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Not Your Mamma’s Egg Salad

Happy Pasquetta! That’s the holiday after Easter when Italians all have off from work and school and take off to the country for picnics and another day of rest. Typically, they eat cold foods like leftover frittata or pizza rustic, but many people have leftover hard boiled eggs too and use them for egg salad mixed with mayonnaise.

Instead of the typical egg salad, try this different version (no mayo at all) from culinary legend Paula Wolfert, the most famous cook you’ve never heard of. Born in the U.S., she’s written nine cookbooks and has lived in Morocco before it was a travel destination on every Millenial’s to-do list. Sadly, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and the book “Unforgettable,” by Emily Kaiser Thelin, tells of her journey from a childhood in Brooklyn, to living around the world and bringing her recipes to American cooks through her cookbooks and magazine articles.

The book also addresses Wolfert’s disease and how she is dealing with it through a brain-healthy diet. If you’ve never heard of her before, you’ll learn a lot about this influential cookbook writer in this book, and find lots of intriguing recipes too, including this one for a mint-laced egg salad.

Oh, and if you want a fail-proof primer on making perfect hard-boiled eggs, click here.

Buona Pasquetta!

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Not Your Mamma's Egg Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 large eggs, boiled (see Ciao Chow Linda archives on "How to make perfect hard boiled eggs"
  • 1 to 2 cups slivered mint leaves
  • (depending on the intensity of the mint)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 2 teaspoons mild red pepper flakes, preferably Marash
  • 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • flaky sea salt
Instructions
  1. Peel the eggs.
  2. Using the large holes of a box grater, and working over a large bowl, grate the eggs.
  3. Add the mint, green onions, and red pepper flakes and mix well.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice to taste, then drizzle over the egg mixture and toss to coat lightly and evenly.
  5. Season with salt.
  6. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
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Pork Tenderloin with Stewed Dried Fruits

Still undecided about what to make as your main course this Easter? For us, it’s typically lamb, or sometimes ham, but if you want to try something different, yet festive, easy and delicious, then give this recipe a go. Roast pork and fruit are a delicious pairing and perfect for any holiday or special occasion. It won’t keep you from your guests for long, since it can be prepared ahead of time and takes only a half hour to cook. You can roast the meat while you’re sitting down to pre-dinner drinks with friends and family. Stew the fruit the night before to save time, but even this takes only 15 minutes. I bought an assortment of dried fruits – peaches, apples, pears, prunes and apricots, plus some orange and lemon peel – and covered them with boiling water, a bit of sugar and a cinnamon stick and whole cloves.

The fruit can sit in the fridge overnight, and you can reheat it at the last minute, while the meat is resting. After you slice the meat, arrange the fruit around the sides, and pour both the meat juices left in the roasting pan, and the fruit juices all over the meat.

Buon appetito e Buona Pasqua a tutti.

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Pork Tenderloin with Stewed Dried Fruits
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 1½ pounds each)
  • Dijon mustard
  • salt, pepper (or herbed salt)
  • herbs de Provence
  • about two cups of mixed dried fruits (apricots, prunes, apples, pears, peaches)
  • water, to cover
  • ½ cup sugar
  • a few strips of orange peel
  • a few strips of lemon peel
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • a couple of whole cloves
Instructions
  1. Bring the meat at room temperature and dry with paper towels.
  2. Smear a little olive oil on the bottom of a roasting pan.
  3. Place the meat on the pan and smear with a light coating of Dijon mustard.
  4. Season with salt and pepper (or herbed salt) and a light sprinkling of herbs de Provence.
  5. Place the meat in a 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until a meat thermometer reaches 140-145 degrees. (The temperature will continue to rise for a bit when you take it out of the oven.)
  6. Remove from the oven and let the meat rest for 10 minute, then slice.
  7. FOR THE STEWED DRIED FRUIT:
  8. Place the fruit in a saucepan with water to cover.
  9. Add the sugar, the citrus peels, the cinnamon and the cloves.
  10. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes or until fruit is softened.
  11. Remove the citrus peels, the cinnamon stick and the cloves.
  12. Remove from the heat, and serve along the sides of a serving platter with the sliced meat.
  13. Pour the juice from the fruits and any juice from the meat (on the carving board) over the sliced meat.
 

 

 

Cassata Siciliana

If you’ve ever been to Sicily, you know that one of the classic desserts from that island is cassata Siciliana, a  delicious sponge cake layered with a ricotta filling, traditionally edged with almond paste and topped with candied fruits.

I was fortunate enough to have Fabrizia Lanza show me how to make cassata when I stayed at her farm in Sicily last spring. Fabrizia, who lived and worked in Bologna in the field of art history, moved back to Sicily to take over the cooking school founded by her late mother, Anna Tasca Lanza. The school offers lots of different programs from food writing to sketching, and even a ten week intensive course called “Cook The Farm.” Click here for more information.

Cassata Siciliana may look complicated to make, but Fabrizia breezed through the various steps in short order without working up a sweat. With Easter just around the corner, this would make a mouth-watering, show-stopper dessert.

The first step is making the marzipan, using pistachios, almond flour, and a few other ingredients, including the traditional green food coloring. Make the marzipan without the food coloring if you prefer, or if you don’t want to use the marzipan at all, you can omit it, and just cover the entire cassata with the confectioner’s sugar icing.

Roll out the marzipan and place strips of it in a tin specially made for cassata. These pans are not easy to find, but a pie plate makes a good substitute. Line it in plastic wrap first to make it easier to flip.

The sponge cake (pan di Spagna) is sliced in this manner, contrary to how I presumed it would be sliced (through the middle in horizontal layers).

Place one layer of the slices on the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with limoncello, or Grand Marnier liqueur.

Spread a layer of the ricotta/sugar mixture on top.

Then repeat with another layer of the sponge cake and liqueur.

Pat it down firmly.

Then place a serving plate over it all and flip it over (fingers crossed).

Remove the pan and the plastic wrap.

Drizzle the confectioner’s sugar glaze on top.

Then decorate with candied fruits. They’re quite common in Sicily, and infinitely better in quality than what we get here in the states. If you can’t get good candied fruits, just keep it simple and use some homemade candied orange peel, (recipe here) rather than ruin your cassata with “industrial” candied fruit. Besides, the larger pieces, like the whole candied orange, are mostly decorative anyhow.

Just looking at the interior of this cassata Siciliana brings back some delicious memories and a strong desire to return to that fascinating island.

Part of the reason this cassata was outstanding was the quality of the ricotta that went into it. Fabrizia used sheep’s milk ricotta, but if you can’t find it, (admittedly not easy), use cow’s milk ricotta, well-drained. Our ricotta couldn’t have been any fresher, since we went to the farm that morning, where the cheesemaker made the cheese right before our eyes.

We could thank these sheep for the ricotta, who just a short while earlier had been milked.

Much of the pecorino cheese is drained in plastic molds, but here are some that were being drained in traditional reed baskets. Thank goodness for people still making food in the time-honored traditions of their ancestors, and for people like Fabrizia Lanza, who is helping disseminate these old world customs and recipes. If you really want to slow down and treat yourself to a unique experience, book at week at her farm, Case Vecchie and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of authentic Sicily.

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Cassata Siciliana
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (150 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
  • 1¼ cup (150 grams) flour, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons limoncello or Grand Marnier
  • FOR THE MARZIPAN:
  • 2¾ cup (350 grams) almond flour
  • 1¼ cup (150 grams) pistachios, ground
  • 1½ cup (200 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon glucose
  • green food coloring
  • candied fruit, for garnish
  • FOR THE ICING:
  • 3 cups (370 grams) powdered sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon, strained
  • FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM:
  • 2 lb. (1 kilo) ricotta
  • 1½ cups (200 grams) sugar
Instructions
  1. FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  2. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.
  4. Put the eggs into the bowl of a mixer and beat for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar and lemon zest and continue to beat until the mixture forms a ribbon when poured, about 15 minutes.
  6. In two or three parts, gently fold in the sifted flour.
  7. Pour into the springform pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a needed inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a cake rack and set it aside.
  9. TO MAKE THE MARZIPAN:
  10. Mix the almond flour, ground pistachios and sugar.
  11. Make a well and add a teaspoon of glucose, 2 tablespoons of water and a few drops of food coloring.
  12. Combine ingredients like a dough, then roll out on a workspace dusted with powdered sugar
  13. Cut long strips lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices.
  14. Roll out three of the slices into strips about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick.
  15. Knead the remaining marzipan into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and store in the refrigerator for later use.
  16. Line a 9-inch cassata pan, or a 9-inch pie pan with sloping sides, with plastic wrap.
  17. Wrap the marzipan strips along the inside edge of the pan, slightly overlapping the ends.
  18. Press against the pan to form a smooth layer.
  19. Cut the cake from top to bottom into ½ inch thick slices and trim off the crust
  20. Put a layer of slices on the bottom of the pan, drizzle the layers of the sponge cake with limoncello or Grand Marnier.
  21. In a bowl, mix the ricotta with sugar using a spatula until evenly distributed.
  22. Spread the layer of sponge cake evenly with the ricotta cream.
  23. Carefully place another layer of cake slices on top, drizzle again with limoncello or Grand Marnier.
  24. Flip the cake on a large serving plate.
  25. Carefully lift off the pan and peel off the remaining plastic wrap
  26. Set the cassata aside while you are making the icing.
  27. Sift half of the powdered sugar into a bowl.
  28. Add half of the lemon juice.
  29. Stir the liquid into the sugar, breaking up any lumps.
  30. Sift the remaining sugar into the bowl and add the rest of the lemon juice, until it has a thin spreading consistency and forms a smooth, shiny icing.
  31. Ice the top of the cassata, leaving the marzipan sides of the cake visible
  32. If you are not using green marzipan, ice the entire cake.
  33. Decorate with whole and cut candied fruit.
  34. Refrigerate and allow to set for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving.
 

 

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Mushroom Beef Barley Soup

Although the calendar says Spring, there’s still a nip in the air most days, and it will be a while before we in the Northeast U.S. can reliably leave the house without wearing a jacket or sweater. So for those days in between seasons, when it can still feel a bit chilly, this mushroom beef barley soup is like a warm hug at the dinner table. You can make this without the beef, but I found it an ideal way to use up a small bit of leftover pot roast I had made a couple of days earlier. It was only a couple of ounces, but when shredded and added to the soup, it added a real depth of flavor.

Use any kind of mushrooms you want – from supermarket white button mushrooms to shiitake. I used baby portobello mushrooms. I also added a parmesan rind to the soup as it was simmering, something I do with many kinds of soups.

It takes only about forty five minutes from start to finish to make this satisfying and delicious soup, and with a side salad and a good loaf of bread, dinner is ready.

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Mushroom Beef Barley Soup
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup minced carrot
  • ¼ cup minced celery
  • ½ cup minced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, chopped (I used baby portobello mushrooms, but use any mixture you like)
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 leftover parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 cup shredded leftover beef stew (optional)
  • salt, pepper
  • minced parsley
Instructions
  1. Sauté the onion, garlic, celery and carrot in the olive oil over low heat, until limp.
  2. Add the butter and mushrooms and sauté a few minutes.
  3. Add the barley, the broths, the water, the parmesan cheese rind, the leftover beef stew plus the salt and pepper.
  4. Cook over low heat for about 30- 45 minutes or until barley is softened and flavors have blended.
  5. Add parsley at the end, and serve with grated pecorino or parmesan cheese.
  6. The barley will swell as the soup cooks and if the soup gets too thick, add more water.
 

 

 

Marcella Hazan’s Ragù Bolognese

Before there was Lidia, there was Marcella. I’m talking about Marcella Hazan, who reigned as the doyenne of Italian cuisine until her death in 2013. Her cookbooks are classics in the Italian food repertoire and are the first place I go to when I’m looking for a traditional recipe like basil pesto or gnocchi alla romana. Born in Italy, she wrote her cookbooks in Italian, and her husband, Victor Hazan, translated them into English. Married for 58 years, theirs is a love story that continues even after she is gone. Victor has taken over Marcella’s Facebook page since her death, and occasionally posts beautiful tributes to her, including these lines: “I am at life’s end and in looking back I can see how Marcella and I were squeezed from a single lump of clay.” Or these: “Where cooking was concerned she didn’t need to check how others were doing it. She didn’t have to because Marcella didn’t have doubts, she knew, and out of that knowledge, whose mysterious creative source had always been a wonder to me, she produced the pure, expressive taste of her cooking.”

I don’t know why it took me this long to make her ragù Bolognese, but I’m glad I finally tasted for myself what Marcella followers have known for decades. It doesn’t get better than this. It takes a long time to simmer, but it’s worth the long wait.

Start by sweating the vegetables in olive oil and butter – carrots, celery and onion,

Add the ground meat and cook until it loses its pink color, then add the wine.

Next comes the unusual step of adding milk and seasonings that include a generous grating of nutmeg. It looks curdled at first, but after it cooks and the milk gets absorbed into the meat, it will look more blended. Be patient, it may take a while for this step.

The tomatoes are added last, after the milk has become absorbed. Turn the heat to low and let it simmer for at least three hours – even longer if you have time.

After the lengthy cooking at low temperature, you’ll be left with this rich, dense ragù.

Perfect for adding to a bowl of pappardelle, as I did, or if you prefer, use tagliatelle, or fettuccine.

The recipe makes more ragù than I needed for the pound of pasta I cooked, so I served the leftover ragu another night with a bowl of polenta. It was equally as good and soul satisfying. Grazie Marcella, for this gem of a recipe. And grazia, Victor, for keeping those memories alive through Marcella’s Facebook page.

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Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Ragù
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped carrot
  • ¾ pound ground lean beef, or a combination of beef, veal and/or pork
  • salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups canned whole tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
  • 1 pound pasta - tagliatelle or pappardelle (you'll have leftover ragu)
Instructions
  1. In a Dutch Oven or large heavy pot, add the onion with the oil and butter and saute briefly over medium heat until translucent.
  2. Add the celery and carrot and cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork.
  4. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its red, raw color.
  5. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.
  6. Turn the heat down to medium, add the milk and the nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. This may take a while.
  7. Stir frequently.
  8. When the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly.
  9. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble.
  10. Cook, uncovered, for a minimum of 3½ to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  11. Serve with tagliatelle, or pappardelle, and a good sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese.
 

Celery Root Soup with Crispy Shallots

How many times have you passed the vegetable aisle in your supermarket and walked right by the celeriac, without giving it a second thought? This gnarly, under appreciated root vegetable, also known as celery root, deserves some love.

For those of you on a low carb diet, it makes a fantastic substitute for mashed potatoes. Find a recipe for that here. But it also makes a really delicious, velvety soup, that’s perfect for this time of year, when winter’s chill is still upon us. Use chicken stock, as I did, or vegetable stock if you’re a vegetarian. And skip the cream if you’re counting your calories (although it’s a scant 1/4 cup for about four to six servings) But please don’t skip the crispy shallots on top. They really dress it up and make it company worthy.

Everything gets cooked in a pot, then the bay leaf and thyme get removed and the soup is blended until smooth.

You can make this soup and be sitting down to eat it in a half hour start to finish – less time than it would take to get take out from the store.

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Celery Root Soup with Crispy Shallots
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large celery root (celeriac), about 1 pound, trimmed and cut into chunks
  • 2 T. butter
  • ½ cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 apple (I used honey crisp),cored, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups chicken broth (or water or vegetable broth)
  • ½ cup white wine (you can use dry or sweet, I used Riesling)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • salt, white pepper
  • ¼ cup heavy cream, optional
  • FOR THE CRISPY SHALLOT:
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
Instructions
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, and add the onions.
  2. Cook the onions until they are translucent, then add the rest of the ingredients, except the cream.
  3. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook until everything is fork tender.
  4. It should take about a half hour.
  5. Remove the thyme and bay leaf from the pot.
  6. Using a blender or stick blender, puree everything until very smooth.
  7. Adjust seasonings if necessary, and add cream.
  8. If soup is too thick, add some water or broth.
  9. If it's not thick enough, continue to cook until the soup is reduced a little.
  10. TO MAKE THE CRISPY SHALLOTS:
  11. Place the olive oil in a saucepan and add the shallots to the cold olive oil.
  12. Turn up the heat and let the shallots fry until crispy.
  13. DO NOT leave the stove because they can easily burn.
  14. The leftover olive oil, once cool, is fabulous to use in salad dressings.
  15. Pour the soup into bowls, drizzle with some of the olive oil and top with the crispy shallots.
 

Bomboloni For Carnevale

Calling all fry-babies. It’s only a couple of days until Ash Wednesday, signaling the end of Carnevale and beginning of Lent. During Carnevale, Italians typically feast on rich, (and often) fried foods, like the addictive fried cookies called chiacchiere, or the doughnut-hole-like specialty called castagnole, both of which you can read about and find a recipe for by clicking on those names.

Another treat that’s eaten in Italy all year long, but especially at Carnevale, are these fluffy filled doughnuts, called bomboloni. In the Trentino Alto-Adige region and other Northern parts of Italy, they’re often called Krapfen, a nod to their Austrian name. They’re also called fasnacht in Germany, where they’re served on Fasnacht Day, the day before Ash Wednesday. Call it Fat Tuesday in the U.S., or martedi grassa in Italy, but either way, it’s meant to be the last hurrah of merriment and gluttonous eating before the solemn 40 days of Lent.

I had been wanting to make bomboloni for a long time, and got a push to make them after learning that my daughter-in-law had a weakness for them. Last summer when we were in Tuscany together, she went out early while we were all still asleep to hunt for bomboloni for our breakfast. Once she gave birth to my granddaughter last fall, I felt I had to indulge her with home made bomboloni.

They’re not at all hard to make, but they do require some advance preparation because of the yeast dough, which needs to rise twice until tripled in size. This is what the dough looks like before rising. Sorry I don’t have a photo of the risen dough, but it completely filled the bowl that contained it.

Once it’s risen enough, it’s a very easy dough to work with and roll out into a rectangle.

Use a biscuit cutter, or if you don’t have one, the rim of a glass to cut out circles.

Place the rounds on a baking sheet and allow them to rise until tripled in size again, another one and a half hours or so.

Then carefully fry in hot oil until they’re browned. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil, which should be about 170-180 degrees. If it’s too hot, the bomboloni will brown on the outside and might still be raw inside. If it’s not hot enough, you’ll have greasy bomboloni.

You might want to make a test one before frying all of them, and cut into it to see if it’s fully cooked. Have a large plate of sugar handy. Drain the bomboloni on paper towels, and roll them immediately in the granulated sugar. You could use powdered sugar as an alternative.

You can certainly eat them as is, but they’re even better if you fill them. Use a pastry bag with a plain tip that has a large opening. Cut a slit in the side, insert the tip and squeeze in some of the filling. It’s a little easier if you have someone helping you. I use an easy pastry cream recipe that’s made with whipped cream and instant vanilla pudding.

You can also use Nutella, or even a good jam as your filling.

Either way, they’re best eaten the same day they’re made, which was certainly not a problem here.

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Bomboloni
 
Adapted from Valentina, The Baking Fairy
Author:
Serves: 18-20
Ingredients
  • FOR THE BOMBOLONI DOUGH:
  • 250g (2 cups) bread flour
  • 250g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 75g (heaping ⅓ cup) granulated white sugar
  • 100g (7 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 20g fresh cake yeast or 1 package (7g) dry instant yeast
  • 7g (1½ tsp) salt
  • 150g (3) whole large eggs
  • 40g (2) egg yolks
  • 110g (1/2 cup) lukewarm water
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • granulated sugar, for coating
  • pastry cream, Nutella, or jam, for filling
  • FOR THE VANILLA PASTRY CREAM FILLING:
  • 1 box instant vanilla pudding
  • ½ cup whipping cream
Instructions
  1. First, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water, and allow it to sit until it blooms.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine all ingredients except for one of the whole eggs, and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, then high speed for 5 more minutes.
  3. Add in the remaining egg, and beat on medium speed until a smooth and elastic dough forms {you may have to add a little more flour if it seems too sticky}.
  4. Knead by hand for a couple of minutes, then place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours until tripled in size.
  5. After the first rise, lightly knead the dough, roll it out to 1.5 cm/0.5 inch thickness, and cut out rounds. I found a regular water glass to be the perfect size!
  6. Transfer all your rounds to baking sheets lined with wax paper, spray lightly with water, and cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel. Allow the bomboloni to rise another hour and a half until they triple in size once more.
  7. When ready to fry, heat vegetable oil in a large, deep pan to a temperature between 170-180C {a frying thermometer comes in handy}.
  8. Fry the bomboloni a few at a time, making sure to not crowd the pan. Fry them for about 3 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown, then drain off the excess oil, and set them on a wire rack to cool.
  9. While they are still warm, pour some granulated sugar in a small bowl, and roll the bomboloni around until completely coated in the sugar.
  10. FOR THE VANILLA PASTRY CREAM FILLING:
  11. Make the vanilla pudding according to instructions on box.
  12. Whip the cream with 2 Tablespoons confectioner's sugar until it reaches soft peaks.
  13. Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding.
  14. Fill a pastry bag that has a long metal tip, with the filling.
  15. Insert a knife into the side of a bombolone and squeeze in some of the filling.
 

Lidia Bastianich – Beef in Sguazet (Beef Stew)

Spring may be just around the corner, but we’ve still got a few days left in February, and if March is anything like last year, when we were socked with three major snowstorms, then there’s still plenty of time to make warm, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food, like this recipe from Lidia Bastianich.

Who doesn’t know Lidia, who has written numerous cookbooks and children’s books; whose show on public television has captivated us for years; whose restaurants in New York, Kansas City and Pittsburgh are magnets for lovers of good Italian food; whose food emporium in New York – EATALY – is chock full of any kind of Italian product you could wish for; and Lidia – whose journey as an immigrant to the United States is explained in her heartfelt memoir, “My American Dream”?

Image result for lidia bastianich my american dream

Fans of Lidia in the Princeton, N.J. area were treated to an afternoon with her yesterday, when she agreed to speak at the Italian cultural organization where I’m a board member – Dorothea’s House.

The house was founded more than 100 years ago by the father and husband of Dorothea Van Dyke McLane, a well-to-do Princetonian who ministered to the needs of recent Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. Sadly, Dorothea died during childbirth at age 24, along with her baby daughter. Today Dorothea’s House is a vibrant Italian cultural center, offering Italian language classes for adults and children, monthly programs on Italian topics, an Italian movie series, and scholarships for high school students.

Dorothea's House Exterior

During the afternoon, Lidia spoke to a packed crowd about her early life in Pula, a town in the Istria peninsula that was once part of Italy but was annexed to Yugoslavia after World War II, and now is part of Croatia. The audience listened with rapt attention as she spoke of details about her journey to a new country and consequent life in the U.S., including her rise to success in the restaurant business.

Lidia, whose family fled Communist Yugoslavia, arrived in the United States at twelve years old, after having been interned for two years in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy. Thanks to Catholic Charities, her family settled in the U.S., where she was able to eventually realize her American dream. She is involved in many philanthropic causes, and agreed to return to Dorothea’s House (she last spoke here in 2003) as a benefit for our scholarship fund.

Lidia exudes warmth and a genuine interest in people, which in turn endears her to anyone who meets her. She was gracious enough to sign books for everyone there, including my granddaughter Aurelia.

Lidia will be doing a book tour to promote her memoir, and if she comes to a city near you, don’t miss the chance to meet her in person. Click here to read about her upcoming appearances.

If you can’t make it to see her in person, there are always her cookbooks to inspire you. This recipe comes from one of her earliest cookbooks, “La Cucina Di Lidia.” For this dish, which is reminiscent of the food of her childhood, Lidia says that paprika and/or sour cream were also added sometimes, a nod to the Eastern European influence of her birthplace. I used bone marrow here, as called for in the recipe, but the dish is delicious even without it. Serve it over polenta as I did, or noodles, or rice.

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Lidia Bastianich - Beef in Sguazet (Beef Stew)
 
A hearty stew that marries well with polenta, pasta or risotto,
Author:
Cuisine: Italian/Istrian
Serves: serves 8
Ingredients
  • ½ ounce (about 6 pieces) dried porcini mushrooms
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, minced
  • 2 beef marrow bones
  • 3½ pounds stewing beef, cut into 1" cubes
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 whole cloves
  • ¼ tsp. salt (I added ¾ tsp.)
  • 1 cup dry red wine, Chianti or Barolo
  • 4 tsps. tomato paste
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • (Lidia also says that in her childhood, paprika and sour cream were sometimes added to this stew, so I added 1½ tsp. sweet paprika, ½ tsp. hot paprika and a good grinding of black pepper)
Instructions
  1. Soften the dried porcini about 30 minutes in a cupful of warm water, trim, and reserve the strained liquid.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, until transparent.
  3. Add the bones, meat, bay leaves, cloves, salt, pepper and paprika, and sauté 10 minutes longer.
  4. Add the wine, raise the heat, and cook about 10 minutes, until the wine has reduced by half.
  5. Add the tomato paste and the porcini.
  6. Stir slowly and thoroughly, and add the reserved mushroom liquid.
  7. Simmer five minutes.
  8. Add half the chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the sauce thickens, about two hours.
  9. As the mixture cooks, add the remaining stock little by little.
  10. When the sguazet is finished, there should be about 6 cups of thick, chunky sauce.
  11. Serve with pasta, polenta or rice.
 

 

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Caribbean Rum Cake

If you were baking in the 1970s, no doubt you came across the rum cake recipe from Bacardi’, the well-known rum company from Puerto Rico. I made plenty of them back in the day, and they were always a big hit and easy to make, using a box mix. On a trip to the Cayman Islands a couple of weeks ago, where Tortuga rum cakes are as ubiquitous as fish tacos, I naturally had to try their version. For a packaged cake, it was remarkably good, but I knew there had to be a made-from-scratch recipe to duplicate the cake, reminiscent of those Bacardi’ cakes I enjoyed decades ago.

A short search online turned up a recipe from the King Arthur Flour website, a company whose products and whose recipes are always reliably good. While the King Arthur cake doesn’t include walnuts, the classic Tortuga cake is dotted with them inside the cake. I prefer the walnuts crowning the cake, as the old Bacardi recipe calls for, so that’s how I made it, and I’m glad I did.

The cake, which also contains a full cup of rum, has a moist, tender crumb and a delicious buttery flavor, almost like eating a rummy butterscotch lifesaver – only better. I’ve never tasted hot buttered rum, but I imagine this must be the cake version of that drink. It’s definitely not for tea-totalers.

The rum cake isn’t the only reason to recommend a visit to the Cayman Islands. Just to give you an idea of what the beautiful island of Grand Cayman is like, (there are three islands in the Cayman Islands, and Grand Cayman is the largest) here are a few pictures from our recent vacation there. The main attraction is the beautiful Caribbean sea, in various shades of blue. This is the famous “seven mile beach” with soft, pale sands and shade in many places. You’ll find world class hotels along the beach, as well as condos for rent. It’s easy to rent a sailboat, paddle board or other water vehicles right from the beach.

Need a respite from the sand and sea? You could easily spend a couple of hours visiting the Queen Elizabeth Botanical Garden, with its beautiful flowering plants and historic exhibits.

The grounds of the botanical gardens also contain a preserve for the blue iguana lizard, found only on the Cayman Islands. They nearly became extinct, with only 12 of the animals recorded in 2004, but through conservation efforts, about 700 have been bred and released in the sanctuary since then.

If you drive to the northern part of the island, you’ll come to a place called “starfish point,” where the beautiful sea creatures are omnipresent.

Speaking of sea creatures, Grand Cayman is a great place for snorkeling, as you can see in the photo below. They were swirling all around me and I felt like I was in the midst of an aquarium!

You can even swim with sting rays if you’re so inclined. They come right up to you in the clear turquoise waters off a certain part of the island.

The food there is really delicious too, which is why the island is sometimes referred to as “The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.” The cuisine runs the gamut – from a food truck’s barbecued chicken and ribs to break-the-bank refined elegance at Eric Ripert’s “Blue” restaurant in the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

There’s so much more to see and do in the Cayman Islands, including fishing, shopping, and visiting museums. We hope to go back next year and I hope you get a chance to visit sometime too. Until then, I’ll be dreaming of those beautiful beaches and content myself with another piece of Caribbean rum cake.

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

Caribbean Rum Cake
 
A rum-soaked cake with a tender, moist crumb.
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix (not sugar-free)* (I used a smaller box of 1.5 oz)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced (I used Bacardi gold rum)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon butter rum flavor (I omitted this)
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • FOR THE SYRUP:
  • 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Place the flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, salt, butter, and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl, and mix at medium speed until everything is thoroughly combined and the mixture is sandy looking.
  3. Beat in the milk, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
  4. Scrape the bowl thoroughly, and beat briefly to recombine any sticky residue.
  5. Stir in the rum, vanilla, and butter-rum flavor, if using.
  6. Generously butter a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray, then spritz with cooking spray.
  7. Sprinkle the inside of the pan with the chopped walnuts.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread level with a spatula.
  9. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes.
  10. When done, a cake tester, long toothpick, or strand of uncooked spaghetti will come out clean when inserted into the center.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven.
  12. Leave the cake in the pan to cool slightly while you make the syrup.
  13. In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except vanilla.
  14. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook (without stirring) for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly.
  15. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  16. Use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake.
  17. Pour about ¼ cup of the syrup over the cake (still in the pan). Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again until all the syrup is used.
  18. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to cool completely and soak in the syrup.
  19. When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto your serving plate.
  20. If the cake won’t release, don't force it.
  21. Place it in the oven, turn the oven to 350°F, and warm for about 10 minutes, to soften the sticky syrup.
  22. (If your oven is one that preheats by making its upper element red-hot, place the cake on a lower rack and tent it with aluminum foil to protect it.)
  23. Remove the cake from the oven, and tip it onto the serving plate.
  24. Serve with hot coffee or tea.
  25. The cake is very moist, fragrant and potent.
  26. Wrap securely (or place under a cake cover) and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage, up to 1 month.
 

Beet Ravioli with ricotta and goat cheese filling

 Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and this recipe is perfect for winning over the hearts (and stomachs) of your loved ones. Or just treat yourself to a special home made meal. You deserve it! The ravioli dough is made with beets, although it hardly retains any of the beet flavor. But it does look rather festive, and was a good way for me to salvage some of the beets I had dreadfully overcooked this past weekend. You see, I planned to make pickled beets and I placed the beets to cook atop the stove in a pot of water. I like to undercook beets since they get cooked a bit more in the pickling process, and I prefer some “bite” to the finished product. But I left the house to see the HD performance of “Carmen” live from the Met, and forgot about the pot simmering on the stove. I didn’t realize it until nearly three hours later, well after Carmen entices Don Jose with her guiles, but before he gets his revenge on the alluring gypsy.

You know it’s verboten to phone or text in the theater during a performance, but I covered by head and torso with my jacket and texted my husband to ask him to immediately drain the water from the beets. Thank goodness for husbands who are loyal to their alma mater and stay home to watch the basketball game on TV. Go Pirates!

I know it could have been avoided had I roasted the beets, but I always have trouble peeling beets when I roast them. Besides, I might have forgotten them in the oven and come home to dehydrated, or worse, burnt spheres of my favorite root vegetable.

So anyway, here I was with lots of mushy beets to use up. I’ve always wanted to try making pasta with beets so this gave me the perfect excuse. Let’s get started.

Whiz the beets in a food processor until smooth.

Add the eggs, flour and other ingredients. I used 00 flour, the kind that Italians traditionally use for making pasta. If you don’t have it, use regular flour, or add some semolina flour to regular flour. However, it’s easy enough to find 00 flour online, if you don’t have an Italian grocery store, or specialty food shop near you.

The dough is stickier than normal pasta dough – possibly because of those darn overcooked and water-logged beets of mine. So I had to knead in a little more flour on the wooden board. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.

I placed the dough through the pasta machine, spreading a little more flour over the dough each time I passed it through a different thickness. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the heart shapes.

Place a tablespoon of filling over each heart and then using your finger, or a small paint brush, brush a little water around the perimeter of each one. By the way, the goat cheese adds a nice tang to the ricotta and the lemon zest brings a nice “brightness” to it. Don’t skimp on the fresh thyme or the grating of nutmeg either. It’s a delicious combination of flavors.

Cover with a second piece of the pasta, and crimp the edges with a fork.

This dough recipe makes enough for about four dozen ravioli, but frankly, I was getting hungry and wanted to get moving with dinner. So I stopped at about two dozen ravioli and made fettuccine with the rest of the dough. I had some leftover filling, but I’ll use it in a frittata.

Boil the ravioli in abundant, salted water. These were ready in only three or four minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter, and add the thyme and hazelnuts. When the ravioli are cooked, transfer them with a slotted spoon or spider to the pan with the butter and hazelnuts. Don’t drain the pasta really well; It’s good if a little water comes along to add to the sauce.

Carefully spoon the pasta into a heated dish and sprinkle some parmesan cheese over everything.

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!

 

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

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Beet Ravioli with ricotta and goat cheese filling
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta - First Course
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 3-4 dozen ravioli
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • two medium beets (or about 8 ounces pureed beets)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 large whole eggs
  • about 2½ cups 00 flour
  • salt, to taste
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • ¾ cup ricotta cheese, drained (preferably overnight)
  • 5 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • salt, pepper and the grating of a bit of fresh nutmeg
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • ⅓ cup roughly chopped hazelnuts
  • parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE PASTA:
  2. Cook the beets, either by boiling or roasting.
  3. Once they are cool, remove the skin and puree the beets in a food processor until smooth.
  4. Add the salt, and eggs to the beet puree in the food processor, then start adding the flour a little at a time, until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the food processor bowl.
  5. Remove it onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth and it loses its "stickiness."
  6. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.
  7. TO MAKE THE FILLING:
  8. Drain the ricotta overnight or at least an hour, to remove some of the water.
  9. Place the cheeses and other ingredients in a food processor and mix.
  10. MAKING AND ASSEMBLING THE RAVIOLI:
  11. Cut the dough into four parts and work with one of the pieces, keeping the rest covered.
  12. Run the dough through the pasta machine, flattening and flouring each piece as you go along. Start with the widest setting , dusting the dough each time you feed it through a narrower setting.
  13. On my KitchenAid pasta machine, I stopped at the number four setting.
  14. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out heart shapes, then fill with a tablespoon of the cheese filling.
  15. Moisten the edges of the pasta, then place another heart shaped pasta piece on top of the filling.
  16. Crimp the edges with a fork.
  17. Drop into boiling, salted water and cook until the pasta is al dente. For me, this took only about three to four minutes.
  18. TO MAKE THE SAUCE:
  19. Meanwhile, melt the butter in another saucepan, add the thyme and the hazelnuts.
  20. When the pasta is cooked, using a slotted spoon or "spider" drop them into the pan with the butter and hazelnuts.
  21. Don't worry if the pasta is not totally drained. A little water is needed to help make the sauce.
  22. After all the ravioli are in the saucepan, gently toss them to disperse the butter, nuts and thyme.
  23. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.