My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

Minestra del Ceci delle Mie Due Nonne

Minestra del Cece 2*     *     *

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

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

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

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

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Minestra di Ceci*     *     *

My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Garbanzo Bean Soup*     *     *

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squid Ink Pasta PreviewSquid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

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Honey, Mustard!

The year’s last visit with Zia went very well, though I doubt I’ll ever drive North again when there’s a Polar Vortex rolling South. Once there, we cooked up a storm and 4 of those dishes will make their way on to this blog over the next few weeks. My Cousin, also, came up for a few days and he and Max were off roaming the countryside. With deer season just starting, however, the sound of distant rifle fire kept them both closer to home than normal. I do think he minded more than the dog. Max just wants to be at my Cousin’s side, no matter where that happens to be. Me jealous? Nah! It’s good to “pass the baton” every now and again, giving Zia and me time to make our pasta in peace.

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Honey Mustard 3

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With November now behind us, Christmas will be here before we know it. Today’s recipe is a perennial favorite of my Christmas gift baskets. (They’re bags actually because I can never find gift baskets.) But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some 3 years ago, I began making ketchup following a recipe on Tanya’s fantastic blog, Chica Andaluza. About the same time, I made Guinness-based whole grain mustard from a recipe I found on Mandy’s wonderful blog, The Complete Cookbook. I honestly cannot recall which came first, the Chica or the keg, but that Christmas my friends and family got a jar of each in their “baskets” — well, almost.

I’ve friends and family members who follow gluten and alcohol-free diets. A mustard made with Guinness just wouldn’t do and so began my experiments with making honey mustard. Today’s recipe is the latest incarnation and is easy to prepare. It’s easily modified if you’d prefer it more or less spicy (see Notes), or, if there’s a particular flavoring you’d wish to include. Before we get to the recipe, however, there are a few things you need to know.

Though there are over 3 dozen types of mustard seeds, yellow and black/brown seeds are most readily available in these parts. Of the 2, yellow mustard seeds have the more mild flavoring. Keep this in mind when you prepare mustard at home. The hotter the mustard, the more brown/black seeds you’ll need to add to the mix. No matter which type of mustard seed you use, though, all will become milder if exposed to heat. That’s why today’s recipe is not processed in a boiling water bath for canning purposes. Just remember to keep it cold if you want it hot. Be advised, too, that this recipe also relies on oil as an ingredient. Canning when oil is being used is, at best, a risky endeavor. Be sure to check with a far more authoritative source than this blog before attempting to preserve this recipe’s mustard.

Because this mustard is not processed, it must be kept refrigerated at all times. Be sure, also, to use jars, lids, and utensils that have been cleaned and, when possible, sterilized before use. The object is to reduce as much as possible the risk of contamination. Do so and your mustard will last for 6 months in your fridge. In fact, I just finished the last of a batch I made for Christmas last year.

Mustard seeds are surprisingly tough little devils. Soaking them before use softens their husks, making them easier to grind. A couple of years ago, in my rush to get the gift baskets made, I ruined my food processor and then broke a part on my blender when I tried to grind mustard seeds that weren’t fully soaked. A word to the wise …

Though I prefer my mustard to be on the grainy side, you can make your mustard as smooth as you like. Be sure to keep an eye on your blender or food processor, however, if you’re making super-smooth mustard. Some models may overheat (see above) and you should give it a rest if the machine’s body feels too warm to the touch.

Lastly, once prepared, stick your mustard in the fridge and forget about it for at least 2 weeks before using, though I wait a full month. This is to allow the flavors to blend and the mustard to mellow. Taste it beforehand and you’re sure to be surprised by its bitterness.

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Honey Mustard 2*     *     *

Honey Mustard Recipe

yield: approx 7¾ cups (1830 ml)

Ingredients

  • 200 g black mustard seeds
  • 250 g yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup tarragon vinegar — leaves, if any, removed (See Notes)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup honey
  • 6 cloves garlic – roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup grated ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 15 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  1. Place mustard seeds and vinegar into a large container, cover, and set aside at least 8 hours or overnight — the longer the better. If need be, add more vinegar or water by the quarter cupful, to make sure none of the seeds remain dry.
  2. Place the now-soaked seeds, along with all the remaining ingredients, into the bowl of a food processor or blender.
  3. Process/grind the ingredients until fully combined and the mustard is the consistency you prefer. Remember to check the machine’s housing for signs of over-heating.
  4. When ground to your liking, place the mustard in clean, sterilized jars and refrigerate at least 2 weeks before using.

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Honey Mustard 1*     *     *

Notes

This recipe will yield a relatively mild mustard. For a spicier condiment, go to a well-stocked Asian market and look for Chinese mustard seeds. These are a little bit darker and smaller than our “normal” yellow seeds but do they ever pack a punch and will definitely add some heat to your condiment.

If it’s too late to add more brown/black or Chinese mustard seeds, you can make your mustard spicier by adding red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper powder, or your preferred hot sauce.

Avoid using fresh herbs and/or fresh chilies when making this mustard. They could be a source for contamination and the mustard’s shelf-life could be affected.

If you cannot find tarragon vinegar, feel free to substitute whatever type of vinegar you prefer, flavored or not.

You can use this mustard to easily make a mustard dipping sauce. Just add a few tbsp of mustard to about twice as much mayo — more or less to taste — and stir well. Season with salt, add as much honey as you prefer, and, if you like your dipping sauce spicy, add a touch of cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Refrigerate until ready for use.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Baccalà PreviewThose who have followed this blog for some time know that many Italians follow the custom of serving seafood for their primary meal on Christmas Eve. To that end. I’ve shared a number of seafood recipes that family members have served for that special meal. Today’s look back features a recipe that was prepared every year “Upstairs”, in Zia’s home. Stewed in a rich tomato sauce, the aroma of salted cod, baccalà, being served was sure to draw me to their table like a moth to a flame. You can learn all about the preparation of baccalà simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Agnolotti del Plin Preview Agnolotti del Plin 

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Mom’s Osso Buco

Osso Buco della Mamma

Ossobuco 1

Finalmente! It was almost one year ago when I prepared osso buco for Zia and promised you that I would soon post the recipe. Well, that was the plan.

As I mentioned last week, Mom didn’t leave us a cookbook but we do have a couple of notebooks in which her recipes can be found, in varying states of completion. The osso buco I prepared for Zia was based on a recipe that I found which was little more than a few notes. We enjoyed the dinner and, when I got home, I set about writing the recipe. That’s when I found it, Mom’s full recipe. She had written notes in one book and the full recipe in another. I had taken one version with me to Michigan and referred to the other when I began writing the recipe. The post was put on hold until I could prepare Mom’s actual recipe. The Visitation would prove the perfect opportunity to both prepare Mom’s recipe and celebrate Zia’s return to Chicago.

I’m fully aware that some may object to eating veal, for a variety of reasons. I myself cringe when, while traveling through Michigan, I see the tiny enclosures used to raise calves for veal. Today there are alternatives. A quick check with Google will provide you with the names of local farms that raise veal humanely and the stores that carry their product. Be forewarned, however, that your peace of mind won’t come cheaply. A much less expensive alternative is to substitute beef shanks for the veal. In fact, that’s what I did when I tested both versions of Mom’s recipe, and, what I do when I’ve a taste for osso buco but don’t wish to take out a loan to satisfy it.

There are few differences between Mom’s original recipe and what I’ve prepared here, and those involve my use of a slow cooker. Braising shanks in an oven requires more liquid than doing so in a slow cooker. The recipe reflects this. Additionally, as you’ll soon see, Mom cooked 4 shanks at a time. I only cooked 2, though I kept most ingredient amounts the same. This meant that I had quite a bit of extra sauce left over. See below to learn how we used that sauce.

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Ossobuco 1

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Osso Buco Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 veal shanks (See Notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (See Notes)
  •  1/2 cup veal stock – chicken may be substituted
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 794 g) whole tomatoes, torn/crushed by hand

for the Gremolata

  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped — anchovy paste may be substituted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  1. Season the shanks with salt & pepper on both sides. Begin to heat some oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Place about 1/3 cup of flour into a plastic bag, followed by 2 of the shanks. Carefully shake to coat the shanks with flour. Place the shanks in the now hot oil and repeat with the remaining 2 flanks.
  3. Cook the shanks until both sides are well-browned, – about 7 or 8 minutes total. Remove and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Stir until combined.
  5. Use the white wine to deglaze the frying pan and pour the liquid into the slow cooker when finished.
  6. Add the shanks to the slow cooker. Be sure to include any of the juices that may have collected on the plate.
  7. Add enough stock so that the sauce comes halfway up the sides of the shanks.
  8. Set the slow cooker to  “LOW” and cook for 8 hours. To speed up the cooking time, for every hour cooked on “HIGH” reduce the cooking time by 2 hours.
  9. About every hour, baste the top of the shanks to keep them moist. (See Notes)
  10. Make the gremolata towards the end of the cooking process:
    • In a small bowl, combine the anchovies, garlic, parsley, and zest. Stir until fully combined.
  11. Carefully remove the shanks and serve immediately with sauce and garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata.

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Ossobuco 3

Osso buco served with polenta and broccolini 

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Notes

I’ve slightly adjusted Mom’s recipe to reflect braising these shanks in a slow cooker and not the oven. If using the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 350˚ F  (175˚ C).
  • Increase the amount of liquids use 2/3 cups dry white wine and 3/4 cups stock.
  • Cook for 1½ to 2 hours.  Meat should be fork tender and just about falling off the bone. Let it go too long and it will fall of the bone, ruining your presentation.

Although you can get shanks as thin as an inch, 2 inch thick shanks were used here. Cooking times may vary if you use shanks that vary in thickness.

Ask your butcher to tie the shanks to prevent them from falling apart during the braise. Be sure to remove the string before serving.

Attempting to turn the shanks over while braising is very problematic. They may, in fact, fall apart during the process. Best to leave them as-is and baste them periodically throughout the braise. If braising in the oven, baste the shanks every 30 minutes or so, If using a slow-cooker, baste every hour or so. Remember, the fewer times you uncover a slow cooker, the better.

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It’s that time again

Winter is fast approaching and I’m going to sneak in one last visit with Zia before it gets here. The Kitchens will be closed while I’m gone.

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About that extra sauce

Tagliatelle in Sauce

After our dinner, the leftover sauce was split in half. Zia’s portion went into the freezer and went home with her. My portion was later used to dress the homemade tagliatelle pictured above.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stovetop Root Vegetables

Last weekend saw this area’s farmers markets close for the year, reflecting the fact that very little, if anything, will be grown here for the next 6 months. This doesn’t mean, however, that all locally grown produce has disappeared and no longer available. Because of their relatively long shelf-life, our markets will still carry apples, squash and a variety of root vegetables for weeks, even months, to come. Today’s look back features a stove top method for braising root vegetables, a recipe that will make an attractive side dish for any of the feasts you may prepare this holiday season. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Honey Mustard Preview

  Honey Mustard

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Pistachio Gelato

Gelato di Pistacchio

Pistachio Gelato 3Those of you that have followed this blog for a while will know that August means 2 things around here. First, it’s a birthday month for quite a few Bartolini (Mom would have been 90 on the 15th), as well as for many of the tasters and friends of the Kitchens.  Second, I normally schedule a visit with Zia sometime during the month but more about that later.

Mom really enjoyed ice cream and so, every August, I post at least one recipe in her honor and that of the rest of the August babies. Now, with so many memories of strolling about Florence, gelato in-hand, still-fresh in my mind, I decided that this month’s frozen treat would be a gelato, and, since Mom loved pistachio ice cream, deciding to make pistachio gelato was a no-brainer. Once I’d settled on the flavor, I knew exactly where to go for the recipe.

Last year, while in the middle of my moratorium on buying cookbooks, a blogging friend posted an ice cream recipe and referred me to a great book, Linda Tubby’s “Ices Italia.” I love this book but there is a problem. Although I remembered the book through the remainder of the moratorium, I’d completely forgotten the person who recommended it to me. Please identify yourself so that I might credit — and thank you — for leading me to the book and today’s recipe. The book is fantastic and the recipe a keeper, as you’ll soon see.

ETA: Since this recipe was posted, my friend and long-time supporter of this blog, Elaine, Le Petit Potager, has reminded me that it was she who introduced me to “Ices Italai”. We pistachio gelato lovers all thank you.

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As for my visit with Zia, I had intended to leave in the next day or two but my car had other plans. I will not bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my departure has been postponed until some time next week. The kitchens will be closed for the duration, reopening on Wednesday, August 27th.

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Pistachio Nuts

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Pistachio Gelato Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 heaping cup (160 g) pistachios, unsalted, roasted, skins removed  (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar (see Notes)
  • 1.5 cups (350 ml) whole, full-fat milk
  • 1.25 cups (300 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • additional pistachios, crushed, for garnish — optional

Directions

  1. Place shelled, roasted pistachios into a large food processor and grind until sand-like.
  2. Add sugar and continue to grind until very fine.
  3. Place milk and heavy cream into a medium saucepan and heat slowly until just before boiling. Small bubbles will appear where the dairy meets the pan’s side.
  4. Add some of the hot milk to the ground nuts and process until smooth.
  5. Continue to gradually add hot milk to the bowl, processing after each addition, until no more milk remains (see Notes).
  6. Add vanilla and salt, process to combine, and then add mixture to a large bowl
  7. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.
  8. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparing ice cream.
  9. Place gelato in a freezer-proof container and store in the freezer. Ms. Tubby recommends waiting for 3 hours before serving.
  10. Garnish servings with optional crushed pistachios.

Recipe may be found in Linda Tubby’s excellent book “Ices Italia“.

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Pistachio Gelato 1*     *     *

Notes

According to Ms. Tubby, unlike ice cream, gelato isn’t meant to be served when frozen solid. Once frozen, place the opened container in your fridge for about 30 minutes before serving. This will result in a gelato just like those served in your favorite gelateria.

I was unable to find raw pistachio nuts and had to resort to using those that were already roasted. I found that a 12 oz (340 g) bag provided me with a little more than I needed for the recipe, once I shelled them and rubbed off the skins. I used the excess for garnish.

For this recipe, you want to use a finer sugar so that your gelato isn’t grainy, as may be the case if regular, white sugar is used. Castor sugar is that finer sugar but there’s no need to buy it if you haven’t any. Just place white sugar in your food processor and grind it until it is fine, like castor.

This recipe will produce a very smooth gelato. If you prefer a little more texture, just process the nut and sugar mixture for less time (Step 1) and/or add all the heated dairy to the processor bowl at once and process only until the mixture is combined.

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Variations

Raspberries*     *     *

Raspberries PureedI’ve a friend was recently released from hospital and faces some mighty tough dietary restrictions, while being told that he shouldn’t lose any more weight. Now, in the past, I would have delivered a tray of lasagna and a loaf of garlic bread to my friend, and that would have gone a long way towards at least maintaining his weight. Well, as incredible as it may sound, lasagna and garlic bread are not permitted on his diet. (I told you the restrictions were “mighty tough”.) He can eat ice cream, however, and that’s all I needed to know.

His favorite gelato flavor is raspberry, lampone, so, I took 12 oz (340 g) of raspberries, blitzed them in a food processor until broken down, and then strained the purée through a sieve to remove the seeds. For the dairy portion of the recipe, I reduced the quantity of whole milk to 3/4 cup (175 ml) and increased the amount of heavy cream to 2 cups Raspberry Gelato(475 ml). (There shall be no weight loss on my watch!) With no nuts to grind, I just added the heated dairy mixture to the sugar in the food processor, blitzed it long enough to melt the sugar, and then added the sieved raspberry purée, processing until blended. The mixture was chilled for 4 hours before my ice cream machine took over.

All who have taste it agree: this is one very good gelato.

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Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Like cities and towns throughout Europe, Florence’s cityscape is peppered with public squares, piazze. Some are so small as to be little more than some free space at the intersection of 2 minor streets. Others, Like the Piazza dell Republicca, are relatively vast spaces, lined on all 4 sides with cafes and trattorie. As a tourist, though the prices are high, there’s no better place to people watch than at one of these “ringside” establishments. Of all the piazze in Florence, however, the Piazza della Signoria is the grand dame of them all.

The city’s heart since Roman times, the Piazza serves as Florence’s civic center and political hub. When Zia and I visited Florence 12 years ago, there was a transit strike on the day of our departure from Florence. The Piazza was jammed with people carrying banners, placards, and bull horns. I thought we’d never get through the throng. This visit, things were quite a bit different, though there were more tourists about than I’ve ever seen in Florence. It seemed whenever I stopped to take a photo, suddenly an umbrella, pennant, or hat would appear in front of my lens, as a tour guide gathered his/her charges to explain one of the Piazza’s many features — and there are many features.

When you enter the Piazza, you cannot help but notice the massive structure and tower near a corner. This is the Palazzo della Signoria but is known as the Palazzo Vecchio, Old Palace. As if it’s not impressive enough in its own right, the entrance is flanked with 2 larger-than-life statues. This is the site where Michelangelo’s “David” originally stood and where a replica now stands guard. Joining him is a statue of Hercules. Moving around the Piazza, you’ll see a bronze statue of “Cosmo I” de Medici atop his steed. To Cosmo’s side, you’ll find the bronze and marble fountain of Neptune. (Sorry, I couldn’t get close enough to get a photo worth publishing.)

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To my eye, the most praiseworthy section of the Piazza is the Loggia dei Lanzi, so beautifully designed and constructed that Michelangelo urged the city to repeat the facade on all the Piazza’s buildings. (Be sure to take the link to see the entire structure.) It is home to some stunning pieces of sculpture, though be prepared for some obstructed viewing – and not just because of the crowds. In all the times I’ve been to the Loggia, I’ve yet to enjoy a completely scaffolding-free view. Even so, the Loggia dei Lanza is one site that you must see if you find yourself in Florence. Here is some of the statuary on display there. To begin, there are the Medici Lions on either side of the steps leading into the Loggia – now a restricted area, by the way.

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That concludes our tour of Florence. When I return, we’ll do a little touring in Rome

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

La BombaSince I shared a gelato recipe today, I thought it best to send you back to the Granddaddy of all of my ice cream recipes, the Spumoni Bomba. Yes, it’s spumoni but so much more. You can see step-by-step instructions for making this show stopping dessert simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming not too soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Duck PreviewRoast Duck

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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)

*     *     *

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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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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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

*     *     *

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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Gettin’ Cheeky with Beef – And in a Slow Cooker, No Less

Guance di Manzo Brasato

Let me say from the onset that this is not a Bartolini family recipe. In fact, I can say with some certainty — feel free to back me up, Zia — that beef cheeks never graced a Bartolini dinner table. This all changed the last weekend of last October. That was the weekend the vendor with certified organic meats returned to the farmers market.

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Beef Cheeks 1*     *     *

You may recall that I had been waiting for him to return because he sold goat and, even though I’d found some at a nearby market, I prefer to buy organic when its available. As it is, I buy chickens from him all Summer long. It had been weeks since he last set up his stall and I was, frankly, surprised to see him. The following weekend was to be the market’s last for the year and I thought him gone until 2014.

His stall, for lack of a better word, is a set of folding tables arranged in a “U” shape. On them he’s places about 6 ice chests in which he keeps the week’s frozen inventory. That week there wasn’t any goat meat but I was surprised to find a package labeled “beef cheeks.” I bought it, along with a chicken, and placed both in the freezer when I returned home.

Well, as this Winter unfolded, I exhausted my repertoire of comfort foods. Last week’s tuna noodle casserole was proof that I’d run out of options. It was about that time that I remembered that there were beef cheeks in the freezer, though they had somehow managed to work their way to a back corner. Another Sunday braise was suddenly in the offing.

Although still below freezing, that Sunday turned out to be the warmest day of the month to date. Since there was no real need to heat the kitchen, I switched gears a bit and opted for using the slow cooker rather than the Dutch oven. Best of all, with a fridge well-stocked with braising vegetables, there would be no last-minute trip to the grocery that morning — until I realized that I’d need side dishes. Curses!

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This braise is like most, with one minor exception. I started by making a form of battuto, an Italian soffrito. In our part of Italy, a battuto consists of finely diced onion, parsley, garlic, and salt pork. Battuto is the first thing into the pan, after the olive oil is heated, and will flavor the dish as its aroma fills your kitchen. Here, I made my battuto with guanciale, parsley, and garlic. (Yes, this recipe mixes the cheeks of both pork and beef. Shocking!) The onions were added with the other braising vegetables, once the battuto was cooked. The rest of the recipe is easy enough to follow and you should have no problems.

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Beef Cheeks Braising*     *     *

Braised Beef Cheeks Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 beef cheeks, approximately 1.2 lbs (540 g)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz guanciale, chopped – pancetta or bacon may be substituted
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 c parsley, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, leaves included, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 c red wine
  • 3/4 c Madeira
  • 1.5 c beef stock
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon zest

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Battuto*     *     *

Directions

  1. Combine chopped guanciale, parsley, and garlic on your cutting board and chop them together until uniform. This is the battuto.
  2. Warm oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat. Add the battuto and sauté until the guanciale’s fat is rendered, about 5 – 7 minutes. Do not allow to burn.
  3. Add onion, carrots, and celery to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent.
  4. Add the rosemary and thyme to the pan. Continue sautéing until both begin to wilt.
  5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pan’s contents and place all into the slow cooker. Do not drain the oil.
  6. Season beef cheeks with salt and pepper before placing into the hot pan. Turn when brown, about 5 minutes. Remove when both sides have been browned. Place into the slow cooker atop the other ingredients.
  7. Add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  8. Use wine to deglaze the pan.
  9. Add the Madeira and beef stock and bring to a boil to burn off the alcohol.
  10. Add the liquid to the slow cooker. (See Notes)
  11. Cook on high for one hour before reducing to low for another 6 hours. Turn over the meat occasionally, about once every 90 minutes, or so. (See Notes)
  12. Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
  13. Just before serving, garnish with a bit of lemon zest.

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Beef Cheeks 2*     *     *

Sides

As pictured, there were 2 sides served, neither of which is complicated nor difficult to prepare.

  • Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips with Roasted Garlic:Parsnip-Potato Mash
      Prepare mashed potatoes as you would normally, substituting 1/3 of the potatoes with peeled, chopped parsnips. Once boiled and drained, mash before adding warmed heavy cream into which butter and roasted garlic cloves have been added. Serve.
  • Sautéed Broccoli Rab (Rapini) with Pancetta and Garlic:Rapini with Pancetta
      Sauté chopped pancetta in a bit of olive oil to render its fat and until it’s not quite fully cooked. Add garlic and, after about a minute, add the broccoli rab, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until cooked to your satisfaction. Serve.

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Notes

The braising liquid should not be so deep that the meat is totally submerged like you would do for a stew or soup. When using a slow cooker. the liquid should come about half-way up the side of the beef cheeks. When using a Dutch oven, I use enough liquid so that it comes up 2/3 of the side of the protein to allow for evaporation. Use more or less liquid to arrive at the recommended level. Just maintain the same ratio of the braising liquid’s ingredients: 2 parts beef stock to 1 part each of Madeira and red wine.

A slow cooker works by applying a low, even temperature over a long period of time. Do not uncover the cooker unless necessary or you’ll run the risk of extending the cooking time.

Parsnips are a bit more firm than potatoes. When preparing them, chop the parsnips in pieces that are slightly smaller than the potatoes to insure that all will finish cooking at the same time.

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

  • serve the sauce as-is;
  • reduce it and serve; or,
  • use a thickening agent — flour, corn starch, or arrowroot — to make gravy.

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

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When blogs collide

On the very day that I was cooking my beef cheeks, Phil, of “Food, Frankly“, posted his recipes for preparing an ox cheeks dinner. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to check out the delicious meal that he prepared.

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And finally

In the Comments for last week’s post, my Cousin mentioned that there’s a recall of beef that was processed by a California company and sold across the US. Though the beef I purchased was locally grown and processed, that is hardly the case everywhere. You can read about the recall and the reasons behind it in this USDA News Release, dated February 18th, 2014.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tricolor Risotto 4It won’t be long now before we are once again celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day. Today’s look back will show you how to prepare a risotto of 3 colors, each of which, not so coincidentally, corresponds to one of the colors of the Italian flag. You needn’t be Italian to make this expression of Italian pride and you can learn how to do it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Chocolate Torte Preview 2 Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte

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