Tag Archives: dinner

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! ūüėŹ

Since I didn’t want her exception to be too big, I decided to make a risotto. ūüėĚ
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! ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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! ūüėć

Red, Blue and White flowers

Red, Blue and White flowers

 

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”! ūüėČ 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. ūüėČ

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! ūüôā

So that’s how I did it! ūüėČ

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! ūüėČ

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!!! ūüėČ

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 (¬ľ 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. ūüėč

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

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”

Warming up: Broccoli soup

Broccoli soup

2 Servings 

Here we are again! Thanksgiving is just a couple of weeks away and there are so many things to do if you have the blessing/curse to wear the hostess’s apron! ūüėČ

As most of you may know, Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Italy, so we do not have a traditional menu. All our Thanksgiving “knowledge” comes from reading books and magazines as well as partaking in a few Thanksgiving dinners we have been invited to over the past years.

This year, Stefano and I will have a good number of guests over and nobody in the party, but her majesty and the daughter of another couple, was born in this country. Needless to say, each of us is trying to bring to the table their own ideas of what an American Thanksgiving dinner should look like with, of course, a twist from their own country. ūüėČ So far, all we have been able to agree upon is that there will be the gobble, gobble bird, some mashed potatoes and some Brussels sprouts. ūüôā

Broccoli soupSince I’m the hostess, I have already announced to the guests that the appetizers will be 100% Italian (sorry, but I had to draw the line somewhere… unless any of you tells me that there is a must-have American appetizer that can’t be missed ūüôā ) and the appetizers will be followed by a soup.

The broccoli soup I’m sharing with you today might just do the trick. This soup is a no-brainer and anyone can make it. It’s good, healthy and is the perfect candidate for every night of the cold and long winter we have ahead of us! We’ll see if this soup makes it all the way to our Thanksgiving table – it is facing competition from the pumpkin soup, the recipe for which I published a while ago (if you are interested, you can check it out on this post)… ūüôā

Ingredients:

12 oz, broccoli florets
4 potatoes
1/3 cup, chopped onion
1 ¬Ĺ Tbsp, butter
1 ¬Ĺ Tbsp, flour
3 cups, beef stock
1/4 cup, grated Parmigiano cheese
1 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Cut the potatoes off into bits.

In a non-stick large pot, put the butter and the onion and cook until the onion softens.

Add the broccoli florets, the potato bits, some salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat.

Add the flour and toss to coat.

Add the stock and keep cooking, stirring often, for about 30 minutes. Eventually, the broccoli and the potatoes will turn mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate.

Transfer the soup to a food processor 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 servings, pour some olive oil on top of each, season with black pepper and finish it up by dusting the plate with some grated parmigiano.

Broccoli soup

PS: We like everything about Thanksgiving: its meaning, the fact that it is a family holiday, its traditions. Of course, we cannot say that it brings up¬†childhood memories for me or Stefano, but her majesty has been blessed with being a citizen of two wonderful countries and we are trying to raise her according to both traditions. So, we have decided to go¬†the whole nine yards with this year’s Thanksgiving celebration. Therefore, if you feel like suggesting a decoration, a dish or a drink that should definitely be on our table that day, we are all ears! ūüôā

Mint and zucchini tagliatelle: Italian beauty!

Zucchine and mint tagliatelle

2 Servings

Hello everyone! ūüôā

Let me thank a couple of people before I share this wonderful recipe with all of you.

First: the photo setting. Do not get any fancy idea. The red roses are not from Stefano. The last time he gave me red roses we weren’t even dating!!! ūüėČ Haven’t you noticed that flowers are one of the first things to disappear into thin air in the course of a long-term relationship? But I’m digressing. Back to the roses: they are the gracious present that Anatoli from the wonderful wine blog Talk-a-Vino and his lovely wife brought me last time they came over for dinner. You don’t know him? You don’t know what you are missing. His blog offers a wealth of knowledge on anything wine-related and is a pleasure to read: go check it out and decide for yourselves! ūüôā

Anyway, for some reason, whenever I see a red rose, I get to think about the “famous” scene from the movie American Beauty. So, finding myself with all those gorgeous and vibrant red petals I couldn’t resist putting them to good use by recreating that scene in a… food context, so the photo setting for this dish was a real no brainer. Thank you, Anatoli and Victoria!!! Hope you like the photograph. ūüôā

My second thank you note goes to my aunt Pia, my mother’s sister. She came over to visit us and we found a little time (but not much!) for cooking. She was born and raised in Southern Italy but she has been living in Liguria (a region in the northwest of Italy) since forever, so her cuisine is a combination of the two Italian souls. During her stay, she taught me how to make some of her signature dishes including the one I’m sharing with you today. Dear aunt, thank you so much!!! I hope you’ll find that the image makes justice to your recipe! ūüôā

But enough with the cha cha, and let’s talk food.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1 Tbsp, butter
2 zucchini
2 Tsp, harissa
4 mint leaves
Half pack of tagliatelle
1 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt

Directions:

Wash the zucchini under cold water. On a chopping board, cut about 1/4 inch off each side and slice the zucchini thinly and evenly.

In a large non-stick skillet, put the olive oil and the butter and let the butter melt. When the butter is melted, add the zucchini and some salt (to taste), toss to coat and cook on low heat. After 10 minutes, add the harissa and keep cooking until the zucchini are simmered.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the tagliatelle and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the tagliatelle are cooking, shred the mint leaves with your hands, add them to the zucchini and, on a very low heat, toss to coat.

Drain the tagliatelle, setting aside some of the water where the pasta has been cooked. Put the tagliatelle into the skillet with the zucchini and toss to coat. If the zucchini sauce is too dry, add some of the water you put aside.

Put the tagliatelle into the serving plates and, if you wish, dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon appetito!

PS: isn’t it unbelievable that¬†Annette Bening¬†didn’t win the Oscar for her role in American Beauty? She was magnificent! And she didn’t win it for Being Julia either!!! I can’t help but wondering: what were the Academy people thinking? ¬† ¬†

The artichoke quest and the marriage with saffron linguine

Saffron and artichoke linguine4 Servings

Artichokes are my favorite vegetables. I would eat them from breakfast to dinner (sort of…)! When I moved to our neck¬†of the woods, I started testing the quality of the local vegetables and I have to admit that the benevolence of the gods was not on my side in¬†my quest for my beloved veggies. All the artichokes that I tried tasted like soap (blah!!!) and the inside was so full of hairs that it was like eating a hairball (double blah!!!) After trying for over a year, I decided I was just wasting my time and my money, so I simply stopped buying artichokes. Sad.

However, as the saying goes, good things happen when you least expect it. Last week, Stefano took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Never been there? You do not know what you are missing if you are a lover of Italian food and authentic Italian products (we’ll talk more about Arthur Avenue in future posts). Anyway, while I was strolling about the market, the green beauties caught my eyes. Mindful of my past experience, I was about to pass, when the grocer called me. He was Italian and we started chatting in my mother tongue. He swore on his mother’s grave (Italian grocers do that!) that the artichokes were excellent and I would not be disappointed. I trusted him (after all, swearing on someone’s grave has got to mean something, right?!?) and that Italian grocer is the reason why I’m sharing this recipe today.

Just bear with me a few more seconds. When I made this dish I used an Italian heavy cream called “Panna Chef” by Parmalat. Panna Chef is much ticker than the heavy cream I buy locally. It is like a paste. So far, I have never seen Panna Chef on any shelf of any American grocery store or market I have been to. I usually have family and friends bring me some packs over when they come to visit. When I do not have any Panna Chef left, I buy a small pack of local heavy cream and I beat it the same way you beat egg white to make meringue. That’s the kind of thickness you want to achieve to make this dish.

Ingredients:

4 artichokes
1 lemon
1/3 cup & 1 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
1/2 cup, white wine
1 & 1/2 cup, beef stock
3 slices of bacon or pancetta, ¬ľ inch thick
1/3 cup, chopped onion
6 Tbsp, Panna Chef
2 sachets of powered saffron
14 oz linguine (a little less than a pack)
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese (optional)
Salt
Ground black pepper

Saffron and artichoke linguineDirections:

Put some cold water into a large bowl. Squeeze a half lemon and put the juice and the half lemon itself into the bowl.

Break off the tough, outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach the tender, lighter-green inner leaves. With the help of a knife, cut off the top of the artichoke (between 1 and 1 1/2 inches), some of the stem (leaving about 3/4 of an inch) and then trim away the outer layer of the stem. With the other half lemon, rub all the cut surfaces (this will prevent them from browning).

Cut the artichoke halves into quarters and put them into the lemon water.

Cut up the bacon or the pancetta into bits. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the bacon or the pancetta and fry for 2/3 minutes. Add the chopped onions and stir occasionally until the bacon or the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put 1/3 cup of olive oil and the garlic in a large non-stick skillet and brown the garlic. Add the artichokes, some salt and pepper (to taste), toss to coat and cook for a few minutes. Throw the garlic away and add the wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine completely evaporates. Add the beef stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stock completely evaporates.

Add the bacon or the pancetta and the onions into the skillet with the artichokes, toss to coat and set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the linguine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the linguine are cooking, in a small pot, put the panna, 1 Tbs of the boiling water from the pot where you are cooking the pasta, and the saffron and cook until the mixture gets hot.

Drain the linguine, put them into the skillet with the artichokes and the bacon or pancetta and toss to coat. Add the hot saffron mixture and toss to coat again.

Put the linguine into the serving plates and, if you wish, dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon appetito!

Pasta alla Norma: Finding a Good Grocer is Like Finding a Good Friend

Pasta alla Norma

4 Servings

I usually welcome the spring season by cooking pasta alla norma. The¬†reason? Spring brings fresh tomatoes, which are key to the success of¬†this dish. If I close my eyes and dig into my childhood memories, I¬†can still smell the aroma of fresh tomatoes and onions simmering on¬†the stove of my grandmother’s house in Sicily. Actually, this is one¬†of the very few happy memories I have about my vacations in Sicily due to¬†the very… (how do I put this?)… rocky relationship between my¬†grandmother and my mom.

Anyway, whenever I go on a “hunt” for the right ingredients for this recipe, it is one¬†of those moments I miss my country and, especially, my grocer the¬†most. The place where I live is a supermarket kingdom: everything is¬†beautifully displayed in these endless aisles but, when you approach¬†the people who work there and start asking questions about a¬†particular produce you are looking for, they look at you in¬†astonishment. No, it’s not my accent… I’m pretty sure about that. ūüėČ The¬†point is they have no idea what I am talking about. Such a¬†different experience compared to the great feeling I had when I put my
foot into my grocery store in Italy in contemplation of the wonders expecting me.

Let me be honest here. I truly believe that finding the perfect grocer, as well as finding the perfect butcher, is like finding a good friend. Let me explain my metaphor a little more in detail, will you?

You are looking for someone you can totally trust and that is going to¬†give you the best he can offer. It’s not an easy quest and,¬†inevitably, you will encounter a few disappointments down the road but¬†what a fulfilling feeling when you realize that¬†you have found the¬†one. He starts smiling at you when he sees you coming down the street¬†and when you explain him what you are planning on cooking, he knows¬†exactly what you need. Most of the time, he is even a better cook than¬†you are, so he shares tips and cooking skills with you, little secrets¬†that you are going to treasure forever. He goes out of his way to pamper you and¬†make you happy to make sure that you come back over and over and the friendship endures. Do you see my¬†point now?

I still remember the first time I decided to try out this recipe not long ago in Italy. With the list of ingredients based on my dad’s memory, I¬†went to my grocer. I had no idea what to pick but, of course, he came¬†to my rescue and told me that I needed “sauce tomatoes”, i.e.,¬†tomatoes that are so juicy and flavorful that not using them to make a¬†sauce would be tantamount to a crime. Then he directed me toward the¬†right type of eggplant to be used and, finally, he made me try this¬†divine ricotta salata coming directly from his trusted farmer. When I¬†came back home and the tomatoes on the stove started spreading their
aroma all over, I was taken back in time to a vacation at my grandmother’s house in an¬†instant and I took a fidelity oath to him. Something like “until death¬†do us part” but less dramatic and permanent! ūüėČ

Enough with the chit chat. This pasta dish originates in the Sicilian¬†city of Catania and, allegedly, it was named after “Norma”, an opera¬†by famous composer Vincenzo Bellini. The ingredients are few:¬†tomato sauce, fried eggplants, basil and grated ricotta salata (a¬†hard, saltier and drier version of ricotta). The tomato sauce takes¬†about three hours to make, so if you are in hurry to put a meal on¬†the table, maybe this is not the right dish. Everybody knows that¬†perfection takes time and the taste of this pasta is heaven.

Pasta alla NormaIngredients:

1 eggplant
6 lb, fresh tomatoes
half, red onion
10 leaves, fresh basil
1 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1 cup, grated ricotta salata
1 lb rigatoni
salt

Directions:

Cut the eggplant into slices (about 3/4 inch thick). In order to remove the excess water from the eggplant slices, place a big colander on a plate, put some sliced eggplants in the colander and salt them. Put another layer of slices on top and salt them. Keep going until all the slices have been layered and salted. Then place a plate on top of the eggplant slices in the colander and put some kind of weight on top of the plate (I usually use peeled tomato cans). Let the slices rest for a couple of hours.

In the meanwhile, remove the stem ends of the tomatoes, cut them in halves and cut each half in 4 quarters. Cut the onion into slices.

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

Dice up the eggplant slices. In a non-stick skillet, pour 3/4 cup of olive oil and fry the eggplant cubes. When the cubes are soft and brown, remove them from the olive oil and place them on an oil-absorbing paper tissue.

Run the tomato mixture into a food mill, place the tomato sauce back on the low heat, put the eggplant cubes and the rest of the basil leaves into the sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the rest of the olive oil on the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the rigatoni and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the rigatoni and toss them to coat with 3/4 of the sauce.

Put the rigatoni into the serving plates, pour some of the remaining sauce on top of them and dust each dish with the grated ricotta salata. Serve right away and enjoy!

I wish you all a very Happy Easter!

Pasta alla Norma