Eggplant Lasagna

eggplant-lasagna-5

This post was actually written and the lasagna prepared last summer, when I was at the height of the Great Eggplant Glut of 2017. At the time, I promised that I’d post the recipe. Well. my birthday is coming next week and I was in need of something to prepare in celebration. Unfortunately, despite recent attempts to stretch the parameters, I’m still rather restricted to soft foods. Just as I’ve done, i could make a soup, or pasta, or soup with pasta but I wanted something a bit more special. Enter eggplant lasagna. Lucky for me, there’s a tray waiting for me in the freezer. Oh, boy!

Now, to be clear, this dish contains my homemade pasta and, therefore, is not gluten-free (GF). If the noodles are to be omitted, I’d rather make eggplant parmesan, this lasagna’s GF cousin. Well, it is my birthday and sometimes I just want a nice plate of good old-fashioned gluten. Sue me but at least send a birthday card before you do.

The recipe is easy enough. You can use any kind of lasagna noodle that you wish. Follow the directions on the package for store-bought noodles. If using “no-bake” noodles, I give them a quick rinse in hot tap water before placing in the tray. That helps to ensure that each noodle gets enough moisture to cook properly. If at all possible, use freshly made pasta noodles, They only require about a two-minute blanch in boiling water before use but the difference in taste is remarkable. Do it once and you’ll be sold.

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ETA: For a slightly different take, one more true to the dish’s Sicilian roots, take a look at Bea’s recipe on her delicious Viaggiando con Bea, Travels with Bea. One can never have too many lasagna recipes.

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eggplant-lasagna-preview

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Eggplant Lasagna Recipe

Ingredients

  • medium-sized eggplants (see Notes)
  • cooking spray
  • about 1 quart tomato sauce (Vegetarians use meatless)
  • butter to grease the baking dish
  • pasta sheets to create 3 layers
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 4 oz  Asiago cheese, grated
  • 4 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • fresh mozzarella, cut into rounds
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, for serving

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚ F (230˚ C). Liberally butter baking dish/pan.
  2. Prepare the eggplant(s):
    • Trim off ends of eggplants and slice into 1/2 inch rounds. (See Notes)
    • Place rounds in a single layer on a rack resting upon a baking sheet.
    • Lightly spray each side and sprinkle with salt.
    • Bake for 15 minutes,
    • Remove from oven and reserve.
  3. Reduce oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  4. Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles per package instructions,
  5. If using fresh noodles, par-boil for about 2 minutes before rinsing is cold water.
  6. Assemble the lasagna:
    • Lightly coat the bottom of the baking dish/pan with tomato sauce.
    • Place enough pasta sheets to create a single layer.
    • Add a single layer of eggplant rounds.
    • Cover with a layer of sauce.
    • Sprinkle half of the grated cheese mixture.
    • Sprinkle with 1/3 of the grated Pecorino Romano.
    • Add another layer of noodles, eggplant rounds, sauce, and cheeses.
    • Add the final layer of noodles and enough tomato sauce to cover.
    • Evenly distribute the mozzarella rings and sprinkle the rest of the Pecorino Romano cheese on top.
    • Cover with aluminum foil. (See Notes)
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, uncover, raise the oven temperature to 450˚F (230˚ C), and bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes more.
  8. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Be sure to have grated Pecorino Romano available at the table. (See Notes)

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eggplant-lasagna-10*     *     *

Notes

You will need enough eggplant rings to create 2 layers in whatever size baking dish/pan you’re going to use.

When preparing eggplant parmesan, I do not peel the eggplant, the peel adding structure to the dish. In lasagna, the noodles add some structure, so, strips of the eggplant’s peel are removed.

Lightly coating the inside of the aluminum foil with cooking spray will help prevent it sticking to the mozzarella should the 2 come in contact while baking.

Once baking is complete, be sure to give the lasagna ample time to rest and set. It will be easier to serve and will retain its shape far better than if sliced immediately upon removal from the oven.

This past summer, I made a couple extra trays of lasagna and froze them. Once fully cooked and cooled, wrap the trays in plastic wrap before wrapping with aluminum foil. The night before you intend to serve the lasagna, place the tray in the fridge for defrosting. The next day, unwrap and remove the plastic wrap, and place the tray, recovered with foil, into a preheated 350˚ F (175˚ C) oven. Serve when heated through.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

cherry-pie

It’s that time of year again. Every January, I go to the freezer in my basement and retrieve a bag of frozen tart cherries. The current January Thaw notwithstanding, a mid-winter cherry pie reminds me of the previous summer when the cherries were bought and put away, out of sight. Now, while I prepare, bake, and enjoy a cherry pie, I cannot help but dream of the summer to come. Old Man Winter may still claim the outdoors but here, in my kitchen, summer rules once again. And if this doesn’t work? No problem. There’s another bag in that freezer, though it’s contents will be used to prepare cherry muffins. One way or another, summer is coming. (Take that, Jon Snow!  You can see the cherry pie recipe HERE and the cherry muffin recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

meatloaf-preview

Meatloaf

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Dad’s Grilled Red Snapper

red-snapper-5

Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’ve been recently waylaid by a rather unfortunate run-in with a bit of black walnut-shell. In perhaps the most unkindest cut of all, the blow was delivered by one of my beloved post-Thanksgiving turkey sammiches. (I knew The Fates could be cruel but who knew they had a taste for irony, as well?) The resultant series of appointments meant that I’ve not been around WordPress very much of late. Although there’s more work to be done, I’m happy to say that the worst of the ordeal is now behind me. I’ll be back at 100% before you know it but, please, I’m begging you, no more jokes about whistling merry Christmas.

Neither of today’s dishes — I wouldn’t really call them recipes — are in any way complicated or difficult to prepare. Given my current situation, they are just what the dentists ordered. In my mind, however, both are closely tied to the upcoming holidays. The first, red snapper, was a favorite of my Dad. It’s also my last post before Christmas Eve and I’ve a tradition of offering a seafood dish for those preparing a Feast of the Seven Fishes.  The second dish shared today, roasted chestnuts, was the very last Mom served on the holidays.

I’ve wanted to post a red snapper recipe for some time but it’s a little complicated. You see, snapper is endangered depending upon where and how it’s harvested. If caught by hook and line in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s OK to purchase. Red snapper caught in the South Atlantic, however, should be avoided. Ruby snapper — its Hawaiian cousin — is OK to purchase. (Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch). I’ve often seen red snapper for sale but, as a rule of thumb, if the monger cannot tell me where or how a fish is caught, I choose another fish or, in some cases, another monger. Over the years, I’ve passed up a lot of red snapper. That’s not so complicated. Well, stay with me.

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red-snapper-2

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Recently, my fish monger had fresh red snapper and I eagerly bought 2 fillets, one to be grilled that night and the second to be prepared the following night. See the opening photo? That’s  proof that I actually grilled red snapper. Unfortunately, it’s the only photo that I have because moments later my grill ran out of propane. I finished cooking the fillet on a grill pan.

That was a Friday 2 weeks ago. The following day, Saturday, we were hit with a snowstorm.(We’ve had snow on each of the past 3 weekends with more expected tomorrow.) I spent my day pushing the snow off of the walkways. For some reason, replacing my grill’s propane tank never crossed my mind — until dinner time. That’s when I made an executive decision. I wasn’t going anywhere and fired up the grill pan, instead.

Complications aside, this is about the easiest preparation for a dish that  I’ve ever posted. It’s not so much the fish but the memories that go along with it. Yes, it was  Dad’s favorite fish but he wanted it grilled. No matter the season, no matter the weather, if red snapper fillets were on the menu that night, Dad was at the barbecue getting the grill ready.

grandpas-barbecueAs I’ve mentioned in other posts, our barbecue was made of brick and built by Grandpa in the late1950s. Mention that barbecue and In my mind’s eye, I see Dad standing before it, preparing our main course.  Once, during a summer storm, Dad was wearing a trench coat over a pair of shorts, his bare legs extending beyond the coat’s hem. His right hand was tending our meal while his left hand struggled to maintain control of the wind-whipped umbrella. Now that’s dedication.

red-snapper-1Although I can’t say for certain what he was grilling on that foul weather day, it would be a pretty good bet to say that it was red snapper. That’s how much he enjoyed grilled red snapper fillets! I do, too, maybe not to that extent but I do enjoy red snapper when grilled.

The fish is easy enough to prepare. Season both sides of the fillet with salt & pepper before drizzling with olive oil. Light the grill and while it heats, place equal amounts of butter and lemon juice in a small sauce pan over low heat. Softly simmer the two while the fish cooks. Red snapper fillets flake easily so we, Dad and I, use(d) a fish basket to hold them in place on the grill. There’s nothing worse than watching part of your dinner fall between the spaces in your grill plates. Depending upon how hot your grill is, the fillets should cook in about  3 to 4 minutes for the first side and about 2 minutes for the other. Place the fish skin-side down to start. (See NOTES) Once finished, remove the fillets to a serving platter and drizzle with lemon butter sauce. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. See? Couldn’t be easier but oh, so very good!

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Since the red snapper dish was so simple to prepare, I thought I’d make this post a two-fer. Recently my Brother asked where my post for roasted chestnuts was located. Um … it wasn’t. I’d forgotten all about them. So, here’s another easy recipe that also means holiday to me.

On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day, once the deserts had been served and the table cleared, while the adults dipped anise-flavored biscotti into their caffè and chatted, Mom would bring freshly roasted chestnuts, castagne, to the table. No matter how sated, everyone at that table managed to eat a few chestnuts, You see, much like the old Jell-O advert, there’s aways room for castagne.roasted-chestnuts-2016

Sometime that afternoon or early evening, Dad would use his penknife to slice an “X” in the rounded side of each chestnut. Later, they would be placed on a baking sheet which was then put into a 425˚ F pre-heated oven. After about 20 to 25 minutes, the chestnuts were removed and allowed to cool slightly before being served.

I wish I could be more precise but much depends upon how fresh the nuts are and whether all have been properly roasted. You see, a chestnut has a shell within a shell. We’re all familiar with the brown outer shell but the one on the inside will give you fits. It’s inedible, paper-thin, fuzzy, and can stick to the chestnut like glue. If your chestnut is roasted for tool long or too short, you can expect problems with that inner shell. Oh! There’s an added bonus to roasting them for too long: the chestnuts become rock-hard.

Now, there are those who par-boil their nuts before roasting but I’ve never tried that. Mom boiled a few and, once chopped, included them in her turkey stuffing. If I remember correctly, she didn’t fare any better with the boiled chestnuts than we did later that evening with them roasted. Problems aside, a few roasted chestnuts to end the meal are as much a part of my holiday feast memories as are those of the much-beloved platters of ravioli that began them.

Speaking of the holidays, we at the Bartolini kitchens wish you all a holiday season most memorable, with a new year filled with wonder and joy.

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Notes

The red snapper fillets can easily be prepared on a grill pan or under the broiler. In the first case, heat the grill pan as you would a barbecue. Cook the fish as if it were on a grill, skin-side down, for a few minutes before turning it over for about another 2 minutes. If you broil the fillets, place them skin-side down on an unheated broiler pan/tray about 4 inches under the heating element, They should be ready in about 4 minutes but keep a close eye on them. If you’ve used a broiler with seafood, you know exactly what I mean.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

braised-eel

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve so why not take a look back at a dish traditionally served on that night? I’m talking about eels and though I only remember it being served once when I was very young, peering into a sink full of eels definitely left an impression. You can see how they’re prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

panettone-bread-pudding-1

Panettone: A Bread with Promise

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin (GF)

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 4

When I look at most of my holiday dinners,  many are of the meat and potato variety. (OK, there’s more likely to be pasta or polenta on the table but they do start with a “p” and that should qualify them.)  Up until several years ago, those potatoes were either mashed or baked au gratin. That’s when I decided enough with the plain potatoes. Sorry, Idaho. Bring on the sweet potatoes!

Initially, I made them as I would my potatoes au gratin: with milk, Swiss cheese, and a little butter. Over time, I swapped out some of the ingredients and in the process these potatoes earned a standing invite to my holiday tables.

The recipe below is the latest version. Earlier editions included  pancetta, bacon, garlic, and/or nutmeg. Although I liked each, the individual flavors worked better with normal potatoes, their flavors being a bit too much for the sweet potatoes. You may feel that way about the onions used here. If too much for your tastes, substitute diced shallots in their place.

One more thing to remember. Do not bring these potatoes from the oven directly to the table for serving. They really do need to sit for no fewer than 10 minutes — 15 is better — so that they set. You want to serve creamy potatoes not a runny mess.

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 3

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Recipe

Ingredients

  • butter or cooking spray
  • about 1,5 lbs. (680 g) sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced (See Notes)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 to 6 oz (140 – 170 g) Gruyère cheese, grated  (Swiss, Fontina, or Emmental, among others, may be substituted)
  • 6 oz (118 ml) heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot (flour or cornstarch may be substituted)
  • 1 tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 c (25 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino Romano may be substituted)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Use cooking spray or a tab of butter to liberally grease an oven-proof baking dish.
  2. Make a slurry using 1/2 of the heavy cream and the arrowroot. Once thoroughly combined, add the remaining cream, stir, and set aside,
  3. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  4. Use 1/3 of the sliced sweet potatoes to create a layer covering the bottom of the baking dish,
  5. Cover that layer with 1/2 of the sliced onion.
  6. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  7. Use 1/3 of the grated Gruyère to cover the onions and potatoes.
  8. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6. using all the remaining onion in the process.
  9. Use the last of the sweet potatoes to cover the dish’s contents.
  10. Stir the cream slurry before pouring it evenly over the top of the dish.
  11. Cover the dish with the remaining Gruyère.
  12. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  13. Dot the surface with the butter pieces.
  14. Sprinkle the grated Parmigiano Reggiano to evenly cover the entire dish.
  15. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until the potatoes are nicely browned.
  16. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Notes

I used a 9 inch (23 cm) square baking dish and the potatoes weren’t sliced too thinly. (.15 inches, 4 mm). More or less of the posted ingredients may be needed if the size of your baking dish differs appreciably from the one used here.

The recipe, as written, is gluten-free. If you haven’t arrowroot but wish to keep it GF, add an equal amount of cornstarch into the cream. Of course, if you and your guests have no issues with gluten, flour can be used as the thickening agent.

WIth its heavy cream, butter, and cheeses, this is not a low-calorie dish. (That’s why I only serve it on special occasions and holidays.) If you’re looking for something a little more waist and heart-friendly, hop on over to Fanny Reggiori’s blog, foodidies, where she recently posted a delicious, lighter sweet potato au gratin recipe. No matter the recipe you choose to prepare, you really cannot go wrong.

Since we’re talking healthy, which do you think is healthier, baking potatoes or sweet? Click HERE to find out. And if that kind of info floats you boat, go HERE to see a list of similar comparisons. Some of the results may surprise you.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

standing-rib-roast-deja-vu

Since we’re talking holidays, here’s a look back at the method I use to prepare standing rib roast every New Year’s Day. You can catch a glimpse of one in the first photo of this post.) It’s easy to prepare but much depends upon aging the roast in your fridge before cooking it. Interested? You can learn all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

hot-pepper-relish-preview

Hot Pepper Relish

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Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yes, you read the post’s title correctly. Today I’m sharing a recipe for fish tacos. As I’ve said on several of your blogs, I rarely make tacos. I don’t think it worth the effort just to make 2 or 3 tacos for my dinner. I still feel that way but at the time this post was written, my chile plants were producing at a rate that rivaled my eggplant crop.. If only my tomato plants had been so competitive.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 1

This Fish is Fried

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Well, it was far too humid to try to dry the peppers and without a dehydrator, I was loath to turn on the oven, no matter how low the temperature would be set.. So, I cooked some, pickled others, and added a few to the cherry bomb peppers that I was preserving. But the chiles kept coming and Lucy can only eat so many. Thanks to a couple blogging friends, I decided to make tomatillo salsa. (That recipe follows this one.)

Well, the salsa did make a dent — albeit a small one — in the chile inventory but what to do with it? I was stumbling around the grocery, trying to figure out what to prepare when I saw that there was a sale on pollock. That’s all I needed to make up my mind. Fish tacos would be on the night’s menu.

Since my tomatillo salsa was rather smooth, I felt that the taco needed something more crispy than shredded lettuce. That’s why the shredded cabbage was included but you should use whichever you prefer. The same is true for the tortillas. As much as I like corn tortillas, I bought flour because I felt that corn tortillas would just about disintegrate by the time I was done snapping photos. Oh, to be a better — read faster — photographer. And, by the way, hats off to those who would make their own tortillas for a dinner for one.

To prepare the fish for breading, the fillets were cut into strips about 3 inches (8 cm) long. Seasoned corn starch was used to coat the strips, just as was done when soft shell crabs were prepared several weeks ago. Once coated, the strips were dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk, and Sriracha. From there, they were coated in Panko bread crumbs and reserved. Easy peasy.

A note about the ingredients. Few amounts are listed because they will depend upon the number of tacos to be prepared and your own taste preferences. More cornstarch and breadcrumbs will be needed if you’re feeding 4, for example, than if you are preparing tacos for 1.

Lastly, for those avoiding fried foods, I’ve included instructions for baking the fish, as well as for frying.

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Fish Tacos - Baked 1

Tacos with Baked Fish

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Fish Taco Recipe

Ingredients

  • Fish fillets cut into strips (see Notes)
  • corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt, and pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha sauce, more or less to taste
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • tortillas
  • roasted tomatillo salsa – recipe follows
  • shredded cabbage
  • diced tomato (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • diced red onion (optional)
  • limes, quartered

Directions

  1. Set up a breading station:
    • In the first dish, place corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt & pepper to taste.
    • In the second, combine and beat the eggs, milk, and Sriracha.
    • In the 3rd dish, add enough Panko breadcrumbs to coat the pieces of fish.
  2. To fry:
    • Add enough oil to the pan for a depth of 1/2 inch (1.5 cm).
    • Heat over med-high heat to 360˚ (180˚C).
    • Place breaded strips into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
    • Remove from oil, place on paper towels, season with salt immediately.
  3. To bake:
    • Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F (200˚ C)
    • Place breaded strips on to a rack placed atop a baking sheet.
    • Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes, turning them over midway through the bake.
    • Remove to a platter and season with salt.
  4. To assemble the tacos:
    • Over med-high heat, warm the tortillas on a grill pan, cast iron fry pan, skillet, or barbecue grill until heated through.
    • Create a taco using a tortilla, pieces of fish, a couple tbsp of salsa, some shredded cabbage, and a squeeze of lime.
      • Sour cream, onions, and tomatoes may be added, according to personal tastes.
  5. Garnish with lime quarters and serve.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 2

More Fried Fish Tacos

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Notes

Although I used pollock here, feel free to use any white fish. Cod, hake, or tilapia come to mind, although mahi mahi, halibut, or even tuna would be very good, too. You may want to adjust the seasoning depending upon the fish you’ve selected.

Roast Chicken Tacos 2Fish not your thing? Tacos are a great way to re-purpose leftover roast chicken. Use a fork to pull apart the chicken meat and warm it quickly in a frypan with a little butter. Once heated, use it to build your taco with a bit of tomatillo salsa and whatever other fixins you like: shredded cabbage/lettuce, sour cream, diced onion, diced tomato, fresh cilantro, and/or a bit of shredded cheese would work just fine.

Roast Chicken with Tomatillo SalsaDid I say roast chicken leftovers? Well, first you have to roast that bird. Do it however you wish. Mine was spatchcocked and seasoned with plenty of herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil before roasting. Be sure to have the salsa nearby so that you can generously spoon some atop the chicken once served.

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Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Recipe

I have 2 blogging buddies to thank for this post, Kathryn of Another Foodie Blogger and MJ of MJ’s Kitchen. Had it not been for Kathryn, I never would have bought tomatillos, and MJ is the Queen of Chiles. Now, this salsa and serving suggestions may not be exact duplicates of their recipes — shower them with all the praise and I’ll shoulder any blame — but I was certainly inspired by them. If you’re looking for some inspiration, by all means check out these 2 wonderful blogs.

Ingredients

  • 6 tomatillos, husked and washed (see Notes)
  • 4 cayenne chilies, tops trimmed (see Notes)
  • 1 chile de agua, top trimmed
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic
  • small sweet onion or half of a large, cut in half
  • olive oil
  • cilantro, to taste
  • lime juice, to taste
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400˚F (205˚C).
  2. Place tomatillos, all the chilies, garlic, and onion into a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and spread on a baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Once cooled, place all the roasted ingredients into a food processor, along with cilantro and the juice of 1 lime.
  4. Pulse the ingredients several times until the salsa is the consistency you prefer. Midway through, taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more cilantro or lime juice, if needed.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.

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fried-fish-tacos-3

One More Fried

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Notes

After removing their paper coverings, be sure to rinse the tomatillos very well to remove their somewhat sticky coating.

Until this point, I hadn’t tasted any of my home-grown chiles, all having been pickled and preserved. Now that I’ve tasted this salsa, I will only add 2 cayenne peppers in the future. For my tastes,  4 of these cayenne are a bit much. (Please pass the milk.)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Crostini Look Back

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s never too early to start working on the menu for the holiday feast(s). It wouldn’t be much of a celebratory meal if there aren’t any appetizers, and crostini/bruschette are tasty ones to whip up. You can see a couple of suggestions by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Preview

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin

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Trenette with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

Trenette con Fiori di Zucchini e Panna

zucchini-blossoms-pasta-5

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Ever notice that if someone asks whether you’ve spotted something unusual, something you’ve only seen rarely, if ever, that suddenly it becomes commonplace? Say, for example, you’re asked if you’ve ever seen a pink Cadillac. No matter your answer, over the next few days or weeks, you’ll see enough pink Cadillacs to make you wonder whether there’s a Mary Kay convention in town. (Now there’s an allusion that will send some of you to Mr. Google.)

I mention this because when in Italy in 2014, my friends and I noticed that boar was often on the menu. True enough, once it was mentioned, boar was seemingly served in virtually every restaurant we entered. Was it a question of boar suddenly being readily available, or, was it that we had finally noticed? It mattered little because I must admit that I did take full advantage of the situation, enjoying everything from lunches of boar prosciutto panini to suppers of tagliatelle dressed with a variety of sauces prepared with boar meat.

Oddly enough, I noticed a similar phenomenon during my visit to Italy this past spring. Somewhere along the way, while struggling to meet the rigors of my newly created pasta-a-day diet, I noticed that zucchini blossoms were very often included in my pasta. (There were a lot of sardines, too, but I’ll save them for another post.) Though the sauces were very often “white”, a few did include some halved cherry tomatoes. The protein could be a little pork. like today’s recipe, or seafood, as was served to us in Riccione, where my family gathered for a seafood feast. (In that dish, passatini were served with shrimp and both zucchini and its blossoms.) Needless to say, I took full advantage of the situation ordering my pasta with blossoms as frequently as possible. (It’s the little things — zucchini blossoms, calamari, clams, boar, a glass or three of wine — that made it easier for me to adhere to the strict rules of my new diet.) The question, however, remains. Was there a sudden increase of menu selections that included zucchini blossoms, or, did I just happen to notice them during this visit? I guess I’ll never know … Unless … Maybe I should go back to Italy and conduct more research. You know, for science …

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zucchini-blossom

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Today’s dish was certainly inspired by those that I was served while in Italy. In fact, upon coming home, I immediately planted zucchini while the memories of so many tasty dishes still lingered on my mind’s palate. Well, that was the plan. You see, for some reason, each and every blossom that appeared suddenly vanished. At first, I thought it was a cute little bunny that I saw lingering around my yard. A well-placed fence would keep it at bay, to be sure. Even with the fence installed, however, the blossoms continued to disappear. Unless that once-cute-little-bunny-now-full-grown rabbit knew how to use tools, it could not possibly have been the culprit. (If it does know how to use tools, I’ve got more to fear than a few missing zucchini blossoms.) No matter the cause, I harvested only 1 blossom this season. More to the point, the blossoms used here, as well as those used in future recipes, were all purchased at the farmers market, save that one.

ETA: Kathryn, AnotherFoodieBlogger, mentioned that I need to plant as many as 3 plants to ensure any sort of zucchini crop. I certainly haven’t the space for 3 and do not know whether I’ll try again next year with 2 plants. I really don’t care about the zucchini. All I want is a steady supply of blossoms and I’ve yet to figure out why the blossoms all vanished.

There’s only really one thing worth mentioning before getting to the good stuff. The most difficult part of this recipe is preparing the blossoms. Be sure to open each one and remove its pistil, anthers, and whatever else you may find in there. (That last bit, the part about “whatever else”, is the difficult one. You’ll know what I mean if you find an 8-legged behemoth in there staring back at you.) Once cleaned and debugged, only the flower’s petals will remain. Cut them in half, lengthwise, and you’re set to go. The rest of the recipe is quite straightforward and you shouldn’t have any trouble preparing this tasty dish.

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zucchini-blossoms-1x

Blossoms Before & After Neutering

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Trenette with  Zucchini Blossoms & Cream Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 oz trenette pasta cooked about a minute shy of al dente (see Notes) – linguine, fettuccine, or tagliatelle may be substituted
  • olive oil
  • 2 oz pancetta – guanciale or unsmoked bacon can be substituted (see Notes)
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 6 zucchini blossoms, cleaned and halved lengthwise – more or less to taste and availability (sigh)
  • 3 to 4 ounces of heavy cream, depending upon the amount of pasta being prepared
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese — Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • reserved pasta water
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • torn fresh basil leaves for garnish

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-1

This year’s zucchini harvest. (It was delicious!)

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Directions

  1. In a large frypan, heat a little olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta and sauté.
  2. Once the fat has rendered and before the pancetta hardens, add the shallots and sauté until soft. If the pan is dry, add a bit more olive oil. (See Notes)
  3. Add the halved zucchini blossoms and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream and allow to reduce just a bit before adding the cooked pasta.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of grated cheese, stir gently, and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente. If too dry, add a little pasta water to moisten the pan’s contents.
  6. Taste to see if salt or pepper is needed.
  7. Remove to a serving platter, garnished with grated cheese, torn basil leaves, and freshly cracked pepper.
  8. Serve immediately, dreaming of the day when you’ll no longer need to buy zucchini blossoms. (Maybe that’s just me.)

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-4

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Notes

Like most simple pasta dishes, the secret lies in the timing. Try to have the pasta cooked just shy of al dente when the zucchini blossom mixture is just about fully cooked. Remember to check package directions when using store-bought pasta. If using freshly made, allow about 3 minutes for cooking.

In today’s dish, pancetta was used but guanciale, or even bacon, could easily be substituted. Whatever pork product you choose, try to avoid using one that’s smoked. Very often, the smoky flavoring will overpower every other element of the dish. You want to taste pork, not smoke.

The amount of pancetta and blossoms needed will depend upon the number of servings being prepared. For example, here, I prepared 8 oz (225 g) of pasta. You’ll need more if you’re going to prepare a pound (450 g) of pasta.

It is always better to add more oil to the pan once the pork fat has been rendered than to use too much early on and have to pour off any excess. There’s plenty of flavor in that excess that you’re removing from the pan.

Whenever you prepare a pasta dish, ALWAYS reserve a few ounces of the pasta water just before straining the pasta. It can be used to resurrect even the driest of pasta dishes and its starch content will help to thicken the thinnest of sauces. In my kitchen, it’s better than duct tape.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

fried-sage-look-back

 

How could I share a food souvenir of my last trip to Italy without taking a look at my favorite souvenir from my trip to Italy in 2014? That was the trip when we discovered fried sage leaves stuffed with anchovies. This little antipasto is both salty and fried. Simply put, it has everythingI You can learn how to prepare it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Fish Tacos - Preview

Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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The Incredible Edible Eggplant

Eggplant Blossom

Such Promise

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It all started innocently enough, with a blossom identical to the one pictured above. I had learned my lesson well, or so I thought. See, last year’s 2 eggplants were just about smothered by my tomato plants. The tomatoes quite literally took over my then-new raised garden bed as if the soil had been smuggled out of Chernobyl. I picked only 1 eggplant and it was a Japanese variety, not at all what I had expected. This type of thing has happened enough times to convince me that there are people who delight in swapping name tags between differing varieties of the same vegetable. This spring’s cuckoo was a jalapeño masquerading as a cayenne pepper.

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Growing Up Eggplant

Growing Up Eggplant

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This year, I planted 3 eggplants with the conviction that I would keep my eye — and pruning shears — on the neighboring tomato plants. I won’t bore you with the details but I was partly successful, with two plants growing nicely. The 3rd, well, is now engulfed. All facts considered, I really cannot complain. The 2 remaining plants have managed to produce more of the bulb-shaped vegetables than I thought botanically possible. (I really must get that soil tested.) As a result, I’ve pulled out every eggplant recipe at my disposal in trying to stay ahead of these 2 overly productive plants.

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The Day's Eggplant Harvest

The 1st Eggplant Harvest 

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Here are the dishes that I’ve prepared thus far. I’ve supplied the recipe for the first dish and links for the rest, the exceptions being the eggplant lasagna and a pickled eggplant. Both of those recipes are in the works.

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Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Pre-heat the barbecue or grill pan. Slice the eggplant into approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) rings. Cut the plum tomatoes in half, removing the seeds if you like. Use a pastry brush to sparingly coat the eggplant with olive oil. Lightly drizzle the tomato halves with olive oil and then season everything with salt and pepper. Giving the eggplant slices a head start, grill both vegetables until cooked to your satisfaction. Remove to a platter. Garnish the vegetables with a mixture of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley. Season with salt & pepper before adding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or Olio Santo (See Coming soon … ).

This vegetarian dish may be served hot, warm, or at room temperature, and will make a great light lunch or tasty side for any meal.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

A favorite of Sicily, this eggplant & tomato sauce was created in honor of the Bellini opera of the same name. You needn’t travel to Sicily nor the nearest opera house to enjoy this dish, however. Just take this LINK to see the recipe that I posted.

The recipe calls for a garnish of ricotta salata. If you cannot find this cheese, crumbled feta is a great substitute and more readily available.

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Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

Also originating in Sicily, caponata is another dish that celebrates the eggplant. Today, it is found throughout Italy with ingredients that often vary from region to region. I’ve shared Mom’s recipe, which you can find HERE.

Don’t forget to make more than needed. Add a few beaten eggs to the leftovers to make a tasty frittata the next day.

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Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Grandma served this dish to her girls, Mom & Zia, when they were young. You can well-imagine my surprise when my Zia in San Marino also served stuffed eggplant during my recent visit. The recipe for this tasty contorno — and popular in both sides of my family —  can be found HERE.

Any of the stuffed vegetables in the linked recipe can be used to make a great tasting sandwich for your lunch the following day.

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Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna

A layered dish, eggplant lasagna features pasta sheets, baked eggplant slices, and a tomato sauce, with or without meat. Oh! I almost forgot the cheeses. Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano combine to make this one flavorful main course.

True confession time: I had thought that I’d already published this recipe and was surprised to learn that I had yet to share it. Not to worry. That oversight will be corrected in the weeks to come.

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Jamie Oliver’s Pickled & Marinated Eggplant

Marinated Eggplant

Jamie has done it again. In his recipe, eggplant is chopped, bathed in a pickling liquid, and then marinated in herbed olive oil. Best of all, this same technique may be used with mushrooms, onions, small peppers, zucchini, and fennel, with each vegetable having its own suggested herb to include. You can check them all out by taking this LINK.

I did make one substitution to his recipe. In place of oregano, I used marjoram. For those unfamiliar, marjoram is related to oregano but is a bit more mild and is favored in Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini.

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Indian-Style Pickled Eggplant

Indian Pickled Eggplant - Preview

Looking for something with a bit more heat? Well, with my cayenne pepper plants competing with my eggplants for top honors, I went web surfing for recipes. With many to choose from, the final recipe is an amalgam, using ingredients that I had on-hand or that could be easily sourced. The result was a spicy dish that I really enjoy. Best of all, it’s reduced my eggplant AND cayenne pepper inventories. A bit too involved to be shared here — this post is long enough already — I’ll publish the final recipe in the weeks ahead.

This eggplant dish supplies the heat that Jamie’s pickle was missing.

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Baba Ganouj

Baba Ganouj 1

Can you detect which has been garnished with a drizzle of Olio Santo?

Although I’ve enjoyed baba ganouj far too many times to count, I’ve never actually prepared it, relying instead on one that I purchase from my favorite Middle Eastern grocery. Well, with a glut of eggplant filling my vegetable crisper, baba ganouj seemed like yet another great use of the melanzane and I sought help from the blog of our resident Middle Eastern food expert Sawsan, The Chef in Disguise. Her blog is brimming with delicious recipes and you can view her baba ganouj recipe HERE.

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And there you have it. This is my way of handling 2 incredibly productive eggplants. If you think I’ve eaten plenty of eggplant lately, well, you’d be correct — and you haven’t even seen the inside of my freezers. I’ll be enjoying(?) eggplant dishes for months to come.

If I’ve missed an eggplant dish that you’re particularly fond of, or, you prepare a tasty variation of one of the recipes that I’ve just highlighted, don’t be shy. Please share the recipe or link in the Comments section below. These plants just won’t quit!

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You may have noticed …

… My recent absence from the blogging world. This is Honey Time in Michigan’s Thumb and my Cousin and his Wife graciously offered to open Zia’s home so that I could get honey for my friends and neighbors. That’s the official explanation. In reality, my Cousin – aka “The Max Whisperer” – hadn’t seen Max in about a year and missed their “nature hikes”. In the photo above, the 2 BFFs are returning from their last hike of the visit. Also above is a photo of 2 of the 3 cases of the honey that I brought back. All told, our little group of honeycombers purchased about 6 cases of honey that day.

As luck would have it, my Cousin found a baseball-sized puffball growing in the yard. When picked 3 days later, it had grown to the size of a cantaloupe. As of this writing, I’ve yet to prepare it — but I will!

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant parmesan is the one dish in my repertoire that I’ve yet to prepare using the current harvest. Having made 2 trays of eggplant lasagna – one of which is still in my freezer – I took a pass on eggplant parmesan. Who knows? If we don’t have a killing frost soon, I just may turn to eggplant parmesan to help me deal with this surplus. Worse things could happen. You can see the recipe that I’ll be following simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Olio Santo - Preview

Olio Santo

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Slow Cooker General Tso’s Chicken

Subscribers and frequent visitors to this site don’t come here for my take on Asian cuisine, No, as much as I love food from that part of the world, I must confess that up until recently, I very rarely prepared it, much to the joy of the local Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Indian restaurants. Now, however, there are four dishes that I prepare at home and enjoy very much. One, a chicken dish, is today’s recipe, General Tso’s Chicken.  The others can be found on blogs that I follow. The first of these, a delicious lamb dish called Karma Khorma, is from my blogging friend David’s decidedly delectable blog, Cocoa and Lavender. The second, a Korean pork dish, one of the first Asian dishes that I made with any frequency, is from Cam’s wonderful blog, Geukima, and is called Crispy Stir-Fried Pork Ribs With Caramelized Fish Sauce. The third is a very tasty Indian dish, Chicken Biryani, and can be found on The Insatiable Gourmet blog. You cannot go wrong preparing any of these and a visit to any of the 3 blogs is very rewarding. (Unfortunately, as of this writing, Geukima and The Insatiable Gourmet seem to be on hiatus. Cocoa and Lavender, thankfully, is still going strong.)  Not very long ago, the only Asian dishes I enjoyed were set before me at nearby restaurants. These days, hardly a week goes by that I do not prepare one of these four dishes. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

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General Tso 1

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Now before going any further, it’s probably best to mention the origins of today’s dish. In my last post’s Comments section, I had mistakenly stated that the dish was created by Chinese immigrants in California. A comment from Eha got me googling its origins. Although I could not find the source stating its California origins (I should know better than to rely upon my memory for anything), I did find much to confirm Eha’s account. It is widely accepted that this dish was a creation of the Hunan chef, Peng Chang-kuei, in Taipei, Taiwan, after he had fled the Chinese mainland. Created in the ’50s, he once served it to Chiang Kai-shek. Chef Peng brought his recipe to America and introduced it in New York City in 1972 following Nixon’s trip to China. Since then, the dish has continued to evolve, in ways not necessarily pleasing to its creator. That is the simple version of the tale. You can find more information on Wikipedia or NPR or, for those who’d rather look at pictures, you can watch the movie, “The Search for General Tso“.

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The Favorite Family Recipes website is the source for today’s recipe. I was attracted to it because I love both General Tso’s Chicken and my slow cooker. I can already sense some of you thinking how much easier it would be to stir-fry this dish. Well, I haven’t a wok and I am certifiably stir-fry challenged. For me, the slow cooker is the way to go. Even so, I did make a few changes. most notably replacing the original’s pineapple juice with orange juice and its cayenne pepper with ground chipotle. In both cases, I used what I had in supply. While searching for the cayenne pepper, I came upon a seldom used container of arrowroot and used it as a thickening agent instead of cornstarch,

I did make a couple of additions, as well. When I order General Tso’s Chicken from my neighborhood Chinese restaurant, broccoli is always included. Even though the original recipe makes no mention of it, I always include some form of the vegetable in my dish. Here, there was a package of broccolini in the vegetable crisper and it ended up being sautéed in garlic-flavored oil before being mixed with the cooked rice. About the same time the broccolini was grabbed, a few mushrooms were found. They had matured into the “use ’em or lose ’em” stage of crisper life and became the most unconventional addition to the dish.

Now that’s all settled, let’s take a look at the recipe.

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General Tso 2

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General Tso’s Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup lite soy sauce
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup white distilled vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle pepper
  • approx. 4 oz sliced “baby bella” mushrooms (forgive me, Chef Peng)
  • 2 tbsp arrowroot, mixed with 2 tbsp water – flour or cornstarch may be substituted
  • 4 scallions/green onions, sliced

original recipe from Favorite Family Recipes

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General Tso Rice 2

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for the rice and broccolini

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 oz (225 g) broccolini, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the flour, salt, and pepper into a sealable plastic bag. Working in batches, add the chicken pieces to the bag, shake to coat, and place the now-coated chicken on a plate. Continue until all the chicken is coated with the seasoned flour.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of oil to a hot, large frying pan over med-high heat.
  3. When oil is hot begin adding the chicken pieces. Do not overcrowd. It should take you 2 batches, at least. You may need to add a bit more oil between batches. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Chicken needn’t be cooked through, only browned.
  4. When the chicken is browned on all sides, remove to a plate and begin the next batch.
  5. Meanwhile, into the slow cooker, add the sugar, soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Stir to completely combine.
  6. Add the mushrooms and stir.
  7. When all the chicken has been browned, add to the slow cooker and set it to low. Cook for 3 to 4 hours or until chicken is cooked thoroughly.
  8. About 30 minutes before completion, check to see if the sauce has thickened. If not, combine the arrowroot and water to make a slurry. Add to the pot and gently stir. Cover.
  9. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil in a medium sauce pan with a lid.
  10. Add salt and butter, stir, and then add the rice.
  11. When the water returns to the boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.
  12. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the heat. Rice will be ready in 5 more minutes.
  13. While the rice cooks, add 2 tbsp olive oil to a large frying pan and heat over med-high heat.
  14. Add the smashed garlic and cook until brown.
  15. Remove the garlic, add the broccolini, and reduce the heat to medium.
  16. Continue to sauté the broccolini in the garlic flavored oil until cooked to your satisfaction.
  17. Add the cooked rice to the frying pan and stir until fully combined. (See Notes)
  18. Serve the cooked chicken atop a bed of rice with broccolini. Garnish the dish with the chopped scallions/green onions.

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General Tso 3

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Notes

Although broccolini was used here, I have used broccoli and broccoli raab in the recipe. In all cases, I added the cooked rice to the pan in which the vegetable was sautéed so that the rice could absorb as much flavor from the pan as possible. Of course, you could steam the broccoli and add it to the dish however you wish.

The amount of arrowroot slurry needed will vary depending upon how much liquid is in the pot. No matter whether you use flour, cornstarch, or my oft-forgotten arrowroot, mix an equal amount of water with the thickening agent.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Green Tomato Relish Look Back

Very soon we’ll be coming to an end of our tomato growing season. Each of us probably has a favorite method for dealing with the green tomatoes left on the vine with no hope of ripening. My Grandpa placed them in the drawer of an old dresser on the patio where they slowly ripened. Others wrap them in newspaper, while some place the green orbs in paper bags. That’s great if you want to ripen them but what if you don’t want to invest the time, paper, or drawer space? Today’s look back will give you a totally different option Take this LINK to learn how to make green tomato relish. Your hot dogs will thank you.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

The Kitchens Salute Awburr-what? … Melanzane!

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The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 2: Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Pancetta, Clams and Shrimp

Squash with Seafood 1

Although I may not be posting many recipes that rely upon my new love, the spiralizer, I continue to us it frequently. In fact — hold on to your hats — I use it more often than I do my pasta machine. I know! I never would have thought such a thing possible. Yet, here I am with about 3/4 lb of homemade pasta in my pasta basket, where’s its been for just about 3 weeks now. 3 weeks!!! This would have been unthinkable just last summer and I have butternut squash to credit — or is it blame?

As much as I enjoy zucchini noodles, “zoodles”, their texture often leaves much to be desired, They can go from al dente to unappealingly soft in the blink of an eye. To avoid this, I often serve them raw, making more of a pasta salad than a dish of freshly cooked pasta. Not so with butternut squash. Roasting doesn’t affect these noodles’ “bite” but it does add flavor to the final dish. Best of all, these noodles can be served hot, making a number of dishes possible. Today’s recipe is one such dish.

As is the case with most seafood pasta dishes, this one is easy to prepare and you’ll find that roasted butternut squash compliments seafood quite well. Truth be told, I’ve a squash just waiting for me to return home from the fishmonger with more seafood. It won’t be long now.

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Squash with Seafood 2

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Butternut Squash Noodles with Seafood Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 oz (56 g) pancetta, chopped
  • about 12 small clams — manila, littleneck, or cockles will do (See Notes)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • about 12 shrimp — no smaller than 41 to 50 ct/lb
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs – omit if GF (See Notes)
  • 2 tsp parsley per serving, chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F (195˚ C).
  2. Separate neck of squash from the bulb end that contains the seeds. Reserve the bulb for another use.
  3. Peel the squash before using a spiralizer to create spaghetti-like noodles.
  4. Place noodles on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, and a bit of olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Place mixture in a small fry pan over medium heat. Cook until mixture is golden brown. Set aside.
  6. Begin heating remaining olive oil in a large frypan with a lid. Add the pancetta and begin to render its fat. Do not allow the pancetta to burn. It should be fully rendered about the time that the noodles have 5 minutes to go.
  7. Place the garlic and clams in the pan with the pancetta and cover. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the shrimp to the pan. Cover the pan.
  8. After a minute or so, stir the frying pan’s contents and cover.
  9. Remove noodles from the oven and dump them into the pan with the seafood and pancetta. Stir to evenly coat everything with the pan juices.
  10. Continue to sauté until the clams and shrimp are fully cooked — no more than 2 minutes more.
  11. DISCARD ANY CLAMS THAT REMAIN UNOPENED.
  12. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the toasted breadcrumbs created in Step 5.
  13. Serve immediately.

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Squash with Seafood 3

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Notes

Use a brush reserved for food-prep to scrub all clams before cooking. Any that remain open after a thorough scrubbing should be discarded. Opinions vary as to whether to soak fresh clams in salt or fresh water to cause the clams to expel grit. Some feel that commercially harvested and shipped clams do not need such purging. If, however, your clams are bought directly from the fishermen or harvested yourself, they must be soaked for at least 30 minutes before scrubbing, changing the water midway through.

In Italian cooking, it is definitely not recommended to use grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese on a dish with most varieties of seafood. Very often, toasted breadcrumbs are substituted, just as I did above. Do you remember the stuffed calamari recipe I shared back in March? At the time, I suggested freezing the extra cooked breading mixture. They would make the perfect garnish for this dish, as well as a number of other pasta with seafood dishes. Being roasted already, all you need do is to warm them in a small frying pan. Use them as you would grated cheese, as a garnish just before serving.

I’ve seen recipes where squash noodles are boiled first, much like pasta, rather than roasted. I’ve yet to prepare them that way. If it ain’t broke …

My spiralizer is an attachment for a stand mixer. As such, it makes quick work of the “neck” of a butternut squash. Some may find this squash is too firm for their hand-cranked spiralizer. I’ve no experience with any of them and look forward to hearing from you in the Comments.

Of course, for a gluten-free version do not include the toasted breadcrumbs unless they’re GF. Garnish with chopped parsley instead.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tart Cherry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Sauce

With September almost here, there’s no time like the present for frozen treats. If you’re like me and took advantage of the sour cherry season, stashing some of the red beauties in your freezer, well, now’s the time to set some of them free! Follow this LINK to learn how to use them to prepare frozen yogurt, as well as a tasty chocolate sauce to smother it. All that’s missing is the cherry on top!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

General Tso's - Preview

General Tso’s Chicken

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If it’s Mid-Summer, it’s Time for Pinzimonio!

Pinzimonio 2

I remember this dish every year — but around Thanksgiving, long after the gardens have withered and the farmers markets have closed for the season. Sure, you can make this dish anytime but it’s best when the vegetables are freshly picked. So, what is pinzimonio?

It’s a variety of fresh vegetables served raw with a side dressing of olive oil and vinegar that’s seasoned simply with salt and pepper. (Yes, that’s crudités but I hesitate to bring a third language into the discussion.)  It’s easy enough to prepare and a great way to take advantage of summer’s bounty.

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Pinzimonio 1

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When I was a boy, Mom would serve pinzimonio just about every Sunday starting in July, when the first of our garden’s crop ripened. As we gathered for dinner, there would be a platter of cut, raw vegetables in the center of the table waiting for us. You might find bell peppers, fennel, celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and scallions, along with whatever caught Dad’s eye when he took Sis & I to the grocery that morning. Rounding out the antipasti/insalati, she’d also serve a platter of freshly picked, sliced tomatoes (See Déjà Vu).  But wait! There’s more.

At each of our places at the table, Mom would have a ramekin with our own dipping sauce which she would cater to our age and preference. All contained oil and red wine vinegar but those for Sis and I, being the youngest, contained just a touch of salt & pepper. My brother, being so very much older (this is one way to see if my siblings read the blog), was allowed more salt and pepper in his dipping sauce. Mom, having a life-long aversion to pepper, gave herself barely a few pepper flakes with the salt in her ramekin. Dad had no such issues and you could see a thick layer of salt with another of pepper covering the bottom of his little dish. Each of us helped ourselves to whatever we wanted on the platter and dipped it into our own ramekins. No need to pass this or that and, best of all, we could double, triple, or even quadruple dip without so much as a raised eyebrow from Mom.

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Pinzimonio 3

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Now, as for a recipe, well, I’ve pretty much explained the dish already. Gather together any fresh vegetable that you would serve dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing. Clean and trim each in such a way to accommodate their serving and arrange them on a platter. Next, place oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in ramekins or small dishes, one per place setting. Although Mom always used red wine vinegar, I’ve used balsamic and loved it.

No matter the vinegar used, you’ll find that pinzimonio is a great way to take advantage of the bounty of summer, while adding more vegetables to your diet. Not only that but if, like me, you have meatless days, pinzimonio makes a great lunch or dinner, especially when summer’s heat renders the stove off-limits.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tomato Antipasti - Deja Vu

I could hardly write about pinzimonio without offering you the link to Mom’s Tomato Antipasti. This time of year, both dishes were usually served side-by-side, much to the delight of all seated at that table. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to prepare and, like pinzimonio, no stove is required. Here’s the LINK to one of my family’s favorite summertime antipasti.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squash with Seafood Preview

Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Seafood

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Our Italian Holiday

This being such a short post, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity and share a bit of our holiday last spring.

Bologna

My trip began in Bologna, a wonderful town with an incredible history. It is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating university and the center of what many believe to be the heart of Italian cuisine. With my nephew arriving the next day, I had barely enough time to check into my room, take a walk, break my camera, have a great dinner, and get lost on my way back to the hotel. Yes, you read that correctly. My camera was out of commission for the entire trip. Let me apologize now for the quality of the pics to follow. Truth be told, I hadn’t planned on posting many because most would be very similar to those posted 2 years ago. Even so, it would have been nice to have had a good camera with me.

Many of Bologna’s walks are covered and the “pavement” is marble. The city is meant for the casual promenade. Besides several churches and the university, there are a number of sites to see: the Two Towers, the Piazza Maggiore (site of my camera’s untimely demise), the statue of Neptune, and of course, my prosciutto store, La Prosciutteria. How I love that place!!!  Here are a few photos. Click on any one to see a full description.

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That day ended with one of the best restaurant meals that I was served.

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The Republic of San Marino

My nephew’s plane arrived on time and soon we were on our way to San Marino, where Zia Pina greeted us with open arms, Waiting with her was her grand-daughter & husband, and the newest member of our the family, the soon to be one-year-old Viola. Zia is a wonderful cook and the highlight was when she served cappelletti for the entire family. This just so happens to by my nephew’s favorite dish and one he hasn’t enjoyed since his Grandma, my Mom, passed away 14 years ago. The following day, she took us both for a tour of the city of San Marino, and the seat of the republic’s government atop Mt. Titano. The next day, Sunday, we attended a mass that Zia had arranged to honor our family’s departed. Afterward, we re-assembled at a restaurant In Riccione, on the Adriatic shore, for a fantastic seafood feast. I would go back there in a heartbeat! Here are just a few of those photos.

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Venice

Before leaving San Marino, my nephew and I “kidnapped” a young cousin for a day trip to Venice and Murano Island. It was a chilly day with showers, so, we timed our lunch and a caffè for the worst spells — or so we tried. Although we knew it was the Italian Liberation Day holiday, we didn’t know that it was also St. Mark’s feast day, he being the Patron Saint of Venice. We learned of our oversight upon setting foot upon St. Mark’s Square. Even so, we had to keep moving and, after a water taxi ride to Murano Island for a bit of souvenir shopping, we ended our day with a fine supper. Then it was a dash across Venice for a train ride back to Rimini where a cousin would take us to Zia’s. (I won’t mention that our arrival was delayed because we missed our train and, consequently, were stowaways on the next.) Thankfully, our “chauffeur” was very kind and waited patiently for our eventual arrival. These next photos are by committee. Oddly enough, each of our phones, ran out of power as we traversed Venice. Mine was the first to go, only to miraculously revive — its vibrating giving me quite a start — on the train as we approached the station in Rimini.

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Don’t let the blue skies fool you. We were drenched by the time we reached the piazza and there wasn’t a soul seated in any of the cafés that encircle it.

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Rome

The next morning, my nephew and I boarded a train bound for Rome, with Zia and 2 cousins accompanying us. What fun! Our flat was about 100 yards from the Pantheon and once we settled in, we were off for a little sightseeing around the Piazza Navona. That night, we enjoyed a fine dinner in celebration of my nephew’s graduation and, as we soon learned, my cousin’s wedding anniversary. The next morning, we walked to the Vatican to meet another cousin and her husband. Unable to get into the Vatican because the Pope was awaiting a diplomat, we took taxis to the Colosseum, stopping along the way for lunch. Well, by the time we made it to the Colosseum, it was far too crowded with tourists to enter. We headed back to the flat, said our goodbyes, and our cousins headed to the train station for their ride back to San Marino. Alone now, with only 2 days left, we planned the rest of our stay. We would spend one morning revisiting the Colosseum, with the Vatican occupying the second. The afternoons would be spent seeing everything on his “must see” list, as well as a couple of sites that I tossed into the mix. Of course, a fantastic meal would end each day.

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Corinaldo

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time for us to part company. My nephew returned home but a few weeks earlier I had decided to extend my holiday. I wanted to take a few days to visit Corinaldo, the Bartolini ancestral home. So, as my nephew boarded a plane, I caught a train to Ancona, where I rented a car for the drive to Corinaldo. It’s a quaint little village nestled in rolling hills. The very center of the town is totally encircled by walls that were built during the 1300s. Unlike similar towns in Italy, these walls have been maintained and are in excellent condition. There is but one entrance and one exit, the knowledge of which might have saved me the hour I spent circling the area, not to mention one ill-fated attempt of entering through the exit. (Ah! The joys of travel.) Once situated, my flat was quite nice with a terrace facing west and I was anxious to watch the sun set over the Italian countryside. Well, that was the plan but the clouds had made previous reservations, apparently, and I never did see a sunset. No worries. I still enjoyed my time there, walking from one end of the village to the other — make that “carefully walking”. It rained intermittently and the cobblestone streets are quite narrow. I rushed for a doorway or hugged a wall whenever I heard a car approach. Luckily, that didn’t happen very often. There is no rush hour in downtown Corinaldo. There is, however, a great little restaurant on The Stairs and they served me my final meal in my Grandparents’ hometown.

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Terrace view

The terrace view

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Fiumicino

I left the next morning taking a route to Ancona that would allow me to travel along the Adriatic coast for a spell. To get to the coast, I travelled along narrow roads that carried me over the hills, through the beautiful Marche countryside. I dropped off the car and made my way to the train station. With an early morning flight, my destination would be Fiumicino, a small town about 30 km outside of Rome and home to the city’s international airport. Lucky for me, there was a wonderful restaurant just down the street from my hotel. My holiday ended with one last fantastic meal, albeit a filling one.

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Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

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One thing more

Unbeknownst to me, I spent my holiday walking with a stress fracture of my left ankle. It had bothered me before I left but I made a variety of excuses about it. In fact, even upon coming home, the excuses continued. Finally, about a week later, I decided to have it checked and I was given this fancy boot to wear for the next 4 weeks. WIth the boot now gone, I am happy to say that things are back to normal, whatever that means.

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Stress Fracture

You won’t find this at Ferragamo’s.

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Our holiday was memorable in so many ways, and during the course of which, my now-adult nephew and I became re-acquainted. We were treated royally, with our family members freeing up their schedules so that they could spend as much time with us as possible. I’ve read that when we put to paper an objective, the odds of accomplishing it increase by 40%. With that in mind, I do not know how or when but I will be returning to San Marino. I must. I’ve promised to kidnap another cousin for a day trip somewhere.

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Bone Marrow Risotto with Morel & Porcini Mushrooms

Bone Marrow Risotto 1

Oh, how I wish I could claim that I came up with the idea of using bone marrow to make risotto! Instead, it was one of my favorite chefs, Lidia Bastianich, who inspired today’s dish.

Most days, my television or radio is left on, the noise keeps my parrot company while I’m in another room or running errands. (The jury is still out as to whether it helps Max, although as a puppy I literally caught him in mid-air as he lunged at a screen full of unsuspecting meerkats.) On most Saturdays, my TV is tuned to PBS where a number of cooking shows are featured. Early last Spring, while I was working out some of the details for our then-upcoming trip to San Marino, I heard Lidia describe a recipe that used marrow as the fat to start her risotto. I didn’t need to hear anything else. I knew that I’d be preparing that dish.

In what can only be considered as a happy coincidence, the week I was going to prepare the risotto, porcini and morel mushrooms were available at the Fish Guy market. Well, if you’re going to make a special risotto, why not go all the way? I bought some of each mushroom and bought some beef soup bones on my way home. I had several chicken backs in my freezer and my crisper had plenty of veggies to add to the stockpot. Soon there was a large pot of stock simmering on the stove top.

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Morels - Bone Marrow Risotto

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Before starting the risotto, the mushrooms need to be cleaned. The porcini can be cleaned by a quick rinse and thorough drying. Given their pock-marked surface, morels are a little more complicated to clean. I’ve never been satisfied just brushing them for I fear I cannot get into the holes deeply enough, while their surface makes it nearly impossible to completely dry them after even a light rinse. So, I place several into a colander and toss them again and again, (hopefully) catching them with the colander each time. The result is that the debris is knocked out of the crevices. After several tosses, each morel is inspected and, if need be, tossed again. I get out the brush as a last resort only.

So, with the stock made and defatted, and the mushrooms cleaned, it’s time to start preparing the risotto …

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Beef Marrow Bones

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Bone Marrow Risotto Recipe

Ingredients

  • 7.5 oz (410 g) beef marrow bones yielding 2 oz (58 g) marrow
  • butter or olive oil, as needed (see Notes)
  • 2 shallots, chopped – 1 small onion may be substituted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 4 oz fresh morel mushrooms
  • 4 oz fresh porcini mushrooms (See Notes)
  • 1.5 cups (340 g) Arborio rice
  • 1 cup (237 ml) dry white wine
  • 4 cups (948 ml) stock (see Notes)
  • 2 tbsp (28 g) butter
  • 1/3 cup (70 g) grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • additional grated cheese for garnish and serving

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Bone Marrow Risotto 3

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Directions

  1. In a large sauce pan or deep frying pan, melt the marrow over med-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.
  3. Add the mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes.
  4. Add the rice and sauté for another 5 minutes or so to toast it. The grains should be partially opaque.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium and add the wine. Stir frequently.
  6. Once the wine has just about been absorbed, add a ladle or 2 of hot stock, and stir. Though you needn’t stir it constantly, you shouldn’t leave it for more than a couple of minutes.
  7. When the stock is all but gone, add another ladle of stock and stir. Repeat this process again and again until the rice is just about cooked. This should take about 20 minutes and the risotto should not be gummy but very moist, though not so much as to be a soup.
  8. Taste and add salt & pepper, as needed.
  9. Turn off the heat, add a final ladle or 2 of stock, cover the pan, and let the risotto rest for 5 minutes.
  10. Add the butter and grated Pecorino Romano cheese, stir to combine, and place on the serving platter.
  11. Garnish with more grated cheese and serve.

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Bone Marrow Risotto 4

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Notes …

If you find that you haven’t enough marrow for the amount of rice you’re going to cook, just add a bit of butter or olive oil to the pan. I won’t tell anyone.

I’ve made this dish 3 times since first hearing Lidia. The first 2 times, I was lucky enough to get fresh mushrooms, both morels and porcini. For the last time, with fresh porcini no longer available, I used a package (1 oz, 26 g) of dried porcini that I hydrated in hot —  not boiling — water before using. The liquid was saved for some future use. By the way, I’ve no idea where my photos of the fresh mushrooms went. I used a photo from another post for the morels pictured but I’m pretty sure I’ll find them all now that this post has been published.

To make the stock, about 5 lbs (2.25 kg) of beef bones, along with the backs of 3 chickens, were roasted in a 400˚ F (200˚ C) for about an hour. All were then placed in a large stockpot and Mom’s broth recipe was followed to create a rich, flavorful stock. Strained before being refrigerated overnight, the stock gelled as the fat rose to the top. Once the fat was removed, the stock was ready to be used in today’s recipe.

When making this or any risotto, use only stock that has been heated just to the point of a soft simmer and no more. Too cool and the stock will slow the cooking of the rice.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Fried Sage Deja Vu

 

I first “met” fried sage a little over 2 years ago when friends and I were in Florence. It was our first night together and we took a chance on an appetizer called “Salvia Friiti”. It was incredible and we still talk about that dish to this day. Did I mention that an anchovy is placed between the sage leaves before frying? Oh, yeah! Well, once I got home, I set about attempting to replicate that delicious appetizer. I think I did a pretty good job of it but you can see for yourself by taking this link HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pinzimonio Preview

Pinzimonio

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