Black Rice Risotto with Roast Duck and Porcini Mushrooms

Risotto Venere con Anatra Arrosto e Funghi Porcini

Roast Duck Risotto 3This is the second and last post using leftovers from the duck that Zia and I roasted and that I blogged about in early September. Last week was the first when I shared our recipe for duck ravioli. Today’s post resulted from a dinner I served Zia during The Visitation and, in doing so, we used the very last of that duck, save for the quack.

To start, make a stock by placing the roasted duck carcass in a large pot of cold water after removing and reserving any pieces of meat that may still cling to the bones. Into the same pot, add a large quartered onion, 2 roughly chopped celery stalks, 2 roughly chopped carrots, a few sprigs of parsley, and a quartered tomato. No need to season the stock for the carcass is already seasoned. Bring the pot to a boil before reducing to a simmer. After 2 hours, strain the stock and use it in today’s risotto.

Now, I’ve already shared 4 risotto recipes (Bartolini, Turkey, Strawberry, and Tricolor risotti) so there’s really no need to go into great detail here. There are, however, a few things to note with this particular recipe.

There are two kinds of Italian black rice, riso venere. Both are a medium grain rice, one of which is made by dyeing Arborio rice with squid ink. The other — the one that was used in today’s recipe — was developed by crossing the storied Asian Forbidden Rice with an Italian variety. This is a whole grain and, much like brown rice, takes a bit longer to cook than, say, Arborio, for example. In fact, it could easily take an hour to prepare today’s risotto. This means that you will need more stock to cook the rice. In the past, I’ve suggested using a 3 to 1 ratio — meaning 3 parts stock to every part rice — plus an additional cup of stock for good measure. Because of the increased cooking time required for this particular rice, you may need a much as double my original suggestion. Though that may seem excessive, remember that you can always use any leftover stock in any number of ways. (See Notes for a way to cut down on the cooking time and, therefore, the amount of stock required.)

In this recipe, I used dried porcini mushrooms. (I’ve yet to find fresh ones here but the search continues.) To hydrate them, place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and add very hot water. I tend to avoid using boiling water, as some might suggest, for fear that it may partially cook the mushrooms. After 20 to 30 minutes, carefully remove the now plump mushrooms and coarsely chop them for use in the recipe. Take the leftover water and add it to the heated duck stock, being careful to leave behind any of the grit that may remain in the bottom of the bowl. The stock will now be both duck and mushroom-flavored.

*     *     *

Riso Venere*     *     *

To prepare the risotto, in a medium sauce pan, melt a couple tbsp of butter over med-high heat. Add some finely chopped shallots and sauté until soft. Add some minced/grated garlic and continue cooking for about a minute before adding the reserved duck meat and the chopped reconstituted porcini mushrooms. Sauté for a few more minutes and then add the rice. Cook the rice, stirring frequently, until the grains are toasted — about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add about a half-cup of dry white wine, stir, and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Repeat the process with the heated duck stock (See Notes), adding more liquid, stirring, and allowing it to be absorbed before adding another ladle or two more. Once the rice is cooked just about to your preference, add another ladle of stock, cover, turn off the heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Next, remove the cover, add 2 tbsp of butter, if desired, and about 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir well and serve immediately, garnished with more grated cheese.

*     *     *

Duck Risotto 2*     *     *

Notes

Black rice should be rinsed before use to remove any inedible bits — pebbles, sticks, and the like. If you wish to lower the cooking time, the rice may be soaked before cooking. The longer it is soaked, the less time will be needed to cook it. Though I’ve never done this, I did see where some have soaked it as long as overnight.

Always use heated stock when making this or any risotto. Using cool or even warmed stock will greatly increase the cooking time. On the other hand, do not use stock that is boiling. Stock that is too hot will evaporate when it hits the rice-filled pan before it can be absorbed by the grains.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Duck SoupThis isn’t so much a look back as it is a footnote to the 3 duck-related posts. In the past, I’ve suggested that you use leftover scraps of pasta dough to make quadretti. (Remember: waste not.) That’s what I did when I made last week’s duck ravioli and, with a cup of today’s duck stock, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of duck soup for that day’s lunch, all the while contemplating the challenges faced by the country of Fredonia.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Goat PreviewBartolini Roast Goat

*     *     *

Roast Duck and a Sordid Act Revealed

Anatra Arrosto

As much as I’ve grown to love duck in my adult life, it certainly wasn’t a part of our diet when I was young. In fact, the only memory I have of duck being served took place 40 to 45 years ago and isn’t so much about the duck but the surrounding circumstances. I’m afraid Zia is not who you think she is.

*     *     *

Roast Duck *     *     *

When I was very young, frozen foods were just becoming widely available. By the time I was in high school, my Parents had bought a rather large chest freezer, placed it in the basement of the old two-flat, and both families took advantage. After all, it was far larger and the temperature much more consistent than Grandpa’s window box that he would install every Winter. Not only that, but having a freezer meant that Mom and Zia no longer had to rise before dawn on the holidays to make ravioli for the big dinner. Holidays would never be the same for the two Sisters.

By the time the freezer was being filled, my siblings and I were older and occasionally there’d be a night when none of the 3 of us were home for dinner. With Dad working at the restaurant, that meant that Mom ate alone. On one such night, Zia invited Mom to join them for dinner. She had roasted a duck! Mom gratefully accepted and everyone seated at the table commented how delicious the duck was. At some point, Mom asked her Sister what possessed her to roast a duck in mid-week. Was she celebrating something? No, Zia had been looking in the freezer that morning for dinner ideas, saw the duck, and decided to roast it. That’s when Mom realized that Zia, that dear sweet woman you’ve all grown to love, was a duck thief. She had stolen Mom’s duck!!!

Now, we have kept her criminal past secret, within the family, but it’s time to air the Bartolini dirty linen. Besides, as far as crimes go, this one was victimless — save for the duck — and to her credit, Zia did share her ill-gotten gains with the duck’s true owner. Mustn’t forget, too, that by all accounts, it was delicious. That’s important because, to my knowledge, it was the last time that duck was served at the two-flat. Mention roast duck today and, with a smile, Zia will recount the story of the day she became a duck thief.

*     *     *

I truly enjoy cooking these dishes with Zia. This one really hasn’t been prepared in over 40 years and, even then, it was a rarity. As such, it would be so unfair of me to expect her to remember the recipe, especially since I cannot remember what I was doing 40 minutes ago, let alone 40 years. So, we collaborate and, while doing so, she tells me tales from back in the day, like how she became a thief. It’s a fun afternoon followed by a great dinner. You just can’t top that.

I think you’ll find that there’s nothing complicated about this recipe and, if you’ve been around here for a while, the herbs we used should come as no surprise. As I’ve said before, neither Mom nor Zia used many herbs and spices in their cooking. What few they did have were usually reserved for baking. You will, also, note that there was no sauce/gravy to accompany our duck. This was how my family served it. The duck was plenty moist and very flavorful, so, we went with tradition — and I spirited away the duck fat to play with at some later date.

Speaking of later, this duck will be resurrected in future posts. Stay tuned …

*     *     *

Roast Duck 5

Let the roasting begin!

*     *     *

Roast Duck Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 duck, approx 6 lbs, rinsed and dried, neck and giblets removed
  • Fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage leaves, chopped, 3 tbsp total
  • A few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, with a few whole sage leaves
  • 1/2 onion, cut into 4ths
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into 4ths
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 lemon zest, garnish
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C)
  2. Season duck’s cavities with salt and pepper.
  3. Place one garlic clove in the neck cavity and the remaining garlic, onion, and lemon into the abdominal cavity, along with the sage leaves and sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs. Fold the wing tips under the duck’s back.
  4. Use a skewer or similarity pointed object to pierce the duck breasts a repeatedly. (See Notes) Coat lightly with olive oil and lightly season the breast side of the duck with salt and pepper.
  5. Place the duck on the roasting rack, breast side down.
  6. Coat lightly with olive oil and liberally season the back with salt, pepper, and 1/3 of the chopped herbs.
  7. Place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, turn duck so it is now breast-side up, season with remaining herbs, and return to oven.
  8. Bake for 90 minutes, basting every 30 minutes.
  9. After final basting, raise oven temp to 375˚ F (190˚ C) for another 30 minutes to crisp the skin.
  10. Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

*     *     *

Roast Duck 2*     *     *

Notes

Piercing the duck breasts will allow more fat to drain during initial phase of roasting.

Generally speaking, roast the duck for 25 minutes per pound at 350 F (180 C).

We roasted potatoes along with our duck. When the duck was removed to be flipped over, we reserved a couple tbsp of duck fat and a little of the chopped herbs. Once the potatoes were washed and dried, we seasoned them with the reserved herbs, salt & pepper, and duck fat. At the 2nd basting, with another hour of roasting yet to go, place the now seasoned potatoes on the roasting rack. Baste them along with the duck and roast until the duck has finished cooking.

*     *     *

Terrace View

“I just adore a terrace view … “

*     *     *

Che Bella Roma!

My Italian holiday came to an end in the Eternal City, Rome. There is, quite literally, no place like it on earth. Where most cities exalt their histories, Rome’s past is there, right before your eyes. The Colosseum, Pantheon, Palatine Hill, the Forum, the list goes on and on. If you’ve any interest at all in the Roman Empire, Rome must have a place on your bucket list.

But what if you couldn’t care less about the ancient Romans? Perhaps fine art is more your thing. Then head to Vatican City and get in line to see the Papal art galleries. Words cannot describe the sheer size of the collections. Following the marked route, you’ll pass through gallery after gallery of works painted by the World’s masters. Be sure to look up occasionally as you walk, for the ceilings along the route are incredibly beautiful.  You’ll probably peer into galleries featuring statuary from early Greek and Roman times, as you pass on your way to the Sistine Chapel. With walls painted by some of the Renaissance’s finest artists, Michelangelo created the fresco that adorns its ceiling and front wall. The ceiling depicts various scenes form the Book of Genesis, as well as some notable biblical figures, while the Chapel’s front wall contains Michelangelo’s masterwork, The Last Judgment. Guaranteed that no matter how much time you set aside to tour the Vatican, you’ll wish you had more.

The Vatican isn’t the only place where you can find art. Head to the Church of St. Peter in Chains, San Pietro in Vincoli, where you’ll find Michelangelo’s marble sculpture, Moses. Of course, you could go to the Church of Saint Mary of the People, Santa Maria del Popolo, to see Caravaggio’s Martrydom of St. Peter, as well as his Conversion of St. Paul. Take a moment to view the Chigi Chapel which was created by Raphael and that contains statues sculpted by Bernini. If it’s Caravaggio you want, then you really must walk over to the Church of Saint Louis of the French, San Luigi dei Francesi. Beautiful in it’s own right, to the left of the alter is the Contarelli Chapel containing masterworks by Caravaggio, depicting three events in the life of St. Matthew: The Calling of Saint Matthew; The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. Like so much of Rome, this little cappella will leave you breathless.

*     *     *

(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

  Next, and last, is the heart of ancient Rome, the Forum, and its neighbor, the Colosseum.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zucchini Penne PastaWith our gardens and markets still brimming with zucchini, both yellow and green, today’s look back features a pasta dish that isn’t quite as it appears. Containing zucchini that’s been cleverly chopped to look like penne, this is one way to enjoy pasta with only half — or less — of the carbs. Did I mention how tasty it is?  You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Cherry_Choc_Oats_Cookie“C” is for Cookie

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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)

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Roasted Vegetables PreviewRoasted Vegetables Salad with Harissa

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Thighs 3Harissa Chicken

*     *     *

Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

As most of you well know, we North Americans are facing a Winter unlike any seen in decades. With severe drought in the West and Arctic cold, record snows, and ice storms to the East, you’re either praying for rain or cursing the cold. Whether this Winter is truly one for the record books remains to be seen but it sure is a great excuse for making comfort food.

*     *     *

Tuna Casserole 2*     *     *

These past few weeks, I’ve said good-bye to any thoughts of post-holiday dieting and broke out the Dutch oven and stock pot. I’ve made soups, tomato sauce, chili, stew, braised short ribs, baked pastas, and pulled pork. Not only that, I’ve baked more bread these past few weeks than I have in ages. In short, I’ve done all that I can to warm both me and my kitchen which, for reasons known only to my home’s previous owner, has no heating element other than the oven. Heaven bless that oven.

Since you really cannot make beef stew for one, soup by the bowl, or pulled pork for a single sandwich, you can well imagine that my fridge and freezer have been well-stocked with leftovers, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Even so, after my third dinner of beef stew or fourth lunch of a bowl of chili, and with temps still in negative territory, I began to crave something different and searched for some long-forgotten comfort food recipes. Enter tuna noodle casserole.

Before going any further, I need to mention this recipe’s origins. After all, I did call today’s post “Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole”. Although there is no direct link to Mom, I think there’s plenty of evidence to support my claim.

First off, I found it in the oldest recipe file that I own, one that I created on my first PC back in the 90’s. That file has survived a short-circuited motherboard, head crash, my conversion to Apple, and a transfer to my second iMac. Though forgotten until now, it contains a few gems from Mom but, I admit, this bit of evidence is highly circumstantial.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence can be found within the recipe itself. Although all the ingredients are listed, the amounts required for some of them are missing. This is a hallmark of the Bartolini family recipes and a major reason for this blog being created. I could only be more certain of this recipe’s provenance if an amount or two was listed as “a handful of” this or “a good pinch of” that. Members of the jury, there is no doubt in my mind that this is Mom’s recipe. I rest my case.

Now, a word of warning. This is an old recipe and some may not appreciate it. First of all, it contains mayonnaise and there are those who cannot abide the stuff. I don’t like cilantro, so, I’d say we’re even. It, also, contains a can of condensed soup, the bane of many a modern-day foodie. Well, I’m guessing this recipe comes from the 60’s and we didn’t have foodies back then. We had gourmands — and the Galloping Gourmet but never mind him. Lastly, the final two ingredients, though optional, are listed as frozen. In this part of the continent, when it’s casserole season, there are few, if any, fresh peas to be found, and, for those of us living in the Corn Belt, buying what passes for corn in the off-season is sacrilege. If, however, you’ve access to tasty, fresh peas and sweet corn in Winter, by all means use them instead of frozen.

*     *     *

Tuna Casserole 1*     *     *

Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe

Ingredients

  • cooked noodles, buttered
  • olive oil
  • 1 large can ( 12 oz, 340 g) water-packed tuna fish, drained & flaked
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can (10¾ oz, 305 g) cream of mushroom soup (I use cream of celery)
  • 1 package ( 8 oz, 226 g) cream cheese
  • 1/3 c mayonnaise
  • 1/3 c milk
  • cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 c bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • frozen corn (optional)
  • frozen peas (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked noodles, tuna, cheddar cheese, corn, and peas.
  3. Sauté onions and mushrooms in a little olive oil until onions are translucent. Add to the mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  4. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, soup, and cream cheese, stirring until hot and well-mixed. Add to the mixing bowl and stir to combine again.
  5. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast until golden brown. Immediately remove from heat.
  6. Pour the tuna mixture into the baking dish, top with the toasted bread crumbs, and cover with aluminum foil.
  7. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes before removing the foil. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes to further crisp the topping.
  8. Allow to sit at least 5 minutes before serving.

*     *     *

Tuna Casserole*     *     *

Notes

The amounts for some of the ingredients will depend upon the volume of noodles you’ve prepared. I’ve found that if I use a full pound (450 g) of noodles, for example, a single large can of tuna fish may not be enough. You’ll find that the “cream sauce” is rather thick and can overpower the rest of the ingredients. More tuna is needed to compensate.

Be sure to brown the bread crumbs before sprinkling them atop the casserole. If you rely on the oven to fully brown them, you’ll run the risk of drying out the casserole.

Any broad noodle may be used here, though shorter ones work best. I happened to have a bag of farfalle, butterflies, and used it.

I think you could easily substitute chopped, roasted chicken in place of the tuna.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Steak PizzaiolaOne common theme running throughout this blog is my love of pasta. I’ve certainly made no effort to hide it. With temperatures so terribly frigid, today’s Blast from the Past is particularly welcome in my kitchen, for it involves both a lengthy braise in the oven and a large pot of boiling pasta water on the stove top. Combined, they are just what’s needed to warm my kitchen and keep it that way well into the evening. Best of all, I end up with a great pasta for dinner. You can learn how to prepare Steak Pizzaiola by clicking HERE.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Beef Cheeks Preview Beef Cheeks

*     *     *

Stewed Quail

Quaglia in Umido

Quail with PappardelleThis is a dish that Zia and I prepared during my last visit home but it requires a bit of an explanation. I originally had intended to share my family’s recipe for preparing pigeon back in the day. The only problem was that I couldn’t source them, except for one place not far from here. Unfortunately, I was there once when an order for pigeons was placed and witnessed their “preparation”. Their handling was beyond rough and I could never purchase a pigeon there. Now, I’m fully aware of how meat comes to be displayed in our markets and, over the years, have watched more than my fair share of poultry “prepared” for our dinners. Hard as it may be for some to believe, there are comparatively humane ways to do this and when I see evidence to the contrary, I find another place to shop and something else to eat.  So, with quail more readily available, we substituted it for the pigeon in today’s recipe. Besides, you’ll probably find the tale I’m about to tell much more enjoyable if you know that we won’t be cooking pigeon later.

*     *     *

Although pigeon was prepared for dinner at the old two-flat, it certainly wasn’t served frequently or with any regularity.  It was simply a matter of supply, for it wasn’t every day that you could find enough pigeons to prepare and serve. The family did have its sources, though. One, a workmate of Uncle, bred pigeons and often gave us young birds that didn’t meet his standards. Of course, there was the farmers market and I often watched as Grandpa haggled with the vendor over an amount as little as a quarter. In reality, this was all a game and I had a front row seat. It’s not like there were dozens of vendors selling young pigeons, nor were there throngs of people queuing at their stalls demanding the birds. Grandpa and the vendor haggled a bit but both knew all along that the deal had been struck the moment Grandpa walked up to the vendor’s stall. For me, it was part of the fun of going with Grandpa to the market. The third source for pigeon was from Grandpa’s farmer friend. You may recall that this was the farm where our dogs went, never to be seen again. As luck would have it, they were always out in the fields playing when we visited the farm.

I must have been about 7 years old when Grandpa brought home a single, very young pigeon. Today, the source of this bird is a point of debate. There are those who think it came from Uncle’s friend while others believe it came from the farmer. No matter whence it came, this bird, being a loner, wasn’t destined for the table. “Duke” would become one of the most memorable pets that ever shared the two-flat with us.

Though it may sound odd to have a pigeon as a pet, Duke was only one of many animals that found their way to our home. There were dogs, fish, rabbits, turtles, chameleons, frogs, birds, Chinese pheasants, and even a snake, though the snake’s stay was quite brief before being set free in the yard. Our neighbor, Mrs. A, wasn’t happy about that and, for years, whenever she spotted a snake in her garden, it was ours that she saw. It was just our luck to have found and let loose the Methuselah of snakes. Poor, long-suffering Mrs. A. She was a wonderful woman who treated us kids very kindly. This despite our snake taking up residence in her garden, and, Duke roosting outside her bedroom window every night. That window ledge would never be the same.

Now, Duke was no ordinary pigeon nor pet, for that matter. First of all, Duke was actually a Duchess — having laid an egg under Zia’s sofa. It didn’t seem to mind having a masculine name so Duke she remained. She was ever-present. If you were in the backyard, Duke was sure to appear, swooping down from above. If you were eating a snack somewhere outside, Duke would find you quicker than the dog and wait for a piece of whatever it was you were eating. Even so, she was most closely attached to Grandpa and Nonna.

*     *     *

Parish School*     *     *

Pictured above is St. Juliana’s parish school and, for a time, church. In between the two entrances on the right is a row of 9 rather tall windows, indicating where the parish church was once located. (It was replaced in the early 1960’s.) Missing from this more recent photo are the large sconces, one of which was placed on either side of each entrance.

As you can see, the building was rather small and, with 16 classrooms, so was the church. Although there were several services on Sunday mornings, the 9:00 mass was meant for us kids and the service and sermon were more child-friendly. The 10:15 service was the one that Nonna, Grandpa, and Duke attended. Every Sunday morning at 10:00, Nonna and Grandpa would walk down the street to the church, with Duke circling overhead. When it was warm, Duke would wait for them from her perch atop the building. On cold or wet days, she’d take refuge in one of the sconces, its damaged pane allowing the bird access. Once mass was finished, Duke waited for Nonna and Grandpa to reappear and, again, circled overhead as they walked home. We often hear tales of dogs following children to school or church but a pigeon?

My most vivid memory of Duke, though, involves Grandpa and her. (Big surprise, eh?) As I’ve mentioned, Grandpa was an active retiree and was often behind the wheel on his way to visit friends or run errands. Duke would join him, at least for a couple of blocks, and ride on the car’s hood — “bonnet” for some of you — like an ornament. Of course, Grandpa drove very slowly, allowing Duke to play hood ornament for as long as possible. It was truly something to see, with children and adults alike pausing to watch them pass. More often than not, the children laughed and pointed while the adults smiled and shook their heads. When Grandpa approached a busy street, he’d rev the engine a bit, signaling to Duke that it was time for her to return home, and off she went.

Unfortunately, Duke was taken out late one evening and, in the dark, never made it back home. Although we often asked for another pigeon to raise, none was ever available. In retrospect, I think Grandpa knew that Duke was one of a kind and that no other bird could ever replace her. And today, mention Duke to any of the two-flat’s residents and you’re sure to get a smile in reply.

*     *     *

Today’s recipe can be used for either quail or pigeon and the main caution when preparing the birds is the same for both: do not over-brown. Quail are relatively small and if they are browned as one would beef, for example, they will be dry by the time they’re fully cooked. The same is true for pigeon, though they are larger and can be browned for a little while longer. In either case, you just want a little bit of color on the birds’ bodies.

*     *     *

Quail Simmering*     *     *

Stewed Quail Recipe

Ingredients

  • cooked pasta
  • 4 whole quail, dressed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small – medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 794 g) tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram
  • 4 oz white wine
  • salt & pepper
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

*     *     *

*     *     *

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat.
  2. Add onions and sauté for about 5 minutes before adding garlic and parsley. Continue to sauté until fragrant, about a minute.
  3. Add quail to the pot and LIGHTLY brown on all sides.
  4. Remove quail and add remaining ingredients to the pot. Mix well and bring to the boil.
  5. Return quail to the pot and return to the boil before reducing the heat to a soft simmer. Cook until done, about 30 to 45 minutes. (See Notes)
  6. Remove quail to a serving dish.
  7. Use sauce to dress the pasta, reserving some for use at the table.
  8. Garnish the pasta with grated cheese and place both pasta and quail on a large serving platter.
  9. Serve immediately.

*     *     *

Quail 2*     *     *

Notes

It cannot be overstated: do not over-brown the birds.

Cooking times will vary depending upon whether you use quail or pigeon. Being larger, pigeon will take longer to stew. Use a fork to test each bird to see whether it is fully cooked. The meat should not be “falling off the bone”.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …Passatini in Brodo

This time of year, there’s nothing quite like a steaming bowl of soup to warm you up. Easy to make and with ingredients every pantry is sure to have, passatini is a delicious soup and comforting meal, whether it’s served for lunch or dinner. You can see Mom’s recipe for passatini by clicking HERE.

.*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Tuna CasseroleMom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

*     *     *

Turkey Risotto

Risotto con Tacchino

This is not a true holiday dish but it does grace my dinner table at least once over the holidays. Guaranteed. You see, I have a “thing” for turkey sandwiches and you might be surprised at the lengths I’ll go to make sure that I have turkey sandwiches every Thanksgiving.

*     *     *Turkey Risotto

*     *     *

As an adult, the highlight of my Thanksgiving Day Feast has always been the midnight turkey sandwich. Built with slices of turkey (white & dark meat, of course), a healthy portion of stuffing, and cemented together with cranberry sauce, this is the “sammich” of which my dreams are made. No matter what I’m eating throughout that day, I never lose sight of that night’s prize.

Now, when I host the dinner, having enough turkey to make a sammich is no problem. In fact, I buy a bird twice as large as needed so that every guest goes home with a platter of leftovers. Each then can either relive the dinner — sans my buoyant personality, of course — or make at least 2 healthy sammiches. And I will have at least enough turkey for a few sammiches, as well as a good-sized portion destined for the freezer for sammiches to be built at a later date. That’s if I host the dinner. Things can go quite differently, however, if I’m enjoying Thanksgiving dinner away from home.

Over the years, I’ve been invited to some lovely Thanksgiving feasts where the company was warm, the dinner fantastic, and the wine flowed freely.  I could say the very same thing about those occasions where friends and I gathered at a restaurant for dinner. Both situations allow me to relax and enjoy my friends and the meal without the stress of having to juggle 6 side dishes on a 5 burner stove top; remember that there are bruschette under the broiler; and keep an eye on Max who’s been keeping his eyes on the tented bird on the counter. Both options  sound wonderful except for one little detail. There are no leftovers and without them there can be no sammich. Oh, the pain!

After going sammich-less for a couple of years, I’d had enough. (Well, actually, I’d had nothing.) I decided to roast my own turkey, no matter what, sometime during Thanksgiving week. Granted, when the bird is meant for me alone, I look for the smallest, fresh turkey available, usually 9 to 10 lbs. That’s less than half the size of the behemoth that I prepare when I’m hosting. Even so, I get all the sammiches I want, half of the bird gets wrapped and frozen for another time, and I still have the carcass to play with.

Ah, the carcass! When I remove the meat from its bones, I make sure to leave some behind. Then, when it’s time to prepare the stock, I find and retrieve those bits. As you’ll soon see, they, along with the stock, will be used in my risotto. It really is a nice arrangement. I have a turkey dinner — maybe two! — I enjoy plenty of sammiches, and I have turkey stock to make my “holiday” risotto.

When you read today’s recipe, it may be that I prepare risotto differently than you do — and that’s ok. If you’ve a proven method for making risotto, don’t change for this recipe. The important thing about this risotto is not how it’s made but what is used to make it. In this recipe, turkey stock is used in place of chicken, and, chopped turkey is used instead of any other type of protein or even mushrooms. I don’t want anything to mask the flavors of roast turkey and, if the bird was stuffed, the hint of stuffing.

*     *     *

Risotto Cooking

*     *     *

Turkey Risotto Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 cups turkey stock, recipe to follow
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 7 oz (200 g) roast turkey, chopped
  • 1 3/4 c Arborio rice
  • 4 oz (60 ml) dry white wine
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Keep the turkey stock hot, though not boiling. (See Notes)
  2. Add butter to a large pan over med-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add turkey to the pan and continue to sauté until heated through.
  4. Lower the heat to medium, add the rice to the pan, and toast the grains, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the wine and stir. Continue to cook until the wine is all but evaporated.
  6. Ladle by ladle, add the turkey stock, stirring with each addition and allowing the stock to be fully absorbed before adding another ladle of stock.
  7. Taste the rice for doneness after about 20 minutes. It should be nearing completion.
  8. When the rice is al dente and just shy of being done, add another ladle of stock, cover, and turn off the heat.
  9. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before adding 2 handfuls of Pecorino Romano cheese.
  10. If rice is too dry, add a bit more stock before serving. (See Notes)
  11. Garnish with more Pecorino Romano cheese and serve.

*     *     *

To make the turkey stock

In a large stock pot over med-high heat, add the roast turkey carcass, a large onion (quartered), 2 celery stalks with leaves (roughly chopped), 2 carrots (roughly chopped), a few parsley sprigs, and enough water to cover – about 5 or 6 quarts. Bring to a boil before reducing the heat to maintain a soft simmer. I let the stock simmer for at least 3 hours, adding water if too much evaporates. The object is to have at least 2 quarts (2 L) of stock when all is said and done. When finished, strain stock through a fine strainer. Refrigerate stock overnight and then remove any fat that may have risen to the surface. Stock is now ready to use in your favorite recipe or to drink, warm, by the cupful.

*     *     *

Turkey Risotto 2

*     *     *

Notes

When making risotto, I use a ratio of 3:1. That’s 3 parts stock to every 1 part of rice. I usually have an extra cup of stock ready but, if I run out, I’ll add some hot water. Bear in mind, that I’m only using a little water, certainly not even a cupful.

You may think it odd that I used 1 3/4 cups of rice but that’s because it was the end of the package’s contents. I didn’t see the point of reserving a quarter cup of rice. So, use as much rice as you like but keep the above ratio in mind.

Do keep the stock hot, but not boiling, when adding it to the pan of cooking rice. Boiling stock will hit the hot pan and evaporate before it can be absorbed by the rice. On the other hand, if it is too cool, it will delay the cooking process.

We prefer our risotto to be on the moist side. You’ll find that the rice will continue to absorb the stock even as it sits in the serving platter.

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Just as surely as you’d find a platter of ravioli on our Christmas dinner table, you could count on there being a platter of biscotti on that very same table, served after dessert while Biscotti with Pecansthe castagne, chestnuts, were being roasted. Both recipes that I shared came to my family about 50 years ago. Mom’s Biscotti with Pecans, was a family recipe of a friend who was 90 years young at the time. We know that recipe is at least 100 years old. Zia found her recipe for Anisette Biscotti in a local newspaper. Both are simple recipes and are as traditional to our holidays as is that Christmas tree in the corner waiting for the Feast of the Epiphany (Little Christmas). You can find both recipes by clicking HERE.

*     *     *

Coming Christmas Eve to a monitor near you …

Linquine ai Frutti di Mare al Cartocci - Preview

Linguine with Seafood in Parchment

*     *     *

What I Did During My Fall Vacation

On the Road

I’m back from what was, for the most part, another wonderful visit with my Zia. We cooked, we talked, we talked about cooking, and, as one might expect, I’ve a few recipes to share in the weeks to come.

First, having located the surprisingly illusive 1 lb. octopus, I revisited the recipe posted a couple of weeks ago and prepared “Polipo in Umido“, Stewed Octopus. Although I won’t create a new post for the recipe, I’ve added the recipe to the end of this post and have added a link to the original post. I will not include the recipe for the bread I baked that afternoon simply because I evidently failed to bookmark the webpage’s address.

RIccetteOn another night, I reached into the box of Bartolini pastas that our ever-so-thoughtful friend, Lidia, had sent us, and prepared a Pasta alla Verdure, Pasta with Vegetables. It’s a delicious vegetarian dish — if you’re willing to overlook the guanciale that was rendered in the first step.

Since I’ll be unable to visit Zia for her birthday at the end of this month, I prepared a birthday dinner for the two of us. Our primo piatto was L’Uova da Ravioli, Egg-Filled Ravioli.  Our secondo was Osso Bucco, Braised Veal Shanks, while our dessert was a Pear Tarte Tartain. I do not plan on sharing the tart recipe for it wasn’t my finest hour. Knowing that a number of you had recently posted recipes, I attempted to find one of them but the 10 minute/post load time wore me out, so I sought help from the Almighty, the one and only Martha Stewart. Her recipe produced a tasty dessert but my “flip” was a matter of great disappointment and resulted in a presentation that was anything but “a good thing.” So, we took off our eyeglasses and enjoyed it immensely.

*     *     *

*     *     *

One thing you may not know about my Zia is that she enjoys a bit of jam every now and Strawberry-Cranberry Jamagain. Well, recently, our good friend BAM, of Bam’s Kitchen fame, shared her recipe for Bammer’s Jammers. Made with cranberries, strawberries, and ginger, this quick jam is delicious. The mix of tart and sweet is a winning combination, if ever there was one, and Zia loved it. Be sure to check out her recipe and, while you’re there, have a look around BAM’s blog. Guaranteed, it will be time well-spent. And a big “Thank You!” to BAM for the recipe.

*     *     *

Unfortunately, all was not good food and talk during my visit. While I was with Zia, we received word that my Dad’s remaining Brother, Uncle Leo, “Zio Leo”, passed away in a suburb of Detroit. Zia and I travelled to the wake later that week. You may recall that the Apple Cake recipe that I shared 2 weeks ago belonged to his Wife, my Aunt Mary, “Zia Mariolla”.  He was a kind, wonderful man, as was Dad’s other Brother, Uncle Dominic, “Zio Mingo”, who passed away just 5 weeks earlier in his home in San Marino. Both men will be missed terribly. May they rest in peace.

*     *     *

I hope to resume posting recipes next week. I live in a two-flat and the back porches and stairwell needed repair and a fresh coat of paint. I soon learned that, though repairs could be performed, our building codes have changed recently. It would be best to replace it all now, rather than in a couple years. As I type, workers are removing the old structure, just beyond the wall behind me. Max, thankfully, is in doggy daycare for the day — but he’ll be here tomorrow. Admittedly, this is nowhere near the scope of the construction projects some of you have endured over the past few months. Even so, there are foundations to be dug, cement to be poured, and a structure to be built, with a couple of inspections along the way. Whether I post the Green Tomato Relish recipe next week will depend on how the re-build progresses and Max’s reaction to seeing workers in his yard.

*     *     *

Stewed Octopus Recipe

(Polipo in Umido) 

Ingredients

  • 1 one pound (500 g) octopus
  • reserved blanching water
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 large can, 28 oz (800 g), whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1 small can, 14 oz (400 g) whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram (2 tsp fresh)
  • 3 to 4 oz dry white wine
  • fresh, crusty bread for serving

*     *     *

Polipo in Umido

*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan over med-high heat, bring to boil enough water to cover the trimmed octopus. Add the octopus and allow to simmer for 2 minutes after the pot returns to the boil. (Small octopi should boil for 1 minute. Larger should be allowed to boil closer to 2 minutes.) Remove the octopus and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and reserve. Reserve the blanching liquid, too. (See Notes) (Refer to Strangozzi post for further details on prepping the octopus.)
  2. Place the blanching liquid back into the sauce pan and, over med-high heat, reduce it by half.
  3. Over med-high heat, add olive oil in a medium sauce pan.
  4. Add red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper before sautéing until the onion is translucent and garlic fragrant — about 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, wine, and marjoram, stir to combine. Bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  6. After the sauce has thickened and darkened a bit — about 30 minutes — add the chopped octopus and reduced blanching liquid before continuing the simmer.
  7. Taste a piece of octopus after another 15 minutes to test for doneness and to check the seasoning. If necessary, continue to simmer another 5 minutes before tasting again.
  8. Serve immediately, accompanied with crusty bread. Alternately, some prefer to ladle the octopus over a slice of bread in the bottom of each bowl.
  9. Like all mildly flavored seafood dishes, grated cheese is not recommended for it will overpower the dish.

*     *     *

Notes

As mentioned above, more complete instructions for cleaning and chopping the octopus may be found HERE, the only difference being the size of the chopped pieces of octopus. For an in umido preparation, we prefer the pieces to be from 1.5 to 2 inches (3.5 to 5 cm). That means the octopus you buy should be about 1 lb. in weight. Anything less will require a smaller chop and, in our estimation, won’t be as suitable for an in umido preparation.

The idea for reserving and reducing the blanching liquid came from a suggestion from our blogging buddy, Stefan. It worked like a charm, adding additional flavor to the sauce. Thanks, Stefan! You can find out what other good things Stefan has to offer by visiting his fantastic blog, Stefan’s Gourmet Blog.

*     *     *

Aunt Mary’s Apple Cake

Torta di Mele di Zia Mariolla

Apple Cake

This is one of the recipes I brought home with me following my last visit with Zia but its path to this blog is nowhere near as direct as that statement makes it sound.

While having coffee with Zia, I mentioned that I baked a wonderful apple cake two years ago but have since lost the recipe. Try as I might, I can neither find nor duplicate that cake. My story reminded Zia of a slice of cake she was once served at her Daughter-in-Law’s home. She complimented my Cousin and asked for the recipe. Surprisingly, the recipe came from the other side of my family, my beautiful Zia Mariolla, who’s married to my Dad’s youngest Brother, Zio Leo. I’ve no idea how the recipe got to my Cousin’s cookbook but, lucky for us, it found its way into mine.

Perhaps what I like most about this cake is that it isn’t overly sweet and, in that regard, its lack of icing is a big plus. If you or your guests prefer a dessert that’s not too sweet, than serve them a piece of Zia’s cake just as she intended, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. If, however, someone at the table would prefer something a bit more sweet, then have I got the thing for you, a salted caramel sauce. Within this post, I’ve included the recipe for the sauce  and you’ll find it the perfect accompaniment for Zia’s cake. See? With or without the sauce, you really can have your cake and eat it, too.

Now, as for the recipe itself, the original doesn’t specify the kind of apples, raisins, nor nuts to be used. Having just visited the Honey Man in Michigan, I had fresh Cortland apples and black walnuts at my disposal. I used golden raisins simply because I had them on-hand. That’s it. The rest of the ingredients are quite common and you should have little trouble preparing this cake.

*     *     *

On the road again …

I’m leaving for this year’s last visit with Zia. The Kitchens will be closed while I’m gone and will be re-opened on Wednesday, November 20th.

*     *     *

Apple Cake -2

*     *     *

Aunt Mary’s Apple Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Apple Cake

  • 1-3/4 c sugar
  • 3/4 c oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cup AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 or 5 Cortland apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • 1 cup chopped black walnuts, divided — any nuts may be substituted
  • 1 cup golden raisins (pre-soak in warm water for 30 minutes)
  • confectioners sugar (optional)
  • salted caramel sauce for serving (optional)

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (see Notes)

Directions

To prepare the cake

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  2. Place all ingredients — except apples, raisins, and nuts — in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a spoon until well-blended. Batter will be stiff.
  3. Add apples, raisins, and half the nuts to the bowl and stir till evenly distributed.
  4. Pour batter into a well-greased 9 X 13″ baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining nuts.
  5. Bake in pre-heated 350˚ oven for 45 minutes. A toothpick inserted into center should be clean upon removal.
  6. Allow to cool before dusting with confectioners (powdered) sugar and serving.

To prepare the salted caramel sauce

  1. Pour the sugar into a medium sauce pan (see Notes) over med-high heat.
  2. Stir the sugar as it begins to melt and continue to do so until it begins to boil. Stop stirring the moment it begins to boil. (see Notes)
  3. Once boiling, look for it to change to an amber color. If necessary, swirl liquid in the pan but do not stir.
  4. Once the sugar has turned amber in color, reduce heat to medium, add the butter and whisk vigorously until melted and fully blended.
  5. Remove from heat, gradually add the cream, whisking all the while. Once blended, add the salt and continue to whisk until fully mixed.
  6. Set aside to cool for a few minutes before pouring into a sealable container for storage in the fridge, where it will keep for a couple of weeks.
  7. Warm before serving with your favorite dessert.

*     *     *

Apple Cake Preview

*     *     *

Notes

The recipe will prepare salted caramel sauce. If you’re not a fan of salted caramel, reduce the amount of salt used, but do not eliminate all of it. A bit of salt is usually recommended with sweet preparations. I’d suggest using 1/8 or 1/4 tsp instead of the amount listed in the recipe.

Be sure to use a large enough saucepan. The sugar will boil and could boil over if your pan is too small.

You may stir the sugar as it melts but must stop stirring the moment it begins to boil. Failure to do so may result in sugar crystals ruining the texture of the finished sauce. Once almost all the sugar is melted, it’s best to put away the spoon and swirl the pan’s contents until all is melted, boiling, and begins to turn amber-colored.

Do not, I repeat DO NOT catch a dropped spoon that was used to stir the melting sugar. I can tell you from personal experience that the momentary joy you may feel for actually catching something with your left hand will be obliterated by the searing pain that only sugar burns can deliver.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Lumache ShellsLast Saturday, All Souls’ Day was observed in a number of Christian churches. In Marche, where the Bartolini are from, it’s traditional to serve snails, lumache, on that day. Although my family never observed that custom, we did, on very rare occasions, prepare and serve lumache. If you’re interested in learning how it’s done, just click HERE

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Green Tomato Relish 3

Green Tomato Relish

*     *     *

This Recipe has Legs: Strangozzi Pasta with Octopus

Strangozzi al Polipi

Recentlyour good friend Tanya, of Chica Andaluza fame, shared a recipe for Carpaccio of Octopus. (Do check out that recipe and, while you’re at it, take a few minutes to explore the rest of her fantastic blog.) I’d not thought about octopus in years and that post reminded me that my family once cooked octopus, polipo. I spoke to Zia about it and we decided to prepare it the next time I visited her. That visit took place last month and, with Monday having been Columbus Day, I thought octopus would make a fine way to commemorate his voyage across the Atlantic. After all, there were those that believed his ships would be sunk by a giant octopus long before they fell off the edge of the Earth.

*     *     *

Strangozzi al Polipi

Strangozzi al Polipi

*     *     *

It’s been quite some time since an octopus was given the place of honor at a Bartolini dinner — more than half a century, but who’s counting? We really have no reason for it not being served since then. The dish is delicious, reminiscent of calamari in umido, and it isn’t at all difficult to prepare. No matter. The dish was prepared by my family at one time and thereby has earned a page on this blog.

Back in the day, we would have prepared the octopus in umido, which in this case means stewed in a tomato sauce. Served in bowls with a chunk of good, crusty bread, the dish is delicious and, in some homes, is one of the dishes on the menu for the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Originally, I had planned to prepare today’s recipe in umido until reality intervened.

As of now, I know of only one place to buy octopus and that’s at my Italian market. Unfortunately, they only sell very small or very large octopi and each poses a problem for us. When you cook something in umido, it is best that the protein be in large pieces. This is not a soup but a stew, after all, and the pieces should reflect that. Well, the small octopi are so small that it would take 4 to equal a pound (450 g). When chopped, the

Octopus over Polenta

Octopus over Polenta

pieces are far too small for in umido presentation. In fact, Zia and I attempted to serve them over polenta and, though tasty, all but a few pieces were too small even for that. On the other end of the spectrum, the market sells frozen octopi that are 4 and 5 lbs. apiece. Though that would be wonderful to prepare for a Bartolini family dinner, an octopus that size is far too large for a meal for Zia and I. So, although we had to change the dish to suit the circumstances, the search is on now for an octopus weighing 1 pound. When I find one, I’ll either create a separate Polipo in Umido post or amend this one to include that recipe. Bear in mind, though, that the ingredients used in the in umido recipe are the same as those used here for this sauce. Differences, if there are any, will be in the amounts listed. I’ll only be sure of that once I find an octopus in the right size.

Since we couldn’t serve the octopus as we had originally intended, in umido, Zia and I served it over polenta. As I mentioned earlier, that dish didn’t quite work as well as we Bartolini Strangozzi Pastathought it would. Again the octopus pieces needed to be larger. Once home, I bought 3 more small octopi and decided to serve them over pasta. As luck would have it, a few weeks earlier my blogging friend, Lidia, had noticed something while shopping and sent her discovery to me. (Not only does she share the name of one of my favorite chefs, Lidia has a wonderful blog, Oh Lidia, and I hope you take time to have a look.) You can imagine my surprise when I opened the carton and found 3 pastas manufactured by a company called “Bartolini”. I can’t think of a better pasta to serve with this old family recipe than one that shares our family name. So, of the 3 sent, I chose to prepare strangozzi.

In an earlier post, I demonstrated how to make strozzapreti pasta and gave an account of how it got its name. (See It’s déjà vu all over again … ) Strozzapreti, you see, means priest choker and one legend states that this pasta was so delicious that priests choked when eating it for the first time. What does this have to do with strangozzi? Well, it is thought that the word strangozzi is derived from the Italian word for shoelaces, stringhe, yet this pasta has come to mean priest stranglers. Huh?  Stay with me. Centuries ago, in Umbria, the clergy was not looked upon kindly by the villagers. Legend says that they chased down the worst of the clergy and those that were caught were strangled with their shoelaces. These long pasta ribbons are thought to resemble those shoelaces. Death by shoelace immortalized in pasta. Ya gotta love it!

In reality, strangozzi are about the size of what we would call linguine, the only difference being in their thickness. Our linguine are cut from thin pasta sheets; strangozzi is cut from sheets twice as thick. The result is a hearty pasta that is perfect for heavier or meat-based sauces.

*     *     *

Before beginning the recipe, the octopus must be cleaned and readied. The head is actually a hood and the contents of its interior need to be removed. It is easy enough to do and you can slice its side to make it even easier. Next, the eyes must be removed. Make a small slice on either side of each eye, creating a small wedge. Remove each wedge and the eye with it. Since these octopi were so small, I sliced the octopus just above both eyes and again below, creating a ring. I then cut the eyes off of the ring. One last thing to be removed is the beak. Turning the octopus upside-down, you’ll notice a small whole at the center of the 8 legs. With your fingers, carefully feel the beak and note its size. With a sharp knife, cut around the beak and remove. Now that it’s cleaned, cut the legs section in half, creating 2 parts with 4 legs apiece. Cut those pieces in half again, and then again. In the end, you will have separated all 8 legs. Do not chop them but leave them whole and proceed with the recipe.

*     *     *

Click to see any/all photos enlarged.

*     *     *

Strangozzi Pasta with Octopus Recipe

Ingredients

  • octopus (See Notes)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 large can, 28 oz (800 g), whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram (2 tsp fresh)
  • 3 to 4 oz dry white wine
  • 1 lb  (450 g) cooked Strangozzi pasta — or whatever pasta you prefer — cooked al dente
  • reserved pasta water

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan over med-high heat, bring to boil enough water to cover the octopus. Add the octopus and allow to simmer for 1 to 2 minutes after the pot returns to the boil. Small octopus should boil for 1 minute. Larger should be allowed to boil closer to 2 minutes. Remove the octopus and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and reserve. Once cooled, see Notes for chopping considerations.
  2. Over med-high heat, add olive oil in a medium sauce pan.
  3. Add red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper before sautéing until the onion is translucent and garlic fragrant — about 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes, wine, and marjoram, stir to combine. Bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  5. After the sauce has thickened and darkened a bit — about 30 minutes — add the chopped octopus and continue to simmer.
  6. If using small octopi, it should be finished cooking in about 20 minutes. Taste a piece after 15 minutes to test for doneness and to check the seasoning. If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta water. (See Notes)
  7. Meanwhile, the pasta should have been cooked al dente and strained. Be sure to reserve some of the pasta water.
  8. In a large bowl or serving platter, combine the octopus sauce with the cooked pasta and mix. If the pasta seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  9. Serve immediately.
  10. Like all mildly flavored seafood pastas, grated cheese is not recommended for it will overpower the dish.

*     *     *

*     *     *

Notes

The dish will determine the size of the pieces when chopping the octopus.

  • For pasta dishes, I would suggest chopping small octopi into pieces about 3/4 inches (2 cm). These pieces will shrink a little during cooking and will be easily managed no matter what pasta you choose.
  • For in umido, a larger octopus should be used and, when chopped, the pieces should be larger. Ultimately, the size will depend upon how comfortable you are dealing with the pieces while eating. Even so, I would suggest that all pieces be no less than an inch (2.5 cm) long. (Since this recipe was posted, I did find and prepare a 1 lb. octopus in umido. You can see that recipe by clicking HERE.)

No matter the preparation or the size of the pieces, do try to keep them all the same size. Doing so will ensure that all the octopus is evenly cooked.

Understandably, the larger the octopus, the longer it should simmer in the tomato sauce. A small octopus should take 15 to 20 minutes, as was stated in the recipe above. Larger octopi will take up to 30 minutes, maybe more. Be careful not to overcook lest the octopus become rubbery. If in doubt, taste a piece to see if it is cooked to your liking.

For reasons unknown to me, we’ve always discarded the water used to blanch the octopus. Even though the octopus is in it only briefly, the water does darken in color.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Strozzapreti with Pesto

Strozzapreti with Pesto

With all of this talk of strangling priests, it’s only logical that today’s look back would be to the strozzapreti post. Not only will you learn how to make the pasta by hand, you’ll also learn how a few of the common pastas got their names. All this can be yours just by clicking HERE.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Damson Plum Jam Preview

Damson Plum Jam

*     *     *