Tag Archives: cuisine

There are witches in the air: purple cauliflower soup

Purple cauliflower soup

2 Servings

Looking at Her Majesty’s Halloween menu, I had the impression that something was missing. What was it? We had the bats and the skeleton and the ghost … so? But some witches of course!

Purple cauliflower soupOver the last few days, I have been thinking about a dish which would be reminiscent of witches and when I saw a purple cauliflower at the grocery store, the idea struck me like a thunder. Isn’t purple a typical witch color? How about a purple soup to be served after the bat eyes and before the skeleton stake? ūüôā

I decided to use very few ingredients – kind of a basic soup recipe, because I didn’t want the color of the other ingredients to alter the purple color of the cauliflower. And since witches are always a little bit sinister, I thought that a touch of yellow was a must, beside contrasting nicely with the deep purple (no, not the band…). So I sprinkled some olive oil and added some lemon strips on top of the soup. I was very pleased to find out how beautifully the citrus flavor contrasts with that of the cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower soupHer Majesty was so excited by the purple color that for the first time ever she ate some soup without making any fuss. Actually, I couldn’t believe my eyes! ūüôā And I’m pretty sure that if you serve this dish for a dinner party, your guests will be really surprised and amazed at the same time. ūüôā

Ingredients:

1 shallot, chopped
2 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
2 potatoes, diced
1 purple cauliflower
1 1/2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 lemon
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Wash the cauliflower and cut the florets off. Set them aside.

In a medium/large pot, place 1 Tbsp of olive oil, the shallot and a couple of tablespoons of water and cook, on low heat, until the shallot softens.

Purple cauliflower soupAdd the cauliflower florets, the potatoes, some salt and pepper (to taste) and the vegetable stock and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20/25 minutes. Eventually, the florets and the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate.

In the meantime, using a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the lemon peel. Set them aside.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

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

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates and add some olive oil and lemon strips on top of each.

We wish you all a super fun and sweet Halloween!

Francesca Xx

My goodbye to summer: tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiIt is time for me to let it go. Summer is my favorite season. It is when I feel my best. Every day I pick a pretty dress (preferably with a floral pattern) and a pair of ballet flats (I have way too many of them!) even if I just have to go grocery shopping. Oh by the way, is there someone out there that can explain to me once and for all why men (including my beloved husband) think that only women wearing high heels are sexy and feminine? How can’t they possibly understand that flats are very difficult to wear because they do not elongate the leg but it’s the leg itself that must be proportionate? Does the name Audrey Hepburn ring any bell? Wasn’t she feminine and chic with all her flats? I believe she was one of the most glamorous women on earth!

But I’m digressing. Back to summer. I drink lots of water and I eat tons of fruit and vegetables. I can easily follow a very healthy diet and lose a few pounds. This year I managed to lose about 14 pounds which – of course – I’m going to regain in the next few weeks because that’s just how my body reacts to the cold weather. I feel like mama bear preparing for going into hibernation, and I need a layer of fat to keep myself warm! ūüėČ

Unfortunately, mother nature has her own agenda. Everything is turning brown and orange and temperatures are lowering. Don’t get me wrong: fall is a wonderful and colorful season, but I’d rather enjoy it from the warmth of my house. ūüôā

So, I have decided to kiss my summer goodbye by sharing a recipe where tomatoes are the main character. I’m talking about those incredibly red tomatoes, so juicy and flavorful and whose scent is able to capture your nostrils from a distance. In Italy we called them “sauce tomatoes” and all by themselves they manage to turn the simplest tomato sauce into a winner! Of course, I couldn’t find sauce tomatoes in October, but the tomatoes that I used were really decent and so I said to myself: What the heck! Let’s draw the curtains over summer in style!. ūüôā

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Ingredients:

1,5lb, fresh tomatoes
2 garlic clovers
5 Tbsp and 1/2 cup, extravirgin olive oil
10 leaves, basil
1/2 cup, black pitted olives, cut in half
6/7 oz, spaghetti
1 eggplant
salt

Directions:

Wash the tomatoes and cut them up into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.

Rinse the basil leaves and shred them. Set aside.

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiUsing a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the eggplant skin. Add some salt (to taste) and set them aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, the garlic, the basil, some salt (to taste) and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the skillet and add the olives. Keep cooking on a low heat until the water from the tomatoes has completely evaporated. Remove the skillet from the stove and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Put a pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, in a small pot, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant strips and cooked them until they brown. Remove the strips from the pot and place them on some paper towel.

When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti, put them in the skillet with the tomato sauce and toss to coat.

Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and add some eggplant strips on top of each plate.

I wish you all a great end of the workweek and a wonderful weekend!

Francesca Xx

When life spices up: an interview with Gourmandize

Red chili pepper plant

Hello Everyone!

Today, we are barging into your house for a few minutes only to share some exciting (at least for us!) news!

Do you know those early mornings when you have just switched the alarm off, your eyes are still half-closed and sleepy and your are trying to remember your name and figure out where you are? Oh well! Who am I fooling? All my mornings are like that! ūüėČ

Anyway, after I regain all my senses and before getting up, my mechanical arm grabs my phone from the bedside table and I check my emails. Not that I usually get great emails (quite the opposite!) but, every now and then, I happen to receive good news.

Now, you can imagine my surprise first, and excitement immediately afterwards, when – on one of those mornings – I read an email from the editor of Gourmandize asking us if we were interested in being interviewed and featured as Blogger of the Day on their site!

I have to admit I was not familiar with Gourmandize, but the more I check their website the more I get hooked. Gourmandize is a recipe sharing site created last year where the content is contributed by its members. You can register your blog with them, join their community and enjoy the benefits of their platform, while sharing your recipes and getting to know fellow food bloggers. Can it get any cooler than that?

So do yourself a favor: check Gourmandize out and open yourself and your food up to new possibilities!

If you are interested in reading our interview, you can do so here:

My interview on Gourmandize

Enough with the bragging! ūüėČ

I wish you all a great day!

Francesca Xx

Scenes From an Italian Wedding and Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli Florets

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli FloretsHello there!

Long time no talk and no cook! ūüôā My personal photographer has been buried alive in the office, working long exhausting hours, and I have been busy with a … home project that is taking more than I was expecting.

So where were we? Ah, my cousin’s wedding! Care to know how it was? Sure!

Let me set the tone of this post right away by saying that I don’t like weddings. With my being an introvert, I just hate big gatherings and I try to stay away from weddings as much as anyone tries to protect themselves from contagious diseases. I can literally count on the fingers of one hand the weddings that I enjoyed, which thankfully include mine – maybe because I was kind of the main character there. ūüėČ Still, I end up attending most of the weddings I’m invited to because good manners and social conventions require me to do it.

But let’s start from the beginning. The groom and the bride (my cousin) picked Ravenna, a town in Emilia Romagna (a region in Northern Italy) as their religious celebration venue. This choice upset some of my family members for different reasons, including that it contravened the old Italian tradition that a wedding must be celebrated in the bride’s hometown (which, in our case, would have been in Southern Italy).

The mass was set to start at 6:00pm on a Saturday. My close family, Her Majesty and I (Stefano, my sneaky husband, deserted the happy gathering adducing work-related excuses! ūüėČ ) arrived in Ravenna from Rome at 10:00pm on Friday, after (only!) a 5-hour train ride. I hadn’t even put one foot through the hotel doorway that a countless number of my mom’s relatives (first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, whatever degree cousins!) started hugging me and asking “Do you remember me?” The first thing that came to my mind? “Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea who you are, maybe because the last time I saw you I was seven and please let me go since I need to breathe every now and then”. Did I go for it? Of course not! Only because I wouldn’t have heard the end of it from my mom. I put on my fakest smile and, using my best Virgin Mary voice, I said that it was very late and I had to put Her Majesty to bed.

The next morning, at breakfast, the same scene repeated itself more or less, only with more people and the additional tiny detail that everyone was speaking dialects from the south of Italy (both the bride’s and the groom’s families are originally from there). Now, I grew up listening to those dialects so, even if I cannot speak a word, I understand them pretty well. But Her Majesty? There is no day that goes by without Stefano correcting her Italian pronunciation and grammar so that she only speaks a perfect, proper and accent-less Italian, and as a result she felt completely lost in that breakfast room and she asked me which foreign language our relatives were speaking! ūüėČ That’s when I knew that I had to leave that room and leave fast. Ravenna gave me the perfect excuse.

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli Florets

Ravenna is a little gem from a¬†historical and artistic point of view. It was the capital of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of the Byzantine Empire until the 8th century. Ravenna’s¬†monuments and mosaic art are so unique that UNESCO added eight, I say eight, of its monuments to the World Heritage List. Of course, it was impossibile for me and her Majesty to visit all of them that morning but I was determined to see as much as we could. When we stepped into the Basilica¬†of San Vitale, Her Majesty was speechless (and believe me, it doesn’t happen very often!) in front of the extraordinary beauty and magnificence of the mosaics. We spent most of the morning contemplating as many mosaics as we could and Her Majesty got all excited at the idea that, maybe one day, she could attend Ravenna’s mosaic restoration school. Another site that you do not want to miss if you happen to be in Ravenna is Dante’s tomb. Yup, the divine poet died and was buried there¬†in 1321. The stories of how Florence (Dante’s hometown and the same town that condemned him to exile) has been trying over the years to bring the body of the most famous Italian literate back home are really amusing. Time literally flew by and, at lunch, it was time to get back to my “family” reality.

Eventually 6:00pm came. Her Majesty was the ring bearer and she was supposed to precede the bride down the aisle. I immediately knew that the ceremony was going to be a disaster by the tone that the priest used to address my daughter outside the church: arrogant and rude! I disliked him instantly!

Now, the usual Italian catholic wedding ceremony is very long and the sermon is crucial in making the difference between a good one and a bad one. In my mind, a good sermon is one that is supposed to convey a sweet message of love, happiness and blessing for the newlyweds. Sweet sermon my foot!

The opening statement of that guy was that there was not going to be any sermon because the love of the two lovebirds didn’t need any comment and then he went on and on for 2 hours (two hours, I say!) pontificating and thundering against us, poor sinners, so strongly that I thought the dome was about to crack open and the arrows of some vindicative angels would pierce our hearts. I’m pretty sure that Michelangelo was listening to a sermon like that when he got the idea of how the Final Judgement should look like! ūüėČ

Finally, past 8:00pm, after surviving the Inquisition torture and avoiding divine punishment, we got out of the church and jumped on a private bus to go to the place where the wedding reception would be, which was (only! ūüôĀ ) a 40 minute ride away!!!
When we got there, people were famished. When they saw the appetizers’ buffet table, they attacked it like there was no tomorrow. I saw plates so full of food that a starving dinosaur would have turned pale in front of them!

And after everyone stuffed themselves with so much food that they were ready to blow up (√† la Monty Python, you know the “wafer thin mint” scene?…), the unavoidable wedding dinner started. After two endless pasta courses (it felt like it took me less to give birth to Her Majesty!), at 11:30pm the second course was starting being served… Now, the newlyweds’ choice fell on pork (seriously? In August?) and they wanted to impress their guests showing the whole poor cooked animal on a serving plate before it was all cut out to delight our palates (like I still had one!). I had the brilliant idea to wear a pair of gorgeous Sergio Rossi high heels (over 12 cm) for the occasion. After all those hours, my feet were so swollen that you could have replaced them with those of the poor pork on that darn serving plate and nobody, nobody would have noticed the difference.

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli FloretsAt 1:00am the wedding cake was finally brought out to the garden. I couldn’t care less at that point. I don’t even know what cake was served. I kept just staring at the people sitting at my table falling asleep on the plate and constantly watching their watches. Why? Because 2:00am was the time that had been set for our freedom. That was the time when the bus was going to pick us all up and take us back to the hotel.

The cherry on top of the cake? That night, the Italian gods decided to surprise us sending a thick fog our way – in August… The bus driver had to drive very slowly and it took us way more than 40 minutes to get back to Ravenna.

When I put my face on the pillow at 4:00am thanking God that this excruciating night was finally over, I promised myself that the next wedding I am going to attend will be Her Majesty’s!!!

Oh well, enough with the wedding! Let’s talk about something more tempting. ūüôā

Did I tell you that I love appetizers? A good appetizer (along with a glass of champagne or white wine of course!) has the magical power to put me in a great mood. Don’t get me wrong: I love the classic cheese platter, especially if it is full of rich, soft French cheeses, but variety is what makes life beautiful, isn’t¬†it?

The good thing about this appetizer is that you can really cheat yourself. After all, you are eating vegetables. Let’s not focus on the fact that they are fried and wrapped in bacon, shall we? ūüėČ

Now, there is really no recipe for this appetizer. You will just need some broccoli and cauliflower florets, plus the same ingredients you would use to make your breaded chicken cutlets (flour, eggs, breadcrumbs), some extravirgin olive oil and some slices of bacon.

Directions:

Coat the florets into the flour. Shake the excess off and dip the florets into some beaten salted eggs. Let the excess drip off and coat the florets into the breadcrumbs.

Fry the florets in olive oil. When they are browned, remove the florets from the oil, place them on some paper towel and let them cool off.

Preheat oven at 375F.

Wrap the florets with bacon slices, overlapping the ends of the slices under the florets.

Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet, place the wrapped florets on the paper and bake them for about 10 minutes.

Remove the florets from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes.

Decorate the florets with party toothpicks of your choice et voila’!

Hope you are enjoying this gorgeous fall weather!

F. Xx

So little time in the kitchen: peach and chocolate chips mini tarte tatins

Mini peach tarte tatinsHello everyone!

Hope you are having a glorious summer!

As a food blogger, I know I’m expected to share recipes, tips and¬†culinary adventures that I have experienced during my stay in Italy,¬†but I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed … or maybe not! ūüėČ

As I said on several occasion, cooking is just one of my passions.¬†There are so many other things I tremendously enjoy. One of these¬†things is resuming my royal role of daughter every time I¬†go¬†back to my¬†country. ūüôā

You see, I was a very lucky, spoiled girl who never had to deal with¬†any domestic chore for as long as I lived at¬†home with my parents. When I¬†left that house to play the role of an independent woman and¬†a wife, I realized that real life¬†was quite different from the one I was used to and it was kind of¬†shocking to me but that’s another story! ūüėČ

Anyway, truth to be told I can count on the fingers of one hand the¬†times I entered my mother’s kitchen to cook something during my stay.

I happen to have made the recipe I am going to¬†share with you today during one of¬†those miraculous times (as my mom likes to put it! ūüėČ ).

It was a Saturday of a very hot Italian summer and I had terrific plans for the day: taking Her Majesty to her swimming class, having lunch on the terrace of the yacht club and spending the entire afternoon on the beach reading, swimming and sun bathing. That morning I was daydreaming in my bed when my mother announced me that she had invited twelve guests for dinner that night and asked me if I could take care of the dessert.

Now, you can understand my predicament! I didn’t want to change my¬†plans, not even a bit, but I didn’t feel like not helping my mom¬†either. While brushing my teeth (I get a lot of ideas brushing my¬†teeth ūüėČ ), the thought of a¬†very simplified version of¬†mini tarte tatins came to my rescue.

These little treats are very easy to make, even ahead of time if you¬†have a busy day, and they look and taste wonderful. The combination of¬†peach and chocolate is one of my favorites and I still have to meet a¬†human being that doesn’t go for it.

So how did it go? Dinner was scheduled for 9:00pm (yup, that’s how we¬†roll at¬†my parents’ house!). I came back from the beach late afternoon¬†and I had plenty of time to make the tarte tatins and be ready to help my mother serve¬†the aperitivo to her guests. Our guests¬†devoured the mini tarte tatins and I had exactly the day that I¬†planned. In other words, those little beauties saved my day and,¬†hopefully, they may¬†do the same for you! ūüôā

Mini peach tarte tatins

Ingredients:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 peaches
1/3 Cup, chocolate chips
1 Cup, confectioner’s sugar
1 yolk
1 Tbsp, milk
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Peel the peaches, slice them and set them aside.

Mini peach tarte tatinsLay the sheet of pastry on a floured surface and roll over so that you have a smooth sheet. Following the same technique to make linzer cookies, with a large round cookie cutter (of course you can pick the shape you like best), cut the pastry into rounds and place half of the rounds on the parchment paper. Using a smaller round cookie cutter, cut out the center from the other half of the rounds, put the outer edges of the circles aside and discard the centers as scrap. Combine such scraps, roll and cut again until you have used all your pastry.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolk and the milk.

In a non stick pot, combine sugar and about 1 Tbsp of water to make caramel. Bring the mixture to boil and cook until the mixture has thickened and turned amber in color.

Using a spoon (be careful because the caramel is very hot and it’s¬†super easy to get burnt), place some caramel on the pastry solid¬†rounds and add a couple of peach slices and some chocolate chips on¬†top of the caramel.

Press the circle cut rounds on top of the solid ones and brush the edges with the egg wash.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tarte tatins are golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool. Dust the tarte tatins with¬†some confectioner’s sugar before serving them.

I’m heading over¬†to Italy again this weekend. My first cousin is getting¬†married and, according to my aunt, this wedding will be remembered as¬†much as that¬†of William & Kate. ūüėČ Plus, after two months of vacation, it is¬†time for Her Majesty to come back home in time for the first day of¬†school.

I wish you all to enjoy the rest of August. Talk to you soon,

F. Xx

From Italy to Iran with love: Pepper and Pancetta Tortiglioni

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniI have been fortunate enough to be asked by lovely Azita to write a guest post that she has published on¬†her wonderful blog, Fig and Quince. If you don’t know Azita yet, do yourself a favor: go check her blog out and enter her enchanted Persian world.

This is the original guest post that I wrote for Azita, which contains a few differences (in the story, not in the recipe!) compared to that which Azita published: in other words, this is the director’s cut, if you will. ūüėČ

I have been lucky enough to get to meet Azita in person a¬†few months ago. I don’t remember how we found each other on the blogosphere but I remember how I felt at the beginning of our “relationship”‚Ķ cautious.

I have always been a big¬†introvert and extremely good at keeping my distance from people –¬†a huge¬†disappointment due to¬†a friendship that fell apart¬†a couple of years ago didn’t help,¬†and actually¬†ended up making¬†me even more skeptical, if possible, when it comes to meeting new people,¬†either in person or over the internet.

However, when I started reading Azita‘s posts, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the cheerfulness, the lightness and the language richness of her writing style.

There is no doubt that her country, culture and culinary traditions are fascinating in and of themselves,¬†but she is astonishingly capable to write about them in such an articulate and eclectic way that every time I read one of her posts I have the impression of reading one chapter of “One Thousand and One Nights”,¬†where flavors, aromas, perfumes and ancient customs all blend¬†in together¬†to give birth to something magical.

And yet, her posts are always funny and cheerful and modern and colorful. Even her pictures and her compositions speak for the talented artist that she is. Her attention to details is impressive to say the least and her comments to other people’s posts are always brilliant with a touch of graciousness.

When I was about to meet her in person, I was nervous. I’m always nervous when I have to meet new people. It is¬†simply not¬†my thing! ūüėČ As soon as she stepped into my house, she came toward¬†me and she hugged me and kissed me as if¬†we had¬†known each other for years. I will never forget that hug. Why? The warmth that her hug gave me as a human being was totally unexpected and yet so refreshing and fulfilling!

When I had to pick the dish to be published on Azita‘s wonderful blog as a guest post, I immediately went for a pasta dish with peppers. Why? Well, I’m Italian and pasta is one of the emblems of my culinary tradition. So no doubt there! ūüôā The reason I picked peppers is because I think they represent Azita in her fullness. Their color is so vibrant that they bring cheerfulness and happiness in your life as soon as you look at them and their taste is so strongly flavorful and overwhelming that as soon as you eat them your taste buds are literally pervaded by their richness the same way I was by Azita‘s hug that Sunday afternoon.

So from Italy to Iran – one way – with love!

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioni

2 Servings

Ingredients:

2 peppers
4 oz, chopped pancetta
1 leek
4 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
6/7 oz, pasta of your choice
2 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
four/five thyme stalks
Ground black pepper
Salt

Directions:

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniPreheat your oven to 400F.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Rinse the peppers under cold water, dry them and place them on a baking sheet (I always put some parchment paper on my baking sheet to be sure that nothing sticks ūüôā ). Bake for about 20 minutes (or until the peppers are cooked), take them out of the oven and, with the help of a knife and fork, remove the skin of the peppers.

In the meantime, cut off the green top of the leek and its root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the halves well under water. On a chopping board, slice the leek thinly and evenly. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the leek slices, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add some water and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

In another skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, place the peppers, the leek slices, some thyme leaves and 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a blender or a food processor. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and blend everything until you obtain a smooth sauce. Transfer the sauce to a pot and warm it on a very low heat.

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 where you warmed the sauce and toss to coat. Add the pancetta and toss to coat.

Put the pasta into the serving plates, dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese and garnish the plate with some thyme leaves.

Love,

Francesca Xx

An unusual mini-bundt: asparagus and pea flan

Asparagus and pea flanLet me apologize first! I know this is my second asparagus post in a row. The truthful, not very glamorous reason is that I’m about to leave for Italy and I needed to empty my refrigerator. ūüėČ The first rule I learned when I started cooking is that food waste is a big no no and I try to abide by it.

However, you know me. Whatever the reason may be, I always try to go for something nice that satisfies my aesthetic sense in addition to my palate, especially when I’m handling ingredients as expensive as asparagus. Since I had just bought a mini-bundt pan at Williams Sonoma, I thought it would be fun to use it to make asparagus-based flans. I’m very pleased with the results. What do you think? ūüėČ

These flans are the perfect appetizers for a dinner party. They can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature or warmed-up. But above all, they are very cute and will impress your guests for sure! ūüėČ

I like to serve them with warm cheese sauce on top. I think the savory cheesiness of the sauce complements the very delicate texture of the vegetables wonderfully.

I wish you all a great beginning of summer. I’ll try to stay in touch as much as I can but I apologize in advance if I might miss some of your posts. Spending time with my extended family is wonderful, but it is also a full time job! ūüėČ

Asparagus and pea flanIngredients:

1 lb, asparagus
2 Cups, peas
1 leek
10 leaves, basil
2 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
1 1/2 Cup, stock
4 Tbsp, ricotta
4 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
5 eggs
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 340 degrees F.

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off the woody ends. In a large pot, heat some water until it boils, add the asparagus and keep boiling for 3-4 minutes. Strain the asparagus, rinse with cold water and cut into ¬ĺ inch pieces.

Wash the peas under cold running water. In another pot, heat some water until it boils, add the peas and keep cooking until they are tender. Strain the peas and rinse them with cold water.

Cut off the green top of the leek and the root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the two halves well under water, being careful to leave them intact. Place each half, with the flat side facing down, on a chopping board. Slice the leeks thinly and evenly with your knife so that you end up with thin strips.

Asparagus and pea flanIn a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the leek, the peas and the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add the stock and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

Chop the basil leaves roughly.

In a blender or food processor place the vegetables, the ricotta, the Parmigiano cheese, the basil and the yolks. 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 vegetable mixture.

Coat the mini-bundt pan molds with butter. If you do not have any such pan, you can use your regular muffin pan.

Fill the molds with the mixture. Place the mini-bundt pan inside a large, shallow pan. Add warm water to the large pan such that the lower half of the height of the mini-bundt pan is under water.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the mini-bundt pan from the water bath. Let the mini bundts cool.

Invert onto a serving plate and add some warm cheese sauce on top. Serve right away.

That’s all for today: talk to you soon from the old continent!

F. Xx

A second chance: asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

8 Servings

High school is over in our neck of the woods and last week we went to a graduation party of the son of one of our neighbors.

High school graduation ceremonies, proms and parties are totally new to us. In Italy, we do not have a graduation ceremony after our high school finals and, usually, there is no prom or party afterwards.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaYoung Italian girls and boys abruptly transition from being high school teenagers¬†to wannabe adults ūüėČ at university (in the sense of postgraduate school, like Law School, Med School, etc.) without any particular celebration or event to be remembered by. We¬†think it is kind of sad and we are starting to enjoy this American¬†tradition thinking that, one day (far, far away in time! ūüôā ), Stefano and I¬†will proudly be going to Her Majesty’s graduation ceremony. ūüôā

Anyway, my neighbors really like this asparagus and pancetta baked¬†pasta. So I decided to bring it to the party to put an Italian touch¬†on their buffet. ūüėČ

This dish was my first pasta post on this blog. ¬†Looking back at the photo of the dish that I¬†asked Stefano to take almost two years ago, I have to admit I wasn’t¬†very pleased with my presentation. This pasta deserves so much better!¬†ūüôā

I have been wanting to retake the picture with a different setting for¬†more than a year but I’m a very lazy person, some may go as far as to call me¬†the queen¬†of postponement! ūüėČ

This graduation party was the perfect occasion to shake my royal status away, make this pasta again and work on a different presentation. I like this presentation much better than the old one and I hope you will agree with me.

To make your life easier in case you decide to give this dish a try, I¬†decided to republish the recipe, so you won’t be driven crazy by¬†links going back and forth!

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Ingredients:

2 lb asparagus
¬ľ cup extravirgin olive oil
¬ľ cup beef stock
1 lb¬†of ¬ľ inch thick¬†pancetta
7 cups of Bechamel sauce
2 cups each of two shredded cheeses of your choice (4 cups total)
1.6 lb dried ziti pasta (1¬†¬Ĺ packs)
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off the woody ends. In a large pot, heat some water until it boils, add the asparagus and keep boiling for 3-4 minutes. Strain the asparagus, rinse with cold water and cut into¬†¬ĺ inch pieces. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add the beef stock and stir occasionally until the stock evaporates. Set aside.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaCut up the pancetta into small pieces and cook in a non-stick skillet until crispy. Wait for the pancetta to cool down and get rid of the grease. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the pasta is cooking, put the shredded cheeses into the pot with the hot Béchamel Sauce and, over very low heat, stir until the cheeses are completely melted.

Drain the pasta and put it again into the pot.

In a 9×13 inch casserole, spread some of the sauce to keep the pasta from sticking. Save 2 cups of the sauce for later and add the rest along with the asparagus and the pancetta to the pasta and toss to coat. Put the pasta in the casserole, ladle the rest of the sauce that you had previously set aside over the pasta, spreading it evenly, and scatter the grated Parmigiano over it. Bake for about 20 minutes covering the pasta with aluminum foil for the first 10 minutes.

Let me know what you think!

F. Xx

Who said routines are boring? Meatloaf "en croute"

Meatloaf "en croute"

Meatloaf “en croute”

Hello there!

Long time no talk. I hope this finds you all well and enjoying this warm, glorious weather.

My house is finally empty (as in, no more guests!)¬†and I was¬†longing¬†for this to happen. Don’t get me wrong: having family around is fantastic but, after a while, I really miss my routine schedule. Especially my mornings.

After Stefano leaves¬†for work and Her Majesty is off to school, I treasure¬†those precious morning hours when¬†I reconcile myself with the rest of the world. Sipping my coffee, I take care of my house chores, I work on my professional and non-professional projects and I get ideas for new projects. All this in¬†the silent company of Sofia. She never leaves my side but she has learned to be calm and quiet¬†during those hours. It is amazing how she can be¬†more in tune with me¬†than most people I know. She knows what I need simply by instinct. ūüôā

This meatloaf “en croute” has been on my mind for quite a while. I have tried a couple of different flavor combinations and the one¬†that I’m sharing with you today is the one that¬†we liked the most.

As often with food, this recipe is just a combination of ingredients that you can adjust¬†and/or substitute so as¬†to satisfy your palate’s liking. You can use different ground meat (lamb, pork, turkey) or different nuts and dried fruits, you can replace the speck with bacon, pancetta, salame or prosciutto and you can add those herbs that¬†you cannot live without. Or you can simply go with your own meatloaf recipe. As always, ideas are meant to flow and in the end¬†it is just a question of taste! ūüôā

Meatloaf "en croute" (detail)

Meatloaf “en croute” (detail)

4 Servings

Ingredients:

1/2 lb, ground veal
1/2 lb, ground beef
2 eggs
2 slices of speck, 1/4 inch thick, chopped
1/4 Cup, bleached hazelnuts
1/2 Cup, dried apricots, chopped
1/2 Cup, whole milk
2/3 slices, white bread
6 Tbsp, grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
2 yolks
1 sheet, pastry puff, thawed
Ground black pepper
Salt

Directions:

Meatloaf "en croute"

Meatloaf “en croute”

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a bowl, place the bread and pour the milk (except for a couple of tablespoons that you will use later for the egg wash) and let it sit until the bread absorbs the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, put the meat, the eggs, the speck, the apricot, the hazelnut and the Parmesan cheese. Squeeze the bread in your hand in order to eliminate excess milk and add the bread into the mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and combine all the ingredients with your hands.

With your hands, form a loaf. Brush the loaf with the olive oil. Place some parchment paper on a baking pan and transfer the loaf on it.

Cook the meatloaf for about 25 minutes. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it cool.

In the meantime, on a lightly floured surface, lightly roll out the pastry puff sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks and 2 Tablespoons of milk.

Set the cool meatloaf on the pastry puff sheet lengthwise and wrap it with the dough. Cut the excess dough (do not discard it because you can use it for decoration) and seal the edges. Brush the pastry with the egg wash. Use the rest of the dough, if any, to decorate the top of the pastry and brush the decorations with the rest of the egg wash.

Cook for about 25 minutes or until golden/brown and crispy. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving it.

Looking forward to hearing from you! Xx

Meatloaf "en croute"

Meatloaf “en croute”

Party season warm-up: pancetta and potato croquettes

Pancetta and potato croquettes

Pancetta and potato croquettes

About 18 croquettes

Are you getting ready for party season? Easter is around the corner and I’m sure some of you will host the legendary Easter lunch. Personally I’m starting working on the menu for Her Majesty’s First Communion party.¬†

Every time I work on a menu for an event, I always start from the appetizers. After all they are the “preview” of the quality of the food that will be served during the event. They are critical to help creating that magical atmosphere (along with champagne glasses and colorful cocktails, of course!) when everybody gets to be cheerful and relaxed and starts to have a good time.

Potato croquettes are pretty popular in my house and they are such a tasty appetizer. I usually dip the croquettes in some bread crumbs and fry them in olive oil. However, an idea has been fluctuating in my mind lately. With the same potato mixture, I wanted to make something a little more sophisticated from the presentation point of view and a little less messy from the cooking point of view. So I put the mixture in a mini muffin pan, added cheese and bacon on top of every muffin and baked them. The result was fantastic. The crunchiness of the top contrasted beautifully with the softness of the inside. After the first tasting of my little experiment, I had a few croquettes left, so I warmed them in the oven the next day. And they tasted just perfect! A total blessing when you have to cook for a party, since they can be made the day before.

This recipe is just my basic mashed potatoes to which I add a couple of yolks. I tend to keep food pretty simple because of Her Majesty’s taste. However, feel free to use your own mashed potato recipe instead or to adapt mine the way you like, by adding a few herbs for example. After all, recipes are just suggestions that every cook should change according to their taste. ūüôā

Ingredients:

3 medium size potatoes
2 Tbsp, butter
1/2 cup, heavy cream or milk
6 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
2 egg yolks
3 oz, pancetta, finely chopped
1/2 cup Emmental cheese, shredded
Salt
Ground black pepper
Ground nutmeg

Pancetta and potato croquettes

Pancetta and potato croquettes

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel the potatoes, cut them in half and rinse them under running water. Bring a pot of water to simmer and place the potatoes in the pot. Cook the potatoes for about 30 minutes or until they are cooked through. Check with a fork: if the fork easily slides into the potatoes with no resistance, the potatoes are done.

In a non-stick pot, melt the butter on a very low heat. Drain the potatoes and, when the butter is completely melted, place them into the pot. With the help of a potato masher, mash the potatoes very well. Add the Parmigiano and the heavy cream and mash again. Add some salt, pepper and nutmeg (to taste) and toss to coat. Turn the burner off and let the mashed potatoes cool down for about 10 minutes. Add the yolks and toss to coat.

Place the potato mixture into a pastry bag and fill the greased and floured molds of a mini muffin pan. Sprinkle the top of each muffin/croquette with some shredded cheese and some pancetta and bake for about 15 minutes.

Remove the muffin pan from the oven and let the croquettes cool for at least 10 minutes before taking them out of their mold Рotherwise they will fall apart. 

Serve with a glass of what you like the most (in my case champagne! ūüėČ )

Bye for now!