Fried Zucchini Blossoms

Fiori Fritti dello Zucchini

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For a number of years now, it seems that every cook and chef on television has demonstrated the fine art of stuffing zucchini/squash blossoms before being fried. This was not something we ever tried at the two-flat. First of all, Grandpa would never plant something in his garden that would take up so much space. Tomatoes were his main interest and a plant that sprawled, no matter what kind, just wasn’t welcome. More importantly, even if he found a suitable spot for, say, zucchini, picking the blossoms would not have been acceptable to him in the slightest. He planted zucchini and anything that would lessen the crop would not have been allowed. So, without the crutch of a family recipe, I headed into new territory when I bought my first bunch of zucchini blossoms late last Summer.

Those first blossoms proved to be a disaster. They were an impulse buy and I’d no idea how to store them, so, I treated them like I would cut flowers. I awoke the next morning to find a wilted mess in a glass of water. That was the last I saw of blossoms until a few weeks ago, when I came across some at the farmers market. With my car in the shop, they survived the trip home in surprisingly good shape. Problems arose, however, when it came to creating a stuffing. Not wishing to test the CTA’s reliability a 2nd time that day, I raided the fridge, finding fresh mozzarella and fontinella cheeses. A quick trip to the corner store and I returned with a 1/2 gallon of whole milk that was used to make ricotta. These three cheeses were used to prepare the stuffing used in today’s recipe.

With the stuffing decided, I set about creating a batter to coat them. I tried a number of versions, over the course of 3 Saturdays, finally settling on a batter of flour, corn starch, cornmeal, and club soda. This batter was, by far, the best, resulting in blossoms that were crispy without being buried in batter.

I also continued to experiment with fillings. My favorite consisted of mozzarella and anchovies. Unfortunately, my photos from that batch were a mess, though I did post the “best” one later in this post.

There is one more thing worth mentioning. Be sure to open each blossom and check to see if there are any stow-aways. Although any one of a number of insects might be found lurking in there, I’m more concerned with creatures of the eight-legged variety. Although I’ve yet to come across one, I check the blossoms over the sink with the garbage disposal running. Just sayin’ …

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I’ll be leaving for Michigan and the Kitchens will be closed as a result. It’s time for a little R&R on the beach with Max. See you in 2 weeks.

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Che Bei Fiori!

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Fried Zucchini Blossoms Recipe

Ingredients

  • 12 fresh zucchini/squash blossoms
  • 2 oz (56 g) mozzarella, grated
  • 2 oz (56 g) fontinella, grated
  • 4 oz (113 g) whole milk ricotta, well-drained
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch/flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • club soda
  • salt & pepper
  • oil for frying

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Fontinella, Ricotta, & Mozzarella Cheeses

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Directions

  1. Using tweezers, remove stamen and gently wash each blossom. Carefully blot each one dry. Remove the stems just beneath the blossom.
  2. Place a coffee filter into a strainer and add ricotta. Allow to drain a couple of hours. Discard the liquid (whey) and reserve the ricotta.
  3. Coarsely grate mozzarella and fontinella cheeses. (See Notes)
  4. Combine ricotta, mozzarella, and fontinella cheeses. Mix well.
  5. Add flour, corn starch, salt & pepper into a bowl and whisk to combine.
  6. Add enough club soda to make a batter.
  7. Place the cheese mixture  into a pastry bag or plastic storage bag. If using the latter, cut off one of the bag’s bottom corners and force the cheese into that part of the bag.
  8. Grab hold of a blossom in one hand and gently separate the petals to reveal a “pocket”. Gently blowing into the blossom may help open it up.
  9. Place the tip of the cheese-filled pasty/plastic bag into the pocket and squeeze some of the cheese into the blossom. Do not overfill nor allow the blossom to split. Continue until all are stuffed.
  10. Fill a medium-sized sauce pan with about 2 inches (5 cm) of oil. Heat to about 350˚. You’ll know it is hot enough if a bit of batter instantly begins to fry when dropped into the hot oil.
  11. Take one blossom and twist the petal ends to seal the cheese inside. Grabbing hold of the twisted petal ends, dip the blossom into the batter to cover. Drain excess batter and then place in the hot oil. Continue with more blossoms. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.
  12. When golden brown (2 to 4 minutes), flip each blossom. Fry for another 2 minutes
  13. Remove to a paper towel lined dish and season with salt.
  14. Serve immediately

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Variations

Though stuffed blossoms are wonderful when fried, you really don’t need to stuff them with anything before frying. Just dip them in the batter and fry them. You’ll get a light, crispy treat without the hassle of trying to fill blossoms with cheese.

Mozzarella & Anchovy  Zucchini Blossom

You can stuff the blossoms with whatever you like. Any cheese or mixture of cheeses will work. I chose a combination of 3 cheese for this post. My favorites, though were blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and an anchovy. Simply prepare the blossom as indicated above, cut a stick of mozzarella, wrap it with an anchovy, insert both into the blossom before dredging and frying. Unfortunately, the photo on the right is the best of those I took that afternoon.

There are several ways to coat your blossoms. Some prefer to use eggs in their batter while others “go it alone” with just a coating of flour. Some use breadcrumbs to form a coating and others like only flour. I like a thinner batter, so, I use a little club soda poured into a mixture of 1 part each of corn meal and corn starch/flour for every 2 parts AP flour. When mixed, I prefer a batter that’s a little thicker than buttermilk but not quite as thick as pancake batter.

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Notes

I’ve yet to discover a good way to store blossoms. I was told to treat them like freshly cut flowers and that didn’t work. I’ve since searched the web and it’s suggested that the blossoms be tightly sealed and refrigerated. (One of the vendors expressly stated not to refrigerate them.) I’ve yet to try this for when I returned last weekend for more blossoms, none were to be found — hence the blurry photo above.

By far, the easiest way to stuff a blossom is to use a pastry or plastic bag, tip inserted into the blossom. If and when I find more blossoms, I think I’ll try the 3 cheeses again, only doubling the amount of mozzarella and fontinella before adding chopped anchovies to the mixture. Yes, I do love my anchovies!

Whenever soft cheeses like mozzarella need to be grated, it’s easiest if your place the cheese in the freezer for about 30 minutes beforehand. This should harden the cheese a bit, making grating a snap.

Initially, I tried a shallow fry, using about a half-inch of oil in the pan. I did not like the results at all. The lack of oil meant the blossoms had to be “handled” more so that they could be flipped and evenly fried. This raised the risk of damaged blossoms and leaking cheese. Using about 2 inches (5 cm) of oil made frying so much easier and consequently no blossoms were harmed in the making of this tasty treat.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

For many, a meal isn’t complete until coffee and an after-dinner liqueur are served. If that meal is served during the Summer, a dish of ice cream is very often part of the equation. With an eye towards reducing the average dishwasher’s workload, the Italians took these 3 traditions and united them in one simple dessert, affogato al caffè. Often served in a cup, affogato is a combination of ice cream and espresso, with an optional shot of your favorite liqueur. I think you’ll agree that an affogato is a wonderful way to end a meal — without having to loosen your belt afterward. You can see directions for creating a variety of affogati by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Baccalà Salad

Baccalà Salad

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Spanakópita + Tyropitákia = Spanakotyropitákia

Oh, don’t worry. I’ll explain the title in a minute.

Spanakotyropitákia

The 1990s was my decade for travel. Accompanied with my best friend, aka my Traveling Companion, we toured places that I had previously dreamt of visiting but never thought that I’d actually see in person. One such place was Greece. We arrived in Athens, spent the night, and then headed out into the Aegean for some island hopping. This trip had a little something for everyone: a modern-day metropolis; ruins of ancient civilizations; beautiful beaches; thriving nightlife; far too many picturesque settings to mention here; and the food. Oh, the glorious food!

As you know, my love of pasta knows no bounds, so, you can rest assured I had my fair share of pastitsio, with a little moussaka thrown in for good measure. Surely, my holiday in Greece would not have been complete unless I had my fill of lamb nor, for that matter, could I be expected to go from island to island without at least sampling the seafood — repeatedly. And I can assure you that any gyros bought from any street vendor anywhere on those islands will put to shame any gyros you can buy on this side of the Atlantic, hands down. Even so, Man does not munch on gyros alone and, since each island has its own wine, cheeses, olives, & olive oil, it would have been an insult had we not tasted them all, usually with a chunk of crusty bread.  Similarly, it was a surprise to learn that each island also prepared its own version of spanakópita, the Greek spinach pie. Now, I truly enjoy spinach pies and my family makes the Italian version of these tasty treats. (Called cacioni, you can see our recipe here and a recipe link supplied by my blogging friend from Le Marche, Mariano Pallottini, can be found here.) So, I needed no further encouragement to taste each island’s unique take on spanakópita. I soon learned that although the basics to each were the same (a spinach filling covered with phyllo dough) there was a surprising variety.

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The center of attention

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First off, some spanakópita were actually pies and each serving is a wedge just as if it were some fruit-filled dessert. Others were prepared on baking sheets and you’re served a rectangular piece like you would if it were baklava, only larger. Still others were prepared with individual servings in mind and could be self-contained, triangular or burrito-shaped pies. Beyond their form, the stuffing mixtures contained primarily the same ingredients but in differing proportions. Virtually all contained spinach, a little onion, lemon (either zest, juice, or both), dill, and a binding agent, eggs I presume. As you can well imagine, changing the amount of lemon zest or dill to be used can greatly affect the overall taste of the pie. In some cases, a little mint or parsley was also added to the filling, each adding their own distinct flavor to the mix. So, with so many variables at play, I never knew what I would be served when I choose spanakópita from a menu — and I enjoyed the surprise almost as much as the pie.

Normally, this is where I’d dive into the recipe but one more thing needs mentioning. One night, while on Mykonos, we asked our hotel proprietor for a local restaurant, a taberna, far from the tourist crowds. He obliged, sending us to a great little spot where, coincidentally, a family group was holding some sort of celebration, as I recall. It’s been some time since that evening and I’ve grown unsure of many of the specifics but I do remember 3 things: 1) we were sent ouzo shots from the management and the celebrants; 2) we ordered the house specialty, gardoubes, lamb offal that’s wrapped in caul fat and grilled; and, 3) we were sent ouzo shots from the management and celebrants. What does any of this have to do with spanakópita?

Beware of books bearing Greek’s …       recipes

Well, I was so impressed with the dish — or, in retrospect, was it the ouzo? — that I was determined to find out how to prepare it. To that end, I eventually located a cookbook that contained a recipe for a version of gardoubes and I immediately ordered it, sight unseen. Sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment. Originally written in Greek, the translation was apparently word-for-word, without considering context, rendering parts of some recipes nonsensical. Gardoubes was one of them. I decided that I wasn’t meant to make gardoubes and moved onto other things — but I kept the cookbook. Move ahead now, to a couple of weeks ago. I had just posted my instructions for making feta cheese and I had a fridge full of jars containing feta in brine. Growing tired of Greek salads, I decided to make spanakópita with feta added to the filling.

Thus began the Great Search of 2012. I’d not seen, let alone used, that recipe in years. More notes than formal recipe, I had scribbled them on a piece of paper as I watched a Greek woman prepare spanakópita on a cooking show, most probably broadcast on PBS. Well, midway into my search, I located the long-forgotten cookbook. I thought I had hit pay dirt. Why look any further when I had the “real deal” right here? Guess again. Its version of spanakópita was of the pie variety and didn’t contain any cheese. It did include a recipe for triangular-shaped pies but these were filled with cheese and called tyropitákia. They even had a lovely photo of the little triangles, so golden-brown and enticing. Also pictured with the tyropitákia was a platter of “cigars” that were phyllo dough wrapped around a filling of what looked to be spinach and cheese. In the caption, they were identified as spanakotyropitákia. What luck! I found exactly what I needed — except that I didn’t. Yes, the cookbook included a picture of spanakotyropitákia but not the recipe. I went through the book page-by-page, twice, to make sure. (And of course, there is no index nor glossary for the book either.) So, although I received a great title for today’s post, I was back to looking for my recipe.

It wasn’t very long after that I found my old recipe. It was pretty straight-forward  — just how complex can a few notes scribbled on a piece of paper be? — and easily adapted to include feta cheese.  The result was just what I had in mind. You’ll find these spanakotyropitákia have a pronounced lemon flavor, which I prefer. In fact, I’ve often been served spanakópita with a lemon slice/wedge as garnish. If, however, you’re unsure about the lemon flavoring, begin by adding the zest of a half-lemon to the spinach mixture. Taste it and let that determine whether to add the rest of the lemon’s zest. Use that tasting to also decide whether more dill is needed and if you want to add more feta. In short, taste the filling and let your palate be your guide as you make this recipe your own.

This all sounds well and good but what if you want more? You know. You can’t put your finger on it but you just crave more. Well, my advice is to check out Tanya’s recipe for Salmon Spanakópita. The name says it all.

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Spanakotyropitákia Recipe 

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 20 oz (2 bags, 566g) leaf spinach
  • 3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped (1 tbsp dried dill weed may be substituted),  more to taste
  • 8 oz (225g) feta, crumbled
  • zest of  ½ to 1 whole lemon
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • phyllo (fillo) dough sheets

Directions

  1. Remove any large, thick stems from the spinach and coarsely chop the leaves.
  2. Over med-high heat in a large, non-stick frying pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach, season with salt & pepper, and sauté, turning the leaves frequently, until cooked. Remove from heat.
  4. Once cooled, place the pan’s contents in a clean kitchen towel and wring out as much liquid as possible.
  5. Place semi-dried spinach into a large bowl, add feta, zest, and dill. Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready for use. This may be done a day or two in advance.
  6. When ready to proceed, add an egg to the spinach and mix until well combined.
  7. Open and unfold a package of phyllo dough, remove one sheet, and cover the remaining sheets with a damp kitchen towel.
  8. Lay the sheet of dough on a clean work surface. Fold it, lengthwise, so that 1/3 or the sheet remains uncovered. Use a sharp knife to cut off that section and place it with the rest of the unused phyllo sheets.  (A & B, click on image to enlarge)
  9. Unfold the remaining 2/3 sheet and brush half of it with butter (C) before re-folding it lengthwise. Brush the entire length with butter. (D)
  10. Place 2 – 3 tbsp of spinach filling in the bottom corner of  the strip. (E) Fold the dough up and over to the side, creating a small triangle in the process. (F)
  11. Fold the triangle up and over to the side again, and do this repeatedly, as if folding a flag. (G) When you’ve reached the end, place the pie, seam-side down on a baking sheet (H), and repeat the process with a new phyllo sheet.
  12. After you’ve finished your 2nd pie, you will have two strips that resulted from trimming the previous two dough sheets. Lay one flat, brush it with butter, and then lay the 2nd on top of it. (I) Repeat steps 10 & 11 above.
  13. Once all of your triangles are filled and folded, you can either bake or freeze them.
    1. To bake: pre-heat oven to 375˚F (190˚C) . Brush each triangle with melted butter, place seam-side down on a baking sheet, and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
    2. To freeze: brush both sides of each triangle with butter, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, place the sheet in the freezer overnight, and then store for later use. To cook, follow baking instructions but allow an additional 10 minutes to bake.

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Notes

Work as quickly as possible when using phyllo dough. If the sheet dries. it will become unusable. Be sure to keep the rest covered with a damp kitchen towel until needed.

As I learned during my recent trip, phyllo comes in different sized sheets. As a result, you may not need to trim off a third of each sheet as shown above. Just folding it in half may suffice.

By varying the width of the dough strips, you can change the size of the pies and, therefore, their intended use. Larger pies could be considered part of a light lunch, the perfect starter,  or an unusual side. Smaller pies make great appetizers and could even be served as one of many snacks on game-day.

Although I’m aware that these pies can be fried, I’ve never done it and I’m hesitant to advise doing so. As it is, I’m quite satisfied with the results when the pies are baked. If it ain’t broke …

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Home Again

I returned home this afternoon bearing Zia’s greetings to you all. Normally, when I’m with her, I show her a number of your blogs — but not this time. For some unknown reason, internet service in her area was even more abysmal than usual. Pictures wouldn’t download and even the simplest of tasks — hitting the “like” button — weren’t possible. This just means that there’ll be more for me to show her next time — and I’ve got dozens of your posts from the past week to read in the meantime.

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Artichokes Two Ways

Carciofi Due Modi

As I’ve mentioned to a few of you, I’ve had a devil of a time finding “baby” artichokes here in Chicago. Sure, I can get the goliaths year-round and, about this time of the year, the stores have some that are at about half that size. The truly small artichokes, however, the ones with no choke, have been impossible to find and it’s not for lack of trying. I routinely shop at 4 different groceries, 2 ethnic markets, and 2 additional fruit/vegetable markets. Whether I’m searching too late/early in the season or I’m living in a heretofore unknown baby artichoke-free zone, it’s been well over 10 years since the green beauties have graced my table — until now.

Recently, my vegetarian friend, Cynthia, and I decided to head West to the hinterlands. We’d both heard tales of an Italian market “out there” but never ventured to find out for ourselves. Not much more than a half-hour later, we were there and what a store! First off, the place was huge, easily the largest Italian market that I’ve ever seen. They had everything from antipasti to zuppe, and very often several choices for everything in between.  The best surprise, though, was found in the produce department.

There, at the end of one of the aisles, was not 1 but 2 displays of artichokes and, much to my delight, one of them was nothing but small artichokes. To say I was happy is a gross understatement.  So, with Cynthia perusing the rest of the fruits and vegetables, I got to work selecting only the smallest of the small artichokes. I didn’t care how long it took but I was going to find them. About 10 minutes later, I had amassed some 5 pounds of the edible thistles, all about the size of a goose egg. We soon finished our shopping and snacked on mini-conolli as we drove back to civilization. The next morning, I couldn’t wait to get started preparing my find.

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Acid Washed

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Preparing Baby Artichokes

Just like when preparing the goliaths, use a sharp knife to chop off the top of each artichoke. I usually chop just above the tips of the largest outer leaves. Next, peel off a couple of layers of the tough, outermost leaves, revealing the vegetable’s soft inner heart. Using a paring knife, peel the base and stalk of each artichoke and, depending on the size, cut it in half or quarters. Being so small, there is no choke to remove and be sure to save as much of the stem as possible. When finished with each, immediately rub the sections with a halved lemon and place in acidulated water. (Take a large bowl of cold water and add to it the juice of 2 lemons, as well as the lemons themselves.) This “bath” will prevent the vegetable from discoloring due to oxidation.  Continue until all the artichokes have been cleaned and trimmed.

Next bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add all the trimmed artichokes, and, when the water returns to the boil, leave them to blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain them and immediately place the blanched sections into a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Once chilled, removed them from the water, pat them dry, and they are now ready for use. In my case, having bought 5 pounds of the green gems, that meant the freezer for most of them. Small amounts, destined for pasta or pizza, were individually bagged, as were larger quantities which would be prepared as side dishes in the near future. Once labelled, the bags were placed in the freezer.

So, with a treasure of cleaned and trimmed baby artichokes stashed away, what are you going to do with them? Well — and this is where the due modi come into play — I’ve got 2 of Mom’s recipes to share today.

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Fry Babies

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Mom’s Deep Fried Artichokes

Mom didn’t prepare baby artichokes like this very often but, when she did, they certainly didn’t linger long on the serving platter. I think you’ll find the same will hold true today, no matter how you serve them: as a side, an appetizer, or snack on game day. And if you’re working with previously trimmed and blanched artichokes, they’re a snap to prepare.

Whether using freshly blanched or just thawed, pat the artichokes dry as best you can. Use standard breading methods to coat the artichokes. Since I prefer a thin coating on these, I do not use bread crumbs. Instead, I’ll coat the artichoke pieces in seasoned flour (paprika & onion powder) first before dipping them in an egg wash that’s been seasoned with salt & pepper. Then it’s back into flour again before deep frying in vegetable oil that’s been heated from 350˚ to 360˚ F. Since the baby artichokes were previously blanched, they won’t need to cook for a long time. When the coating is golden brown, they’re done. Remove them to drain on paper towels, season with salt, and serve. Although fine just as they are, I’ll sometimes serve them with lemon wedges and/or a simple aioli of mayonnaise, lemon juice, and a little grated garlic. If possible, prepare the aioli a few hours before serving to give the flavors a chance to blend.

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Mom’s Sautéed Artichokes

Mom most often prepared these artichokes as she did many vegetables. (See my Vegetables/Verdura posting.) If using fresh artichokes, trim and blanch as indicated above. If cleaned but frozen, allow to defrost before use. In a frying pan over medium heat, add a couple tbsp of olive oil. Once heated, add some chopped garlic, wait a minute, and then add the artichokes. Wait another 2 minutes and then add a little tomato paste or chopped tomato, “For color,” as Mom would say. Add a splash of dry white wine, season with salt & pepper, and continue to sauté until the wine is all but gone and the artichokes are cooked to your liking. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh parsley.

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Notes

This is all well and good, so long as you can get baby artichokes. But what if you can’t? Both of these dishes can be prepared with artichokes of any size.  Just be aware that larger-sized artichokes have developed an inedible “choke.” It’s a fibrous mass found at the base of the bulb and it must be removed. Once you’ve trimmed and halved an artichoke, use a paring knife or teaspoon to scoop out the fibrous mass. Once the choke has been removed and depending upon how large the artichoke is, you may need to cut each half into halves or thirds before proceeding. As you may have guessed, because of their size, these artichoke pieces should be blanched a few minutes longer than the “babies” were and will require longer cooking times, too. Personally, I prefer to stuff and roast the larger artichokes, leaving the sautéing and deep frying for the more tender babies.

Coming Attractions

Today I shared Mom’s favorite recipes for preparing baby artichokes. Next week I’ll share my Pasta Primavera recipe that features baby artichokes, of course, as well as a couple of other Springtime treats.

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Garlic Mashed Potatoes

As I’ve mentioned in my last posts, I’m on a campaign to vary Thanksgiving dinners at my place. I do realize, however, that there is only so much leeway to be had. I wouldn’t swap out the turkey for some other fowl, nor would I replace the stuffing with wild rice, and I certainly wouldn’t serve dinner without preparing mashed potatoes — although serving the potatoes has proven to be a bit problematic. Over the years, I’ve tried a number of mashed potato recipes that, although not bad, were just not good enough to be the “go to” recipe for Thanksgiving. Then, about 6 years ago, I watched Alton Brown prepare these potatoes and it was love at first sight. Now this is the only way I make mashed potatoes and my dinner guests are very pleased that I do.

Before detailing the recipe, I feel the need to explain my statement about serving potatoes being problematic. (I apologize to those who may have already read a brief recounting of this story in a previous post’s comments.) The apartment I rented before buying my home was what they called “vintage.” The building itself contained three, 3 bedroom apartments, was Victorian in style, and each contained the original unpainted, woodwork, beamed ceilings, original leather wainscoting in the dining rooms,  and the original built-in china hutch in each dining room. Yes, the living rooms and dining rooms were really quite beautiful but, walk down the hall and you entered a kitchen nightmare. Saying that they wanted to “keep it vintage” — we tenants quickly learned that the landlords were just plain cheap — none of the kitchens had any counter space whatsoever. Each had a sink like the one pictured below and that drain board was the only “counter” to be found. There were only 2 small cupboards, as well, and they were located above the sink. To be fair, there was an adjoining pantry but it was of little use when pulling something out of the oven, unloading groceries or, I dunno, just pouring a cup of coffee in the morning.

I moved into that apartment in August and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I’d only found one table that I liked for the kitchen. It was an old kitchen work table with a flour bin drawer and underneath was enough space for my pots & pans. Best of all, it offered a tabletop surface that I so desperately needed. That first Thanksgiving was going swimmingly. My friends had already finished their pasta and were working on their salads. I was in the kitchen getting everything assembled for the final push. While clearing the salad plates, rather uncharacteristically, I actually remembered the rolls were in the oven and, with counter space at a premium, placed the hot baking sheet full of toasty rolls atop the bowl of mashed potatoes. I served the dinner and, by all accounts, it was very well-received. In fact, near the end of the main course, one friend mentioned that he didn’t even mind not having mashed potatoes. Huh? Sure enough, my potatoes were still in the kitchen, on the table with a now empty baking sheet covering them. Laughing, I served them, more to prove that I did make them than for any other reason. To their credit, my guests all did have some, although I wouldn’t say that they were especially thrilled to see mashed potatoes served so late in the game. Cheesecake, yes. Mashed potatoes, no.

That recipe was destined to be forgotten because once I saw today’s recipe prepared, I never made any other kind. It is certainly my kind of dish, easy to make with very little room for error — so long as you don’t lose ‘em in the kitchen. All you do is steep some garlic in heavy cream and combine that cream with some boiled potatoes.  Add a little cheese & butter, and the result is a dish of mashed potatoes with a delicious garlic flavor throughout. Just be aware that when you add the last of the cream, it very well may look like there’s been too much added. Never fear. Just give it a good stir and let it rest. Within minutes, the cream is absorbed and you’ll end up with a beautiful dish of creamy, garlic mashed potatoes.

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Garlic Mashed Potatoes Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 lbs of potatoes (Yukon Gold)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt

Directions

  1. Peel and evenly chop potatoes, place in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to a boil over med-high heat, add the salt, and then lower to a simmer.
  2. Continue to simmer potatoes until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain the potatoes, and return to the now empty saucepan to sit for 5 minutes, allowing them to dry more fully.
  3. Meanwhile, place garlic and cream in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until simmering. Remove from heat and set aside until needed. Just before use, pour the cream mixture through a sieve to strain out and discard the garlic.
  4. Once the potatoes have been boiled, drained, and rested,  begin mashing them.  Add some of the cream to make them easier to mash. Once mashed to your liking, add the remainder of the cream and mix well before adding the cheese and butter. Mix to combine.
  5. Let the mashed potatoes rest a few minutes on your stove top while the remaining cream and butter is fully absorbed. Mix well and serve.

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Notes

Alton likes to leave his garlic in the cream and mash it along with the potatoes. I prefer to strain it out prior to mashing. I feel that I can better control the level of garlic flavor in the final dish and, also, ensure that no one is served a chunk of garlic masquerading as a potato lump. Whether or not you strain the cream, remember that the longer you allow the garlic to steep, the more garlic flavor will be infused into the cream.

If you look at Alton’s recipe, you may notice that he doesn’t add any butter. No butter in mashed potatoes? Perish the thought! I’ve corrected his oversight in my version of the recipe.

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This will be my last post before the Holiday, so, I’d like to wish a happy Thanksgiving to you and all whom you hold dear. And for those not celebrating the Holiday, have a great day and an even better weekend.

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Stovetop Braised Root Vegetables

Continuing my quest to bring a little variety to my Thanksgiving dinner, the year following the introduction of creamed corn, I served a medley of root vegetables. This dish was selected because it met 2 important criteria required of any dish to be deemed worthy of a spot on my roster of  Thanksgiving side dishes.

First, and most importantly, any new addition must be tasty — and this one was surprisingly delicious. I say surprisingly because I’d never sampled rutabaga prior to my finding this recipe on the web during yet another sleepless night. I added parsnips to the dish after enjoying them for the first time at a dinner prepared by the Neighbor Lady of my Trusty Traveling Companion. While some might find that surprising, in retrospect, it’s totally understandable why rutabaga and parsnip never made an appearance upon our dining table when I was growing up. Considering the cornucopia of vegetables that graced our table, there just wasn’t any room for these 2 on the menu. Add one more vegetable and Mom may have had to cut a pasta dish out of her repertoire. Cut a pasta? I can feel my heart racing!

The second requirement is that the potential dish be easy to prepare — and special consideration is given if the dish can be cooked on the stove top.  When I’m in the final stages of getting the dinner to the table, the last thing I need is to be babysitting a couple of side dishes. I’ve got potatoes to rice/smash, gravy to make, a pasta course to serve, salads to prepare, and rolls to forget and burn in the oven. And we mustn’t forget a bird to carve and dishes to clear. Tending to some needy side dish(es) just won’t do and the time I spend trying to find room in the oven for it could be better spent trying to find the cocktail I left somewhere out among my guests. This dish is perfect in this regard. First off, you can peel and chop the vegetables well before your guests arrive. In fact, I’ll often do the prep work the night before and seal the chopped veggies in a plastic bag to be stored in the fridge. Taking but 20 minutes to cook, if that, once you get everything into the pan, you can pretty much leave it until it’s ready to be served. It doesn’t get much easier than that and you may find that you even have time to lose a 2nd cocktail.

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Stovetop Braised Root Vegetables Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 rutabaga, peeled and chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (vegetable stock may be substituted)

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a skillet with a cover over med-high heat.
  2. Add garlic, onion, carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga. Season with salt & pepper and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add stock, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover.
  4. Cook vegetables until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt & pepper, to taste.
  5. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

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Notes

Besides being tasty and easy to prepare, this dish is perfect for those who color coördinate their Thanksgiving dinner. By offering 4 distinct colors in one recipe (pale yellow, orange, and white, not to mention the red onion), this dish single-handedly provides you with many of the colors of the Thanksgiving palette. And if you’re worried that the parsnips will bring too much white to your table, just replace your mashed russets with a batch of Jed’s purple potatoes and you’ll be fine.

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A Taster’s Mom’s Creamed Corn

Anyone who has cooked Thanksgiving dinner a few years in succession will understand my problem. So will anyone that dines at the same Thanksgiving table for several years. The problem is boredom, for lack of a better word. My Thanksgiving dinner’s main course and all the fixins didn’t vary from year to year. Sure, I served a different pasta for the primo piatto, I varied the salad course, desserts came and went, but the turkey & fixins remained pretty much unchanged. So, about 5 years ago, I decided to mix things up a bit. Beginning that year, and every year thereafter, I would switch out a dish for a new one.

A friend — and Bartolini kitchens taste tester — is from the South. I asked if he had a favorite dish that his Mom made at Thanksgiving. He loved her corn and I asked for the recipe. Well, as luck would have it, something came up and my friend couldn’t make it to my place for Thanksgiving dinner but his Mom’s corn sure did. It was such a hit that it has become a mainstay of my Thanksgiving dinners ever since. In fact, at one dinner I casually mentioned that I intended to switch the corn out for something else the following year. My guests politely suggested I leave well enough alone. Ironic isn’t it? I prepare a new dish in an effort to “mix things up a bit” and it is so well-received that now, 5 years later, it has become one of the dishes it was meant to replace. Anyway, even though the corn may have stayed, undaunted I’ve continued to introduce a new dish every year since, a couple of which will be shared in future posts.

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Creamed Corn Recipe 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 shalot, diced
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, halved
  • 4 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

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Directions

  1. In a medium sauce pan or skillet over medium heat, sauté the shallot and bell pepper in half of the butter for 3 minutes.
  2. Add the half-and-half, sugar, corn, salt, and pepper. Mix well and bring to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile make a roux by combining the flour with the remaining butter over medium heat. Stir to combine and continue cooking until the roux is a pale yellow.
  4. Add the roux to the corn mixture and stir constantly until it thickens. Continue cooking and stirring for an additional minute and serve.

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Variations

If I prepare this dish in August or September, the height of our corn season here in Illinois/Michigan, I’ll use only a 1/4 cup of sugar because the corn and its juices will be very sweet. For much of  the rest of the year, however, unless I’m certain the corn is really good, I’ll use frozen corn. Unfortunately, frozen corn has no liquids — “liquor,” if you will. To make up for the lack of liquor, I’ll take 1 to 2 cups of the corn and pulse it a few times in my food processor. This will help the final dish to look like the corn has been cut from the cob by hand. To make up for the sweetness lost, I’ll increase the sugar from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup. The resulting dish looks and tastes like it was made from fresh corn.

Notes

I remove the corn kernels in one of two ways, depending upon the recipe. For Zia’s Corn Relish, I’ll use an electric knife to slice the kernels off of the cob. I find that the kernels remain whole with very little liquor created, just perfect for corn relish.  For this recipe, I’ll use a large chef’s knife to remove the kernels. This method is not nearly as “kind” to the ear of corn, resulting in kernels that are somewhat chopped and a good amount of that sweet corn liquor.

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Dad’s Puffballs

As many of you know, I was in Michigan last week, visiting Zia and my family. Luckily, my visit was timed perfectly for the annual arrival of puffballs. Pictured above, a puffball is a type of edible fungus with a mild, mushroom-like flavor. My Dad, some 25 years ago, found one growing behind Zia’s garage and we’ve enjoyed them ever since. Then again, my family has always had some sort of relationship with mushrooms. Both Mom & Zia told tales of going mushroom picking with Grandma when they were very young in as-yet undeveloped fields in Detroit. Prior to my being born, Mom & Dad lived in a house in which they grew mushrooms in a basement room that had a dirt floor. So, when Dad found a puffball and declared it edible, my family replied, “When do we eat?”

Max "picked" the smaller one about 1 week too soon. We suspect the larger was "trimmed" by a lawn mower when it was but a few days old.

Each year, usually in the first weeks of October, 1 to 3 egg-sized fungi appear in the lawn by Zia’s garage. In less than 2 weeks, these “eggs” will grow to be football-sized — and therein lies the quandary: when to pick them. Grab them too soon and you may be cheating yourself out of a few days’ growth. Picked too late and you’ll have no choice but to throw it away, hopefully back where you found it so its spores will produce next year’s crop. So, once you’ve decided it’s harvest time, what’s next? That’s easy enough. Pick them and, just before cooking, trim away the outer peel to reveal a flesh that’s relatively firm and pure white, like that of a white button mushroom cap — on steroids! If it is even the palest shade of green, yellow, or brown, discard the puffball because it has “turned.” Your best bet is to cook them as soon after harvesting as possible.

As mentioned earlier, puffballs have a very mild, mushroom-like taste and this limits the ways they can be cooked. One year, after a crop that yielded 3 huge puffballs, I brought one home and used part of it in a tomato sauce. Big mistake. Being so mild tasting, one could easily have mistaken the puffball cubes for tofu — not exactly the result I had in mind. Since then, I’ve restricted my use of them to 4 recipes. To begin with, if I cannot cook it within 2 days of picking, I’ll chop the puffball into cubes and lightly sauté them in butter. I place the partially cooked cubes on sheet pans and into my freezer. When fully frozen, I place the cubes in bags to be stored for later use in omelets.

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Breadcrumbs (l), Flour (r)

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When he brought the first one home, Dad suggested that Mom cut it into cubes before breading and frying them. So, she cubed it, floured the cubes, dipped them into an egg wash, and then coated them with seasoned bread crumbs before deep frying. Pictured above, are cubes prepared in this way using Panko bread crumbs. Oddly enough, as Zia mentioned, they’ll remind you of toasted marshmallows, albeit a little mushroom-y. Also pictured are puffball cubes prepared with a 2nd coating of seasoned flour rather than bread crumbs. Although good, I much prefer the Panko-coated. By the way, the dipping sauce pictured is homemade ketchup that was inspired by Tanya’s Up The Mountain Spicy Tomato Ketchup over at her Chica Andaluza blog. Her sauce is fantastic and better, by far, than any ketchup that I’ve ever tasted.

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Parmesan Coated

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The 4th and final preparation is a method I found at the Mycological Society of San Francisco website. If you’ve a mushroom-related question, this is a good place to start looking for an answer. Their recipe, Parmesan Puffballs, involves coating slices of puffball with grated parmesan cheese instead of breadcrumbs or flour. Fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil, these are a tasty alternative to the other methods. Truth be told, however, the parmesan cheese is the real star of this dish; the puffball being overwhelmed by the flavor of fried cheese. Although not quite the dish one might expect, any excuse to eat fried cheese is all right in my book.

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Notes

In the years since Dad brought home that first puffball, my family has enjoyed them many times. Never once has anyone experienced any discomfort or problem after eating them. Still, as is the case with any mushroom or fungus, if in doubt, do not eat.

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Just One Thing More

So, you think you had a rough night?

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No, those aren’t puffballs. The night before we (Lucy, Max, and I) left for Michigan, Lucy laid an egg, pictured above to the left of a “large” chicken egg. That was 2 weeks ago and she normally lays a clutch of 2 eggs over the course of 2 to 3 days. The trip obviously affected her delivery schedule but, the way she’s acting, I expect to find this egg’s Irish twin in the corner of her cage within the next day or 2.

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Don’t sit under that apple tree. Make apple sauce!

I love this time of the year. Here in Chicago, Winter’s relentless, Spring’s nonexistent, Summer’s hot & humid, but Fall, beautiful, wonderful Fall is our reward for putting up with the rest of the year’s weather. The days are warm, the nights cool, the lakefront a thing of beauty and the Park, which borders the Lake for pretty much the full breadth of the City, gradually transforms from lush green to a multi-colored patchwork. As nice as that all sounds and is, truthfully, there’s but one thing missing and, surprisingly, it has little to do with my adoptive home but everything to do with the time of year. It’s apples. I love apples. Cook ‘em, bake ‘em, turn ‘em into sauce. Give me a pie, a tart, a crisp, a cobbler. How about a muffin? A piece of cake? A slice of  bread? A stack of flapjacks? Or, if all else fails, just give one to me raw. Believe me, you cannot go wrong offering me apples in any way, shape, or form.

So, for years, when Fall rolled around, I set about making pies and cobblers, with an occasional loaf of bread or a baked apple thrown in for good measure. This all changed 2 Summers ago when I bought my Roma Sauce Maker. (Do you hear a harp? I always hear a harp when I mention that strainer.) I bought it to process my tomatoes before freezing but I quickly learned that it was good for making apple sauce. Well, that was a game changer around this place.

In prior posts, I’ve mentioned the two boys that live above me with their Mom. The oldest, like most kids, loves sweets of any kind. The youngest is his polar opposite and doesn’t like sweets. Period. This poses a problem for me. I’d love to bring them ice cream, cookies, or whatever it is I’m making in the kitchen but I shy away from it because I don’t want the little guy to feel left out. That, however, was before my Roma Sauce Maker came home. (C’mon! You had to have heard that!) The Li’l Guy, you see, loves apple sauce. So, this time of year, he gets all the apple sauce he wants. That was, until very recently. Now, I CAN, which means the apple sauce I make today can, and will, be given to him next May when I give his brother some cookies, or, in July when I make ice cream for the house. And, best of all, he can still have plenty of apple sauce now, too! There really is an upside to this canning business. Who knew!

Now, as for the sauce, I am by no means an expert but I have had some pretty good luck with it. To begin, I never use anything but apples, a few ounces of organic apple juice, and a pinch of salt. That’s it, no sugar whatsoever and, for that matter, no cinnamon either. I use about 4 kinds of apples, all sweet, for every batch of sauce. This week, as shown, I used Molly Delicious, McIntosh, Honey Crisp, and Regal Gala. Because they’re so small, I selected 7 Galas and 6 of each of the other varieties; their total weight being 10 and a half pounds (4.8 kg). Although there’s no need to core or peel the apples when you use a strainer or food mill,  you still need to cut up the apples. So, I used my corer/slicer and, in about 10 minutes, had all of these in the pot and ready to go. Since I don’t add sugar or cinnamon to my apple sauce, there really isn’t a recipe to share. Instead, I’ll give you the steps that I follow and, as you’ll soon find out, making apple sauce isn’t at all difficult.

First off, select apples known for their sweetness — i.e., Gala, Honey Crisp, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Fuji, Delicious, Macoun, and Golden Delicious, to name a few. Begin by washing all the fruit and, if you have a strainer or food mill, cut the apples into equal-sized slices or chunks. If no strainer, peel and core the apples before chopping the apples. Place the apple pieces into a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add 4 to 6 oz apple juice and simmer, stirring frequently. You want the apple slices to be soft when finished. This could take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon your stove, the pot, the amount of apples, and whether you’ve offended the gods that morning. Once soft, pass the apples through your food strainer or food mill, separating the peel, core, and seeds from the pulp. If you haven’t a strainer or food mill, once the apples are soft enough, you can mash them with a potato masher or force the pulp through a sieve. No matter which method you use, place the resultant pulp into a sauce pan. This is when I season it with a pinch of salt. You may wish to add sugar or cinnamon, to taste. If you’ve chosen your apples carefully, however, I think you’ll be surprised to learn just how sweet it is — and how totally unnecessary the sugar is. At this point, you can place it in your fridge where it will last about a week; cool it and freeze it; or can it.

If you chose to can it, according to the Pick Your Own website, you will need to re-heat the sauce; use clean, sterile jars that are still hot; use sterile tops and lids; and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes if using pint containers or 20 minutes if using quarts. Once removed from the boiling bath, place on a towel-covered baking sheet and place in a spot away from drafts where they will remain undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.

My 10 and a half pounds of apples resulted in 6 pints of apple sauce. I canned 3 pints and froze the remainder in 6 single cup-sized containers. He doesn’t know it yet but there’s going to be one happy little boy living above me.

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OK. One last time. Roma Sauce Maker! All right, this time I agree with you. I couldn’t hear the harp because the fanfare was blaring. You did hear the fanfare, right? Right?

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Chicken gizzards? No way!

Admittedly, dishes featuring chicken gizzards are a hard sell and some of you will go no further than the picture above (Just click HERE, Cynthia.) and that’s fine.  Believe me, the majority of my family will be going with you. Since this blog was conceived as a means of recording and sharing my family’s recipes, however, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention these two. Who knows? Some future Bartolini Clan member may wish to know how to cook chicken gizzards and they won’t need to look any further than right here.

Mom and Zia were little girls when the Great Depression struck and our family, like so many others, was hit hard. By all accounts, these were lean times and our Grandparents struggled to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Both Bartolini Girls marvel(ed) at how Grandma could make a single chicken last a full week, feeding a family of four in the process. Well, that’s when she could get a chicken. Both of today’s recipes come from that time. Mom often served us the first, a side dish of peas with gizzards, when I was growing up. No need to explain why it wasn’t an especially popular dish with my siblings. The second is a pasta dish that I “created” on my own. I remember telling Mom about it and, somewhat surprised, she recalled that Grandma used to make the same dish. Zia has mentioned that, as well. Since neither had ever mentioned or served me this pasta, I think it’s a sign that Grandma wants this dish prepared and, by sharing it here, I’m just doing my part to see that her wish is carried out.

I can’t speak of packaging during the Depression but, in today’s markets, one can usually find chicken gizzards and hearts sold together in 1 pound containers. Once cleaned and trimmed, I’ll divide them, with a quarter being reserved for the peas dish and the rest for pasta. One of the 2 portions will be set aside, even frozen, for later use. Cooking these meats can be a little tricky. To brown them like one would, say, beef chunks for stew, will render them nearly inedible. That shouldn’t be a problem if you follow the steps outlined in the recipes that follow.

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Peas alla Nonna Recipe (aka Chicken Gizzards with Peas)

Ingredients

  • 5 or 6 oz chicken gizzards & hearts, cleaned and trimmed
  • 1/2 small onion, divided in halves
  • water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 plum tomato, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh peas
  • pinch of cloves
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Place gizzards, half of the onion, and enough lightly salted water to cover into a medium saucepan, Cover, bring to a boil over med-high heat, and reduce to a soft simmer. Cook for 1 hour, checking periodically to ensure enough water remains. At the end of an hour, pour the pan’s contents through a strainer, discarding the onion and stewing liquid.
  2. Slice the remaining onion portion and roughly chop the stewed meat.
  3. In the same pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat. Return gizzards to the pan, along with the sliced onion, and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent.
  4. Add tomato and sauté for a minute before adding peas, cloves, and a few tbsp of water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook about 5 minutes or until peas are done to you liking.
  5. Serve immediately.

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Pasta with Chicken Gizzards Recipe

Ingredients

  • 12 – 16 oz chicken gizzards & hearts, cleaned & trimmed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large (28 oz) can tomatoes, whole or diced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 lb pasta, cooked to not quite al dente
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add gizzards and cook for 5 minutes. Do not allow to burn.
  2. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute before adding the wine. Cook until almost all the wine has evaporated.
  4. Add the tomato paste and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add parsley and tomatoes. If using whole tomatoes, tear them apart before adding to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil, cover partially, and reduce to a soft simmer.
  6. The sauce should cook for 45 minutes. Check the pasta’s package directions and time its cooking so that the pasta is about 2 minutes shy of being al dente when the sauce is ready.
  7. Reserve some of the pasta water before adding the pasta to the frying pan. Mix well and continue cooking until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  8. Serve immediately, garnished with the grated parmesan cheese.

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Notes

And so ends our treatment of chicken gizzards and hearts. Oh, don’t you worry. We’ll be coming back to these ingredients when the Bartolini Family Risotto recipe is shared. That won’t be for a while, however, so, all you chickens out there can rest easy. Your giblets are safe — for now.

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Grandma’s Stuffed Vegetables

August was a good month for the Bartolini Clan at the old two-flat. Grandpa’s garden was in high-gear, easily producing enough tomatoes for all of both families’ needs. (Be sure to check out Mom’s Tomato Antipasti.) As the years passed, the garden grew and so did the selection of produce. Lettuce, swiss chard, eggplants, peppers, and, of course, grapes, all made their way onto our dinner tables in August, if not before. To augment his own “crops,” Grandpa and I made a weekly trip to Detroit’s Eastern Market every Saturday morning, where he would walk the aisles, haggling each farmer/vendor over the price of whatever it was that he wanted to buy. By the end of our “tour,” we’d return to the car with everything from fruits & vegetables to chickens (dead or alive) and, one memorable Saturday each year, a hog’s head to be made into head cheese. (You’ve not lived until you’ve walked around a crowded farmers’ market, carrying a hog’s head on your shoulder, stopping occasionally while your Grandfather haggled with some farmer over what amounted to 50 cents, if that.) Sunday was my Dad’s turn. Starting when we were very young, Sis & I accompanied him and our favorite stop was the bread bakery. While Dad chatted with his baker friend, we munched on bread straight from the oven. Along the way we might visit with friends or family, stop at an Italian market or 2, and then head to the grocery for whatever he hadn’t found at the previous stops. We’d return home, laden with all kinds of goodies, just in time for Sunday brunch.  That night, both families often dined together in a large, screen-enclosed room, “the patio,” which Grandpa had built adjacent to the garage. It easily accommodated the 12 of us and very often a few guests more.

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In retrospect, these dinners went off like a well-oiled machine. While Dad, Uncle, and Grandpa worked the grill and their beverages, Mom and Zia handled the rest, from setting the table to making sure that the “trouble-makers” among us 6 kids sat at separate ends of the long table. (One memorable response, walkie talkies, though well-played was extremely short-lived.) Aside from the grilled entrées, the meal itself featured side dishes made from the garden’s vegetables, as well as those that Dad and Grandpa had just purchased. Family favorites, that both women were quite capable of preparing, were tomatoes, eggplant, and onions that were halved, topped with a bread crumb mixture, and baked. Both Mom and Zia spoke of Grandma preparing vegetables in this way, which is similar to recipes for tomatoes Provençal. With Mom & Grandma’s birthday having been on the 15th, and Uncle’s birthday the 12th, I thought this would be the perfect time to share this family recipe.

Now comes the hard part. I have seen these vegetables prepared countless times, most recently a few weeks ago while visiting Zia. I have prepared them myself dozens of times, the most recent being last night. Never have I measured any of the ingredients nor have I seen them measured. Mom would get so exasperated with me as I asked her, repeatedly, what the measurements were for some dish, often this one. Now, far too late, I understand. More important than how much of this or that is the look and feel of the finished mixture. She and Zia use this breading mixture in a number of dishes. It’s consistency varies depending upon the dish and how it is cooked. When used with Grandpa’s  barbecued shrimp, it is very moist, almost dripping. Here, the vegetables are cooked at a much lower temperature than on a grill and, so, the breading isn’t as moist. Even so, you may prefer your topping to be more/less firm when served and the amount of oil used will determine that. Because of all this, I’m only posting guidelines and not a recipe. Use them as a base, adjusting where necessary to suit your own tastes.

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Grandma’s Stuffed Vegetables

Select fully ripened tomatoes, small to medium-sized onions, and baby or small eggplants. If you use large, thick eggplants, they will require pre-roasting, as do the onions. Better to seek out relatively thin eggplants of about 4 – 6 inches in length.

For the stuffing, you will need about 2 – 3 tbsp of bread crumbs per vegetable half; about 1 tsp of freshly chopped parsley per vegetable; 1 – 2  garlic cloves, minced, depending upon the number of vegetables used; salt & pepper, to taste; and enough extra virgin olive oil to fully moisten the mixture. It should not be sopping or dripping wet.

Pre-heat oven to 400*. Remove a thin slice off of the top & bottom of each onion. This will allow them to “sit” without rolling while roasting. Halve each onion, score the cut side with a sharp knife, and brush lightly with olive oil. Season with salt & pepper and roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, create the bread topping. Combine bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, salt & pepper, and olive oil. Halve the tomatoes and gently squeeze each half to remove some liquid and the seeds.  Add the liquid and “tomato caviar” to the bread crumb mixture. Halve the eggplants, lengthwise, and use a knife to score the cut side a few times. Use a pastry brush to coat the cut sides of the eggplants & tomatoes with olive oil and then season with salt & pepper. By now the onions should be about ready to be removed from the oven. Place all the halved vegetables on a lightly oiled baking sheet or dish and season with salt & pepper. Reset the oven temperature to 350*

Cover the top of each vegetable half with the bread crumb mixture. When finished, drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake in a 350* oven for 40 – 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

Variations

These are the 3 vegetable that Grandma, and later Mom and Zia, used. I’ve, also, prepared zucchini and summer squash this way, treating them as I would eggplant.

Notes

Left-overs can be easily re-heated in the microwave. Better still, with 2 slices of Italian bread, one of the tomato or eggplant halves makes a great sandwich. Grandma served these sandwiches to her girls for lunch and they, in turn, served them to us.

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