Italian Delights!


Spring has sprung … and so has asparagus! Time for a new twist on caprese. We’ve still got the colors of the Italian flag–red, white and green, y’know what I mean? I actually combined yellow and red tomatoes. But we’re roasting the vegetables here. And, though you can certainly add fresh basil, I didn’t. I figure one flavor of something green keeps it simple.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS CAPRESE
inspired by delish.com

1 pound asparagus, snap off woody ends
Extra-virgin olive oil to coat the vegetables
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Your favorite balsamic vinegar to drizzle (I used Seven Barrels’ Prickly Pear)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange asparagus spears on one half of a large, rimmed baking sheet. On the other half, spread out the tomatoes in an even layer. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, toss to coat. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake till asparagus is tender–about 20 minutes. To plate, arrange a portion of asparagus, and top with tomatoes. Add a layer of fresh mozzarella slices, then a few more tomatoes. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

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Ciao, amici and lemon lovers! Come stai? How about an easy, versatile dinner you can throw together quickly on a weeknight? You might not even need to make a special trip to the store if, like me, you usually have all these ingredients on hand.

CREAMY LEMON PASTA
Adapted liberally (how else?!) from The New York Times

12 ounces egg noodles
zest and juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic,  pressed or finely minced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced (more if you like)
4 oz. spinach (more if you like)
2 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Here’s where I think the possibilities are fairly endless. Don’t like mushrooms and spinach (what the hell is wrong with you?!), how about arugula and prosciutto? Or maybe cubes of peppered ham and peas? Or stick to the basics, if you like, and keep it simple. It’s a dish that can go in so many tasty directions.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook egg noodles according to package directions; drain.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, melt butter, add mushrooms and cook till they begin to get some color. Add garlic, stir around about a minute. Add spinach; cook till it wilts. A few minutes before the noodles are done, add lemon juice, zest and cream to the mushrooms and spinach. Cook until cream begins to boil (a couple of minutes or so), then stir into noodles. Dinner is served!

 

 

 

 

Italian breakfast cookies

Is it because I share a birthday with my spirit monster, Cookie, that I’m such a cookie monster myself? Or is it simply the idea of eating cookies for breakfast that’s so appealing?

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Quite frankly, cookies don’t need a special time slot in my world. I happily dispense them as needed to brighten the day, provide a bit of sweetness, fill a gap between meals–or even to act as a meal when the need arises!

So, allow me to introduce to you, the sweet, delicious and lovable little treat–Italian breakfast cookies. They’re crispy outside, soft within, and have all the delicious flavors of an Italian bakery–or this kat’s kitchen!

ITALIAN BREAKFAST COOKIES

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus more on the side for rolling)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup corn oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Adjust racks to lower and upper thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together egg and sugar till light. Add milk, oil, lemon zest, juice and extracts; beat well. Add dry ingredients gradually to wet, stirring with a wooden spoon. The dough will be a bit sticky.

I used my trusty Zeroll Universal EZ Disher scoop (#60, pink) to portion the dough. You can roll it into balls or logs–I did both. Then roll in granulated sugar and bake for a total of 12 minutes. Swap the baking sheets at the 6-minute mark (top to bottom/front to back), then bake for 6 minutes more.

Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for a few minutes to make it easier to move them from sheet to rack to cool. Makes enough cookies to fill a whole rack–lost count, busy eating! AHM GNAM GNAM GNAM!

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There’s nothing like native asparagus in the spring! Its growing season is short, so now is the time to celebrate what’s fresh and local with a twist on traditional carbonara.

ASPARAGUS CARBONARA
1 pound asparagus
1/4 – 1/3 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 4-5 pieces per strip
1 pound ribbon-like fresh pasta of choice–I love DiFiore’s mafalda; today I used their fettucine
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/3 cup dry white wine (I use Chardonnay)
2 eggs, 1 yolk, lightly beaten
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 cup reserved pasta water
Olive oil to make one round of the bottom of a large saute pan–about a tablespoon
Fresh torn basil or parsley to garnish
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Whisk together the two eggs/one yolk with grated Pecorino Romano, lemon juice and zest; set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Tip: place a measuring cup in the colander as a reminder to save some pasta water.

As the water comes to a boil, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Then, take a handful of the thicker spears–four or so–and use a vegetable peeler to create long ribbons. Cut the rest on the diagonal into bite-sized pieces–about 1 1/2 inches.

Now that the prep work’s complete, we’re going to multitask!

Simultaneous step A: Cook the pasta and the asparagus
Cook the pasta just al dente, following package instructions. During the last minute of cooking time, add the asparagus. Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining the pasta. Temper the pasta water by whisking it into the egg/lemon/cheese mixture.

Simultaneous step B: Sauté the garlic, add the prosciutto and wine
As soon as you add the pasta to the pot and decrease the heat (to avoid boiling over), have a large skillet ready. Coat with olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Sauté the pressed garlic for just a minute, then toss in the prosciutto, stirring to coat and warm through. If you’d like to add a bit of heat, sprinkle in some crushed red pepper. Then add 1/3 cup white wine and reduce heat to medium-low.

Combine the steps
Fresh pasta is key here as it cooks faster–and by the time the pasta is cooked, it will be time to drain it, return it to the skillet with the prosciutto, garlic and wine. Toss immediately with the lemon/egg/cheese to coat and thicken for just a minute or two. We’re done! Time to eat!

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Serve with fresh parsley and/or basil. Enjoy! And enjoy your spring or summer or whatever this season is going to be next! 😛

 

 

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For the pan:
Generously butter a 9″ springform pan and sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of panko. Set aside.

For the ragu:

half a large sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
half a red Cubanelle (or bell) pepper, diced
3-4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 pound hot sausage (my favorite locally is Longhini)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (I like Tuttorosso)
2/3 cup frozen baby peas
1/2 cup Chardonnay (or other dry white wine)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Add butter and olive oil to cover the bottom of a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced onion, carrot and celery. Cook about 5-7 minutes or till the onion starts to get some color. Add pressed garlic clove; cook for just one more minute. Next add pepper and mushrooms, continue to cook a few minutes. Add tomato paste; cook for another minute or two, then add 1/2 cup of Chardonnay and 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Let the liquid cook down for a few minutes, then add the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. When the sausage is completely cooked, add the tomato sauce. Combine, then add peas. They’ll warm through in just a few minutes. Once they do, remove the pan from heat, transfer ragu to a large bowl and clean the pan so we can use it to make the risotto.

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For the risotto:
2 oz. mushrooms, diced
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 1/3 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 3/4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 tablespoon or so of butter to finish
freshly ground black pepper

Once again, add butter and olive oil to cover the bottom of your trusty large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes, add garlic and cook for just one minute more.

Add the rice and stir continuously till it starts to turn slightly translucent at the edges. Add wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any the bits from the bottom. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for a couple of minutes. Add mushrooms.

Meanwhile, heat the stock. It’s handy to use a large glass measuring cup in the microwave. Pour about a half cup or so of warm stock into the rice and continue stirring over medium heat until absorbed, then pour the same amount again. Repeat and keep stirring till you’ve used up all the stock. By then, the rice should be tender. This should take about 30 minutes, total. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F midway through this process so it will be ready to go once we assemble the torta.

Add a good tablespoon or so of butter and two tablespoons of Pecorino Romano;  stir to combine. Remove from heat.

For the assembly:
8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced

For the topping:
Combine 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

Let’s put it all together:
Divide the rice in two in the sauté pan.
Evenly press half the rice into the springform with a spatula.
Next add a layer of the ragu.
Add a layer of fresh mozzarella slices.
Cover with remaining rice, then spread buttered panko topping evenly over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes. You’ll want to see the edges of the pan turn a bit golden–23 minutes was the magic number here. Slice, serve, mangia!

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You don’t need me to tell you we can make pesto out of herbs other than basil. But I’m here to share because I like how this came out and, selfishly, I’d like to document it so I can do it again.

I bought a rather large container of baby arugula to use for other things earlier this week, so it seemed the right time to change up the pesto game. It’s so easy! Here we go.

ARUGULA PESTO
2 cups arugula, loosely packed
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup pignoli (pine nuts), toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
juice of one lemon
freshly ground pepper to taste

Add nuts to a small skillet over medium heat. Add nuts to pan; cook until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes or so, shaking the pan constantly. Set pan aside to cool a bit.

Add nuts and garlic to food processor; process till minced.

Add arugula, oil, salt and pepper; process until blended, scraping sides as needed. Add lemon and cheese; process until smooth.

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Toss with pasta of your choice–we had gemelli. Be sure to save a bit of your pasta water (or don’t drain the pasta all the way) to blend with the pesto when you initially toss the pasta and pesto together to coat. What you see on top is pure pesto, though.

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Oh, hey--since you’re already here, would you like a bonus round with this easy recipe? It’s called “what to do with a bag of spinach when you thought you were going to make stuffed mushrooms and only had four mushrooms left.” OOPS!

CREAMY SPINACH AND MUSHROOMS
an accidental side dish

1 9-oz. bag fresh spinach
4 mushrooms sliced (more would have been better, then we could’ve stuffed them, but this isn’t science, so, by all means, use more if you have them!)
1 clove garlic, pressed
butter to coat the bottom of a large saute pan
1 oz. cream cheese
dash of salt

Melt butter in large saute pan over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms. When those have cooked down and browned a bit, add the garlic and stir for just a minute. Add spinach. Cover so it steams down to the point you can stir it all together–this happens pretty quickly.

Add an ounce of cream cheese and a dash of salt. When the cream cheese has melted in to form a creamy sauce, it’s ready to serve.

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Let’s hear it for Yankee ingenuity! And Yankee thrift, too, I suppose. Cheers to that!

 

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Whaddya get when you cross American chop suey with pasta e fagioli? Italian-American chop suey! No ground beef here, we’re talking sausage with San Marzanos,  a bell pepper plus some Italian long hots for heat, white beans, rosemary, thyme, red wine and a dollop of ricotta on top to make it nice-nice. ’tis the season for something warming, so andiamo–let’s go!

ITALIAN-AMERICAN CHOP SUEY

2 cans cannellini beans (small white beans are also fine), rinsed and drained
1/2 pound pasta (I love Sclafani double elbows a.k.a. cellentani)
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound Italian sausage (’round here, I love Longhini)
1 red bell pepper
2 Italian long hot peppers
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes (Cento is my brand of choice–buy whole ones and crush them between your fingers like the skulls of your enemies, HA HA HA!)
1/2 the 28 oz. can water, 1/4 can red wine
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (such as Tuttorosso)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh rosemary
a handful of sprigs of fresh thyme
whole milk ricotta to dollop on top of each bowl you serve

In a large pot, saute onion in olive oil with crushed red pepper flakes, rosemary and thyme till onions are golden. Add garlic. Add sausage, breaking up into small pieces as it cooks. *While you’ve got this going, bring a separate pot of water to a boil to cook your pasta.* Add peppers as the sausage is cooking. When sausage is completely cooked, crush each tomato between your fingers and add all the liquid from the can. Fill this can halfway with water and another quarter of the way with red wine. Add to pot along with the small can of tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes or so. Add beans to warm, then add cooked pasta. Serve with a generous spoonful of ricotta and Pecorino Romano, if you like. Fresh parsley is always nice, too.

Found a cure for the colder weather right heah, amici–I promise this! Stay toasty!

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