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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sweet-potatoes-au-gratin-1

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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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Olio Santo – The Spicy Peperoncini Oil of Italy

Olio Santo 2

My last post was so recipe-laden that I thought it best to go easy with this one …

I was introduced to Olio Santo during my first visit to San Marino a little over 2 years ago. My cousin Maurizio offered to drizzle a bit of it on my linguine alla vongole, a dish Zia had prepared for me after I mentioned it was a favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the oil and was told that Zia made it and that it was very easy to do. After a brief explanation, I knew that I’d be making it once I got home. I have ever since.

Red peperoncini are grown throughout Southern Italy but primarily in Calabria and Basilicata, the toe and instep of the Italian boot. Come August, you can often see the peperoncini hanging in large bunches, drying in the hot Mediterranean sun. Across the south, their name often contains a reference to the devil – i.e., diavolett, diabulillu, diavulicchuirefers, etc. With that naming convention, it makes perfect sense that an oil made with them should be called holy or sacred. Olio Santo does, in fact, translate to Holy Oil. Yes, perfect sense.

Trying to find the origin of Olio Santo was not such an easy task. It seems that everyone from Calabria to Abruzzo (the region to the south of Le Marche), claims to be the origin of this spicy condiment. I’m not about to take sides. For me, Zia Pina is the creator of Olio Santo. You see, in Zia Pina I trust.

Zia uses dried red peperoncini from Calabria to make her Olio Santo. She grinds/chops the peperoncini, places them in a bottle, fills it with good quality olive oil, and caps it before setting the bottle in the sun for 3 days. After sunbathing, the bottle is stored in a cool, dark place for at least a week. Feel free to use it after that. (See Notes) It really is that simple and the recipe I’m about to share adds quantities to the ingredients just mentioned.

Although Zia uses Calabrese peperoncini, you may not be able to source them. For some time, I had a devil of a time finding them and eventually turned to Amazon. Of course, you needn’t go to such lengths but can easily use the more readily available chilies from this side of the Atlantic. I’ve used dried Chile do Arbol with a dash of red pepper flakes when peperoncini aren’t available. The preparations taste the same and affect the same area of the palate. I honestly doubt whether anyone would notice a difference.

Once made, use it as a finishing oil for just about any pasta dish to add a little zip to the plate. I’ve used it as a base for spaghetti aglio e olio, as well as a dipping oil for some crusty Italian bread. You may want to add a bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to that plate, too. Remember the pinzimonio? A dash of Olio Santo to the dipping sauce will bring a bit of heat to your veggies. Make a batch of this flavorful oil and I think you’ll be surprised to see just how many uses you’ll find for it. And we’ll have Zia Pina to thank.

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Olio Santo Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 oz dried Calabrese peperoncini
  • 1 quart (1 l) good quality extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Place the dried peperoncini into a food processor and pulse until thoroughly chopped.
    1. Alternately: use a sharp knife to chop the dried peperoncini. Wear gloves to limit the risk of a burning eye.
  2. Place the chopped peperoncini into a clean & dry glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
  3. Add the olive oil, stir to combine, and place the lid on the jar.
  4. Once sealed, place the container into a sunny spot, where it will remain for 3 days.
  5. Once “cured”, place the jar into a cool, dark place for at least 1 week. (See Notes)
  6. Place the Olio Santo into bottles more suitable for serving. You can include some of the peperoncini bits in each jar, if you prefer. (See Notes)
  7. Olio Santo will keep for months, although it never lasts that long.

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Olio Santo 3

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Notes 

I stir the peperoncini in the oil several times while it sits both in the sun and in the dark. Not only will this ensure that all trapped air bubbles are released, I think it gives all the chopped peperoncini equal access to the oil.

I always include some chopped peperoncini in each serving bottle I fill from a batch of Olio Santo.  If you don’t wish to do so, just pass the oil through a mesh strainer as your fill the bottle.

Using a small ladle, I remove any bits and seeds that may float to the surface of my Olio Santo. If allowed to remain, they may block the bottle’s pourer, only to release at a most inopportune time.

Your Olio Santo will keep for 6 months, even longer if you continue to refill it with oil after you fill the serving bottle(s). Once soaked, however, I never allow the chopped peperoncini to be exposed to the air. When the level of oil in the bottle drops that low, either add more oil or toss that batch’s remnants. It’s easy enough to make a fresh batch.

Some prefer to keep the Olio Santo in the fridge. If you choose to do that, keep in mind that the olive oil will thicken considerably when cold. You can get around this by substituting a neutral-tasting vegetable oil for an equal amount of the olive oil, or, by removing the serving bottle from the fridge about 30 minutes before it’s needed.

There are other ways to prepare Olio Santo. Some use chopped, fresh peperoncini, while some recipes steep the peperoncini in heated — not boiling — oil. Never having tried any of them, I cannot say much more about them. I can say, however, that I’m sticking with Zia Pina.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ketchup Look Back

One good condiment deserves another, eh? A few years ago I made my first batch of ketchup and haven’t bought a bottle since. It’s good enough to have earned a permanent spot in my Christmas gift baskets, too. Better still, it’s not just for fried potatoes or burgers, as I’ll prove in a soon-to-be shared meatloaf recipe. Take this LINK to see the recipe and then you’ll have no excuse for not being prepared to make a killer meatloaf in a few weeks.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

zucchini-blossoms-pasta-preview

Pasta with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

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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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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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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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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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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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My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

Minestra del Ceci delle Mie Due Nonne

Minestra del Cece 2*     *     *

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

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

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

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

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Minestra di Ceci*     *     *

My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Garbanzo Bean Soup*     *     *

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squid Ink Pasta PreviewSquid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

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Honey? Mustard!

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

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Honey Mustard 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honey Mustard 2*     *     *

Honey Mustard Recipe

yield: approx 7¾ cups (1830 ml)

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Honey Mustard 1*     *     *

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Agnolotti del Plin Preview Agnolotti del Plin 

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