Friday, April 25, 2014

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta

I'm sorry I didn't have this recipe for you sooner because this beautiful torta would have been perfect on your Easter table. I say this from firsthand knowledge because it was on our Easter table, thanks to my son Michael, who's a terrific cook and who whipped this up in his kitchen as an appetizer before our Easter dinner.

 It was the perfect accompaniment to a glass of prosecco before the main event. But just because you missed out on eating this during Easter, doesn't mean you can't make it another time of year. It's not only impressive in its presentation, but tastes pretty terrific too.

It's loaded with pancetta, ricotta and broccoli rape (ok, for those of you thinking I misspelled this, please note that it's not incorrect to say broccoli rape, since that's the Italian spelling, or call it rapini, or broccoli rabe - they're all correct.)

One of these tortas serves a lot of people, but the downside of having too many people share it is that you won't have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day. So before it all disappears, tuck away a slice or two just for yourself.

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta

For the crust:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

18 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled or frozen

6 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, well chilled or frozen

1 large egg

1 tablespoon lemon juice or unflavored vinegar

5 to 7 tablespoons ice water, just as needed

For the filling:

2 bunches rapini (“broccoli rape”)

2 lbs. part skim ricotta cheese, drained

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 pound pancetta, cut into small pieces

1 large onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

3 large eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon fine dried bread crumbs

½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the egg glaze:

1 egg yolk, beaten well with pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 350 F.

Directions for the pie pastry

1. Combine the flour and salt and pulse a few times in a food processor to blend.

2. Add the cold butter and vegetable shortening and pulse only until the fat is cut into bits the size of peas.

3. Through the processor’s feed tube, add the egg and lemon juice or
vinegar, pulse once or twice, then add the ice water one tablespoon at a
time, pulsing once or twice between additions, only until dough begins
to show some clumps. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the inside
walls of the vessel. Do not form a dough ball on the blade.

4. Turn dough out onto a piece of wax paper (if it looks sandy and
dry, sprinkle on a tiny bit more water) and use your hands to bring it
together into a ball. It should hold the form of your fingers when
squeezed. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at
least 30 minutes or for up to 5 days until you are ready to make the

Note: If butter and vegetable shortening were frozen, dough can be rolled without prior chilling.

Directions for the filling

1. Wash the rapini in cold water, drain.

2. Detach and separate the stems from the tops of the vegetable. Set
the tops and the leaves aside. Using a small, sharp knife, peel any
especially tough skin from the thicker lower stalks, much like you would
peel the tough skin from the bottom of asparagus stalks.

3. Fill a large pot with plenty of water to cover all the greens and
bring to a rolling boil. Add the kosher salt and the peeled stems, cover
partially, and boil over high heat for 7 minutes. Now add the florets
and leaves and cook them together with the stems for 3 minutes more.
Drain the greens and allow them to cool. With your hands, squeeze out as
much water as you can. Chop them finely and set aside.

4. Warm a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and render most of the fat from pancetta. Remove the pancetta and add the onion to the pan. Adjust the heat to medium-low
and sauté until the onion is transparent, another 10 minutes. Stir in
the garlic and continue to sauté gently for about another 3 minutes
until it softens and the onions are lightly colored, but do not brown
the mixture. Stir in the rapini, along with the pancetta. Set aside to cool.

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly and mix in the bread
crumbs, ricotta, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Use a rubber spatula to fold in
the cooled rapini mixture, blending well.

6.  Select a springform pan.
Butter it lightly. Divide the chilled dough into two portions, one
slightly larger than the other. To use, roll out the larger ball of
dough on a lightly floured, wide sheet of parchment or waxed paper using
a floured rolling pin. Form an 11-inch round. Drape it around the pin
and transfer it to the pan. Press it gently onto the bottom and

7. Spoon in the filling.

8. Roll out the second ball of dough in the same manner into a
slightly smaller circle. Lay it over the filling. Crimp the edges
together to seal and trim off any excess to form an even edge. Cut several slashes in the top to allow steam to escape and decorate with extra pieces of dough, pressing them gently onto
the crust.

9. Brush the crust with the beaten egg and bake in the preheated oven
until golden, about 1 hour, 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and
transfer it to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm,
cut into wedges.

Note: This pie keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Reheat it in an oven preheated to 350 F until warm throughout, 20 to 30

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring Pea Soup

There isn't one recipe from Ina Garten, aka "The Barefoot Contessa" that I haven't loved and this is no exception. I'm not a fan of dried split pea soup. But this green pea soup has a bright, fresh taste that's just perfect to welcome in this Spring that seemed like it would never arrive. The blast of mint in the soup turned even my "I-don't-like-peas" daughter into a convert. Leave out the crème fraîche if you want. It's delicious even without it. 

Ina Garten's Spring Pea Soup

2 T. unsalted butter

2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)

1 cup chopped yellow onion

4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

(or use vegetable stock to make it vegetarian)

5 cups freshly shelled peas or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen peas

2/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, loosely packed

2 t. kosher salt

1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup crème fraiche (or heavy cream)

1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

garlic croutons (optional)

Heat the butter in a large saucepan, add the leeks and onion, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the peas are tender. (Frozen peas will take only 3 minutes.) Off the heat, add the mint, salt, and pepper.

Puree the soup in batches: place 1 cup of soup in a blender, place the lid on top, and puree on low speed. With the blender still running, open the venthole in the lid and slowly add more soup until the blender is three-quarters full. Pour the soup into a large bowl and repeat until all the soup is pureed. Whisk in the crème fraiche and chives and taste for seasoning. Serve hot with a dollop of crème fraîche and/or chopped chives. 

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

I don't know about you, but when I'm cooking a big dinner for a crowd, I like to get as much done ahead of time as possible. That's the key to enjoying your company and not stressing. So with the holidays ahead, you might be planning your meal for a large gathering and wondering what to serve as a starchy side dish. This one - a throwback to my days as a young wife in the 70s -  is easily made ahead a day or even two or three, and then heated up before serving. And it's pretty irresistible to everyone - unless dairy is on your no-no list.

Start by baking the potatoes - Choose the brown skinned Idaho-type baking potatoes. Bake for about 45 to an hour; cool until you can handle them, then cut in half and scoop out the insides, leaving a small perimeter of potato intact. In a large bowl (DON'T use an electric mixer or you'll have gluey potatoes), mash the inside of the potato with a hand masher and mix with the rest of the ingredients - milk, cheddar cheese, sour cream, melted butter, milk, salt and pepper.

 Top the potatoes with more cheese (and more chives if desired).

 Bake in the oven for another 20 minutes or so until the top is golden brown. Then watch 'em disappear.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

8 large brown potatoes - try to find a uniform size so they bake at the same time

4 T. melted butter

3/4 c. milk

1 c. sour cream

8 oz. grated cheddar cheese

2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

handful of chopped chives

Scrub the potatoes well and pierce once to allow steam to escape while cooking. Rub the skins with a little olive oil or butter. Bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees, for about 45 minutes to an hour, turning once. Cool slightly and slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the inside of the potato and place in a bowl. Be careful to leave a small perimeter of potato intact and try not to break the skin. I use a grapefruit spoon to extract the potato.

Mash with a hand masher, and add the rest of the ingredients, but reserve a little of the grated cheddar cheese for the top. Pile the filling into the potato shells and sprinkle with the reserved cheddar cheese. You can make these ahead of time up to this point.

About 1/2 hour before serving, put the potatoes on a cookie sheet and place in a 375 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and heated through.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Nigella Lawson's Lemon Polenta Cake

This may look like a savarin (say, what? savarin? - yes, savarin - a yeast-like babà type cake with a hole in the middle.)  But it's not.

It's just an impossibly moist, wickedly delicious, lemon cornmeal cake that happens to sink slightly in the middle. At least for me it did. But you know what? Just like in that Johnny Mercer song "Accentuate the … " You know the one I mean. Well, turn the negative into a positive by heaping some seasonal fruit in the center of the cake. People will think it was supposed to look that way. And maybe it was.

The little crater certainly presented the ideal vessel for this tumble of sugared berries.

Nigella Lawson's Lemon Polenta Cake


1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

1 cup superfine sugar

2 cups almond meal/flour

3/4 cup fine polenta/ cornmeal

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (gluten-free if required)

3 eggs

Zest 2 lemons (save the juice for the syrup)


Juice 2 lemons (see above)

Heaping 1 cup confectioners' sugar

Special Equipment: 1 (9-inch) springform pan


For the cake: Line the base of your cake pan with parchment paper and grease its sides lightly with butter. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped, either by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or using a freestanding mixer.

Mix together the almond meal, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while.

Finally, beat in the lemon zest and pour, spoon or scrape the mixture into your prepared pan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. It may seem wibbly but, if the cake is cooked, a cake tester should come out cleanish and, most significantly, the edges of the cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its pan.

For the syrup: Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar in a smallish saucepan. Once the confectioners' sugar has dissolved into the juice, you're done. Prick the top of the cake all over with a cake tester (a skewer would be too destructive), pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its pan.

Make Ahead Note: The cake can be baked up to 3 days ahead and stored in airtight container in a cool place. Will keep for total of 5 to 6 days.

Freeze Note: The cake can be frozen on its lining paper as soon as cooled, wrapped in double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil, for up to 1 month. Thaw for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature.

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