Monday, March 31, 2014

Roasted Branzino

Whenever I see Branzino on a restaurant menu, I almost always shun other entrees and order it. Also known as European seabass, and sometimes "spigola" in Italy, it's one of my favorite fishes. Its white flesh is mild and buttery and is becoming increasingly available in supermarkets too. Don't be dissuaded if you've never prepared a whole fish. It's easy to cook and debone. 

Stuff the inside with a few lemon slices, some parsley, salt and pepper. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast it in the oven at a high heat.

Fillet the fish by inserting a knife along the side.

Place the knife into the fish just below the head, then run the knife along the bone and remove the flesh.

You can easily pull the main bone away from the fish and scoop out the bottom fillet. Be careful though, because there may be a few stray bones along the side. There's still a lot of succulent meat around the head and main bone, and if you're like me, you won't let that go to waste.

I couldn't resist.

Roasted Branzino

printable recipe here

1 whole branzino - about 1 - 1 1/2 pounds

lemon slices

herbed salt

(or kosher salt mixed with minced herbs like rosemary and thyme)

freshly ground black pepper

olive oil for drizzling on top

2 T. butter

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup white wine

1 T. capers

juice from 1/2 large lemon

minced parsley

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Put the branzino on a baking dish and season it liberally inside and out with the seasoned salt and black pepper. Place lemon slices inside the cavity. Drizzle olive oil on top.

Bake it for 15 minutes. While it's baking, make the sauce by melted the butter and adding the minced garlic cloves, allowing them to cook at low heat for a couple of minutes. Crank up the heat a bit and add the white wine. Cook for another couple of minutes, then just before serving add the capers, lemon juice and minced parsley.

Fillet the fish from the bone, being careful to remove the small bones along the side. Pour the sauce over the top of the fish and serve.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Wacky Chocolate Pudding Cake

It might look like a bowl of sludge under that scoop of vanilla ice cream, but don't be fooled. It's a bowl of chocolate heaven. Think hot fudge sundae combined with a little bit of cake and you're on the right track. It's a wacky chocolate pudding cake and when you see how it's made you'll know why it's called that. It's easy too, and makes enough to serve at least eight (with some ice cream, naturalmente!)

It's a recipe I got from one of the seasonal food magazines published by my local supermarket - McCaffrey's. 

It starts out with a batter that's really, really dry - almost a paste. Press it down into an 8 inch square pan.

Then it's topped with a mixture of brown sugar and cocoa.

And last, a covering of hot coffee (I used espresso). DON'T MIX. Just put it in the oven like this.

And 30 minutes later, you'll have a wobbly mixture that you're sure is uncooked. Fear not. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for a half hour - otherwise, you'll have a soupy mess.

After a half hour, it's ready to serve. The top will be cake-like, while the bottom will be more like chocolate pudding - or a hot fudge sauce. Perfect with vanilla ice cream or a big dollop of whipped cream.

Wacky Chocolate Pudding Cake

from McCaffrey's Supermarket "Real Food"magazine

1 cup flour

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 1/2 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1/2 cup whole milk

3 T. unsalted butter, melted

1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

1 t. vanilla extract

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 3/4 cups hot coffee

  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 8 inch square pan.

  • Sift the flour, sugar, 1/4 cup of the cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the milk, melted butter, chocolate chips and vanilla until smoothly blended. Spread the batter (it will be thick - more like a paste) in the pan. In a small bowl, stir the brown sugar and remaining 1/4 cup cocoa powder together, pressing any lumps out of the brown sugar. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture evenly over the batter in the pan. Pour the hot coffee evenly over the top.

  • Bake until the top feels firm and the edges just begin to bubble from the sauce that has formed underneath, about 40 minutes. As the cake bakes, it separates into dark chocolate sauce on the bottom and chocolate cake on top.

  • Let the cake sit about 30 minutes to cool slightly.  Spoon out portions of cake and sauce. Serve with ice cream. The cake can be made one day ahead and warmed in a low oven (about 275 degrees F.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Week In A Magical Italian Village

 Have you dreamed of publishing those family stories that might otherwise be lost in the future? What about those travel experiences you always wanted to put to paper, or those food memories from childhood? Now, how many times have you told friends to go for it, using the phrase "You only live once"? 

Well, how about following your own dream for one week while learning how to polish your prose, eating fabulous food and living in a magical village in an unspoiled region of Italy? 

It's a village where road signs might have distances between towns measured in the time it takes to ride a horse.

It's a village that has quiet, secret corners and small treasures waiting to be discovered.

Why not do yourself a favor and sign up for "Italy, In Other Words," a memoir writing workshop?   It takes place from June 15 to June 21st,  2014 and is held in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a medieval village in the Gran Sasso National Park. Located in the region of Abruzzo, Santo Stefano di Sessanio has been named one of Italy's prettiest towns, or "I borghi più belli d'Italia." You'll stay in Sextantio, a unique hotel with rooms dispersed throughout the town. Yours might be warmed by this rustic fireplace (but don't worry - you'll have modern Phillip Starck bathroom fixtures):

This is the view from one of the rooms:


The wild poppies and mustard should be in bloom when we're there in mid-June.

Kathryn Abajian, college professor, author, and writing teacher, will lead the writing workshop, and she is gifting at elevating pedestrian words to poetry. 

You'll get plenty of daily, helpful feedback from the other participants in the workshop too.

 I'll be your cultural guide, taking you on nearby excursions. Some of the places you're likely to visit are Rocca Calascio, a mountaintop fortress dating back to the 10th century.

We'll pass by the church of Santa Maria della Pietà, built to commemorate what legend says was a victory of the locals over a gang of bandits.

We'll walk along ancient sheep trails where you might even meet a modern day shepherd:

 It's not unusual to have to stop along the road for a sheep crossing.


The bedspread in your hotel room is likely to be hand woven by women from the local area, and you'll see a demonstration on a centuries-old loom:

 We'll take an excursion to see how pecorino canestrato (sheep's milk cheese) is made - .

 And how maccheroni alla chitarra is made - an Abruzzo specialty.


 And you'll have plenty of opportunity to eat it at dinner.

But before dinner, have a seat in the cantina with your fellow students and enjoy a glass of wine with some cheese and locally made sausages.

 At dinner, take the opportunity to savor conversation and delicious food.

 Like these affettati (sliced, cured meats):

or  ravioli with gorgonzola and walnuts: 

Or arrosticini - succulent skewers of grilled lamb.

Get your feet tapping at the finale concert with DisCanto and their fabulous Abruzzese folk music:

 You don't have to be an experienced writer to sign up. You just have to have the desire to improve your writing.  Although we've had participants who were accomplished, published writers, we've also had homemakers, a postal worker and an artist in past years too. 

Want more information? Check out all the details here on the Italy, In Other Words website. You'll find contact information to register.  Hope to see you there in June. It's a week that will stay with you forever.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Roasted Cabbage

I have to admit that cabbage has never been one of my top ten favorite vegetables. Until now. Until roasted cabbage. I've cranked up the oven to 450 degrees and roasted lots of other vegetables from butternut squash to zucchini, but never thought to roast cabbage. But with St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, I picked up a head of savoy cabbage at the market and had to figure out what to do with it.

Well, why not try roasting, I thought? I cut the cabbage into 1/2 inch thick slices and swiped them with olive oil, and a sprinkling of ground black pepper and a blend of home-made herbed salt. 

If you don't have herbed salt, use kosher salt and your favorite mix of dried herbs - anything from sage to rosemary to thyme.

Place in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes, then carefully flip them over and swish with more olive oil, herbed salt and pepper and roast for another ten minutes. Those crispy bits around the edges are hard to resist.  If the pieces seem a little too hard near the core, lower the temperature and leave them in the oven a little longer. 

I served these with baked ham, but for those of you with a leprechaun on your shoulder, don't forget the corned beef. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Roasted Cabbage

printable recipe here

1 cabbage (I used savoy cabbage but the other kind works too)

olive oil

herbed salt


Cut the cabbage in 1/2 inch slices

Place on a cookie sheet and brush olive oil over the slices, then sprinkle with herbed salt and ground black pepper.

Roast at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, then flip over and repeat with more olive oil, salt and pepper on the other side and roast another 10 to 12 minutes.

If the parts near the core are still not cooked sufficiently, lower the heat to 350 degrees and leave in the oven a little longer.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Making Corzetti with Dad

It's pasta time with Dad again - this time with corzetti - beautiful round disks of dough made using a hand carved wooden implement created by Artisanal Pasta Tools in Sonoma California. The one I used has a lovely design of clusters of grapes, but there are many patterns to choose from.  Mine arrived in the mail one day, totally unexpected, as a gift from my friend and fellow blogger - "corzetti queen" Adri Barr Crocetti. She writes a fabulous food blog, loaded with great recipes and thorough research on Italian food.  Her beautiful photos are always so artfully composed and expertly shot. 

She has written exhaustively about corzetti and you can find her posts about them by clicking here.

As soon as I showed my father this nifty tool, he was on board to make pasta with me. Regular readers of my blog know that my 92-year old dad loves to cook, especially pasta. We've made bigoli together (click here) , orecchiette (click here) and lots of other foods too.

 I arrived at his house and he was ready to go - mixing the dough on the counter and armed with a recipe to dress the pasta.

We cut the disks with one side of the form.

Then flipped the wooden implement to insert the disk and press down hard to make sure we got a good imprint.

Lined up on a cookie sheet, they reminded me of Christmas tree ornaments. Hey, maybe that's an idea for the future - poke a hole in the top, let them dry and give them a coat of some clear preservative.

Here's a closer view. They are like little works of art.

Corzetti originated in Genoa, a city on the Mediterranean in the region of Liguria. So it seemed fitting that we served them with some seafood - scallops and swiss chard, with some saffron.

 My dad found this recipe in an old issue of La Cucina Italiana. Unfortunately, for us Americans, the company stopped producing the U.S. edition. You can't even access the online version, so sadly we've all lost a great resource of recipes. If you've got your old issues lying about the house, hang onto them.

"Butta la pasta" is a commonly heard Italian expression, meaning literally "throw the pasta." As the sauce cooked, (and it took only a few minutes), it was time for us to throw the corzetti into the water.

We cooked them al dente, and added them to the sauce pan to swirl in the juices and meld the flavors.

And then it was time to eat. 

It's a great recipe any time of the year, but for you Catholics, it's especially apropos for any one of these meatless Fridays during Lent.

Since I've introduced you to my dad over the years, but never to his better half, I thought I'd throw in a photo of his wife Rose - a sweet, lovely woman who lets him (and me) have the run of her kitchen whenever he wants.  We all had a fun day together making corzetti and plenty of memories too.

Corzetti with Swiss Chard and Scallops

If you can't find dried corzetti in the store and want to make your own, here's the recipe we used. But you could use any shape pasta here - from rigatoni to spaghetti.

We used a simple pasta recipe of two cups flour and two extra large eggs, mixing the ingredients together, kneading the dough and letting it rest, before rolling out the dough and cutting the corzetti disks. If the dough is too dry, add a little water.

printable recipe here

From "La Cucina Italiana"

1 pound sea scallops

fine sea salt

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 medium shallots, thinly sliced

1 pound Swiss chard, center ribs removed and leaves coarsely chopped

1/4 cup vegetable broth

1/8 t. crumbled saffron threads

1 T. unsalted butter

1 pound fresh corzetti or dried corzetti

freshly ground white pepper (optional)

Cut scallops into quarters; set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat; add shallots, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add chard in batches, then add broth, 1/4 t. salt and saffron; cook, stirring until greens are just wilted.

Add scallops to skillet, tucking pieces among greens; gently simmer, turning scallops occasionally, until scallops are just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Add butter and gently stir until melted, then remove skillet from heat and cover to keep warm.

Cook pasta in the boiling water until just tender - 6 to 7 minutes or until al dente. Drain. Combine the pasta with the scallops and chard in the pan. Sprinkle with pepper if desired.

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