Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Torta di Polpettini - Meatball quiche

All meatballs are not created equal. Some were meant for tomato sauce and spaghetti. Others were destined for .................. quiche? Well, I like to think of this as torta di polpettini, the Italian version of quiche. I know I'm not stretching this too far, because I saw something similar to it on an Italian cooking show called "La Prova Del Cuoco." I don't usually write down the ingredients because I watch the show when I'm working out on my NordicTrack. But the idea was simmering in my brain since I saw it several months ago. I figured my Italian chit-chat group would be the perfect guinea pigs when I attempted to recreate what I saw on TV. I don't think they used caramelized onion on the show, but I love the sweet flavor it adds. Don't skip it. I should tell you I blind-baked the crust for 20 minutes ahead of time -- on a pizza stone. It was cooked and firm, but after baking with the filling, I thought it got a little soggy. Next time, I might bake this without the crust entirely.

Place the polpettini (mini meatballs) over the caramelized onions.

Pour the filling over the meatballs and bake.

The meatballs get browner as the torta bakes, so be careful you don't overdo it.

Now I'm all for spaghetti and meatballs, but a little torta di polpettini, with all that cheese, eggs and cream is pretty hard to resist. Back to the NordicTrack I go.

Meatball Quiche - Torta di Polpettini

printable recipe here

your favorite pie crust recipe (or eliminate it - grease the pan and bake without a crust)

small meatballs (about 44)

For the meatballs:

2 1-2 - 3 pounds of ground meat (I used ground turkey)

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 crusts 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 meat 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. For this recipe, they don't really have to brown fully on the outside, because they'll brown up when they're baked in the torta. 

1/2 cup sliced onions

2 T. olive oil

Saute the onions in the olive oil for about 1/2 hour at low heat, until they are browned and caramelized. Place the onions in the bottom of the pan, or the pastry crust. Place the meatballs over the onions. 

for the filling:

1 cup heavy cream or 1/2 and 1/2

3 eggs

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

4 oz. mozzarella cheese

minced parsley

salt, pepper to taste

Beat the eggs with a whisk, add the rest of the ingredients and pour over the meatballs and onions. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fava Beans

Don't you just love Spring when all those seasonal vegetables are back in the markets? Sure, you can get strawberries in December and asparagus in January, but who knows how far they had to travel. Where I live you can't find fava beans except in the spring so when they appear you know they've got to be fresh. They're sometimes called broad beans, and they have a creamy texture and distinct taste. The pods are somewhat thick and leathery with a fuzzy white interior. Shelling and cleaning the beans is somewhat of a process, but I have a trick to help make it easier. More on that later.

Fava beans are sometimes eaten raw, straight from the pod in Italy -- with a chunk of pecorino and a glass of wine. That's how I first learned to eat them, sitting around a table with my late husband's cousins in Abruzzo. Here's another riff on that duet - fava bean puree and pecorino bruschetta. I add mint to the puree giving it a bright springtime flavor that contrasts well with the sharp pecorino cheese.

I love the vibrant color that fava beans add to a dish. This salad's got bibb lettuce, shaved fennel, red pepper, red onion, asparagus slices, fava beans and orange segments - topped with some fennel fronds and a sprig of mint - an herb that complements fava beans. Just a simple oil and vinegar dressing, but try using some of that colorful chive blossom vinegar I posted about here.

To prepare the favas, split the pod open with your fingernail (or knife) and remove the individual beans. 

You're still not home free because there's an outer pod that you need to remove before getting to the inner bean. Most people boil the beans for a few minutes to soften the outer pod, then drop them into cold water. But if you lay the beans on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for 10 minutes, the outer shell will slip off easily. 

The beans should pop free of their outer shells with minimal effort. If you've left them in the freezer too long and they've become too frozen, just wait a few minutes and they'll thaw a bit.

The puree couldn't be easier to make. You'll be done in the time it takes to grill your bread.

Fava Bean Puree

printable recipe here

1/2 cup cleaned and cooked fava beans

2 T. extra virgin olive oil, as needed

about 10 mint leaves or more if desired

salt, pepper

Cook the fava beans in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until softened. Drain and cool them, then place them in a blender or food processor with the olive oil, the mint leaves, a good quality sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. If the mixture is too thick, add a few spoonfuls of water or more olive oil.

Serve with shaved pecorino cheese (or parmesan).

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chive Blossom Vinegar

This vibrantly colored vinegar didn't start out that way. It was clear white wine vinegar, until a heap of chive blossoms took a soaking in it. The result is this lovely dark rose color. Why not pluck some of those chive blossoms blooming right now and turn them into a fragrant and beautiful vinegar? But hurry or you'll lose your window of opportunity since the season for chive blossoms in almost over. Just fill a mason jar with chive blossoms - or fill it halfway. The more you pack in, the more intense the color will be.

Fill it with a clear vinegar  of your choice. I used white wine vinegar. I put a piece of plastic wrap between the lid and the glass because I wasn't sure if the metal would react with the vinegar. This may be a totally unnecessary step.

Place it in a dark, cool place for a week or more. 

Strain it through a fine sieve or coffee filter to remove all the impurities. Pour into a nice container and enjoy - or give as a gift.

Thank you chive blossoms. See you next year.


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Monday, May 14, 2012


Tiramisu may be a cliche' on Italian restaurant menus - but there's a good reason why it was so ubiquitous during the late 1970s and 1980s. It tastes DIVINE - like eating a cloud dipped in coffee and chocolate and slathered in a rich, eggy, boozed up zabaglione. At least that's how my version of tiramisu tastes. It holds true to its Italian translation as a "pick me up."And I do hope you try it. It does require a few bowls to be dirtied, but the end result is totally worth it. Save a bit for yourself to eat in solitude - no distractions allowed. That's the best way to savor every morsel of this heavenly dessert.

This recipe is based on a tiramisu I ate 20 years ago in Pettoranello, Princeton, N.J.'s Italian sister-city. We were there celebrating the newly established relationship and were invited to break bread at the home of local residents. Anna Maria Canzano and her family invited us into their home and created a memorable meal for us, starting with octopus salad, two pasta courses, a veal dish, several vegetables and two desserts - a baba au rum and this tiramisu. Over the years, I've tweaked the recipe a bit to indulge my preference for a boozy tiramisu - I use bourbon. But if you want to serve it to tea-totalers, or children, by all means leave out the alchohol.  

One of the first steps is making what's essentially a zabaglione. You beat the egg yolks with sugar over a double boiler until they're silky and pale yellow, then add the booze.

Fold in the mascarpone and egg whites.

Make some strong espresso, let it cool, then add more booze (bourbon is my first choice, rum second). Quickly swirl the savoiardi biscuits in the liquid, but not for too long or they're fall apart.

Line the pan with the biscuits (or start with the egg mixture and then biscuits next - your choice)

Repeat the process with more zabaglione, more biscuits, ending with a layer of zabaglione.

Sprinkle with cocoa powder and let it sit, covered, in the fridge overnight.

Optional - decorate with pansies or other flowers.

Retreat to a quiet corner and indulge. It may taste sinfully delicious, but no confessions necessary.


printable recipe here

  • 16 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature

  • 14 oz. package of savoiardi bisciuts

  • 6 eggs, separated

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

  • 1/4 cup liquor (I used bourbon, but dark rum would be great too

  • 2 cups espresso coffee

  • 1/2 cup more of liquor

  • unsweetened cocoa powder

  1. Separate the eggs and cook the yellows with the sugar, over a double boiler, beating until ivory colored.

  2. Add the 1/4 cup liquor and whisk over simmering water until the mixture begins to thicken. Cool.

  3. Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff.

  4. Add the mascarpone to the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the beaten egg whites. 

  5. Mix the coffee and the 3/4 liquor and dip the biscuits into it, quickly coating both sides.

  6. In a large serving dish, place a layer of the biscuits, a layer of the mascarpone mixture and then repeat, ending with a layer of the mascarpone mixture. Finish with a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. (Note, I have been making it for years starting with the mascarpone mixture on the bottom and ending with the biscuit layer on top, but I think I now like it better if you start with the biscuit layer on the bottom and end up with the mascarpone mixture on top. It's up to you. Either way, it's delicious.)

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Have you ever tried bresaola? (pronounced breh-ZOW-la) It may look a little like prosciutto, but it's beef, not pork -- and it's a specialty of Italy's Valtellina, the Alpine area in the region of Lombardy (the area in red below). Nowadays, you can find it all over Italy, and in the U.S. too - at least where I live in the Northeast. It's made with top round or another cut of lean beef, seasoned with salt and spices, then dried and aged for a few months.

 It's sliced paper thin and eaten raw, making it perfect for an easy lunch or dinner -- especially on a warm day when you don't want to turn on the oven. A classic way to serve it is with some arugula and shavings of parmesan cheese, freshly cracked black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of lemon.

If you're looking for a quick, unusual and delicious appetizer, try mixing a little goat cheese with some chives. Place a dab of the mixture on a slice of bresaola.

Then pick up the edges, bring them toward the center and tie with a chive stem (or a thin slice of leek.)

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