Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tomato love

Have you ever discovered a grocery store that you just plain love ? I have, and it's a local independent chain that caters to Italian, Polish, Middle Eastern and Hispanic communities and cuisines. Prices are good, selection is plentiful and the variety of produce is incredible ! It is THE place to go if you want to find things like tandoori, banana flour and other such edibles. Along with these, they always offer several varieties of tomatoes, from heirloom to obscure but delicious ones. I am a sucker for a new tomato. As long as it has a 4 at the beginning of the code ( a non gmo variety), I buy it and bring it home to "play" with. This recipe is a very good way to use those new to you kinds to see just how they stack up. It's easy, delicious and will keep for a few days in the fridge. It might save your sanity this summer when all of those garden plants start producing like crazy !

Tomato Salad

1/4 c Parsley, fresh; chopped
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 T Vinegar, cider
2 t Mustard, prepared
1 t Salt
1 t Honey
1/4 t Pepper
1 Garlic clove; minced
1 Onion; finely sliced
6 small Tomatoes; firm, ripe, cubed

Combine ingredients, mixing well. Place tomatoes in serving bowl, and pour dressing over all. Cover and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Oven vs Pizza- a public service announcment on how to overcome

Here is something for your consideration. Ignoring the fact that you have a temperamental oven, you decide to make  pizza from scratch. You make your dough from scratch, sauce from scratch, prepare and pre-cook the veggies, roll the crust out, top it and turn your oven on, only to discover this is a day it has decided not to work. Crestfallen, you toss the unborn pizza into the trash because there is no room in the freezer. You then call the repair people who show up the next day, at which time your oven works perfectly . You apologize, fearing that they will suspect you are a crazy person because this is the third such call you have made for the same oven with the same results, and unless it happens when they are present, nothing will be done except offer guidance to "keep an eye on it". So , the weekend rolls around again , you plan yet another pizza, and failure to ignite happens again. This time you are hungry, mad at the oven, frustrated, and something deep inside you is awakened. It is the stuff that bore Xena and all other powerful women you have heard about. Your thinking cap goes on, you rationalize that it is simply a matter of heat application, and the following is born

Rotoli con cipolle grigliate e mozzarella
( Caramelized onion and mozzarella rolls)

Make a pizza with your choice of toppings- this one was potato, caramelized onion and mozzarella) and roll it up jelly roll fashion. Slice into rolls about 2 inches thick. In a large skillet pour olive oil ( about an inch)and place on medium heat.Place the rolls in, cooking about 6 minutes per side with the cover on. Serve.

These were very, very tasty ! The cheese begins to ooze out of the bottom and brown, but this does not detract from the flavor at all. It was a real joy to salvage a meal  that could have been lost  due to appliance failure. I just might make these again, but use some other toppings that would stay put better. Such things are handy knowledge to have and pass along.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Peppers - a make ahead dish

Something I have been noticing about Italian Cuisine- Sunday Dinners in particular- is that a lot of foods are featured. Most of these are simple salad condiment sorts of things, but all are home made and use ingredients that are plentiful. Sunday dinners are not cooked exclusively on Sunday. Preparation seems to begin a few days earlier to allow time and chemical magic to do it's thing. The result is a tasty, nourishing dish that helps to make the meal something you want to linger over.

One such dish is not only very simple to make, but it can become something you will want to keep on hand all the time to toss on a sandwich, salad and so forth.
Marinated Peppers

6 to 8 Medium red peppers
2 1/2 Cloves Garlic
5 teaspoons olive oil
1 quart white vinegar
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
Hot Pepper Flakes - To Taste

Cut peppers into large cubes and place in a large bowl. Bring to boil all the other ingredients for 5 minutes.
Pour hot mixture over the Peppers and marinate for 36 hours in refrigerator.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Easter pies and evil ovens

It's the kind of morning where I am hearing Tubthummper playing in my head -

"I get knocked down
but I get up again
you're never gonna keep me down "

Be it a temperamental oven, illogical policies with business institutions or making pie crusts, I will not give up !!! I was reminded of this trait yesterday when my oven failed once again, after spending an afternoon creating a home made Pizza. Second weekend in a row. This time it is personal. In the mean time, I am reflecting on the good times of the past with this beast, when we worked in harmony to create such tasty dishes as this, a Easter Ricotta Pie
  It's something like a pineapple cheesecake in a pie crust, and very sweet ! When surfing for Easter goodies I found this recipe at and adapted it slightly for my own kitchen, who does not own a food processor and had to create it old school. I am hoping that in posting this recipe for an Easter dish my oven will  be inspired by the theological concept of Resurrection. It does not seem to respond to the usual Repair person or threats of Voodoo dolls. Gotta keep trying, and not let it get me down !

Easter Ricotta Pie (adapted from
1-1/4 lb ricotta cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup + 2 tbs sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
1/2 tbs pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
3 large eggs
1 qty 8 ounce can crushed pineapple
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (to sprinkle)
Pie crust -
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 oz chilled butter cut into chunks
1 large egg & 1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs sugar
1-1/2 tbs chilled water
    For the pie crust - cut cold butter chunks into flour and salt to make crumbs. Add egg & egg yolk, sugar and 1-1/2 tbs chilled water and mix till dough forms. Flatten the dough ball into a smooth disk and wrap in plastic cling wrap. Chill for about 15 minutes.
    Preheat the oven to 425 deg F
    While the pie crust is chilling prepare the remaining ingredients - Ricotta cheese - Measure the ricotta cheese by weight and place in a strainer over a bowl to catch excess liquid. 
    Crushed pineapple - Empty the can into a sieve. Press down to remove all excess juice & discard the excess juice.
    Orange - Using a zester, zest the rind and set aside.
    Eggs - Crack into a bowl and discard shells.
    In a mixing bowl add the ricotta cheese, cream, pineapple, pure vanilla extract, orange zest, sugar, cornstarch and eggs. Mix till smooth
    Liberally flour a clean working surface with about 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Roll out 3/4ths o the dough evenly, giving a quarter turn as you go, to a diameter 2-1/2" larger than the base of the spring foam pan.
    Press the crust into the spring form pan and dock in spots (poke holes into) with toothpick
    Add filling, and use remaining ¼ of pie crust to form lattice topped crust
    Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired
    Place the baking sheet and pan in the hot oven and bake for 15 minutes. 
    Reduce oven temperature to 350 deg F
    Bake for an additional 35-40 minutes until the pie is lightly puffed up and the pie is slightly jiggly in the center when gently shaken.
    Remove the sheet and pan from the hot oven and allow to cool. Remove the pan sides.
    The pie can be served at room temperature or chilled in the refrigerator once it has reached room temperature. Slice and Serve chilled or room temperature.

    Today I am going to attempt intimidation with my oven. Play with a meat mallet and pound some meat paper thin and then transform it into a braciolle and simmer it on the stove top to make it jealous  and get the idea that if it does not behave, it misses out. I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down ....

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rollin' like a Sicilian

This past Easter we decided to to a full 5 course Italian Dinner, and I had a lot of fun surfing for recipes to include in those 5 courses. While such a thing sounds sort of decadent/elegant to eat, it is quite a commitment to figure what to include so that the flavors do not clash and the diners do not become over full before the end of the meal. While surfing, I stumbled across a dish that sounded like something my father in law, the Sicilian, was trying to describe to my mother in law.  He explained the finished product and his rough understanding of how it was made, but she kept hearing this all as a calzone.After about an hour of debate, he conceded that it was a calzone, but the look on his face said it really was not the same. It was not the fault of either- my mother in law is a Jersey Girl who was not exposed to a lot of the home dishes in Italian Cusine and my father in law is not a cook in any form. He can handle a microwave, but is totally lost when faced with any cooking term or procedure. For some reason the discussion stuck in my head, and lingered for about 15 years. I came across this recipe, and I knew that this was what he was most likely describing, and I had to make them so I could one day soon gift him with a supply. They are delicious, and a lot easier to make than they sound.

Miscateddri - Sicilian Calzone rolls 
( courtesy of someone's grandmother who I forgot to note)

For the starter:
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water

For the dough:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon plus 1/3 cup olive oil

For the  meat filling:
½ lb pound ground pork
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the filling
1 pound spinach, or chard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Black olives, sliced
2 onions, cubed
4 potatoes cut in small cubes
freshly grated black pepper

To make the starter for the dough, in a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the lukewarm water. Set aside for 10 minutes until frothy.
To make the dough, in a bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and the 1 teaspoon oil. Add the starter and using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, beat on medium speed until a soft dough forms, about 10 minutes. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 2 balls. Place the balls in a bowl, add the 1/3 cup oil, and toss to coat the balls with the oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until almost doubled in size, about 1-1/2 hr.

Prepare the filling. Add salt and pepper to the pork and set aside – this will be used raw.
Cook the onions in Olive oil until soft and golden and potatoes in olive oil until tender. Cook the spinach or chard in olive oil till wilted. Place meat, potatoes, onions, spinach and sliced olives each in a separate bowl.
.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheet pans with olive oil or vegetable oil.
On a lightly floured work surface, with a rolling pin roll out a ball of dough into a large rectangle and about 1/5 inch thick (the thinner the dough is spread the better). Take one tablespoon of oil and spread all over the flattened dough.

Sprinkle on ingredients, as if topping a pizza First your meat, then your potatoes, your onions, chard or spinach and the olives.

Now take the edge of the dough and start rolling it with your hands as if rolling a large cigar , start from the right hand side and work your way to the left but be a little careful when rolling it because the dough with the filling becomes a little thin and will tend to tear. When finished twist slightly and squeeze lightly to insure a tight roll. Once you have finished rolling it, cut the roll every 2 to 2-1/2 inches long all the way across. Take each piece in your hand and twist both end into a flattened disc and place in the greased pan about 1-1/2” apart.
Bake the miscateddri until golden,  at 350 approx. 30 minutes. Serve hot or warm. If you make a large quantity you can also freeze them.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Love is sweet, but marriage is like an orange

People would be rather surprised at some of the truths of my life. I think that it is because I get lost in the moment in  outward appearances, and the other facts of my life sort of blend into the background. Good and bad thing in that. One of those facts is that I am, technically , married to the clergy. My husband is an Ordained Deacon who can do anything a Roman Catholic priest can do ( and has) except hear confession, consecrate the Eucharist and give Last Rites. I am , in a fringe sense, a Ministers Wife. He was Ordained in 1994, and life has presented some very interesting moments since then. One involved a wedding for a Hispanic couple who desired a very ethnically traditional ceremony that included many details that seemed colorful, exotic and meaningful, such as a Lasso d'amore ( Lasso of love, where the couple were bound together with a lasso). It was at that time that we learned of a cultural term for a spouse or beloved- naranja . It means my other orange half or soul mate.

In life since then with my own naranja, I have contemplated that word. Some observations I have made seem to hint at the real meaning of the word. Two halves together make something that looks like the sun, and like the sun they can bring light and life to the world. Unless they have gone bad, and then they stink up the whole house.When the two halves are together you can collect the zest- which is the most aromatic, flavorful part of the orange, Almost impossible to do with a half or a segment. A whole orange can be sliced , for a much more attractive garnish than a wedge would make- could speak of either sorrows or children. In the case of children, knowing both parents on the same level of day to day interaction makes the qualities of both easier to see in the offspring ( lessons are more caught than taught afterall). When you think about it, an orange is a pretty profound simile for a marriage !

Along with offering such deep thoughts, it offers some very interesting culinary options. You can simply peel and eat, add to baked goods, toss in salads, or combine it with something you may never considered and bring out entirely new flavor notes. Something like this Sicilian classic

Arance con oliva insalada

3 navel oranges, rind removed and sliced
1 small can sliced black olives
olive oil
white wine vinegar
salt and pepper

toss orange slices and olives in a bowl and drizzle with 2 parts olive oil to 1 part white wine vinegar. Toss, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I could hug a water buffalo !

One day, when I least expected anything beyond dinner, my life changed.  We had been grocery shopping and I spotted  something that was totally new to me, labeled Fresh Mozzarella.
it was also labeled with these funny words, which I came to learn meant Ovolini (egg size) 4 ounce balls, Bocconcini (bite size) 1.50 ounce balls and Ciliegine (little cherry size) .33 ounce balls.. ( pictured are ovolini and bocconcini). I brought it home, tasted it, and thus began a great taste love affair. It tastes like mozzarella that has been made with cream, gently cradled in butter and kissed by faeries. It is as if mozzarella put on a top hat, tails and went to a Royal Wedding. Heavenly !! Somewhere deep in my memory , I recalled my husband saying his mom would make a salad with slices of mozzarella cheese , tomatoes and dried basil, so we tried it with this fresh mozzarella. Pretty darned good. Then I discovered two shocking facts. First, this cheese is produced from the milk of this creature
the water buffalo ! ( pictured here is a male, which you will not get milk from, but you get the idea). Who knew ? Perhaps this cheese is the reason they are considered sacred in parts of the world . I would not argue against that concept ! Second thing was that the salad is often served in Southern Italy , using fresh basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I tried making it the authentic way, and was thus introduced to one of my absolute, favorite dishes of all times that is super easy to make and super delicious !

Insalata Caprese

1 lb Bocconcini
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
handful of fresh basil, torn
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup good, fruity quality olive oil ( I prefer Sicillian)
toss tomatoes, bocconcini  and basil in a bowl. Whisk together oil and balsamic and pour over the tomato mixture. Toss and serve.