Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scallops in Blood Orange Sauce

They're still out there folks -- blood oranges that is. I don't know for how much longer though, so try this before the season is gone. It's so quick and easy to make but tastes like something you'd pay a lot of money for in a fancy restaurant. 

You can use regular oranges if you like, but of course you won't get that striking red color that contrasts so beautifully against the scallops. This dish comes together in minutes, so make sure you have all the ingredients ready from the get-go. The sauce is really a gastrique - a fancy name for when you blend sugar or honey with vinegar and other flavorings and let it reduce. 

I liked it so much, I made it twice in the same week. Try it and swoosh the scallops around in the sauce for a delicious flavor combo that's good enough for company but easy enough for a weeknight meal.

Scallops in Blood Orange Sauce

 six large scallops (these were so big that two were enough for one serving)

enough olive oil to coat the pan

salt, pepper to taste

juice of two blood oranges

2 T. butter

2 tsp. honey

2 T. white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

grated rind from one orange

Make the sauce simultaneously while cooking the scallops, or make it a few minutes ahead of time. This sauce is what's called a gastrique - when you mix honey or sugar with vinegar and other flavorings and let it reduce. Start by straining the juice from two blood oranges and putting it in a saucepan. Add the butter, honey and vinegar and reduce until syrupy. It should take no longer than five minutes if the flame is on high heat. Set it aside or keep it on a low flame while the scallops finish cooking.

To achieve a nice color on the scallops, it's important to get your skillet really hot before starting. Use a really sturdy stainless steel pan or cast iron skillet. Crank up the heat and let it get really hot. Then add a small amount of olive oil to coat. Place the scallops in the pan and let them sizzle. Don't peek underneath. Just leave them alone for a couple of minutes and resist the temptation to lower the heat. The first side will brown in about two to three minutes if your heat was high enough. Flip them over and do the same thing on the other side. They should need no more than five minutes total to cook. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Remove to a warm plate and cover if you're still working on the sauce. If the sauce is ready, place the scallops on a serving plate and pour the sauce around them. Garnish with grated orange rind.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Sauerkraut and Roast Pork

Spring isn't that far away, but old man winter is definitely making his presence known here in the northeast U.S. and many other states. Even though it was summertime when I first tasted this sauerkraut recipe, to me this dish says "winter."

 I never liked sauerkraut until I tried this recipe by my dear friend Alessandra, who died two years ago. It must be nearly thirty years since my family was driving south from Austria into Italy, through the Dolomites. She and her husband Ernesto and their daughter Mariana were staying at her friend Bona's mountainside chalet in Cortina D'Ampezzo. We had planned to drive into town and rent a place for the night, but all the hotels were booked. The kids were fidgety and I was relegated to the back seat with my then four-year old daughter, while our son Michael, then seven, claimed the front seat to avoid a second bout with car sickness. The tortuous mountain roads didn't help. So when I called her to tell Alessandra there were no vacancies anywhere and we were pushing south to the next town, I was surprised to hear her say "We found you a place to stay." Long story short, the place was Bona's place, not a hotel, and we were all invited to join them for the night in a cozy home overlooking the village as  the ski lifts whizzed by overhead. 

That's when Alessandra made the sauerkraut. And that's when my opinion of sauerkraut changed. It gets cooked in a pan with apples, onions, white wine, bay leaves and juniper berries and becomes a delicious amalgam of flavors during two hours in the oven.

I used juniper berries I brought back from Italy recently - freshly picked by one of my Italian cousins Maria Luisa from her country home in Emilia Romagna. I've seen berries on juniper bushes growing here in the states, but I wouldn't recommend you pick them unless you're sure they're edible. You can buy juniper berries easily enough in grocery stores or online here.

Put them in a spice grinder, or use a mortar and pestle to crush them. Once you start pounding them, the smell that exudes will remind you of gin, not surprising, since they're used to flavor that liquor. 

I cook the sauerkraut for about two hours, stirring from the bottom every half hour, then I added the pork roast during the last 45 minutes or so. Below you'll see two roasts brining. I was serving one on a Saturday night for a dinner, and another on Sunday for a Superbowl party. I have to confess that I added too much salt to the brine and Saturday night's pork roast was too salty for my taste. No one complained though, but maybe they were just being kind - or were extremely hungry. To remediate for Sunday's party, I took the remaining roast out of the brine and soaked it in only water, draining it again after two hours and adding fresh water for a second two-hour soaking. It did the trick and the second time around, the roast was much improved and the saltiness had been tamed. The recipe below reflects the correct brining solution.

I also added some sausage to the sauerkraut for the second party. You can never go wrong with more pork. 


printable recipe here

(This makes enough for a big crowd (up to 20 people) so cut in half if you like)

4 bags sauerkraut (2 lb. bags)

4 apples, cut into large chunks

1 large onion, minced

1 1/2 cups white wine

12 juniper berries, crunshed

3 bay leaves

salt, pepper

Drain the sauerkraut and place in a large pan with the rest of the ingredients. Bake at 375 degrees for two hours, stirring from the bottom every half hour. This will also help to get a more even browned look, since the part near the edges seems to cook quicker.

After two hours, add the roast pork, covering with pieces of bacon. If desired, add pieces of sausage that you sautéed in a separate pan and cut into slices. Cook the roast until it still has a little spring to it, because it cooks a little more when you remove it from the oven. For the roasts in the picture (1 lb. 8 oz. each), they were cooked enough within 45 minutes, but next time would take them out a little sooner. The internal temperature should reach 140 degrees, but if you take it out at 135 or 138 degrees, it will reach that internal temperature just from resting for 15 minutes.

Brine for pork:

For one roast of about 1 1/2 pounds:

1 1/2 cups water (or enough needed to cover the roast half way)

2 T. salt

seasonings - I used fennel seeds and homemade seasoned salt made with home grown herbs - sage, rosemary, thyme and salt. (But this was another reason my pork was too salty, so I'd eliminate the ordinary salt and just use the seasoned salt next time.)

2 T. sugar

Place 1/2 cup water to boil with the salt and sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, take off the heat and add the remaining 1 cup water and the other seasonings. After the water has reached room temperature, pour into into a container with the pork. Let it soak for at least four hours, preferably overnight, flipping the roast once.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Avocado-Beet-Blood Orange Salad

It's that short period of time when blood oranges are in season and I can't get enough of this beautiful citrus fruit. Of course, you can squeeze it and have yourself a perfectly delicious glass of sweet juice, but I love to use it in savory recipes too. When arranged on a plate with some chioggia beets, avocado and radishes, it makes a colorful, flavorful and healthy salad - just the right thing after all that holiday indulgence.

I topped it off with a few pistachios and bits of parsley and baby arugula to add even more texture and color.  It's not necessary, but if you've got an olive oil that's infused with blood orange, so much the better for the dressing. I live near a store that sells many varieties of flavored olive oils but if you don't, you can order some online here. You'll be surprised at how much extra oomph it can impart to a salad.

Avocado-Beet-Blood Orange Salad

for two servings

two large beets - I used chioggia since red beets wouldn't have provided enough contrast with red oranges

1 avocado

2 radishes

2 blood oranges

2 T. of pistachios

baby arugula

parsley leaves


1/4 cup blood orange flavored olive oil or a little more

1/8 cup white balsamic or sherry vinegar

salt, pepper

1/8 t. honey 

1/8 t. of Dijon mustard

Scrub the beets, coat with olive oil and roast in a 375 degree oven for one hour. Cool, peel and slice into rounds.

Peel the avocado and slice.

Wash and slice the radishes.

Peel the blood oranges and slice into discs.

Arrange the vegetables and blood oranges on a plate, then tuck in some arugula leaves and parsley leaves here and there. Drizzle the dressing on top, then scatter the pistachios over everything.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Broccoli Raab, Rape et al

This vegetable goes by many monikers, both here and in Europe. Most Americans call it broccoli raab or broccoli rabe (pronouncing it "rahb.") I've always know it as broccoli rape (pronounced "RAH-pay") as Italians call it. But it's also called cima di rapa, rapini, and sometimes broccolini or broccoletti. Who knew that this delicious vegetable, a staple of Chinese diets as well as Mediterranean ones, went by so many names? 

One of my readers emailed me, asking me to post more vegetable recipes, so I'm going to attempt to do that more often. This is one of my favorites. 

Broccoli rape is related to the mustard family and is packed with vitamins A, C and K. But I eat it because it tastes great. It's got a bitterness to it that I love, but I tame it with a little blanching. Don't worry, it'll still have a bitter edge. It's nothing like regular broccoli. 

It's a beautiful sight to behold yellow fields of it in full bloom in springtime. They're related to the bitter greens I pick in the wild each year for free! Click here for more info about picking your own in the wild. But if you wait to pick them when you see the flowers, they're way too bitter to eat.

I'm usually disappointed when I eat it in restaurants, because it's either overcooked or the stalks are fibrous. To overcome that at home, I peel each stalk a couple of inches from the bottom, something most restaurants won't take the time to do. But it makes such a difference since the cooking time will be shorter and the stalks will be tender. 

You can see the difference here, between the stalks on the left - that were peeled - and those on the right, that weren't peeled and that look much tougher and more fibrous.

My favorite way to eat them is a simple preparation: Just parboil them for a couple of minutes in ample water, drain and toss with some olive oil, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. A little squirt of lemon at the end adds a nice finishing tang.

If you've cooked too much and have some left over, you can easily refashion them into another meal. Add a few sautèed mushrooms to the broccoli rape, and toss everything together with a little cooked pasta. Top with grated parmesan cheese.

Or use it as the base of a sandwich with slices of roast pork, roasted peppers and melted provolone cheese.

Sautèed Broccoli Rape

printable recipe here

Trim the bottom couple of inches from the stalks. Boil the broccoli rape in water for two to three minutes. Drain well. In another pan, sautè some minced garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the broccoli rape and toss in the oil. Add a generous amount of salt, and a few shakes of crushed red pepper. Arrange in a bowl and sprinkle the top with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

If you have leftover the next day, sautè some mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, add the leftover broccoli rape and some cooked and drained pasta. Serve with parmesan cheese on top.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pasta with Shrimp and Romesco Sauce


 If you're familiar with romesco sauce, you know it's from the Catalonia region of Spain, and it's frequently served as an accompaniment to fish, chicken or lamb. The recipe always includes roasted red peppers, but there are umpteen variations when it comes to the rest of the ingredients. Some include tomatoes, some not; some include almonds, some not. Think of it as a Spanish version of Italian pesto, with peppers instead of basil as the base. 

At a recent meeting of the Princeton Food Salon, a monthly gathering where people share food and listen to speakers on food related topics, I ate what has now become my favorite version of romesco -- a version using hazelnuts rather than the traditional almonds and no tomatoes whatsoever.  It was brought by Fran, one of the members, who served it as a dip, along with crackers and comes from the book, Starting With Ingredients, by Aliza Green. 

I got to thinking that the romesco might make a delicious sauce for pasta, much like pesto,  and I had some heart-shaped pasta that was just perfect with Valentine's Day approaching.

I added a few grilled shrimp to the dish and voilà -- another delicious way of using romesco. 

I didn't include it this time, but the next time I make it to serve over pasta, I would add a couple of tablespoons of cream to thin out the sauce a wee bit.

To serve with the pasta, grill a few shrimp per person (smear a little garlic, olive oil and parsley all over shrimp and cook for a few minutes on a grill pan indoors or on an outdoor grill). Cook the pasta, then mix with some of the romesco sauce and add the shrimp. Sprinkle a little parsley on top.

Romesco Sauce

Printable Recipe Here

from Aliza Green’s Starting with Ingredients

2 large whole roasted red peppers

6 large cloves garlic

1 cup olive oil, divided

1 (1-inch thick) slice French baguette, crust removed,
cut in cubes (I just use 1 slice of bread)

¼ pound whole hazelnuts toasted and skins rubbed

1-1/2 teaspoons Pimenton dulce + ½ teaspoon cayenne
or 1-1/2 teaspoons hot paprika

¼ cup sherry vinegar

Kosher salt to taste

Puree the peppers and their juice in the bowl of a
food processor.  Without washing the bowl, transfer the paste to
a small pot and then cook slowly until it’s thick enough to hold its
shape, about 10 minutes.

Place the garlic and ½ cup of the olive oil
in a small pot and cook until the garlic is lightly browned, about 10
minutes. Add the cubed bread and cook 2 minutes longer or until lightly

Place the pepper paste, hazelnuts, and the garlic
and bread cubes and their cooking oil back into the food processor.
Process to a chunky paste, then add the Pimenton, sherry vinegar and

Process again, then drizzle the remaining olive oil
to make a thick sauce. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To serve with the pasta, grill a few shrimp per person (smear a little garlic, olive oil and parsley all over shrimp and cook for a few minutes on a grill pan indoors or on an outdoor grill). Cook the pasta, then mix with some of the romesco sauce and add the shrimp. Sprinkle a little parsley on top.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Hazelnut Ricotta Pear Cake

There are times I wish I didn't like cakes, cookies and other desserts -- especially when I'm shopping for jeans or a bathing suit. There are times I wish I could say "no" and finish the meal with a piece of fruit -- basta.  But then there are times when a recipe like this comes along and I cave in to my predilection.  I mean come on, look at that luscious concoction. Could you resist a cake like that -- redolent of hazelnuts, and filled with creamy ricotta and poached pears? I didn't think so.

The recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook called "Dolci - Italy's Sweets" by Francine Segan . Francine explains that the recipe was originally created in the late 1990s by Salvatore De Riso, a tv cooking show host, pastry shop owner and cookbook author. It's a dessert that's frequently ordered in Naples and on the Amalfi coast, she says. (How did I miss this one on my trips there?)

 I baked it recently for my Italian chit-chat group and it wasn't as hard to make as it might seem. Although there are multiple steps in the preparation, the cake itself can be made ahead of time and frozen. The day before the group meeting, I whipped up the filling, assembled the cake and let it sit in the refrigerator to firm up. Francine says it keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for up to five days, and freezes well too. Now can you see why I had to give in?

Ricotta Pear Cake

For the cake:

  • 2 cups whole hazelnuts, finely ground

  • 6 tablespoons 00 flour

  • 6 large eggs

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 7 tablespoons butter, melted

  • For the pears:

  • 2 (at least 6 ounces each) Bartlett or William pears, peeled, cored, and diced or thinly sliced

  • ½  cup sugar

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons pear brandy

  •  For the syrup:

  • 1/3 cup sugar

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons pear brandy

  • For the filling:

  • 17 ounces ricotta cheese

  • ¾  cup sugar

  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

  • ¾  cup heavy cream

  • Procedures

    1. 1

      Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour two 9 ½ -inch springform pans.

    2. 2

      Grind the hazelnuts and flour in a mini food processor until very fine.

    3. 3

      In a large bowl, using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs and sugar and beat on high speed for 15 minutes, until the mixture has quadrupled in volume. Gently fold in the hazelnuts and flour with a spatula until just combined. Then add in the butter. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until firm to the touch. Set aside.

    4. 4

      Make the pears: In a small saucepan combine the pears, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch and simmer over medium-low heat until the pears are soft. Remove from the heat, stir in the brandy, and let cool to room temperature. Set aside.

    5. 5

      Make the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and ½ cup water and bring to a boil. Stir in brandy.

    6. 6

      Make the filling: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta, sugar, and vanilla for at least 5 minutes, until creamy.

    7. 7

      Meanwhile, beat the cream until firm peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the ricotta mixture. Fold in the cooled pear mixture. (I drained some of the liquid from the pears before folding it into the ricotta mixture since I was afraid it might make the ricotta too runny.)

    8. 8

      Assemble the dessert: Remove one of the cake layers from the pan and place on a serving platter large enough to hold the outer ring of the springform pan. Brush the cake with one-half of the syrup to moisten it. Pile the filling in the center of the cake and put the springform ring back over the cake.

    9. 9

      Gently spread the filling to the edges and then top with the second layer of cake. Brush the remaining syrup over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the freezer until set, about 2 hours. Remove the springform ring and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Making Bigoli With Dad

When it comes to kitchen heirlooms, I've inherited more than my share of cool stuff that was used by my ancestors, both here and in Italy. I've got hand-carved wooden spoons used by my paternal grandmother to stir kettles of tomato paste and melting lard; an anolini cutter that my maternal grandmother in Italy employed when she made the traditional pasta of her region; and a 75 year-old enormous wooden pasta board that belonged to my mother-in-law. But the niftiest of all is this gadget called a torchio that my mother handed down to me decades ago when she was still alive. When she was growing up in Italy, it was mounted on the kitchen wall in her home, and her mother made pasta with it, extruding the dough through the heavy brass dies. For years it sat covered in cloth in my basement cabinet, until one day several years ago when my dad offered to make a bench for it.  

These are the brass dies that extrude the pasta - some are round for spaghetti, another is flat for linguini, and the one with the larger holes churns out pasta that's tubular, called bigoli, not unlike bucatini.

A die is affixed to the end of the brass tube, and then the dough is inserted. The rotating head with the selected die is pushed down over the dough. It's not as easy as it seems because getting the right consistency is crucial and it takes a lot of muscle to turn the crank. I found that using half semolina flour and half "00" flour from Italy works best. If you can't find "00" flour near where you live, it's available online from King Arthur Flour, a great website to peruse in any event.  Humidity also plays a part in the amount of flour to use, and you might have to add more or less wet ingredients depending on the day. I always find it easier to set aside some of the dry mixture and get the dough a little wetter initially, then add more flour. It's a lot easier than having dough that won't stick together and then adding more water.

It should come out of the machine like this. If it's sticking together, your dough is too wet. This dough has to be drier than most pasta dough, making it harder to knead than most. I put a little semolina in the bowl beneath the pasta to help keep the strands separated.

You cut them off at whatever length you like.

Here's a short video of my dad turning the crank. As I mention on the video, my 91 year-old dad had more strength than both his wife and I put together.

This pasta recipe below makes enough for about six people.

It takes a little longer to cook than most fresh pasta, partly because of the thickness, and partly because semolina is a "hard" flour. That also means it retains its "al dente" characteristic even if you cook it a little longer.

We served it with a duck ragù, the traditional sauce for bigoli. Making the ragù was a two-day, intense effort that started with inaugurating my brand new oven with the fat that splattered out from cooking a whole duck. It was worth the effort, but I don't plan on making it again anytime soon. Save that duck fat because it's great for roasting potatoes. However, boiling the duck might make for easier cleanup next time.

Toss the cooked pasta with some of the ragù in a pan.

And sit down to eat a plateful of one of the most flavorful, intensely rich pastas ever. Memories not included. You don't really need a torchio machine to enjoy this ragù. Use any sturdy, artisanal pasta from Italy like rigatoni or pappardelle.

But if you're yearning for your own torchio machine, fear not.  They're for sale in stores in Italy, but here in the states you can buy one online, including at this site,  if you're willing to plunk down close to $400. Of course, it won't have the nostalgia factor mine does, but you can create your own future heirloom.

Incidentally, here are a few more kitchen "heirlooms" I thought I'd show you.

The knives were made by my grandfather, who carved pieces of wood for the handles and ground files for the blade (the kind you buy at a hardware store, not the kind you use for your manicure). Some of the blades are quite thin, because whenever I would ask him to sharpen them, he would sit down at his grinding wheel in the basement and sharpen them so vigorously that most of the carbon steel he used would be ground away. The forks in the photo have a special memory for me too. Whenever my grandfather visited anyone in the family, he pried open a kitchen fork to widen the tines, probably so he could get more food in his mouth. Even though he died in 1978, I still use these forks -- not for eating, but they're a great tool when you're cooking and want to separate things that are sticking together.

Pasta dough for bigoli (makes enough for six servings)

300 grams semolina flour

300 grams 00 flour (or all purpose flour if you can't find 00)

4 eggs

1 T. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

enough water as required

Mix the flours and salt, (reserving about one cup to add a little at a time after you've added the other ingredients.) Put everything in a bowl, or on a board, making a "well." Put the eggs and olive oil in the well, and start whisking with a whisk or a fork, grabbing a little of the flour into the egg mixture. Keep mixing until it gets too hard to use a fork or whisk, then use your hands and blend all the ingredients together. If it's sticky, use some of the reserved one cup of flour. Keep kneading until it becomes smooth. I warn you though, it's not an easy dough to knead and because of the semolina, it won't be as smooth as regular pasta dough. This dough has to be really dry to work in the torchio machine.

Duck Ragù  (This will make enough to serve with about two pounds of pasta)

1 whole duck, about 5 lb. , roasted (preferably the day before so it can cool enough for you to take the meat off the bones and make stock).

Strip the meat from the cooled duck, getting rid of all the skin and fat under the skin. You should have about 2 cups of duck meat. Set the meat aside in the refrigerator while you make the ragù.

Take the remaining bones and make a stock from them, by adding them to a pot with water, onion, carrot, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook it down for about 1 hour, letting it simmer. Remove bones and place liquid in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, skim off the fat and use the stock in the recipe below.

2 slices pancetta or bacon

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, minced (about 3/4 cup)

2 stalks of celery, minced (about 3/4 cup)

2 carrots, minced (about 1/2 cup)

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

the giblets, liver and heart from the duck, trimmed and chopped in small pieces

1 cup red wine

1 23 ounce can of tomatoes, broken up with your fingers or a spoon

1/2 of a 23 ounce can of tomato sauce or tomato puree

1 sprig rosemary, leaves stripped and minced

2 or 3 sage leaves

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup duck stock

Cook the pancetta or bacon until it gets a little color on it. It doesn't need to be crisp. Add the olive oil and sauté the onion until limp. Add the celery, carrots and garlic and cook with the onions a few minutes. Add the giblets, liver and heart and sauté them until they're browned. Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer for about an hour. At this point, I removed the sage leaves and bay leaf, then took a stick blender and purèed the sauce. Then I added the reserved duck meat that had been sitting in the refrigerator, and I cooked the ragù for another two hours at very low heat. The longer you cook it, the better, so if you have more time, cook it for even three hours longer.

Serve over the pasta, with pecorino cheese sprinkled on top. (You need something more assertive than parmigiano cheese here.)

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