Tag Archives: Italian

Peposo with Roasted Pepper Salad on Focaccia

Peposo & Roasted Pepper on Foccacia

You’re wondering what peposo is, right?  Or perhaps you know what peposo is and you’ve already wondered how it ended up in a sandwich.  If you’re like me, you may even just want to take a big bite of it right now because it’s dinnertime and it would be much easier to have a savory Italian sandwich magically appear instead of needing to make dinner.  Oh, how I wish that might be so tonight.

This sandwich has quite a long story behind it, so I’ll share it soon — along with the recipe for the peposo, the roasted pepper salad, and the focaccia.  But it’s Wednesday, and I’m supposed to be wordless — or nearly so.

Spinach Lasagne with Ragu alla Bolognese

IMG_1994 I think it’s fair to say that I equally enjoy baking sweets as much as I enjoy cooking something savory.  Regardless of what it is, I normally rise to a challenge and can’t think of a better way to spend a day in the kitchen because the end product can be so rewarding.  Although most of the past Daring Bakers’ challenges have been of the sweet variety, this month, we had a rare opportunity to bake something somewhat unexpected:  Lasagna.

I’m certainly not new to lasagna, and true to my passions as a cook, I’m not sure I’ve ever made lasagna the same way twice.  No, really.  It must be because there are too many wonderful recipes out there to try, and each one poses a sort of opportunity to find the perfect one.  And guess what?  I think we’ve decided that it’s been found.  Who knew that it didn’t need to be packed with ricotta and mozzarella?  Well, okay, I did, because I have made lasagna with mushrooms and a bechamel.  But I’ve only made my own pasta once, and I’ve never made spinach pasta.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Many thanks to all the hosts, as I enjoyed this challenge quite a bit — both process and product!

There were several parts to this challenge, but in a nutshell they were to:  1) make a meat ragu sauce; 2) make the lasagna pasta by hand; 3) make a bechamel; and 4) make the lasagna, of course.  The choice factor was to make a ragu different from the one provided, and that’s exactly what I did.

Suffice it to say that amidst my husband’s unwavering focus on the first big week of March Madness, I spent the day in my kitchen preparing this absolutely yummy dish.  My Ragu alla Bolognese, inspired by a version presented in Saveur that in turn was inspired by British chef Heston Blumenthal, was completely delicious — and I didn’t have to go to the grocery store for one ingredient. Miraculous.

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Italian Almond Orange Cake: Mediterranean Meal’s Dessert

Moroccan spice blend for lamb...
A week ago, I decided to ask friends over for dinner — friends I've known for a very long time.  It's the group I've mentioned before; the females know each other by profession, and the husbands by default.  It works and we all enjoy getting together to eat. 

It's a good thing we enjoy each others company, because this time, the food was less than stellar.  Sure, I'm being my usual critical self, but still.  Maybe it was because the week of warm temperatures had lulled me into thinking summer was around the corner and I was daydreaming.  Or that I'd quietly enjoyed taking my time in the kitchen that day thinking about the sequence of what I'd make first, then next, swearing I'd have good photos to use this time.  It was truly my favorite kind of day. But I know cooking for a group of people needs to be more than just pleasant time spent in the kitchen for it to be delicious as well.

I'd been in the mood for Mediterranean flavors and had a boneless leg of lamb in the freezer. Something Moroccan seemed perfect for the evening and although I scanned many recipes that sounded truly delicious, I settled on one from a cookbook one of my older sons had given to me:  The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by Tess Mallos.  The only problem is that the lamb meat would need to be cut into chunks for the Seksu Bil Lahm or Couscous with Lamb and Vegetables.  It seemed a waste to cut the leg of lamb up for the dish even though the flavors were exactly what I'd wanted.

The night before the party, I changed my mind and chose a different recipe instead.  You know what they say about changing your mind at the last minute, right?  So…

The spices' aroma was heavenly...

…this post won't be about the Moroccan Spice-Rubbed Leg of Lamb.  Lovingly rubbed, basted in an interesting honey-lemon syrup, and roasted to an internal temp of 145 degrees, the meat was too done for me…

Shrimp, calamari, clams...
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…and it won't be about the Seafood appetizer with Romesco Sauce I made because I sort of threw it together and will have to try it again, writing down the ingredients.  It's a bit challenging to do all of that when people are waiting to eat…

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…nor will this be about my second attempt to make a Briami me Feta or Greek Vegetable Casserole with Feta.  Even though the layers were oh, so patiently put together, and carefully seasoned before baking for 90 minutes, the very thinnly sliced potatoes were not done. Par-boiling is definitely in order next time.  And there will be a next time because the flavor of this casserole was truly delicious — especially with a bite of the lamb.  Maybe next time, the lamb needs to be layered in the casserole.

Italian Orange Almond Cake

No, this will be about the dessert, which is where my day began last Saturday morning in my kitchen.  It will be about the Sformato di Aanci or Orange and Almond Cake that was so very moist and delicious.  Jenny of All Things Edible, an old Daring Baker friend has a new house and is celebrating with a Housewarming.  Join in on the celebration and send her a recipe to share before January 30th.  The more the merrier, right?  We think so!

Dinner with Friends is always good...

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I Say Cassata, You say…

I’m sitting here eating cake.  It’s 10:45 am, I slept decadently until a quarter past nine, and no one is here but me and my cake.  And it’s not just any cake.

It’s Cassata.

I know.  I never heard of it before last week, either, but when you are in the company of the baking-obsessed and whimsical group of lovely food bloggers that I often find myself…well.  You make cassata.  And yes, it’s lovely for breakfast with a side of caffeine while your dog stares at your empty plate just waiting for an invite, and your cat squalls at you just because she can.

Here’s how this happens.  Amongst the myriad emails that fly back and forth between the people in this group, someone mentions a recipe.  Links are forwarded, photos emerge, then others start throwing their suggestions in the hat.  Each one seems better than the last, of course, and when a selection is made, then we know we’ll all have our Skype ready to go on a particular day and time.  Yep.  The Bakenistas stuck again this past weekend.  And at my house, that means my Mac was hefted down to sit in the maelstrom that is my kitchen when I bake.

The only problem with this particular session is that the night before, I made a last minute S’mores cake to take to a family get together and didn’t clean the kitchen.  It was one of those, "We went to Italy and all we brought back was 750 photos that we’ll now share with you" type of evenings.  And since the Bakenista session was scheduled for 7am my time the next day, it meant that I’d have to start baking with a:  1)  full dishwasher that needed emptying; 2) two sinks full of dishes; 3)  a counter still sporting ingredients I’d need for the cassata; and…wait.  I’ll show you.  And at this point, I’d already begun to clean somewhat.  What a pig.

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But I digress…I slept until past 8am, so by the time I lugged my Mac to its appointed spot, the bake chat was in full swing, and there’s absolutely no way you can start from the beginning to see what you missed while you were getting your beauty rest.

It was fun, just like it always is, but it was involved, and as soon as my cassata was in the fridge cooling, I had to start dinner — yes, these bake fests take most of the day.  But in a very clean kitchen, I was able to put dinner on the table…erm our laps.  Television on a soft sofa was a definite requirement after this day.

Cassata alia Siciliana
my version…

For the Sponge Cakes
2 c. bleached cake flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt, plus a pinch
8 lg. eggs, separated
1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2  c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the Syrup
2 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. cold water
1/2 c. Marsala FINE

For the Filling
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely grated
3/4 c. chopped almonds
3 c. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1 c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Freshly grated zest of 2 medium oranges

For the Icing
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. gelatin dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. cream cheese at room temp

For the Candied Orange Peels
Skin from two large oranges
Left over Marsala Syrup
Granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the center.  Lightly grease two 8" round cake pans with cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment and spray again.

For the sponge cakes, sift together flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside.  In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until very light and pale yellow in color.  In about 3 minutes, it will double in volume.  Beat in the vanilla extract, then slowly pour in the melted, cooled butter.  Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in the reserved dry ingredients using a rubber spatula until just mixed.  It will be very thick and somewhat sticky.  Do not over mix.

Clean the bowl of your mixer and the whisk to remove all egg yolks, then add the egg whites and pinch of salt, beating on medium high speed until soft peaks are formed.  Add about 1/4 of the egg whites to the reserved batter and stir to lighten, then add the rest, folding to incorporate, and lighten the thickness of the batter. Make sure no pockets of dry ingredients remain.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans, smoothing the tops with a spatula.  Bake the cakes for 30 minutes or until they are golden brown, when a wooden skewer inserted in the center is clean when removed.  Allow cakes to cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

While the cakes are baking, make the syrup.  In a narrow saucepan, stir together sugar, water, and marsala.  Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the contents to a boil, then lower the heat slightly and allow the syrup to simmer for 5 minutes undisturbed.  Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool.

Then prepare the filling.  Place the ricotta, confectioner’s sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of an electric mixer and, using the paddle attachment, beat until the ricotta is creamy and soft.  Add the grated chocolate, chopped almonds, and orange zest and beat just until combined.
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To assemble the cassata, have ready an 8-inch springform pan.  Using a serrated knife, carefully spit each cake layer in half horizontally to make four layers.  Place one of the layers in the bottom of the pan cut side up and using a pastry brush, moisen it generously and evenly with some of the marsala syrup.  Spread the cake layer evenly with one third of the ricotta mixture.  Repeat twice with another cake layer, more of the marsala syrup, and another thired of the rictta mixture.  Place the final cake layer on top and generously brush with the rum syrup.  Wrap the springform pan tightly in plastic wrap to help the layers fit snugly on top of one another.  Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

About halfway through the chilling period, make the candied orange peels. Slice the ends off each orange, then in a downward motion, make parallel cuts through the skin around each orange.  Remove strips from the oranges, and if desired, adjust the thickness of each by slicing in half.

In a pan of boiling water, drop the orange peel strips in, and let cook for a minute or so.  Drain and repeat.  Then with the marsala syrup left from the cake, stir in orange peel strips and heat, simmering on a very low setting for about an hour.  Remove strips with a fork, and a few at a time, drop and roll in a plate full of granulated sugar.  Remove to a wire rack lined with waxed paper until dry.  Img_2235

To make the frosting, in the bowl of a mixer, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Add the softened gelatin, then whip until stiff.  In another bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth.  Fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture and make sure all is incorporated.

To frost the cake, spread icing on the sides smoothly, then mound the rest on the top.  Place candied orange peels around the top and refrigerate to set the frosting about 1 hour.

Watch husband, mother, and finnicky teen eaters gobble it up when served after dinner.

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Notes: 

  • This cake has the all important "not too sweet" factor going on.  The ricotta and bittersweet chocolate are a pleasant combo — especially since the chocolate isn’t melted as it usually is.  Very nice!  The crunch of the well-chopped almonds added to the uniqueness of this filling.  The grated orange peel is only a hint in each bite.
  • The sponge comes together rather oddly.  It’s very, very thick before the addition of the egg whites, and I did wonder whether there would be any air left in the whites as I incorporated them.  My worries were unfounded, because the cakes rose very well, and after slicing each in half, allowed for four 1-inch layers.  Nice!
  • The original recipe called for unsalted pistachios and after having my husband call from the grocery store several times not being able to find them, I settled for almonds.  No complaints about my husband doing the shopping, of course.  That’s a treat.
  • The original recipe also called for rum, and I’m sort of Bleh on rum unless it’s a Pina Colada, so marsala wasn’t a difficult choice.  The syrup was not boozy tasting and the marsala was a perfect compliment to the orange.  Pleasantly surprised!  Cointreau or Gran Mariner would have been too strong in my opinion, which is only worth about two cents on most days.
  • I had to have cream cheese and whipped cream with this cake.  I needed a fluffy, not too strong, light and pleasant accompaniment to the sponge and dense filling.  So thanks, Breadchick, for the suggestion.  It was perfect!
  • The recipe calls for chocolated grated in "fine, feathery shreds."  Um.  This takes FOREVER.  But when you’re done, you’ll have quite the pile of chocolate feathers.  And chocolate everywhere in your kitchen.  Not bad if you have light colored floors and counters, but take a gander at mine again.  It sort of blends in, doesn’t it.  What.  A.  Mess.
  • If you don’t have an 8" springform pan, line a larger one with plastic wrap so that the long edges are draped up and over the edges.  Place the first layer of the cassata into the pan, then begin the process of layering.  When you’re finished, draw the plastic up over the cake and wrap tightly before refrigerating.  Use the plastic to lift the cake from the pan for frosting.  Yes, I did this.
  • I’ve made candied orange peels a variety of ways, and I do have to say that adding them to that left over marsala syrup was genius (pats self on back).  The bitterness never quite goes away even though the initial blanching is supposed to get rid of it, but the marsala really helped tone it down.  A bite of candied orange peel on a perfectly loaded fork really tastes yummy.

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And a final note —  Not much gets me up early on Sunday without my eyebrows!  But these folks will, and even though not all of us are able to bake or chat when we get together, it’s a great experience.

This time, Lis, Ben, John, Steph, Helen, Chris, Ivonne, and Marce added to the madness.  Mary was laid up with a back injury but ubiquitously there, and unfortunately, Sara, Tanna, and Laura had other things to do on a lovely Sunday.  Imagine that!

Until next time.  And who knows when that will be.  It’s always a surprise.

Cassata, anyone?  I am pleasantly surprised, because I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I have.
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Almost Cochignano’s Meatballs with Marinara & Papardelle

In less than 30 days, we’re leaving for Italy.  It hasn’t quite set in yet, even though I’ve been swamped with securing lodging, booking reservations for the busier sights, and familiarizing myself with three very different cities for our 12-day vacation.  I’ve found a cute apartment (with a kitchen I’m planning on using) in Rome a couple of blocks from the Piazza Campo de Fiori (which has an outdoor morning market) where we’ll be for four nights.  Then we’re off to Sorrento near the Amalfi Coast for three nights so the menfolk can wallow in all that’s Pompeii & Vesuvius and I can oogle over the vistas with some limoncello.  We’ll finish up in Florence, or right outside of Florence in an old, old  farmhouse.

Yours truly is our travel agent, and let me tell you, it’s a lot of work!

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So how are we getting ready for all of this?  With food, of course.  Italian food.  And although I’m attempting to find recipes that are related to the cuisine we may find in each of the areas we’ll be visiting, as long as it’s Italian, we’re fine.  It will be truly interesting once we’re there to compare authentic Italian cuisine with what we’ve always thought it’s been and know we’re in for some surprises.

In celebration of that, I’m starting with a recipe I found recently for Spaghetti & Meatballs.  It seemed appropriate to begin with something so many are familiar with, and with a recipe that varies from one  family to the next, each with its own secret ingredients. 

My family is not Italian — at least not that I know of, but there are a few skeletons in our many closets!  The spaghetti we had for dinner when I was growing up was looked forward to even though it was made from ground beef, a can of tomato paste, a package of Shilling’s spaghetti mix, and some water.  We’d ask for spaghetti noodles, but most often ended up with penne or ziti, my mother not especially wanting to deal with the mess we’d have made slurping long, tomato sauced pieces of pasta. 

When I saw Angelo "Squatty" Coschignano’s Meatballs with Billy’s Sauce in the April issue of Gourmet,  I couldn’t pass up the recipe. And true to my sorry form, I hadn’t planned it in advance, but was able to pull it off with what I had on hand.  Okay, so not exactly the recipe, but good enough for me to imagine what the real deal must taste like.

To die for.

Angelo Coschignano & Billy — whoever you are, thanks.  Thanks very much!

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Papardelle & Meatballs

For the Sauce
2 1/2 c. water
1-1/2 tsp. good chicken bouillon
1/2 oz. dried porcinis
                        
                   
1/2 lb. piece top round (whole)
chicken parts (neck, gizzard, liver, heart)
1/3 c. olive oil
                        
                   
5 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
                        
                   
  2 lg. onions, coarsely chopped
                        
                   
1/2 c.
coarsely chopped fresh basil
                        
                   
1/4 c. coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
                        
                   
4
garlic cloves, smashed
                        
                   
2
(28-oz) cans diced tomatoes in juice
                        
                   
14 oz. marinara sauce (jar)
                        
                   
1/4
c. dry red wine
                        
                   
2 T sugar
1/4  c.  grated Parmesan

Hydrate the porcinis with 1 c. of very hot water and let sit for about 20 minutes.  (You may need to filter the water to remove sediment before using it.) Heat the remaining 1-1/2 c. water and add the bouillon, stirring until dissolved.

Heat the oil in a large, deep pot, and when hot, saute chicken parts and piece of sirloin until beginning to brown.  Add bacon and continue to fry until soft, 3-5 minutes.  Add the onions and saute about 7-8 minutes, until soft and golden.

Add the basil, parsley, and garlic, stirring it in, about 3 minutes.

Stir in all the tomatoes and sauce, then add the wine, sugar, mushrooms, and their water, as well as the chicken bouillon and mix well, cooking until it reaches a simmer.  Add the parmesan all at once and stir it in.

Let sauce simmer over a very low flame for about 2 hours until very thick.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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For the Balls
1 lg. garlic clove, chopped
3/4 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. Sweet Italian sausage
1/2 lb. ground sirloin
2 T chopped fresh basil
1 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 c. grated fresh Parmesan
1/3 c. Italian seasoned fine dry bread crumbs
1 lg. egg
1/2 c. olive oil

1 lb. papardelle

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

About half way through the sauce simmer time:

Mix all ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl.  Use your hands to squeeze everything through your fingers making sure all is incorporated.  Dampen your hands, and make about 18-20 nicely rounded balls.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil until very hot and brown the balls in small batches until browned on all sides. 

Place the browned balls in a large baking dish and cover them with 1 qt. of the tomato sauce.  Cover the dish with foil and bake about 30 minutes until the balls are cooked through.

Pour over cooked papardelle and sprinkle on some parmesan.

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Notes: Okay, so I have no idea where to get veal neck bones, which is what the original recipe called for.  I don’t exactly keep those things in my freezer. Not only do they make me feel a bit squiggy around the edges, but there’s just no way I’d end up with them left over from something else.   I do, however usually have other less squiggy odds and ends in my freezer for any number of reasons, and decided that a chunk of top round and some chicken parts I would work just fine. 

And the mushrooms?  Well, the original recipe called for porcini bouillon, and I spent about two seconds marveling over the idea that such a thing existed before I remembered that I had a packet of dried porcinis in my cupboard.  You know what they say about a well-stocked pantry, right?  Well.  Actually, I purchased these in Virginia while visiting my sister last Christmas and wasn’t about to leave them there.  There’s no way she’d use them ever, and how sad is that?  So I packed them up and brought them home and see how handy they were? 

Other substitutions?  Oh yes. The top round.  Instead of chopping it, I decided it was all about the flavor, so cooked it and the chicken parts in the sauce and then removed them.  All that nice caramelly brown stuff on the bottom of the pan was able to flavor the sauce just fine.  As much as I can say that the beef was very nicely cooked and shredded easily after simmering in that lovely tomato sauce(the menfolk picked at it until it was gone), there was no way I was going to leave it in the sauce since the sauce was destined for meatballs.  Who ever heard of pouring a meat sauce over meatballs?  Okay, I’m sure someone out there has, so the line forms at the left and you can set me straight.

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What else?  Well.  The original called for day old Italian bread soaked in 1-1/2 cups of milk, squeezed, then the milk tossed.  Not only did I not have Italian bread, I couldn’t bring myself to even use a stale loaf of sliced bread and then throw out all that milk.  Sorry.  No criticism on the original recipe, because I have soaked dried bread before, but the liquid went in the sauce.

I know there’s something else…OH!  The tomato paste.  I actually didn’t have any.  So much for my well-stocked pantry, right?  But I did have half a jar of very good marinara, and so used that instead figuring that the intensity of the flavor would be a somewhat decent substitute. 

So the outcome?  The sauce was very good.  It was thick, and a pleasant combination of tomato tartness, mellowed to a rich, bacony lusciousness.  The balls?  The jury said they weren’t juicy enough, but the outspoken part of that jury was my mother, and she thinks everything needs a ton of fat in it.  I am wondering what the bread would have added to these, thinking it may have lightened them up a bit.

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The sauce recipe makes about 2 quarts, so you’ll have lots of leftovers to experiment with.

Like one of the grilled pizzas we had a few days later.  Mmmmmm…..