Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Desserts

Reggio Emilia is one of the nine provinces in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna and it is situated in Northern Italy, in the Po Valley area. Reggio is a center of art, whose symbols include the seventeenth-century Basilica della Ghiara (a Baroque style church built in 1597) and the famous Teatro Municipale. (a theater).

The economy of the province was for a long time based on agriculture and the province is known for Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Lambrusco wine and Balsamic Vinegar. In the twentieth century Reggio Emilia saw a rapid development of small industries, particularly in agricultural mechanics. A few of those industries became large companies, with an international market. Reggio Emilia is also home to some fashion companies and the ceramic tile industry, For more than 100 years, a strong tradition supports building and banking cooperatives in the province, as well as consumers’ cooperatives. This industrial growth has attracted immigration from North and Central Africa, East Europe and the Far East (China, Pakistan, India).

The Autostrada A1 bridges were designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2005-2006. A central arch bridge spans the Milan-Bologna high-speed railway line and the Autostrada del Sole A1 motorway, while twin cable bridges are at either end. The twin bridges pass over service roundabouts and access roads to allow connections with the adjacent Reggio Emilia AV Mediopadana high-speed railway station. In 2009, the European Convention for Constructional Steelwork gave the three bridges a European Steel Design Award, stating that the twin bridges’ original visual effects at different angles give the two bridges “the aspect of huge musical instruments.

Educational Leaders

In 1991, the American magazine, Newsweek, named the Diana Preschool in Reggio Emilia, Italy, one of the 10 best schools in the world. As a result, the early childhood centers in this city gained international attention. So what did this little Italian community do to create a world-renowned system of early learning and how does it work?

Until World War II, Reggio was known more for the quality of its wine and ham than for the excellence of its schools. The Reggio Emilia preschools have their origins post-World War II when a small group of women set up a preschool that was the first established secular school for young children. This break with the Catholic church forged a new kind of school. Today, Reggio Emilia has over 35 of these preschools and educators around the world attend conferences and seminars in Reggio Emilia to learn about the system.

The Reggio Emilia Municipal Infant-Toddler Centers provide early childhood programs for children from birth to 3 years and 3-6 years. The philosophy supports a new way of thinking about children and families – where all children, especially those who could be marginalized, are considered full of potential and possibilities – and this seems to have struck a chord with educators around the world who are looking for different ways of providing education.

The Reggio Emilia approach promotes a rethinking of childhood and calls for society to value children’s possibilities, potential, capabilities and competencies. The Reggio Emilia Approach values:children’s relationships with other children, teachers, parents and their classroom environment. Project work, where children are engaged in explorations of their world and make choices about what they will investigate are encourages., Then together with their teachers and peers, students express themselves in what is called the “100 Languages” that place a strong emphasis on visual arts and active listening, where children’s voices, thoughts and opinions are valued (as much as the teachers’). Through these approaches to teaching and learning, the educators challenge and extend each child. They see all of the children as capable and that a teacher’s role is to enable children to reach their potential – not to fix children.

A Foodies’ Paradise

Among the first courses typical of the Reggio Emilia cuisine are cappelletti stuffed with meat and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pumpkin tortelli. Second courses include local specialties of meatloaf, rabbit alla reggiana and roasted stuffed pork. Typical of this area is also the fried gnocco served with salami and cheeses and erbazzone, a torte made with spinach and chard. Among the desserts, the favorites are sweet rice cakes and spongata reggiana with dried fruits, honey and raisins.

Spinach Tortelli

Ingredients

For the pasta

700g/1½lb ’00’ flour, plus extra for dusting
3 medium eggs
Semolina, for dusting

For the filling

200g/7oz spinach, cooked in salted water and chopped
200g/7oz ricotta
30g/1oz grated Parmesan
Large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

Small handful of pine nuts
Handful of sage leaves
50g/2oz butter
Parmesan, grated or in shavings

Directions

For the pasta:

Pour the flour into a mound onto a flat surface and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs into the well and gradually mix with either a blunt knife or your hands.

When the dough becomes a thick past,e use your hands to incorporate more of the flour. Be careful not to make the dough too dry.

Knead until well blended and the dough is soft and flexible.

Let the pasta rest for about 20 minutes with a bowl inverted over it or leave it covered in plastic wrap.

For the filling:

In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, parmesan and nutmeg and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To make the tortelli:

Divide the fresh pasta into four pieces and keep three portions under a bowl while you roll and stuff one-quarter.

Roll out the pasta into a long, wide strip either by hand or using a machine. When you can see your hand through it, it is ready for stuffing. Cut the strip in half.

Place teaspoons of the filling in a line down the center of one of the strips about 5 cm/2 in apart. Place the other strip directly on top.

Press the air out from around the filling by pushing down the pasta around them and sealing them in.

Take a small glass or round cutter with a decorative edge measuring about 7 cm/3 in across and cut out circles of pasta around each mound of filling.

They can be cooked immediately in boiling water or stored in fine semolina for up to two hours. You can also freeze them at this stage and then cook them frozen.

To cook the tortelli:

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and gently lower in the tortelli. Cook for about four minutes or until the pasta is soft but not floppy.

For the sauce:

Toast the pine nuts in a dry, deep frying pan. Add the sage leaves and butter and melt the butter taking care not to burn it.

Add about a tablespoon of the pasta cooking water and stir together to emulsify the sauce. Add twist of black pepper. Remove from the heat.

When the pasta is done, drain it gently and toss with the sauce in the deep frying pan.

Let the pasta rest in the sauce for a few minutes. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Roast Pork with Balsamic Vinegar

By Kathy Bechtel (http://www.chefbikeski.com/)

Ingredients

4 bay leaves
1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 5-lb bone-in pork roast

Directions

Combine the first six ingredients in a small bowl.

Place the roast in a sealable plastic bag – it should just fit into a gallon bag. If not, place in a roasting pan. Pour in the marinade and seal the bag.

Turn the bag over a couple of times to move the marinade around and cover the meat on all sides. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the pork from the bag and place in a roasting pan. Put into the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375F°.

Roast until the internal temperature of the meat is 130F°, about 90 minutes in total. Check at 60 minutes, just to see what the temperature is.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Torta di Riso

Ingredients

4 cups whole milk
3 large pieces of lemon rind (only the yellow of the rind)
Cinnamon stick
Quarter of a vanilla pod or 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Arborio Rice
1 tablespoon Sassolino Liquor or rum
Zest from a whole lemon
4 eggs
4 teaspoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons bread crumb
1.5 tablespoon brown sugar
Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

In a medium sized pot, add the milk, lemon rind, cinnamon stick, quarter of a vanilla pod, and a half cup of sugar.

Bring ingredients to a boil over medium heat, occasionally stirring so that the sugar dissolves in the milk.

When the milk begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer, remove any skin from the surface of the milk, and mix in the rice.

Cook over low heat (approx. 30 minutes), stirring occasionally. Once the rice soaks up the milk and becomes congealed and sticky, take the mixture off of the heat.

Allow the rice mixture to cool and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Remove the lemon rinds, cinnamon stick, and vanilla pod from the rice pudding and add the remaining half cup of sugar and the Sassolino liquor. Combine thoroughly.

Zest a whole lemon into the rice pudding. Be careful to only zest the yellow of the rind and none of the white pith.

Using a fork, whisk 1 egg in a separate bowl and slowly mix it into the rice pudding.

Repeat this step with the remaining eggs. Do not try to add all 4 eggs at the same time or the cake won’t hold together.

Butter the interior of an 9 inch springform pan.

Sprinkle on a thin layer of 2 teaspoons brown sugar and bread crumbs on the pan as evenly as possible.

Pour the cooked rice mixture into the pan and sprinkle on a thin layer of 2 teaspoons of brown sugar on top.

Bake until the torta is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Allow the torta to cool for 20 minutes.

Using a butter knife, cut along the edges of the pan. Remove the pan ring. Turn the torta over onto a serving plate and remove the pan bottom.

Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Torta di Riso is better made one day ahead.

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For the past two weeks I have seen more articles on how to prepare corned beef and cabbage than I could ever want to see. Well it is a tradition. Don’t worry I am not going to tell you how to cook corned beef, no – I am going to skip right to dessert. How about making some Shamrock cookies? Don’t forget to have some tasty rye bread on hand for leftover corned beef sandwiches. I have a great recipe for you.

Sugar Cookie Dough

Makes about 2 dozen

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for rolling out the cookie dough
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 inch shamrock cookie cutter
Glaze for the cookies, recipe below

Directions

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until smooth.

Add the egg and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated (the dough will be stiff).

Shape into a disk and refrigerate, wrapped in plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Heat the oven to 350° F.

Divide the chilled dough into four pieces. Work with one piece of dough at a time and keep the rest covered in the plastic wrap.

On a floured surface, roll out one piece of dough to a ¼ inch thick. Using a 4 inch shamrock cookie cutter, cut out the shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.

Roll up the scrapes and place in the plastic wrap.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and re-rolling the scraps until all the dough is used.

Bake until just beginning to brown, about 12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets on the oven racks after 6 minutes.

Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes before removing them from the pan.

I usually just slide the parchment paper with the cookies on it onto the kitchen counter and let them cool.

When thoroughly cool, frost the cookies.

Glaze

I use the corn syrup in this recipe, so that  the glaze will set and not stay sticky.

Ingredients

1 cup powdered/confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1-2 tablespoons water
6 drops green food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Whisk together the sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and 1 tablespoon water.

Stir in the food coloring a few drops at a time until you reach the color desired. Add additional water, if you want the glaze a little thinner.

Yield: 1/2 cup of glaze.

Homemade Sourdough Sandwich Rye Bread

Makes 1 large, 2-pound loaf

Ingredients

1 cup sourdough starter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 3/4 cups rye flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons regular salt
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water

Directions

Combine all of the ingredients in the large bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment until the dough comes together in a ball around the paddle.

Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough until smooth, soft and somewhat sticky. Remove the dough from the bowl and grease the bowl with oil.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover the bowl. Let it rise until puffy, 60 to 90 minutes.

Lightly grease a large bread pan (or other 2-pound capacity loaf pan). A 10″ x 5″ loaf pan; or a long covered baker or 13″ pain de mie pan, without the covers, all work well here.

Gently deflate the dough and shape it into a log the length of your chosen pan. Place it in the prepared pan, and let the dough rise until it’s just about doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes.

The dough should crown about 1/2″ over the top of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the bread for 40 to 45 minutes, loosely cover with aluminum foil after about 20 minutes to prevent it from getting too dark.

The bread should be golden brown when finished, and its internal temperature should register at least 200°F on a digital instant-read thermometer.

Remove the bread from the oven, turn it out of the pan, and allow it to cool completely before slicing.


seasonalmarch

Looking forward to spring!

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In my area asparagus, Florida plum tomatoes, celery, artichokes, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, arugula, spinach, beets, strawberries, raspberries and herbs are all in season. So, while I was shopping this week, I decided to take advantage of the good prices for the asparagus, artichokes and strawberries. I would have bought beets and carrots also but my friend has a great garden and he shared some of his bounty with me.

Stuffed Artichokes

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This makes a wonderful appetizer that can be prepared in advance.

2 servings

Ingredients

1 lemon, halved
2 large globe artichokes (about 12 ounces each before trimming)
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 small shallot, minced
2 teaspoons chopped capers
1 tablespoon diced pickled pepper rings
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Directions

To prepare the stuffing:

In a large bowl combine the breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, Parmesan, chopped parsley, rosemary, garlic, peppers, capers, red pepper flakes, ¼ teaspoon salt and the pepper.

Toss and set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill a large bowl with water and squeeze juice from the lemon halves into the water. Cut off the artichoke stems and make sure the artichokes are level so they do not tip over in the baking dish..

Use a heavy, sharp stainless knife to cut the top 1 inch off each artichoke. Pull out the pale inner leaves from center. At the bottom, where the leaves were, is a furry bed called the choke.

Use a spoon (a grapefruit spoon works well) to scoop out the choke.

Next, using kitchen shears or a pair of scissors, trim the pointed ends from outer leaves of each artichoke. Wash the artichokes well with running water. Let the water run into each leaf.

I once had an embarrassing moment when I served this dish and a guest had a fly in one of the leaves.

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Rub a lemon half over all the cut parts of the artichoke. Holding the artichokes over the bowl of stuffing, stuff the choke cavity and in between the leaves with the breadcrumb mixture.

Stand stuffed artichokes upright in a baking pan or casserole dish just large enough to fit the artichokes.and generously drizzle olive oil over the center of each artichoke.

Fill the baking dish with water until it reaches 1/4 way up the artichokes. Squeeze the lemon juice from the halves and add it to the water. Cover the pan with foil and poke several holes in the foil.

Bake artichokes for about 11/2 hours, or until tender and a knife slides easily into an artichoke and a leaf pulls out easily.

Remove from the baking dish and set on individual serving dishes.

Bucatini with Spring Vegetables

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2 servings

Ingredients

6 ounces dried bucatini pasta (thick spaghetti)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Lemon wedges (optional)

Directions

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Trim the woody ends from the asparagus. Weigh the asparagus and set aside 8 oz. Reserve the rest of the asparagus for another recipe. Cut the 8 oz of asparagus into two-inch lengths.

In a large pot cook pasta according al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water and drain. Return pasta to the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Toss until well combined; set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat and swirl in the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Add asparagus and garlic and saute for 2 minutes or until bright green. Add cherry tomatoes,olives, basil, salt and pepper and saute for 2 minutes.

Remove pan from the heat and add the cooked pasta; toss to combine. Add enough reserved pasta water to create a sauce. To serve, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Pass with lemon wedges, if desired.

Springtime Pizza

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Serves 4

Ingredients

1 lb pizza dough
24 very thin asparagus
8 oz sliced mozzarella cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 plum tomatoes, sliced thin
1 medium shallot, minced
¼ cup. pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, minced.
Salt & black pepper to taste

Directions

Snap off the bottom ends of the asparagus.

Mix the ricotta with the basil leaves and a little salt.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly oil a pizza pan.

Stretch the dough to cover the pan and brush with oil, making sure to coat edges well. Place the mozzarella slices evenly over the dough.

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Scatter spoonfuls of ricotta over the dough and sprinkle with the shallots. Place the tomato slices over the cheese and arrange the asparagus in a spoke pattern over the tomato layer.

Sprinkle with the olives and black pepper.

Bake the pizza until browned, about 20 minutes.

Beet Salad With Blue Cheese

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Serves: 4

Ingredients

4 medium beets
1/2 cup raspberry vinegar, divided
1/4 cup honey, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
Zest of 1 orange, minced
Half a cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced thin
2 thin carrots, shaved
6 cups baby greens
1/2 crumbled bleu cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Remove the tops and tails from the beets.

Place the beets in an ovenproof casserole dish with 1/4 cup of the raspberry vinegar, 1 tablespoon of the honey and 1 tablespoon of oil. Add water until the liquid covers the beets halfway.

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Cover the dish and bake for about an hour (longer if beets are larger). The beets should be tender throughout when pierced with a knife.

For the dressing:

Whisk the shallots, remaining raspberry vinegar and honey and salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Slowly drizzle the olive oil in while whisking. Stir in the orange zest.

While the beets are still warm, peel and cut them into eighths.

Cover a serving platter with the greens. Arrange the beets, carrots and cucumber slices on a platter and scatter the bleu cheese on top. Drizzle the dressing over the salad.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Ingredients

2 refrigerated pie crust sheets for a double 9 inch pan, at room temperature

In large bowl combine:

2 1/2 cups hulled, sliced strawberries
2 1/2 cups of rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup tapioca flour, all-purpose flour or other pie thickener
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F

Mix the sugar with the pie thickener in a large mixing bowl. Add the fruit, lemon juice and salt. Stir well to combine the sugar and fruit.

Fit one pastry sheet into the pie pan and place pan on a baking sheet.

Pour the filling into the pie shell.

Place the second pastry sheet on a cutting board. With a pastry cutter the sheet into 12 even lengths.

Place 6 strips on top of the pie filling and weave the second 6 over and under the strips on the pie to create a basket weave look.

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Spray the strips with cooking spray and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until golden and the pie juice begins to bubble through the slits.

Let cool on the baking sheet (to catch drips).


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Where I grew up in the US, one could get authentic, great tasting Chinese food. Where I live now – not so much. So I have taken to making my own. Most of the time I can recreate the flavors I remember and make some delicious tasting Chinese food – like the dishes below. Yes, I know, it is not Italian but every once in a while change is good.

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Corn & Chicken Egg Drop Soup

Ingredients

4 cups chicken stock
One 5 oz boneless chicken breast
2 cups corn
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
2 eggs, whisked
Salt and white pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons chives, chopped
Sesame oil

Directions

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the chicken breast and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the chicken for about 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a plate to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into small pieces or shred it.

To the broth in the saucepan add the corn, soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, ginger, garlic and cornstarch mixture.

Bring to boil, then turn down the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.

Adjust the seasoning with salt, turn off the heat and slowly whisk in the eggs so it cooks in “ribbons” throughout the soup. This also helps to thicken the soup.

Add the chicken and chives and season with white pepper. Heat until hot throughout but do not boil. Drizzle with a little sesame oil before serving.

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Beef & Broccoli

Ingredients

½ pound beef tenderloin, sliced very thin
Salt and pepper to taste
10 -12 oz fresh broccoli florets
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cups fresh Chinese noodles
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Sauce

1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon chili paste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
1 ½ teaspoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions

Sprinkle the sliced beef with salt and pepper and set aside while you make the sauce.

Place the noodles in a medium bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover the noodles. Let sit while you prepare the stir fry.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk all the sauce ingredients together. Set aside.

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Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the garlic and ginger, stir and then add the beef slices. Stir fry for about a minute and then remove the beef from the pan and place on a plate.

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Add the broccoli florets to the skillet and stir fry for about three minutes. Pour in the sauce, mix into the broccoli and stir fry for another minute.

Drain the noodles and add them to the skillet. Add the browned beef and stir fry for about two minutes. Serve immediately.

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Chinese Almond Cookies

Makes 32, if you measure with a cookie scoop.

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups almond flour, lightly packed
1 cup of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
Pinch of kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Thinly sliced almond

Directions

Place the almond flour, salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for three minutes.

Add one of the eggs, reserving the other for later, and the almond extract. Mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Sift together the flour, sugar and baking soda then add to the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just combined.

Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill.

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the second egg into a small bowl and beat it.

Divide the batter into 1 inch balls. This is very easy to do with a cookie scoop. Place cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls of dough with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour.

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Brush the top of the cookies with the beaten egg and sprinkle almond slices on top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes or until the cookies begin to turn golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and allow to cook completely before storing in an airtight container.


img_0015No reservations needed for this dinner! Sometimes it is just nice to have a special dinner with your partner in your own home. I try to have this special kind of evening every once in a while. Come up with a menu that is elegant but easy to make and the evening will be memorable. The salad and main dish recipes below are easy and come together quickly. The dessert takes a bit longer but eclairs and cream puffs are not difficult to make. You can certainly make anything you like for dessert, as long as it is special to you. Keep romance alive.

Blue Cheese and Dried Cranberry Tossed Salad

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Ingredients

1 hearts of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 of a cucumber, sliced
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Dressing

3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

For the dressing: Whisk vinegar and honey in a small bowl until blended. Whisking continuously, slowly add oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Layer the romaine lettuce with the cucumber, onion, almonds, cranberries and bleu cheese on two individual salad plates. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette just before serving.

Filet Mignon with Leek Sauce

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Serves 2

Ingredients

2 Filet Mignon steaks, about 7 oz each and 2 inches thick
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, finely chopped white and light green sections of the leek
1/4 cup red wine (such as Cabernet)
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat the grill or broiler. Lightly oil the grill rack or broiler pan. Rub the steaks with the salt, then press the pepper into both sides of the steaks.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the leeks for 6 minutes, or until very soft. Add the wine, capers and tarragon.

Simmer for 3 minutes, or until well blended and heated through. Keep warm.

Grill or broil the steaks about 5-6 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 135°F for medium-rare. Place the steaks on individual serving plates.

Top with the leek sauce and sprinkle with parsley.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/4 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place in a large bowl.

Mash the potatoes, adding the buttermilk until moist. Add the chives, cover and keep warm.

Chocolate Filled Eclairs

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Makes 12 medium-sized eclairs

Pastry

3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

Directions

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F; line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use an eclair pan.

Put the butter in a saucepan with the salt and water; bring it to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the butter is melted.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour; continue to cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds.

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Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the eggs to the slightly cooled flour mixture one at a time, beating well with the wooden spoon after each addition — the batter will come apart after each egg is added but will reunite as you stir.

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Mound dough about 1 inch high and 1 to 2 inches in diameter on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each one. If using an eclair pan simply fill the indentations.

Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Remove the puffs from the oven and pierce the bottom of each puff once with a skewer, to keep them from getting soggy.

Return to the oven; prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and let the puffs crisp up for about 5 minutes. Cool on a rack.

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Chocolate Filling

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

Place cream, vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover and chill the bowl and the beaters for at least 30 minutes.

When chilled, beat until stiff peaks form.

Glaze

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup. Stir until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth; then add the vanilla.

To assemble the éclairs:

Cut the eclairs in half lengthwise. Pipe or spoon the filling into the pastries, then dip the tops of each one into the glaze.

For best results, serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within several hours.

Note: Puffs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days; freeze unfilled eclairs for longer storage. If the eclairs soften in storage, they can be crisped up in the oven before filling and serving. To re-crisp; bake uncovered in a 300°F for about 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before filling.


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How many folks still hold with tradition and have “Sunday Dinner”? Growing up in my house, a big dinner with family members occurred every week. Family time and lots of good food are Italian American traditions. Once I was married and had children, we didn’t always live near family members. I think this is a common factor today. As a small family we always had dinner together, weeknights and weekends, but they were not the typical big feasts of old. Sunday meals were not much different from weeknight meals, usually. I thought this week I would make a traditional Sunday dinner featuring seasonal ingredients and a roast – a pork roast. The only thing missing from this dinner is the first course pasta dish that we always had in the old days.

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Herb-Crusted Pork Roast

Ingredients

One 3 pound top loin, bone-in pork roast, fat trimmed
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tablespoon coarse or kosher salt
¼ cup minced herbs (I used sage, rosemary, tarragon, oregano and basil)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pat the pork loin dry with paper towels. Place the roast on a platter or in a baking dish. Rub the roast with the olive oil and press the herbs and salt onto all the sides of the roast.

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Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 24 hours). Bring to room temperature for 1 hour before roasting.

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Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the roast on a rack that has been placed inside a roasting pan and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the roast over and baste with 1/4 cup of the wine.

Return the roast to the oven and reduce the temperature to 325°F. Cook for 60-75 minutes longer, turning the roast and basting it with wine every 20 minutes; reserve 1/4 cup of wine for the sauce.

Check the roast after it has been cooking for 60 minutes. Place a meat thermometer in the roast to determine if it has reached 150 -155 degrees F.

If not, continue cooking until the temperature is reached.

Transfer the roast to a platter and pour the pan juices into a measuring cup.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat on the stove-top; when it starts to sizzle, add the reserved 1/4 cup wine and cook for 2 minutes, scraping up the drippings from the bottom of the pan.

Add to the pan juices in the measuring cup; let the fat rise to the surface, about 5 minutes. Skim off the fat and season the sauce with black pepper.

Carve the roast into thin slices and arrange the meat on a platter. Serve the pan juices on the side.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Puree

I prefer to cook the squash whole. Uncooked butternut squash is a difficult to cut through, however, after baking, it is very easy.

This recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash a 2 to 2 1/2 pound butternut squash and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 90 minutes or until soft all over, turning the squash halfway through the baking time.

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Cool slightly and cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. With a spoon, scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash the squash.

Stir in 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, salt and black pepper to taste.

You can make this early in the day or the day before. Reheat before serving.

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Sautéed Peas

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 celery stalk including the leaves at the top, finely chopped
10 ounce package of frozen peas (or 2 cups fresh peas)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat; add the onions and cook until tender. Add celery and peas.

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Cook until peas are heated through (about 6 minutes). Stir in salt and pepper and serve.

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Apple Rosemary Tart

Ingredients

One 9 inch refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds baking apples, such as Granny Smith or Golden Delicious
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (do not substitute dried) or 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour with 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar; reserve.

Peel and core the apples. Slice them into ¼ inch-thick slices. (You should have about 3 cups.)

Place the apples in a bowl and toss them with the lemon juice, the remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar and the rosemary or cinnamon.

Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle the reserved flour/sugar mixture evenly over it, leaving a 2-inch border uncovered.

Arrange the apples evenly over the flour mixture. Fold the edges of the dough over the apples. Moisten your fingers lightly with water and gently press the creases so that they hold together.

Dot the apples with the butter.

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Bake the tart for about 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, the apples are tender and the juices syrupy.

Cover the tart with foil halfway through the cooking time, if the crust is browning too rapidly. Let cool for 10 minutes, then slide the tart onto a serving platter.

Just before serving, sift the confectioners’ sugar evenly over the crust.


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The Province of L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of southern Italy.  The outstanding feature of the Abruzzo region, one that distinguishes it from Tuscany, is its three national parks and 30 nature reserves. It is why the area is known as the “green heart of Italy”. However, the province has been badly affected over the years by earthquakes, particularly the capital city of L’Aquila and its surrounding areas.

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The province is also known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with growth in the areas of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and the computer industry.

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Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy and begun to reverse its decline.

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The province of L’Aquila is dotted with ruins of ancient pagan temples and Roman settlements. A well-known city landmark (below) is the Fontana Luminosa (“Luminous Fountain”), a sculpture of two women bearing large jars, that was built in the 1930s.

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L’Aquila is a good base for skiing in the Apennines. The two most popular resorts are Campo Felice and Campo Imperator. Both resorts offer routes for downhill skiing, as well as for cross country. Ski season usually lasts from December to April.

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The Province of L’Aquila often organizes open-air celebrations and folk festivals that recall the old traditions and offer the chance to taste traditional local products. Abruzzi’s cuisine is rich in local specialties, such as red garlic, sugar-coated almonds, goat cheese, lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, mortadella from Campotosto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines.

Abruzzo Food Map

Abruzzo Food Map

The famous “Maccheroni all chitarra” is amongst the best known in the Abruzzi cuisine. The pasta dough, made of eggs and durum wheat, is cut into strips using a “chitarra” (translated literally as “guitar”). This equipment is made up of a wooden frame, strung with parallel steel strands, and by pushing the sheets of pasta dough through with a rolling-pin, the characteristic shape of chitarra is obtained. Chitarra is served with various Abruzzo sauces that include: pork, goose or lamb ragout.

Abruzzo side dishes include, “sagne e faggioli”, bean soup with traditional thin pasta noodles made from flour and water, flavored with a thin sauce made from fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and spicy peppers. Other well-known Abruzzo dishes, include “gnocchi carrati”, flavored with bacon, egg and ewes-milk cheese. “Scripelli” crepes are served in a soup or used to form a soufflé dish and are served with a little ragout or stuffed with chicken liver, meat balls, hard-boiled eggs or a fresh ewe’s-milk cheese.

Chitarra Pasta Maker

Chitarra Pasta Maker

Ravioli can also be stuffed with sugar and cinnamon and served with a thick pork ragout. The “Pastuccia” is a stew of polenta that is served with sausage, egg and grated ewe’s-milk cheese and “pappicci” are thin pasta noodles in a tomato sauce.

Roast lamb has several variations, such as “arrosticini”, thin wooden skewers with pieces of lamb, cooked over an open fire and often served with bruschetta – which is roasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil. Pecora al cotturo is lamb stuffed with herbs and cooked in a copper pot and “agnello cacio e oro” is a rustic fricassee.

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Pizzas, from the Easter Pizza, above, (a cake with cheese and pepper) to “fiadoni” that is often enriched by a casing of pastry and filled with everything imaginable: eggs, fresh cheeses, ricotta and vegetables with all the flavorings and spices that the mind can only imagine.

The spreadable sausage from Teramano flavored with nutmeg, liver sausage from the mountains, ewe’s-milk cheeses and mozzarella cheese are all local favorites.

Traditional homemade desserts include “Ferrarelle”, aniseed wafers, “cicerchiata”, balls of fried dough joined into ring shapes with heated honey, “croccante” a type of nougat made with almonds and caramelized sugar, flavored with lemon, “mostaccioli” biscuits sweetened with cooked must; “pepatelli” biscuits of ground almonds and honey; macarons and the airy “Sise delle monache”, triangular pieces of sponge cake filled with confectioners cream; almonds and chocolate.

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Prosciutto and Fichi

The prosciutto from near L’Aquila is a bit saltier and less sweet than the prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele.

Ingredients

Slices of prosciutto crudo
Fresh, ripe figs
Large basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar

Directions

Slice the figs in half (if they are the smaller ones or in quarters if they are the larger variety). Wrap the ham and basil around the figs. Arrange on a serving platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar..

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Swiss Chard with Borlotti Beans (Verdure con Fagioli)

6-8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups dried borlotti or cranberry beans, soaked overnight and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
7 lbs Swiss chard, trimmed, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon. crushed red chili flakes
12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
3 carrots, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
2 cups chicken stock

Directions

Boil beans and 6 cups water in a 6-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Drain beans; set aside.

Fill a saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the chard and cook until wilted and the stems are tender, 4–6 minutes; drain and squeeze dry.

Add 1⁄4 cup oil and the chili flakes to the same saucepan and heat over medium. Cook garlic, celery, carrots and onion until golden, 8–10 minutes.

Add the reserved beans and chard, the stock, salt and pepper and simmer until the stock is slightly reduced, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining oil.

 

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Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)

Ingredients

3 tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds chopped canned tomatoes, with their juices (about 7 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped

Directions

Warm the cooking oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Season the pieces of meat with a little salt and pepper and add them to the pot.

Brown for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pieces over to brown the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pieces to a deep plate or bowl.

Press the tomatoes through a food mill. Discard the solids. Set the tomatoes aside.

Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir in the onion and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is shiny and beginning to soften.

Pour in the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.

Return the meat to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer.

Cover partially and let the sauce cook, stirring it from time to time, for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened.

Add a splash or two of water, if the sauce thickens too much before the meat is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Turn off the heat. Remove the meat from the pot, shred it and return it to the sauce.

Note: The ragu may be stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

This sauce is traditionally served over pappardelle or chitarra pasta.

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Dolci: Pizzelle

Italian waffle cookies, or pizzelle (which literally means small pizzas), are quite popular in the Abruzzo region of Italy. You can add cocoa with the sugar and make a chocolate version, or spread some hazelnut cream on one and top with another.

Makes about 36 pizzelle

Ingredients

1¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons anise (or other extract)

Directions

Preheat the pizzelle maker. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the butter and sugar and mix until smooth. Add the anise and then the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix well.

Lightly spray the pizzelle maker with vegetable oil (unless you have a non-stick version).

Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto the hot pizzelle iron and cook, gauging the timing (usually less than a minute) according to the manufacturer’s instructions or until golden.

Serve with your favorite toppings.

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