Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

Strawberry Pie 1

I really cannot explain why this recipe was overlooked for so long. Granted, it wasn’t one that Mom prepared frequently — we were a strawberry shortcake family — but she did make this pie at least once a year. And how I loved it! I was walking around the farmers market, looking at all the fresh strawberries, when I remembered this treat. After buying a quart of strawberries, I rushed home, stopping along the way at a grocery to buy the rest of the ingredients. It wasn’t very much later that I had a strawberry-banana pie chilling in my fridge. A few weeks more and I prepared another while visiting Zia. Now, several months later and with my birthday looming in the near future (it’s Sunday, you know), I thought this the perfect time to share the recipe for Mom’s strawberry banana pie — and my personal favorite. Happy birthday to me!

The recipe I’m sharing is memory-based, for there is nothing written to follow. As you’ll soon see, however, the recipe is easy enough to reconstruct, although I did make a couple of changes. In the first place, I believe Mom used a pudding mix — sometimes vanilla, other times banana — and I do not recall her make pudding from scratch for this pie. The recipe I initially followed was printed in the recipe book that came with my first microwave, bought after I moved to Chicago in 1980. Never throw away a cookbook.

Then again, there are times when maybe you should toss a cookbook. When I prepared its vanilla pudding recipe, it was far too thick and not nearly as creamy as remembered and, therefore, not worthy of Mom’s pie. So, I made a couple of adjustments. I cut the amount of cornstarch, used 3 egg yolks instead of 2 whole eggs, and used less vanilla. The result was a pudding fit for Mom’s pie, just thick enough not to be runny yet creamy enough to wash over your palate. I, like the pudding, was all set.

I could not recall what, if any, glaze Mom used with the strawberry topping. I chose strawberry flavored gelatin, thinking it would both set the berries in place and prolong their shelf life. I did consider making the pie without the strawberry topping, using fresh berries to garnish each piece when served. If you prefer to do that, you should cover the pie with plastic wrap to prevent a film forming on the pudding.

It’s my idea to add a thin coating of chocolate to the pie crust. Living alone, my pie will not “disappear” as quickly as Mom’s did. The chocolate coating will prevent the pie crust from getting soggy as the pie sits. (I can say, with some certainty, that from my earliest days I have never liked a soggy bottom.)

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Strawberrhy Banana Pie

Dessert at Zia’s

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Strawberry-Banana Pie Recipe

Ingredients

for the pie

  • 1 pastry crust large enough to cover a deep, 9″ (23 cm) pie dish – store-bought may be substituted
  • ⅓ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • vanilla pudding, recipe follows
  • 12 oz (340 g) fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and halved or sliced
  • strawberry flavored gelatin, instructions follow
  • whipping cream for serving
  • shaved chocolate for garnish (optional)

for the vanilla pudding

  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

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Directions

to prepare the vanilla pudding

  1. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt before adding ½ cup of milk. Continue whisking until fully combined.
  2. Add remaining milk and microwave on high for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pudding should be smooth and thick.
  3. Temper the eggs by adding a few ounces of the hot liquid to the eggs, stirring all the while. Begin stirring the hot liquid as you add the egg mixture to it.
  4. Microwave on high until the pudding just begins to boil, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the butter and vanilla to the pudding, stir well, cover with plastic wrap (see Notes), and set aside to cool.

to prepare the pie crust

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450˚ F (230˚ C).
  2. Use whatever type of pasty crust that you prefer — homemade or store-bought — and use it to cover a deep, 9 inch (23 cm) pie plate/pan.
  3. Use a fork to puncture the pie crust before baking for 10 to 12 minutes in the pre-heated oven. Crust should be golden brown. Remove to cool.
  4. Once the crust has cooled somewhat, melt the chocolate chips and warm the milk.
  5. Add the milk to the melted chocolate and whisk to create a ganache (see Notes.)
  6. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bottom of the pie crust with the melted chocolate.

to prepare the gelatin

  1. Follow the package directions to quickly prepare the gelatin using both boiling water and ice cubes.
  2. Once the gelatin is dissolved and the ice cubes have melted, add the halved/sliced strawberries and gently stir.
  3. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

to assemble the pie

  1. Once the pie crust has set and the chocolate coating hardened, coat the chocolate with a bit of pudding.
  2. Evenly space the sliced bananas across the pie’s bottom.
  3. Use as much pudding as is necessary to coat the sliced bananas. Be sure to leave room on top of the pudding for the strawberries. Use an offset spatula to even the top of the pudding.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to place the strawberries atop the pudding. Carefully pour the gelatin to cover the pudding and coat the strawberries.
    • Place excess gelatin and strawberries into serving bowls. Once set they may be served to those poor unfortunates who do not like pie.
  5. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to let the pie fully set. The longer the better.
  6. Serve garnished with freshly whipped cream and shaved chocolate (optional).

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Strawberry Banana Pie 6

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Notes

You can make this pie any number of ways, from the very simple — use store-bought pastry and instant pudding mix — to the more involved — make your own pastry, pudding, and strawberry glaze. No matter how you choose to prepare it, you’ll find this pie makes a fine dessert.

I bet that a few of you gasped and clutched your pearls when you read that I had prepared the pudding in the microwave. Release the pearls! Martha Stewart’s vanilla pudding recipe is a good one and is prepared in a more traditional way.

Whatever type of pudding you prepare, be sure it is on the firm side so that the pie doesn’t collapse as the runny pudding fills the empty place left when you serve a piece of the pie.

Although I like the chocolate coating for the pie’s crust, you’ll create new problems if the chocolate is rock-hard when solid. Remember you’ll have to cut through it to serve the pie. Use enough milk to make a ganache that will stiffen without getting too hard. Either that or make the chocolate coating as thin as possible.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Blueberry-Lemon Slice copy

Since today’s recipe was a dessert, why not end this post with another? This Blueberry-Lemon Slice is the perfect combination of tart and sweet and not at all difficult to prepare. It’s also a tasty way to use some of those blueberries if, like me, you freeze a couple quarts every summer. You will see the recipe when you click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Zucchini Pesto Pasta Preview

Zucchini “Noodles” with Walnut Pesto

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Stovetop Braised Rabbit

Rabbit ServedI’ve mentioned in the past that Dad was a hunter. When I was very young, he and a few friends would spend a weekend deer hunting in autumn. I don’t recall him ever being successful, though we sometimes received venison from one his friends. Whether the friend was a member of the hunting party or just generous, I do not recall.

Dad was far more successful hunting pheasants. He’d leave early in the morning and return that night, usually with at least one ring-necked pheasant. Very often, he and I dressed the birds. Because the seasons overlapped, he sometimes brought home a rabbit, as well. He skinned the animal and I remember cleaning them but not very often. I think Mom objected far more to my participation than I did. I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it today.

Rabbit Sous Chef

Flat Ruthie comes out of retirement

We enjoyed rabbit many more times than Dad’s rifle ever supplied. Grandpa sometimes brought them home from the farmers market already dressed. Dad also brought them home but I do not recall his source. Though not a regular part of our diet, it wasn’t a surprise to see rabbit served when Dad was home for dinner.

Today, I’ve a number of groceries that sell rabbit. With the exception of one butcher shop, all are frozen. If I’m going to buy a frozen rabbit, I’ll buy one that carries the date on the label and from a store I trust. As I’ve said in the past, developing relationships with your butchers and grocers can prove beneficial in a number of ways.

I rarely buy rabbit to cook for myself. I will buy one, however, and bring it to Zia. Served relatively rarely, these days rabbit is more of a treat than it ever was. With only two of us seated at the table, one rabbit is more than enough to satisfy us both. No matter which of us is cook that night, we always cook our rabbit the same way and that’s the recipe I’ll be sharing. Do take a look at the Notes section, however, for an alternative way to prepare it.

One thing to keep in mind when preparing rabbit is that it is a very lean meat. With so little fat, the meat can be tough and dry if not prepared correctly. I know because I once served my Traveling Companion probably the worst rabbit dinner ever prepared. WIth lean meats, low and slow is the way to go. Keep the heat low and take your time braising it. You’ll be rewarded with a moist, tender rabbit to serve your guests.

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Rabbit Braise Start*     *     *

Stovetop Braised Rabbit Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 dressed rabbit, about 3 lbs 
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped – 2 TBS tomato paste may be substituted – (optional)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • white wine
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cut the rabbit into manageable pieces. This can be from 8 to 12 pieces, depending upon your preference and plans for serving.
  2. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper. 
  3. Heat a few TBS of olive oil over med-high in a deep frypan with a lid. 
  4. Place the garlic and rabbit pieces into the pan and brown the rabbit before flipping them over to brown the other side — about 5 – 8 minutes per side.
  5. Add the tomato (optional), rosemary, and about ¾ cups of white wine to start, and bring the pan to the boil. 
  6. Reduce the heat to a soft simmer, cover, and braise the rabbit for well over an hour — more like an hour-and-a-half. 
  7. During the braise, turn the pieces over occasionally and add more wine, as needed, should the pan begin too dry. You may substitute water or chicken stock for some of the wine. 
  8. When fully cooked, remove and discard the rosemary sprigs, place the rabbit on a platter, and serve.

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Rabbit Braising

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Notes

This recipe is the Bartolini method of braising rabbit. (Actually, it was Mom’s idea to add a little tomato, “Just for color.”) If, like me, you have a difficult time getting the braise right, you may want to try cooking the rabbit in the hunter’s style, alla cacciatore. Mom’s cacciatore is also a stove top braise but it includes bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. They’ll keep the rabbit moist, just as they do chicken. There’s no need to go looking for the recipe. Mom’s Chicken Cacciatore is today’s “Deja Vu” dish.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Cacciatore with Polenta

Whether you decide to cook rabbit in this style, you really should give Mom’s cacciatore a try. The peppers, onions, mushrooms, and rosemary combine with the wine to make a very appetizing main course. Best of all, the aroma will fill your kitchen like only the best comfort foods can. You can see how it’s prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Strawberry Pie Preview

Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

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Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid

Sepia e Calamari in Umido

It’s that time of year when some will surf the net looking for seafood recipes. In many Italian households, you see, Christmas Eve will be celebrated with a Feast of the 7 Fishes … or 11 Fishes … or 12 Fishes … or 13 Fishes. The number itself is dependent upon: a) the number of Christian Sacraments (7); b) the number of Apostles minus Judas (11); c) the number of original Apostles (12); or, d) the number of original Apostles plus Jesus (13). No matter how or why you count them — and there are more versions than those I’ve listed — that’s a lot of fish dishes.

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Sepia e Calamari in Umido

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Although my family never celebrated with a Feast of however many Fishes, we did have a variety of seafood dishes to enjoy on Christmas Eve. I’ve shared those recipes, along with a meatless dish or two, in previous years. To make it easier for you to access them, I’ve created a “Christmas Eve” category that you can access at the end of this post or on the right side of the blog’s Home Page. If you need more suggestions, you may want to check out my Seafood (Frutti di Mare) category. There you’ll find every seafood dish I’ve shared over the past 5 years. (5 years!! Do you believe it?)

I doubt that today’s recipe was ever served at either home of the two-flat. The fact is, either cuttlefish (sepia) or squid (calamari) would have been served but never both in the same pot. Believe me. Initially I had no intention of doing it either. The fact is that the fishmonger was out of fresh cuttlefish and the box contained fewer than were needed to make today’s dish. As luck would have it, that was the only box that he had. It had been decades since either Zia or myself had even seen cuttlefish and I wanted to surprise her with them during the last Visitation. So, I bought some fresh squid and decided to sail into uncharted culinary waters.

Before getting into the recipe, lets talk seafood. Cuttlefish, squid, and octopus are all members of the cephalopod family. As you can see in the photo below, a cuttlefish has the shorter, more round body with tentacles that are also shorter and thicker than its squid cousin. If you own a parakeet/budgie, you may have purchased a cuttlebone for it to use to maintain its beak. That “bone” comes from cuttlefish. In squid, that bone is a smaller, clear, and flexible piece of cartilage. It’s known as the “pen”. The flesh of cuttlefish is thicker than that of squid and most believe it to be more tender. When cooked in umido, like today’s dish, the difference is too minimal to be noticed — at least to my palate. Lastly, because of the differences in body type, I sliced the cuttlefish lengthwise into strips. The squid’s body was cut into rings. The tentacles of both were cut in half but if you find them unappealing, just discard them. (See NOTES for help with cleaning squid.)

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Cuttlefish & Squid

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Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 or 3 anchovies
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or grated
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 lb raw cuttlefish, skinned, cleaned and cut into strips. If using tentacles, cut in half.
  • 1 lb raw squid, skinned, cleaned, and cut into rings. If fusing tentacles, cut in half.
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 800 g) whole tomatoes
  • 1 small can (14 oz, 400 g ) diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbs fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 whole clove garlic, minced or grated
  • sliced, thick crusted bread for serving

Directions

  1. Heat oil over med-high heat in a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Add the anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes before reducing heat to med-low. Cook for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to burn.
  3. Add cuttlefish and squid and continue to cook until flesh whitens – about 5 minutes.
  4. Add wine and increase heat to med-high. Continue to cook until wine is reduced by half – about 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add both cans of tomatoes, tearing the tomatoes by hand as you add them to the pot.
  6. Combine the parsley and basil and use 3/4 to season the pot. Reserve the rest. Stir to fully combine.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the pot to simmer for at least 20 minutes. It is ready to be served when the stew has thickened and grown deeper in color.
  8. Bring to the table garnished with the remaining chopped basil and parsley.

To Serve

While the stew simmers, toast some crusty bread, one slice per serving. While still warm. rub the remaining garlic clove across the bread. Place one slice of the now garlicky bread

into the bottom of each serving bowl. When it has finished simmering, ladle the stew over the bread in each bowl. Buon appetito!

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Notes

When cooking cuttlefish or squid, either cook them for less than a minute or more than 45 minutes. Anything in between will result in seafood with the texture of rubber. Because this is a stewed dish, if in doubt, taste a piece. If it’s chewy, continue to cook until tender.

As you know, I work alone in the kitchen, taking all the photos as I go. Normally, there isn’t a problem that a time delay and remote shutter cannot handle. Cleaning squid, however, is a different matter completely. Being the ham-fisted person that I am, there really was no way for me to capture the cleaning without in some way impacting my camera. Is squid juice corrosive? I didn’t want to find out, so, I’ve found a video that will teach you what you need to know about cleaning squid — all in under 3 minutes. Enjoy!  How to clean squid.

This is another seafood dish in which the flavors are relatively mild. Using grated cheese would pretty much obliterate them. Save that cheese for some other dish on the night’s menu.

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Leftovers?

Squid and Sepia Leftovers

Was there any doubt?

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Frutti di Mare, Deja vu

Whether you choose to serve this dish individually, with each dinner guest receiving a packet, or en masse, with a large packet placed in the table’s center, few dishes will delight your table mates like Linguine with Seafood in Parchment. After all, who doesn’t like receiving gifts this time of year and this one comes with a fantastic aroma that’s released upon opening. It doesn’t get much better than this and you can learn all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Braised Rabbit PreviewStovetop Braised Rabbit

(You may want to skip this one, Eva.)

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Grilled Clams

I do enjoy going to the fishmonger. I may go in with something in mind but I always leave with something else entirely. One of my last visits is a case in point.

This particular Tuesday I went shopping for chicken. My fishmonger is the only place in town that I know of where you can buy fresh, never frozen, organic chicken. I left with a chicken — and a little more than a pound of “Vancouver blue clams”. I just couldn’t resist them.

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Preview Clams

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These clams were small — about the size of manila clams — and there were 36 of the beauties in my purchase. Best of all, they’re mighty tasty. In fact, I’m already thinking of going back for more.

Once home, I decided to try something different. Believe me. Deciding not to cook them with linguine was one of the toughest culinary decisions I’ve made in a very long time. Even so, having watched a number of chefs grill clams, I thought I’d give it a try myself. The chefs placed the clams directly upon the grill grates, let them open, and then carefully removed them to a serving platter. That wouldn’t work for me.

Being so small, I envisioned watching them open and spilling their delicious juices on to the flames. They’re simply not large enough to comfortably ride the grates. Worse, any liquids to have survived the opening would surely be dumped as I clumsily tried to move the clams to a platter. A cast iron skillet was the answer. First, though, the clams had to be cleaned.

Using my food brush, the clams’ shells were scrubbed clean. After that, they were placed in a bowl of cold, fresh water and left to soak for almost an hour. Midway through, the water was dumped and the bowl refilled. That gave the clams plenty of time to expel any sand. Clams that refused to close were discarded.

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Blue Clams 1

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The grill was lit and the flames set to high. Meanwhile, a lemon-butter sauce was prepared using 4 tbsp butter, the juice of 1/2 lemon, and 1 clove of garlic, smashed. The butter and garlic were gently heated in a small saucepan. When the butter just started to simmer, the lemon juice was added and the heat was shut off. The garlic was allowed to steep in the lemon-butter for a few minutes.

Next, a 10 inch cast iron skillet was placed on the grill directly over the flames. While it heated, some fresh parsley was chopped and a chunk of ciabatta bread was sliced in half. The cut side of both pieces was lightly coated with olive oil and the bread was set aside.

The clams were drained and returned to the bowl, along with a couple of ounces of both white wine and water. By now, the pan was screaming hot. The clams with the wine mixture were poured into the pan and the bread was placed on the grill to toast a bit. The grill lid was then closed.

Back in the kitchen, the garlic was removed from the lemon-butter sauce and the pan was returned to a low heat.

It took barely 2 minutes for the bread to toast, I removed both pieces and the clams were already opening. Within 5 minutes, all the clams were open and were quickly removed to a serving bowl. The pan liquids were added, as well. (Note: be sure to discard any clams that remain unopened after cooking.)

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Grilled Clams 1

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To serve, the bottom piece of bread was placed in a bowl and topped with some clams and a bit of the pan juices. The lemon-butter sauce was poured over the dish and fresh parsley was used to garnish. The top side of the toasted ciabatta bread was served on the side.

Yeah. I’m going back for more clams, but it’s anyone’s guess what else I’ll bring home.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

LingClams_Lrg300

Nothing but a Pasta with Clams recipe would be appropriate here. It is one of my favorite dishes and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy. You can see how the dish is prepared simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sepia e Calamari in Umido Preview

Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid

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New York Style Cheesecake

Zia gets her book

No caption needed

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I can almost hear you already. “You said you don’t bake!” Well, I still say that, today’s dish being the exception that proves the rule. I have been preparing this cheesecake for well over 30 years. Its origins have long since been forgotten. At one time, this was my go-to dessert or potluck contribution. It was definitely a crowd pleaser. After all, who doesn’t like cheesecake?

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NYC Cheesecake 4

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Over the years, potlucks fell out of favor within my group and this recipe was prepared fewer and fewer times. Of course, my want to offer something other than cheesecake for dessert had something to do with it, too. The truth is, I cannot tell you the last time I made the cake. Now, that’s a shame because it is a great cheesecake, dense and heavy like the best New York style cheesecakes.

NYC CheesecakeWhen I first prepared the cake, I would arrange sliced kiwi fruit on top, the perfect camouflage for an unsightly crack. Soon the kiwi were joined by a raspberry sauce. Little did I know that the sauce was a “coulis”. That revelation would come several years and many TV cooking shows later.

If there is a complaint about the recipe is that there is no crust. My favorite cheesecakes all have a crust of some sort. Every time I bake this cake, I tell myself that the next time I’ll experiment and make a crust. Then, when it comes time to make the thing, I read over the instructions and realize that a bad crust could ruin an afternoon’s efforts — and I put it off the experiment until next time. As you’ll soon see, the cheesecake I prepared for this post is crustless but I really do think I’ll make a crust next time. Really.

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NYC Cheesecake 2

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New York Style Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 16 oz (453 g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 lb (453 g) cottage cheese, creamed
  • 1½ c (330 g) sugar
  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp four
  • 1½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ c (113 g) butter, melted
  • 16 oz (453 g) sour cream

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325˚ F (160˚ C). Thoroughly grease a 9 inch (23 cm) springform pan.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and cottage cheese at high speed until well combined and smooth.
  3. Gradually add the sugar and then the eggs.
  4. Reduce the speed to low before adding the corn starch, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla.
  5. When well-mixed, add the melted butter and sour cream and beat until combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the greased pan and place on the center rack of the pre-heated oven. Bake for 70 minutes or until cake is firm around the edges.
  7. Turn off the oven and let the cake stand in the oven for 2 hours.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a counter for at least 2 hours more.
  9. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.
  10. Garnish with fresh berries or sauce of your choice.

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Fresh Raspberries

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Raspberry Coulis Recipe

  • 12 oz (340 g) fresh raspberries
  • 3 oz (85 g) sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • splash of Framboise (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Place the ingredients in a small sauce pan over med-low heat. Cook until the sugar is melted and the berries have dissolved somewhat. Place mixture into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine sieve. Discard solids and refrigerate the covered coulis before use. Should keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, 30 days if frozen.

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NYC Cheesecake Whole

What crack?

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Notes

Do not rush combining the cream and cottage cheeses (Step 2). The more time you take, the creamier the cheesecake.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pappa al Pomodoro

Summer’s late start in this area meant that my tomatoes seemed to take forever to ripen. When September rolled around, I had a glut of tomatoes to contend with. One of my favorite ways to deal with this “problem” is to make Tomato with Bread Soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. Using little more than some day-old bread and the ripest of tomatoes, this soup is a wonderful way to celebrate the tomato harvest. This simple recipe can be found HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Salsa Preview

Ground Cherry Salsa

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By any other name …

Double Delight

The last two winters have been hard on my girls. “Helen Hayes”, “Marilyn Monroe”, and “Judy Garland” didn’t make it. Luckily I was able to locate their twins and each is doing quite well. No such luck with “Elizabeth Taylor”, however, and in a move reminiscent of All About Eve, “Double Delight”, a hybrid tea rose, has taken her spot.

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Agnolotti Redux

I would like to thank you all for the warm welcoming you gave me last week. It was very much appreciated and I’m sorry if I’ve worried you. My WordPress family is the best! And now that I have your attention, I’ll take the opportunity to tell you that I’ll be leaving again but this time for far different reasons. I’ve got a couple of things I had planned on doing as the New Year began but that flu bug caused a major change of plans. As a result, I had thought that I’d start a hiatus in a couple of weeks from now but then I received an email. My Zia and cousin from San Marino are coming to the States for a visit! I don’t know much more than that they will be arriving in Michigan sometime Friday. Whether I go to visit them, or, they come to Chicago to visit me has yet to be determined. Either way, though, I cannot wait to see them. So, rather than take time off for their visit, post a recipe or two, and then leave again, I think it best to just start my break a little earlier than planned. As always, thank you for your understanding and, again, for your thoughtfulness last week. I look forward to seeing you again very soon, and, with a little luck, bearing new family recipes.

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Agnolotti Served

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Ah! Finally, the long-awaited agnolotti recipe featuring the filling that was first described to me by a sous chef in Bologna. You may recall that I experimented with another filling when I made Agnolotti del Plin last December. That filling was much softer and, consequently, I used a pastry bag in the process. That wasn’t possible with this filling.

From what I learned from that generous sous chef — I really wish I could remember her name — agnolotti, unlike stuffed pastas from other regions of Italy, are primarily meat filled. That’s definitely the case when you compare this 4-meat recipe to my family’s traditional ravioli filling. As I mentioned in the December post, fillings like this one were considered so rich that in Piemonte, where agnolotti originated, they were once served in a pile atop clean table linens, with no sauce or condiment at all. Now this is my kind of finger food!

Once you’ve determined a worthy filling — or located a hard-working sous chef willing to divulge family recipes — all that’s left to do is to make the pasta pillows. This is not as simple as one might think. When talking about the various stuffed pastas, aside from the fillings, very often the only other differences are in the shape of the pasta. Tortellini and ravioli, for example, are easy to differentiate. The first looks like a Bishop’s mitre and the second a square pillow, typically cut on all 4 sides. Agnolotti are almost exclusively hand-made and, as you’ll soon see, each is typically cut on 3 sides, the fourth being a fold. What’s this? You’ve seen ravioli made this way? Me, too. Some say all agnolotti are rectangular shaped. There are those that feel square-shaped is preferable. While still others claim that all agnolotti must be half-moon shaped. What? You’ve also seen ravioli made similar to each of these? Same here and that’s perfectly fine in my book. If you place a dish of home-made stuffed pasta before me, you can call them ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti, cappelletti, or pansôtti and you’ll have no argument with me. Deny me a second helping, however, and we’re sure to have a problem.

As I’ve mentioned, the filling for agnolotti is traditionally made using roasted meats. Traditionally, yes, but I cheated. I thought it wasteful to roast both beef and veal just to make agnolotti, particularly since I live alone. So, I bought some beef and veal, cut them into medium-sized cubes, and sautéed them in a little butter rather than roast them. This is the same method that we Bartolini use when preparing meats for our ravioli and cappelletti. The rest of the agnolotti recipe that I’ve shared is just as I was told by my Bologna sous chef. Gotta love that woman!

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Caveat Canis

Caveat Canis

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Agnolotti Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (228 g) mortadella (see Notes)
  • 8 oz (228 g) veal (See Notes)
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 8 oz (228 g) prosciutto crudo (See Notes)
  • 8 oz (228 g) prosciutto cotto
  • 4 oz (110 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino Romano may be substituted)
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Make the Filling

  1. In a frypan over med-high heat, melt the butter before adding the beef chunks. Season lightly with salt and pepper and sauté until browned on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Repeat Step 1 using the veal chunks in place of the beef.
  3. Cut both types of prosciutto into cubes.
  4. Grind/mince the 4 meats using the meat grinder plate with the smallest holes. (See Notes)
  5. Once all have been ground, add the grated cheese and nutmeg, mix well, and taste to check seasoning. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper, if needed.
  6. Add the egg and mix until combined.
  7. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

Make the Agnolotti

  1. At all times, beware of the dog.
  2. Make the pasta dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
  3. Roll a portion of the dough — using a machine or by hand — until quite thin. (See Notes)
  4. Place the dough strip on a lightly floured work surface, Use a pastry cutter to “square off” both ends.
  5. Evenly space balls of filling along one side of the dough strip about a half-inch away from the strip’s edge. I used a small ice cream scoop. (See Notes)
  6. Use a pastry brush or your finger tip to lightly moisten the dough on the inner side of the filling,
  7. Carefully fold the dough flap over the filling balls. Make sure the flap touches the filling balls. This will help in the next step.
  8. Use your finger to press the dough between each filling ball before sealing the edge. Try to remove as much of the air as possible.
  9. Use a pastry cutter to cut between each agnolotto and to trim away any excess dough. Place on lightly floured linens or wax paper and use immediately or cover and refrigerate if to be used later that day. I’d recommend freezing them if cooking is to be be delayed much longer.
  10. To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the agnolotti, lower the heat to a medium simmer, and cook for a few minutes. They will float when cooked but, if in doubt, taste one. It will take a few minutes longer to cook frozen agnolotti.
  11. Gently strain the agnolotti and dress with butter, olive oil, or any number of sauces. (See Serving Suggestion)

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Serving Suggestion

I served these agnolotti just as the restaurant had dressed their tortellini, with a basic cream sauce. Take some heavy cream and, over medium heat in a small sauce pan, reduce until half its original volume. Add a bit of grated cheese — whichever cheese you used to make the agnolotti filling — and stir till combined. Dress the agnolotti with the cream sauce and serve garnished with more grated cheese and freshly ground pepper.

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Notes

eta: When this was originally published, our friend and honorary Bartolini, Stefan of Stefan’s Gourmet Blog mentioned that he was aware of mortadella being used in the filling. I thought nothing more of it until I was adding this recipe to my upcoming cookbook and checked my original notes. He was, in fact, correct. I had misread my scrawl from that evening, interpreting “meat” to mean beef when, in reality, I had written “mort” for mortadella. I’ve changed the recipe here to reflect the correction. Thanks, Stefan. You’re the best! 

If you do not wish to use veal or cannot find some that is relatively humanely raised, feel free to use only beef. Cubed chuck works fine.

When buying the prosciutto, have them cut you a slice that is about 1/4 to 1/3 inches (.6 to .8 cm) thick. That should give you an amount that will work fine with this recipe.

You’ll find that you meat grinder works better if the meat is placed in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes before use.

If you haven’t a meat grinder, you can use your food processor instead. Place the meat into the bowl and pulse-process until ground to your satisfaction, A little texture is a good thing, so, don’t process until the meat is completely smooth.

There are 2 types of Italian prosciutto, crudo and cotto. Prosciutto crudo – raw – is the kind that most of us know and that can be found at just about any deli counter. Prosciutto cotto – cooked – is the Italian version of baked ham and is a bit harder to find. If you cannot find prosciutto cotto in your area, feel free to substitute baked ham, low-sodium is preferred.

Be careful when adding nutmeg to the filling. A little goes a long way. It’s best to add it in small increments, tasting as you go.

Unless you use pasteurized eggs, all tasting of the raw filling should be done before the raw egg is added, to eliminate the risk of salmonella poisoning.

The settings for my pasta roller attachment start at 1, the thickest setting, and run to 9, its thinnest. When making agnolotti, I roll the dough up to and including the 7th setting.

The amount of filling used will eventually determine the size of the agnolotti. Using a small ice scream scoop, I can maintain about a teaspoon-sized filling ball for all the agnolotti.

When cooking any freshly made stuffed pasta, once the pasta has been added and the water has returned to the boil, lower the heat lest the pasta becomes damaged during the remainder of the cooking process.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stracciatella-DJV

It’s still soup season in these parts and today’s look back focuses on a good one. Stracciatella soup got its name because it looks like torn rags but I guarantee there’s nothing shabby about it. Easy to make and oh, so very satisfying, you can find the recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

NYC Cheesecake Preview

  New York Style Cheesecake

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Eggs in Purgatory

Uova in PurgatorioEggs in Purgatory 1Hello? Is anybody there?

Hmmm. Let me see. Let me see. When last I left you, it was at the height of the holiday season, with Christmas but a day away. And then … well … we’ll get there in a few. Promise.

Today’s dish and recipe have certainly made the rounds. In fact, I’ve seen it so many times that I believed that I must have posted it, as well. That was the case when I read Nell’s delicious recipe last November. Hers is a North African (Tunisian) version called Shakshuka, and you can read all about it HERE.

Not long after, I was in Michigan for my last visit of the year with Zia. I offered to make us an early lunch because her son, the Max Whisperer, planned on leaving at noon. I prepared Eggs in Purgatory for us and served it over toast, as seen in the photo below. At the time, I mentioned that if he would like to make the dish for his wife, he could find the recipe on this blog. Later, I went looking for the recipe and discovered I’d never posted one. It was soon scheduled for the New Year’s post, since many consider this dish a hang-over cure.

As luck would have it, shortly after that another version of the dish was posted on My Arab Life, a blog I’ve begun following relatively recently. Although A.K.’s post didn’t include the recipe for his Shakshuka, he does mention that he included garbanzos, making it a much heartier dish.

Well, things were going rather swimmingly until a few days after Christmas. What started as a mild sore throat soon blossomed into a full-blown case of the flu, proving that this year’s flu vaccine wasn’t worth the sore arm. By any standard of measurement, I was knocked on my arse. And like the most obnoxious of guests, it flat-out refused to leave. Each and every time I thought I’d turned the corner, it was waiting for me and came roaring back with a vengeance.

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Eggs in Purgatory 2

Don’t answer the doorbell when taking photos or your Eggs in Purgatory will look like Hell.

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I set up camp in my living room, which offers a view of much of my home. One doesn’t want to let Max out of your sight for too long, regardless of the circumstances. As it turned out, Max was quite the nursemaid. Granted, he’s no Boo Nanny but he did step it up. Each morning, with a reliability that would shame most alarm clocks, Max woke me at 7:00 AM. It’s his breakfast time, you see, and he saw no reason for it to be late. After that, every few hours, he would come check on me to see if all was well. Sometimes he brought me a toy — remnants of an old sock he had liberated from the laundry basket some time ago — and if I was lucky, it was almost dry. At end-of-day, upon re-entering my home after a final trip to the backyard for “last call,” Max would “go left” to my bedroom and I “right” to the sofa. Soon we were both sound asleep. Well one of us was, anyway, for it wasn’t long before the still of the night was broken by the not so melodic rumble of Max snoring in my bed.

At long last, the bug finally departed for points unknown, leaving me exhausted. It took me a while to get back to normal, such at it is, where I have happily remained ever since. Unfortunately, while I was “out”, I did absolutely nothing with this blog until Monday, when I finally started to clear the backlog of just under 6000 notifications. Sad to say, my other email accounts aren’t in much better shape. All in good time …

Thank you for your emails and messages of concern. I hope that I’ve answered them all but fear I may have missed a couple. Thanks, too, for your understanding and patience. I guess all that’s left is to announce that the Kitchens are now open!

We’ll talk about a planned hiatus at another time.

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Eggs in Purgatory is a ridiculously easy dish to make and serve. It can be prepared in under a half-hour and served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can make it as spicy as you like, though when used as a hang-over cure, most like the heat factor raised a notch or two. Here, I’ve written the recipe using 2 eggs. You can easily double or triple the ingredients depending upon the number of people seated at the table. (See Notes)

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Eggs in Purgatory 4

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Eggs in Purgatory Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or grated
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 can (14.5 oz, 411 g) diced tomatoes (See Notes)
  •  marjoram to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese for garnish

Directions

  1. In a small fry pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.
  2. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, continue to sauté for about another minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes and marjoram, stir, and bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  5. Simmer until the sauce is cooked to your satisfaction. Additional water may be added if the sauce is too dry. Taste to check for seasoning.
  6. Use the back of a ladle or spoon to make a small indentation in the sauce. Fill each with a freshly cracked egg.
  7. Lightly season the eggs with a bit of salt and pepper, cover, and cook until the eggs are done with the yolks still runny. Alternately, you can place the pan, uncovered, in a pre-heated 375˚ F (190˚ C) oven until the eggs are cooked, about 10 minutes.
  8. Serve immediately as-is or atop a slice of Italian bread, garnished with some grated cheese and anything else you may like. (See Notes)

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Eggs in Purgatory on Toast3

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Notes

As you can see, the dish uses a simple tomato sauce to cook the eggs. There is certainly no need to follow my sauce recipe and you can add whatever else you like, according to your own tastes. In fact, you may have a store-bought sauce that you enjoy and it can easily be used here.

If you like things really hot, you may wish to downgrade your dish from Purgatory to Hell. A little harissa added to the tomato sauce is sure to do the trick.

As a rule of thumb, I use one small can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz, 411 g) for every 2 eggs being prepared. This will ensure that each egg is served on a nice bed of tomato sauce.

In the past, I always served my eggs as-is or atop sliced Italian bread, sometimes toasted. Nell, however, mentioned serving her eggs atop pasta. Oh, happy day! This is a wonderful variation which soon led to my serving them with polenta, as pictured at the top of this post. If gluten is an issue, however, choose your “platform” wisely.

Although I forgot to do so for the photos, I usually garnish the dish with a bit of grated cheese, though chopped parsley and/or scallions may also be used.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Strozzapreti A

This time of year, when it’s far too cold to leave the house for just about any reason, I tend to stay put and go through my arsenal of home-made pasta recipes, looking for one that will occupy my afternoon. Strozzapreti is certainly worth considering. Start up a pot of tomato sauce, make some pasta dough, and get to work making these “priest chokers.” Soon you’ll be enjoying a dish of pure Italian comfort food, completely oblivious to the frigid temperatures just outside your door. You can learn how to make this pasta, and the tale behind its name, simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Agnolotti Preview

 Agnolotti Redux

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Squid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

Linguine al Nero di Calamari con Vongole e Bottarga

Santa School - Korea

(With thanks to the folks at Colored Mondays)

We Bartolini are an ecumenical lot. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or even Festivus, we hope your holidays are of the most memorable kind.

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Although this is my 4th Christmas Eve on WordPress (I know! FOURTH!?!?!), this is the 3rd time I’ve used the occasion to highlight seafood. In the past, I shared a tongue-in-cheek tale of how Italian Catholics prepared a Feast of the Seven Fishes to get around the Church’s rule of not eating meat on Christmas Eve. To be sure, the Church’s original intent was to keep that day, the last of Advent, a day of refection and sacrifice in preparation for the Christ Child’s imminent arrival. Some of the faithful, however, couldn’t wait to get the party started, so, instead they prepared a seafood feast. To avoid the Church’s wrath, they prepared 7 different dishes, 1 fish for each of the Seven Holy Sacraments. With their Church leaders appeased — many of whom were enjoying their own, even more lavish, seafood feasts — a tradition was born. Today, feasts of 10, 11, and even 12 seafood dishes may be prepared and served.

Last week I shared my family’s recipe for garbanzo soup, the type of simple dish that I’m sure the Church had originally intended Catholics prepare on the last day of Advent. Today I’ll share a recipe that is far removed from last week’s simple, unadorned minestra, Squid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga. I’ll get to the recipe soon enough but 1st, I’ve “got some ‘splaining to do.”

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Squid Ink Pasta 3

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I think it was Mom who told me about Nonna (Zia’s Mother-in-law) cleaning cuttlefish, sepia. A cousin of squid, sepia are often prepared in very much the same ways. (Those who have owned parakeets, “budgies”, often hang cuttle bones in their cages to be used by the birds for beak maintenance. These “bones’ are removed from large cuttlefish during cleaning.) Nonna’s sepia were quite fresh and had to be gutted and cleaned. As I recall, if she was lucky enough to come upon a sepia’s ink sack, Nonna reserved it and used it to make black pasta noodles.

The story stuck with me and, over the years, I’ve searched high and low for the illusive ink. I wasn’t picky. It didn’t matter whether I found squid or sepia ink. As my search criss-crossed Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods, I cannot tell you how many dead ends I reached, having followed the advice of some well-meaning people who were sure that it could be found at this place or that. Dejected, I’d give up the search, only to begin it anew when some TV chef used squid ink to make pasta. Once, last year, I even purchased ready-made black pasta noodles. What a disappointment!

This all changed about 3 months ago. Armed with a gift card given to me by Cynthia and Nigel for my last birthday, I went shopping at Chicago’s newest Italian market. (Cynthia Squid Inkand Nigel are the friends with whom I shared the flats in Florence and Rome.) As I passed the fresh pasta counter, I noticed they were selling black pasta. Upon asking, the clerk directed me to the fishmongers and, lo and behold, they had squid ink! Not only that but they had 2 kinds: 1, a large jar of thick paste, and, the other, a much thinner liquid, in packaging that would remind you of those ubiquitous soy sauce packets found at the bottom of every bag of Chinese take-away. After the fishmonger assured me that it would “last forever”, I bought the paste, thinking I could better control the amount used. On the way home, I decided that this would be the dish I would serve Zia for our Christmas dinner.

What I haven’t mentioned is that, months before, I had ordered some bottarga online, intending to serve it to Zia some day. Bottarga is the dried and cured eggs of mullet fish. Thought to have Greek or Arabic origins, bottarga is a Mediterranean product and can be found from Portugal and Spain to North Africa. In Italy, it is most closely identified with Sardinia and Sicily, while here in the States, bottarga is now produced in Florida. (If Bottarga 1interested, “locally” produced Bottarga is usually available this time of year.) Bottarga can be bought dried in the original egg sacks, or sealed in wax, or both. Once purchased, if kept dry, it will last quite some time in the fridge. While its scent has been described as the “breath of the sea”, bottarga is bursting with umami, lending both salty and fishy flavors to your dish. To serve, some may shave thin slices which are then used to top off bruschetta or salads. Using a microplane or similar utensil, others will grate bottarga over pasta, risotto, grilled vegetables, broiled/baked/grilled fish, and even eggs. There is one thing about bottarga, though, that you should consider before rushing off to purchase some. Not everyone likes the stuff. Very much like anchovies, you either love it or hate it. Lucky for us, we all love it.

It took no time to decide what would be the 3rd and final ingredient for our Christmas Eve pasta. Both Zia and I love pasta with clams, vongole. Now, I always go to the Italian markets the day before I depart for Zia’s, buying her a few Italian staples that just aren’t available in her area. In the past, if the fishmonger has fresh clams — especially vongole from Italy — I’ll buy some, pack them in ice, and warn Zia that clams will be on the menu. That’s what I did just prior to my last visit, though the clams were the manila variety. I left the next day knowing that there was a great dinner in our immediate future.

I served this pasta to Zia as our early Christmas Dinner. It was a complete surprise to her and to her son, my cousin the Max Whisperer, who was also seated at the table. Both thoroughly enjoyed the dish, as will you and your guests when you serve it.

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Squid Ink Pasta

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To make squid ink pasta 

It is far easier to make black pasta than you might assume. Gather the ingredients required to make a batch of Mom’s Pasta Dough. Once you’ve placed 4 whole eggs + enough water to equal 1 cup of liquid in a measuring cup, add 1½ tbsp of squid ink. Lightly beat the mixture to fully incorporate the ink. (See Notes) Proceed as your would when making normal pasta dough, cutting it, once dry, to make whichever sized noodles you prefer. (I made trenette because it most closely resembles the pasta that Mom would cut by hand.) Cook as you would normal pasta, removing it from the water just before reaching al dente. Reserve a cup of pasta water.

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To prepare the clams

(See Notes for help with cleaning clams)

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat in a large fry pan with cover. Once hot, add 2 cloves minced garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup white wine, and about 3 dozen vongole. (Cockles, little neck, or manilla clams may be substituted.) Cover the pan and allow the clams to open, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not overcook and discard any clams that have not opened by the end of the cooking time. Add about 3 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley.

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To assemble the dish and serve

Once the unopened clams have been removed, place the newly drained pasta into the fry pan and toss to coat with the clams and pan juices. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if needed. Pour the pan’s contents on to a serving platter. Drizzle a little of your best extra virgin olive oil on top of the pasta, followed by some chopped parsley. Grate, as you would a garnish, a bit of bottarga on top of the pasta and serve. Once your guests have received their serving, be sure that each receives another sprinkling of bottarga, whether you do the grating or they handle it themselves.

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Squid Ink Pasta 2

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Notes

Blending the squid ink with the eggs ensures that it will be evenly dispersed throughout the pasta dough much more quickly than if added directly to the flour.

If, when handling the dough, your notice your fingers or work surface blackening, it’s a sign that your dough needs a bit more flour. Perfectly mixed flour will not “bleed” black.

Clams must be inspected and cleaned before use.

  1. Examine your clams, discarding any with cracked or broken shells. Also, discard any that are open, even slightly, and that will not close when tapped on a counter top.
  2. Clams bought at most markets today usually have been purged of sand prior to purchase. You must purge the clams if you harvest them yourself or buy them directly from the fishermen. To purge the clams of sand, place them in a deep bowl and cover with room temperature water. Soak for 30 minutes, empty the water and, repeat the process at least another time.
  3. Once purged, use a small brush to scrub the shells. Again, discard any that remain open — even a wee bit — during the scrubbing process.
  4. Clams are now ready for cooking.

The Italian custom of avoiding cheese with most seafood pastas is not some “silly” or “ridiculous” decree. The suggestion is based on the fact that many forms of seafood are quite mildly flavored. Use of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano would easily overpower the seafood, rendering it almost “invisible” to the palate. In today’s recipe, cheese would most certainly mask the delicate flavors of the squid ink pasta and clams, as well as obliterate all of the bottarga’s scent and much of its flavor. Of course, you can eat whatever you like but if you take the time to seek out and purchase fresh seafood, often at premium prices, why hide it under a blanket of cheese?

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

linquine ai frutti-di mare al cartocci

It was but a year ago when I shared another seafood dish worthy of any Christmas Eve celebration. In that dish, clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, and scallops were combined with linguine in a mildly spiced tomato sauce and sealed in parchment before being baked. It is a very special dish for a very special night. You can learn how to prepare it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Eggs in Purgatory Preview

Eggs in Purgatory

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Buon Natale a Tutti!

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My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

Minestra del Ceci delle Mie Due Nonne

Minestra del Cece 2*     *     *

Every year, just before Christmas Eve, I’ve shared a recipe for seafood, often mentioning the Feast of the Seven Fishes when doing so. To that end, next week’s post will feature another such dish. (See Coming soon to a monitor near you.) Not all Italian families, however, prepare a feast on Christmas Eve. We certainly didn’t when I was very young. My family’s tradition of enjoying a seafood feast didn’t start until a few years later, when Dad would leave the restaurant early, bringing the seafood with him. Prior to that time, our Christmas Eve dinner was nothing special, although always meatless because, being Catholic, meat was not allowed. “Upstairs”, in Zia’s home, baccalà was the main course, with “Nonna”, also, serving today’s soup, garbanzo bean.

Whether you call them garbanzos, chickpeas, or ceci, this bean is a good one to have in your pantry. Very low in fat and high in protein, garbanzos are becoming more popular as gluten-free and vegetarian diets become more common. Most readily available dried or in cans, garbanzos can be used in any number of ways and, when ground, the resulting flour is a viable substitute for gluten flours. In a country where meat was reserved for special occasions, garbanzos were one of several beans Italians used to supply protein to their diets.

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Today’s soup was 1 of the 4 dishes that I prepared for Zia during my last visit. To be honest, she was the dish’s mastermind and I her dutiful sous chef. As you’ll soon see, mine was an easy job. At some point she mentioned that “Grandma”, Mom and Zia’s Mother, also cooked garbanzo bean soup and in the same way as did her Mother-in-Law, “Nonna”. This recipe is a gift from both women, “due nonne“. I’m not certain, however, if this soup is a traditional Marchigiani dish. Yes, both women were from Marche but this soup is quite basic and could very well have originated anywhere in Italy — if not somewhere else. (Perhaps our friend and expert of all things Marchigiani, Mariano Pallottini, will be able to shed some light on this for us.)

As is the case with most of the Bartolini recipes from back in the day, this soup is simple to prepare and relies on a few, commonplace ingredients. As you can imagine, the most important thing you’ll put in your stockpot, therefore, is the stock itself. Here, because the soup was served on Christmas Eve, a day when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat, a vegetable stock is used. Feel free to use whatever type of stock you prefer, though you’ll want to use a rich, full-flavored stock for a soup you’ll be serving on so special a night.

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Minestra di Ceci*     *     *

My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried garbanzo beans/chickpeas, inspected to remove stones and the like (see Notes)
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock (see Notes)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese for serving – omit if vegan

Directions

  1. At least 8 hours or the night before, place the beans in a large bowl and cover with water that is at least 2 inches above the beans. Before use, pour off the water, rinse, and set aside to drain. Do not allow to dry out.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent — about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the stock and chickpeas to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer.
  4. Continue to simmer until the beans are as tender as you like. (See Notes)
  5. Check for seasoning before serving with plenty of grated cheese at the table. (Omit or use soy cheese if vegan.)

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Garbanzo Bean Soup*     *     *

Notes

The homemade stock used here was prepared using vegetable odds & ends that I’d been keeping in my freezer. The ingredient list will vary each time the stock is made.

  1. In a large stockpot over med-high heat, add 2 tbsp each of butter and olive oil.
  2. When hot, add broccoli stems, cauliflower cores, carrot peelings, and asparagus stalk trimmings, as well as a quartered large onion, 3 roughly chopped carrots, 3 roughly chopped celery stalks (leaves included), and a few cloves of smashed garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to color.
  3. Add a handful of parsley, a quartered tomato (“for color”), and 1 bay leaf before adding enough water to fill the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  4. Continue to cook for at 2 hours, allowing the stock to reduce and the flavors to intensify. Occasionally skim the stock of the film that may coat the its surface. If the stock reduces too much, add water to compensate.
  5. Season with salt and pepper if you intend to use the stock to make vegetable soup. If the stock is to be used in other recipes, best to leave it salt-free and season it when used.
  6. Once cooled, refrigerate for no more than a few days or store, frozen, for up to 1 month.

When using dry beans, you must take a few minutes to inspect them, looking for small stones and/or beans that are discolored or otherwise spoilt. Discard them.

We’ve found that 1 cup (200 g) of dried beans per quart (950 ml) of stock will yield a soup with just the right “beans to stock ratio” in every bowl. You may wish to add more or less stock to suit your own tastes.

Cooking times will depend upon the type of bean — canned or dried — that you use.

  • If dried, the longer they are allowed to soak, the less time needed to cook. Even so, they will take at least 60 minutes — more like 90 — to cook fully.
  • If canned, rinse before using and they should be ready to eat once they are heated through. Taste before serving to ensure that they meet your preferences.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

 Eel in the Style of Le MarcheNo listing of traditional Italian dishes served on Christmas Eve would be complete without mentioning eel. Yes, eel. Served on Christmas Eve almost exclusively, live anguille, eels, can be found in tanks at the largest and best-equipped Italian markets beginning around December 15th.  You can learn how my family prepared the slippery devils by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squid Ink Pasta PreviewSquid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

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Today We’re Making Agnolotti del Plin

I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy several times and, in the past, my goal was to eat my way up, down, and across the peninsula, Sicily included. Safe to say: “Mission accomplished.” This last visit was different, though, and probably due to my joining WordPress. I wasn’t satisfied to just enjoy my meal, I wanted to know its ingredients and, if lucky enough to have an English-speaking wait person, its preparation. If you saw the FaceBook entries I published during that trip, most were photos of the meals we enjoyed. With a notoriously bad memory, this was the easiest way to record those dishes and, hopefully, jog my memory months, even years, later. Such is the case with today’s agnolotti … kinda.

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Agnolotti served*     *     *

While in Bologna, one night I ate at a small restaurant that I chose because it was crowded with locals and had a nice outdoor seating area. Coming from Chicago, eating supper outdoors in mid-May is something you don’t pass up if the opportunity presents itself. I ordered the tortellini and asked my waiter how they were prepared. Looking puzzled, he disappeared and returned with a woman I was to learn was a sous chef. In broken English — that was still far better than my Italian —  she answered my questions and before leaving, mentioned that she was from Piedmont, Piemonte, coincidentally the region of Italy that is home to agnolotti. I asked how she made her agnolotti, she smiled and said that the filling for the tortellini I had ordered was very similar to her own agnolotti filling recipe. Our entire conversation didn’t last 5 minutes — it was a busy night — but she did give me its list of ingredients before returning to the kitchen. When my dinner arrived, I took a photo and made a note of her ingredient list.

Jump ahead now to last month, November. Traditionally, it’s the time for my last visit to Michigan before Winter sets in. While there, I like to fix Zia a birthday dinner and maybe even a Christmas dinner, since I won’t be with her for either events. This year, I wanted to serve her agnolotti for her birthday dinner. The only problem with that plan was that I had never made agnolotti before.

The Saturday before I left for Michigan was the last day the Chicago area’s farmers markets were open. When I returned home, I realized that there wasn’t much time for me to make a test batch of agnolotti. I was to leave in a few days and had much to do beforehand. Not wishing to use premium ingredients for something that would be little more than a kitchen experiment, I dug around my fridge and freezers for ingredients and that’s how today’s filling came about. Well, having bought a bunch of lacinato kale, cavolo nero, at the market that morning certainly didn’t hurt matters any. Let’s be clear. I seriously doubt this is in any way a traditional Piemontese recipe. I will say, though, that it was surprisingly good, good enough to convince me to share the recipe along with this instructional post for making Agnolotti del Plin. When I make the filling again — and I will make it again — I won’t grind it so thoroughly and will use it to make ravioli.

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As you know, stuffed pastas are popular in Italy, with ravioli, tortellini and cappelletti being the most common. Agnolotti are a stuffed pasta that, as I mentioned, originated in Piedmont and are almost always handmade. Their filling consists primarily of roasted meat, though exceptions abound. (This is consistent with the filling recipe that I was given at the restaurant.) I was surprised to learn that traditionally, freshly cooked agnolotti were eaten as-is, without any form of dressing/sauce at all. The family ate them, one at a time, from a large serving at the table’s center.

Agnolotti del Plin are formed by pinching the dough in-between the individual agnolotto, “plin” being the Piemontese word for “pinch”. As you’ll soon see, once pinched, the agnolotti are cut and ready to be cooked. There is another way to make agnolotti and you’ll see how that’s done in a future post. This one is already getting too long.

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Pinching Agnolotti*     *     *

How to make Agnolotti del Plin

with a Chicken Gizzard Filling

Agnolotti con i Ventrigli del Pollo

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) chicken gizzards, trimmed and chopped
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), trimmed of thick ribs — any kale may be substituted
  • 1 large (1.5 oz, 35 g) shallot, diced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Mom’s Pasta Dough — recipe HERE — rested 30 minutes before use

Directions

for the filling

  1. Heat equal parts butter and olive oil (no more than 3 tbsp total) in a deep frying pan over med-high heat. Once hot, add the shallot and sauté until translucent – about 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cleaned & trimmed kale leaves before placing them in the pan with the shallots. Season lightly with salt & pepper and sauté until wilted.
  3. Allow to cool and drain as much liquid as possible from the cooked kale before placing it in a clean kitchen towel. Wring out as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
  4. In the same frying pan, melt another 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the chicken gizzards, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until fully cooked – about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Once cooled, place the cooked gizzards into a food processor and process until well ground.
  6. To the chopped gizzards in the food processor, add the cooked kale, ricotta cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, egg, nutmeg to taste, and season lightly with salt & pepper. Process until smooth. This is critical.
  7. Remove and refrigerate several hours or overnight so that the flavors will blend.

for the agnolotti del plin – also detailed in the slideshow that follows

  • Using a jumbo egg-sized piece of dough, pass it through pasta rollers until thin. My rollers are at the widest setting at “0” and I roll the dough up to and including the no. “7” setting.
  1. Place the dough strip on a lightly floured work service, trimming both ends to make an elongated rectangle.
  2. Fill a pastry bag with the filling and pipe a line of filling about an inch from the dough strip’s edge.
  3. Use a water bottle to mist — or a pastry brush to lightly moisten — the dough on the side of the filling farthest from you. Do not get it too wet or it may split during subsequent steps.
  4. Carefully take hold of the dough’s edge and pull it over the piped filling.
  5. Use your fingers to press/seal the flap to the moistened dough, eliminating as much air as possible as you work you way down the strip.
  6. Use a pastry brush to moisten the top of the seal. – optional (sea Notes)
  7. Gently fold the filling roll over the moistened flap – optional
  8. Use your index fingers and thumbs to pinch the filling roll at inch intervals.
  9. Use a pastry wheel or very sharp knife to first trim away the excess dough
  10. Use the same tool to cut the agnolotti at the center of each pinch.
  11. Place the agnolotti in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been dusted with corn meal. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. If they are to be cooked relatively quickly, nothing further needs to be done. If they are to be cooked in a couple of hours, they should be placed in the fridge until dinner time. If the are to be cooked later than that evening, place  the baking sheet in the freezer and,once frozen, place the agnolotti in bags or some other container suitable for freezing.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Serving Suggestion

I really hadn’t thought this all the way through and was caught scrambling for a sauce once the agnolotti were made. I turned to an old favorite that, as luck would have it, helped me to continue to clean out my fridge before leaving for Michigan.

  1. Bring to a boil a large pot of salted water over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in a deep fry pan, melt a few tbsp of butter over medium heat. Add about twice as much heavy cream and heat until the butter is melted. Add enough Pecorino Romano cheese to thicken the cream mixture. Add an amount of plain, meatless tomato sauce equal to the amount of cream added earlier. Stir and keep hot until the agnolotti are cooked. If the sauce thickens too much, add a bit of the  pasta water to thin it. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
  3. Once the water is boiling rapidly, add the agnolotti and stir. When the water returns to the boil, lower the heat and gently cook the agnolotti.
    • If the agnolotti are fresh or refrigerated, they are fully cooked when all of them float to the surface of the pot of water — just a few minutes.
    • If the agnolotti are frozen, they will take a few minutes longer.
  4. If in doubt whether your pasta is fully cooked, sample one.
  5. Once cooked to your satisfaction, use a spider strainer to remove the agnolotti from the boiling water and add them to the simmering sauce.
  6.  Gently stir to coat the pasta with the sauce and serve immediately, garnished with more grated Pecorino Romano cheese and, fresh parsley and/or basil, if desired.

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Agnolotti Served 2*     *     *

Notes

YouTube contains quite a few videos showing agnolotti del plin being made. Some folded the filling roll over a moistened flap, as I did in steps 6 and 7 above. I thought that would ensure the pasta was fully sealed. I also skipped those 2 steps with a subsequent dough strip. Later, I cooked them both, fresh and frozen, and neither opened up while being boiled. In short, it made no difference whether you folded the filling roll over the sealed flap. You can follow the method you feel most comfortable doing.

Make sure the gizzards are fully cooked. “Rare” gizzards are not a good thing.

Because the filling is to be piped, it must be ground in a food processor, or similar device, until very smooth. The filling may block the piping bag’s tip if not ground fully.

When making the tomato-cream sauce, if you haven’t any tomato sauce on hand, a couple tbsp of tomato paste may be substituted.

The tomato-cream sauce used to dress these agnolotti is simple to make and can be used for a number of stuffed pastas. I often season it with a bit of nutmeg but, this time, the agnolotti filling already was seasoned with the spice and I didn’t want to over do it. A little nutmeg goes a very long way.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

calamari-salad3Continuing with a review of seafood dishes suitable for A Christmas Eve feast, today’s I’m highlighting Mom’s Calamari Salad. It’s a snap to make and is a welcome addition to any celebratory meal, Christmas or otherwise. Another reason for selecting this dish is that its post contains links to a number of seafood dishes and recipes, in case your Feast of the Seven Fishes is minus a few fins. All of this may be yours simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Garbanzo Bean SoupMy Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

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