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Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

If I keep waiting to share this recipe it will be full-on winter and then what is the point of talking about Fall Sage Pesto?  The problem is that there is no recipe.  I found this pesto in an Ina Garten cookbook.  But since then I’ve packed up and moved twice and now many of my recipes are somewhere between here and Ecuador … or the Runyan’s garage.  It’s anyone’s guess.

I’ll give you a pitiful attempt at my recollection of what this entailed and see where you go with it.  It was pesto so it involved herbs, nuts, olive oil and parmesan blended.  The herbs consisted largely of sage and rosemary and I’m pretty sure it used walnuts.  There.  There’s your recipe.

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But if I haven’t given you enough help to try your own pesto experiment, I figure this is a great opportunity to remind you of the BEST GNOCCHI RECIPE.  It uses sweet potatoes instead of the regular little guys and in doing so creates a lot of extra flavor without tasting overly sweet, which is often my sweet potato complaint.

Not to dissuade you, but gnocchi is one of the easiest pastas to mess up.  If you handle it too much or add just a bit too much flour it will turn totally gummy and feel like glue when it hits your stomach.  Because it’s easy to mess up, there is a lot of bad gnocchi out there.  I’m convinced that this is why more people don’t love gnocchi.  They’ve only ever been served bad stuff and now don’t care to try gnocchi again.  I was fortunate to try the most delicate and meltingly delicious puddles the first time and have thus ordered many a gnocchi hoping to find that perfection again.  This means that even though this recipe uses precise measurements, you shouldn’t.  Your goal is to get a workable dough with as little flour, handholding, and cursing (just kidding, but it is time consuming and sticky at times) as possible.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Originally from allrecipes.com
Serves 4

2 (8 ounce) sweet potatoes
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, or until soft to the touch. Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool.  (I do the quick version by pricking the potatoes and cooking them in the microwave til soft – about 10 minutes.)
Once the potatoes are cool enough to work with, remove the peels, and mash them, or press them through a ricer into a large bowl. Blend in the garlic, salt, nutmeg, and egg. Mix in the flour a little at a time until you have soft dough. Use more or less flour as needed.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. While you wait for the water, make the gnocchi. On a floured surface, roll the dough out in several long snakes, and cut into 1-inch sections. Drop the pieces into the boiling water, and allow them to cook until they float to the surface. Remove the floating pieces with a slotted spoon, and keep warm in a serving dish. Serve with butter or cream sauce.

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Oh man am I looking for easy these days.  Easy and about oh, zero ingredients since we are packing up our entire house and that means clearing the fridge of its contents.  This recipe uses only ingredients that I almost always have on hand.

It’s totally simple.  I think I was drawn to try it mostly because it reminds me of a dish I used to rder every once in a while from Coco Pazzo Cafe back when I worked a block away from it.  A chicken paillard served with a fresh helping of greens, goat cheese and grapes.  No carb-heavy side offered.  No need to sauce it up.  Just simple, fresh food.

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Lemon and Oregano-Rubbed Chicken Paillards
From cookinglight.com
Serves 4

4  (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
5  teaspoons  grated lemon rind
1  tablespoon  olive oil
1 1/2  teaspoons  dried oregano
3/4  teaspoon  kosher salt
1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1/4  teaspoon  water
2  garlic cloves, minced
Cooking spray
4  lemon wedges
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh parsley

Prepare grill.

Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin.

Combine lemon rind and next 6 ingredients (through minced garlic); rub evenly over both sides of chicken. Place chicken on a grill rack coated with cooking spray, and grill 3 minutes on each side or until chicken is done. Remove from heat. Squeeze 1 lemon wedge evenly over each chicken breast half. Sprinkle parsley evenly over chicken.

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This is a rustic dinner at it’s best.  It’s what I might imagine myself eating if I were wandering through the vineyards of Tuscany and someone invited me into their humble home.  A one bowl dish of hearty and healthy fare.  This with a glass of chianti and some new friends would make for a full and satisfied stomach and a feeling of warm content.

Alas I’m not in Tuscany and this was made in my kitchen with ingredients from the super market as opposed to a homegrown garden.  And yet it is still chock full of flavor and texture, enough to satisfy me anytime of year.

Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes
Originally from foodnetwork.com
Servings: 4

1 28-ounce can San Marzano plum tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 cup instant polenta
Freshly ground pepper
2 bunches Swiss chard (about 2 pounds) (I used red Swiss chard)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 7.5-ounce package farmer cheese, crumbled (I used feta instead)

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450. Toss the tomatoes, olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large ovenproof skillet. Roast in the oven until the tomatoes are charred around the edges, about 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 but keep the tomatoes inside.

Meanwhile, bring 5 cups water to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the polenta until smooth and creamy. Add 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat, cover and keep warm.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Slice the chard leaves into wide strips and the stems into 1-inch pieces. Boil the stems until almost tender, about 5 minutes, then add the leaves and cook until both are tender, about 3 more minutes. Drain the chard.

Remove the skillet from the oven and place over medium-high heat. Push the tomatoes to one side, add the butter and swirl until the butter is golden brown. Add the chard and toss to coat. Divide the polenta among 4 bowls. Top with the tomatoes and chard. Season the cheese with salt and sprinkle over the top.

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Weeknight cooking for those short on time.  A classic tomato cream sauce with just a little twist.  Mascarpone swapped in for heavy cream.

Not a ton of effort.  Not a ton of dazzle.  But just some good, flavorful pasta whipped up quickly.

* Note: This does not work particularly well as leftovers.  It becomes dry quickly.  Perhaps if the sauce and noodles were kept separate it would work better, but it’s not a great pick for someone short on time who is hoping to generate a few meals in one kitchen time.

Farfalle al Mascarpone
Taken from bell’alimento

1 14.5 oz can of Whole Italian Tomatoes
1 12 oz box of dried Farfalle Pasta
1 medium onion – minced
1 clove of garlic – crushed
1 good handful of fresh basil – roughly chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 oz mascarpone – room temp.
salt

Parmigiano Reggiano – to garnish (optional)

Into a large saute pan add your oil & butter & heat over medium heat. Add your onions, garlic, tomatoes & basil. Stir together & season with salt. Reduce to LOW and cook for approx 15-20 mins.

WHILE sauce is cooking, place a large pot of water onto boil. Season water generously with salt. When water is boiling add your pasta & cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid & then drain pasta & set aside briefly.

When sauce has finished cooking, transfer it into your food processor, food mill, blender, or use your immersion blender (whatever you have available) & pulse until smooth & silky consistency. Return to pan & mix in the mascarpone. Check for seasoning & salt if necessary. Once blended completely add the pasta into the sauce and toss well. Add the reserved cooking liquid if sauce is too thick. Garnish with additional basil if desired & Parmigiano Reggiano!

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Happy Thanksgiving!  (And a non-Thanksgiving dish for you …)

I’m in love with orecchiette.  Something about then looks so much more elegant and enticing than say elbow macaroni or mostaccioli.  It’s possible that I choose recipes just for their inclusion of this sweet little ear-shaped pasta.  I don’t know why I do this, though, because I have NEVER once found orecchiette at any of my grocery stores.  They are simply nonexistent.  There is cavatelli, shells, linguine, fettucine, and angel hair.  And even sometimes campanelle, which is what I substituted with in this case, but never my beloved orecchiette.  Oh I know they exist.  They exist at those little, kitschy gourmet food stores for $8/lb. but I’ve got principles that keep me from that ludicrousness.    And so I pick recipes for their cute little orecchiette and end up with pasta made from campanelle.

I’d give this recipe mixed reviews.  I liked that it highlights some lesser-used ingredients for pasta.  It’s got all the elements needed to pack some major flavor punch.  And yet it just didn’t quite get there.  I expected an explosion of flavors in my mouth and what I got was good pasta instead of great pasta.  I don’t think this recipe is dead, though, so if it appeals to you I’d encourage you to play around.

I think if I tried it again I’d do two things differently.  First, I would not mince the shallots.  I’d keep them in long stringy strips and sauté them until thoroughly caramelized.  (I don’t even eat onions, but I love the flavor enhancement that they give and know that many others consider them a real treat.)  Second, I would greatly enhance the lemon flavor.  Adding some lemon zest to the cream sauce and then upping the amount of fresh lemon juice at the end.

Orecchiette with Brussels Sprouts, Gorgonzola, and Brown-Butter Pecans
From Fine Cooking 102, pp. 107
Serves 4-6

Kosher salt
20 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed (4 cups)
3-1/2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. dried orecchiette
1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 large shallots, minced (3/4 cup)
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled (1 cup)
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, set a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the rack, and heat the oven to 500°F. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.

In a food processor fitted with the medium (4 mm) slicing disk, slice the Brussels sprouts. Transfer them to a large bowl, drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with 1-1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper, and toss until well coated. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and spread the Brussels sprouts on it in a single layer. Roast, stirring once about halfway through the cooking time, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and flecked with charred bits, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the orecchiette according to package directions until just al dente.

In a medium heavy-duty skillet, melt 1/2 Tbs. of the butter over medium heat. Add the pecans and cook, stirring frequently, until the butter is deeply browned and the pecans are toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Melt the remaining 1 Tbs. butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, add 3 oz. (3/4 cup) of the Gorgonzola and stir until melted.

Drain the orecchiette and return it to the pot. Add the Brussels sprouts, Gorgonzola sauce, and lemon juice and toss well. Serve, sprinkled with the pecans and the remaining Gorgonzola.

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After finally finishing off all the pots of leftover soup from Soup Night, which were much needed during a week when sit-down dinners were nonexistent, it was time for something different.  And by different I mostly mean a fresh, home cooked meal placed on a real plate, on a real dinner table.  I was happy to get into the kitchen and pull out my favorite knife.  Nate was happy to eat anything that didn’t consist mainly of liquid and microwaving.

The whole time I was prepping this recipe it kept sending me to the Olive Garden.  It must have been the combination of garlic and parmesan that brought this to mind, though I use this particular combination quite frequently.  Either way, I am happy to report that this dish does not end up tasting anything like the pre-fabbed meals that are served at the Olive Garden.  It was intensely flavorful and aromatic, infused with the sweetness of the sundried tomatoes and balsamic reduction, and the tanginess of the artichokes and goat cheese.  It’s the kind of dish that makes you realize vegetarianism is not the saddest plight to happen.  (Well, at least for the night.  Until you come across a recipe for cranberry-glazed, bacon-wrapped apricots.  Then you remember how glad you are that you aren’t vegetarian, that your husband isn’t vegetarian, and that no one in your immediate families is vegetarian.)

Stuffed Portobello with Balsamic Reduction
Adapted from loveandoliveoil.com.  Originally adapted from Epicurious.

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients
4 cups fresh spinach leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
4-ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
salt and pepper, to taste

4-6 portobello mushroom caps

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 sprig fresh thyme

Directions

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add onion; sauté until beginning to brown, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted.  Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Chop and transfer to large bowl; cool to room temperature.

Add spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, sundried tomato, artichoke, goat cheese, and breadcrumbs to onion mixture; toss to distribute evenly. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover filling and let stand at room temperature.

To make balsamic reduction, combine vinegar and thyme sprig and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until reduced by half. Mixture should be thick and syrupy. Simmer longer if necessary. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Transfer mushrooms to rimmed baking sheet, gill side up. Divide filling among mushrooms. Sprinkle remaining 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese over and bake until heated through and cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.

Drizzle mushrooms with balsamic reduction and serve immediately.

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Italian Cheese Fondue

What could be better than cheese and bread for a pregnant stomach?  Some days, not much.  I’ve been avoiding meat so regularly (unless it’s on a taco or burrito and then I eat it right up!) that there is literally not a single protein left in my freezer.  This is unheard of for the girl who buys 8 lbs. of chicken breasts every time they are on sale! 

What makes this Italian is the use of fontina cheese in place of the more traditional French emmentaler cheese.  Ultimately, I didn’t find the end result to be too distinct, probably because gruyere cheese has such a strong flavor.  But ultimately, ultimately I found it quite delicious regardless of its Italian or French origins!  I appreciated the suggested dippers but included grapes and pears because I find those just divine with a good cheese.

Italian Cheese Fondue
Originally from foodnetwork.com, Giada de Laurentiis
Cook Time: 20 min.    Yield: 6 servings (as an appetizer or first course)

8 ounces grated Fontina 
8 ounces grated Gruyere 
5 teaspoons cornstarch 
6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped (I had to skip this)
2 cups dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Bite-size pieces of focaccia, sliced salami, fresh fennel, Belgian endive, steamed broccoli florets and asparagus spears, for dipping

Toss the Fontina and Gruyere cheese with the cornstarch in a medium bowl to coat. Saute the pancetta in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat until crisp and golden, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a plate. Pour off any excess oil. Pour the wine into the same saucepan and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium. Whisk 1 handful of the cheese mixture into the wine until it is almost melted. Repeat with the remaining cheese mixture in about 4 more batches. Continue whisking until the cheese is completely melted and the fondue bubbles, about 1 minute. Stir in all but 2 tablespoons of the pancetta. Season the fondue with pepper, to taste.

Transfer the cheese mixture to a fondue pot. Sprinkle with the remaining pancetta and chives. Set the pot over a candle or a canned heat burner. Serve with focaccia and vegetables.

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