Category Archives: Recipes

Beyond boundaries: cat's tongue cookies

Lingue di gatto ("cats' tongues") cookies

Lingue di gatto (“cats’ tongues”) cookies

I dedicate this post to Her Majesty and not because she is my daughter but because she is that person in my life who pushes me to step out of my comfort zone and experience situations that otherwise I would never put myself in.

Hope you are ready for another chapter of my “awkward motherhood saga”! 😉 Oh well! Here we go.

Last year a mother from Her Majesty’s school approached me at dismissal. She is Japanese – Her Majesty and her daughters are very good friends and we ended up becoming friends too. She explained that she was putting together a group of mothers coming from different countries in order to be able to offer an international language program as an after-school activity. I knew immediately I was about to enter dangerous territory and then – of course – it hit me … inevitably and very hard: she asked me if I would be willing to join them and teach a class about Italian culture and language. Bam! Needless to say, the Evil Queen immediately showed her true self. I simply and firmly said … thank you, but no thank you!  Just the thought of me in a classroom teaching a bunch of kids from first grade to fifth grade made me hyperventilate. I knew it was for a good cause but I could clearly feel my temple veins start bulging and pulsing like crazy and my natural instincts telling me to get out of that situation and … get out fast. And so I did! Another mother would have gotten offended by my abrupt refusal but not my friend. I think it is because of the culture she was raised in. Haven’t you noticed that Japanese people are among the most gracious and kind human beings on earth? She sure is. She told me not to worry but gently invited me to think it over. She was going to ask me again the following year hoping I would change my mind. End of the story … or so I thought.

The new year started and there we were again at dismissal. Only this time I wasn’t by myself. Her Majesty was by my side talking with my friend’s daughters. When the fearful question was asked again, my brain was just in the process of looking for the right words of refusal but those few seconds of hesitation kind of stole my moment. The only thing that I could hear was Her Majesty’s voice saying that, yes, of course we were going to do it, that she would be my helper and we were so excited to be part in this program. Yay!!! My wonderfully social daughter! More mature than her mother in so many instances, always entusiastic of socializing and spending time with others!!! What was I supposed to say? There are moments in life when even the Evil Queen must recognize that she has been defeated and that was one of those moments!

Lingue di gatto ("cats' tongues") cookies

Lingue di gatto (“cats’ tongues”) cookies

I thought about how to teach that class for quite a while. I knew I wanted to cover all the Italian basics (history, art, food and language) but the most difficult thing for me was to come up with a plan to catch and keep the attention span of younger kids for
the whole duration of the class. As always, the solution came to me in my favorite place: lying in bed with a book in my hands. Kids love fairy tales and stories. I just had to connect any subject I wanted to talk about to a legend or an anecdote and only God knows if Italian
history and culture aren’t full of them. My next step was the public library. In my “office career” days, research and due diligence were an essential part of my job. Still today, whatever I’m doing, my first thing is research. It’s just my modus operandi and I wish I could do the same when it comes to human beings! 😉 Anyway, I made an outline of my talking points, I created handouts for the kids, I let Her Majesty pick the subjects she wanted to cover and prepped her and I asked Stefano to buy a few memorabilia during his latest trip to Italy to be given to the children at the end of class. I also considered some slides but – on second thought – I realized I would have gone a bit overboard.

Eventually, my teaching day came. I’m not new to meetings and presentations. Back in the old days, I used to spend countless hours in conference rooms talking with people that would have done pretty much anything just to close a deal. So what was all the fuss about? I don’t know but I sure was a nervous wreck. Thank goodness, Her Majesty was by my side giving me the talk and telling me that everything was going to be fine. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

How did it go? Oh well, only time will tell! All I know is that Her Majesty did a great job, I survived and, most importantly, the children got out of that classroom unharmed and – hopefully – with a few notions about another culture! Sounds pretty good to me for a
first time, total amateur teacher! 😉

As a way to thank my daughter, I made one of her favorite treats: cat’s tongue cookies. These little tongues are pretty popular in Europe and Italians serve them either as cookies accompanying an afternoon tea or as a final touch for fruit salads, creamy desserts and
ice creams. Made with very few basic ingredients (powdered sugar, butter, flour and egg whites), they are super easy to make and you can unleash your creativity in terms of flavor combinations and/or dip them in chocolate ganache for a very decadent effect! The best thing about these babies? There is no magical recipe. You are just required to own a scale and follow a very simple rule: the weight of the egg whites must exactly match the weight of each of the other ingredients. In this case, I used 3 eggs whose whites weighed 98 grams.

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

Lingue di gatto ("cats' tongues") cookies

Lingue di gatto (“cats’ tongues”) cookies

Ingredients:

98 grams, powdered sugar
98 grams, softened butter (at room temperature)
98 grams, flour
98 grams, egg whites
half vanilla bean (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven at 325 F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the sugar and the butter and mix until they are perfectly blended. Split the vanilla bean down its length using a knife. With the help of the same knife, scrape out the seed on both halves and add the scraped seeds to the butter mixture. Add the flour and beat until the flour is completely blended. Add the egg white and mix until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Stop and scrape the bowl.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Prepare a pastry bag with a medium start tip and fill it with the mixture. Create cookies long about 6/7 cm (they must be as thick as a pinkie). Make sure to leave some space between each cookie (they will grow). Cook for about 10 minutes or until the edges get lightly brown. Remove from the oven, let them cool completely on a wire rack and dust them with some powdered sugar before serving them.

I wish all of you who celebrate it a very Happy Easter!

Francesca xo

PS: I think everybody should have a person in their life that encourages them to be a little more adventurous and try out something different, maybe something they are a bit afraid of because it is new to them and out of their comfort zone. As a very wise woman once
said: if you do something, something good can happen or something bad can happen but if you don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen! 🙂

Because the scale never lies: Farro and Legumes Soup

Farro and legume soup

Farro and legume soup

4 Servings

Hello everyone!

The Holiday season is behind us but our Christmas tree is still up and some of Santa’s presents (unwrapped) are still laying under the tree – mostly because they are so ugly I’m not quite sure what to do with them! 😜

Anyway, this year Santa decided to surprise me with something totally unexpected. Something you cannot really unwrap but you can see, feel and touch, something that makes your clothes feel tighter and tighter as the day goes by.

A magical gift? Not really! I’m rather talking about 5 pounds of sneaky and vicious fat spread out all over my body!

With my parents over for Christmas, I wholeheartedly embraced the holiday spirit by practically eating non-stop and using any excuse that came to mind to ask Stefano to pop a bottle of bubbly. Considering that my body is not exactly in its twenties and my metabolism gets slower as we speak, it was only a question of time before I was called before my judgmental scale to answer for my culinary and drinking sins!

Facing the scale… what a painful experience! Are you familiar with the feeling? I wake up in the morning and lay in bed for a few minutes staring at the ceiling, without moving a muscle, realizing that I’ll have to face reality sooner or later. I know that I just have to find
the courage to step up on that unfriendly machine that I keep hidden in my closet hoping that that malefic hand – never sympathetic, let alone merciful – won’t confirm what my puffier face and my tight clothes have been whispering to me for days now.

Farro and legume soup

Farro and legume soup

Finally, after a couple of days of me being “food cautious”, that decisive day arrives: I step onto that thing with my eyes closed, I take a big breath, I open my eyes and my face involuntarily assumes a horrific expression! It’s even worse than I thought. My emotional
reaction? A bit of depression mixed up with a delusional determination that I’m going to lose those unwanted guests in a couple of weeks. After all, it took me only a month to gain my extra pounds. It’s going to take me much shorter to shed them! I wish, but deep inside I fear I’m totally delusional about that!

And then the “cutting out campaign” begins. It’s time to decide which kind of food is bound to remain on the shelf. I open my imaginary pantry and I start looking. First, the sweets department. No, nothing to cut out there. I don’t have a sweet tooth and I very rarely eat sweets. Relief. I then move my eyes towards the fruit and vegetable department: thank goodness, I don’t have anything to cut out there either. Even more relief. I know this is going to be my best bet and pretty much the only department I will allow myself to access for weeks to come! So I linger in there, pampering myself, with the only aim of procrastinating a painful decision. There won’t be any more relief coming my way. I can see my next department – the carbohydrate department – with the corner of my eye and all my favorite food calling my name for the last time. It is time for me to kiss bread, pizza and pasta goodbye – at least for a while. My heart is bleeding and my tastebuds are getting depressed already. 🙁

To make a long story short, I’m in the middle of soup season. Not those light, watery soups that you usually have as an appetizer and that – after an hour – you feel like they have never been in your tummy. I’m rather talking about those rich, thick and satisfying soups that make you feel full from the end of your dinner until the time you go to bed. I think the soup in this post fits the bill beautifully.

I love legumes for their well-known nutrition benefits and they are perfect for dinner on a freezing winter night. I made this soup for the first time about a year ago (actually the photos that you see here date back to that night 🙂 ) and I found myself making it again during that big snowstorm that hit the East Coast last weekend.

Will this soup do the magic helping me losing weight? Only time will tell! In the meantime, here is the recipe!

Farro and legume soup

Farro and legume soup

Ingredients:

1 Cup, chickpeas
1 Cup, white beans
1 Cup, lentils
1/2 Cup, farro
1 Tbsp, baking soda
1/4 Cup, chopped onions
1/4 Cup chopped celery
1/4 Cup chopped carrots
3 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
7/8 Cups, vegetable stock
Some leaves of sage
2 rosemary sprigs
Ground black pepper
Salt

Directions:

Farro and legume soup

Farro and legume soup

Put the white beans, the chickpeas and the baking soda into a bowl. Soak the beans and the chickpeas overnight in cold water.

The day after, in a non-stick medium/large pot, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil, add the carrots, the celery, the onion and 1/4 Cup of water and sauté on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the water has completely evaporated.

Drain the chickpeas and the beans and add them to the vegetables. Add the lentils, 5 Cups of stock, some salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat.

Cook on a medium/high heat for about 35/40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding some of the remaining stock little by little.

Reduce the heat, add the farro and keep cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding the rest of the stock. Taste the soup to check if it is necessary to add some salt.

Wash the sage leaves and the rosemary sprigs under running water thoroughly and dry them with paper towel. Strip the needles off the rosemary sprigs and chop them roughly.

Place the soup into serving bowls or plates, pour a bit of olive oil on top and garnish the soup with some sage leaves and chopped rosemary needles.

I’ll look at my calendar to pick a date for my next hypothetical “encounter” with the scale. Let’s try to think positive. Maybe this time, my enemy will show me some mercy! 😉

Stay warm!

F. xo

Doing it my way: Strawberry and Pastry Cream Puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

I have a set of rules I try to live by every day. One of them is never to judge others and stay away from judgmental people as much as I try to avoid contagious diseases.

I like to live my life the way I please without having my choices as a person, woman or mother judged by anyone. By the same token, I don’t judge anyone and I think that  anyone should be allowed to do or say whatever they want as long as everything happens in a polite and respectful way. I don’t think there is always one right way or answer when it comes to big themes of life such as marriage or parenthood: what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others and vice versa, but that doesn’t mean that one way is better than the other one.

Today I’m once again sharing my experience and feelings with you about something that happened to me without any further agenda. Today it is just me being me.

As you know, I don’t have a sweet tooth but Her Majesty does. A big one! Since she was in kindergarten, she has been asking me to make cookies and cakes for school parties and home playdates. To be honest with you, I wasn’t that keen to do it, mainly because of the various food allergies that Her Majesty’s schoolmates and friends suffer from. God forbids any kid gets an allergic reaction to something I have made! Just the thought makes me hyperventilate! Anyway, one day I decided to put aside my anxiety and fears and make her happy. 

The cookies and cakes I make come from the most traditional Italian cuisine: they are made from very few basic ingredients and lots of fruit or jam. I’m not against the general concept of kids eating a treat. I just believe that some treats are healthier than others and I try not to let Her Majesty eat super-sugary and super-rich sweets. Less is more doesn’t work only in fashion!

False modesty aside, my food usually gets some pretty enthusiastic reactions and I had no reason to believe that it would be any different this time. To my huge disappointment, most of the kids simply ignored my treats and went for the more colorful, sprinkled, super-sweet and most of the times store-bought cakes and cookies.

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

What did I do as a result? Oh well, another mother – a better mother – would probably have found some sort of common ground by both changing the recipes of her treats to make them more appealing to the toddlers and trying to educate them to a healthier taste at the same time. The point is that I’m not that kind of mother. I’m the kind of mother that, on the night of the school open house, reading the letter that her daughter left for her mommy on her school desk noticed that her nine-year old daughter misspelled one word and wrote her back saying that she made a mistake, while her father watched the whole thing in disbelief, thinking about how many therapy sessions his daughter would need to go through in order to cope with a mother like that and overcome the trauma… 😉

So back to what I did. I quit! I decided I didn’t need the aggravation (and yes, my pride had been hurt!) and I stopped cooking for school parties and playdates altogether. Every time Her Majesty had a playdate, I made sure I had plenty of fruit so I could offer fruit shakes and fruit salads as a snack. And the Evil Queen kept dismissing the never ending requests of Her Majesty for her to change her mind and lived happily ever after! Or at least she thought so!

Recently things have started changing, mainly for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Her Majesty and her girlfriends have been paying more attention to what they eat lately. They are reaching that age when they get more body-conscious because they see their body changing and they start realizing that the lucky time when they can eat whatever they want to without gaining an ounce of weight is unfortunately coming to an end. Mothers play a big role too. Her Majesty’s best friend is the only kid I know that doesn’t eat burgers. Her mother is a very well-educated woman and she had the intelligence to teach her daughter over the years how to eat healthy and how to eat everything (except burgers, that is!) in moderation.

Secondly, some of Her Majesty’s girlfriends have Italian ancestors and are fascinated by Italian lifestyle and customs. When they come over, they ask me if this or that is authentic Italian food and they are eager to taste the real thing.

Soooo, making a long story short, I’m still not volunteering for any school event, but I’m willing to make treats for playdates when Her Majesty begs me to!

For our last playdate, the begging had been going on and on for over two weeks and, taken by exhaustion, I yielded!

Her Majesty adores pastry cream, so I decided to make these very simple and yet delicious puffs: puff pastry, vanilla pastry cream, fresh strawberries, some powder sugar, a bit of your time and… voila’! Les jeux sont faits! Can’t get any better than this! 😉

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Ingredients:

2 sheets, frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 lb box of strawberries
3 Cups, whole milk
3 Tbsp, sugar
2 yolks
4 Tbsp, flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 vanilla bean
Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

Wash the strawberries under running water and let them dry completely. Slice the strawberries and put them aside.

Lay the sheets of pastry on a floured surface. If there is any crack in the pastry, press together to seal and roll over the sealed part so that you have a smooth sheet.

Cut each pastry sheet into rectangles of the same size. Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet, place the pastry rectangles on the parchment paper and bake them according to the directions on the puff pastry box. When ready, remove the pastry rectangles from the oven and let them cool completely.

In the meanwhile, in a small pot, pour the milk and add the lemon zest. Cut the quarter vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the help of a knife, gently scrape the seeds out of the bean and add the seeds to the milk.

Start warming the milk on a very low heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg and the sugar. Add the flour and whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture.

When the milk is hot, remove it from the stove and, with the help of a colander, filter the milk in order to eliminate the lemon zest. Put the milk back on the stove on a very low heat, add the egg mixture to the milk and keep whisking for 10/15 minutes or until you obtain a smooth cream.

Take one pastry rectangle, place some pastry cream on top of it and add the strawberry slices on top of the pastry cream, placing them into two adjacent rows. Take another pastry rectangle and put it on top of the strawberries. Dust with some powdered sugar. Repeat the same process for the rest of the pastry rectangles.

As I said: easy peasy lemon squeezy! 😉

Have a wonderful week!

F. Xx

When the kitchen calls your name: Ricotta and Edamame Flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

4 Servings

Hello there!

Hope you had a great summer. We had a lovely time in Italy and Corsica (France).

This year I decided it was time for Her Majesty (who is 9) to start getting to know my hometown like a true Roman. It does not happen to every child to get to spend part of their summers in Italy and I want her to understand and appreciate how privileged she is. So I decided to prolong our stay in the eternal city a little longer than usual before going to my parents’ beach house in Sardinia.

Rome offered Her Majesty its well known treasures as well as lots and lots of hidden ones – those only known to people who live there. The weather was simply gorgeous and our cultural tours were interrupted by lunches and aperitifs at my favorite restaurants and bars.

During our cultural sessions, we were lucky enough to catch a Chagall exhibition held not just at any place but at the Bramante Cloister: Raffaello’s and Chagall’s artwork coming together under the same roof, in a magical embrace between one of the most brilliant architects of the Renaissance and one of the most influential European painters of the XX century. Can it get more fascinating than that?

We dined out every night with family members and friends and Her Majesty got to know some of my closest friends and spend time with my best friend’s children. She was excited and eager to try and see anything new and I was very proud of her accentless Italian pronunciation.

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Since she has recently started moving her first steps in the fashion world, I thought it was time to spend a few hours downtown Rome and visit some Italian and French designers’ stores to show her what fashion really means, teach her some basic rules and explain her the basics of how to build a timeless closet. Of course, we couldn’t resist spoiling ourselves by buying a few items, but better not go into too much detail there because I like Stefano to remain in the dark when it comes to my purchases. 😉

Sardinia and Corsica were gorgeous as always. Countless hours on the beach sun-bathing, swimming, eating, relaxing and reading. As amazing as it can sound, this year I even managed to make a few new lovely acquaintances… thanks – of course – to that 9-year old social butterfly of mine. She definitely didn’t take after me! 😉

And the food? Oh well! I’m proud to admit that I haven’t really cooked for the past two months!!! 😉 I have spent my days outdoors, enjoying gorgeous weather, people and places and devoted many hours at night to reading thousands of pages. I think I can start working as an editor! 😉 That doesn’t mean however that I starved myself for two months. Actually, I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy and appreciate the creations of other chefs and cooks who introduced me to new ingredient combinations and new dishes that I will be sharing with you in the upcoming fall and winter months.

This is my first attempt to get back to some kind of kitchen routine. Her Majesty is back in school and Stefano longs for his meals the way they used to be before my rebellious summer. Can you believe the nerve? 😉

A flan that I had in Italy contained fava beans. I thought edamame would be a great variant. I love edamame: they are low in calories and high in proteins, fibers and vitamins, and they pair beautifully both with proteins and carbohydrates.

The real key to this flan is the quality of the ricotta cheese. There is a lot a bad ricotta around. A lot! And I know that by experience. Fresh ricotta is such a delicate and yet distinctively flavorful cheese that must melt in your mouth. You should pick a ricotta that tastes delicious by itself to the point that it delights your tastebuds even without adding any seasoning to it. A poor-quality ricotta will make a mediocre flan and the flavors of the other ingredients are not going to be able to compensate that of a “faulty” ricotta.

This is a very delicate dish which can be served both as an appetizer or as a light lunch, if you do lunch – I simply don’t! Maybe because mid-day is when my brain really starts functioning! 😉 It is very easy to make and it requires very little time. So, what’s not to love?

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Ingredients:

1/2 lb, fresh Ricotta
3 eggs
4 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
1/2 Cup, boiled and peeled Edamame
Salt
Ground black pepper

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a blender or food processor place the ricotta, the Parmigiano cheese, the yolks, some salt and pepper (to taste). Blend until you obtain a smooth mixture. Taste it to check whether you need to add more salt and blend again.

In a bowl, beat the egg whites until they get fluffy. With the help of a spatula, incorporate the beaten egg whites into the ricotta mixture and, then, incorporate the edamame with the help of the same spatula.

Coat the ramekins with butter and fill them with the mixture. Place the ramekins inside a large, shallow pan. Add warm water to the large pan such that the lower half of the height of the ramekins is under water.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let them cool.

Invert onto a serving plate, add a salad of your choice on the side and serve right away.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

F. Xx

When celebrations are in order: an epochal ruling and a tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

The saying goes that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I do not completely agree. I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion as long as it is respectful and mindful of the fact that other people’s opinion may be different and – still – totally worthy to be expressed and listened to. Of course, the following opinion is on a subject that has been controversial for more that half century and it is mine (and Stefano’s) only. Feel free to agree or disagree and express your opinion in the comment section, but please do it respectfully.

This post is dedicated to those five revolutionary and extraordinary judges sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court that last week didn’t simply made same-sex marriage legal, they upheld its constitutionality. Their ruling which is now the law of the land is an epic point of no return and, at the same time, a dream-come-true for millions of people.

From now on no State will be able not to recognize to two people of the same sex their right to get married. It may seem natural and maybe even obvious to heterosexuals, but the Supreme Court’s ruling constitutes the dawn of a new era where homosexuals and heterosexuals have exactly the same right to marriage.

Tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

But that ruling is also the final coronation of a dream that has moved the heart of millions of people for several decades. People who have suffered and fought only to be granted the right to be considered equal to others.

For different reasons, today is considered the birthday of the United States. We think it is so special that the Supreme Court’s decision came out only a week before Independence Day.

A day of celebration of freedom in a country that has shown to be capable of listening to the voice of gay couples that have fought so long and so hard for their basic rights. A day of celebration of freedom in a country whose President has greeted this judicial decision by declaring that “love is love” and “this ruling is a victory for America”. A day of celebration of freedom in a country that has built its traditions and grandiosity on the basic yet fundamental concept that “all men are created equal” with certain unalienable rights such as “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness”.

I know that the Catholic raising of those who write this post should prevent us from feeling joyful for this epochal change, but we believe that respect for any human being and their basic civil rights is more important than any religious belief. We live supporting the simple concept that we are all created equal, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation and that’s the main teaching according to which we are raising Her Majesty.

Today we applaud those five courageous judges and this great country that we are proud to have been calling our home for the last ten years, hoping that other countries (including – shamefully – the one we were born and raised in) will follow suit.

Now, since today is a day of celebration and there cannot be a proper celebration without good food, let’s talk about it.

I served this delicious risotto for the first time three weeks ago to a couple that Stefano and I barely knew, despite their being the parents of Her Majesty’s best friend. I was a little bit nervous because the “She” of this couple is vegetarian and tries to avoid to eat gluten as much as she can, although on that special occasion she was willing to make a “gluten exception” because she thought that my cooking was worth it! 😏

Since I didn’t want her exception to be too big, I decided to make a risotto. 😝
I was lucky enough to put my greedy hands on some super juicy and super good-smelling tomatoes and I knew that I had to make a gorgeous sauce out of them.
The sauce pairs beautifully with the rice and the melted provolone, while parmigiano makes the risotto creamy and even more flavorful.

Tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

Ingredients for the tomato sauce:
20 oz, fresh tomatoes
1/2 Cup, chopped red onion
5/6 leaves, fresh basil
2/3 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
Salt

Ingredients for the risotto:
1/4 cup, chopped white onions
1 Tbsp, butter
7 oz, Arborio rice
1/3 Cup, dry white wine
4 Cups, vegetable stock
2 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
1/2 Cup, shredded Provolone cheese
1 Tsp, dry oregano (optional)
salt

Directions for the tomato sauce:
Wash the tomatoes under running water. Remove the stem ends, cut them in halves and cut each half in 4 quarters.

In a medium non-stick pot, put the tomatoes, the onions, the basil leaves and some salt (to taste) and cook on a low heat for a couple of hours, stirring often, or until you obtain a sort of tomato mixture (the water from the tomatoes must almost completely evaporate).

Run the tomato mixture into a foodmill, place the tomato sauce back on the low heat and simmer for about 10/15 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the olive oil on the sauce.

Directions for the risotto:
In a medium-size non-stick pot, put the butter and the chopped onion and cook until the onion softens.

Add the rice and toss to coat for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the wine in and keep stirring until the wine evaporates completely.

Add two ladles of stock and cook, constantly stirring, until the stock is absorbed. When the stock has been absorbed, add another ladle of stock and keep cooking until absorbed, and then repeat the process adding more stock.

About 10 minutes after the first addition of stock, add the tomato sauce.

Keep cooking, constantly stirring, and add the rest of the stock little by little until the rice is creamy and cooked al dente. This will take about 18/20 minutes from the time the first ladle of stock is added. Taste the rice to check if it is necessary to add some salt.

Remove the pot from the heat, add three quarters of the Provolone cheese and the Parmigiano cheese and stir until the cheese is completely melted and you obtain a creamy risotto.

Put the risotto into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the Provolone cheese and, if you like so, some oregano.

We wish you all a glorious 4th of July weekend! 🙂

Francesca Xx

P.S. “She” didn’t say a word about the risotto during the dinner but I must have done something right that night because a few days later – to celebrate an exciting event that is happening right now in my life – she left a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the bench in front of our house. 🙂

Unexpected acts of kindness do not happen to me very often and I think they should be treasured, rewarded and immortalized somehow. That’s why I asked Stefano to make those flowers last forever. Curious enough – or maybe not – the colors of the flowers are those of the Star Spangled Banner – the American flag! 😍

Red, Blue and White flowers

Red, Blue and White flowers

 

Going against the "season trend": Cremini Mushroom Soup for TDPC

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

The Dinner Party Collective’s Winter Menu is finally out and it looks amazing!

At the beginning of this social roller-coaster, I asked our lovely Chief Editor Margot to be given a chance to play my first food round in the opposite hemisphere. Margot and Sandra graciously allowed me to join them and I “won” the appetizer.

After a few email consultations with my co-conspirators, a mushroom soup got two thumbs up. So I did what I usually do when cooking time comes: I took out my magic wand and… bibbidi bobbidi boo… I had a lovely mushroom soup!

No, not really! 😉 You see, this time my magic wand had to work a little bit harder because… ok, here is the ugly truth: I do not like mushrooms! Oops!

But, don’t you love a challenge? I do! Especially when it calls for ingredients that I don’t like (but let’s no go there because the list is quite long!) I love the way this soup turned out: it’s well-balanced, creamy and full of flavors. It is a great appetizer and I ended up making it for Stefano already a few times.

If I could do it, you… yes you… I’m sure you love mushrooms… you can do it too and your dinner party will be off to a perfect start. If you feel inspired, you can find the recipe on The Dinner Party Collective’s blog.

Stay tuned for a wonderful first course by Sandra and a delicious and gorgeous dessert by Margot – plus Stefano’s wine pairing suggestions of course! 😉

Have a great week!

Francesca Xx

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

When conversations get surreal: potato and saffron soup with pancetta croutons

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

A couple of days ago Stefano was getting ready to go to work and he told me that I must have done something wrong with the laundry because his pants felt tighter.

Now, you can tell me anything (because any human being is entitled to their opinion!), you can even offend me but you cannot, and I underline “cannot”, tell me that I did something wrong with my laundry!!!

I modestly like to think of myself as the “Pavlova of the Laundry”! 😉 Let’s not even talk about the time it took me to find just the right detergents that would satisfy me. I can spend hours in the detergent and cleaners aisle and every time I see a new product I get pretty much as excited as when I see a designer’s new collection!

Let’s talk about the process: every stain is pre-treated, loads are divided by fabric and color, every washer cycle is carefully selected, the dryer is reluctantly used (we do not use dryers in Italy and I wouldn’t dream of putting an item that I bought in my country in the dryer – it simply wouldn’t survive) and everything gets ironed. Yes! Everything including sheets, towels, underwear and socks. That’s how Italian houses roll (or should roll) and mine is no exception. 😉

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

Now you see what I mean when I say that there can’t possibly be anything wrong with my laundry? The ugly truth? Stefano has put some weight on and he is in total denial!

And what do you do when someone is in denial? Desperate times call for desperate measures! I cut all the fatty dishes out and I declared soup season open! Soups are fantastic and when you want to lose some weight, they really can do magic. They are low on calories yet healthy, very satisfying to your stomach and, above all, delicious!

Last night Stefano was particularly famished, so I decided to make some potato soup with a twist. I played with some saffron and the result was fantastic. The saffron really complements the potatoes and the pancetta croutons are really the cherry on the cake! 🙂

So that’s how I did it! 😉

Ingredients:

6 Potatoes, cut into cubes
1/4 Cup, extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 Cup, chopped pancetta
1/3 Cup, finely chopped spring onion
2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 and 1/2 Sachet, powdered saffron
2 Tbsp, Mascarpone cheese
1 Cup, Milk
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Potato, saffron and pancetta soupIn a non-stick medium/large pot, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy.
Remove the pancetta from the pot and place it on some paper towel so it can lose the excess oil.

In the same olive oil where you fried the pancetta, place the spring onion and cook until it softens. Add the potatoes, the stock, some salt and white pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. Eventually, the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate. Add 1 sachet of saffron and toss to coat until the mixture gets a vibrant yellow color.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender. Add the mascarpone, the rest of the olive oil and the milk and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the pot and, on low heat, cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates, add some fried pancetta on top and garnish with some powdered saffron.

Will Stefano manage to lose some weight? Only time will tell! 😉

Those little "goodfellas": Brussels Sprouts and Hot Sausage Tortiglioni…

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

2 Servings

Brussels sprouts are not very popular in my country and they certainly weren’t on my family’s table. I don’t think I can recollect one time that I ate them in my house or anywhere else in Italy.

Things started changing a couple of years ago when I decided to host my first Thanksgiving’s dinner. During my “due diligence” period, in my quest for dishes traditionally served in the US for that holiday, I found out that Brussels sprouts were a must as a side dish, stir-fried or roasted, preferably with bacon or pancetta and even with raisins.

Little by little my acquaintance with these little guys turned into a beautiful friendship and now I’m totally in love with them for several different reasons.

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

First, their appearance – because no matter what they say, appearances still count! 🙂 Their vibrant green has the magical power to put me in a good mood and their shape reminds me of a mini peony bud, one of my favorite flowers. I wouldn’t mind arranging them in a vase. I’m sure they would look lovely on any table! 😉

Second, they are really good for our health: they are an excellent source of vitamins, essential minerals and fiber. Since I’m on a perennial diet, they are a winner in my book!

Third, these buds are super versatile. They complement meat or fish wonderfully, they can been thrown in any salad and they go beautifully with pasta.

Needless to say, pasta is always one of my first picks 🙂 especially on weeknights! “Dressing up” some pasta with healthy vegetables and a little flavor is very easy and requires very little time, with the additional benefit that your conscience is virtually clean because, after all, you are eating your veggies!

For this recipe, I decide to use some hot sausage to go with the Brussels sprouts. If you decide to cook it for your kids, you may replace it with some non-spicy sausage. Her Majesty is not into spicy food and your kid may not be either…

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup, Extravirgin olive oil
1 Carrot, finely chopped
1 Celery, finely chopped
1/3 Cup, finely chopped onion
2 Hot sausages (about 7 ounces), loose
About 10 ounces, small Brussels sprouts, rinsed and cut in halves
1/2 Cup, beef or vegetable stock
About 7 ounces, Tortiglioni
2Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt

Directions:

In a non-stick medium pot, pour the olive oil and add the carrot, the celery and the onion (in Italian, we called this mixture “soffritto“) and cook until the onion softens and becomes translucent.

Add the sausage and some salt (to taste) and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp. Using a strainer, transfer the sausage mixture to a bowl to drain. Put the sausage mixture aside, and return the drained olive oil to the pot.

Add the Brussels sprouts, some salt (to taste) and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the stock is almost completely evaporated. Transfer the sausage mixture back to the pot, toss to coat and let the rest of the stock completely evaporate.

In the meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and put it in the pot with the Brussels sprouts and the sausage and toss to coat.

Put the pasta into the serving plates/bowls and dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese.

I dedicate these little green buds to all the people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! Hopefully the leprechaun will love them! 😉

Talk to you soon!

F. Xx

Glass statuette and flower composition with Brussel sprout backdrop

My Savory Valentines: Heart-Shaped Mini Frittata

Heart-shaped mini frittataAs some of you may know already, my beloved husband and I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’ve never been good in the romance department and the reason why there must be a specific day to celebrate your loved ones simply escapes me. What’s wrong with any other day of the year? Isn’t it better to show your love and affection in a totally unexpected way and whenever you feel like it?

Anyway, things have changed since Her Majesty has started celebrating Valentine’s Day and decided that we had to celebrate too. Instead of crushing her feelings (we are not that brutal! 😉 ), we decided to play along and celebrate it as a family holiday. Stefano makes sure that we have a card and a little gift for Her Majesty and, since last year, for Sofia too 🙂 and, on Valentine’s Day, we exchange cards and small presents.

When God decided to put me on this planet, he forgot to give me the sweet gene. That gene went directly from my mother to Her Majesty. That’s the reason why I always come up with some good excuse to take the savory path rather than the sweet path. I know that if I make a savory dish, I’ll be partying too as opposed to a sweet dish where, most of the time, I’ll be just watching other people to party. 🙂

Valentine’s Day is no exception to me! Last night, Her Majesty was making her valentines for her classmates. She asked me to make her favorite frittata and I decided to give it a hearty twist!

This frittata is very basic – exactly the way Her Majesty likes it! However, you can use your own recipe or spice mine up the way you want adding the vegetables and/or the spices and/or the meat you love the most. It’s all up to your creativity or, sometimes, whatever you have left in your pantry and refrigerator!

I have an additional reason why I like this recipe. I don’t have to flip! Yup! Flipping frittata is not one of my strongest skills as I confessed in one of my previous posts! Oh well! This frittata is entirely baked in the oven. Such a relief for me! 😉

Heart-shaped mini frittata

 

Ingredients:

1/4 cup, Extravirgin Olive Oil
4 or 5, Golden Potatoes
10, Eggs
6 Tbsp, Grated Parmigiano Cheese
1/2, Smoked Mozzarella
2 or 3 slices, Prosciutto
Salt
Ground Black Pepper

Directions:

Cut the potatoes into small bits.

Pre-heat oven at 325F.

In a non-stick medium skillet, put the olive oil and the potatoes. Add some salt (to taste), toss to coat and start cooking on a low/medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are cooked.

Meanwhile, put the eggs, the Parmigiano cheese and some salt and pepper (to taste) in a bowl and whisk it until you obtain a smooth mixture. When the potatoes are cooked, add them to the egg mixture.

Pour the mixture into a greased non-stick 9×13 inch rectangular sheet pan.

Let the frittata cook in the oven for about 20/25 minutes or until it gets that beautiful golden color.

Remove the frittata from the oven and let it cool for a while.

In the meantime, raise the oven temperature to 400F.

With a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut the frittata into hearts.

Cut the smoked mozzarella into thick slices.

Place one slice of mozzarella on top of one frittata heart and another frittata heart on top of the mozzarella slice. Do the same with the rest of the frittata hearts.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Put the sandwiched frittata hearts on the baking sheet and bake them in the oven until the mozzarella melts.

Remove the sandwiched frittata hearts from the oven and garnish them with some prosciutto and creative toothpicks. Serve them warm.

Heart-shaped mini frittata

I wish everyone who celebrates Valentine’s Day a “super-lovely” one!

F. Xx

Have I been chopped? Speck, Pea Shoots and Marsala Meatballs

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Don’t you get tired to always cook the same dishes? During the last years, I have mastered some recipes that have become my signature dishes. I always have the essential ingredients for them in my refrigerator and I can cook them with my eyes closed. And, of course, I always shoot for one of those dishes for a weeknight meal.

Unfortunately, Her Majesty does not always agree upon my… menu choices. She is starting going through that phase where changes are exciting and routines are boring and she always wants to experiment something new. So, to put an end to her complaints, I decided to change my basic meatball recipe and give it a twist.

The version that I cooked for Her Majesty did not have any Marsala. Nonetheless, her critique was quite brutal. She told me that the taste was not that great and that the meatballs were… kind of chewy! Seriously!!! Not the feedback that I was expecting!

Since I thought that this dish was quite delicious, I decided not to give up and to test the other “mouth” of the house. My beloved husband is never eager to pay me a compliment. He says that he does not sugarcoat his comments for my own sake so that I keep pushing myself striving to always get better at what I do. Lucky me!!! 😉

Anyway, instead of crucifying me like her Majesty, the oracle’s response was positive and flattering so I will keep making these meatballs for me and Stefano over and over. Who knows? Changing her mind is a girl’s prerogative. Maybe Her Majesty will learn to appreciate this recipe when she gets older. At least, that’s what happened to me with some of my family’s recipes.

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb, Ground Meat of your choice
1 slice, Speck (¼ inch thick)
2 eggs
6 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
2 slices, White Bread
2 Tbsp, Milk
Some leaves of Pea Shoots, chopped
3 Tbsp, Flour
2 Tbsp, Extravirgin Olive Oil
1 and 1/2 Tbsp, butter
Juice, half lemon
2 Tbsp, Marsala wine
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Speck and pea shoot meatballsCut the speck into cubes and set aside.

In a bowl, pour the milk and soak the bread into the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, using your hands combine the ground beef, the eggs, the chopped pea shoots’ leaves, the speck cubes and the Parmesan cheese. With your hands, squeeze the bread and add it to the meat mixture. Add some salt and pepper (to taste) and combine with your hands. Shape the mixture into meatballs.

In a large non-stick skillet, pour the olive oil and add 1 Tbsp of butter. When the butter is completely melted, add the meatballs and cook them until they brown. Add the lemon juice and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the Marsala wine and keep cooking until the Marsala evaporates. Remove from the stove and add 1/2 Tbsp of butter. Toss to coat until the butter is completely melted. Serve immediately.

Have a wonderful weekend!

F. Xx

PS: In case you are wondering what Pea Shoots are, they are the young leaves and tendrils of pea plants. I didn’t even know they existed before using them for this recipe. They are delicious and their scent is so delicate. The perfect addition to many, many dishes. 😋