Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: mushrooms

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Look for these fall fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets and in produce departments for the best flavor (and greatest value) in season. Specific crops and harvest dates of fall produce will depend, of course, on your region’s climate.

Apples are one of those fruits people have forgotten have a season. But they do, and in the Northern Hemisphere they’re harvested late summer through fall.

Artichokes produce a second, smaller crop in the fall that tends to produce small to medium artichokes.

Arugula is a cool weather peppery green harvested at different times in different places (winter in warm climates, summer in cool ones) but grows in many places during autumn.

Beets are in season in temperate climates fall through spring. Fresh beets are often sold with their greens still attached.

Broccoli can be grown year-round but is more sweet, less bitter and sharp when harvested in the cooler temperatures of fall in most climates.

Broccoli rabe, rapini is a more bitter, a leafier vegetable than its cousin, broccoli, but likes similar cool growing conditions.

Brussels sprouts grow on a stalk and, if you see them for sale that way, snap them up – they’ll last quite a bit longer than once they’re cut.

Cabbage – the cooler the weather when it’s harvested, the sweeter it tends to taste.

Carrots are harvested year-round in temperate areas. Unusual varieties are harvested during the carrot’s natural season, which is late summer and fall.

Cauliflower may be grown, harvested and sold year-round, but it is by nature a cool weather crop and at its best in fall and winter.

Chard like all greens, turns bitter when it gets too hot. Chard is best harvested in late summer or early fall in colder areas, and fall through spring in warmer regions.

Fennel’s natural season is from fall through early spring.

Figs have a short second season in late fall (the first harvest comes in summer) just in time for Thanksgiving.

Grapes (early fall) ripen towards the end of summer and the harvest continues into fall.

Green beans tend to be sweetest and most tender during their natural season, from mid-summer into fall in most regions.

Kohlrabi (late fall) comes into season by the end of fall, but stays at its sweet best into winter.

Mushrooms, other than morels, are in-season in summer through fall.

Okra (early fall) needs heat to grow, so a nice long, hot summer in warmer climates brings out its best. Look for firm, plump pods in late summer and early fall.

Onions come from storage all year round but most onions are harvested in late summer through the fall.

Parsnips look like white carrots and have a great nutty flavor. Look for thinner parsnips, since fatter ones tend to have a thick, woody core you need to cut out.

Pears have a season that runs from mid-summer well into winter, depending on the variety and region.

Peppers (early fall) – both sweet and spicy- are harvested in late summer and early fall.

Persimmons are available for a short window in the fall and early winter – look for bright, heavy-feeling fruits.

Pomegranates only ripen in warmer climates. They are in season starting in October and are usually available fresh through December.

Pumpkins are the most common winter squash and come into season in September in most areas.

Quinces are an under-appreciated fruit. Bright and tart, quince jellies and desserts are a fall and early winter favorite.

Radicchio, like all chicories, is more sweet and less bitter when the weather is cool.

Sweet potatoes are often sold as “yams.” They are available from local sources year-round in warmer areas; from late summer through winter other places.

Turnips have a sharp but bright and sweet flavor. Look for turnips that feel heavy for their size.

Winter squash come into season in early fall and usually last well into winter.

Zucchini have a harvest season from summer into fall in most climates.

Cooking From The Fall Market

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Roasted Fennel Soup with Homemade Croutons

Ingredients

  • 1 fennel bulb (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped white onion (1 large)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 – 14 1/2 ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup half-and-half, light cream or evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Ground white pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 recipe Homemade Croutons (optional), recipe below

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut off and discard fennel stalks, reserving some of the feathery tops. Remove any wilted outer layers from the bulb; cut a thin slice from the  base of bulb. Cut bulb into 1/2-inch slices, removing the core. Snip feathery tops; set aside.

In a 13x9x2-inch baking pan combine fennel slices and onion. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast, uncovered, about 25 minutes or just until vegetables are tender.

Transfer roasted vegetables to a large saucepan. Stir in broth and potato. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until potato is tender. Cool slightly.

Transfer vegetable mixture, one-third at a time, to a blender, food processor or use a hand immersion blender. Process until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan. Stir in half-and-half, lemon juice, and cumin. Cook over medium heat until heated through, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with white pepper and additional salt.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet cook fennel seeds over medium-high heat about 3 minutes or until light brown and fragrant, stirring frequently.

Top each serving with fennel tops, toasted fennel seeds and, if desired, Homemade Croutons.

To Make Ahead:

Prepare as directed and cool soup slightly. Transfer soup to an airtight container. Cover and chill for up to 2 days. Place fennel tops and toasted fennel seeds in separate resealable plastic bags. Chill fennel tops for up to 2 days and store fennel seeds at room temperature for up to 2 days. To serve, transfer soup to a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until heated through, stirring occasionally. Serve as directed above.

Homemade Croutons

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of cubed Italian  bread
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon of kosher salt

Directions

Spread cubed bread in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Stir together olive oil, black pepper and kosher salt; pour over bread cubes, tossing to coat. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes. Stir; bake for 8 to 10 minutes more or until crisp and brown. Makes 2 cups.

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Beet and Apple Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 large beets (2 1/2 pounds)
  • 5 thyme sprigs
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1/3 cup salted pistachios, chopped
  • 1 green apple, thinly sliced

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a baking dish, lightly drizzle the beets and thyme with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast until the beets are tender, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Let cool, then peel the beets and cut them into thin slices.

In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar with the mustard. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of oil until emulsified. Add the horseradish and season with salt and pepper; toss with the beets and pistachios. Transfer the beets to a platter, top with the apple and serve.

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Healthy Chicken and Mushroom Fricassee

Serve with the roasted carrots below.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 10 oz white button mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
  • 1 cup leeks, split into quarters, then sliced into small squares and rinsed well
  • 1 cup potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup celery, rinsed and diced
  • 1 cup pearl onions, raw or frozen
  • 3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lb skinless chicken legs or thighs (4 whole legs, split, or 8 thighs)
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh herbs (such as parsley and chives), rinsed, dried and minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons lowfat sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 º F.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized heavy-bottomed roasting or braising pan (a large sauté pan with a metal handle).

Add mushrooms to the pan and cook until golden brown, about 3–5 minutes. Add leeks, potatoes, celery and pearl onions and continue to cook until the vegetables become soft, about 3–5 additional minutes. Add chicken broth to the pan and bring to a boil.

Add chicken to the pan, cover, and place in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is tender when pierced with a fork (or a meat thermometer reaches an internal temperature of 165 ºF).

When the chicken is cooked, remove them from the pan to serving bowl and keep warm. Return the pan to the stove top and bring the liquid to a boil. Stir in the lemon juice.

In a bowl, mix the cornstarch with the sour cream and add to the pan. Bring back to a boil, stir until mixed and then remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper and pour sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with herbs and serve.

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Spice & Honey Roasted Carrots

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds regular or rainbow carrots, scrubbed and peeled
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Trim carrots and peel. Halve any large carrots lengthwise.

Line a shallow roasting pan with foil. Evenly spread carrots in the pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast carrots, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the seasoning mix, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add hazelnuts; cook and stir 3 minutes or until fragrant and toasted. Transfer to a small bowl.

Add coriander, sesame and cumin seed to the hot skillet. Cook on medium-high heat for 2 minutes or until fragrant and toasted. Remove spices from heat and transfer to another bowl; cool for 10 minutes.

Using a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, grind or crush toasted spices until coarsely ground. Add the hazelnuts and salt and pepper, crushing nuts slightly.

Remove carrots from the oven. Drizzle with honey; toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle carrots with the seasoning mixture. Return to the oven; roast 5 to 10 minutes more.

Serve carrots with lemon wedges. Makes 6 servings.

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Fig and Pear Cobbler with Cornmeal-Amaretti Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole amaretti cookies
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 ¼ cups whipping cream
  • 2 cups dried Mission figs, halved
  • 1 ½ pounds fresh pears, cored and sliced
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice and finely shredded peel from 1 orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 ½ cups port wine or cranberry juice
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place amaretti cookies in a food processor. Cover and process until finely ground. Add flour, cornmeal, the 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder and salt; cover and pulse with on/off turns to combine. Add butter; cover and pulse with on/off turns until pieces are the size of small peas.

In a large bowl combine butter mixture and the 1-1/4 cups whipping cream, stirring with a fork until the dough comes together. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface; knead gently two or three times until it holds together. Press dough into a 12×8-inch rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the dough into eight rectangles

In a 3-quart rectangular baking dish combine figs and pears. Place the 3/4 cup sugar in a small bowl; add the finely shredded orange peel and use your fingers to rub the peel into the sugar. Stir in cinnamon, coriander and kosher salt. Pour sugar mixture over the fig mixture; gently toss with your hands to combine.

In a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons of orange juice and the cornstarch, stirring until smooth. Stir in the port and the remaining orange juice; pour evenly over the fruit mixture in the baking dish.

Place dough rectangles on top of the fruit mixture; brush with the 2 tablespoons whipping cream and sprinkle with almonds.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is browned and juices are bubbly around the edges of the pan. If necessary to prevent over browning, cover loosely with foil for the last 10 to 20 minutes of baking. Remove foil, if using, and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

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Frasassi

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The Frasassi Caves are a remarkable cave system in the province of Ancona, Marche. They are one of the largest known cave systems in Europe and they have an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites spread along 19 miles of accessible caverns. Inside the caves, natural sculptures have formed for over 190 million years. The water flowing on the limestone dissolved small quantities of limestone that fell to the ground. Over time, these deposits form stalagmites (columns that grow upward from the lower part) and stalactites (columns that grow down from the ceiling). They are among the most famous show caves in Italy. Show caves are caves that are managed by a government or commercial organization and made accessible to the general public, usually for an entrance fee. Unlike wild caves, they typically possess such features, as constructed trails, guided tours, lighting and regular touring hours.

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In 1948, Mario Marchetti, Paolo Beer and Carlo Pegorari, members of a speleological group (scientists who study caves) discovered the entry of the Cave of the River. In 1966, a member of the Fabriano Speleological Group, Maurizio Borioni, discovered an extension that was one kilometer long inside the River Cave. Five years later, in July 1971, a new discovery took place. This time a group of young men found a narrow opening in the River Cave where a strong air stream came out. The men were Armando Antonucci, Mauro Coltorti, Mauro Brecciaroli, Mario Cotticelli, Massimo Mancinelli, Giampiero Rocchetti and Roberto Toccaceli. They worked for about one month to widen the narrow path and, the following  August, they passed through what would be later called “Strettoia del Tarlo” (Worm’s narrow path). The young men discovered a series of new caves, burrows, wells and striking tunnels, that also contained animal prints that had been preserved for thousands of years.

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The next discovery, the Cave of the Wind, took place on September 25, 1971, when Rolando Silvestri discovered a small entrance in the north slope of the mountain, Valley Montagna. Helped by some friends, he was able to open a passage from a small opening. His initial disappointment caused by the small discovery was followed by the hope for something bigger. He found success and in the small opening there were many openings and, after further excavation, they discovered a cave about 100 meters deep. Their problem, then, was how to get into the cave and reach the bottom. Eventually, with the right equipment, they lowered themselves into the cave, later called “Abyss Ancona”. Their lights illuminated the splendour and beauty of this discovery. The explorations of the speleological group increased and their goal was to find a connection between the two caves, which they believed existed. Two months later, on December 8th, speleologists found a path between the Cave of the River and the Cave of the Wind and named it, Fabriano Conduit.

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Frasassi1The two huge caves were a labyrinth of underground rooms that followed one another for more than thirteen kilometers. At the time, only speleologists with the right equipment could explore this wonderful underground world. Late in 1972, the local government built an artificial tunnel 200 meters long between the two caves. The opening took place on September 1st, 1974 and since then many tourists have been able to visit these caves and appreciate the beauty of nature.

There are several possible routes inside the caves. The first one is the tourist route where you will be accompanied by professional guides. It is an organized underground route, easily accessible by everyone. It covers 1.5 kms and it lasts over 70 minutes. The second route, called the adventure route, is more difficult than the tourist route. The Frasassi Authority provides for two adventure routes of different difficulty levels: the blue route (lasting about two hours) and the red one route (about 3 hours long). Equipment is provided by the Authority and you navigate the paths on your own.

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The Cave of the Wind, also the largest cave in Europe, became well-known to the Italian public after being used in an unusual TV reality program, which involved seeing how well people got on when shut in a cave together for a long time. The region around the Frasassi Caves is a mix of quiet hill villages and very attractive scenery, including the Gola della Rossa Nature Park, which is also well worth exploring.

The Cuisine of Anacona, Marche Region

The influence of the neighboring regions, can be seen in the popularity of fresh egg pasta and oven-baked pasta dishes in Marche. Vincisgrassi is a regional favorite, a baked-lasagna stuffed with chicken livers.

You will also find a variety of soups, such as Minestra di lumachelle made with eggs, cheese and bread crumb pasta, similar to Passatelli. Tripe soup, or minestra di trippa, is also a regional specialty and is served with a battuto topping (lard pounded together with herbs). Along the coast, soup consumption continues but it takes the form of brodetto or fish soup. Brodetti are prepared with all types of fish and various other ingredients like vinegar, flour, garlic and saffron.

There are also a number of special, regional preparations such as porchetta, a combination of spices and cured pork and called potacchio, if cooked with white wine, tomato, lemon juice and spices, alla marinara, if stewed in tomato sauce or, if baked, gratinati al forno.

People from Marche are also meat-lovers and will eat everything from pigeon to lamb. Piolotto is a way to prepare meat by wrapping it in paper with a piece of lard, which melts into the meat during cooking. Another local favorite is a spit-roasted whole, boneless pig that has been stuffed with herbs. Milk-fed veal, on the other hand, is often cooked in Chianti wine.

Among the regional salumi is Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP seasoned with juniper, is well-known. There are also soppresse, salsicce, sausages and a particular salume called Ciauscolo, which has the consistency of a pate seasoned with garlic, thyme and fennel.

Some of the best cheeses made in Marche are Casciotta d’Urbino DOP, Raviggiolo del Montefeltro, Slattato and herb-flavored sheep’s milk cheeses. For a special treat, look for Olive Ascolane (plump olives are stuffed with meat, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and then fried).

Desserts in Marche are generally made using popular ingredients. Cicerchiata is a dessert made from yeast dough, shaped into balls, fried and covered with honey. Becciate are made with raisins and pine nuts. Adventurous eaters could try Migliaccio, a dessert made with pig’s blood, sugar and citrus peel. If Migliaccio is not your cup of tea, try Frusteri, a simple pastry made with sapa di mosto or cooked grape must.

One of the most well-known wines produced in Marche is Verdicchio, a white wine that pairs well with fish. The region is also famous for its Anisetta, aromatic liquor that smells and tastes like anise.

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Cozze al limone (Mussels with lemon)

The area is an ideal growing environment for mussels. As a result, mussels here are big and pulpy with a mellow sea flavor.

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs mussels
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons, cut into thin slices
  • Several sprigs of parsley;
  • 1 dried red chili pepper
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Clean and scrape the mussels under running water. Place them into a big, deep bowl filled with cold water and throw away any mussels that float.

10 minutes before serving, pour the olive oil into a large pan with a high rim. Add the garlic and the sprigs of parsley roughly chopped, the chili pepper broken into pieces and a little salt and pepper.

Drain the mussels and put them in the pan alternating with the slices of lemon.

Cook over a high heat until all the mussels open. Shake the pan from time to time.

Serve the mussels with their cooking liquid and some slices of toasted crusty Italian bread.

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Vincisgrassi – Special Lasagna

A dish from the Marches with an odd name. Vincisgrassi is the Italianization of the name of the Austrian general, Prince Windischgratz, who was commander of the Austrian Forces stationed in the Marches. The dish was allegedly created for the prince by a local chef.

For the lasagna sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 oz prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 9 oz fresh chicken livers, cleaned and cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup warm beef or chicken stock
  • 9 oz calf’s brain and sweetbreads, cleaned
  • 1 thick slice of lemon
  • Salt
  • 2/3 oz dried porcini
  • 4 oz cultivated mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, squashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Lasagna

  • 1 lb lasagna noodles
  • Salt
  • Béchamel Sauce made with 1/4 cup butter, 1/3 cup flour, 4 cups whole milk, salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the chicken livers and the prosciutto for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the onion and carrot and brown the vegetables.Pour the white wine over the mixture and cook until it has evaporated. Add the tomato paste dissolved in the stock, mix well and bring the sauce to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer very gently for 1 hour.

Simmer the brain and sweetbreads in water with the lemon for 5 minutes. Drain and refresh. Meanwhile, soak the dried porcini in 1/4 cup warm water for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Clean and slice the fresh mushrooms. Sauté them with the garlic in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Remove the garlic and discard.

Strain the porcini liquid through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Slice the porcini and put them, together with the fresh mushrooms and the porcini liquid, into the chicken liver sauce after the sauce has been cooking for 1 hour. Cut the brain and sweetbreads into small pieces and add to the chicken liver sauce with the milk, nutmeg and cinnamon. cook for another 30 minutes.

Make the béchamel sauce and cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin forming.

Butter a lasagna pan 11 x 8 inches. Cook 3 or 4 lasagna noodles at a time in plenty of salted boiling water  Place on kitchen towels until ready to make the lasagna

Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel over the bottom of the pan and then cover with a layer of noodles. Cover with 4 tablespoons of the chicken liver and mushroom sauce and the same amount of béchamel. Cover with another layer of noodles and repeat until all the ingredients are used up, finishing with a layer of lasagna noodles and béchamel.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, so that all the flavors will combine. Remove from the refrigerator and allow the lasagna to return to room temperature.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot in the center.

Melt the butter and pour over the vincisgrassi as soon as it is removed from the oven. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Fried Sweet Ravioli with Ricotta

For the Dough:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 stick (8 oz) butter (softened)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten (reserve the white for sealing)
  • Oil for frying

For the Filling:

  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 2 ounces mini dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (plus more to garnish)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar (plus more to garnish)

Directions

In a sieve lined with cheesecloth, strain the liquids from ricotta for a few hours in the refrigerator.

In a measuring cup, mix the milk, vanilla and egg yolk and set aside

Prepare the dough by mixing flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl, add the soft butter in pieces. Start working in the butter with your hands, then slowly add the milk mixture. Knead dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 1 to 2 hours to rest in a cool place (though not in the refrigerator.)

Prepare the filling by mixing all ingredients with a spoon in medium bowl.Refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat the oil about 4 to 5 inches deep in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch Oven to 350-370 degrees F.

Cut the dough into 4 equal sized pieces. Flour the work surface and roll out each section 1/8 th inch thick and large enough to cut out four ravioli with a 5 inch round pastry/biscuit cutter.

Place 1 tablespoon filling, on each ravioli circle and use the egg white to brush the edges of the circle. Fold ravioli in half; press with a fork to seal.

Place 2 to 3 ravioli in hot oil at a time and fry until golden brown. Place on paper towels to cool and sprinkle powder sugar on both sides once cooled slightly. Serve slightly warm garnished with additional powdered sugar and cinnamon.


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Stracotto  translates literally from the Italian as “overcooked,” but the term has come to refer to beef stews and braises – especially in the northern Italy.The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto of onion, carrot, celery and, sometimes, finely diced pancetta or the fat from prosciutto and continues with the addition of red wine, beef broth, tomatoes and tomato paste.

There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks. In much of Tuscany, the meat to be roasted in the pot is seasoned with a minced mixture of celery, carrot, onion and parsley, but never garlic, whereas the cooks of Arezzo use garlic and juniper berries to season the meat.

In Lombardy, the meat is marinated overnight  in the red wine. In northern Italy, especially the Parma area, leftover stracotto becomes a filling for ravioli.

In Florence, before the discovery of America and the importation of tomatoes, stracotto was cooked with agresto – a sauce made from crushed, tart grapes, boiled and flavored with cloves, cinnamon and the juice of a squeezed onion. Chianti is the wine of choice in preparing this dish in Florence and porcini mushrooms are often an important ingredient.

In Bologna, a veal roast is used for this dish. In Sicily, the meat is cut into chunks, stew like, before braising.

Italian Jews also make stracotto with wine and tomatoes that is eaten both as a shabbos lunch and as a Friday night dinner. Rome resident, Celeste Pavoncello Pipenro, recalls eating stracotto throughout her life, “I remember Grandmother Celeste cooking stracotto in a special crock pot that she used just for this dish. It was very important to her to cook the stracotto in the crockpot. Also, my father, Marco, cooks the stracotto quite often and he puts some chocolate in with the meat just to add a different flavor.”

The dish originated in the Piedmont area of italy and here is an early recipe translated from Italian to English.

Piedmontese Pot Roast of Beef with Barolo Wine

Ingredients for 6 persons
1 Kg of lean beef, Italian parsley, sage, garlic, onion, carrot, celery, a
little flour, one bottle of Barolo wine, olive oil, butter, nutmeg, salt
and pepper.

You place in a casserole dish some spoonfuls of butter, olive oil
and sliced onions. Saute these ingredients, then brown the meat
after dredging it in the flour. Cover with the parsley, garlic, the
herbs and the rest of the chopped vegetables. Brown the meat on
all sides to seal it, then add the Barolo wine. Simmer a while to
reduce the liquid & evaporate the wine, then add salt and pepper.
Cover and place in a preheated oven(150C/300F/Gas 2). Continue
cooking for approximately three hours in the covered casserole.
Slice the meat and serve the dish with its gravy, straining the gravy if
you prefer smooth gravy.

Barolo wine is traditionally used for this dish in Italy and in Italy it is possible to find inexpensive Barolo wines that are perfect to cook with. Unfortunately, that is not the case in America. Because you don’t want to pour a fifteen or twenty-dollar bottle of wine over a four-dollar piece of meat, I recommend cooking with a flavorful inexpensive red wine and reserving the Barolo to serve with dinner. For tender, flavorful meat, it is best to prepare this dish several hours or, even better, a full day ahead of time. Reheat it in the oven before serving.

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Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)

I also include slow cooker directions for those who prefer that method for this recipe.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 lb chuck roast
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
8 oz Cremini mushrooms, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups dry red wine
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons sage leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup beef stock
1 container crushed tomatoes (26-28 ounces)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Polenta, recipe below, or Spaghetti

Directions

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Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Salt and pepper the roast, then brown it on both sides.

If using a slow cooker, put the roast in the cooker. If you’re using a Dutch oven, put the roast on a plate.

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Sauté the vegetables in the oil that remains until they’re soft and a little browned.

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Add the wine to stir up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes.

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Add the herbs, tomato paste, tomatoes and beef stock.

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For the Dutch oven put the roast back in the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer and keep at just a simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours.

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If the liquid begins to boil, you may need to place the lid ajar. You don’t want a rapid boil, just a few lazy bubbles or the meat will get tough.

If you’re using a slow cooker, add the vegetables, wine, stock, herbs, tomato paste and tomatoes to the cooker and turn on low for 6-8 hours.

When the meat is tender, remove and cut into thin slices. To thicken the sauce, especially if made in the slow cooker, boil for a few minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Serve the sliced beef with creamy polenta or spaghetti and a green salad. An Italian red wine, like Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, will be great to use in the recipe and to drink with dinner.

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Quick Creamy Polenta

3 cups water or beef broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, if using water
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup quick cooking polenta

Directions

Bring the water/broth to a boil. Add salt and butter, then while stirring, slowly pour in the polenta. Stir until there are no lumps, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and cover the pan until ready to serve.


father's day
Brunch is special. It’s almost always more of an occasion than a simple meal. Even if it’s just a midday meal with you and your partner, by its very nature, it’s a statement that we’re taking our time during this meal! What better way to celebrate Father’s Day, than to host a special brunch at home?

I think the main reason we don’t do this more often is because, in the midst of our busy lives, the planning can seem a little daunting. But after tending to a few things, a brunch get-together can actually be quite simple and seamless. Here are a few tips and recipes to help get you hosting this special meal:

Food is obviously something you want to think about for this get together. You can prepare a number of dishes, many with advance preparation, to suit a variety of tastes or you can choose one big dish along with a few little bites and nibbles that people can snack on while chatting. I always prepare a few different dishes, so I can please those family members with special diets, such as gluten-free or vegetarian. Mostly, I try to keep it healthy without losing all the great taste that many brunch recipes are known for. Fresh baked muffins and coffee cake are always a big hit. Don’t forget plenty of fresh fruit.

Not everyone drinks coffee, so it’s nice to have a few alternatives as well. A good herbal tea, fresh juice, like orange or grapefruit, or a fruity punch with a touch of champagne.

Father’s Day Brunch Menu

Father's day 1

Glazed Fruit Medley

Ingredients

  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 cups cubed cantaloupe or honeydew melon
  • 3 medium firm bananas, sliced
  • 2 cups green grapes
  • 2 cups halved fresh strawberries

Directions

In a small saucepan, mix the orange juice, sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Transfer to a small bowl; cool slightly. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours.

Just before serving, combine the fruit in a large, attractive serving bowl. Drizzle with orange juice sauce; toss gently to coat. Yield: 10 servings.

Father's day 2

Lemon Ricotta Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 3/4 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Combine flour and cornmeal and the next 3 ingredients (through salt); make a well in the center. Combine ricotta and next 5 ingredients (through egg). Add ricotta mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Place 12 muffin-cup liners in a muffin baking pan; coat with cooking spray. Divide batter among the muffin cups. Bake at 375°F for 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the muffin pan. Remove muffins to a wire cooling rack.

Father's day 3

Meat and Potato Hash

Roasting the potatoes separately gives them a crisp texture without the addition of extra fat. This recipe can be doubled.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb cooked chicken breast, beef pot roast, corned beef or pork roast, cubed
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • Poached eggs, for serving over the hash

Directions

Heat the oven to 400°F. Place potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper; bake until tender, browned and slightly crisp, about 35-40 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, until soft, about 6 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until cooked, about 4 minutes. Add thyme, chili flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.

Add the cooked meat or poultry of choice and the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the ingredients are warmed through, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley. Serve a poached egg on top of each serving, if you like.

Perfect Poached Eggs

To make perfect poached eggs, crack a chilled egg into a small bowl. Bring a deep pot of water to a simmer. Swirl the water in a circle with a wooden spoon, then tip the egg out of the bowl into the center of the swirling water. Cover, turn off the heat, and remove the egg with a large slotted spoon after 2 minutes for soft poached eggs.

father's day 6

 

Baked Vegetarian Zucchini Frittata

Ingredients

  • 4 cups shredded zucchini (1 pound)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1 medium zucchini, very thinly sliced (1-1/4 cups)
  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced
  • Sliced pitted ripe olives

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 10 inch round baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.

Spread shredded zucchini on a large platter or shallow baking pan; sprinkle evenly with salt. Let stand for 15 minutes. Using paper towels, gently press excess moisture from the zucchini.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until the onion is tender. Remove from the heat.

In large bowl, combine eggs, Parmesan cheese, basil and pepper. Stir in shredded zucchini, cooked onion and mozzarella cheese. Pour into the prepared baking pan, spreading evenly.
Bake about 20-25 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the eggs are set. Arrange whole zucchini slices on top of the baked mixture and place the tomato slices on top of the zucchini.

Sprinkle with olives and additional Parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes more. Cut into small wedges.

Father's day 4

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt, stirring with a whisk in a medium bowl.

Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add vanilla, egg and egg white; beat well.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture; mix after each addition.

Gently fold in the blueberries.

Spoon the batter into a 9-inch round baking pan coated with cooking spray. Level the batter with a spatula and sprinkle the top evenly with the sliced almonds and then the coarse sugar.

Bake for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove the cake from the pan, if desired. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Father's day 5

Pear Hazelnut Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 medium pear
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9 inch round baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Core and slice the pear; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar and the oil. Add milk, eggs and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 minute.

In a small bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, baking powder, lemon peel and nutmeg.

Add to the mixture in the mixer; beat until combined. Stir in oats.

Spoon into prepared pan. Arrange sliced pears over the batter. Sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

If made ahead, you can rewarm the cake in a 350 degree F before serving.

fathers-day-ecard


sandwich

What makes for a great sandwich?

Is it the bread?

The meats?

The toppings, e.g. lettuce, tomato, sprouts, etc.?

The spread, e.g. mayo, mustard, dressing?

Well, of course it’s probably a combination of all (and probably some additional) factors.

But, the question is – What’s the most important thing to making a sandwich great?

For me – it is the quality of the bread – what is it for you?

sandwich 5

Mortadella, Cheese and Basil Panini

Mortadella is a large Italian sausage or cold cut made of finely ground, heat-cured pork sausage, which incorporates small cubes of pork fat. Mortadella is a staple product of Bologna, Italy.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) loaf ciabatta, cut in half horizontally
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 8 ounces sliced mortadella 
  • 2 hot cherry peppers, sliced
  • 1 large plum tomato, thinly sliced
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions

Brush the cut side of the bottom bread half with mustard; brush the cut side of the top half with vinegar. Top the bottom half with mozzarella, basil, mortadella, peppers and tomato. Top with remaining bread half.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Add the sandwich to the pan; top with another heavy skillet. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden. Cut sandwich into 6 wedges. If the sandwich does not fit in your pan, cut it in half and cook in two batches.

sandwich 2

Family Style Hearty Steak Sandwich

6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups seeded and diced fresh plum tomatoes
  • 6 tablespoons pitted, chopped kalamata olives
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds flank or sirloin steak
  • 1 (1-pound) Italian round bread loaf (boule) 
  • 4 thin slices provolone cheese
  • 2 ounces arugula

Directions

Heat an outdoor gas grill.

Combine tomatoes, olives, basil, red onion, vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl.

Place steaks on the grill over medium heat. Grill to desired temperature, turning once. Place on cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain.

Slice bread horizontally. Grill, cut side down, until crisp and golden, 2 to 3 minutes.

Place cheese on the bottom half of the bread. Top with tomato mixture, steak and arugula. Top with remaining bread. Slice into wedges.

sandwich 1

Vegan Muffuletta

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 large Portobello mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons white wine or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup sliced pitted black olives
  • 1/4 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 (8-inch) Italian round bread loaf, halved horizontally
  • 1/3 cup sliced roasted red peppers
  • 1/3 cup sliced marinated artichoke hearts
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 12 basil leaves

Directions

Using a small spoon, scoop out and discard the black gills from each mushroom. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook just until it begins to turn light golden brown, about 30 seconds. Arrange mushrooms in the skillet in a single layer, then add wine and season with salt and pepper. Cook, turning the mushrooms once, until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes total. Set aside off of the heat to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, combine black and green olives, parsley, oregano, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and press the mixture with the back of a spoon until it’s roughly mashed; set aside.

Using your fingers, remove some of the bread from the inside of both halves of the bread loaf, making sure to keep a 1-inch border around the edge. (This will help to make room for the filling. Save the bread that you remove for another use, such as bread crumbs or croutons.)

Layer both halves of bread with olive mixture then arrange peppers, artichoke hearts, pine nuts and basil on the bottom half. Top with the cooked mushrooms, spreading them out to cover the entire width of the bread. Assemble the top and bottom halves of the loaf to form a sandwich.

Serve muffuletta right away or wrap it very tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, weighted down with a heavy object like a cast iron skillet filled with a few heavy canned goods. Cut into wedges before serving.

sandwich 3

Mediterranean Tilapia Sandwiches

Za’atar is a mixture of sumac, sesame seed and herbs frequently used in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas.

Ingredients

Fish:

  • 1 1/2 pounds tilapia fillets
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Za’atar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Tzatziki:

  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Sandwich ingredients:

  • 4 Mediterranean wheat pitas or flatbread (such as Toufayan), heated
  • 1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
  • 1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

Directions

Preheat a broiler.

To prepare fish:

Brush fish with oil; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon Za’atar , 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place fish on a broiler pan coated with olive oil cooking spray. Broil 6 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

To prepare Tzatziki:

Combine yogurt and next 5 ingredients (through garlic) in a food processor or blender; pulse until smooth.

To prepare sandwiches:

Spread 2 tablespoons Tzatziki sauce in the center of each pita. Divide fish evenly among the pitas. Top each serving with 2 tablespoons onion, 2 tomato slices and about 6 cucumber slices; fold pita or flatbread in half.

sandwich 4
Grilled Chicken, Tomato and Onion Sandwiches

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces pitted mixed olives (1 cup)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/3 inch thick
  • 1 Vidalia onion (or any sweet onion), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 crusty Italian rolls, such as ciabatta
  • Salt
  • 1 3/4 pounds thin chicken cutlets

Directions

Light an outdoor grill.

In a mini food processor, pulse the pitted olives with the crushed garlic and oregano until chopped. Add the 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil and pulse until finely chopped. Season with pepper.

Brush the tomatoes, onion and cut sides of the rolls with olive oil. Grill the tomatoes and onion over high heat until they are softened and lightly charred, about 2 minutes for the tomatoes and 6 minutes for the onion. Transfer to a plate and season with salt and pepper. Grill the bread until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes.

Brush the chicken cutlets with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Grill them over high heat, turning occasionally, until they are lightly browned in spots and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes.

Cut the chicken cutlets to fit the toasted rolls and top with the sliced tomatoes, sliced onion and olive relish. Close the sandwiches, cut them in half and serve.


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Ricotta can be so much more than the main ingredient in lasagna. Its fresh and creamy flavor can shine in many other recipes. The vegetables of spring — green peas, tender green beans, earthy beets — make companionable partners.The key to the best flavors is the same in any recipe – buy the best you can find. In the case of ricotta, look for a fresh aroma and taste and creamy texture. Traditionally, ricotta is made from whey leftover from making other cheeses, but it should still taste of milk. Hand-dipped is a good phrase to look for because it is handled more gently; a lightness to it that ricotta absolutely should have. It shouldn’t be dense. Traditional basket-drained ricotta almost quivers like panna cotta or a custard. If you have a cheese shop nearby, it might carry ricotta from an artisan maker. Italian grocery stores and supermarkets with a good cheese selection often have fresh, hand-dipped ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Line a large sieve with cheesecloth (about 4 or 5 large layers) or a thin kitchen towel and set it over a medium bowl.

To make about 1-1/2 pounds of cheese: pour 3 quarts, plus 3 cups whole milk into a stainless steel pot with 1 cup heavy cream (not ultra pasteurized). If possible make them both organic.

Bring the milk and cream to a very gentle simmer, stir in 2 teaspoons salt and 1/3 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed). Simmer 1 or 2 minutes or until you have cloud-like clumps floating in almost clear liquid. Do not let the liquid boil and don’t let the clumps cook until they are hard.

Scoop them up with a slotted spoon and into the cheesecloth lined sieve. Gently pull together and twist the top of the cheesecloth so that it compacts the curds.Put the bowl in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and then your ricotta is ready to be used. Note: I do not throw away the liquid that remains. I use it for baking.

Some ways to serve ricotta cheese:

On fresh melon: Mix ricotta with a little sugar and a little milk to loosen it, then dollop it on melon slices along with fresh mint.

On pizza: Drop tablespoons on the top of the pizza. It will soften in the oven, spreading out, but won’t melt. Mix in fresh chopped herbs first, if you like. Basil is especially good.

On vegetables: Serve on top of roasted asparagus, with a little extra-virgin olive oil and pepper. Also zucchini, green beans or artichokes. Add another cheese for saltiness, if you like, such as Pecorino or Parmesan.

Stuff pancakes with ricotta or use it to replace some of the milk in your pancake recipe.

Crostini: Small slices of toasted bread are a great base for ricotta with some additional ingredients: ricotta with olives and pistachios or roasted cherry tomatoes with ricotta. Whip ricotta cheese with honey, spread on crostini and top with sliced fresh figs and toasted sliced almonds.

Dip: Place 1 cup drained ricotta in a bowl; stir in 2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (a mix of any of these: basil, thyme, parsley, chives), 1 to 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil, and coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Allow to rest at least 30 minutes for the flavors to mingle. Serve with sliced vegetables, crackers or toasted bread.

ricotta 3

Sugar Snap Peas with Ricotta

Place 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta in a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel; set over a bowl and refrigerate overnight. The ricotta will lose much of its water content and thicken.

Whisk the drained ricotta in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil until smooth. Whisk in kosher salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to whisk until the ricotta is fluffy and creamy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Blanch 2 cups sugar snap peas (about ½ pound) in the boiling water until bright green, 30-40 seconds. Drain; immediately transfer peas to the ice bath. Let stand until chilled. Drain the peas; spread them on a clean dish towel to dry.

Combine the peas in a bowl with 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions, 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and pepper to taste.

Spread 2 tablespoons ricotta on each of four plates. Mound 1/2 cup of the peas on top of the ricotta. Drizzle with more olive oil and add a sprinkle of parsley.

Makes: 4 servings

ricotta 4

Baked Ricotta Pudding

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Soak 1/2 cup yellow raisins in hot water (or sweet Marsala or rum) to cover until plumped, about 15 minutes.

Butter a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate with 1 tablespoon melted butter; spread 1 to 2 tablespoons fine cookie crumbs, such as amaretti, in the plate to coat.

Blend 1 2/3 cups whole-milk ricotta, 2 large eggs, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons sugar in a blender until very smooth, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the drained raisins and 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted pistachios. Pour the batter into the cookie lined pie plate.

Bake in middle of the oven until puffed, golden and just set, about 25 minutes. Cool pudding on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

ricotta 1

Rice and Ricotta Cakes

Serves 2 as a main course; 4 as an appetizer

  • 1 and 1/3 cups cooked wild rice or any leftover rice, cooled to room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 shallots or 6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Directions

In a bowl, combine the cooked rice with the egg, shallots, ricotta, salt, pepper and flour. Mix thoroughly.

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add half the olive oil. After 1 minute, spoon in half of the rice mixture in small mounds, making 4 fritters. Flatten with a spatula. Cook until golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes, then turn and cook until the other side is also golden and the fritters are set. Remove to a plate.

Repeat with the remaining wild rice mixture and olive oil. Serve hot.

ricotta 2

Ricotta, Broccoli Rabe and Mushroom Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 pound broccoli rabe, tough stems removed
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 6 kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 crust (half a recipe) Pizza Dough, see below
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese

Directions

Place a baking stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. If you don’t have a baking stone, use a large inverted baking sheet placed on an oven rack. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling. Add broccoli rabe and cook for 4 minutes. Using tongs, remove broccoli rabe from the boiling water and quickly plunge it into the bowl of ice water to cool it and stop the cooking process. Transfer broccoli rabe to a colander set in the sink; drain well. Chop broccoli rabe into bite-size pieces. Set aside. (This can be done up to 24 hours ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

In a small bowl pour enough hot water over raisins to cover; set aside.

In a large skillet heat oil over low heat. Add garlic; cook about 2 minutes or just until garlic is light golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add olives. Increase heat to medium-high. Add mushrooms and crushed red pepper. Cook about 3 minutes or just until mushrooms soften. Remove from the heat; stir in broccoli rabe.

Drain raisins in a colander set in the sink, pressing to remove excess water. Add raisins to broccoli rabe mixture; toss to mix well.

Using a slotted spoon, place broccoli rabe mixture onto the pizza crust. Drop small dollops of the ricotta cheese onto the pizza. Sprinkle with the Pecorino-Romano cheese.

Bake on the pizza stone or inverted baking sheet for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and ingredients hot.

Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups warm water (105 degrees F to 115 degrees F)
  • Cornmeal

Directions

Brush a large bowl with olive oil; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a food processor, combine flour, yeast and salt. Combine the honey, olive oil and warm water in a measuring cup.

With the mixer on low-speed or the food processor running, pour in the olive oil, honey and warm water. Mix or process until all of the ingredients are combined. If using a mixer, increase the speed to medium and continue to knead about 2 minutes or until a soft dough forms. If using a food processor, continue to process until dough forms a wet ball.

Place dough in the prepared bowl; turn once to coat dough surface. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the dough does not touch plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 1 hour and 30 minutes until nearly doubled in size.

Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Cut dough into two portions. On a lightly floured surface, use floured hands to stretch one ball of dough into a circle 10 to 12 inches in diameter (1/4 to 1/2-inch thick). Sprinkle a baking peel with cornmeal; place dough circle on the peel. Reserve the remaining dough portion for another pizza. Follow directions above for toppings and baking.

ricotta 5

Ricotta Omelets

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 large eggs, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons ricotta, divided
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, divided
  • Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette, recipe below

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Season 2 eggs with salt and pepper and blend. Add to the skillet. Cook eggs, stirring gently with a heat proof spatula, until eggs are lightly scrambled and almost cooked, about 3 minutes. Spread eggs out to evenly cover the bottom of the skillet.

Top eggs with half of the ricotta, Parmesan, basil and chives. Using the spatula, fold up one-third of the omelet. Roll omelet over onto itself, then slide omelet onto a plate.

Repeat with remaining ingredients to make a second omelet. Top with Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette.

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Cut half of the cherry tomatoes in half. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes.

Add halved and whole tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they  begin to release juices, 4–6 minutes. Mash some of the tomatoes with a spoon.

Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temperature; add chives just before serving.

DO AHEAD: Vinaigrette can be made (without chives) 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature and stir in chives.

 

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Steak Night

How do you tell a good steak from a regular steak?

There are a few things to look for when buying a steak:

First, there is the grade. The grade speaks about the quality of the meat based on marbling and age.

The second factor is the cut. Different cuts have different qualities. Finding the right cut for what you want to cook is probably the most important part of an excellent steak.

The third factor is the diet of the steer and how it was raised.

Grade: The age of the animal and the marbling of the meat determine the grade of the meat. In the United States grades are prime, choice and select, with prime being at the top and select being the bottom. Prime grade beef makes up about 2% of all the beef produced in the United States and typically ends up exported or sold to fine restaurants. What you will normally find on the shelves at the store is choice and select. Since prime is difficult to find, your best option is to purchase a choice cut.

Marbling is an important factor in steak selection. To visually determine the marbling of a steak take a good look at the texture of the meat. If the meat is free of all fat then the cut has little or no marbling. Though, this is leaner and often more tender, it is not as flavorful. Small streaks of fat through the meat will produce a more flavorful steak. Marbling should be thin streaks of fat. Thick lines of fat means the steak contains a lot of connective tissue that will make it tough. The meat should be bright red and the fat, a creamy white, evenly distributed throughout the meat.

Cuts of steak can be broken down into three sections. Starting on the upper back and moving down to the mid-back you have the rib, the short loin and the sirloin.

The rib contains cuts, such as the Rib Roast, the Rib-eye Steak and the back ribs. This is the least tender section of the three.

The short loin produces the T-bone, Top Loin Steak, Tenderloin and the Porterhouse steaks.

The sirloin produces the Sirloin Steak and the Top Sirloin.

Strips steaks, like the New York Steak, is cut from the T-bone portion. The most tender cut of beef is the tenderloin. From this area you will also get cuts like Chateaubriand, filet mignon and tournedos. Though these cuts are tender they are less flavorful. Rib-eye or rib steaks are less tender but far more flavorful. The same holds true for the sirloin cuts.

Grass-Fed: There are lots of good reasons to choose grass-fed beef over conventionally raised beef – environmental, nutritional and concerns about the animals being treated well and eating what is natural to them. On all of these fronts, grass-fed beef beats feedlot beef hands down. However, over 95% of the beef sold in the U.S. is from feedlots. This means that beef from cattle which are entirely raised on pasture is more expensive and it also tastes a little different from the beef people in the U.S. are accustomed to. Additionally, the optimal cooking times, particularly for steaks, is a little different as well.

How to Prepare Steak for Cooking:

ALWAYS let your meat come to room temperature before doing anything to it.

Then, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and let it stand 60 minutes at room temperature before cooking.
Use 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt per side for a steak up to one inch thick. After sitting for an hour, wash the salt off the steak, dry it well with paper towels and sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper. Cook immediately. TRUST ME. This method really works. I have tried any number of ways to prepare steak and always come back to this method. Any type of steak, including grass-fed steak and sirloin, prepared this way is flavorful and tender. Forget marinades and rubs – you can add the seasoning after the meat is grilled.

How to Grill Steak:

If you’re using charcoal you’ll want very hot coals. Use the 2 second rule to test them; you should be able to hold your hand a few inches over the grill for only about 2 seconds before it’s too hot. Once they are hot, move them to one side of the grill so you can have both direct and indirect heat. If you’re using a gas grill, turn all the burners to high and let it heat for at least 10-15 minutes. Oil the grill grates with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil.

Use tongs, extra long ones, to move your meat around, not a big fork. Puncturing your steak will only let the juices run out and cause them to be dry and tough.
Place the steaks on the hot grill to sear. Don’t move them for 2-3 minutes. If you want diagonal hatch marks, you can rotate your steak 45 degrees after a couple of minutes and then finish searing. Use the tongs again to turn the steaks and sear the other side.

If you cook the steaks at the super high heat level the entire time, the outside will be burnt by the time the center cooks. So after searing, turn the gas off on one of the burners. Move the steaks to the indirect heat side of your charcoal/gas grill to finish cooking.

When it comes to steak, you can’t follow exact times because it will vary with every cut and every grill. Temperature is the most reliable guide. Remove the steaks when they are a few degrees from your desired degree of doneness and let the steaks rest for five minutes before slicing.

Medium rare steak should be warm through the middle and most of the center of the steak should be reddish pink. The sides should be well browned, the top and bottom charred to a dark brown color. This steak should have a firm surface but soft in the middle.
Internal Temperature 125 to 135 degrees F. This is the recommended level of doneness for a good steak.

Medium Rare

Medium Rare

Medium steak should have a thick band of light pink through the middle but more brown than pink. The sides should be a rich brown color and the top and bottom charred darkly (but not black). This steak should have some play through the middle but feel firm to the touch.
Internal Temperature 140 to 150 degrees F. If you are grilling for a large group of people, this is the best level of doneness that pleases the most people.

Medium

Medium

Medium well steak should have a hint of pink in the very middle of the steak. The surface should be a dark brown with good charring on the top and bottom. This steak will be very stiff but still have a little squish in the center. Internal Temperature 155 to 165 degrees F.

Medium Well

Medium Well

Well Done steak is the most difficult to cook. This steak should NOT be burnt on the outside. While there is not the faintest hint of pink in the middle, it should be browned through, not burnt through. This steak should feel solid to the touch.
Internal Temperature 170 or higher degrees F. The secret is to do it low and slow. It’s the only way to prevent burning while fully cooking it through the middle.

Well Done

Well Done

Cooking Grass-Fed Beef Steaks:

I usually use a gas grill and heat the grill to the hottest setting. Sear the steaks for about two minutes per side. Reduce one or two burners (depending on whether you have a 2 or 3 burner grill) to medium and turn off the second or third burner. Move the steaks to the indirect heat side of the grill and close the cover. Finish the cooking over indirect heat and use a thermometer to determine how long to leave the steak on the grill. For charcoal, move the steaks to the side of the grill without the coals underneath. For a pan on the stove, just lower the heat.

Grass-fed steaks are best cooked rare or medium rare. Even if you usually like your steaks cooked longer, do give less cooking a try – or cook them in a sauce at a lower temperature. Cooking at a high temperature for a long time will definitely produce a tough steak. I find the best way to tell when a steak is done is to use a good instant-read thermometer (inserted from the side) and the best setting for grass-fed beef steaks is 125 degrees F to 130 degrees F.

Recipes for the Grill

Steak Night 3

Ribeye Steaks with Blue Cheese Butter and Mushrooms

Makes 4-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 beef Ribeye Steaks, boneless, cut 1 inch thick (about 12 ounces each)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 medium Portobello mushrooms, stems removed (about 1-3/4 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt

Blue Cheese Butter:

  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons chopped rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, not packed in oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Combine garlic, thyme and pepper. Set aside.

Place steaks on the grill and cook according to the directions above. When you move the steaks to the indirect heat, sprinkle with the garlic mixture.

Brush mushrooms with oil and after you move the steaks to indirect heat, place the mushrooms on the grill over the direct heat side. Grill about 10 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine Blue Cheese Butter ingredients in small bowl until well blended.

Slice the grilled mushrooms. Arrange the steaks on a serving platter. Top each steak with a tablespoon of Blue Cheese Butter and slices of mushroom.

Steak Night 4

Strip Steak with Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 12 ounce boneless beef top loin (strip) steak, cut about 3/4 inch thick
  • 1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 thin asparagus spears, trimmed (6 oz.)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ½ cup low salt beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

Directions

Prepare steak as described above.

Place the asparagus in a shallow dish and drizzle with the oil.

For the sauce:

In a medium skillet stir together the broth, wine, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 1/4 cup. Whisk in mustard; keep warm.

Preheat the grill. Place steak on the grill rack and cook according to directions above. Grill until steak iscooked to your desired temperature.

Place the asparagus on the grill (gas – close the cover) for the last 2 to 3 minutes or for an uncovered grill (charcoal) the last 4 to 5 minutes of grilling. Cook asparagus until crisp-tender.

Spoon sauce on a serving plate. Cut steak in half crosswise. Serve steak halves atop sauce with asparagus on top. Makes 2 servings.

steak night 5

Grilled Grass-Fed T-Bone Steaks Florentine

2-4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 (3/4 to 1 inch) thick T-bone grass-fed beef steaks

Directions

Blend the first 6 ingredients in a large mixing cup and set aside. Prepare steaks according to directions above and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper.

Heat barbecue and cook steaks according to directions above.

When the steaks reach the desired temperature, remove them to a large plate with a rim.

Pour the reserved sauce over the steaks and let them rest for five minutes before slicing.

Recipes for the Stovetop

Steak Night 1

Sirloin Steak with Mushrooms and Tomatoes

You may use mixed bell peppers as a substitute for the mushrooms to change theflavor ot the recipe the next time you make it.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 pound beef sirloin steak
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 8 ounces mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 scallions
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions

Heat oil in cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pat steak dry using paper towels. When oil is shimmering in the pan, add steak. Cook to desired degree of doneness (4 minutes per side for medium, more or less, depending on the thickness of steak is recommended). Remove steak from the skillet and keep warm on a serving platter.

Return skillet to heat. Add tomatoes, scallions and mushrooms to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes (if skillet begins to look too dry, add a few tablespoons of water). Remove skillet from the heat. Stir in basil and pour mixture over the steaks.

Steak Night 2

Round Steak with Lemon, Capers and Green Onions

Cuts of beef from the round or hind leg section are less tender than the loin, sirloin or rib. They can, however, offer the best combination of texture and flavor for many steak lovers. The top round comes from the inside thigh portion of the round. Because these muscles are used less than the outer ones, they are more tender than other cuts from the round.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 pound top round steak cut into 4 slices
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Chopped parsley and lemon zest for garnish

Directions

Mix flour, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder in a shallow dish. Pound steaks thin between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Dredge each steak in the  flour mixture, shaking off excess.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Brown steaks on each side 2 to 3 minutes, depending on desired degree of doneness. Remove steaks from the pan, place on a serving platter and keep warm.

Without cleaning the pan, add green onions to the pan and cook briefly. Deglaze the  pan with the broth, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a boil. Lower heat slightly and allow stock to reduce, about 5 minutes. Stir in capers and lemon juice and remove from heat.

Pour sauce over steaks and garnish with parsley and lemon zest. Serve immediately.

 

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