Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

Strawberry Pie 1

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

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

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

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

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

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Strawberrhy Banana Pie

Dessert at Zia’s

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Strawberry-Banana Pie Recipe

Ingredients

for the pie

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

for the vanilla pudding

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

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Directions

to prepare the vanilla pudding

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

to prepare the pie crust

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

to prepare the gelatin

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

to assemble the pie

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

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Strawberry Banana Pie 6

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Notes

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

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

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Blueberry-Lemon Slice copy

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Zucchini Pesto Pasta Preview

Zucchini “Noodles” with Walnut Pesto

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Stovetop Braised Rabbit

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

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

Rabbit Sous Chef

Flat Ruthie comes out of retirement

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

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

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

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

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Rabbit Braise Start*     *     *

Stovetop Braised Rabbit Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Rabbit Braising

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Notes

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Cacciatore with Polenta

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Strawberry Pie Preview

Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

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Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid

Sepia e Calamari in Umido

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

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Sepia e Calamari in Umido

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

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

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

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Cuttlefish & Squid

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Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

To Serve

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

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

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Notes

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

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

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

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Leftovers?

Squid and Sepia Leftovers

Was there any doubt?

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Frutti di Mare, Deja vu

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Braised Rabbit PreviewStovetop Braised Rabbit

(You may want to skip this one, Eva.)

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New York Style Cheesecake

Zia gets her book

No caption needed

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

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NYC Cheesecake 4

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

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

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

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NYC Cheesecake 2

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New York Style Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Fresh Raspberries

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Raspberry Coulis Recipe

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

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

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NYC Cheesecake Whole

What crack?

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Notes

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pappa al Pomodoro

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Salsa Preview

Ground Cherry Salsa

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By any other name …

Double Delight

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

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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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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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Crostata

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”)

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About 3 years ago, I shared a recipe for the Apple Thingamajig, the name resulting from the inability of Zia and myself to remember the dessert’s correct name. In the Comments, some suggested calling it a “galette”, still others called it a “crostata.”, and I’ve even heard it called an “open-faced” or “rustic” pie. We would never have called it a crostata, however, for reasons I had intended to reveal shortly thereafter. You see, I had planned to share today’s recipe that Christmas (2011). Having missed that opportunity, crostata was to be featured the following December (2012), and, having failed that, last December (2013) would most certainly see a crostata recipe published.  And, so, here it is 2014 and the crostata recipe is finally making it to the big time. Even so, and to get back to my original point, say “crostata” to my family and we think of a jam-covered tart very much like the ones pictured throughout today’s post.

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Mom's Crostata 1

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So why share the recipe now? Well, recently a good friend of the Bartolini Kitchens, Stefan of Stefan’s Gourmet Blog, shared his crostata recipe. (If you’ve not visited Stefan’s site, this is your chance. His is a fantastic blog filled with many wonderful recipes and you’ll find his Italian dishes as well-researched as they are delicious.) Seeing his crostata recipe lit a fire under me and I decided this would be the year to finally share the recipe for the benefit of the rest of the Clan. This time, though, I’d publish it ASAP, so, that there would be little chance of it being forgotten again in the rush towards Christmas.

We could always count on Mom preparing several treats for the Christmas holiday. Though she started making chocolate candies in her retirement, she always made sure that there were plenty of biscotti and a crostata for Christmas Day. For me, it wouldn’t have been Christmas without either being present, no matter what else she had prepared — the platter of ravioli notwithstanding.

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Crostata 1

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Not having any tart pans, Mom prepared her crostata on a small baking sheet. (In professional kitchens, it would be called a “quarter baking sheet”.) She would use 2 types of jam, with half of her crostata being coated with either strawberry or, very rarely, cherry, and, the other half peach. Mom didn’t start making jam and preserves until her retirement, so, she used store-bought jams for her crostata. She served it in little pieces, like those I’ve shown, presumably because the last thing we kids needed was more sugar on Christmas Day. Using a three-tiered serving dish, she was able to control how much we kids ate. When it was empty, there’d be no re-filling it for hours. Of course, when company was expected, the contents of that serving dish were strictly off-limits. Don’t worry. We still had our fill — just not from that tray.

With regards to this post, I didn’t feel right calling it “Mom’s Crostata”, for it really isn’t. Mom didn’t leave us a true cookbook. Yes, she gave us kids our own cookbooks but none were a complete listing of all of her recipes. I do have a couple of her notebooks but the recipes listed are in varying stages of completion. Some are fully written, while others are nothing more than a few notes. Today’s recipe falls into the latter category, though I remember watching her spread the jam over the pastry crust, my mouth-watering the entire time. The only real question that remained was what recipe to use for the shortbread crust — and Mom’s notes did specify a “shortbread crust”. The answer came from a surprising source.

Good Cooking CookbookDuring my last visit with Zia, she mentioned that she possessed a “Five Roses Flour” cookbook from 1938 that once belonged to her Mother-in-Law — the woman I’ve referred to as “Nonna” in earlier posts. While paging through it, I came across a shortbread recipe. Now, this is no ordinary shortbread. The recipe’s name is listed as “Prize Shortbread” and it’s noted that the recipe “has won many prizes at Fall Fairs and Exhibitions.” There was certainly no need to look any further for a shortbread recipe. Here, I’ve shared the recipe as it was originally written, although when I prepared the shortbread, I used my food processor and the resulting crust was quite good. (See below for a possible use for extra shortbread dough.)

Unlike Mom, I used my own jams for today’s crostate. In the first photo, strawberry jam with balsamic and black pepper, and, peach jam with white balsamic were used. The addition of balsamic vinegar is why both jams appear unusually dark in the photos. The 2nd crostata was made with tart cherry jam, to which a little bit of almond extract was added. Feel free to use whatever jam(s) you prefer.

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Crostata Recipe

Ingredients

for the pastry

  • 2 cups all-purpose (AP) flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • an egg yolk and water wash

for the filling

  • jam/preserves, amount depending upon the crostata’s size and whether 2 flavors are to be used.

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  2. In a mixing bowl, use a spoon to mix the sugar, butter, salt, and egg yolk. Slowly add the flour and continue to mix until the spoon can no longer be used.
  3. Turn on to a lightly floured board and begin kneading, adding more flour until the dough begins to crack.
  4. Reserve a small portion of dough to be used for the lattice.
  5. Roll the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper until about 1/8 inch thick and slightly larger than the tart pan or baking sheet.
  6. Carefully remove one sheet of wax paper and place the dough on to the tart pan, dough-side down. Remove the remaining sheet of wax paper. Gently press the dough to fit the contours of the pan. Trim the excess dough and add to the reserve.
  7. Use an offset spatula to spread the jam, evenly covering the pastry dough.
  8. Roll out the reserved pastry dough as you did for the crust. Cut the dough into strips.
  9. Starting at one end, diagonally place the strips across the tart. Once completed, work from the other side placing strips diagonally in the opposite direction, creating a lattice in the process.
  10. Use the egg wash to lightly coat the lattice and any of the exposed crust.
  11. Bake in the lower third of a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until crust and lattice are lightly browned.
  12. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve at room temperature.

Shortbread pastry dough recipe found in “A Guide to Good Cooking” by the Five Rose Flour Co. (1938)

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Cherry Crostata 5

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Notes

The first time I prepared this crostata, I “blind baked” the tart shell for 8 minutes before filling it. This was a mistake, as you can see when looking at the first photo. The lattice is considerably lighter in color than the crust. After that attempt, I’ve no longer blind baked the crust and the finished tart’s shortbread appears more evenly baked.

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So, you’ve made a crostata and still have a little extra dough to burn …

I just couldn’t bring myself to discard the excess shortbread dough, nor was there enough to make another crostata. I was going to make a few shortbread cookies, a personal Shortbread Sandwichesfavorite, when I had an epiphany. Using a very small ice cream scoop, make equally sized balls of dough, placing them on a small baking sheet. Once the sheet was covered with evenly spaced dough balls, use the bottom of a glass to press each ball into a flat cookie. Bake in a pre-heated 350˚ F (175˚ C) oven until the edges just start to turn brown, about 15 minutes. Once cooled, use 2 cookies with a bit of Nutella in-between to make a single sandwich cookie. (You could just as easily use jam for the filling.) Like the crostate, these cookies were well-received by the taste testers that live above me. So well-received, in fact, that now I’m considering making a Nutella crostata.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

lumache-con-farfalle-1

This past Saturday is known as All Soul’s Day and in Marche, the Bartolini ancestral home, snails, lumache, are traditionally served.  I won’t say much more, for fear of stealing the post’s thunder, other than to mention that you can learn all about preparing this delicacy by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Osso Buco Preview

Osso Buco

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Goat PreviewBartolini Roast Goat

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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Roast Duck 5

Let the roasting begin!

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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.

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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.

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Terrace View

“I just adore a terrace view … “

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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.

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(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

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

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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.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Cherry_Choc_Oats_Cookie“C” is for Cookie

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A Tale of Two Pizzas

Un Racconto di Due Pizze

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

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

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

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

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Prosciutto Pizza 1*     *     *

Prosciutto Pizza Recipe

Ingredients

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

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Directions

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

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Pizza Crust 1*     *     *

Pizza Dough Recipe

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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Spinach~Prosciutto Naan Pizza

Prosciutto Pizza Topped 1*     *     *

Ingredients

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

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Directions

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

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Variations

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

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Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Homemade GarganelliHomemade Garganelli Pasta

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