Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Neapolitan Pastiera - Easter Wheat Pie

Pastiera is a traditional Easter dessert from Naples, but now you can find it all over Italy. The best version I ever tasted was at a restaurant in Milan on my trip to Italy last month. Actually, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it was so good since the restaurant is called "Frijenno e Magnanno" (Neapolitan dialect for "Frying and Eating"). It's similar to a ricotta cheesecake, but wheat berries, or kernels are a crucial ingredient.

Stories abound as to the origin of the dessert, including one that it was invented in a Neapolitan convent. But my favorite story about pastiera involves Partenope, a mermaid who lived in the gulf of Naples. She so enchanted the people of the region when she would emerge with her melodic love call, that they thanked her with their most precious gifts: wheat berries, a symbol of the earth's fertility, ricotta cheese, a gift from the shepherds, eggs, a symbol of new life, candied fruit and orange flower water to suggest the fragrance of springtime, spices to represent people in far away lands, and sugar to call to mind the sweetness of Partenope's call. The mermaid was so happy with these gifts, she decided to mix them all together and thus was born the first pastiera.
Believe what you will, but believe me, it's delicious. It actually improves with a day or two of rest when all the ingredients have had a chance to meld together. Traditional recipes do not call for mascarpone cheese, as mine does, but I was trying to reproduce the creaminess of the version I ate in Milan. I am not sure I succeeded. My version was good, as evidenced by the clean plates this week of "le matte," friends at my Italian chit-chat group, but next time, I might double the amount of mascarpone.

By the way, I bought the wheat berries in a health food store, but if you don't want to start from scratch, you can also buy them already prepared in a can in Italian specialty stores. Here's what mine looked like after cooking in the milk and sugar.The candied orange and lemon peels can also be purchased, but you can make them yourself with little difficulty, if you follow the instructions on my prior post for candied orange peel. I was a little heavy-handed with them this time since I had such an abundant supply, but I think I prefer the pastiera with the lesser amounts called for in the recipe below.

1/2 cup wheat berries, or kernels
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar

Place the wheat berries in a pot and cover with water. Let the pot sit overnight. The next day, boil the wheat in the water for about an hour. Drain, then put the milk and sugar in the pan and cook for another hour or until the kernels are soft. Drain and cool.

1 pound ricotta
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbs. orange flower water
1 tsp. oil of orange
small drop of oil of lemon
dash of cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 - 3/4 cup candied orange peel, diced
1/4 - 1/2 cup candied lemon peel, diced
the traditional pastiera also includes candied citron, which I omitted

2 egg yolks
5 whole eggs

Place the ricotta in a sieve covered with cheesecloth and let it drain overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, beat the egg yolks and eggs together in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, mascarpone, sugar, orange flower water, oil of orange, oil of lemon, cinnamon, vanilla, candied fruit peels, and the egg mixture. Many recipes tell you to separate the eggs and beat the whites, but I find this is unnecessary and causes the cake to rise too much and subsequently fall and crack.

I lined a very large tart pan with pasta frolla and poured the mixture into that. My pan is 12 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep and holds nearly 8 cups of liquid. You can use two standard size pie plates instead, but you may have to make more of the pasta frolla in that case. Or you can just make one in a standard pie plate and bake the rest as a firm pudding, without a crust.

Pasta frolla is a sweet pastry similar to pie dough, but with more sugar and the addition of egg. Use your own recipe, or follow mine. It's the same one I used in my apple strudel recipe.

Pasta Frolla:

3 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
rind of 1 lemon grated
pinch of salt
1 egg, lightly beaten

Place flour and sugar in mixer with grated lemon rind and salt. Add cold butter in small pieces, mixing until butter breaks down into small bits. Add egg and mix just until mixture holds together in a ball. Divide the dough into two parts: 2/3 for the base and 1/3 for the lattice topping. Roll out the dough and place in tart pan or pie plate. This is a very delicate dough and it is hard to manipulate, but don't work it too much with the rolling pin. It may crack as you try to get it in the pie pan, but don't worry. Just patch it up by hand. No one will ever know the difference after it's baked.
Pour the pastiera mixture into the pan over the dough. Cut remaining strips of dough and make a lattice top over the mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.
This is what it looks like as it goes into the oven.And here's a slice for you!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Candied Orange Peel

Even if you thought you didn't like candied orange peel, wait till you try this one.
This is not your grandmother's candied fruit.

Last year I bought some candied orange peel to use in a Pastiera, an Italian Easter dessert that I'll be posting in the next couple of days. This year I came across a terrific post on "Use Real Butter," that outlined how to make the confection, so I thought I'd give it a try. It wasn't really that difficult and it is so superior to anything you can buy. I'll never go back to store bought candied orange peel again and I'll bet you won't either.

Dip these strips into chocolate and you've got a first-class gift that will really impress your friends.

Here's what you'll need:

peels of 3 - 4 large oranges (leave the white pith attached)
3 cups sugar
1 cup water

Cut the oranges in half and squeeze out all the juice. Scrape out all the pulp, but leave the white pith. I use a grapefruit spoon and it works great. Every recipe that calls for orange rind always says to remove the pith because it's bitter - and it is. But for this recipe, if you don't leave the pith, you'll end up with a puny peel after all the sugaring. In order to counter the bitter taste, you need to boil the peels first. I boiled mine four times as you'll see below.

Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the orange halves into strips.

Place the strips in a large pot and cover with cold water. Let the water come to a boil and cook for five minutes. Drain. Repeat three more times.

Cook sugar and water and cook at high heat until temperature reaches 230 degrees. Add peels and lower temperature to a simmer. Cook until peels are translucent. It may take as little as 1/2 hour or as long as an hour and a half, depending on your altitude. Remove peels and drain on metal cake racks. They will be sticky so work quickly. If not dipping in chocolate, you may want to roll in sugar to make them even more crystalline-like, however I omitted this step. Even without the extra sugar, they tasted plenty sweet and looked great.

Let the orange strips dry. It took at least two days for mine to dry thoroughly enough since it's been rainy and humid here the last couple of days. Depending on the weather when you make these, it could take less or more time.

Dip into tempered chocolate and place on waxed paper or parchment paper until dry.

To temper chocolate, start with a good quality chocolate. There's no point in going to all this trouble and using a mediocre product. Chop up the chocolate into small pieces. Over a double boiler, place 2/3rds of the chocolate in a pan, being careful not to let any water or steam enter the pan containing the chocolate. Heat the chocolate until it reaches 115 degrees for dark chocolate or 110 degrees for milk or white chocolate. I use an instant read thermometer, the kind you'd use for a roast. But there are also special thermometers especially for chocolate if you want to spring for that. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rest of the chocolate, which will lower the temperature of the chocolate to about 84 degrees or so after a couple of minutes. Next, place the pan briefly over the double boiler and let the temperature increase to about 87 degrees for milk and white chocolate or 89-89 degrees for dark chocolate. This should only take five to 10 seconds. Don't let the temperature rise above 91 degrees. The chocolate is now tempered and ready to use. Try to keep it over warm (but not simmering) water so it stays the right consistency while you are dipping, or place the pan on an electric heating pad set to "low."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Onion Soup all'Italiana

First of all, let me say I wouldn't be making this soup if Spring were REALLY here. But it's still cold and rainy here in Central New Jersey, despite the crocuses peeping up through the earth. You know how they say "If you carry an umbrella, it won't really rain?" Well, maybe if I make this wintry-weather soup, spring will really arrive.

This soup recipe is from one of my favorite cooks - Julia Child. My dog-eared and tattered copies of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" are decades old. I learned long ago that her recipes, while typically very long and detailed, are fail-proof. But still, I alter her recipe slightly, using chicken stock instead of beef, and fontina cheese instead of the usual Swiss or gruyere.

Onion Soup all'Italiana

1 1/2 pounds, or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions (the food processor is great here)
3 Tb butter
1 Tb oil

1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar (helps the onions to brown)

3 Tb flour

2 quarts boiling chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
salt, pepper to taste
3 Tb. cognac

rounds of toasted French or Italian bread
1 to 2 cups grated Fontina cheese

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for three minutes.

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.

Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Toast the bread rounds lightly in a toaster or broiler. Place soup in individual, oven-proof bowls and top with the bread and grated cheese. Place under the broiler a few seconds until the cheese is melted.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chocolate Bark

This is so good and astonishingly easy to make, it's a wonder I don't make this more often.

(Just a second while I loosen the buttons on my waistband.)

Oh yea, that's why I don't make it more often.

It does make a quick and beautiful gift for any occasion though.

Use a good quality chocolate, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be expensive. I recently discovered a delicious bittersweet chocolate at Trader Joe's that's a real bargain. It's called "Pound Plus," because it weights 17.6 ounces, and it costs only $3.99. You can use milk chocolate if you prefer, or even white chocolate if you're so inclined. I sprinkled chopped-up apricots, dried cranberries and almonds on top, but the choice is limited only by your imagination. I added a bit of orange oil to the chocolate to give it a more complex flavor, but that's completely optional.

The recipe is this easy:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Melt chocolate on top of a double boiler and add a quarter teaspoon of orange oil (NOT orange extract). Spread with a spatula over the parchment. Gently press chopped almonds, apricots and dried cranberries on the surface. Place in a cool room or in the refrigerator until chocolate has hardened. Cut into chunks with a heavy knife.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Parmigiano Reggiano

If you put me on a desert isle and told me I could eat only one cheese for the rest of my life, (The cheese fairies would deliver it, in case you're wondering) the answer would be a no-brainer: parmigiano reggiano.

I never get tired of the intense flavor, the little crunchy grains of an aged parmigiano between your teeth and the versatility that it offers. You can enjoy a chunk of parmigiano alongside a glass of wine; you can grate it over pasta or vegetables; you can melt it into casseroles or other dishes; you can add the rind to soup to lend more flavor, etc., etc., etc.

In short, it's not called "The King of Cheeses" for nothing. On our recent trip to Italy, we were tootling along in the car one day, hoping to see a few castles in the countryside between Piacenza and Parma. Unfortunately it was a Monday, a day when castles and museums are closed. But lucky for us, I spotted the following building along a road near the town of Soragna:

"Make a U-turn. Quick," I said to my husband. So he did - and we made a beeline back to the Caseificio Sociale Pongennaro, one of the approximately 450 dairies where the king of cheeses is made. And I do mean made. The consortium of parmigiano makers has adopted a slogan of "Non si fabbrica, si fa," meaning that "Parmigiano is not manufactured, it's made," and this implies the use of time-honored methods and no preservatives or additives.

It can only be called parmigiano reggiano if the cows are raised and the cheese is made in any of four provinces in the region of Emilia Romagna: Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna.
If you're eating Grana Padano, its sister-cheese, you're also eating a delicious cheese but one made under entirely different standards and from cows that are permitted a broader range of food and that are raised in an area that's twice the size of the area where parmigiano is made.

For a cheese to be called parmigiano reggiano, the cows are permitted to eat forage, mainly hay, grown only in the designated region and the forage must not have been treated with additives nor heated by fermentation. The cows are not allowed to eat any animal by-products or food of animal origin.

Cheese made according to the long list of rules is branded with a variety of marks including the acronym D.O.P. which stands for the Protected Designation of Origin. The dairy is also identified,as well as the production month and year.
In the photo above, the cheese was made in February 2007, hence it was 24 months old when I took the photo.

The cheese is made every day, year round. By 4 a.m. cheesemakers start boiling the milk in huge copper cauldrons.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late to watch the cheesemakers stirring the mixture and draining the curds from the cauldron into molds, but were able to see the huge rounds of cheese as they sat immersed in large vats of salted water. Cheesemakers at the Caseificio Pongennaro make 36 forms a day, each weighing about 40 kilos, or 88 pounds, according to Mara Marenzoni, the wife of Raffaelo Rainieri, one of the 15 partners of the caseificio.

The large rounds of cheese sit for 20 days in the salted water before the aging begins. "You can't call it parmigiano if it has less than one year of aging," Mara said.

The longer the aging, the more complex the taste, although if it has aged much longer than 36 months, the cheese generally takes on a less desirable flavor. The 24-month aged cheese at Caseficio Pongennaro's shop sells for 10.60 euros a kilo (about $14.00 for 2.2 pounds) while the 36-month aged parmigiano sells for 12.40 euros a kilo (about $16.00 for 2.2 pounds).

Now if you want to bring back a whole round of a 36-month aged parmigiano, it'll set you back around $645.00. In Italy, it's not uncommon to find them at weddings or banquets, split in half and served in chunks. However, it might be a little heavy to fit that much into your carry-on luggage. But you can always find room for a kilo or two.

I can leave it to other visitors to Italy to buy the Prada purses, the Armani suits and the Gucci shoes, but I never come back without a supply of Parmigiano cheese. There's no prohibition against bringing back hard cheeses through U.S. customs and the quality is incomparable, especially if you've bought your cheese right at the dairy. The hard part is not eating it all in the first few days of your return. Buon appetito.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Forget truffles. Forget fois gras. Forget filet mignon.
This is my husband's favorite dish hands-down.
When we were first married (back in the mesozoic era) I could never get it right.
Keep in mind I had a mother-in-law from Central Italy and a mother from Northern Italy. The standards were high.
Both of them made spaghetti and meatballs regularly, and both versions were delicious, and very different from each other. Of course they didn't use recipes. So I kept trying year after year to duplicate either sauce but it always lacked that little something that they couldn't quite explain.

"It lacks 'character,' " my husband would tell me time after time.

It took me years to develop that character, but there have been no complaints for a couple of decades now.

My sauce is neither like my mother's (who used sausage and meatballs) nor my mother-in-law's (who used braciole and meatballs) but a hybrid that has a "character" of its own.
I always use sausage and meatballs, and add some spareribs too if I'm going to serve it over polenta.
Once in a blue moon I make braciole. I always add hot pepper flakes as my mother-in-law did, but my husband always adds more directly over the pasta. His tolerance for heat is greater than mine.

Oh, and we never called it sauce when we were growing up. It was always "gravy" to us -- or the Italian word, "ragu".

There are plenty of times when I make a light, quick-cooking spaghetti sauce. This is not one of those recipes. This is a rich sauce that needs several hours of slow cooking to develop its flavors. I make it in a huge batch as you'll see from the list of ingredients and freeze it for later meals. When friends or relatives come by for visits, there's almost always some I can easily defrost for what has now become my fallback meal. You can adapt it for smaller portions, but be careful not to cut the seasonings too much or your sauce might not have "character" either.

Spaghetti Sauce

2 1/2 - 3 pounds Italian sausage (hot or sweet)
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion
8 - 10 cloves of garlic
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
1 large can of tomato sauce (6 pounds, 9 oz.)
1 large can of San Marzano tomatoes (6 pounds, 10 oz.)
(I like a chunkier sauce, so I break up the tomatoes only slightly either by hand or using a food processor)
1 cup dry red wine
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 T. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper
1 1/2 cups red wine

about 3 dozen meatballs
about 3 pounds pork spare ribs (or beef)

Place the sausage in a pot and cook over medium flame until nearly entirely cooked, and most of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausages from the pot and set aside.
Drain all the fat from the pot and discard. Add the olive oil to the pot. Finely mince the onion and garlic in a food processor and saute in the olive oil. Do the same with the carrot and celery. Cook the vegetables until softened.
Add the remaining ingredients and put the sausage back into the pot with the sauce. Add the meatballs and spare ribs, if desired.

If using spareribs, cook them before adding to the sauce. If they are long, chop them in half with a cleaver. Place them in a covered saucepan over low to medium heat. You don't need to add any oil to the pot. Let them cook for an hour and much of the fat will be released. Drain the fat and discard. Add the cooked ribs to the tomato sauce. Cook everything together for at least three to four hours on a low flame, stirring periodically.


I used to deep-fry these until several years ago, when I started broiling them to eliminate a lot of the fat. Nobody ever notices any difference and it's a lot healthier.

2 1-2 - 3 pounds of ground meat (I use a mixture of pork, veal and beef)
about 1/3 of a large loaf of sturdy white Italian bread, preferably a day old
about 1 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper

Trim the crusts off the bread. Dry the bread in the oven and use to make bread crumbs for another recipe.
Tear the bread into chunks and place into a bowl with the milk. Let the bread soak for at least 15 minutes or until it has absorbed the milk and softened. Squeeze as much milk as possible from the bread and discard the milk (or give to the cat). Squish the bread pieces with your fingers into a bowl with the ground meats until there are no big lumps. Add the remaining ingredients and blend well with your hands. Shape into round balls. Place on a baking sheet or broiling pan and broil or bake at high heat (450 - 500), watching carefully so they don't burn. When they have a nice brown crust, turn them over and brown on the other side. Drain off the grease and add the meatballs to the sauce.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Il Paiolo

Click on the little triangle to start the video.
This paiolo, or automated polenta pot, makes me happy. I know, I know -- to a lot of people, watching this video is about as much fun as watching dishes dry. But to me (and maybe to some of you foodies out there) it's like Christmas all over again.
I'd been oogling an automated polenta pot on my last five or six visits to the Alto Adige region of Italy where we go skiing. But every time I went, I nixed the idea of buying one for one reason or another -- too big to fit in the carry-on luggage, too difficult to convert to U.S. electric standards, too expensive, blah, blah, blah.

But this time I gave in to the object of my desire. It's a really heavy gauge copper pot with a metal paddle that stirs the polenta automatically thanks to an electric motor on top that l'ingeniere (my husband, the engineer) derides as puny and not durable. It cost 45 euros (about $63) and was cheaper than I'd seen it even five years ago.
That's because the electric motor on top is puny and not durable, repeats l'ingeniere.

I bought it anyway. The copper pot alone would cost that in the states. And it works great. And I love it. And I know l'ingeniere secretly loves it too. Because he loves anything mechanical. Because the day after we got back he ordered the step-up transformer I needed to run it. And because he loves the polenta it churns out.

All you have to do is put cornmeal, water and salt into the bowl over a burner, attach the paddle, press a button and walk away. Sixty minutes later you've got really good, really creamy polenta. Who wouldn't love that?

We took it up to Vermont with us a few days ago while visiting friends. I used it for a dinner of polenta with sausages, meatballs and short ribs in tomato sauce. It was a no-fuss meal and perfect for after skiing, since I had made the sauce at home earlier in the week. We sat back and relaxed with some wine and munchies while the sauce heated up and the polenta pot performed its magic. An hour later we sat down to this:
I used three parts water to one part polenta and about 1/2 tsp. salt. You can have the same results without a motorized polenta pot, but you'll have to stir for 45 minutes to an hour.
I confess that in the past, I've used that quick-cooking polenta too and it's really not bad. But no self-respecting Italian would ever use that, so please don't tell any of my Italian friends or they may never invite me back. I'll be posting the recipe for the sauce (which is great with pasta too) in the next few days.

Here's a second video showing what it looks like when the polenta is fully cooked.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lemon Tiramisu

This is a party-perfect recipe that looks like you slaved for hours - but you don't even have to turn on the oven. It's all made with purchased savoiardi biscuits - kind of like ladyfingers but crispy and hard with a coating of sugar. After a soaking, they're as tender as a sponge cake. The recipe is elegant and luscious. And it all comes together in about 10 minutes.

My cousin Lucia made this for us on our recent visit to Italy. She's the cousin who won the "Miss Tagliatella" contest in her region. I kid you not. So you can be sure she knows her way around the kitchen. One of these days, I'll make a video of her making pasta and then we'll both know the secret of her success.

For now, you'll have to be content with her lemon tiramisu. It was delicious all by itself but I thought I'd add the raspberry sauce to jazz it up a bit and add some color.

Lemon Tiramisu

24 savoiardi biscuits
juice of two to three lemons

8 oz. mascarpone cheese
8 oz. ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
grated rind of one large lemon

Mix together the mascarpone, ricotta, sugar and lemon rind.

Line a meat loaf pan with plastic wrap. Dip 8 savoiardi biscuits (on both sides) in the lemon juice and place along the bottom, squeezing to fit. Cover with half of the cheese mixture. Repeat with another level of savoiardi, then the other half of the cheese mixture. Finish with a layer of savoiardi. Wrap tightly and refrigerate a minimum of four hours; preferably overnight.

Flip over, remove plastic wrap and serve with raspberry sauce if desired.

Raspberry Sauce

10 or 12 ounce package of frozen raspberries
2 T. water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

Bring the raspberries, water and sugar to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Put through a strainer, add the lemon juice and refrigerate.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Winner Chosen

Can you believe it - I can't even give away these chocolates? The winner, chosen at random, was Katie, who writes the blog "The Summertree Cafe." But after numerous attempts to contact her, and no response, I set a deadline for today before deciding to move on and pick a new winner.

So this morning I put all the names in a bowl a second time and the new winner of these chocolates is......... "Foodie With Little Thyme." I've sent her a message on her blog too, so hopefully I'll get an address this time where I can mail the chocolates. If not, your chances have just improved vastly.... Or maybe I'll just dig into them myself. I mean, how much temptation can one gal take?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stinco di Vitello (Veal Shin Roast)

This is what's known as "lo stinco di vitello" in Italy. Here in the states, it's known as a veal shin roast. In either language, it's succulent and delicious.

This one was prepared by my friend Cristina De Micheli on our recent trip to Italy. Cristina lives in Piacenza with her husband Stefano Consonni, and their three charming sons, Francesco, Federico and Filippo.

The stinco was served after a wonderful platter of affettati (sliced cold meats), anolini in brodo (small ravioli-like pastas in broth that are a specialty of Emilia-Romagna,) and a couple of quiche-like vegetable tarts. We also ate roasted and stuffed chicken, vegetables, salad and tiramisu and macedonia (fruit salad) for dessert. It was all memorable and no one walked away hungry for sure.

Cristina was kind enough to send me her recipe for the stinco, which I am sharing with you here. In fact, if MaryAnn of "Finding La Dolce Vita," and Marie of "Proud Italian Cook" don't mind, I'm taking the liberty of inviting Cristina and her stinco to the virtual "Festa Italiana" they are hosting.
I don't want to come empty-handed though, so I'll bring along an after dinner drink I brought back from Italy, made with grappa, chocolate and hazelnuts, if that's ok. MaryAnn and Marie have already started posting entries for the festa, so make sure you click on the links and have a look at all the wonderful recipes.

Stinco di Vitello - recipe courtesy of Cristina De Micheli

"Roasts are easy to prepare and always impressive, and since veal is truly one of the most elegant meats you can serve, this dish is an extra-special treat worthy of your finest holiday menu. Order this particular cut ahead of time from the butcher. It won't be cheap, but it will be delicious. It is the same shin from which your butcher cuts veal ossibuchi. This time he does not need to cut it. You will buy the whole shin."

Ingredients: (Makes 5 servings)

1 veal shin (bone in)
8 juniper berries
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
salt and white pepper
1 glass dry white wine
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. butter
1 cup chicken, veal or beef stock

Season both sides of the veal shin liberally with salt and pepper. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan. Add the veal, the juniper berries and the rosemary and cook on one side until brown. Then turn over and brown on the other side. Transfer veal to a deep roasting dish and keep cooking on the burner, not the oven. Add the white wine, cook for some minutes on both sides until the wine evaporates. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, adding some stock constantly (every 15 minutes) until you use all of it. Keep on cooking the shin until it is tender and looks done (two and a half hours). You should be able to detach the bone from the meat easily when it is ready.

Slice the veal shin and serve with roasted potatoes sprinkled with rosemary and salt.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Apple Strudel

Apple strudel is a specialty that's made and eaten not just in Southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary, but all over the the Northeastern mountains of the Italian Alps called the Dolomites. Everyone has a favorite recipe and some are partial to the dough that's rolled so thin you could read a recipe through it. I once watched a cooking demonstration in the kitchen at Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace where the cook stretched the dough so finely that she did that exact thing.

But the other type of strudel - and my favorite - has more bite to it. It's made with what is called "pasta frolla" in Italy - a rich, buttery pastry made with an egg that's also used to make a crostata. After a bit of experimenting, I think I've succeeded in coming close to what became my daily afternoon snack break on the slopes. Oh, to be skiing down those glorious mountains again and stopping for a break at a little refugio instead of stuck home with a sore throat and cold. Well, even if those Alpine peaks are just a memory, I've still got the snow here in New Jersey, and now the strudel too.

Apple Strudel


3 1/4 cups flour
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cups sugar
rind of one lemon, grated
pinch of salt
one large egg, lightly beaten


6 apples
3/4 cup finely grated breadcrumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup white raisins, soaked in rum
1/2 t. cinnamon
pinch of cloves
pinch of grated nutmeg

Place flour and sugar in mixer with grated lemon rind and salt. Add cold butter in small pieces, mixing until butter breaks down into small bits. Add egg and mix just until mixture holds together in a ball. Remove from bowl and roll out in a rectangle over a floured surface until the rectangle is about 18 inches x 9 inches.

Peel and core apples, then slice finely. Mix together with 3/4 fine breadcrumbs, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup pine nuts and 1/2 cup white raisins that have been soaked in a little rum and drained. Add 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Place the apple mixture in the center of the rectangle. Using a spatula or a scraper, gently fold the pastry on one side over the apples. Moisten the other long end with water and roll the strudel over on itself until the pastry covers the apples. It helps to have another person helping. If there are some tears in the pastry, it's no big deal. Seal both ends.

In order to carry the strudel to the cookie sheet without breaking in two (or more pieces), I used a long French chef's knife and slid it under most of the strudel, in a way that most of the strudel would rest on the knife. With my other hand, I took a kitchen scraper and shoved that under the part I couldn't reach with the knife. (Where is l'ingeniere when I need him?) Then I picked up both the scraper and the knife and transferred the strudel to a greased cookie sheet. (Gosh, that cookie sheet is a mess.)

Brush the strudel with beaten egg and bake at 425 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown, turning it once in the oven.

Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired. It's also frequently served sitting in a puddle of vanilla sauce. (You'll just have to imagine the vanilla sauce.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Herein lie the reasons she gained two pounds on vacation

It's not my fault the food is so good in Italy.
I mean, mamma mia, who can you resist all these delectable dishes?
A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Consequently, this girl gained two pounds on her trip. It's back to the gym in a big way this month.
Here are some random photos from my many food adventures during my recent trip to Italy. I've got many others, but I'm saving a few for later posts, with recipes.

Ortisei - Pappardelle with a creamy porcini sauce. It's not the season for porcini so where did they get these delicious morsels of fresh mushrooms? Of course the pasta was homemade and sensational.

Ortisei - Filet of beef with green and red peppercorns, served with potato galettes.

Val di Siusi - Apple strudel - our mid-afternoon slope-side break. They serve two different kinds - one is the traditional kind that you probably know, made with paper-thin pastry. The other kind, pictured here - and my favorite - is made with a more cakey-dough. I am planning to hunt down a recipe and post it later.

Venice - Lots of great cheeses to savor - including a new one for me called Casatella, made in the Veneto region. It's very white, creamy and mild like a triple-creme brie, but runnier.

Padova - No sanitized, unidentifiable chicken pieces for sale here. You know what you're getting when you buy poultry here, complete with head and feet.

Padova - Polenta reigns supreme here, and in this case it's served with a veal stew.

Padova - Gratineed crepes filled with squash and porcini mushrooms.

Padova - Fried chiacchiere for Carnevale, all wrapped up from the pasticcieria.

Padova - Both the white and long red variety of radicchio are specialties of the area, and are grown commercially in nearby Treviso.

Padova - Baked custard topped with caramel as rich and thick as a chocolate sauce.

Soragna - Parmigiano Reggiano - The king of cheeses. I'll be writing a separate post about this later.

Castell'Arquato - Sbrisolona - a crunchy tart that resembles a rich, almondy shortbread.

Vigolo Marchese - Tortelli, a specialty of the area around Piacenza. They're filled with spinach, ricotta and parmesan cheese, and are sealed shut in the shape of a little tail. Sometimes they're twisted at both ends like a salt-water taffy candy. Traditionally served with butter and cheese.

Milan - Our friend Valerio, who is a BIG Nutella lover. We'll have to get him to participate in World Nutella Day next year.

- Whole menus of nothing but hot chocolate - Page after page of hot chocolate with chestnuts, with cinnamon, with berries, with pistachio, etc. etc.