A Souvenir from Florence: Fried Sage

Salvia Fritti

Fried Sage 2I’m usually not one to bring home many souvenirs from my trips abroad. There were exceptions, of course, but these days I’m more prone to bring home recipes or ideas for enhancing my own. Last week’s garganelli post was one such souvenir. This past trip was no exception.

Just like here now, Italy was at the end of the Spring pea season when we arrived. Still, though, I was served a number of dishes in which fresh peas were an ingredient. Whereas I cook peas fully whenever I add them to pasta, these were served relatively al dente. The result was a much fresher tasting pea, giving the pasta that Primavera flavor. Since returning home, I’ve been buying fresh peas every week and doing little more than heating them before serving. Try it next time you make pasta with peas and let me know what you think.

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On our first night together in Florence, we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The menu offered an antipasto called “Salvia Fritti”. We knew that it was fried sage but that didn’t seem like anything special. After all, we’ve all used fried sage leaves for a garnish. When asked, the waiter explained that the sage leaves were used to enclose anchovies before being dipped in batter and fried. Get outta here! I immediately placed my order, as did my fellow anchovy lover sitting across from me. His wife chose something else; a decision she would soon regret.

This dish was just incredible. It was so good that the next night, when we discovered our preferred restaurant was unexpectedly closed, we high-tailed it over to the previous night’s restaurant to enjoy another round of fried sage.

Salvia Fritti

The restaurant version

Happy to get a table and eager to taste these delightful treats, we could hardly wait to place 3 orders for Salvia Fritii. That’s when it happened. Our waiter told us that they had just served the last of the tasty delicacies. The 3 of us gasped so loudly that the restaurant’s other diners must have thought we had just received terrible news. Well, in fact we had. To be sure, we enjoyed our dinner but, all the while, we knew that we wouldn’t be served salvia fritti again during our holiday. That’s when I decided to make them at home. So, I asked the waiter how they were made and, this trip, along with a change in my pea cooking ways, I brought home today’s recipe for fried sage.

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This is such an easy recipe that It’s hardly worth its own post and if it weren’t for the photos I’ll be sharing, I would have combined this dish with another. You see, to make this dish, all you need do is place some anchovies between 2 sage leaves and coat them with batter before deep frying until golden brown. The only thing to consider is the thickness of the batter. As you can see in the photo, we were served sage that was coated with a thick batter. My batter, however, was a bit thinner and, therefore, crisper after frying. The choice is yours. If you’re unsure, start with a thicker batter, fry a couple, sample, and then adjust with more sparkling water, if needed. Don’t worry about the sampling. Just like when cooking bacon, sampling is to be expected.

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Fried Sage 1*     *     *

Fried Sage Recipe

Ingredients

  • Large fresh sage leaves
  • anchovies (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/4 corn starch (see Notes)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • sparkling/carbonated water
  • olive oil or a substitute for frying

Directions

  1. Prepare the batter:
    • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt.
    • Add the egg and then the water, whisking until a smooth batter results.
    • Set aside until needed.
  2. Pre-heat frying oil to 350˚ F (180˚ C).
  3. Pair the sage leaves according to size.
  4. Place anchovy fillet(s) in-between the 2 paired leaves. Use the palm of your hand to press the leaves together.
  5. Dip the sage “packets” into the batter and gently shake off the excess before placing in the hot oil. Repeat for the other packets though be careful not to overcrowd the pan.
  6. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning each over once in the process.
  7. Remove from hot oil and drain on paper towels. Season lightly with salt. If working in batches, keep warm in a pre-heated 200˚ F (95˚ C) oven.
  8. Serve immediately.

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Salted AnchoviesSalt-packed anchovies, anyone?

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Notes

Anchovies are the biggest concern for this recipe. If you can find fresh, by all means use them. They will give this dish the best flavor possible. If, like me, you cannot find fresh anchovies — and believe me I’ve tried — your next best option is salt-packed anchovies. Though not the same as fresh, they are a very good second choice. Just be sure to rinse them very well before using. Whether you use fresh or salt-packed anchovies, be sure to clean them, removing the head if necessary, and to check for and remove the spine. If unable to find fresh or salt-packed anchovies, by all means use tins of anchovies packed in olive oil. The bottom line is that you really have to taste anchovies sandwiched between sage leaves, battered, and fried. It’s a simple as that.

You’ll notice I used cornstarch in my batter. I find that it makes things more crisp, Omit it if you disagree.

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What if you don’t like sage?

Fried AnchoviesWell, not very long ago, a group of us went to a restaurant owned by a winner of America’s Top Chef. While there, we were served deep-fried anchovies. Can I get a “YUM!”? That dish is recreated here, using the same batter that was used for the sage. Just batter the fillets and fry them. Be sure to make extra, though. The kitchen elves love them and tend to snack on a few during the cooking process.

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Now, on to the Republic of San Marino

After a far too brief stay in Bologna, I rented a car and drove to Rimini before turning towards the Apennines and the Republic of San Marino. Founded in 301 CE and only 24 sq mi (64 km2), San Marino lays claim to being the world’s oldest republic. {In comparison, Chicago is 228 sq mi (591 km2).} The city of San Marino is located atop Mount Titan, Monte Titano, offering beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and, to the East, Rimini and the Adriatic Coast. I truly regret losing those photos but feel very lucky that the most valuable ones, those of my family, were saved

San Marino

San Marino’s Municipalities,                             I Castelli del San Marino,                             (Source: Wikipedia)

As small as it is, the country is divided into 9 districts called castelli, castles, including the city and capital, San Marino. My Zia lives in the municipality called Domagnono and our family owned a farm in the Castello di Montegiardino. Don’t let what appears to be relatively short distances between the locales fool you. The country sits atop the Apennines and the terrain is hilly, at best. My cousins, and especially my Zia, were fearless behind the wheels of their cars, day or night. I, on the other hand, white knuckled it on the way into — or was it “up to”? — and out of — “down from”? — the Republic. (Have I mentioned my fear of heights?) They all did their best to show me all the country’s sites, as well as those places having special meaning for my family. We even managed to spend an afternoon at the beach, having dinner with my cousin and her family at their beach-front restaurant in the coastal village of Riccione, a suburb of Rimini.

Before I knew it, I was packing up the car and driving to Florence. (Unbeknownst to my family, the flat owners were already calling me for an estimated arrival time.) I did promise them all, however, that I would be returning, hopefully with a sibling or two in tow. Guaranteed, it won’t take another 40 years to do it!

Here, then, are a few of the photos from this leg of the journey. Forgive the poor quality but these are quite literally some of the only photos of the countryside that I have.

(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

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The government occupies part of the old fortress atop Monte Titano, and there’s a walk that will take you up along the old wall to the tower, giving you spectacular views of the countryside. Along with the castle, you’ll also find a church and a museum on the mountaintop, while much of the surrounding area is devoted to the tourist trade. At one time, collectors the World-over flocked to San Marino to purchase the Republic’s postage stamps. With the advent of email and social media, however, the stamp market and its tourist industry have fallen on hard times. Looking around town — and ignoring the fantastic views — there’s not much to distinguish this tourist area from dozens around the globe except for one thing: the incline. These photos do not do it justice and I cannot imagine making my way around town when the streets are snow-covered in Winter.

By the way, see those 2 beige awnings in the lower left of the photo on the right? That was once a leather goods shop that my Zia and Zio owned and operated. When they retired, the hotel bought the space and, after some renovations, it now serves as the hotel’s main entrance.

S. Marino Tourist Area*     *     *

During WW2, as the Allies worked their way up the Italian peninsula, the people of the region took refuge in the area’s railroad tunnels that had been dug through the mountains. Here is one such tunnel in which a couple thousand people lived, along with their farm animals for months until the War had moved further North and they could safely return home. Midway through, this tunnel has a large opening, providing the people back then some much-needed fresh air, and today, a beautiful view to Rimini and the Adriatic coast.

Tunnel and View*     *     *

Now for a bit of family history. Towards the end of San Marino’s participation in WW2, an Italian pilot was shot down over my Grandparents’ farm. They gave him shelter in a pit they dug under a large word pile. (I was taught that it was under a chicken coop.) Using a rope, my Nonna would lower food and drink to him through a hole, at about 1:00 AM every night, until it was safe for him to come out of hiding — well over a month later. This picture shows what was once part of my family’s farmland. In the distance, on the left, is a white building. Before it is where the wood pile once was.

Zio's HideawayI bet you’re wondering what happened to the pilot. After the War, he stayed on at the farm and later married my Dad’s Sister. They eventually immigrated to New York City, where they raised their 3 children.

Next stop: Florence

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

couscous 2They sure took their time getting here but Summer temperatures have finally arrived. For me that means my stove and oven are used less as the temps rise. Today we’ll look back to a no-cook salad that has couscous as its base. Whether you serve it for a light lunch or tasty side, you won’t be disappointed. You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Spaghetti alla ChitaraSpaghetti alla Chitarra all’Amatriciana

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Homemade Garganelli Pasta

Garganelli Fatti in Casa

The draft of today’s post has been waiting a couple of years to be posted. This is, in fact, the 4th intro that I’ve written for it. Something has come up to prevent its publication every time I’ve penciled it into my schedule. This, though, is definitely its time. You see, I was “introduced” to garganelli while in Rome — twelve years ago with Zia.

Rome was the last stop of our vacanza and I found a restaurant with the same name as that of my family’s surname. Mind you, it’s not like we have the Italian version of “Smith” or “Chang” as a surname —  quite the contrary. Yet, there is a restaurant or trattoria with our name above the door in just about every city in Italy and in many major cities here, across The Pond, as well. Be that as it may, I noticed a dish of penne being delivered to a nearby table and, when the time came, mentioned to our waiter that I would like the same as my primo piatto. He politely pointed out that it was garganelli and not penne. I decided right then and there to learn how to make garganelli once I got home — and get my eyes checked. Not long after, I was back home making garganelli — but the story doesn’t end here.

Last May, upon arrival to our flat in Rome, the owner went out of her way to make us feel at home, describing in detail each of the flat’s amenities. She was especially anxious to show us the terrace. With a view of the Colosseum, the dome of St. Peter’s, and the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument, it was easy to see why she couldn’t wait to show it to us.

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A Flat with a VIew*     *     *

When we returned from the terrace, she presented us with her own guide-book to Rome, paying particular attention to the flat’s locale. When we got to the page with her restaurant recommendations, the first on the list was a restaurant bearing my family’s surname. I thought it a coincidence — until we arrived there later that evening. The route looked so familiar, especially a long flight of stairs along the was very much like the one that had troubled Zia a dozen years before. Any lingering doubts I may have had vanished upon entering the establishment. This was, indeed, the same restaurant in which Zia and I dined and where I “discovered” garganelli. Surely, this was a sign that I should finally publish my garganelli post as soon as I returned to WordPress.

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Similar in shape to penne, garganelli are a tubular pasta that come from the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy. With Bologna as its capital, Emilia-Romagna is known for its hearty meat sauces. (Pasta Bolognese, anyone?) Garganelli, like penne, is particularly well-suited for such sauces and its use has spread to other areas of Italy because of that. In fact, Abruzzo, a mountainous province just south of Marche, is known for its lamb ragu and very often garganelli is the pasta of choice. Lamb not your thing? Well, go north a bit and into Tuscany. There you’ll find they make a rich veal ragu and it, too, is used to dress garganelli. Before you start googling, I can save you the keystrokes and send you to  Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide, for a veal ragu recipe that’s about as authentic as you’ll find anywhere on the web. (Greg, by the way, introduced me the movie, “Big Night“, in which garganelli is handmade in preparation for the film’s climactic feast.)

Whereas it’s quite difficult to create perfect penne by hand, garganelli is very often handmade and has a “flap” where the pasta is joined to create the tube. Just like penne rigate, garganelli traditionally have ridges on each tube’s outer surface; the better to hold on to that rich tomato sauce. Now, you can search the web and you’ll find gadgets made just for putting ridges on your garganelli, but not me. Years ago, much to the amusement of Mom & Zia, I bought a gnocchi board that is used to put ridges on gnocchi. (In my defense, I needed a few more dollars in my order to qualify for free shipping and a gnocchi board was just the ticket.) As you’ll soon see below, and I was quick to point out to Zia, putting ridges on garganelli is yet another (of two) uses for this wonderful kitchen gadget. Now, don’t fret if you haven’t this nifty little gadget taking up space in a junk drawer. You can just as easily use the back of a fork, like you would when making gnocchi, or leave them smooth, like normal penne. No matter. Don’t let the absence of a few ridges cause you to miss out on this great tasting pasta!

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How To Make Garganelli

Begin by making a batch of Mom’s Pasta dough. That will give you 1.5 pounds (680 g) of dough. Roll the dough to a thickness of 6 or 7 on a pasta machine, where 1 is the widest setting. Pictures will tell the rest of the tale.

Note: I use a straight edge here because I could neither cut nor draw a straight line if my life depended upon doing so.

Use a straight edge to divide a dough sheet into 2 strips about 2 inches wide

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Use the straight edge to cut the strips into 2 inch squares

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Place a square on the gnocchi board and moisten the lower corner

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Use the dowel, begin with top corner, and roll the square to form a tube

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Create ridges by applying pressure while square is rolled to bottom of board

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My garganelli have ridges, thanks to my gnocchi board!

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A Gaggle of Garganelli

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Just One Thing More

Some of you have requested that I post photos from my trip and I’m in the process of getting them all identified and organized. As you may well imagine, I’ve literally dozens of photos shot during my recent holiday and I intend to share some of the more memorable ones. Unfortunately, several dozen were “lost” when I tried to upload them to my iPad and the Cloud. (Ironically, I was uploading the photos to insure I wouldn’t lose them should I encounter a problem with one of my flash memory cards.) As a result, I have only a few pictures of Bologna and San Marino. Luckily, the photos of my family were spared, as they were on another flash card and I discovered the problem before I attempted to “save” them. I guess I’ll just have to go back to Italy so that I can re-shoot those pics.

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Bologna proved to be a wonderful start for my holiday. It’s an old city and there are plenty of medieval structures still remaining. At one time, some 180 towers reached for the skies, though only about 20 remain today. Of those, the Two Towers, Due Torri, are the most famous and dominate the city’s skyline. Walking about the city, you can’t help but notice that many of its walkways are covered, with columns forming the street-side “wall”. They’re a photographer’s dream, so long as you don’t botch the memory card upload. (Sigh.)  As capital of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna offers the best foods of the district and, some would say, all of Italy. I certainly found no evidence to the contrary. I really enjoyed my time there and hope to return one day. I’ll be sure to stay longer, though, so that I can more fully explore the city.

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(Click to enlarge)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

michigans bountyIt’s tart cherry season once again in my former home state of Michigan. Having a season of barely 3 weeks, now’s the time to head to the orchards and get your share. If you miss out, the best you’ll probably be able to do is to buy them canned or in jars. In the past, I’ve used them to bake pies and muffins, as well as to make jam. Click on each item to see its recipe.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Sage PreviewFried Sage

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A Tale of Two Pizzas

Un Racconto di Due Pizze

Due PizzeFunny the convoluted paths that some of my posts take before being published. Today’s is a case in point. Originally this was to be a post about Naan pizzas. Originally.

For almost as long as I’ve lived in Chicago, Friday night has been “little or no cook” night. When I worked in The Loop, I often went out with my workmates for a “quick one” after work, which then led to several more before food somehow made its way to the table. On other Fridays, I met friends at a nearby watering hole and we often ended up at a restaurant or in one of our apartments ordering dinner before heading out for the night. Pizza was often a part of the remaining Fridays — but they were delivered.

Much has changed in my life since then but the 2 things that have remained constant are that I don’t do a lot of cooking on Friday nights and I still love pizza. Enter Naan pizza. With Naan as my pizza crust, I can easily prepare pizza with whatever toppings I want or that I have on-hand — just like my “clean out the fridge frittata”, another Friday night favorite. And that was to be the post: making Naan pizza. Then I went to the wrong grocery store.

Naan is available at all the grocery stores where I shop — save one and, of course, that’s where I found myself on a recent Friday afternoon. I’d been running errands all morning and, once I discovered my mistake, I didn’t feel much like heading to another grocery, That’s when inspiration struck. Realizing that I had some very active sourdough starter on my counter, I decided to go traditional and make my own pizza crust. My “Naan Pizza” post suddenly became “A Tale of Two Pizzas”, one old-style and one Naan.

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Prosciutto Pizza 1*     *     *

Prosciutto Pizza Recipe

Ingredients

  • Pizza dough (Recipe follows)
  • a few tablespoons of Pistachio Pesto
  • marinated artichoke hearts, well-drained
  • several asparagus spears, chopped and briefly sautéed in butter or olive oil, drained
  • diced prosciutto
  • mozzarella (See Notes)
  • Fontina cheese, grated
  • diced prosciutto, garnish

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Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425˚ F (220˚ C). Lightly coat a 9 X 13″ (23 X 33 cm) baking sheet with olive oil.
  2. Use a rolling-pin to create a rectangle with the dough. Do not try to make it as large as needed. Place the dough in the center of the baking sheet and, with your fingertips, gently move/stretch the dough until it covers the entire sheet. If the dough recoils, let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes before resuming.
  3. For a slightly thicker crust, pre-cook the crust for 10 minutes in a pre-heated oven before proceeding.
  4. Apply a light coating of pesto to the top of the crust. The less oil used, the better.
  5. Place the artichokes, asparagus, and prosciutto on the crust.
  6. Evenly arrange the mozzarella cheese before covering the entire pizza with freshly grated Fontina cheese.
  7. Bake in pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, more or less depending upon your preference.
  8. Garnish with more diced prosciutto and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

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Pizza Crust 1*     *     *

Pizza Dough Recipe

This dough recipe is based on the Celia’s Bread #101 — A Basic Tutorial recipe in her encyclopedic blog, Fig and Lime Cordial. (Seriously, if you’re looking for a bread recipe, forget Google and head over to Celia’s.) Her recipe makes 4 crusts which is too much for me. So, I reduced the amounts but not by half. I added 50g more flour to accommodate my addition of sourdough starter, which by the way, also, came from Celia. She’s named her sourdough starter “Priscilla”, while mine has been christened “Bart, son of Priscilla”.

Ingredients

  • 300 g bread flour
  • 5 g yeast (See Notes)
  • 1/4 cup sourdough starter
  • 5 g kosher salt
  • 160 ml water
  • 25 ml olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients and, using a stand mixer’s dough hook, knead until a nice dough forms.
  2. Separate into 2 equal parts. (Mine were 280 grams apiece.)
  3. Place each in lightly oiled, container with lid, cover, and place in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down dough, re-cover, and let rise again till doubled — about 1 hour more.
  5. Take one ball of dough, wrap it tightly in plastic/cling wrap, and freeze. The night before it’s needed, place in the fridge to defrost.
  6. Prepare the remaining dough ball as you would normally when making pizza.

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Now that the traditional pizza is out-of-the-way, we can turn to the “I want pizza now!” pizza recipe. These pizzas shouldn’t take more than a half hour to prepare — and that’s from start to burning the roof of your mouth. Use whatever toppings and as much of each as you like. Following the prosciutto pizza, I’ve listed 3 more, 2 of which are meatless.

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Spinach~Prosciutto Naan Pizza

Prosciutto Pizza Topped 1*     *     *

Ingredients

  • Naan
  • Pesto Genovese – get recipe HERE.
  • mozzarella (See Notes)
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • hand-torn pickled cherry bomb peppers ( See Notes)
  • fresh baby spinach, very lightly dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt & pepper (See Notes)
  • thinly sliced prosciutto

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Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425˚ F (220 ˚C).
  2. Lightly coat top of the Naan with pesto.
  3. Place the mozzarella and then sprinkle with the grated goat cheese.
  4. Add the cherry bomb peppers.
  5. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, depending upon your preference.
  6. Remove from oven and immediately top with the dressed spinach leaves. Place torn slices of prosciutto on the top of the pizza and serve.

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Variations

Originally, the above 3 pizzas were to be part of a Naan Pizza post. Once I made a pizza using my own crust, however, these 3 took a back seat to the prosciutto pizzas. Still, they do prove my point that the topping possibilities are endless and oftentimes my Friday night pizza, much like my Friday night frittata, helps me clear out my fridge. On the left is a pizza topped with sardines and kale, the top right is an anchovy and caper pizza, while the bottom pie is made with spicy salami and kalamata olives. Click on an image to reveal that pizza’s remaining ingredients.

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Notes

When making these pizzas, I often use small mozzarella balls called ciliegine, so named because they are cherry-sized and ciliege is the Italian word for cherries. Other times, I use “mozzarella pearls” which are about half the size of ciliegine.

When using Naan for my crust, I use a baking sheet and wouldn’t suggest baking your pizza on a pizza stone. Naan is already fully cooked and it will likely burn on a pizza stone while your pizza’s toppings are being heated.

I used yeast this time around because I wasn’t sure that I’d have enough time to allow the sourdough to rise, having spent the day running errands. Normally, I start the dough in the morning and, when it’s ready, pre-bake the crust, then hold it until I’m ready to fix dinner.

Use as much or as little of any ingredient listed, according to your own preferences.

The pickled cherry bomb peppers I used here came from my garden and added a bit of heat to the pizza. Use whatever pepper/chile you prefer.

Dress the spinach leaves sparingly with oil and vinegar. Remember that any excess will drain on to your pizza.

I prefer to place the spinach on the pizza first so that the pizza’s heat will lightly wilt the leaves. You may prefer to place the prosciutto on first.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pasta al SalmoneToday’s look back features Pasta al Salmone, Pasta with Salmon. I first tasted this delicious pasta while in Italy for the first time. It was love at first bite. It took me a number of years to replicate that dish but I finally did and now I can enjoy Pasta al Salmone without having to deal with airports and surly flight attendants. You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Homemade GarganelliHomemade Garganelli Pasta

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Roasted Vegetable Salad with Harissa

Harissa Veg 1Oh, harissa! How do I love thee?

This is another in the series of recipes dedicated to my new love, the ever so delectable harissa. I told you that I was harissa obsessed and today’s recipe is further proof. Prior to this, I’ve shared recipes for goat and for chicken cooked in harissa. Included in the latter post was a recipe for the spicy sauce. For that recipe, I trimmed away the seeds and ribs from all the chiles and said that I wouldn’t do it again the next time I prepared the sauce. And so I did, finding this batch to be more spicy than its predecessor and, this time, the heat didn’t completely dissipate during cooking. Perfect.

So, armed with a fresh batch of harissa, I went searching for a new use. I didn’t have to go far because the internet is jam-packed with recipes using harissa. I eventually chose a salad with roasted vegetables, which should be popular with our friends to the Far South, where colder temps are taking hold. If you’re in the North, though, don’t let that dissuade you from trying this salad. I found it to be a perfect lunch for a chilly Spring day — and we seem to be having more than our fair share of those.

Aside from using my own harissa sauce, I did make a few changes to the original recipe. In the first place, I halved the quantities. It’s a good salad but there’s only so much one person can eat. The cilantro/coriander was the next thing to go and in its place I used the leaves from a bunch of flat-leaf parsley. Once again, since good fresh tomatoes cannot be found, I used grape tomatoes that I sliced in half. I followed the rest of the recipe and was rewarded with a great salad, one that fits nicely into my plans to go meatless one day a week.

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Harissa Veg 4*     *     *

Roast Vegetable Salad with Harissa Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp harissa, divided – recipe found HERE
  • olive oil
  • 1lb (450 g) butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb (450 g) carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 5 oz (142 g) green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 5 oz (142 g) fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, flesh removed and skin finely chopped
  • 12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • .5 oz (15 g) fresh parsley leaves – cilantro/coriander leaves may be substituted, if you’re one of those

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Harissa Veg 3*     *     *

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 365˚ F (185˚C)
  2. In a small bowl, mix 1 tbsp harissa with 2 tbsp olive oil.
  3. Place squash and carrot chunks in a large bowl and pour harissa-oil mixture over it. Mix to evenly coat the vegetables.
  4. Place on a baking sheet/dish, set on middle rack in oven, and bake until both types of vegetables can be easily pierced — 30 to 45 minutes. Remove and cool.
  5. Meanwhile, blanch green beans in a small pot of boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove and place in an ice water bath until needed.
  6. In a large non-reactive pot, add green beans, spinach, preserved lemons, tomatoes, parsley, and the now-cooled roasted vegetables.
  7. Combine remaining 2 tbsp harissa with 1 tbsp olive oil and use to dress the salad. Add more oil, if needed.
  8. May be serve chilled or at room temperature.

From a recipe published in The Australian Women’s Weekly.

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Harissa Veg 2*     *     *

Notes

How much oil you add will depend upon how thick your harissa is. Mine is rather thick, so, I add olive oil to make it easier to coat the vegetables and, later, to dress the salad.

In all, I tried this recipe three ways. One is as you see listed above. In another, I used baby arugula (rocket) in place of the spinach. I found the leaves weren’t strong enough to withstand the harissa dressing and wilted pretty quickly. The 3rd and last time was prepared without spinach and with half the amount of parsley. The result was a dish of roasted vegetables that make a perfect side for a roast. This version is definitely worth making again, perhaps adding additional root vegetables to the mix.

I’ve found that my recipe for harissa yields 2 cups of the sauce, far too much for most recipes. Using an ice cube tray, I freeze the excess, placing the frozen harissa cubes in plastic bags until needed.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Grandpa's Tuna SaladIt was about a year ago when I shared a favorite salad of my Grandpa, one simply made using canned tuna, anchovies, and sliced onion. I included my updated version, which used seared  tuna over a bed of salad greens. Both are lighter fare and equally tasty. You can see them both and decide which is best for you by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Prosciutto Pizza PreviewPizza

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Braised Lamb Shanks

Lamb Shank 3In a previous post, I’ve mentioned that when I was a boy, a young goat was the meat of choice for our Easter dinner. Goat, however, was to be replaced by Spring lamb but even its reign was cut short, since my siblings weren’t at all enamored of it. As a result, Mom switched to serving some sort of roast for our holiday meal, reserving lamb for other, not so special, nights. (Sorry that I cannot be more specific but, as I’ve also mentioned before, my attention during holiday meals was always fixated on the platter of ravioli.) For those non-holiday dinners, she would serve lamb for the 3 of us and some other dish for my siblings. Lamb shanks were most often served for no other reason, I thought, than they were so easy to prepare. Remember, she had another dinner to cook for my siblings.

Although I don’t have Mom’s recipe in written form, I know it well. We spoke of it often and she was delighted to hear that I would be serving lamb shanks for dinner. It turned out that, as much as Dad and I enjoyed lamb, Mom was crazy about it. She’d rather make 2 meals than go without her lamb.

Today’s recipe is pretty much all Mom. I did make a couple of adjustments, though. Namely, Mom used red wine and I use white with a little sherry vinegar. Then, too, for today’s recipe, I used a slow cooker and Mom’s was nowhere near large enough for lamb shanks. If that’s you or you don’t like slow cookers, this dish can just as easily be made in the oven or on the stove top. Instructions to do so follow the recipe below.

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Whether you’re celebrating Passover or getting ready for Easter, the Bartolini Clan and I wish you a very Happy Holiday.

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Lamb Shank 2*     *     *

Braised Lamb Shanks Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb shanks (See Notes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • leaves and stalks from the top of a celery heart, about 1 cup
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed, separated
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine (Mom used red wine)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup sherry vinegar (Mom didn’t use any vinegar)
  • vegetable stock (See Notes) (Mom used her chicken stock)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • lemon zest for garnish, optional (See Notes)

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Lamb Shank Braise*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a large fry pan, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.
  2. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and sauté until golden. Remove the garlic and discard. (See Notes).
  3. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and place them into the pan, browning them on all sides. This could take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Remove and reserve the lamb shanks.
  5. Place all the vegetables into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until some color is achieved.
  6. Add the tomato paste and cook until fragrant and its color deepens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Remove the mixture from the pan and place into the slow cooker, along with the garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, and sherry vinegar.
  8. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan and then add it to the slow cooker. Season with salt & pepper.
  9. Place the lamb shanks into the pot and add enough vegetable stock so that half of the shanks are submerged. Cover the slow cooker. (See Notes)
  10. Cook on low for 8 hours, turning over the shanks about every 90 minutes. (See Notes)
  11. Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
  12. Serve, garnished with lemon zest, and with the sauce on the side.

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For those without a slow cooker

Instead of using a fry pan, brown the shanks and sauté the vegetables in a Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot with a lid. Follow the recipe and place everything into the pot. Add enough vegetable stock to submerge 2/3 of the shanks. Bring to a boil over med-high heat and cover. At this point, you can:

  • Leave the pot on the stove, reduce the heat to a soft simmer, and cook for 90 to 120 minutes. Meat should be nearly falling off of the bone. Turn over the shanks occasionally.
  • Place the pot into a pre-heated 250˚ F (120˚ C) oven and cook for 3 hours. Turn over the shanks occasionally.

Serve as indicated in the recipe above.

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Lamb Shank 4*     *     *

Notes

Be sure to remove any excess fat and as much gray skin as you can. Rather than show you how I did it, you can see a pro do it HERE. It’s not the most thorough set of photos but they will give you a better idea than mine would have. (Work for food? Applications are now being accepted for a photographic assistant.)

If at all possible, make you own vegetable stock and use the flavors that you will use to braise the lamb shanks. One or two days before you cook the shanks, place one onion (quartered), 2 celery stalks (roughly chopped), 2 carrots (roughly chopped), 2 cloves of garlic (smashed), 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, 1 bay leaf, and 6 or 7 cups of water into a medium sauce pan. Over med-high heat, bring the contents to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. I let mine simmer for 2 hours and got a full quart of vegetable stock. I did not use any salt nor pepper in this stock so that I could better control both seasonings during the braising process.

Because less liquid evaporates from a slow cooker, less braising liquid is needed than when a Dutch oven is used to braise on the stove top or in the oven.

Using smashed garlic cloves to flavor the cooking oil is something Mom did all the time. It’s especially useful when sautéing vegetables, giving them garlic flavor without having pieces of garlic in the dish.

If you haven’t got 8 hours to wait for dinner, you can reduce the cooking time by setting the slow cooker’s setting to “High”. As a general rule, one hour of cooking on “High” is worth 2 hours on “Low”.

A few months ago, Chef Michael Symon mentioned that he uses citrus zest as a garnish when he serves braised meats. I decided to give it a try and, since then, I’ve used orange zest on beef cheeks and lemon zest on harissa chicken and today’s lamb shanks. In all cases, the zest added a bit of freshness to the dish that I liked very much.

Once you’ve strained the liquids and removed the fat, you can:

  • serve the sauce as-is;
  • reduce it and serve; or,
  • if needed, use a thickening agent —I used arrowroot — to make gravy.

No matter how you finish the sauce, be sure to taste and adjust its seasoning as needed.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

CresciaSince I’ve shared a lamb shanks recipe for Easter dinner, why not share a bread recipe, as well? Today’s blast from the past will take you to my post for the Easter bread of Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini side of my family. Braided and loaded with cheese, this bread will fill your kitchen with an irresistible aroma while it bakes. Be forewarned. Don’t bake this bread too far in advance of Easter, for it has a tendency to disappear. You can learn all about this crescia by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Roasted Vegetables PreviewRoasted Vegetables Salad with Harissa

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Maltagliati Pasta with Pistachio Pesto

Maltagliati con Pesto al Pistacchio

Maltagliati

Today’s post is one of odds and ends, literally. Sure, there are two “recipes” to be shared but neither is deserving of its own post, both being incredibly easy to prepare. One, in fact, is traditionally nothing more than scraps, giving more proof to the adage that nothing is wasted in an Italian kitchen.

Maltagliati is a pasta of irregular shapes, the name of which is derived from the Italian words for badly cut, male taglio. (Thanks, Francesca, of Almost Italian). It is the end pieces and leftover bits of pasta that result from a day of pasta making. Like snowflakes, no two pieces are alike, each being randomly cut. The fact that there would be enough scraps to prepare a dinner is an indication of the difference between our two countries’ eating habits.

By one estimate, the average per capita consumption of pasta in Italy is 59 pounds per year, while in the US it’s only 19 pounds apiece annually. Yet we have an obesity epidemic. The reality is that a one pound package of pasta will yield 8 servings in most Italian kitchens. They will serve one such serving with most evening meals, the primo piatto. Here, we’ll get 5, 4, or even 3 mega-servings from a single pound. That serving is often the main course, with the addition of a salad, bread, and possibly a dessert.

Most of our pasta is manufactured and store-bought. Up until recent times, the vast majority of pasta served in Italian homes was made by hand. If you make enough pasta so that everyone in your household is going to eat 59 pounds of pasta per year, you are bound to have a lot of scraps to deal with. Those scraps can become maltagliati and will be served in any number of ways, usually determined by the amount at hand.

Very often, they’re served with beans, taking the place of the ditalini used in last week’s Pasta e Fagioli recipe. If you’ve plenty, they can be served with a hearty meat sauce, as was served to Zia and me one evening in Rome, where I first heard of this pasta. Here, I’ve chosen to serve them with a new version of pesto, simply because I needed a pasta narrative to accompany the recipe for today’s pesto. It would have been an incredibly short post, otherwise.

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Yes, that’s the first, lonely crocus to bloom in my front garden. Spring is finally taking hold and 1st Bloomwith the new season comes an offer from my blogging friend, Mary, of Love – The Secret Ingredient. She is creating surprise boxes that will contain various gourmet items, small kitchen products, and recipes which will use the enclosed items. A box will be delivered every season and you can purchase them separately or all four at once. The part that caught my attention is that Mary will donate 10% of the annual profits to Feed The Children, an organization dedicated to providing hope and eliminating hunger. You can learn all about Mary’s Secret Ingredients by clicking HERE.

Note: Although I’ve ordered and paid for a surprise box, I have not received any form of compensation for mentioning Mary’s offer. I saw this as an opportunity to help a fellow blogger and worthwhile charity at the same time.

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Freshly Made Maltagliati*     *     *

How to Make Maltagliati Pasta

  • If you make a full recipe of Mom’s Pasta Dough, you will have about 1.5 pound (680 g) of pasta dough. That will make quite a bit of pasta, so, you may wish to halve the recipe or cut it into 3rds or 4ths. For this post, I cut the pasta recipe in half.
  • Take a portion of the dough and run it through the pasta machine rollers until it is as thin as you like. My rollers start at 1, the thickest setting, and I continue to roll the dough, up to and including the 6 setting. You may like your pasta thinner. If so, continue to advance the setting as you roll the dough.
  • Lay the dough strip out flat on your work surface, dust lightly with flour, and allow to rest for a few minutes.
  • Pastry WheelsUse a straight-edged pastry cutter to divide the strip into 3 equal strips. No need to worry about it being a perfect straight line. Just do the best you can. Do not separate them but leave them as-is.
  • Now, take your pastry cutter and beginning in the upper left corner, make a series of diagonal cuts, approximately parallel to each other. Once done, starting in the upper right corner, make diagonal cuts going the other way, repeatedly,  You will end up with a collection of triangles and trapezoids, no two exactly alike — not to mention a better appreciation of your Geometry teacher who predicted that “one day this ‘stuff’ will be useful.”
  • Place them in a single layer on a wax paper covered baking sheet that’s been lightly dusted with flour or corn meal.
  • Repeat until all the dough strips have been cut. If you like, use a fluted-edged pastry wheel to cut the pasta, as well as the straight-edged. This will further the illusion of this being a pasta dinner made from scraps. (see Notes)
  • To cook, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil, add the maltagliati, stir, and allow to cook for a few minutes. Being freshly made, they should be fully cooked within minutes. Taste one when all have risen to the top of the pot of boiling water.
  • Drain and dress with pesto, recipe to follow. (See Notes)

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Maltagliati 2*     *     *

Notes

Not everyone has time to make pasta, even when the process is as easy as this. Should that be the case, take some store-bought lasagna noodles and snap them. Just don’t get carried away, for it is easier to dine on larger pieces than tiny ones.

Being flat, maltagliati have a tendency to stick together once drained, so, you must work fast. Once the pasta has been drained, quickly give it a light coating of olive oil before dressing it with the pesto. If using a red sauce, there’s no need for the olive oil but you still must quickly add it to the drained noodles.

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So, now that you’ve got a scrappy little pasta at your disposal, it’s time to dress it.

I certainly won’t pretend to speak for everyone but I will say that by this time of year, I’m desperate for any kind of Summer dish. Pesto for me is one such dish. In Summer, I can get a wedding-sized bouquet of basil for a couple of dollars at the farmers market. This time of year, I’m lucky to get a few stems for the same price. Today’s pesto recipe gives me my Summer fix without breaking the bank, for not only does it use half the basil, it substitutes pistachio nuts for the über expensive pine nuts, pignoli. (Just last month, I saw a 4 oz package (113 g) of imported organic Italian pine nuts with a price of $12.99. That’s $52.00 a pound!!!)

Whether you’ve made pesto before, you shouldn’t have any problems preparing this recipe.

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Pistachio Pesto*     *     *

Pistachio Pesto Recipe

Ingredients

yield: 1 cup pesto

  • 1.4 oz (40 g) fresh basil leaves (See Notes)
  • 1.1 oz (30 g) fresh, flat leaf parsley leaves
  • .5 oz (15 g) roasted, unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • 3 oz (79 ml) extra virgin olive oil – more or less to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place everything but the olive oil, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Let it process until a thick paste is formed.
  3. While the processor is still running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the pesto reaches the consistency you prefer.
  4. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as required. Pulse the processor to blend the seasonings with the pesto.
  5. Your pesto is ready for use.

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Notes

The reason for the odd amounts of basil and parsley is because of how both were purchased. I bought a 2 oz package of basil that, once the stems were removed, actually weighed 1.4 oz. Similarly, I bought a bunch of parsley that, once cleaned, weighed 1.1 oz.

Traditionally, pesto is made using a mortar and pestle rather than a food processor. I do not own a mortar large enough to do this, so, I use a food processor. The fact that it is so much easier this way has nothing to do with it.

I used my pesto recipe as the basis for today’s version. You can use your own pesto recipe, just be sure to replace 25 to 50% of the basil with parsley and, of course, use pistachio nuts instead of pine nuts.

Refrigerate unused pesto in an airtight container, after topping with a thin coat of olive oil. Use it or freeze it within a few days.

If I’m going to freeze this or any pesto, I do not add cheese to it while it’s being made. I’ve found that the cheese doesn’t thaw well and the pesto’s consistency suffers. Instead, I’ll add the cheese to the pasta when the pesto is added.

If you have frozen pesto containing cheese, mix it with a bit of hot pasta water before using it to dress the pasta. The hot water will help make the pesto more smooth and easier to evenly coat the pasta.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Insalata With lawns going green and last Fall’s bulbs breaking the ground’s surface, it can only mean one thing. It’s dandelion picking season! What you may consider a blight on your lawn, a Bartolini sees as a crisp salad. Click HERE to see the lengths traveled by my Dad to enlist our help picking the greens for our Sunday night dinner.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Lamb Shank PreviewLamb Shanks

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Try This One For Thighs

Coscie di Pollo con Harissa

Harissa Thighs 1Little did I know when I used harissa to braise goat last October that I would become obsessed with the spicy sauce. Initially, I bought harissa from a Middle Eastern bakery that prepares the sauce on-site and provides it to a number of restaurants here in Chicago. Celia, though, suggested I make my own. Now, if you’ve been to her amazing blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, you know that Celia makes just about everything and does so with a deft hand. Still, I was hesitant.

The truth is that many recipes say to use red or green chiles. Well, being a chile neophyte, I never know which ones to use and it’s not like there’s a big selection here. Then I came upon Mimi’s harissa recipe. (Take some time to get to know her blog, the Chef Mimi Blog, too, for some incredibly delicious recipes.) Her recipe took a different tack and I decided to give it a try.

Well, as luck would have it, when I went shopping for ingredients, there they were, a large display of red Fresno peppers. I bought a dozen, deciding I would take inspiration from both of their recipes, and since that afternoon, I’ve made several batches of harissa.

Over time, I’ve adjusted the spice mix to get to a flavor profile I prefer and now I’m working on the heat level. Right now, this sauce has a nice even heat when raw — there’s a roasted vegetable salad post in the works — but it dissipates a bit when cooked. Those with a higher tolerance for chiles may wish to include the peppers’ ribs and seeds, or, add another Habanero to the recipe below.

Like my harissa sauce, today’s chicken recipe is a work in progress, although I have prepared it in much the same manner 4 or 5 times now. In some ways, it reminds me of a cacciatore with a North African twist. I think you’ll find the recipe easy enough to follow without experiencing any problems.

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*     *     *

Chicken Thighs with Harissa

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs with skin and bones
  • 3 tbsp harissa sauce – recipe follows
  • 1/2 c chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper/capsicum, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • about 12 oz (340 g) olive salad (See Notes)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, chopped
  • salt & pepper
  • lemon zest
  • mint leaves for garnish – optional

Directions

  1. Combine harissa, cinnamon, and chicken stock in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan with a cover over med-high heat.
  3. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to frying pan, skin-side down. Sauté until brown, 6 to 8 minutes, before turning over and browning the other side. Remove thighs from the pan.
  4. Remove all but 2 tbsp of fat from the pan. Add onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic for the final minute.
  5. Add olive salad and harissa sauce mix, stir, and heat through.
  6. Add thighs back to the pan, skin-side down, before adding the cherry tomatoes and preserved lemon. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium.
  7. After 15 minutes, turn over the thighs so that they’re skin-side up. Do not cover the pan, giving the sauce a chance to thicken while the chicken finishes cooking.
  8. After the thighs have cooked for a total of 30 minutes, insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the largest thigh. When the temperature reaches 165˚ F (75˚ C) the thighs are done.
  9. Remove to serving platter, sprinkle with lemon zest, and garnish with torn mint leaves, if desired.
  10. Serve immediately.

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Harissa Thighs 7

Someone forgot the mint leaves.

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Notes

I prefer to use a variety of olives here. Most of the groceries in this area offer olive salads, some even have more than 1 type. When they’re available, I’ll use the Mediterranean or Spanish olive salad. In today’s recipe, I combined both. Use whatever combination of olives you prefer and that are available. Use as little or as much as you like.

The chicken was served over tri-color “pearl” couscous that had been tossed with chopped scallions (spring onions) and sun-dried tomatoes.

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Homemade Harissa*     *     *

Harissa Recipe

yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 12 Fresno peppers, seeds removed
  • 3 whole roasted red peppers — well-drained if store-bought
  • 1 Habanero chile, seeds removed
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seed
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seed
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 10 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 30 mint leaves, more or less to taste
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • water

Directions

  1. Place cumin seeds in a small frying pan over med-high heat. Keep the pan moving and toast the seeds until uniformly brown and fragrant — no more than 2 minutes. Immediately remove from pan and reserve.  Repeat with coriander seeds and then the caraway. Once all are cool, place in spice mill or mortar and grind. (See Notes)
  2. Place the ground spices. Habanero and Fresno chiles, paprika, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and run until a thick paste has formed.
  3. Add the mint leaves and pulse the contents until mixed.
  4. Add the oil and process. If you prefer your harissa sauce to be thinner, add water until it reaches the consistency you like.
  5. Harissa is ready to use as-is, though it will be better after a few days, once the flavors have a chance to blend a bit.

Refrigerate in an airtight container. Celia recommends adding a thin coat of olive oil before storing. Harissa should be used within a couple of weeks.

With special thanks to Celia, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, and Mimi, Chef Mimi Blog

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Notes

It is best to toast seeds of varying sizes separately. When toasted together, the smallest seeds will likely burn while you wait for the larger ones to toast.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Swordfish 1Today’s blast from the past, swordfish served with salsa verde, carries with it a message. See those grill marks, Old Man Winter? We want to start grilling but can’t so long as you stick around. Take the hint, vacate the North, and head to the Southern Hemisphere, where they eagerly await your cooler temps and much-needed rain. The rest of you can click HERE to learn how to prepare this dish.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pasta e Fagioli 2Pasta and Beans

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We’re Celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day with a Sicilian Strata

Oh, happy day! As some of you already know, today, March 19th, is the feast day of the Christ Child’s earthly Father, St. Joseph. Celebrated in towns and villages throughout Italy, the life of this humble carpenter is especially commemorated in Sicily, where it is believed his intercession saved the island’s inhabitants from a drought-induced famine during the Middle Ages. Today, in the States, his feast day is remembered wherever an Italian community calls home. Here in the Bartolini kitchens, we celebrate St. Joseph with music. In years past, we assembled a band and sang a song. All that’s left to do is dance.

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Since today we celebrate Sicily’s Patron Saint, why not feature a dish from that beautiful island? That’s a great idea, though I doubt that this dish is actually Sicilian in origin. Chances are it’s an American-Italian creation, if that. Well, at least half of its name is Italian, strata being derived from the Italian word for layer, strato.

As its name suggests, a strata consists of layers of ingredients and these are held together with a custard-type mixture. Strata come in many flavors. When Zia’s youngest Son’s family comes for a visit, ofttimes 3 of her Grandsons will work together to serve brunch. One mans the smoker while the other 2 bake a strata and prepare a few side dishes. They perform like a well-oiled machine and no one leaves that table hungry.

With a Sicilian strata, it’s all about the sausage, so, be sure to use your favorite Italian sausage, or homemade if you have it. You’ll find that today’s recipe is relatively benign but you can spice it up as much as you like. This can be easily accomplished by using “hot” Italian sausage, sautéing diced hot peppers with the vegetables, and/or seasoning the vegetables with red pepper flakes.

Your strata may be served hot or at room temperature, making it perfect brunch fare. Assemble it the night before and bake it anytime before your guests are seated at the table. Add a salad, some jam for bread/toast/bagels, perhaps some fruit, and brunch is served. Best of all, instead of being stuck in the kitchen playing short-order cook, you’ll be sipping Bloody Marys with your guests.

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Sicilian Strata 1*     *     *

Sicilian Strata Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Italian sausage meat, from links or patties (See Notes)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 6 Spring onions (scallions) chopped
  • 1 loaf Italian bread, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, divided – Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • 8 oz (225 g) ball of fresh mozzarella, grated, divided (See Notes)
  • 1 dozen cherry/grape tomatoes, sliced, divided (See Notes)
  • 9 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste (See Notes)
  • chopped parsley for garnish

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Sicilian Strata 2*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a large frying pan over med-high heat, sauté sausage meat until browned. Remove to a dish and reserve.
  2. In the same pan, sauté mushrooms until just about cooked through, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some additional olive oil.
  3. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until soft, another 5 minutes.
  4. Return sausage to the pan, mix, and heat through. Remove from heat and reserve.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper until well-combined.
  6. Use oil spray, vegetable oil, or butter to lightly grease a large baking dish.
  7. Build the strata:
    1. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of bread slices.
    2. Sprinkle half of the sausage mixture over the bread.
    3. Add half of the tomatoes.
    4. Sprinkle half of the grated Pecorino Romano cheese on top.
    5. Finish this layer by adding half of the mozzarella cheese.
    6. Add another layer of sliced bread.
    7. Cover this layer with the remaining sausage mixture and tomatoes.
    8. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the top of the entire dish.
    9. Finish the strata by sprinkling the rest of the Pecorino Romano and mozzarella on top.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  9. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  10. Remove cover and bake in the center of the pre-heated oven until the eggs are set and the top is lightly browned, about 40 to 50 minutes. It should have a reading of no less than 165˚ F (74˚ C) on an instant-read thermometer. (See Notes)
  11. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before garnishing with parsley and cutting into squares for serving.

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Still not quite what you had in mind?

Then head on over to my blogging friend Nancy’s blog, Feasting with Friends. Just days ago she posted a recipe for a strata with Ham & Asparagus and it sounds delicious.

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Notes

Use whatever sausage you like, though Italian is suggested. It is a Sicilian strata, after all. I use our family sausage though you might prefer something a little sweeter or a bit more spicy. If using links, be sure to remove the sausage meat from the casings before cooking.

If using fresh mozzarella, it will be much easier to grate if you place it in your freezer for 30 to 45 minutes before grating.

As you may have seen in the photos, 8 oz of fresh mozzarella, when grated, will not result in enough mozzarella to completely cover each layer. Use more if that is what you prefer.

In Summer, I use a couple of “regular” tomatoes that I chop before adding to the strata. Being this is Winter, good tomatoes are practically impossible to find here, so, I use cherry or grape tomatoes that I slice in half. Use the best tomatoes you can, given the season.

The amount of salt you use will depend greatly upon the sausage and cheese you’ve chosen. Both can add quite a bit of salt to your strata.

Allowing the strata to come up to room temperature before baking will reduce baking time. As a precaution since you’re using raw egg, do not let the raw strata sit unrefrigerated for more than a half-hour, especially if you’ve a warm kitchen.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Bartolini Cannelloni 1Since we’re in a celebratory mood, I thought today’s blast from the past should take us back  to a recipe that was shared to commemorate a previous St. Joseph’s Feast Day. It was just about a year ago that I showed you all how to make Bartolini cannelloni, affectionately labeled a crown jewel of the Bartolini family recipe book. For a refresher course, all you need do is click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Thighs 3Harissa Chicken

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This Pork Tenderloin is Plum Tasty

Pork Tenderloin - Plums  5Long-time subscribers to this blog know that I didn’t exactly jump at the chance to start canning. The word “reluctant” comes to mind, though “stubborn” might be more appropriate. Well, in August, 2011, I did start preserving foods, with most of my attention focused upon jams and jellies. It wasn’t long before I was awash in jams and jellies of every kind, as were many of my tasters, located both near and far alike.

At the time, I didn’t realize that there’s much more to jelly besides toast or peanut butter. The day I used fig preserves to stuff a pork loin changed the way I viewed my jams. So, when I made Damson plum jam last year, I was already thinking of pork roasts. I knew I was on the right track when my friend, Betsy, author of the wonderful Bits and Breadcrumbs blog, mentioned the very same thing in that post’s comments. Betsy, it took me a while to get here but I finally made it!

There is nothing complicated about this recipe. I’d guess that the toughest part of it will be finding plum jam, depending upon where you live. You could aways make some yourself but, if you live in the Chicago area, you’re likely to have a harder time finding Damson plums this Summer. You see, I plan on buying as many as I can find, all the while dreaming of future pork roasts. Speaking of which, there’s a pork roast with cherries in the works, as well.

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Some have noticed and mentioned that I’ve not been around the blogosphere as much as I once was. The fact is that I now have over 1100 followers, far more than I ever dreamt possible, yet I’ve continued to administer the blog as I did when you numbered only 100. As you can well imagine, this cannot continue and I’m imposing a limit on the amount of time I commit to blogging every day. I certainly hope that no one takes offense if I miss a post or fail to reply to a comment, for that’s the very last thing intended. I simply need to devote time to other matters. Thank you for your understanding. I’m very grateful for your ongoing support and encouragement.

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Pork Tenderloin - Plums 2

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Pork Tenderloin with Plum Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lb. (680 g) pork tenderloin
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz (120 ml) white wine — I used a Riesling
  • 1 tsp grated ginger — a little less than 1/2 inch piece
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 oz (115 g) plum jam  — Damson plum jam recipe
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste

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Pork Tenderloin - Plums 4*     *     *

Directions

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a large frying pan, with cover, over med-high heat.
  2. Season pork tenderloin with salt and pepper before browning it on all sides in the pan — about 8 minutes. Remove the tenderloin from the pan.
  3. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium before adding the ginger, balsamic vinegar, and plum jam, stirring until the jam melts and all are well-combined.
  5. Add the rosemary and return the tenderloin to the pan. Use a spoon to coat the pork with the plum sauce. Cover the pan.
  6. Continue to cook the pork, periodically basting it with the sauce, until it reaches your preferred temperature. Remove from pan and tent with foil while it rests for at least 10 minutes. (I removed mine from the heat when it reached 150˚ F (65˚ C).)
  7. Remove the rosemary sprigs and reserve the sauce. (See Notes.)
  8. Slice the roast and serve with the reserved plum sauce.

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Pork Tenderloin - Plums X*     *     *

Sides

This tenderloin is really so quick and easy to prepare that I didn’t want to spend time with complicated side dishes.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta:Shredded Brussels Sprouts

  • This inspired recipe combines shredded Brussels sprouts, pancetta, garlic, stock, and white balsamic to create a truly special dish. To see the full recipe, be sure to check out my friend Eva’s sumptuous blog, Kitchen Inspirations.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Pecorino Romano Cheese:

  • Roasted FingerlingsPre-heat oven and baking sheet to 425˚ F (220˚ C). Wash then cut fingerling potatoes to equal size. Season with crushed dried rosemary, salt, pepper, and coat with olive oil. Carefully oil baking sheet, add potatoes in a single layer, and roast until potatoes can be pierced easily, 20 to 30 minutes depending on size and quantity. Remove to serving platter, garnish with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and serve immediately.

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Leftovers?

Pork and Plum Sammich

No problem

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Notes

I used plum jam, not jelly. As a result, the sauce may not be as smooth as some may prefer. If that’s you, while the tenderloin rests, I would suggest deglazing the pan with a bit of stock, wine, or water before straining the sauce through a fine mesh sieve. Once strained, place the sauce in a small pan and reduce it over med-high heat until it reaches the desired thickness. Taste for seasoning before serving.

Not all fingerling potatoes are created equal and they’re likely to require varying times to roast. Cut the potatoes into even-sized pieces and all should cook evenly without any problems.

If plums are in season, you could add a few plum halves to the pan and sauté them for as long, or short, as you like. Serve them alongside the roast.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pappardelle 5Hard to believe that it was two years ago when I was in the middle of my series on making cheese at home. When I demonstrated how easy it was to make mascarpone, I promised that I’d publish some recipes that would use your freshly made cheese. Today’s blast from the past is one of those recipes, combining pappardelle, spinach, Pecorino Romano, and, of course, mascarpone. It’s a delicious recipe and one you won’t want to miss. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sicilian Strata 3A Sicilian Strata

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte

Flourless Chocolate Torte 3I’ve made no secret of my inability to bake. I have burned sheet after sheet of misshapen cookies and pulled countless cakes from the oven that failed to rise. A few years ago, after yet another bundt cake that had somehow been Super Glued to the pan, I threw both pan and cake into the trash — a very liberating experience.

Then there was the Fall that I was going to teach myself to bake my favorite cake, the Black Forest Cake. Yum, right? The first attempt quite literally made me sick. I couldn’t get that thing to the trash quick enough. The next week brought another attempt. That “cake” was better — it wasn’t life-threatening — but was certainly nothing to be proud of. The third cake proved I was on the right track, though it was in no way good enough to share with anyone. I hit pay-dirt with my 4th and, what would prove to be, my last attempt. That cake was a delight. Good thing, too, because that was 6 years ago and it was the last Black Forest Cake that I’ve tasted. Oh, I’ve been tempted to have a piece but, when I am, there’s a rumble down under that convinces me that now is not the time.

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Perhaps it was my success with this torte that gave me the mistaken opinion that I could bake, leading me to the Black Forest Cake debacle. I first saw Jamie Oliver prepare the torte when he was known as The Naked Chef, so, this recipe has been around for some time. I’ve made it a number of times since without any problems whatsoever — not counting a misguided attempt to make it as a bundt cake with that accursed pan. Never mind that. Believe me. If I can bake this torte anyone can.

Now, a word about the recipe before proceeding. If you go searching for it on the web, you’ll find it titled a number of ways. Jamie Oliver’s: “Chocolate Torte”; “Flour-less Chocolate Torte”; and, “Two Nut Chocolate Torte”, are the most popular. Bear in mind that this recipe was demonstrated in an episode that aired in 2000, some time before most of us were aware of gluten-related issues. In fact, I’ve even see the recipe called “Flour-less” yet you’re instructed to grease and flour the pan before filling it with cake batter. Not to worry. This torte is gluten-free, hence the name change, and I coat the pan with powdered cocoa, not flour.

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Chocolate Torte X

As Jamie intended

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 oz (155 g) shelled and peeled almonds
  • 5 1/2 oz (155 g) shelled walnuts, finely ground
  • 11 oz (310 g) semi-sweet chocolate (separated – 2/3 & 1/3)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 9 oz (255 g) butter
  • 3 1/2 oz (100 g) sugar
  • 6 large free-range eggs, separated
  • butter
  • cocoa powder
  • salt
  • powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C). Use butter to grease the bottom of an 8 to 10 inch spring-form pan before lining the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. Butter the paper and sides of the pan. Use cocoa powder to coat the greased pan.
  2. Place the almonds into a food processor and grind them until finely ground.
  3. Add the walnuts and continue processing until all are finely ground. (See Notes)
  4. Add a pinch of salt and 2/3 of the chocolate and process for 30 seconds. Remove the nut-chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  5. Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and run until the mixture is a pale yellow and fluffy.
  6. Add the egg yolks, one by one, and process until well-blended.
  7. Add the egg mixture to the bowl with the chocolate mixture and stir until well-combined.
  8. Add the egg whites to a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt.  Using a whisk, hand mixer, or stand mixer, beat the eggs until stiff peaks form. (See Notes)
  9. Take 1/3 of the beaten egg whites and fold them into the bowl with the eggs and chocolate. Once blended, add the remaining 2/3 of the egg whites and fold into the batter. Do not over mix. (See Notes)
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  11. Place the remaining chocolate chunks into the top of the torte’s batter. Press them slightly into the batter, though no need to cover them with batter.
  12. Bake on the center rack of a pre-heated oven for about an hour. After 55 minutes, use a knife to check to see if the torte is finished. Place the knife into the center, wait a few seconds, and remove. The blade should be relatively clean.
  13. Once cooled, remove from pan, invert to remove the paper, and place on a cake platter. Dust with powdered sugar.
  14. Serve as-is or with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche.

This is a recipe from Jamie Oliver, The Naked Chef

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Oven Ready

Ready for the oven

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Notes

Be sure to keep an eye on your nuts when using the food processor or you may end up with almond-walnut butter.

To remove the almond skins: Add raw, shelled almonds to a small sauce pan filled with boiling water. Remove from the water after 3 minutes, placing the blanched nuts into an ice water bath. Strain and wipe dry. Squeeze each almond between your thumb and index finger to easily remove the skin.

This is how I beat egg whites:

  • Bring eggs to room temperature before separating. Be sure no yolk remains in the whites.
  • Place the whites in a mixing bowl. Whether whisking by hand or using a mixer, begin slowly at first. After about 30 seconds, continue beating at medium speed.
  • Once the eggs begin to color, beat at a higher rate until beaten to the recipe’s needs.

The beaten egg whites provide lift for this torte. If they aren’t folded into the batter correctly, the torte will not rise. Here’s a quick video demonstrating the proper technique for folding egg whites into batter.

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For the chocoholics among us

Make a simple ganache.

  1. Place 8 oz (225 g) of chocolate pieces in a heat-resistant bowl – use whatever type of chocolate you prefer
  2. Heat 10 oz (300 ml) of heavy cream to the point of boiling.
  3. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate and let sit for a couple of minutes before stirring until smooth. As it cools, the ganache will thicken.
  4. If you prefer your ganache to be flavored, once the ganache is fully mixed, add 2 or more tbsp of:
      * Framboise for raspberry flavoring;
      * Grand Marnier or Cointreau for orange;
      * Amaretto for almond; or
      * Kahlúa for coffee.
  5. Either pour the ganache over the entire cake or each piece as it is served.

I usually make half the amount listed here and store the remainder in a sealed container in the fridge. I’ve no idea how long it will last because kitchen elves snack on it until it’s gone, usually within 48 hours — within 72 hours when Girl Scout cookies are atop the counter.

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Chocolate Chocolate Torte

As John wanted

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Carnivale ends today in Italy, as it does round the World. In the days leading up to Ash fiocchetti1Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, celebrations of all kinds take place, each with its own particular sweets and confections. In New Orleans, it’s King Cake. In Chicago, it’s fried donuts called Paczkis. In the Bartolini kitchens, it was fiocchetti, which we called angel wings. These fried dough crisps, in one form or another, are made throughout Italy this time of year and go by a number of names. You can learn how to make them just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pork Tenderloin - Plums 1

Pork Tenderloin with Plum Sauce

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