Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Leek and Chestnut Soup

December 2010 357 As much as I enjoy sandy beaches and mild climates, I’d be hard pressed to give up the four seasons, even with all the shoveling required after the recent snowfall here in New Jersey. There’s something warm and cozy about a pot of soup on the back burner and bread baking in the oven that doesn’t feel quite the same when the thermometer is hot enough for gin and tonics and grilled steaks. No, for now, I’ll put up with the shoveling and keep warm in the kitchen.

Obviously if you don’t like chestnuts, you won’t like this soup. But if you do….. well, you’ll love this soup. I wish I could tell you where I got this recipe, but it was handwritten on a paper placemat tucked among the scores of recipes I’ve collected over the years. I adjusted it somewhat in any event, so it’s not exactly the same as the one I wrote down.

If you have ever roasted chestnuts, you know how pesky it is to dig the meat out. Well, I’ve just been clued in to a very easy way to slip the buggers from their shells, and it doesn’t even involve making the traditional little “x” on the shell. Click here to view a video from Philip Rutter, founding president, The American Chestnut Foundation showing you how. It lasts about 15 minutes, but it’s very informative.

But to give you the idea in a nutshell (sorry, couldn’t resist folks), what you have to do instead is slice the raw chestnuts in half, then drop them into boiling water.

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Leave them in for only a couple of minutes, then take them out and work with them while they’re warm. They’re harder to peel after they cool. Take a small spring-loaded pliers in one hand (actually mine weren’t even spring-loaded) and hold the chestnut in the other. Use the pliers to grasp the shell and squeeze - the meat should loosen immediately. Some of them may break into small bits, but in general they’ll come out so much more readily than the traditional method of cutting an “x”, roasting them and getting frustrated when most of it falls apart.

December 2010 216 At this point, the chestnuts won’t be cooked, but you can proceed with this recipe and they’ll cook in the broth. If you want to eat them as a snack, just pop the peeled chestnuts onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven for another 15 minutes or so, depending on how large they are. Be careful not to leave them too long, or they’ll dry out quickly and become hard as a hockey puck since they won’t have their protective coating.

Chestnuts are also sold in jars and in foil bags already fully cooked, and you can probably use those instead if you like. Naturally, the ones you buy fresh are going to taste the best. Take it from this little squirrel friend outside my kitchen door, who seemed to like his chestnut well enough to hoard it under the snow. Hope it’s still waiting for him when the snow melts.

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Leek and Chestnut Soup

Printable Recipe Here

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups sliced leeks (about 3 medium leeks)
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 pound chestnuts
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine (or sherry)
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • heavy cream (optional)
  • sour cream

Melt the butter and sauté the leeks, carrots and chestnuts for about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, wine, salt and pepper and continue to simmer on low heat, partially covered, for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the chestnuts are fully cooked.  Put everything in the blender to puree, then reheat, adding cream if desired. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cod Fish Cakes

December 2009 264 Salted cod, or baccala, always makes an appearance in our household on Christmas eve. When I was growing up, it was always served crispy and hot after being floured and fried in deep, hot oil. After I got married, I started preparing it by dipping it in a beer batter first before frying. Then after a camping trip to Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula decades ago, where my husband and son caught enough codfish to feed the whole campground, I came up with a different dish, almost identical to this codfish recipe.

So there we were in the Gaspe and I had tons (well, more like ten pounds) of Codfish to deal with. We gave out lots of it to fellow campers, but kept a few pounds for ourselves. I wanted to try something other than the codfish and onions I had already sautéed for dinner one night but I hadn’t exactly brought my cache of cookbooks to search through.

Lo and behold, in a nearby museum was a display of what life was like in that region for early settlers. Codfish has been an important food source and export there for centuries. (For an interesting book on the fish, read “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed The World” by Mark Kurlansky.) A cookbook was included in the museum display and I took a peek, coming across a recipe for codfish cakes, using mashed potatoes, eggs, parsley and a few other ingredients. I wrote down the recipe quickly and have used it year after year since then.

Last year, my father found the following recipe in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He made it and brought it to our house on Christmas Eve. It’s really the same recipe I found in Canada, but it calls for balls, rather than the flat “cakes.”  The oval shape is much easier to eat as finger food, making it perfect for any get-together, not just Christmas eve.

The trick is to get out there and buy that baccala. Today. At least if you want to serve it for Christmas eve. Baccala looks pretty unappetizing in the markets, stiff as a board and dry as can be. But after soaking in water for a couple of days (throwing out the water and adding new water a few times each day), the flesh becomes more like the fresh cod you buy in the supermarkets. Except it has that salty flavor that you get only from baccala.


These can be made ahead of time and reheated in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until heated through.

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Recipe from The Philadelphia Inquirer,

Anthony's Codfish Cakes

Printable Recipe Here

Makes 35-40 cakes or 10-12 servings

1 pound salt cod

3 to 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

Dash of hot pepper sauce

2 to 3 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

Oil for deep frying

1. Soak the salt cod in water for 18 to 36 hours, stored in the refrigerator. Change the water several times, and check the cod by tasting a bit. You want it to be rehydrated and still salty, but not inedibly so.

2.   Drain the fish from the soaking water and rinse it. Put fish in a 5-quart pot with the potatoes. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove fish with a slotted spoon and let cool a little. Leave potatoes to cook until you can pierce them with a fork.

3.   Mince the cod. Peel and mash the potatoes. Combine cod and potatoes in a bowl with onion and parsley, hot pepper sauce to taste and eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the fish is salty already, and mix thoroughly. Make sure the mix is not too dry; if it is, add an extra egg.

4.   Heat a 2½-quart pot with about 5-6 inches of oil to about 350 degrees. Shape cod mixture into flattened egg-shaped cakes. Lower a few in the pan and fry them in batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. If not serving right away, they can be stored on a rimmed baking sheet and reheated in the oven before serving. Transfer hot cakes to a platter. (They're also great at room temperature.) Garnish with parsley.

Friday, December 17, 2010


 December 2010 230 These cookies are seriously addictive. They’re also seriously tedious to make, which is a good thing. Otherwise, I’d be eating them all year long. They are called “cartellate” and come from the southern Italy. They’re known by other names as well, including “crustoli” or “crostoli” which is how my mother referred to them. She was from Northern Italy, but since she moved to the U.S. as a young war bride after she married my father, much of her cooking reflected the southern Italian roots of her in-laws. 

The traditional topping is vincotto, which is a concentration of the grape must (or mosto). Other recipes call for a fig syrup or honey. Mosto is hard to come by here, and fig syrup isn’t readily available either. But it doesn’t matter because the honey (which is what my mom used) topped with walnuts is equally, if not more delicious.

My mother made these each year at Christmas time, then stored them in huge trays up in the cold attic. Fortunately for me, my bedroom was a few steps away from the attic. I wonder if my mother ever realized how many cartellate were snitched from those tempting trays before they ever made it to the Christmas table.

December 2010 232 To start with, make the dough and roll it through the next to last roller on your pasta machine. Cut it into strips about 6 to 8 inches long, then pinch the strips into little “pockets” about 1 inch apart:

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Take those little pockets and start making a circle, squeezing the sides of the little pockets against each other:

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Keep going until you’ve used up all the “pockets” and a rose-shape is formed. You may need to dab with a little water to get them to stick to each other.

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Place the little rosettes on a floured board or dishtowels. This recipe makes about 60 rosettes.

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Here’s a close-up before it gets fried. All those little pockets will hold the topping.

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Fry them in deep, hot oil:

December 2010 113 After you take them out of the hot oil, drain them with the pockets facing downward, to release the oil. Turn them over and they’re ready for the honey and nuts.

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Walnuts are the traditional topping, but if you want you can experiment with almonds, pecans, filberts or other nuts if you like. Some people smother them with just the honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Your call.

December 2010 132  Cartellate or “Crustoli”

Printable recipe here

  • 2 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. sugar
  • 1/4 c. shortening (crisco or butter)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 t. sherry or white wine
  • 1/2 c. warm water


  • honey
  • walnuts
  • cinnamon

Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add shortening, eggs, sherry or white wine, and water. Mix until it forms a ball. Knead for a few minutes until dough is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest one hour.
Roll out dough with pasta machine to the next to thinnest level. Cut into strips about one to one and a 1/2 inches wide and about six or seven inches long.

Pinch one end of the strip and then pinch about 3/4 inch all along the strip, making little pockets. Bring the dough into a circular shape by crimping it together along the strip. Use water to crimp if necessary. Fry in hot oil and top with honey that has been warmed with chopped walnuts. and a dash of cinnamon.


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