Spring Fling Pizza

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerinVenice

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerinVenice

The arrival of spring always inspires me to check out the neighborhood’s farmers’ markets and even community gardens in the quest for culinary ideas. After my FreshDirect-fueled winter hibernation, I crave flavors and colors beyond the boundaries of the chain grocery stores.

I’m embarrassed to admit that when I find anything new, or that I haven’t cooked in a long time, I simply stick it into a pizza or a calzone – at least the first time. The reason is very practical: my kids will eat positively anything if it’s deep-fried, or in the form of a pizza topping.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been on what my husband has deemed a “weed-spree”: no, that’s not what you think – I’m just referring to edible plants and herbs that sprout literally everywhere, on the side of the street and in your backyard; but while they are highly prized in Italian and French cuisine, here in the US most people never take advantage of them.

Borage-Collage-by-DinnerInVeniceGrowing up in Italy, I tried countless recipes with edible weeds. My mom made salads and frittatas with dandelion greens (the scourge of any lawn perfectionist!). One of our housekeepers, Pierina, would bring us baskets of  “bruscandoli“, hop shoots (yes – from beer hops) that literally invaded the street sides near her house in the suburbs of Venice: they tasted better than young asparagus and made fantastic risottos! My nonna, in Tuscany, would take me stinging nettle-hunting… armed with contractor’s gloves and “jungle boots”: her nettle soup and gnocchi were worth all the trouble. Finally, during a vacation in the Cinque Terre we discovered borage, which tastes like young cucumbers and the locals combine with ricotta in their traditional ravioli filling. Here in New York, most people consider it as a pest and will go to any lengths to get rid of it, bringing on the chemical warfare . They usually lose the battle, because borage and dandelions are among the most invasive plants. That’s why I recommend that, if you can’t kill it – you should eat it! (just make sure it’s not treated with any dangerous pesticides).

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerInvenice 2

Spring Fling Pizza

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

1 hour

serves seres 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puff Slices with Dandelion Greens and Cheese

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese - DinnerInVenice

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese - DinnerInVenice

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

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

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese 2 - DinnerInVenice

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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.