The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 1: Zucchini “Noodles” with Walnut Pesto

Like many, several weeks before the holidays each year I make a list and budget for the gifts I intend to buy for family and friends. (Sorry, but there’s something seriously wrong with people who proudly declare that their shopping is done on September 1st.) At the very top of my list is the same name each and every year. That name is mine. Most years, I buy myself a gift before buying anyone anything. You want to get into the Christmas spirit? Buy yourself a gift first thing. Works like a charm.

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Zucchini Pesto Pasta 6

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This year I really didn’t know what to buy myself. I had just survived a rather expensive period and didn’t want to splurge on anything major. I had seen a spiralizer attachment for my stand mixer but it seemed a little expensive and I wondered if I’d really use it. The internal debate ended when the piece of equipment was on sale for 25% off with free shipping. It wasn’t long thereafter that it arrived and, well, it was love at first sight. We’ve   been happily at work together ever since.

Before getting into today’s dish, understand that hand-cranked spiralizers are available and can easily be found on the internet. I’ve no experience with any of them but I do enjoy using my stand mixer’s attachment. In less than 10 minutes I have a large bowl of vegetable noodles and the removable parts can safely be washed in the dishwasher. All of its parts fit into a form-fitting box that can be easily stored on a shelf or in a cupboard. In short, I like it far more than I thought I would.

Though I’ve tried several recipes, we’ll start with the simplest of dishes, Zucchini Noodles  with Pesto.

To begin, make your pesto. If you haven’t a recipe, you can check out my recipe for Pesto Genovese. In today’s recipe, not wishing to pay the exorbitant prices for imported Italian pine nuts, I used an equal amount of roasted walnuts instead. I saved a few more for garnish, as well. I also use less oil than most recommend and that will affect things later in the recipe.

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Zucchini Pasta Combo

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With the pesto made, now turn your attention to the zucchini. I’ve found that it’s best to buy squash that are as straight as possible and medium-sized. The instructions for my spiralizer recommend using pieces of vegetable that are about 4 inches (10 cm) in length, although I’ve used lengths a little more than that. There’s no need to peel the squash so you should pick vegetables with relatively unblemished skins. I’ve used both yellow squash and green zucchini but, to tell you the truth, it’s not easy to tell which is which in the finished dish, especially when dressed with pesto.

All that’s left to do now is to assemble your dish. First, take a handful of halved cherry/grape tomatoes and toss them into the bowl of noodles. Since my pesto is thicker than most, I sprinkle a little olive oil – about 1 tablespoon – over the bowl’s contents and gently toss until evenly coated. Now all that’s needed is the pesto. Add as much as you would to any pasta dish but, initially, it’s better to add less pesto than you think necessary. More can always be added but there’s nothing to be done once too much pesto has been added to a dish.

Prior to bringing the bowl to the table, garnish with the reserved toasted walnuts and some grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted, as can grated vegan cheese, depending upon what was used to prepare the pesto).

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Zucchini Pesto Pasta 3

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This dish could not be easier to prepare and if you’ve pesto on-hand, it can be prepared and served from the same bowl. As one who lives alone, I cannot tell you how very appealing that latter statement is. From kitchen to sofa in 15 minutes, with a clean kitchen in 5 minutes more. Hard to beat that!

Cooking some spiralizer noodles can result in quite a bit of excess water in the pan. I avoided the problem here by using raw zucchini noodles. In some instances, baking the noodles will help to rid the noodles of the excess water, as will sautéing so long as the pan remains uncovered. To be sure, this issue will resurface in future recipes.

Oh! One last thing to consider. 1 ounce (28 g) of raw zucchini with the skin has about 5 calories and 1 gram of carbs. Compare that to 1 oz of dry spaghetti which has about 126 calories and 24.5 grams of carbs. And that, my friends, is about as close to a negative comment about pasta that you’ll ever get from me — unless it’s over-cooked.

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We’ve only just begun …

In the weeks and months ahead, be sure to come back to see how this love affair continues. Beets, squash, (sweet) potatoes, zucchini, and apples are but a few of the ingredients to be transformed into salads, “noodles”, and casseroles.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zucchini Penne

Admittedly, vegetarian main courses aren’t everyday occurrences on this blog. Since one such recipe was shared today, why not send you back for another, Jamie Oliver’s Zucchini and Penne? Unlike today’s gluten-free noodles, however, Jamie’s dish combines real penne and a close facsimile, smartly cut zucchini. It’s another great dish and one that you can find simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Spaghetti alla Gricia Preview

Spaghetti alla Gricia

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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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Grilled Clams

I do enjoy going to the fishmonger. I may go in with something in mind but I always leave with something else entirely. One of my last visits is a case in point.

This particular Tuesday I went shopping for chicken. My fishmonger is the only place in town that I know of where you can buy fresh, never frozen, organic chicken. I left with a chicken — and a little more than a pound of “Vancouver blue clams”. I just couldn’t resist them.

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Preview Clams

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These clams were small — about the size of manila clams — and there were 36 of the beauties in my purchase. Best of all, they’re mighty tasty. In fact, I’m already thinking of going back for more.

Once home, I decided to try something different. Believe me. Deciding not to cook them with linguine was one of the toughest culinary decisions I’ve made in a very long time. Even so, having watched a number of chefs grill clams, I thought I’d give it a try myself. The chefs placed the clams directly upon the grill grates, let them open, and then carefully removed them to a serving platter. That wouldn’t work for me.

Being so small, I envisioned watching them open and spilling their delicious juices on to the flames. They’re simply not large enough to comfortably ride the grates. Worse, any liquids to have survived the opening would surely be dumped as I clumsily tried to move the clams to a platter. A cast iron skillet was the answer. First, though, the clams had to be cleaned.

Using my food brush, the clams’ shells were scrubbed clean. After that, they were placed in a bowl of cold, fresh water and left to soak for almost an hour. Midway through, the water was dumped and the bowl refilled. That gave the clams plenty of time to expel any sand. Clams that refused to close were discarded.

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Blue Clams 1

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The grill was lit and the flames set to high. Meanwhile, a lemon-butter sauce was prepared using 4 tbsp butter, the juice of 1/2 lemon, and 1 clove of garlic, smashed. The butter and garlic were gently heated in a small saucepan. When the butter just started to simmer, the lemon juice was added and the heat was shut off. The garlic was allowed to steep in the lemon-butter for a few minutes.

Next, a 10 inch cast iron skillet was placed on the grill directly over the flames. While it heated, some fresh parsley was chopped and a chunk of ciabatta bread was sliced in half. The cut side of both pieces was lightly coated with olive oil and the bread was set aside.

The clams were drained and returned to the bowl, along with a couple of ounces of both white wine and water. By now, the pan was screaming hot. The clams with the wine mixture were poured into the pan and the bread was placed on the grill to toast a bit. The grill lid was then closed.

Back in the kitchen, the garlic was removed from the lemon-butter sauce and the pan was returned to a low heat.

It took barely 2 minutes for the bread to toast, I removed both pieces and the clams were already opening. Within 5 minutes, all the clams were open and were quickly removed to a serving bowl. The pan liquids were added, as well. (Note: be sure to discard any clams that remain unopened after cooking.)

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Grilled Clams 1

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To serve, the bottom piece of bread was placed in a bowl and topped with some clams and a bit of the pan juices. The lemon-butter sauce was poured over the dish and fresh parsley was used to garnish. The top side of the toasted ciabatta bread was served on the side.

Yeah. I’m going back for more clams, but it’s anyone’s guess what else I’ll bring home.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

LingClams_Lrg300

Nothing but a Pasta with Clams recipe would be appropriate here. It is one of my favorite dishes and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy. You can see how the dish is prepared simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sepia e Calamari in Umido Preview

Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid

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A Quick Pickle

Pickle 1

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Several weeks ago, while walking around the farmers market, a bin of pickling cucumbers caught my eye. I bought some and on the way back to my car bought the rest of this recipe’s ingredients — well, almost. The three cherry bomb peppers came from my garden. They turned out to be the only cherry peppers that I’d harvest until well into autumn. My tomato plants, taking full advantage of their new flower bed and soil, grew to monstrous proportions, overcrowding everything else in the process.

I have served this pickle atop every kind of sandwich imaginable, not to mention burgers, dogs, and wursts, too. I’ve also served it alongside a variety of grilled meats. For my tastes, a little something acidic on the plate is often a welcome accompaniment.

If you prepare this recipe, the ingredients aren’t nearly as important as the pickling liquid. You can change the spices to suit your own tastes but If you’re going to make a smaller batch, just keep the amounts of vinegar, sugar, and water proportional to what I’ve listed. It couldn’t be easier and, since this isn’t being canned, you needn’t worry about whether the solution is acidic enough. So long as you use sterile jars & lids and clean utensils, it should last several weeks in your fridge.

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pickle with BLTC

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A Fresh Pickle Recipe

Ingredients

Pickling liquid

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup pickling salt – If substituting kosher salt, add an additional tbsp
  • ½ tbsp coriander seed
  • ½ tbsp yellow mustard seed
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp celery seed

Vegetables

  • pickling cucumbers – about 3 lbs
  • 1 small red onion
  • 4 hot green peppers
  • 4 sweet Melrose peppers
  • 3 cherry bomb peppers
  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • garlic

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Pickle Ingredients

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Directions

  1. Place all of the pickling ingredients into a sauce pan and heat over a medium heat.
  2. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes after the salt and sugar have dissolved.
  3. Set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, slice the remaining ingredients.
  5. Once cooled, combine the pickling liquid with the sliced vegetables, stir, fill jars, and cover.
  6. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving.
  7. Will keep in your fridge for several weeks, at least. Just be sure to use fresh, clean utensils when serving.

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Notes

For my tastes, this recipe is a little heavy on the cucumber. Next time I’ll cut the amount of cucumber and increase the other ingredients, especially the radishes. I’ll probably cut the turmeric, as well. As the pickle sat in the fridge, the turmeric gave everything the same hue, eliminating any color variation among all the ingredients save the cherry bomb peppers. The first photo was taken a few hours after I made the pickle. The second was taken one week later.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Mt. Burger

I know, I know, Every year I bring you back to this recipe for giardiniera — and with good reason. Next to the blueberry cheesecake ice cream recipe, this condiment is the most requested and savored by my taste testers. It really is that good. Best of all, it can made anytime because its ingredients are readily available year-round. You can learn all about it by clicking here HERE.  

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Ground Cherry Jam Preview

Ground Cherry Jam

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Ground Cherry Salsa

If you’re fortunate enough to have a rather large farmers market nearby, you’re likely to come across some relatively rare fruits and vegetables not found in your corner grocery. For me, ground cherries would fall into that category. Also called husk tomatoes, these little fruit will remind you of small sungold cherry tomatoes, except that they wear a thin paper husk, much like their distant cousins, tomatillos. It is their flavor, however, that sets them apart. Oddly enough, they taste like a combination of pineapple and tomato. It is an even mix with neither flavor so strong as to be dominant.

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Ground Cherries 1

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I had seen these beauties for years at my farmers market and even asked the vendors about them. Why it took me so long to purchase them is anyone’s guess. I’m just glad that I finally did.

Once husked and rinsed, they can be used to make a salsa, like today’s recipe, or cooked to make jam (that recipe is forthcoming). They can also be placed in a single layer on baking sheets and placed in a freezer. Once frozen, they can be packed and kept in the freezer until ready for use. (See Notes) I’ve seen recipes for pies but most combine the fruit with berries and I fear that the additions would overpower these cherries. The fact is that I’m fascinated by the mix of pineapple and tomato flavors and don’t care to do anything to them that might eliminate that contrast.

Like any salsa, the ingredients can vary depending upon your personal preference. For today’s recipe, the cherry tomatoes came from my garden and I shopped for the rest of the ingredients in my fridge’s vegetable crisper. I had planned to use a bit of cucumber but, failing to find one, I used celery instead. Where most would use cilantro, I used parsley. I “borrowed” one of Lucy’s green jalapeños and used red onion simply for its color. As you can see, this salsa is a very colorful one.

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Ground Cherry Salsa

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Ground Cherry Salsa Recipe

Ingredients

  • about 2 doz ground cherries, hulled & rinsed with some halved
  • about 1 doz cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 jalapeños, diced
  • 2 tbs red onion, diced
  • 2 tbs celery, diced
  • 2 tbs fresh parsley, chopped — cilantro may be substituted
  • juice of 1/2 fresh lime, more to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the ground cherries, cherry tomatoes, jalapeño, onion, and parsley into a bowl. Gently stir to combine.
  2. Add the lime juice and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Taste to see if additional lime juice, salt, or pepper are needed.
  4. Serve.

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Salsa Served

Served with grilled monkfish

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Notes

Hulk cherries are an American fruit that are available from mid-July to the first frost. When fully ripe, they range in color from yellow to orange. Green husk cherries should be avoided because they may cause stomach upset.

From experience, I’ve noticed that ground cherries, once frozen and thawed, are more soft than when fresh. They are fine when used to make jam but you may not want to use them in today’s salsa recipe. I think they would be fine, however, in a salsa used for dipping chips.

The ingredient amounts can be adjusted depending upon how the salsa is served. Since I used this to accompany a fish entrée, I made a relatively small amount.

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A scheduling change …

I will be leaving early next week to ferry a very important visitor from her manse in Michigan to my humble Chicago home. As a result, the kitchens will be closed for the next 2 weeks so that I may tend to her every whim whilst she’s here.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Borlotti/Cranberry Beans

With temperatures falling, it’s time to start cooking comfort foods. One of our favorites and one that I make for Zia every year is Pasta and Beans Soup, Pasta e Fagioli. Easy to make, this soup is the very definition of comfort. Best of all, if you’re as lucky as I was just last weekend, you can still find fresh Borlotti/cranberry beans at your local farmers market. The recipe for this traditional Italian dish can be found by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pickle Preview

A Summer Pickle (Served with Grilled Pork Chops)

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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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Garlic Scapes Pesto

Basil and Garlic Scapes Bouquet

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With apologies, this blog entry, incomplete though it may be, was posted today in error. The recipe is complete, however. See you all soon.

Garlic Scapes Pesto Recipe

yield: about 1 cup (200 ml)

Ingredients

  • 3 oz (86 g) fresh garlic scapes — about a dozen, depending upon size
  • 1.5 oz (43 g) fresh basil leaves (see Notes)
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Pecorino Roman cheese, grated (see Notes)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (see Notes)
  • salt & pepper to taste

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Garlic Scapes Pesto

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Notes

I used a 2:1 ratio of garlic scapes to basil leaves. In retrospect, I should have gone 3:1. Although the pesto was flavorful, it wasn’t quite garlicky enough for my tastes.

For this amount of pesto, I would have used about 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

If I were to use this pesto immediately, I would have at least doubled the amount of extra virgin olive oil used above.

Because this recipe creates a paste, its yield is about 1/3 less than it would be if the grated cheese and all of the oil were added during preparation.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Today’s look back features Pasta al Salmone, Pasta with Salmon. I first tasted this delicious pasta while in Italy for the first time and 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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Agnolotti Redux

I would like to thank you all for the warm welcoming you gave me last week. It was very much appreciated and I’m sorry if I’ve worried you. My WordPress family is the best! And now that I have your attention, I’ll take the opportunity to tell you that I’ll be leaving again but this time for far different reasons. I’ve got a couple of things I had planned on doing as the New Year began but that flu bug caused a major change of plans. As a result, I had thought that I’d start a hiatus in a couple of weeks from now but then I received an email. My Zia and cousin from San Marino are coming to the States for a visit! I don’t know much more than that they will be arriving in Michigan sometime Friday. Whether I go to visit them, or, they come to Chicago to visit me has yet to be determined. Either way, though, I cannot wait to see them. So, rather than take time off for their visit, post a recipe or two, and then leave again, I think it best to just start my break a little earlier than planned. As always, thank you for your understanding and, again, for your thoughtfulness last week. I look forward to seeing you again very soon, and, with a little luck, bearing new family recipes.

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Agnolotti Served

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Ah! Finally, the long-awaited agnolotti recipe featuring the filling that was first described to me by a sous chef in Bologna. You may recall that I experimented with another filling when I made Agnolotti del Plin last December. That filling was much softer and, consequently, I used a pastry bag in the process. That wasn’t possible with this filling.

From what I learned from that generous sous chef — I really wish I could remember her name — agnolotti, unlike stuffed pastas from other regions of Italy, are primarily meat filled. That’s definitely the case when you compare this 4-meat recipe to my family’s traditional ravioli filling. As I mentioned in the December post, fillings like this one were considered so rich that in Piemonte, where agnolotti originated, they were once served in a pile atop clean table linens, with no sauce or condiment at all. Now this is my kind of finger food!

Once you’ve determined a worthy filling — or located a hard-working sous chef willing to divulge family recipes — all that’s left to do is to make the pasta pillows. This is not as simple as one might think. When talking about the various stuffed pastas, aside from the fillings, very often the only other differences are in the shape of the pasta. Tortellini and ravioli, for example, are easy to differentiate. The first looks like a Bishop’s mitre and the second a square pillow, typically cut on all 4 sides. Agnolotti are almost exclusively hand-made and, as you’ll soon see, each is typically cut on 3 sides, the fourth being a fold. What’s this? You’ve seen ravioli made this way? Me, too. Some say all agnolotti are rectangular shaped. There are those that feel square-shaped is preferable. While still others claim that all agnolotti must be half-moon shaped. What? You’ve also seen ravioli made similar to each of these? Same here and that’s perfectly fine in my book. If you place a dish of home-made stuffed pasta before me, you can call them ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti, cappelletti, or pansôtti and you’ll have no argument with me. Deny me a second helping, however, and we’re sure to have a problem.

As I’ve mentioned, the filling for agnolotti is traditionally made using roasted meats. Traditionally, yes, but I cheated. I thought it wasteful to roast both beef and veal just to make agnolotti, particularly since I live alone. So, I bought some beef and veal, cut them into medium-sized cubes, and sautéed them in a little butter rather than roast them. This is the same method that we Bartolini use when preparing meats for our ravioli and cappelletti. The rest of the agnolotti recipe that I’ve shared is just as I was told by my Bologna sous chef. Gotta love that woman!

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Caveat Canis

Caveat Canis

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Agnolotti Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (228 g) mortadella (see Notes)
  • 8 oz (228 g) veal (See Notes)
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 8 oz (228 g) prosciutto crudo (See Notes)
  • 8 oz (228 g) prosciutto cotto
  • 4 oz (110 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino Romano may be substituted)
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Make the Filling

  1. In a frypan over med-high heat, melt the butter before adding the beef chunks. Season lightly with salt and pepper and sauté until browned on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Repeat Step 1 using the veal chunks in place of the beef.
  3. Cut both types of prosciutto into cubes.
  4. Grind/mince the 4 meats using the meat grinder plate with the smallest holes. (See Notes)
  5. Once all have been ground, add the grated cheese and nutmeg, mix well, and taste to check seasoning. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper, if needed.
  6. Add the egg and mix until combined.
  7. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

Make the Agnolotti

  1. At all times, beware of the dog.
  2. Make the pasta dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
  3. Roll a portion of the dough — using a machine or by hand — until quite thin. (See Notes)
  4. Place the dough strip on a lightly floured work surface, Use a pastry cutter to “square off” both ends.
  5. Evenly space balls of filling along one side of the dough strip about a half-inch away from the strip’s edge. I used a small ice cream scoop. (See Notes)
  6. Use a pastry brush or your finger tip to lightly moisten the dough on the inner side of the filling,
  7. Carefully fold the dough flap over the filling balls. Make sure the flap touches the filling balls. This will help in the next step.
  8. Use your finger to press the dough between each filling ball before sealing the edge. Try to remove as much of the air as possible.
  9. Use a pastry cutter to cut between each agnolotto and to trim away any excess dough. Place on lightly floured linens or wax paper and use immediately or cover and refrigerate if to be used later that day. I’d recommend freezing them if cooking is to be be delayed much longer.
  10. To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the agnolotti, lower the heat to a medium simmer, and cook for a few minutes. They will float when cooked but, if in doubt, taste one. It will take a few minutes longer to cook frozen agnolotti.
  11. Gently strain the agnolotti and dress with butter, olive oil, or any number of sauces. (See Serving Suggestion)

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Serving Suggestion

I served these agnolotti just as the restaurant had dressed their tortellini, with a basic cream sauce. Take some heavy cream and, over medium heat in a small sauce pan, reduce until half its original volume. Add a bit of grated cheese — whichever cheese you used to make the agnolotti filling — and stir till combined. Dress the agnolotti with the cream sauce and serve garnished with more grated cheese and freshly ground pepper.

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Notes

eta: When this was originally published, our friend and honorary Bartolini, Stefan of Stefan’s Gourmet Blog mentioned that he was aware of mortadella being used in the filling. I thought nothing more of it until I was adding this recipe to my upcoming cookbook and checked my original notes. He was, in fact, correct. I had misread my scrawl from that evening, interpreting “meat” to mean beef when, in reality, I had written “mort” for mortadella. I’ve changed the recipe here to reflect the correction. Thanks, Stefan. You’re the best! 

If you do not wish to use veal or cannot find some that is relatively humanely raised, feel free to use only beef. Cubed chuck works fine.

When buying the prosciutto, have them cut you a slice that is about 1/4 to 1/3 inches (.6 to .8 cm) thick. That should give you an amount that will work fine with this recipe.

You’ll find that you meat grinder works better if the meat is placed in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes before use.

If you haven’t a meat grinder, you can use your food processor instead. Place the meat into the bowl and pulse-process until ground to your satisfaction, A little texture is a good thing, so, don’t process until the meat is completely smooth.

There are 2 types of Italian prosciutto, crudo and cotto. Prosciutto crudo – raw – is the kind that most of us know and that can be found at just about any deli counter. Prosciutto cotto – cooked – is the Italian version of baked ham and is a bit harder to find. If you cannot find prosciutto cotto in your area, feel free to substitute baked ham, low-sodium is preferred.

Be careful when adding nutmeg to the filling. A little goes a long way. It’s best to add it in small increments, tasting as you go.

Unless you use pasteurized eggs, all tasting of the raw filling should be done before the raw egg is added, to eliminate the risk of salmonella poisoning.

The settings for my pasta roller attachment start at 1, the thickest setting, and run to 9, its thinnest. When making agnolotti, I roll the dough up to and including the 7th setting.

The amount of filling used will eventually determine the size of the agnolotti. Using a small ice scream scoop, I can maintain about a teaspoon-sized filling ball for all the agnolotti.

When cooking any freshly made stuffed pasta, once the pasta has been added and the water has returned to the boil, lower the heat lest the pasta becomes damaged during the remainder of the cooking process.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stracciatella-DJV

It’s still soup season in these parts and today’s look back focuses on a good one. Stracciatella soup got its name because it looks like torn rags but I guarantee there’s nothing shabby about it. Easy to make and oh, so very satisfying, you can find the recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

NYC Cheesecake Preview

  New York Style Cheesecake

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Eggs in Purgatory

Uova in PurgatorioEggs in Purgatory 1Hello? Is anybody there?

Hmmm. Let me see. Let me see. When last I left you, it was at the height of the holiday season, with Christmas but a day away. And then … well … we’ll get there in a few. Promise.

Today’s dish and recipe have certainly made the rounds. In fact, I’ve seen it so many times that I believed that I must have posted it, as well. That was the case when I read Nell’s delicious recipe last November. Hers is a North African (Tunisian) version called Shakshuka, and you can read all about it HERE.

Not long after, I was in Michigan for my last visit of the year with Zia. I offered to make us an early lunch because her son, the Max Whisperer, planned on leaving at noon. I prepared Eggs in Purgatory for us and served it over toast, as seen in the photo below. At the time, I mentioned that if he would like to make the dish for his wife, he could find the recipe on this blog. Later, I went looking for the recipe and discovered I’d never posted one. It was soon scheduled for the New Year’s post, since many consider this dish a hang-over cure.

As luck would have it, shortly after that another version of the dish was posted on My Arab Life, a blog I’ve begun following relatively recently. Although A.K.’s post didn’t include the recipe for his Shakshuka, he does mention that he included garbanzos, making it a much heartier dish.

Well, things were going rather swimmingly until a few days after Christmas. What started as a mild sore throat soon blossomed into a full-blown case of the flu, proving that this year’s flu vaccine wasn’t worth the sore arm. By any standard of measurement, I was knocked on my arse. And like the most obnoxious of guests, it flat-out refused to leave. Each and every time I thought I’d turned the corner, it was waiting for me and came roaring back with a vengeance.

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Eggs in Purgatory 2

Don’t answer the doorbell when taking photos or your Eggs in Purgatory will look like Hell.

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I set up camp in my living room, which offers a view of much of my home. One doesn’t want to let Max out of your sight for too long, regardless of the circumstances. As it turned out, Max was quite the nursemaid. Granted, he’s no Boo Nanny but he did step it up. Each morning, with a reliability that would shame most alarm clocks, Max woke me at 7:00 AM. It’s his breakfast time, you see, and he saw no reason for it to be late. After that, every few hours, he would come check on me to see if all was well. Sometimes he brought me a toy — remnants of an old sock he had liberated from the laundry basket some time ago — and if I was lucky, it was almost dry. At end-of-day, upon re-entering my home after a final trip to the backyard for “last call,” Max would “go left” to my bedroom and I “right” to the sofa. Soon we were both sound asleep. Well one of us was, anyway, for it wasn’t long before the still of the night was broken by the not so melodic rumble of Max snoring in my bed.

At long last, the bug finally departed for points unknown, leaving me exhausted. It took me a while to get back to normal, such at it is, where I have happily remained ever since. Unfortunately, while I was “out”, I did absolutely nothing with this blog until Monday, when I finally started to clear the backlog of just under 6000 notifications. Sad to say, my other email accounts aren’t in much better shape. All in good time …

Thank you for your emails and messages of concern. I hope that I’ve answered them all but fear I may have missed a couple. Thanks, too, for your understanding and patience. I guess all that’s left is to announce that the Kitchens are now open!

We’ll talk about a planned hiatus at another time.

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Eggs in Purgatory is a ridiculously easy dish to make and serve. It can be prepared in under a half-hour and served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can make it as spicy as you like, though when used as a hang-over cure, most like the heat factor raised a notch or two. Here, I’ve written the recipe using 2 eggs. You can easily double or triple the ingredients depending upon the number of people seated at the table. (See Notes)

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Eggs in Purgatory 4

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Eggs in Purgatory Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or grated
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 can (14.5 oz, 411 g) diced tomatoes (See Notes)
  •  marjoram to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese for garnish

Directions

  1. In a small fry pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.
  2. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, continue to sauté for about another minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes and marjoram, stir, and bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  5. Simmer until the sauce is cooked to your satisfaction. Additional water may be added if the sauce is too dry. Taste to check for seasoning.
  6. Use the back of a ladle or spoon to make a small indentation in the sauce. Fill each with a freshly cracked egg.
  7. Lightly season the eggs with a bit of salt and pepper, cover, and cook until the eggs are done with the yolks still runny. Alternately, you can place the pan, uncovered, in a pre-heated 375˚ F (190˚ C) oven until the eggs are cooked, about 10 minutes.
  8. Serve immediately as-is or atop a slice of Italian bread, garnished with some grated cheese and anything else you may like. (See Notes)

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Eggs in Purgatory on Toast3

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Notes

As you can see, the dish uses a simple tomato sauce to cook the eggs. There is certainly no need to follow my sauce recipe and you can add whatever else you like, according to your own tastes. In fact, you may have a store-bought sauce that you enjoy and it can easily be used here.

If you like things really hot, you may wish to downgrade your dish from Purgatory to Hell. A little harissa added to the tomato sauce is sure to do the trick.

As a rule of thumb, I use one small can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz, 411 g) for every 2 eggs being prepared. This will ensure that each egg is served on a nice bed of tomato sauce.

In the past, I always served my eggs as-is or atop sliced Italian bread, sometimes toasted. Nell, however, mentioned serving her eggs atop pasta. Oh, happy day! This is a wonderful variation which soon led to my serving them with polenta, as pictured at the top of this post. If gluten is an issue, however, choose your “platform” wisely.

Although I forgot to do so for the photos, I usually garnish the dish with a bit of grated cheese, though chopped parsley and/or scallions may also be used.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Strozzapreti A

This time of year, when it’s far too cold to leave the house for just about any reason, I tend to stay put and go through my arsenal of home-made pasta recipes, looking for one that will occupy my afternoon. Strozzapreti is certainly worth considering. Start up a pot of tomato sauce, make some pasta dough, and get to work making these “priest chokers.” Soon you’ll be enjoying a dish of pure Italian comfort food, completely oblivious to the frigid temperatures just outside your door. You can learn how to make this pasta, and the tale behind its name, simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Agnolotti Preview

 Agnolotti Redux

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