1 lb) mascarpone
1/2 pint whipping cream (makes about 1 1/2 cups whipped)
4 eggs*
26 Italian ladyfingers (savoiardi)
1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 1/2 lb strawberries
1 1/2 cups Prosecco or champagne (for kids, use Kedem sparkling grape juice)
Mint and small meringues to decorate

Directions:

In your blender or food processor, puree 1/3 of the strawberries with the wine or juice until smooth. Set aside in a small and shallow bowl.

Using an electric whisk, or in your food processor, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. When they become frothy, add the mascarpone; process until combined and set aside.

In a perfectly clean bowl (you can wipe it quickly with a few drops of lemon or vinegar to make sure it’s degreased) beat the egg whites (which should be clear, with no traces of yolk) with an electric whisk until they start forming soft peaks.

Gently fold the whites into the mascarpone cream with a spatula, using an upward motion. Fold in the whipped cream as well. Chop 1/2 of the remaining strawberries and add them to half of the mixture. Also add enough strawberry/wine juice to make it pink.

Dip each ladyfinger into the remaining strawberry/wine mix for 5 to 8 seconds, flipping them a couple of times (letting the cookies soak too long will cause them to fall apart). Arrange the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of a glass or pyrex 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or two smaller square or round pans). Spread the pink half of the mascarpone mixture on top. Make a second layer of soaked ladyfingers and top with the white mascarpone mixture.

Slice the remaining strawberries and use them to decorate. You can also add some fresh mint leaves and meringues. Cover tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. You can also make the tiramisu in individual Martini cups: tres chic!

Notes:

Yield: 10–12 servings, or more according to serving size

*Raw eggs always carry a small risk of salmonella infection: to reduce the chance of contamination you can pasteurize the eggs prior to use. Or you can purchase pasteurized eggs – www.safeeggs.com. If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: you will need to add a touch of cream of  tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar) to the whites; about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular eggs.

 

 

 

Naughty Potato Chocolate Budino

Potato Chocolate Budino

Potato Chocolate Budino

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

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

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

Chocolate.Potatoes.001

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

Almonds.Cream.002

Naughty Potato Chocolate Budino

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

1 hour, 10 minutes

6-8 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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



Crespelle with Asparagus

CRESPELLE AGLI ASPARAGI E FORMAGGIO DI FOSSA

CRESPELLE AGLI ASPARAGI E FORMAGGIO DI FOSSA

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

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

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

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

 

Crespelle with Asparagus

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

1 hour

4 to 6 servings

calories: ignorance is Bliss

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.

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.

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.

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.

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 :-) .

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

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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.

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.

 

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!



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/

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/

 

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/

“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/

Gnocchi alla Romana

Gnocchi alla Romana (Dairy)

GNOCCHI ALLA ROMANA by Dinnerinvenice.com

Gnocchi alla Romana (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • (serves 4-6)
  • About 8 tbsps butter, or more to taste
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano cheese
  • 4 large eggs (use only the yolks)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • ½ teasp of grated nutmeg (if liked)

Directions

Heat the milk in a saucepan with 5 tbsps of butter and ½ teaspoon salt.

When the milk is hot, pour in the semolina slowly, whisking continuously (use a whisk and not a spoon to prevent clumps); cook for about 15 minutes, or until cooked; as the mixture becomes too thick for a whisk, switch to a wooden spoon.

Remove the mixture from the heat, add salt if needed, and add half the grated cheese and all the egg yolks, combining well.

Pour and spread the semolina mixture onto a tray or counter lined wet parchment.

With the spatula, spread it to a thickness of about ½” to a maximum of 2/3, and allow to cool.

Cut the cold semolina into circles with a round cookie cutter.

Arrange the gnocchi in a buttered baking pan, slightly overlapping, and top with some butter flakes, the remaining grated cheese, a touch of grated nutmeg and a little black pepper.

Bake in a pre-heated 425 F oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden-brown.

You can dress and bake the trimmings in the same way; I serve the nicely round gnocchi to guests and enjoy the trimmings on my own the next day!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/06/gnocchi-alla-romana-dairy/

Orecchie di Amman (Hamman’s Ears)

Orecchie di Amman (Hamman’s Ears)(Dairy or Parve)

Orecchie di Amman (Hamman’s Ears)

Read my article in The Forward about the history of Purim among Italian Jews (click here).

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Orecchie di Amman (Hamman’s Ears)(Dairy or Parve)

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 ¾ cups flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons grappa, rum or marsala
  • 3 tablespoons milk (or rice milk or orange juice for a parve version)
  • ¼ cup butter (or 3 tablespoons very mild olive oil or seed oil for parve)
  • mild olive oil or seed oil for frying
  • confectioner’s sugar to decorate

Directions

Sift the flour with salt and form a well on your working surface.

Add the softened butter, the eggs, the sugar and the liqueur.

Knead well with your hands until smooth and elastic. If it’s not soft enough, add little milk or juice; if it’s too soft, add a little flour.

Allow to rest covered for 15 minutes.

Roll very thin with a rolling pin (you can also use a pasta machine to make sheets of dough).

With a sharp knife, cut into rectangles about 3”x5”, and pinch the two top corners together to give them the shape of a pointy animal ear.

You can also simply cut the dough into tall triangles with slightly curved sides, like a donkey’s ear, or make thinner stripes (about 1” x 5”) and twirl them slightly to shape into a more human-looking ear.

Heat abundant oil in a large pan with tall sides, and wait until when a small piece of bread dropped into the oil begins to sizzle.

Fry the “orecchie” in several batches, few at a time, until light gold, approximately 1-2 minutes.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on triple layers of paper towel.

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve accompanied by a sparkling white wine.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/03/01/orecchie-di-amman-hammans-earsdairy-or-parve/

Swiss Chard Ravioli

Swiss Chard Ravioli (Dairy or Meat)

Swiss Chard Ravioli

Concealed identities and hidden truths are the markers of the Jewish holiday of Purim, both in its exterior celebrations (the costumes) and in its deeper meaning.  Much like a Shakespearean Comedy of Errors, on the surface the Megillat Ester is deceivingly simple and seemingly random in its sequence of events. The protagonists are assimilated, “comfortable” Jews living in a foreign land (Persia), afraid to reveal their identity, and it is the only book in the Tanakh (Bible) that makes no reference to God. Purim is the plural of the Persian term Pur (lots),those lots that Haman had cast to determine the fate of the Jews – as if to imply that our fate is a game of chance. On the other hand, this story seemed so relevant to our sages that it was included in the Biblical Canon, while the heroism and miracle of Hanukkah were left out. One of the greatest Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, Rambam (Maimonides) even maintains in his Code of Jewish Law that in the Messianic Age “All the books of the prophets and the sacred writings in the Bible will be annulled, with the exception of the Book of Ester” (Hilkhot Megillah 2:18).

The story of Purim is not easy to decipher: adding to the tease is the fact that the Queen’s name itself, Ester, comes from the word “saiter”, ‘conceal’, while the name of the book, Megillah, derives from the root “galal”, which means ‘to roll’, since we read it in a scroll, but also “to reveal”, as if to say that the very act of wrapping, concealing, was really meant to reveal some mysterious truth. Talking about concealments: even the Hebrew name for ‘World”, olam, comes from “alum“: ‘hidden’. The traditional interpretation is that all these apparent riddles playing with the idea of concealment are meant to remind people that it’s up to them to discover the true miracle of God’s presence in apparently random events and everyday things. In this sense, Ester’s fasting and finding the courage to reveal her identity to the king and ask him to save her people – was just as big a miracle as the parting of the Red Sea.  The fascination with this motif was always so strong that Jewish culinary traditions all over the world have mirrored it in their holiday dishes, creating foods that hide (usually pleasant) surprises below the surface.

One of our Italian answers? Of course… ravioli! I am posting a version with ricotta both because I always prefer dairy, and because there is a custom to skip meat on Purim: the Talmud relates that that was what Queen Ester had to do in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher meat (her husband the king was not Jewish). However, the carnivores among you can just scroll down toward the end of the recipe, and see how to make a meat version.

 

Swiss Chard Ravioli (Dairy OR meat)

Ingredients

  • Serves 4
  • Filling
  • 1 lb swiss chards or a mix of greens
  • ½ lb whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • nutmeg to taste
  • To dress:
  • ¼ cup butter
  • a few sage leaves
  • freshly grated parmigiano to taste :
  • To make the fresh pasta
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs

Directions

Discard the stalks or any white parts from the chard, and cook it for 2 or 3 minutes with a few tablespoons of water (you can also microwave it on high on a covered platter for 1 minute): drain, squeeze to remove excess liquid, and chop finely.??

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add a clove or two of garlic, cook for one minute, add the chard and a little salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Place the ricotta in a bowl, add the chard and the parmigiano, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Add a walnut-size amount of ricotta and chard filling at regular spacings on your fresh pasta sheet. Press around the filling with your fingers and seal with the tongs of a fork. Since it’s Purim, cut the ravioli with a fun-shaped cookie cutter leaving the filling in the center of each.

You can also cut the dough into triangles (in honor of Haman’s Star-Treck ears) with a sharp knife.

Cook the ravioli for about 5 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water; drain with a slotted spoon and serve drizzled with butter cooked for one minute with a few leaves of fresh sage, and grated parmigiano to taste.

*** to make the pasta, shape about 2 ½ cups of 00 or all-purpose flour into a well on your work surface; . add 3 eggs in the center and knead into a smooth dough. Allow torest for about 20 minutes covered in plastic wrap. Roll the dough into a thin sheet with a rolling pin or pasta machine.

*** for a meat version, replace the ricotta with about 8 ounces ground veal or beef (or a mix). While you are blanching the chard, heat a little oil in a pan and add a “soffritto” (“mirepoix” of minced 1/2 carrot, 1/2 onion, 1/2 celery stick); cook briefly, add the meat and little white wine, cook for a minute or two, add the chard and cook for a couple more minutes.

Allow to cool, “tie” with a couple of eggs, flavor with nutmeg and little salt, and use this mix to fill the ravioli.

Skip the parmigiano, and instead of dressing with butter, stick to a rich sugo d’arrosto (roast meat sauce).

Buon Appetito!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/29/swiss-chard-ravioli-dairy-or-meat/

 

 

 

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto”

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

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

I just 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, which will be appreciated by those of you who are trying to keep their weight in check. It also contains many 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 learned it during my year in Trieste.

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

Ingredients

  • 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)

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/20/orzotto-with-vegetables-barley-risotto-parve-or-dairy/

Smoked Fish and Grapefruit Salad

Smoked Fish and Grapefruit Salad (Parve or Dairy)

Smoked Fish and Grapefruit Salad (Parve or Dairy)

Smoked Fish and Grapefruit Salad (Parve or Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 1 head of red radicchio
  • 2 cups mache’ salad
  • 1 cup arugola
  • 2/3 pound smoked sable or smoked salmon
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (plus more for the avocado)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives
  • salt and pink peppercorns to taste

Directions

Serves 4

Whisk the oil with the lemon juice (and yogurt, if using); add the chives, salt , grated grapefruit zest, and pink peppercorns and mix well.

Peel the grapefruit eliminating all the membranes, and divide it into slices; wash and drain the 3 different types of salads, and cut them into stripes.

Place them with the grapefruit in a large bowl and toss with the dressing.

Peel the avocado, cut it into thin slices, drizzle it with lemon juice (to prevent it from oxidizing). Cut the smoked fish into stripes.

Add the avocado and fish to the salad and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/30/smoked-fish-and-grapefruit-salad/

Cassola, the Ecumenical Pancake

Cassola by DinnerInvenice

Cassola by DinnerInvenice

I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. I had been frying for a couple of weeks already and all my Hanukkah posts were already up. Yet something just felt wrong.

OPS. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t posted anything special for all my readers and friends who are not Jewish and celebrate Christmas. I felt so awful, that I toyed with the idea of attempting a Panettone, the famous Italian Christmas Cake!

However, Panettone is really difficult to make, requiring several phases of exceptionally long rising, and the use of special Italian bread flours that are hard to find. Here is something much quicker, and just as decadent: it’s an ancient Jewish Roman dessert, kind of a cheese pancake, shockingly simple to make, which the Roman Catholic community somehow adopted as the dessert of choice to end their Christmas dinner with (maybe after one too many panettone flops)? ;-) .

The Jews of Rome still make it for Shavuot, but of course it would also work for Hanukkah (after all, according to several food historians, the original Hanukkah pancakes were made with cheese). In spite of its minimalism, Cassola is so tasty that Claudia Roden, in her Book of Jewish Food, tells that she enchanted a whole dinner party of food writers with it, at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery. Cassola is sweet, creamy, and delicate (and naturally low-fat! but you could never tell). May your holiday season be just as delicious!

Cassola, the Ecumenical Pancake (not just Dairy, Very Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ricotta cheese (made from whole milk, without emulsifiers)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 to 1 ½ cup sugar? (depending on desired sweetness)
  • a pinch of salt
  • zest of one large organic lemon (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon? or vanilla (optional)
  • about 2 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil, or butter

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400º F. With a whisk or a hand mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until creamy.

Add the ricotta, salt, lemon zest and cinnamon (or vanilla).

Grease a baking pan (about 9 ½” and springform is easier) with butter or olive oil, dust with flour, pour the mixture in, and transfer into your pre-heated oven.

Bake at 400 F for the first 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 Fand bake for another 25 minutes.

Turn the oven off and allow the cassola to set inside, with the door open, for another 10 or 15 minutes.

It should be firmer and golden brown on the outside and very soft and moist inside, like a pudding. Serve warm.

You can also cook it in a greased non-stick or cast iron pan like a frittata, on the stovetop, flipping it once (this was probably the original version), or cook the bottom on the stovetop and the top in the oven under the broiler.

Serves- 4-6

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/18/cassola-the-ecumenical-pancake-not-just-dairy-very-dairy/

Mashed Potato Latkes with Fresh Herb Medley

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Whenever a survey is done on the topic of comfort food in America, mashed potatoes beat out a variety of favorites, including meatloaf and cinnamon rolls. And among Jews, latkes seem to hold a special place in everybody’s heart (and stomach), conjuring up fond memories from childhood. What would happen, then… if we made latkes from mashed potatoes? Something so cozy and delicious that you’ll wish you could celebrate Hanukkah all year long!


Mashed Potato Latkes with Fresh Herb Medley (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds potatoes
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano cheesea pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons mixed thyme, parsley, rosemary, chives, freshly minced
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, to dip
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 cups or more mild extra-virgin olive oil for deep-frying

Directions

Bake the potatoes until soft, peel them and mash them.

Place them in a bowl and add the nutmeg, herbs, parmigiano, pepper and little salt. Add the eggs one at a time (if the eggs are large, 3 may be enough).

With a tablespoon and your hand, form little patties and dip them into the flour.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a heavy pan with tall sides. Fry the patties in hot oil, in small batches, until crunchy and golden (turning them once).

Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them well on a double or triple layer of paper towel. Serve them hot, after sprinkling them with a little more salt.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/13/953/

Hanukkah Treats with Sambuca and Honey

Hanukkah Treats with Sambuca and Honey

The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been looted and desecrated by the soldiers of Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century BCE. Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons, led a successful rebellion against Antiochus, which resulted in the rededication of the Temple by Mattityahu’s son, Yehudah the Maccabee, in 166 BCE. The Talmud reports that the menorah in the Temple was required to burn every night, but there was only enough oil for one night left: however, the menorah burned for eight days on that little oil, giving the Jews enough time to procure more. The oil used for lighting the menorah was pure, extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, which may explain why Hanukkah resonates so deeply with Italian Jews, inspiring them to create a deluge of mouthwatering recipes :-)

While the miracle of the oil is described in the Talmud, the Book of Maccabees makes no mention of it, stating only that an eight day celebration was proclaimed upon re-dedication of the temple: therefore, a number of historians believe that the reason for the eight day festival was simply that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of the harvest holidays of Sukkot and Shemini Azeret, which the Jews had not been able to observe during the war.  Obviously, the two explanations are not mutually exclusive, and Hanukkah can very well celebrate the miracle of the oil while also absorbing the previous holiday.

In this spirit, here is a delicious fried treat that incorporates the oil, and the honey (a recurrent symbol that appears on our tables from Rosh haShana to Shemini Azeret): for holiness, and sweetness.  And Sambuca… just for fun!

Hanukkah Treats with Sambuca and Honey (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup Sambuca (or Arak or other Anise liquor)
  • 4 cups pastry or 00 flour (but you can also use all-purpose)
  • 1 package baking powder (16 gr)
  • 1 cup honey
  • mild olive oil or peanut oil for frying

Directions

Beat 4 whole eggs and one yolk with the sugar; add the melted butter (warm), the liquor and a pinch of salt.

Combine the flour with the baking powder, and sift them over the egg mixture, stirring constantly until everything is combined.

Transfer the mixture onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.

Form a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for one hour.

Roll it into a disc about 0.5 mm thick and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.

Pour plenty of oil in a wide, heavy pan with tall sides – the oil should be at least 3” high, and stop at least 2? from the top of the pan. The oil is hot enough when a piece of bread dropped into the pan is immediately surrounded by many little bubbles, but does not burn quickly.

Fry the shapes in small batches (if you put too much food into the pan at the same time, the temperature of the frying oil will drop, causing the fritters to absorb fat), turning them quickly so that they brown on both sides.

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

Melt the honey in a saucepan with 3 or 4 tablespoons of water.

Arrange the sweets on dessert plates, drizzle them with the honey, and serve.

Serves 6-8

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/08/hanukkah-treats-with-sambuca-and-honey-dairy/

 

Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters (Parve or Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 2 medium zucchinis
  • 1 scant cup flour
  • 3/4 cup milk, unsweetened soy milk or (for a lighter version) water
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano cheese (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced parsley or mint
  • Abundant olive oil for frying. preferably a mild-flavored extra-virgin oil, not too acidic

Directions

Grate the zucchini, season them with salt and place them in a colander in your sink, with a weight on top. Allow them to drain for about one hour.

In the meantime, prepare a batter whisking the milk (or cold water) with the eggs, the cheese (if using), the flour, the pressed garlic, herbs and pepper. Do not add salt to the batter.

Rinse the grated zucchini in the colander, drain them and dry them very well with paper towel.

Add the zucchini to the batter and combine well.

In a deep and heavy skillet pour at least 2 inches of oil or more (if there is too little oil, its temperature will drop when you add the cold batter, allowing the fritters to absorb way too much oil).

Heat the oil over medium/high heat (if using a fryer with a thermometer, the temperature should be about 365 degrees). If you don’t have a thermometer, the oil is ready when a small piece of bread dropped in the skillet forms bubbles all around it.

Drop the batter into the pan using a tablespoon and your index finger. Do not overcrowd the pan with too many fritters, because this would cause the oil temperature to drop, with a greasy result. Fry in batches.

Once they are golden, remove them with a slotted spoon and drop them onto 2 or 3 layers of paper towels to drain.

Do not put paper towel on top, or the steam trapped inside will make the fritters soggy! Paper towel should be only at the bottom. Just turn them after 30 seconds or so to dry the other side.

Continue frying in batches until you have used up all the batter.

After drying with paper towel, sprinkle with salt. You can keep them warm in a 200 F oven, uncovered.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/07/zucchini-fritters-parve-or-dairy/

Zaleti -Yellow Venetian Cookies

Zaleti- Yellow Venetian Cookies (Dairy or Parve)

Zaleti- Yellow Venetian Cookies (Dairy or Parve)

Zaleti -Yellow Venetian Cookies (Dairy or parve)

Ingredients

  • Makes about 24 cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 oz unsalted butter or margarine (cold), or 2/3 cup of olive oil
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ tbsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).

Place the cornmeal, flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor and combine together.

Add the butter or margarine and pulse.

Add the eggs, the vanilla extract and lemon zest, and process until fully combined.

Lastly, add the raisins.

The texture should be crumbly.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead it with your hands till smooth, then divide it into 4 pieces. Roll the pieces into cylinders (about 1” or 1 ½” diameter).

Flatten the cylinders slightly.

Cut diagonally at about 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) intervals.

Flatten the cookies about 1/3” thick, and make diamond shapes.

Arrange the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 15 minutes or until a light gold brown color.

Allow them to cool on a rack, then dust with confectioner’s sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/11/27/zaleti-yellow-venetian-cookies-dairy-or-parve/

Potato and Mushroom Timballo

Potato and Mushroom Timballo (Dairy)

Potato and Mushroom Timballo (Dairy)

Welcome the cold season with a warming, decadent dish that elevates a simple food like potatoes to new culinary heights! Potatoes were introduced to Italy only at the end of the 16th century by the Spanish, who encountered them in the Americas: the Italian climate was perfect for their cultivation, and they quickly became a star ingredient (who doesn’t love Gnocchi?). Potatoes and mushrooms are a classic pairing, and one of the reasons why I love fall :-)

Potato and Mushroom Timballo (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds potatoes (I use Yukon Gold)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • (optional) 1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 ounces fresh Italian* cheese (Montasio, Asiago, or Fontina) , chopped finely
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (if you worry about saturated fats, skip and just add 4-5 tablespoons of milk)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Serves 6-8

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Place the dried mushrooms (if using) in a small bowl and cover them with boiling water.

Set aside for 30 minutes.

Parboil the potatoes for 6 minutes. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly, using a mandoline. Place them in a bowl filled with cold water until use.

In a skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and garlic clove (slightly pressed).

Add the fresh mushrooms and the dried mushrooms (revived in hot water and well drained), add ¼ cup dry white wine and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until tender and the liquid has evaporated. Season with the rhyme, salt and pepper.

In a bowl, combine the cheeses and eggs with the cream until smooth, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Grease a baking pan and line it with parchment paper.

Dust the bottom with some grated parmigiano cheese, then line the pan with potato slices, both the bottom and sides.

Layer about half the mushrooms over the potatoes, then layer cream cheese mixture, more potatoes, mushrooms, cheese, and end with the remaining potato.

Bake for about 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Unmold and serve hot (you can also serve in the baking pan: in this case, skip the parchment).

* If you can’t find Kosher Italian cheeses in your area, you can make this recipe with local artisanal cheeses. Choose something as natural as possible, flavorful and that melts easily.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/11/21/potato-and-mushroom-timballo-dairy/

Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini

Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini (Dairy)

Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini (Dairy)

The verb “sformare” in Italian means “to turn out, to remove from the mold”. A Sformato is a kind of savory custard that is thick enough to retain its shape when turned out on a platter, thus making a crust unnecessary. Traditional Sformati are made with béchamel sauce (read: lots of butter!), but you can obtain similar results without wracking your diet if you use ricotta. As filling and creamy as a quiche, at a fraction of the calories, this is basically a savory variant of the Jewish Roman Cassola which I posted in December (I also wrote about it in The Forward)Ricotta is not technically a cheese, but a by-product of cheese-making: that’s why whole milk ricotta is naturally very low-fat, containing only 5% fat (as opposed to 90% in cream cheese!): no need to go with the low-fat or fat-free varieties, which contain additives and taste bad. Pumpkin is also very interesting from a nutritional point of view, because it’s filling and sweet but very low in calories and sugar, and fat-free. It also contains high quantities of carotene, calcium and phosphorus. Enjoy!


Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 pound fresh spinach (optional)
  • 1 pound fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano or grana cheese
  • 4 tablespoons e.v. olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, if liked
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oven-proof parchment; flour or breadcrumbs to dust the ramekins
  • optional: 1 cup boiled or steamed rice

Directions

Serves 4-6

Cook the pumpkin until soft (the quickest way is in the microwave, covered with plastic wrap leaving just a small opening for the steam, it takes about 10 minutes. Or you can bake it in the oven, covered with foil, it will take almost one hour).

If using the spinach, blanch for two minutes in boiling water (or steam it), drain it, squeeze most of the water out, and dry with paper towel.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan and add the garlic.

Once the garlic is brown, discard it and add the pumpkin.

Cook for about 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Mash the pumpkin with a potato masher, allow it to cool down a little.

Place the pumpkin in the bowl of your food processor (or you can also do this by hand, in a bowl); add the ricotta (well drained of any liquid), the spinach and/or rice if using, the eggs, the parmigiano cheese, the nutmeg, and process briefly.

Line some small ramekins (or a large baking pan) with well-greased parchment paper (grease the paper well ,or they will stick.

You can also dust with some breadcrumbs or flour as an extra precaution, but the sformatini will look less pretty).

Bake in a “bain-marie” (in a lower pan filled with hot water) in a preheated 375 F oven.

When I feel lazy, I just bake them normally without the bain-marie,and they still come out great.

It takes about 20 minutes using small individual ramekins, and 30 minutes in one larger baking pan.

Turn off the oven and allow to set for about 15 minutes with the oven door open.

Turn out on a serving platter, remove the parchment, and serve hot or warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/11/06/ricotta-and-pumpkin-sformatini-dairy/

Baked Apple with Hazelnuts, Honey and Yogurt

Baked Apple with Hazelnuts, Honey and Yogurt (Dairy)

Baked Apple with Hazelnuts, Honey and Yogurt (Dairy)

Before the advent of industrial baking products, many of the treats that our grandmothers served during the week included fruit. Compotes and baked fruit are a delicious way to indulge our sweet tooth without overdoing the sugar and the calories, and actually adding nutrients to our diet. Baked fruit, in particular, is easy to make and very comforting in the frosty fall and winter days. 

Baked Apple with Hazelnuts, Honey and Yogurt (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 4 apples, all more or less the same size
  • 1 heaped tablespoon brown sugar
  • 10 ounces (about 1 and 1/4 cup) plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup coarsely ground hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

Directions

Cut off the tops from the apples and set them aside, sprinkling the inside with lemon juice.

Core the apples from the top down, using an apple corer or melon baller, taking care not to pierce the bottom (leave about 1/2? pulp on the bottom and sides).

Place the apples in a baking pan just large enough to hold them.

Dice the pulp you extracted from the apples (discarding the hard cores and seeds), and place it in a bowl with little lemon juice, the hazelnuts, the honey and the yogurt, combining well.

Sprinkle the inside of the cored apples with brown sugar, and stuff them with the yogurt/apple/hazelnut mix.

Cover them with the tops that you had set aside, and bake at 375 F for 30 minutes (more if you like very soft apples).

Serve warm.

For a more fragrant recipe, you can stick a couple of cloves into the peel of each apple before baking.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/10/31/baked-apple-with-hazelnuts-honey-and-yogurt-dairy/

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake)

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake) (Dairy)

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake) (Dairy)

Today, October 24, is Food Day! Americans from all walks of life push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. One of the huge problems we are dealing with is that Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption, while the number of people without enough to eat continues to rise. A very important Jewish concept, especially relevant today, is Bal Tashchit (do not destroy or waste). Originally, Bal Tashchit refers to the biblical prohibition against the destruction of fruit trees during wartime (Deuteronomy 12:19), but the rabbis of the Talmud extended the concept to the prohibition of destroying and wasting anything needlessly.

Really! Nowadays we should apply this idea to all kinds of waste (do we really need to drive, when we can walk or take the bus?). And of course, let’s start with food. Don’t leave your bread in plastic bags: chances are, it will be covered in green mold before you are done with it. If you keep it in a paper bag or a bread box, on the other hand, it will just dry out and you’ll still be able to use it, soaked in broth, to make delicious meatballs  (with leftover cooked chicken), or for this delicious cake!

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake) (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm brandy (or warm water)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (scant) cup sugar
  • 1 untreated lemon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 large or 4 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin, drizzled with lemon juice to prevent oxidation
  • about 1/3 pound day-old sliced bread (crust removed)
  • butter to grease the pan
  • Another version of the Bread Cake
  • Ingredients:
  • 1/3 pound day-old sliced bread (crust removed)
  • milk or rice milk for soaking
  • 2 pounds apples or pears
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons rhum
  • 1 package baking powder (optional)

Directions

Serves 4

In a food processor (or with your hand mixer) process the eggs with the sugar till frothy, then slowly add the milk.

Add the lemon zest and a pinch of salt. .

Grease a spring-form pan and cover the bottom with sliced bread, then cover with some of the egg/sugar mix, followed by a layer of apple slices and raisins,

Continue layering all he ingredients, topping with apples and raisins; brush the top with little melted butter and bake for 30 to 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350 F.

Other version of bread cake:

Break or cut the bread into small pieces and soak it in milk or soy milk until very soft.

Drain it and process it with your mixer till creamy.

Add the egg yolks, plumped raisins, rhum, sugar, and the apples (peeled, cored, and diced).

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and carefully incorporate them with a spatula (alternatively, you can avoid separating the eggs in the first place and add a package of baking powder to the mix when you add the sugar).

Pour into a greased spring-form pan and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/10/24/dolce-di-pane-e-mele-bread-and-apple-cake-dairy/

Pasta with Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Sauce

Pasta with Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Sauce (Dairy)

Pasta with Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Sauce (Dairy)

This is one of my favorite recipes when I really need to force some vegetables into my kids!

Pasta with Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Sauce (Dairy)

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound spiral-shaped pasta, such as eliche, fusilli or gemelli
  • 6 spoonfuls milk
  • 5 ounces goat cheese (a small log)
  • 1/4 pounds swiss chards, boiled, drained, squeezed, and chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly pressed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • freshly grated Italian Parmigiano cheese (or Argentinian Reggianito)
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Cook the pasta in abundant salted boiling water. In the meantime, heat the oil in a skillet and add the slightly pressed garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes, discarding the garlic before it starts smoking. Add the swiss chards (boiled, drained, squeezed, and chopped), stir well, salt and cook for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and combine well with the goat cheese, milk. and about 1/2 a ladleful of the pasta cooking water. When the pasta is "al dente", drain it and dress it with the swiss chard sauce; add some grated parmigiano, et voila!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/09/04/pasta-with-swiss-chard-and-goat-cheese-sauce-dairy/

Finocchi Gratinati (Baked Fennel)

Finocchi Gratinati (Baked Fennel)
Finocchi Gratinati (Baked Fennel)

Finocchi Gratinati (Baked Fennel)

Fennel (Anise) is one of those vegetables which until the late 1800s were avoided by non-Jews in Italy and considered lowly and vulgar. By the time this delicious vegetable was accepted into general Italian cuisine,  Jews had already discovered countless ways to prepare it, raw or cooked, as an appetizer or side. Fennel is said to be a digestive and detoxifier.

Besides eating the bulb, we use the seeds to flavor meats and sausages, and the fronds/leaves for tea and soups. Fennel tea is even said to increase milk production in nursing mothers!

Finocchi Gratinati (Baked Fennel)

Ingredients

  • (serves 6)
  • 4 large bulbs of fennel
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, slightly crushed but whole
  • 6 tablespoons of parmigiano cheese (for a DAIRY dish), OR plain bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a touch of nutmeg

Directions

Boil the fennel in salted water till tender but not mushy (10 to 20 minutes).

Drain, dry, slice, and arrange in one layer in a greased baking pan.

Dress with the oil, salt, pepper, cheese or breadcrumbs (or a mix of both, but cut the amounts in half), and nutmeg..

(For a decadent, creamy dairy version, you can also add bechamel sauce).

Place the cloves of garlic somewhere around the pan. If making a dairy version you can add a few flakes of butter.

Bake for about 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F.

Discard the garlic and enjoy!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/08/28/finocchi-gratinati-baked-fennel/

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

The combination of spinach and pine nuts appears in a variety of  festive Jewish Venetian dishes of Iberian and Turkish origins, from marinated fish to braised carrots, to meat stuffings for vegetables. 
You can use the leftovers to make an unusual frittata.

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds baby spinach
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots, or 1/2 an onion, minced
  • 1 whole clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins or currants, plumped in hot water and drained
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 oil-packed anchovies, minced (optional)
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • a touch of cinnamon or nutmeg
  • (optional) a sprinkle of Parmigiano, if serving in a dairy meal.

Directions

Wash the spinach well, discarding the stems (Italian Jews used to save them for a different preparation that required longer cooking).

Cook in a covered pot over medium heat with a little salt and a couple of tablespoons of water, for about 5 minutes.

Drain well.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the shallots or onions (and anchovies, if using).

When they are translucent, add the pine nuts, raisins, spinach, salt, pepper, spices, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until ready.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/08/15/sauteed-spinach-with-raisins-and-pine-nuts/

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/

Tagliolini in Lemon Sauce

Tagliolini in Lemon Sauce

Tagliolini in Lemon Sauce

Italian Jews have always been very fond of lemons, and incorporate their juice and zest into many recipes: just like those with vinegar, these dishes are described as “all’agro” (sour style).
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, they were apparently heavy lemonade drinkers – in most regions it was sweetened with honey or sugar, but in Rome it was seasoned with salt.*

Tagliolini in Lemon Sauce

serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound tagliolini, fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti
  • extra-virgin olive oil (1/2 cup to 2/3 cups) OR melted butter
  • grated Parmigiano (1/2 cup to 2/3 cups)
  • 2 large organic, untreated lemons
  • grated zest of one of these lemons, avoiding the white part
  • Salt to taste
  • White pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons of freshly chopped mint leaves

Directions

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring every couple of minutes, until "al dente".

In the meantime, mix together the olive oil (or butter),lemon juice, lemon zest and cheese in a large bowl, previously warmed.

Drain the pasta, but save 3/4 cup of its cooking water. Toss the pasta with the sauce and the reserved cooking water. Add the water a little at a time, only as needed 1/4 cup at a time as needed. Add salt and pepper, and the chopped mint leaves or chives.

*For more on this topic, A. Toaff, Mangiare alla Giudia, Bologna 2000, Societa' Editrice Il Mulino, p.109 (also available in Hebrew)

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/23/tagliolini-in-lemon-sauce/

Savory Beet Pie with Ricotta, Radicchio and Leeks

Beet Radicchio Leek and  Ricotta Pie
Beet Radicchio Leek and  Ricotta Pie

Beet Radicchio Leek and Ricotta Pie

Beets are native to the Mediterranean, but for a very long time people ate only their leaves, while the root was used in medicine to treat a variety of ailments. It was only in 19th century France that the beet’s culinary potential was discovered, while at the same time the Germans proved that it could produce sugar , making it an easy local alternative to the tropical sugar cane.

Beets are in season from June through October , but they are easy to find throughout the year because, like other root vegetables, they store well. Their flavor is deep, sweet, hearty and rich, making them ideal for cold-weather recipes like this one. Cooking the beets whole is the best way to retain most of their flavor and nutritive value. In particular, roasting intensifies the flavor, and makes the peels easy to remove. Just cut off any greens, (you can cook them and eat them separately), scrub the beets clean, place them on a large piece of aluminum foil, fold and close the foil,  and bake in a preheated oven at 375 F for 25 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the size).

Beet radicchio Leek and Ricotta Tart

Savory Beet Pie with Ricotta, Radicchio and Leeks

Ingredients

  • One puff pastry or brisee' pastry sheet, home-made or frozen
  • 1/2 pound whole milk ricotta (it's naturally very low-fat, don't get the fat-free type, the texture is funny)
  • 1 large beet, baked (you can also use the pre-cooked kind but they are less flavorful)
  • 2 small leeks, cleaned and sliced very thin
  • 1 head of red radicchio, sliced thin
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small or medium egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Bake the beet till soft . In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil, add the leeks and cook the leeks for about 5 minutes.

Set 1/2 of the leeks aside, and add the radicchio to the pan.

Cook most of the radicchio (save a little for decorating) with the remaining leeks for about 10 minutes, adding 1/4 cup of red wine if it's sticking to the bottom (or drizzle with little balsamic vinegar).

Process the cooked beet with 1/2 the cooked leeks, the ricotta, egg, cooked radicchio, salt and pepper to taste, and one tablespoon olive oil.

Pre-heat your oven to 360 F; grease a baking pan or line it with parchment; roll out the pastry, cut it in a circle about 1.5" wider than the pan and place it in the pan.

Fill the pastry with the mix of ricotta and vegetables, and add the remaining cooked leek on top. Fold the edges over, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden.

Before serving decorate the top with the remaining radicchio.

* For an even richer flavor you can add 2 tablespoons of grated parmigiano to there filling.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/05/savory-beet-pie-with-ricotta-radicchio-and-leeks/

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/

Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)

Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)
Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)

Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)

The usual preparation for risotto, adding hot broth a little at a time releases so much starch that the rice must be eaten right away or it will clump. This pilaf version, on the other hand, can be prepared in advance and reheated, and is a traditional Friday night dish of Sephardic origins in both Venice and Ferrara. This dish can be made Parve, Dairy, or Meat.

Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)

Ingredients

  • (serves 6-8)
  • 1 quart hot vegetable or chicken stock
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 small packages of saffron powder, or a few stems
  • 2 cups Carnaroli type rice (or you can use long grain)
  • ½ cup of plumped raisins (OPTIONAL)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • salt to taste

Directions

Bring the stock to a boil and leave it to simmer on the stovetop

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pot (non-stick or cast iron), add the onion and 2 tablespoons water and cook for 10 minutes on low heat.

Stir in the rice and cook, stirring, until all the grains are coated in oil and “toasted”

Pour in the wine, raise the heat and cook till the wine has evaporated.

Stir in the raisins, previously softened in hot water, if using.

Stir in the saffron, revived in 2 tablespoons hot water.

Pour in all the hot stock and stir.

As soon as the stock starts simmering again, cover the pot and transfer to a 350 – 375 F oven where you will leave it alone to cook for exactly 18 minutes.

Take the rice out, add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil of “oil from a roast beef”, stir, and add salt if needed.

Let it rest covered for another 10 minutes. It can be eaten right away or reheated for Shabbat.

If the rice was made with vegetable stock and will be used in a dairy meal, you can add some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/05/11/riso-giallo-del-sabato-yellow-rice-for-shabbat/

Stuffed and Fried Zucchini Flowers

Stuffed Fried Zucchini Flowers (Dairy)
Stuffed Fried Zucchini Flowers (Dairy)

Stuffed Fried Zucchini Flowers (Dairy)

Stuffed and Fried Zucchini Flowers (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 12 zucchini flowers
  • 1/2 cup of COLD dry white wine (120ml)
  • 1 large Italian mozzarella ball, cut into strips
  • 3 tablespoons parmigiano cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup pastry flour (best) or all-purpose flour
  • extra virgin olive oil for frying
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Check inside the flowers for bugs and shake them out.

Wash the flowers very carefully or they will break.

Dry well with paper towel without rubbing. leave for a few minutes on paper towel so the inside will dry out as well.

Stuff each flower with a strip of mozzarella. If you eat fish with dairy (**many Jews of Sephardic and Italian origins do not) add an anchovy fillet.

If you don't, salt the mozzarella and add a touch of parmigiano cheese and maybe nutmeg.

For the batter, mix eggs, all purpose flour and wine together until smooth and even (a whisk works best).

Heat up the extra virgin olive oil in a deep pot, at least 3" deep, until hot; test it by throwing a small piece of bread in it - lots of small bubbles should form around it, but it should not burn.

Gently coat the stuffed flowers with batter.

Fry until golden brown. Place on several layers of paper towel to absorb the excess oil and immediately season with salt.

The flowers can also be fried in the same batter without stuffing, sprinkled with sugar and served as a dessert (a delightful idea for Purim and Hanukkah!)

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/03/30/stuffed-and-fried-zucchini-flowers-dairy/

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds (Dairy or Parve)

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds (Dairy or Parve)

The Jewish New Year for Trees falls on the 15th of the month of Av – February 8th this year. There is a wide-spread custom of eating several different kinds of fruit, mindfully and in a specific order (the ‘seder’), with the idea that they symbolize different aspects of the world – which we need to understand in order to come closer to God. This custom originated in Isaac Luria’s  Kabbalistic circles in old Safed, and was first described in detail in the manual ”Pri Etz Hadar,” [“The Fruit of the Majestic Tree”], published in Venice in 1728. Not only was Venice one of the main centers of Jewish learning and Hebrew printing at the time, but also of the kabbalistic movement. While several authorities condemned the pamphlet (kabbalah was wide-spread, but still quite controversial!), it continued to be widely circulated and published. Fast-forward to our time: many Jews all over the world still celebrate this ancient agricultural festival by gathering a bunch of friends and family together, and serving as many different fruits as possible, making sure to include the 12 fruits “of Israel”, to which we attribute a symbolic meaning. And of course there are cups of wine, and it all ends with great desserts! Try this cake, which incorporates two of the symbolic fruits: dates and almonds.

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds (Dairy or Parve)

Ingredients

  • Dough:
  • 2 (scant) cups sifted pastry flour or all-purpose
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 heaped tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 stick of butter or margarine, or 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 large egg
  • Filling:
  • 3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2/3 stick butter or margarine, or 1/4 cup almond oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cup coarsely ground toasted almonds
  • 1 heaped cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 coffee spoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cups pitted dates

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the sifted flour with the cocoa powder, 4 tablespoons warm water, salt, sugar, and the butter or margarine, softened and cut into pieces.

Knead and shape into a ball, cover it and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.

In the meantime, Prepare the filling: grind the dates, and melt the chocolate in the microwave with the butter (or margarine, or oil).

Add the powdered sugar, ground almonds, dates, and cinnamon.

Combine well and allow to cool.

Roll the dough into a thin rectangle over a large sheet of plastic wrap or parchment; brush the top with melted butter and spread with the filling.

Roll the dough over the filling helping yourself with the plastic wrap, then shape this “salami” into a ring and arrange it into a baking pan (previously lined with parchment, or greased and floured) . Brush with a little more butter or oil, and bake for 350 F in a preheated oven for about one hour. Serve cold, dusted with cinnamon, cocoa and powdered sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/02/01/chocolate-cake-with-dates-and-almonds-dairy-or-parve/