Tag Archives: cheese

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

 

Turning sweet into savory: basil olive oil and taleggio madeleines

Basel olive oil and cheese madeleinesEverybody is familiar with madeleines, the extraordinary, shell-shaped French small sponge cakes with crispy edges and a moist and soft interior texture to die for. They are very popular in my house and we love eating them for breakfast or for an afternoon tea.

However, who said that those beauties only belong to sweetland?

Madeleines can be turned into a wonderful, savory appetizer in a matter of just a few steps. They can be prepared ahead of time and you can be sure that they will amaze your cocktail party guests, giving your party kind of a sophisticated edge.

These madeleines can even be a great snack for kids (Her Majesty loves them! 🙂 ), one where you can “hide” some of the ingredients children are not so crazy about and still get away with it. 😉

Well, here are the steps:

Ingredients:

2 eggs
4 Tbsp, grated parmigiano
1/3 cup, shredded taleggio cheese
A little less of 1 cup, flour (100 grams)
2 1/2 Tsp, baking powder
1/4 cup, basil olive oil
5 Tbsp, butter melted
6 Tbsp, milk
10 basil small leaves, shredded (optional)
Salt
Pepper (optional)

Basel olive oil and cheese madeleinesDirections:

Preheat oven to 325F. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the eggs, the parmesan and the taleggio cheese and mix until they are blended. Add the flour, the baking powder, a pinch of salt, some pepper (to taste) and mix. Add the olive oil and beat until the oil is completely blended. Add the melted butter and, if you decide to do so, the basil leaves and mix for a few minutes. Finally, add the milk and mix until well blended. Stop and scrape the bowl.

Place the batter into the greased and floured molds of a madeleines pan. Bake the madeleines for 15 to 18 minutes or until they are golden and spring back when you touch them. With the help of a knife, remove the madeleines from the pan and place them on a rack to cool before serving them. 

Basel olive oil and cheese madeleinesJust a few more words of advice. The combination of flavors and ingredients that can go into these savory madeleines is truly endless. You can go from plain extravirgin olive oil (that’s what I use when I make these madeleines for Her Majesty) to garlic oil, truffle oil or chili pepper oil. As to the cheese, taleggio is meant to be just a suggestion. Pick the cheese you like the most. Just make sure that it melts nicely and evenly in the oven. You can also give these yummy shells a tasting boost by adding some “meat” such as bacon, pancetta, salame, speck, ham or prosciutto bits. You can even add some vegetables such as zucchini and the herbs you love the most.

Simply unleash your creativity and surprise your family and friends with these lovely madeleines.   

Talk to you soon! 🙂 

Not my Momma's Mac & Cheese

Francesca’s first recipe, Asparagus Baked Pasta, is a fabulous dish for a dinner party —special enough to stand on its own as an entrée or to serve as the pasta course of a multi course dinner. It has the added bonus of being able to be assembled ahead of time and popped in to bake as you are pouring the first round of drinks. Add her second recipe, the Prosciutto and Fennel Salad, and you have the whole dinner party. I will post an easy cheesecake recipe to finish off the night.

Let’s face it though…there are nights when all you want to do is crawl into your fuzzy sweater and, yes I’ll admit it, your pajama bottoms and take comfort in a bowl of something delish from your childhood. Something. Something familiar. Something like … Mac and Cheese. Every celebrity chef seems to have a Mac and Cheese recipe. Many are quite upscale and require running around to different stores to find all of the ingredients. There is nothing wrong with that, it just isn’t suited to fuzzy sweaters and pajamas.

This recipe, tried and true, came to me from my friend’s mother, Grandma Barbara, who makes tray upon tray of it and then spends the better part of a day running around town to deliver it to her family, her kids, and sometimes her kid’s very lucky friend – me! The success of this recipe lies in salt, deli cheese and Wondra.

So, salt. You must salt the macaroni water! Salt the water once it comes to a boil, give it a stir and taste it. It should be salty like sea water. If it isn’t, add some more. This is your only chance to impart some flavor into the macaroni itself. A quick digression about the macaroni – to have the cheese sauce adhere to the macaroni, you want to use a ribbed pasta. At the very least use a ribbed elbow. I use cellentani, which is a ribbed, double elbow macaroni that is twisted. It makes for a heartier dish.

Deli cheese. Who’d-a-thunk? Seriously, this is the key to the whole dish. Plain old American deli cheese. Now I am a Land o’ Lakes White America, sliced extra thin cheese girl for everything. Everything except this Mac and Cheese. Land o’ Lakes cheese is made with oil so if you use it in this recipe, the oil and the milk solids separate during baking and you get an oily puddle around the edge. Tastes great but looks less than appealing. I have found that Boar’s Head White American, sliced thickly – like an eight of an inch or so works the best. Yellow or white is up to you. Take the extra thick slices and cut them into strips about a centimeter in width and then cut across the strips to create cubes.

Last, but not least, Wondra. Wondra might well be one of the greatest inventions of modern cookery. Ok, not really one of the greatest, but really, really good. The fine nature of the flour combined with the shaker top make it super easy to gradually add flour to the milk and butter with one hand, and whisk like a madman with the other. Guaranteeing a super smooth white sauce. I can’t give you an exact measurement for the flour. You just shake it in while the milk boils, and stir and eventually you get a thick white sauce (that you need to salt!). I can usually get 3-4 Macs and Cheese from a canister.

In the time it takes to bring the water to a boil, salt it, and cook the macaroni, you can cube and grate the cheeses and make the white sauce. It is ready to throw in the over in under a half an hour OR you can put it in baking dishes and cover with foil and keep in the fridge for a couple of days, OR you can wrap with plastic wrap and foil and freeze to bake later. Just remember to take the plastic wrap off before you bake it.

So onto the good stuff …

Grandma Barbara’s Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

Salt
1 pound of macaroni – elbows, cellentani or other pasta – cooked tender (not al dente)
1 quart of whole milk
1 stick of butter, cut up
Wondra flour (see note above)
1 ¼ pounds of deli American cheese, sliced thick and cut into cubes
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a 13 x 9” baking dish or multiple smaller dishes.

Bring the macaroni to a boil in salted water and cook past al dente until the macaroni is soft.

In the meantime, bring the milk and butter to a boil over medium heat. While whisking, shake in Wondra and cook until the sauce thickens up. This will take about 10 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, turn off the heat and whisk in some more milk. Add salt to taste.

Drain the macaroni and shake out excess water. Put in a large bowl and toss with the American cheese cubes. Pour the white sauce over the cheese and macaroni and toss well. Turn out into the baking dish(es). Cover the top of the casserole with the grated cheddar.

Bake at 375 F for 30-45 minutes until the top is a little crusty and the inside is bubbly and hot.

If you are baking a frozen casserole, it will take longer – closer to 45-60 minutes. Just watch it carefully.