Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tarts

Cheese Herb Tarts
cheeseaperitivo

The end of 2012 is quickly approaching, it’s time to evaluate the year, take inventory, and plan ahead...mmmh...planning ahead is really not for me, I’ve stopped planning ahead and learned to live day by day, to be patient, to enjoy the wait because really, that’s what life is all about. 

Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.  Seneca.

But today - and not to contradict myself - I’m proposing a "planned ahead" aperitivo for the end of the year dinner.  You know how the scenario is, your guests have just arrived, you're still fiddling in the kitchen with final touches...a chat...some laughter...some music.  You want to keep this atmosphere and keep your friends from starving until things are ready.  This is when an aperitivo fits in perfect.



Setting up canapés for an apertivo takes time, especially if they need to be baked.  This one in particular has some work involved, I prepare it a few days ahead and store it in the freezer.  Cheese Herb Tarts.  Heat them in the oven a few minutes before everyone arrives.  Let them cool and serve with a Bellini drink (my favorite).
flour, tarts, spices
cheese tarts
Ingredients

Shortcrust pastry dough
250g flour
140g butter
pinch of salt
1 egg
rosemary and thyme finely chopped

Filling
100g of ricotta cheese (or fresh goat cheese)
salt
pepper
lemon zest (or paprika, or red pepper)
pine nuts (optional, I didn't use them this time)

Chop the herbs and add to the flour.  Cut the cold butter into small pieces, and add to the herb flour, add salt and rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips.  The idea is to coat all the little pieces of hard butter in the flour. Add 1 egg and knead until you form a small ball. Roll out the dough and place in your pastry tins.  Mix the ricotta cheese to soften (make sure it is completely drained from it's liquid) add, the salt, pepper and lemon zest, don't overdue it with the lemon, you'll need just a dash.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 180°C.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Strangolapreti

Strangolapreti, Speck and White Sauce
strangola preti
December 27, 2012.  I'm starting my detox week today, after all that Christmas eating I honestly need a break from food.  I am literally stuffed!  Stuffed to the gills...overly, overly stuffed.  This will be a week of sad (so sad) raw vegetables and smoothies.  Sometimes it's just necessary to compensate.

On a different note...
Christmas for my family is made of family reunions and traditional Italian recipes.  It's hard to get to the very end of the meal leaving nothing out, that's why I assemble dishes in small portions.  Needless  effort...still, second rounds are due and still, everybody manages to get to the end eating everything no matter what.  So my theory in these cases is to stick to how it has always been, that's what makes our Christmas a true Christmas.  Traditional and abundant.  I remember last year being the same and the year before that, really nothing changes except for time that flies and family that grows.  

This year I decided to give it a tweak, not a big deal of a change but something slightly different.  My entree dish was "Strangolapreti", translated:  Priest Chokers.  There are several legends to explain this awkward name but the one I find most curious is that once priests were known for their insatiable gluttonous appetite and as they frenetically gobbled down this tasty delicacy they risked to choke, sometimes to death.  Self-explanatory indeed!  This recipe catched me unprepared for how the few simple and poor ingredients, surprisingly and brilliantly combined, can turn out to be a meal fit for a king.

The original recipe uses a sauce made of melted butter simmered with sage and topped with grated cheese.  I wanted to make a cheese sauce and give it a crisp touch with bits of prosciutto speck.  
You might want to try this recipe on New Year's, if you do, your 2013 will start in the right direction.

Ingredients:

500 gr of stale bread (no more than 3 days old)
400 gr of fresh spinach
3 uova
bread crumbs
300 gr of milk
150 gr of grated grana (or parmesan) cheese
5/6 slices of speck (or prosciutto, or bacon)
200 gr fresh liquid whipping cream

Cut the bread in small pieces and place in a bowl with warm milk until soft.  Wash the spinach and place in a pan to simmer with a small amount of butter and a dash of salt. Squeeze the spinach to drain from its juice and finely chop. Squeeze the bread to drain from the milk.  By hand, mix the bread with the eggs, the spinach, the grated grana (or parmesan) cheese, some salt and add bread crumbs as needed, just enough to manage the dough. It needs to be soft yet solid.  

Cut the speck (you can also use prosciutto or bacon) in thin julienne slices.  Place the speck in a non-stick pan without oil. Let it cook to crisp.  In the meantime, place the fresh liquid cream in another pan, add the grated cheese and a dash of salt. Let the cheese dissolve in the cream.  Keep warm until serving.

Roll the dough in long ropes, and cut in medium size pieces.  Bring a large amount of salted water to a boil and gently place the strangolapreti.  When they float on the surface, gently pull them from the water with a draining spoon.  

Place the strangolapreti in each serving plate, add the cheese sauce and decorate with the speck.   



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spicy Hot

Octopus with Tomato Fillets
Polpo piccante ai filetti di pomodoro
Our summer vacations always include at least one week at the sea.  Everyday of that week I go for an early morning jog towards the shore, where I find fishermen coming back with their fresh catches.  As a seafood lover, I concentrate and satisfy all my desire for fish in that one week.  Francesco, a timid, reserved fisherman, etched by the sun and by the salt, appearing to be older than his actual age, displays his daily selection of fish.  He passionately suggests which I should choose and how I should cook it best.  He then wraps it up in newspaper and hands it to me with his scarred, rustic hands.  Not once did I miss to follow his suggestions, not once did I miss to follow his recipes, not once did his advice fail to meet expectations.  Today, on this cold December day, as we approach the Christmas season, I have a nostalgic summer sense and Francesco comes to my mind with one of his recipes.  Here I am to share it with you, "Polpo Piccante ai Filetti di Pomodoro".

Ingredients

1 kg octopus

8 peeled tomatoes (or canned tomatoes)
3 garlic cloves
2 hot chili peppers
taggiasche olives (or small black olives)
basil
extra virgin olive oil
salt


Place the octopus in a pressure cooker with 3 cups of cold water, cook for 15 minutes.  If you don't have a pressure cooker, place the octopus in a pot with cold water and boil for 45-50 minutes, until tender. Do not add salt.

In a saucepan, add some extra virgin olive oil and 2 garlic cloves.  When the oil is hot, add the whole peeled tomatoes (this will make your stove a mess!).  Don't squish the tomatoes, leave them whole.  Add the olives.  Turn the tomatoes so they can cook on all sides, lower the heat. Add one leaf of basil and salt towards the end. Cooking time: 15 minutes.

At this point, your octopus will be done (if you are using a pressure cooker).  Remove the octopus from the pot and divide the tentacles from one another.  Heat a separate pan with extra virgin olive oil, one garlic glove and a chili pepper, add the tentacles and sear on all sides.  This will take 5 minutes.

Assemble your dish as you please.  Done.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bread

Crunchy Good Bread
homemade bread

I received a package in the mail today, a big package, actually a big box. Kilos of flour!  Of all things a woman would want (diamonds?), I go head over heels for flour.  This flour is not just any flour, it's a unique stone ground mixture of soft wholewheat, incomparable, balanced taste, fibre rich, flour.

I ordered it online and it was delivered in two days.  The wonders of shopping online.  No waste of time in the car, no waste of gas, no pollution thanks to the no waste of gas, no squeezing through people and carts at the supermarket, no temptations in the junk food aisle, no bumping into who you'd rather not want to bump into, no line ups...can you imagine lifting kilos of flour from the cart to the trunk of your car?  And then lifting them again from the trunk in your house?  Just hit the "proceed to payment" button and that's it.  I know this contributes to laziness but how gloriously EZy is it?!

Anyway, back to the flour.  I purchased this flour mainly to bake my own bread, I also use it for everything else.  The more you knead the dough, the more elastic it will be and the more elastic it is, the more it will rise and turn out to be a crunchy crust, soft crumb, masterpiece.  Of course you can use a machine to knead the bread but since you saved time with the online shopping at least the kneading will leave your consciousness clean for not being lazy all the way through.   Kneading by hand: 10-15 minutes.  


When the fragrance invades your home and when you open the oven, your heart will fill with joy. Straight away...rip a piece off and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (if you want it sweet, drizzle with olive oil and dust with brown sugar). You can easily eat a whole loaf all by yourself in just a blink of an eye. Double the dose.
Bread



















Ingredients

500 gr whole wheat flour
500 gr white flour
650 gr water
25 gr fresh brewer's yeast
20 gr salt

Dissolve the yeast in luke warm water (18-20 °C).  In a bowl, add the water with dissolved yeast to the flour, then add the salt.  Knead, just enough, to form a ball, then move the dough on a floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes, you should obtain a smooth and elastic dough.  If you press your finger in the dough, the dough will bounce back in shape, this will prove it to be elastic.  Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic film and let it rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.  Knead the dough again for 2-3 minutes and shape it to your pleasure. Place the loafs on a tray covered with parchment paper, let the dough rise again for 1 hour. 

Bake in the oven for 1 hr at (200 °C).

Tip:  You can add olives or walnuts to the dough;  sprinkle with sesame, pumpkin or sunflower seeds.  Your taste.  






Wednesday, November 28, 2012

...easy sunday morning

Pancakes
pancakes
My lifestyle is always at a fast pace, I hardly ever have time to do the thousands of things I want to do and one of them is to just sit down and have breakfast.  Calm.  Silent. Peaceful.  My early morning rise doesn't allow me any strength to bring food to my mouth and swallow.  Half asleep I manage to drive and park my car to catch the train.  Just then I start waking up.  As I stumble off the train and head walking distance to work, my hungry stomach calls.  Finally,  I'm in my daily bar (bars in Rome = coffee shops).  Pino, the friendly barman, greets me with a cappuccino and cornetto, no need to order. The freshly ground strong coffee and the cream-foamy milk shapes the cappuccino; the warm crisp and buttery cornetto compensates in sweetness.  All of this, in the middle of an orchestra of clinging spoons and clanging cups, pleasantly disturbing and festively loud.  Although this is something I enjoy with all my heart, spoiled by the service and pleased by the routine, nothing tops breakfast at home on an easy sunday morning with pancakes and pure maple syrup. Foremost, nothing tops the sight of my family still half asleep lifted from bed, drifting towards the kitchen, steered by the overwhelming scent of pancakes that fill their nostrils with pleasure.  At the table they sit, with their eyes wide-shut and pleased.  As they await the plate of stacked smokey pancakes, I try to wipe off the smug on my face, for the nasty turn in having pulled them from bed so early on a Sunday morning. 

Ingredients:
2 eggs
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup of oil
1 3/4 cups of flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sodium bicarbonate
1 tsp salt

Heat pan to medium-high.  In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk and oil.  Add remaining ingredients, beat until lumps disappear. Pour batter, about 1/4 cup at a time, onto pan. Cook until bubbles form and edges start to dry, flip and bake other side. Makes about 16 4-inch pancakes.

Have an EZy Sunday morning!
Maple Syrup

Friday, November 23, 2012

...a simple meal

Barley Risotto Style
On this mild November day in Rome, here I am sipping my tea and gladly receiving the sun as it shines through the window in all its warmth.  While organizing my thoughts I'm distracted by the sight of a jar of barley on the counter and fooled by its appearance similar to that of rice, I'm suddenly inspired.


Today's lunch:  Barley Risotto Style.

Ingredients for 4 people:

300 gr barley
1,5 litres milk
60 gr butter
2 leeks
salt and pepper

Wash the barley thoroughly until water is clear.  Place in a pot with milk, 30 gr of butter and salt.  Bring to a boil and lower the heat. Cook for 20-25 minutes and stir constantly using a wooden spoon.

Wash the leeks and chop the tender portion in round slices.  In a pan, sauté the leeks with the remaining butter, season with salt.  

Finish with a dash of freshly ground pepper.

Now...is that EZy or not?!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

...all time favorites

Cinnamon Rolls, I love you.
cinnamon rolls
Cinnamon rolls are my all time favorite and ever since I've been living in Rome I've hounded down every corner in search for the magnificent.  It's impossible to even get close to one! Not that I can't be easily tempted by something else, I mean...I'm in Italy, bakeries here have just about everything drool inviting but I'm an obsessed cinnamon roll fanatic and when my stomach calls for one I just have to have it!

So I learned how to bake my own and after several readings and testing I finally framed the recipe that suits my picky palate. The perfect combination of ingredients and spicy cinnamon flavor makes this a royal pastry.  Its preparation requires patience, as some rising time is required but the effort is worthwhile and a thumbs up is guaranteed.

Ingredients

Dough:
1 cup milk
3 tbsp butter
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp of salt
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 egg

Filling:
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon

In a small saucepan heat milk until lukewarm.  In a large bowl, blend the warm liquid, 1 cup of flour, sugar, butter, salt, yeast and egg.  Beat 2 minutes at medium speed.  By hand, stir in the remaining flour to form a soft dough.  On well floured surface, knead until smooth and elastic.  Place dough in a greased bowl.  Cover, let rise in a warm place until light and doubled in size, circa 2 hours.
  
Punch down dough.  On a floured surface, roll dough to 18 x 15 inch rectangle.  Brush dough with melted butter. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over dough.

Starting with 18 inch side, roll dough up toward opposite side.  Pinch edges to seal.  Cut into 15 slices.  Place in prepared pan.  Cover, let rise until light and doubled in size circa 1 hours.

Tip:  If you want the dough to rise faster, place in a previously heated oven at a very low temperature 25-30°C. 
      
Heat oven at 180°C and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Immediately remove from pan and serve warm. Glaze as you prefer, I used a tbsp of melted honey.
  
Hey! Don't just crave them, make them!

cinnamon rolls

Monday, November 12, 2012

...deep, deep pleasure

Chocolate Cake and Pears

Cioccolato e Pere



































Chocolate and pears, how divine!  The pears, poached to be tender, are gathered in the center of this cake guarding a sweet secret sealed in its heart and revealed all at once in an explosion of taste.  Deceptively complex yet simple, fast and EZy, a must when organizing dinner with friends...this cake will remain strong in their memories!

Adapted from Sale & Pepe magazine

Ingredients


150 gr flour

3-4 small pears
100 gr of extra vergine olive oil
100 gr of sugar
75 gr of bitter cocoa powder
3 eggs
8 gr of baking powder
1 dl milk
A pinch of salt

Ingredients

Friday, November 2, 2012

....day 1 with gnocchi delight

Fall and Pumpkins
While doing my grocery shopping the other day, I bumped into this extraordinary little green pumpkin. Just for the sake of curiosity I bought one and kept it in the fridge for a week before using it. When I was finally in the mood to cook something special - really, I’m always in the mood but time never seems to be enough! - I decided to use Mr. Pumpkin.
Gnocchi




Armed with all my tools, I started chopping this little green fellow into big chunks and realized how hard its texture was, so I just opened it in quarters, leaving the skin on, and popped it in the oven at 180°.  After 30 minutes it was soft enough to manage and with the help of a good ol' spoon I just scrapped the pulp from its skin.  Laying there in front of me was the most incredible pumpkin puree I’ve ever dealt with.  It’s texture is similar to that of a sweet potato ... so why not make gnocchi?! And so I did.  I could have used the pumpkin (I keep calling it pumpkin but really it’s a squash) to actually make the gnocchi dough, but I wasn't sure if it would turn out the way I expected it to be, so I preferred to take a simpler path by whisking up a pumpkin sauce for my homemade buckwheat-potato gnocchi.  The result was amazing and the returned empty plates ... made its statement and my joy.

Buckwheat Gnocchi with Creamy Pumpkin and Leek Sauce


A quick note on the gnocchi dough: I recommend you use red potatoes, because of their firmness and starchy texture, the dough will hold together easily and eggs won't be needed.

Dough Recipe:

150 gr of buckwheat flour
150 gr of white flour
1 kg of potatoes
1 pinch of salt
1 egg (optional)

Pumpkin and Leek Sauce:

2 tbsp of olive oil
1 leek finely sliced - Julienne style
1 cup of pumpkin puree
5 tbsp of milk
salt and pepper

Wash the potatoes thoroughly and place in a pot with cold water, bring to a boil and cook until tender - leave the skin on. 

When ready and still hot, peel the potatoes and mash.  If you use the hand grip potato masher you don't even need to peel the potatoes because the peel remains inside the tool and you just pull it out before adding another potato to mash. 

Mix the flours together and add the (warm) mashed potatoes and salt. Knead the dough by hand, its consistency must be soft.

Homemade Gnocchi







































































Divide the dough and roll long ropes on a floured surface. Cut into 1 inch pieces, place your finger in each and roll inwards. Voila! Your homemade gnocchi are ready.

While you prepare your sauce, place a big pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil.  Don't forget to add salt to the water.  Just like you would do for any other type of pasta.

The sauce is quick and easy.  In a large hot saucepan add the olive oil and the finely sliced leeks,  reduce the heat and simmer until very tender.  Add the pumpkin puree, salt and milk.  If the sauce appears to be to thick, add more milk.  This will turn into a quick creamy sauce in about 5 minutes or less.

Gently place the gnocchi in the boiling water. As the gnocchi start to float on the surface, wait an extra 5 minutes and drain.  Keep some of the cooking water aside in a cup, you may need it to thin the sauce.

Assemble the dish and generously sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Top it off with a few leaves of marjoram. I have a wonderful variety of tiny basil sitting on my counter, I use it almost on everything. Marjoram is a good alternate. 
Squash
























All images and text  © Elvira Zilli  -  EZy cooking & more 2012