Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Arugula and Fennel Salad

It's here and it crept up on me - bathing suit season, that is. ugh. Is it too late to start dieting now? Oh forget it - there's just too much good gelato in my future. But it can't hurt to have a light salad or two for lunch or dinner. I've always loved raw fennel and raw mushrooms in a salad, but this one is kicked up a notch with the addition of chive flowers and pink peppercorns - not original ideas to be sure, because almost everything's been done before. But I did get inspired to use those pink peppercorns after seeing Lori's salad here, and to throw in those chives after seeing Stacey's dish here.

You'll need a mandolin to cut the fennel thin enough, but we careful of those thumbs and fingers. Shave the parmesan with a cheese plane, crush the pink peppercorns, and toss in some chive flowers or  tiny thyme blossoms. And don't worry about those few extra pounds -- enjoy the gelato.

Arugula Fennel Salad

arugula - one small bunch

one small bulb of fennel

shaved parmesan cheese, as much as you like

sliced raw button mushrooms - about 6 or 8, depending on size


1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

 a little less than 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

a small bit of honey (1 t. or so)

a small squirt of Dijon mustard

salt, pepper

pink peppercorns, smashed 

chive blossoms, thyme blossoms

aged balsamic vinegar, optional

Mix all the dressing ingredients in a jar. Wash the arugula and toss with enough of the dressing to coat.

Slice the fennel thinly using a mandoline. Careful not to cut yourself. Toss the fennel with a bit of dressing and place over the arugula. Wash the mushrooms and slice thinly. Scatter them over the salad, then shave parmesan cheese over everything. Decorate with chive blossoms and/or thyme flowers.

Drizzle a little aged balsamic vinegar over the salad, if you have it. Otherwise, it's fine just as is.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Ramps Pesto

Well, after reading about ramps for years, and never tasting them, I'm finally on the ramps bandwagon. If you've never eaten them, your time is running short this year because the season is almost over. If you're lucky you'll live near a farmer's market that sells them. But if you're even luckier, you'll have a friend who gives you some, like the ones I got from my neighbor Insung, who got hers from a friend who picked them in New York's Catskills Mountains. They grow wild in many places across the Eastern U.S. and Canada, from Nova Scotia to the the American South, including Richwood, West Virginia, a town that just celebrated its 76th annual Ramp Feed, or Feast of the Rampsome, as the locals call it. 

"Allium tricoccum," the botanic name of ramps, already tells you something - that it's in the onion family and they have a garlicky, oniony flavor. In the 1987 movie Matewan, when an Italian woman receives some ramps to flavor her stew from an Appalachian woman in West Virginia, she smells them and declares "aglio!" (garlic).  The strong smell permeates everything - including the refrigerator, so make sure you wrap them well or put them in a container.

For my bounty, I decided to make a ramp pesto, and I added in some spinach to stretch it a little further. You could also add arugula or nothing extra at all. But the added spinach helped intensify the green color. To aid in keeping the color green, I also first blanched the ramps in boiling water for a couple of minutes. 

It's great merely smeared on some toast.

Or spread a swath of ramps pesto on a plate with grilled fish, like the one below. This was a delicious dish I ate recently at Ed's Chowder House in New York City, served with fava beans and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. 

Or just add a few minced ramps to your potato salad this weekend to give it a really nice "bite." Click here for my potato salad recipe.

Happy Memorial Day!

Ramps Pesto

printable recipe here

1 bunch ramps (about 20 stalks)
1 small bunch spinach (about 1/2 cup packed hard)
1 cup toasted walnuts
2/3 cup olive oil
sea salt, white pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Blanch the ramps and dry them on paper towels.  (optional, but the color will stay brighter if you do this step.) Put
everything except parmesan cheese in a food processor and keep pulsing
until you have a creamy mixture. Add more olive oil if needed to make it looser. Mix in
the cheese later if you’re planning to freeze, otherwise, stir in the cheese and serve - over pasta, on bread toasts, with grilled fish or chicken.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Stuffed Pork Chops

Grilling season is upon us again, and I love a good grilled pork chop, but there are times when you want something more interesting than a plain old grilled pork chop. (Especially when you've got a small bit of fontina cheese in the fridge looking for a home.) I remember eating something similar to this at restaurants years ago, but with veal chops instead - a very pricey cut of meat. Try it with pork chops to save a little money, but it's best to "French" the pork chops if you can't buy them already trimmed this way. Frenching them just means to trim around the bone and cut out some of the fat. You're left with a kind of "handle."

Then, using a sharp knife, slice the chop in two to make a "pocket."

Then, using a meat pounder, pound the chop thinner on each side. (a heavy can will do in a pinch if you don't have a pounder.)

Meanwhile, take the broccoli rape that's been boiled and drained and add it to some sautéed shallots and garlic.

After it's cooled, place half in each pork chop and top with fontina cheese. Secure with toothpicks.

Give it a light dusting of flour, some salt and pepper seasoning, then sauté in olive oil for a few minutes at medium high heat, flipping once.

Add the white wine and sage, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for another couple of minutes, turning once. It's easy to overcook pork chops, so don't overdo it.

Take two slices of ripe tomato (these were unusually nice tomatoes for April in New Jersey.)

Place them over the pork chops, and top with more fontina cheese. 

Place a lid over the top to aid the melting, if necessary.

Serve with a sage leaf on top (and don't forget to remove the toothpicks, especially if you're serving to company.)

Ready to dig in yet?

How about now?


Stuffed Pork Chops

2 pork chops (mine were about 3/4" thick)

1/4 cup boiled broccoli rape, chopped

1 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 T. olive oil

salt, pepper

red pepper flakes

a few slices of fontina cheese for stuffing and a few more for the top

2 more T. olive oil for sautéing the pork chops

2 tomato slices

1/2 cup white wine

a few sage leaves

Using a sharp knife, make a slit in the pork chops, but don't cut all the way through. Take each half of the slit chop and pound with a meat pounder. Season with salt and pepper.

In a sauté pan, place the olive oil and minced shallot and garlic and cook until softened. Add the chopped broccoli rape. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, to taste. Let the mixture cool.

When it has cooled, place half inside each pork chop, then top with a few slices of fontina cheese. 

Close the pork chop, then secure with toothpicks.

Give the pork chops a VERY light dusting of flour, then sauté at medium high heat in 2 T. olive oil for a few minutes, turning once. You just want to get a little browning, you're not going to finish the cooking at this heat.

Lower the heat, then add the white wine and sage. At this point, cover the pork chops with the tomato slice and more fontina cheese. Let the pork chops simmer in the white wine for a couple of minutes until the meat is almost cooked. The cheese may not yet be melted at this point. In that case, cover the pan with a lid and cook on low heat for a minute or two until the cheese is melted. Serve with a sage leaf on top.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Very Berry Tart

"It's spring! It's spring!" Babar, the king of the elephants says one sunny day he opens his window and sees that the leaves and flowers seem to have opened overnight. Don't ask me why that line stands out to me, (maybe because I read it hundreds of times to my kids), but that's what I think of when I see this tart. It's as pretty as a fine spring day, and tastes equally delicious too, with its luscious lemony filling.

The crust is really special too - it's the same one I used for the ricotta tart I made for Easter from Domenica Marchetti. But I blind-baked it first this time, then added the filling. After you've placed the dough into the tart pan, use a fork to prick it all around.

Spray one side of aluminum foil with Pam, or butter it lightly, then press it down over the dough and add some beans or rice to keep the dough from puffing up during the baking.

Remove it from the oven and let it cool completely before adding the filling. (Hint - if you want to take the easy way out - go buy a pie crust all ready for the oven. I won't tell. But Domenica's crust recipe is so much better than anything store bought.) The filling is a snap to make, since all you do is open a jar of lemon curd and mix some of it with mascarpone cheese.

Now comes the fun part - arranging the berries in a pretty design. 

Spread some clear or light colored jelly over the berries and chill before serving.

And don't forget to open the windows to enjoy the spring flowers that seem to have opened overnight.

Very Berry Tart

tart crust:

Domenica Marchetti's recipe:

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1 large whole egg

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • Note: This makes a lot of dough - enough for two tarts. Or make one large one and several small ones, or one large tart and use the rest to make delicious cookies that taste like shortbread.

Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it in half. You'll need only one of these halves for this tart. Use the rest for another tart, freeze it, or make small tarts or cookies.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit a tart pan with a removable bottom (mine was 9 inches in diameter, but you can use a smaller one) Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom all around with a fork. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. I "blind-bake" the crust by buttering some aluminum foil and pressing that lightly over the raw dough. Then add some beans or rice to weigh it down. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let it cool completely before adding the filling.


8 ounces mascarpone cheese

1 cup lemon curd

berries for top

light colored jelly or jam for glaze

Blend the mascarpone and lemon curd together with a whisk. Spread it over the baked tart crust.

Top with berries (I used a combination of raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries), arranged in a pretty design. Spread a light colored jelly or jam over the top. I used homemade quince jelly, but apricot or apple or orange would be fine too. Warm it in the microwave first to loosen the jelly a bit so you'll be able to spread it better.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Michelangelo's Feast

You don't have to travel to Rome's Sistine Chapel to know that this magical moment when God brings Adam to life springs from the genius of Michelangelo. The Renaissance artist was an innovator in painting as well as sculpture and inspired generations of artists following him. But who would have guessed that a shopping list he wrote more than 500 years ago would serve as inspiration in New York for a memorable repast and innovative talks in the 21st century? 

 My passions of art and food collided recently at  "Feast on Innovation," an event held at Science House, a seven-story town house in New York City that serves to bring imaginative ideas and people together.  

photo courtesy of Science House

The event was the vision of Danielle Oteri, (right) owner of "Feast on History," a business venture that combines food and history in unique experiences around the city. The event was co-produced by Deborah Asseraf (left) of "Popcorn Productions."


The dinner sprung forth from this 16th century shopping list written and illustrated by Michelangelo. From it,  lead chef Lara O'Brien performed a little culinary archeology and designed a 5-course extravaganza for 12 lucky diners - me included!

Here's what the above list says:

Pani dua (two bread rolls)

Un bochal di vino (a jug of wine)

Una aringa (a herring)

Tortegli (tortelli)

Una insalata (a salad)

Un quartuccio di bruscho (a quarter of dry wine)

Un piatello di spinaci (a dish of spinach)

Quatro alice (four anchovies)

Dua minestre di finochio (two dishes of fennel)

In addition to Lara, the other two chefs - Michelle DiBenedetto Capobianco and Caroline Chirichella, produced a dinner that surpassed Michelangelo's humble list by any measure. Christian Galliani, Danielle's husband and collaborator, and owner of "Wine for the 99," sponsored the wines for the Michelangelo's Feast. 

Each of the chefs has her own unique back story - Lara is a producer for CBC's "The Current" and was formerly in the restaurant business; Michelle was a lawyer in her last life and now runs a catering business, Majella Home Cooking; and Caroline is a classically trained opera singer who has sung with Marcello Giordani, and runs her own business called "Magic and Pasta." 

from left, Christian Galliani, Michelle DiBenedetto Capobianco, Caroline Chirichella and Lara O'Brien

 Before dinner started though, participants were invited to a choice of several workshops dealing with innovation, from 3-D printing to branding strategy. Drinks and munchies were served, including these melt-in-your-mouth Pallote cac'e ove, an Abruzzese specialty made by Michelle, dubbed "Medici balls" for the evening, in honor of the Renaissance arts patron. Recipe at the bottom of the post.

photo courtesy of Michelle DiBenedetto Capobianco

Following the workshops, we moved down to the kitchen where the friendly and interesting group had plenty of time to get acquainted in between all the courses. 

Starting with a delicious appetizer of toasted Tuscan bread with fresh smashed peas and ricotta salata. I had to work hard to keep from eating a third, knowing the bounty had just begun.

Next on tap was a lightly poached quail egg resting atop a bird’s nest of sautéed spinach. A light grating of truffles was enough to add an earthy touch.

Perhaps my favorite course of the night was this caramelized fennel and ricotta agnolotti in a carrot brodo - a unique flavor combo. 

Then came a simple, but delicious course of grilled sardines and anchovy brown butter. If you're familiar only with sardines from a can, you are short-changing yourself and need to get thee to a fish monger for fresh sardines. These were served in a puddle of olive oil, with diced tomatoes and olives scattered about. 

The smell of the main course - this savory porchetta, seasoned with rosemary, thyme, garlic and wild fennel pollen was enticing and the taste more than lived up to the aroma that wafted through the house earlier in the evening.

A side dish of asparagus and Roman artichokes with pickled shallots complemented the roast perfectly.

Honey semifreddo with pignoli brittle was the sweet ending to a perfect - and unique dining experience, and left me wondering about what else is on tap at Feast on History in the future. In case you're wondering too, click here to find out what they've got next on tap.

As if this evening wasn't already special enough, Caroline broke into an aria following dessert - a fitting piece from "La Traviata" summoning fellow party goers to drink -

"Tra voi, tra voi saprò dividere il tempo mio giocondo. Tutto è follia, follia nel mondo ciò che non è piacer."

"With you, I can share all my happiest times. Everything in life which is not pleasure is foolish."

Click on the button below to listen.

Bravo Verdi for those words and music, brava Carolina for your singing and bravi to everyone who was involved in producing an unforgettable evening at "Feast on Innovation."

Pallotte Cac’e Ove

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©


mixture: 6 cups day-old Italian bread, torn into tiny pieces (or
pulsed in the food processor); 2 cups milk; 2 eggs, lightly beaten; 1
teaspoon of salt and several grindings of fresh black pepper; 1 cup
grated Pecorino cheese; 2 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley; 1
teaspoon minced rosemary; 1 clove of garlic, minced; IF NEEDED, fine
unseasoned breadcrumbs

frying: ½ cup or more of extra virgin olive oil

stewing: 4 cups Basic Homemade Tomato Sauce (see below)

the Basic Homemade Tomato Sauce: 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole
tomatoes, passed through a food mill or pulsed in a food processor
until smooth (or approx 2 liters tomato puree -
di pomodoro
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; 1 large onion, finely diced; 4
cloves garlic, minced; a branch of whole fresh basil leaves; sea
salt, to taste


Place the torn bread in a wide bowl, pour the milk over it & mix
well, until the bread is well-moistened by the milk (the bread
shouldn’t be too wet or you’ll end up with a spongy texture). Let
the bread & milk mixture sit for about an hour, until the milk is
completely absorbed. Add the remaining ingredients & mix together
until evenly incorporated. Try to form a spoonful of the mixture into
a 2-inch ball - if it won’t hold together, add some breadcrumbs, a
spoonful at a time, until it’s a consistency that holds. Form the
remainder of the mixture into balls & set aside on a tray until
you’re ready to fry them. (It helps to dab your hands with a bit of
olive oil from time to time to keep them from getting too sticky.)
Heat the tomato sauce in a wide sauce pan that can accommodate the
more or less, in a single layer, until it reaches a slow, steady
simmer. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a wide skillet until
shimmering & gently fry the
for 2-3 minutes per side, until a golden crust forms, a batch at a
time. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels & continue to fry
the remainder of the
in the same manner. Gently transfer the fried
to the pot of sauce & simmer at a slow, steady pace for about 30
min., stirring occasionally so they don’t stick to the bottom.
Serve immediately or reheat prior to serving - they’re even better
the next day.

 TO MAKE THE SAUCE: In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in 2 tbsp
olive oil over medium-low heat until soft & golden, about 6-8
min. Add the minced garlic & sauté for about a minute, until
fragrant.  Add the reserved tomatoes & their juices &
the basil, raise the heat & bring to a boil.  Lower the heat
& simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the
remaining spoon of olive oil & a teaspoon pinch salt & simmer
for 10 more minutes. Season to taste. Any unused sauce may be
stored in a vacuum-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 7
days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Domenica Marchetti's Lemon Ricotta Crostata and Cookies too.

This crostata recipe comes from Domenica Marchetti. And it graced our dessert table on Easter this year (along with a bowl of marinated strawberries and way too many jelly beans and chocolate Easter eggs. The lemon flavor in this dessert is subtle, but adds a soft tang that gives it an elegant distinction. And the crust - oh my, the crust is so delicious I will be using it as my tart crust from here on out. The recipe makes more dough than you will need, as Domenica points out. You'll be glad though, when you taste the wonderful treats that you can make from the excess dough (hang in there, it's coming at the end of the post.)

For this crostata though, I first drained the ricotta. Try to find freshly made ricotta if possible, rather than a supermarket brand. I place a coffee filter in a colander, add the ricotta, then cover the top with plastic wrap and put a weight over it (something like a heavy can). I let it drain overnight in the refrigerator, but if you're pressed for time, even a few hours will help.

At least one cup of liquid came out - that would be liquid that would otherwise give you a soggy crust.

The mascarpone in the recipe adds a creaminess that ordinary ricotta tarts don't have.

The dough is really easy to work, so the lattice strips don't fall apart as in other recipes I've used. 

There's not a lot of sugar in the filling, so a dusting of powdered sugar over the top adds a nice touch of sweetness. And it will cover up any cracks that may appear in your lattice work.

Remember those leftover dough scraps I mentioned? Domenica suggests you make cookies with them and sandwich them together with a bit of Nutella. Ottima idea Domenica!

 Next time I may vary the filling and use some dulce de leche or homemade jam as well. But these Nutella ones were a bit hit and disappeared in no time. I have another batch all ready to go, to share with students in a class tomorrow. 

Domenica Marchetti's Lemon-Ricotta Crostata

printable recipe here


  • For the dough

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1 large whole egg

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • For the filling

  • 8 oz fresh sheep’s milk ricotta or well-drained cow’s milk ricotta

  • 8 oz mascarpone

  • 1 large whole egg

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for serving (I like it a touch sweeter, so would add another 1/4 cup sugar - Ciao Chow Linda)

  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon, plus 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


Make the dough

Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it into 2 portions, one slightly larger than the other. Rewrap the smaller portion and return it to the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the large portion into an 11-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick or slightly thicker. Carefully wrap the dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the filling

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, mascarpone, whole egg and yolks, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice and zest. Using a stand mixer or a handheld beater, beat the ingredients on high speed for about 1 minute, or until thoroughly combined and fluffy.

Assemble and bake the crostata

Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator. Scrape the filling into the shell and smooth it with a silicone spatula. Roll out the reserved piece of dough into a 10-inch round about 1/8 inch thick or slightly thicker, and cut it into 3/4-inch-wide strips with a fluted pastry wheel. Carefully place the strips over the filled tart shell in a lattice pattern, gently pressing the ends of the strips into the sides of the tart shell. Use any remaining strips to form a rim around the perimiter of the crostata.

Bake the crostata for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is puffed and just set. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Remove the ring of the tart pan and let the crostata cool completely before transferring it to a decorative platter. Dust liberally with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

NOTES This recipe will leave you with four leftover egg whites. Don't toss them! Use them to make these meringue cookies. You will also likely have leftover dough. Gather the scraps into a ball, wrap and chill. Then use the dough to make these nutella sandwich cookies.

If you don't plan to serve the crostata within a couple of hours of baking, cover with foil and store it in the refrigerator. Let it come back to room temperature before serving (although it's also really good cold).

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