Stuffed Squid

Stuffed Squid

Everyone in my family looks forward to our Christmas eve dinner – a traditional meal of many fish in lots of Italian households. When I was younger, my mother would spend countless hours preparing and frying all manner of fish – from smelts to whitings to eel. One particular episode branded in my memory involves eels and my grandfather, who lived with my parents. He brought the eels home from the market on Christmas eve, still alive and squiggling, and set about to end their lives in my parents’ kitchen sink — right there beneath the pristine, lacy white curtains. The eels didn’t give up without a struggle and splattered their blood all over those curtains as a result. Of course my mother wasn’t happy, to put it mildly.
Since my mother died more than 20 years ago, and my mother-in-law only a year later, the mantle passed to me to maintain the tradition. I have shifted away from the fried fish that used to be the mainstay of the meal, but can’t give up the squid. My mother used to prepare it as the centerpiece of her meal, delicately simmering the rings in tomato sauce and serving it over pasta. It was always a favorite. But my husband is partial to this stuffed squid recipe which his mother always made, and which my son now makes every year, as part of our multi-fish dinner. It’s also a great complement to the seafood risotto I prepare, with the tomato sauce from the squid spilling onto the saffron-flavored rice in the risotto. I’ll be sharing that recipe with you too shortly. Although it’s too late to cook these dishes for this year’s Christmas eve, maybe you can start your own tradition next year.

Stuffed Squid

15 – 20 squid, medium size – cleaned
6 cups of diced, sturdy white bread, trimmed of crusts
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup white raisins, soaked in water for about 1/2 hour
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk, or more if needed
salt and pepper to taste

Buy the squid already cleaned, but rinse them under water and remove any cartilage that still might be left in the body. It will pull out easily and look like a strip of milky, translucent plastic. If you want, trim the wide end of the squid for a more even look.

Place all the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix until you have a moist consistency. Stuff the bodies of the squid, but don’t fill them completely since the squid will shrink during cooking.

Place a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a casserole and lay the squid on the sauce. Cover squid with more sauce.

Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. If you make this ahead of time and refrigerate, be sure to take out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before baking. If you bake these much longer than 1/2 hour, the squid will be tough and chewy.

Tomato sauce:
Use your own recipe, or follow mine, which is about double what you’ll need for the squid recipe. Use the rest another time – for pasta, or pizza or whatever you like.

1 large can (28 oz) San Marzano tomatoes
1 large can (28 oz.) tomato puree
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red or white wine
salt, pepper
1 T. dried basil
1 t. red pepper flakes (or more, if you like your sauce spicy)

Place the olive oil in a large pot, and add the onions and carrots. Saute until soft, then add the garlic and saute a couple more minutes. Break up the whole tomatoes with your fingers, or using a food processor, but leave some texture. Do not break them up so much that the sauce becomes smooth. We like it with some tomato lumps in it. Add the tomatoes and tomato puree to the pot, along with the wine, salt, pepper, basil and red pepper flakes. Simmer on low heat for about one hour.

Italian Christmas “brownies”

Italian Christmas “brownies”

Italian Christmas “Brownies”

Caveat emptor: These are not brownies in the true American sense. Yes, they have a strong chocolate flavor, but they also are loaded with pungent spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a surprise ingredient of black pepper. I grew up eating these at Christmas time, when my mother would line up dozens of them in trays, waiting to be cooled in preparation for the confectioner’s sugar embellishment. They’re not a specialty of the Emilia-Romagna region where she was born and raised. I’m pretty sure she learned it from her mother-in-law, who was from the Southern Italian region of Calabria – and it was she who labeled them “brownies.” I had never seen a recipe for them in any of the Italian cookbooks I own. But one day many years ago, a photo and recipe for “Cocoa Christmas Cookies” appeared in the New York Times food section and caught my eye. The cookies looked just like my mother’s. The recipe was from Alfred Portale, chef and co-owner at New York City’s Gotham Bar and Grill. Portale’s relatives hail from Sicily – just across the straits of Messina from Calabria. Bingo! Except for a few ingredients, the recipe sounded just like the cookie I remembered, only better. This one added a cup of apricot jam, which my mother’s recipe didn’t, and I think it helps keep the cookies moist, as well as adding flavor. You can add walnuts and raisins to the cookies if you like, as Portale did, but I leave them out, since they were never included in my mother’s version. She did however add chocolate chips – a nod to her new found country, I suppose. And of course, her recipe calls for that unusual addition of black pepper. It adds even more complexity to the flavor – and some mystery too. I wouldn’t dream of making the cookies without it.

Cocoa Christmas Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 1/2 tsps. baking powder
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup milk
2 cups chocolate chips

If using raisins and walnuts as Portale did, add 1 1/2 cups of each

glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, black pepper. Combine and set aside.
2. With a heavy duty mixer, beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla, jam, and milk. Set mixer to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating only until it is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips. The batter will be extremely stiff.
3. Place a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on the counter and flour it generously. Take a large spoon and scoop out a couple of heaping cups of the stiff batter onto the floured surface. Use a spoon to release it if needed. Flour your hands well and begin to shape the batter into a log shape, about an inch in diameter, rolling it back and forth on the floured surface. Use the paper to help mold it. Place the “logs” into the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
4. Remove from refrigerator and cut into sections about 1 1/2 inches wide. You can leave it this shape, or roll it between the palms of your hand into a flattened ball, which is the traditional shape.
5. Place balls on a parchment-lined or greased and floured cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The tops will crack – this is normal. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool. Cover with the glaze when completely cooled.

For the glaze:

Mix sifted confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice with a spoon until the desired consistency. I make mine almost like a frosting rather than a glaze, which means you’ll need to add more sugar. If you prefer yours to be more of a drizzle, adjust with more lemon juice.

This recipe makes about 6 to 7 dozen cookies and they freeze well. Just make sure the glaze is dry before putting them in the freezer. They will get hard if you leave them at for more than a week.

Fennel Pizza

Fennel Pizza

I get my hair cut by student stylists at a salon in New York City ‘s Soho. Mostly because it’s a bargain – but my other excuse to go there is because it’s just around the corner from Sullivan Street and the Grandaisy Bakery. It’s the previous home of the Sullivan Street Bakery, but the former bakery moved to W. 47th Street and kept the name – even though it is a little counter intuitive to name a place Sullivan Street Bakery if it’s not located on Sullivan Street. But their bread is so renowned that the name has cachet for New Yorkers – or for anyone who’s eaten it.
Enter Grandaisy Bakery, which makes breads, cakes and pizzas that taste like they’re made with the same recipes that the Sullivan Street Bakery uses. Among the offerings are artisanal breads and pizzas topped with seasonal ingredients. In the fall that means atypical toppings you won’t find elsewhere, such as cauliflower or fennel.
I adore fennel in all variations so I just had to try to duplicate what I ate there several weeks ago. You’ll need to pull out your mandoline to slice the fennel thinly enough. Or you can try using the slicing attachment on your food processor. Either way, it’s easy to prepare and the recipe makes enough to fit into a large cookie sheet. It’s perfect for a party when you want to serve finger food for lots of people. You can make it ahead of time and reheat later — that is if you can resist the aroma when it comes out of the oven.

Fennel Pizza

For the dough:

If you don’t want to make it from scratch, buy some fresh dough from your local pizzeria

3 cups flour
1 package dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water
1 T sugar
2 t. salt
3 T. olive oil
cornmeal
freshly ground salt
more olive oil for the top

Bring the water temperature to about 105 to 110 degrees. Use a kitchen thermometer to test. This is very important. Otherwise, if the temperature is too hot, you risk killing the active ingredient in the yeast. If the temperature is too low, it will take too long to rise. Add the yeast and sugar to the water. Wait for about 10 minutes to make sure it “blooms,” or puffs up. That will ensure the yeast is working and the dough will rise.
Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and add the water, yeast and sugar mixture and the olive oil. Start mixing it together with a wooden spoon or your hands. You may have to add more water, depending on the humidity that day. It should come together in a ball. If it doesn’t, add more water if it seems too dry, or more flour, if it seems too sticky. Knead on a flat surface for about five minutes or longer until it starts to feel and look smooth. Let it rest in a greased and covered bowl until it doubles in size. This may take as little as two hours or longer, depending on where you put the bowl. Leave it in a warm spot to make it rise faster, or you can even put it in the refrigerator overnight if you want to make it the next day.
When the dough is ready, grease a large cookie sheet with some olive oil, then sprinkle with cornmeal. Take the dough and stretch it out on a floured board or counter using a rolling pin. When it is nearly the same size as the cookie sheet, transfer it with your hands to the prepared sheet and shape the dough into the cookie sheet. It is a very resistant dough, so you have to keep working it to get it to all the corners. Take a fork and puncture the dough all over. Then grind some salt and sprinkle more olive oil all over the surface. Let the dough rise a second time in the pan for at least one hour.

Top it with the following:

1/2 large fennel bulb, or 1 small fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T. freshly chopped thyme
1 T. freshly chopped rosemary

Bake in a preheated 475 degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until bottom crust looks browned and crispy and top is golden.

Lilli’s Biscotti

Lilli’s biscotti

Lilli’s biscotti

You know how sometimes you have a memory of a favorite dish and nothing else can compare to that version? Maybe it’s the cheesecake you ate at that diner, or the lasagna your mother used to make. For me, when it comes to biscotti, nothing holds a candle to this recipe from my friend Lilli. Sure, there are plenty of delicious biscotti around, but this recipe is the one I keep making time after time. It’s my benchmark and everything else comes in second. They’re crunchy without being rock-hard. They’re not too sweet, just sweet enough. And they’re as addictive as potato chips. One friend who visited ate nearly the entire plate of biscotti – leaving nothing but a lot of crumbs on the sofa. These do make a mess when you’re eating, so have a napkin handy. I don’t usually add the dried cranberries, but with Christmas approaching, they’re a festive touch. The only thing needed now is a cup of espresso – or a glass of vin santo. Enjoy.

Lilli’s biscotti

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 cup whole almonds, toasted ahead of time in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes
1/2 cup dried cranberries, optional

Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don’t mix for long if using a mixer since you don’t want to break up the almonds.

Take about 1/3 of the mixture and plop it onto a well-floured counter or board. Shape into a “log” that resembles a small, flat loaf of bread, tapering the two ends at an angle. It’s a sticky dough, so you’ll need to keep your hands and board floured. Repeat two more times with the remainder of the dough. Butter a cookie sheet and place the “logs” on the cookie sheet, leaving ample room between them. Coat with a thin layer of milk or beaten egg. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden – about 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Carefully place one of the “logs” on a cutting board, using two spatulas if necessary to keep it from splitting. With a sharp knife (I use a serrated knife) slice the cookies at a diagonal. Hold one hand firmly on the log while you cut with the knife in the other hand, so you don’t break the dough and crumble the cookies. A few are bound to break. Place the cookies back on a cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about five minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Flip the cookies over and bake another five minutes on the other side. Makes about four dozen biscotti.

Cream Of Porcini Mushroom Soup

Cream of Porcini Mushroom Soup

Don’t make this if you’re worried about cholesterol. I use a half stick of butter and a half-pint of cream for this recipe. But it’s not the kind of soup you’ll make everyday. It’s a special occasion soup. I ate it at a very special occasion — the wedding of my nephew Greg and his bride Shea — in a lovely setting in Montreal, Canada. The ceremony took place at Chateau Ramezay, a structure built in 1705 that served as the residence of Montreal’s governor at that time but is now a museum. The reception was held at Duel, a Montreal restaurant whose two chefs maintain a friendly rivalry between Asian and modern French cuisine. I tried to duplicate one of the courses we ate (since the chefs never responded to my request for their recipe) and if my attempt is not exactly the same as theirs, it’s pretty darn close — and pretty darn good. I really wouldn’t be too concerned about the calories and cholesterol either. The recipe makes enough to feed eight people. So if I calculate the damage spread throughout that many servings, I think I feel better already.

Here’s the beaming couple:

Cream of Porcini Soup

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 stick butter
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced (white part only)
4 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms (I used cremini, but you can use button mushrooms if you like)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced (you can use white potato if you prefer)
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
4 cups chicken broth
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 pint heavy cream

Soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 cups tepid water for at least 1/2 hour. In the meantime, melt the butter and saute the leeks, onions and garlic until transparent. Drain the mushrooms, which have been soaking, and save the soaking liquid. Chop the dried mushrooms and add to the pot with the leeks, onions and garlic. Add the fresh mushrooms, except for about 1/2 cup that you reserve for the end garnish. Continue to saute everything until the mushrooms are cooked through. Strain the water where the porcini were soaking and add to the pot. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the heavy cream. Simmer for at least 1/2 hour or until the potato is cooked through. Put everything into a blender and blend until totally smooth. You’ll have to puree everything in about three separate batches. Pour the puree into a clean pan and add the cream, stirring until everything is blended and heated through. Serve with the mushroom garnish floating on top. To make the mushroom garnish: Chop up the remaining 1/2 cup of mushrooms and saute in a couple more tablespoons of butter.

Pumpkin Ravioli With Walnut Cream Sauce

Pumpkin ravioli with walnut cream sauce

Before I begin, let me say this is a project for the patient and the committed. There’s no squirming out midway because you’re tired or your pilates class is starting and you have to run to the gym.
But be not afraid for you shall be rewarded.
After traveling to Bologna together (the pasta heartland where pasta filled with squash is on every menu) my friend Ellen wanted to learn how to make these. So I invited her over to spend time in the kitchen rolling out pasta. It’s a lot more fun and takes a lot less time with someone else helping. We didn’t cook the pasta while she was at my house, since I wanted to freeze mine for later. She was planning to cook hers at home with a simple butter, sage and parmesan cheese sauce. Wonderful.
But sinfully sublime is what I would call the walnut cream sauce. The photo of the finished pasta in sauce is from a pasta party we had at our home a couple of years ago, when we gathered some relatives and friends for an evening of pasta-making and eating. The kitchen was a mess when we were finished, but we had a lot of fun and our tummies were grateful.

To make the pasta you need a pasta machine or you’ll need very strong arms to roll out all the dough. This recipe for pasta and for the filling makes enough for about 110 ravioli.
Pasta dough:
3 cups flour
4 jumbo eggs

If you want to be authentic, you can make a “volcano” of the flour on a wooden board, then crack the eggs into the center and start to incorporate them into the flour until the liquid is all absorbed. Otherwise, put everything into a food processor and blend until it starts to hold together. Pull it out of the food processor and knead it on a floured board until it becomes smooth.
Let it rest under a covered bowl for at least a half hour, which will help the dough to become even more smooth and elastic and easy to work.
Flour your board or counter and cut off a quarter of the pasta. Keep the rest under the bowl. Flatten the piece with your hands, flour it a little then pass it through the thickest setting on your pasta machine. Keep changing the setting until you get to the penultimate one — not the thinnest one. Now you should have a long strip about three to four inches wide. If it’s too long and cumbersome to work with, cut it in half. Lay it on your board and place little spoonfuls of filling all across the strip, leaving a small space in between each spoonful.
Dab a little bit of water between the filling and across the top and bottom of the filling. Take one edge of the long strip of dough and carefully fold it over the filling, pressing down in between each one to take out any air bubbles. Run a decorative crimper along the edges to separate the ravioli. If you don’t have a crimper, a knife will do.

Lay the ravioli on cookie sheets that have been covered with floured, linen dishtowels. Refrigerate if serving that day, or place in the freezer. After a few hours, remove from the cookie sheets and store the ravioli in plastic freezer bags.

For the filling (adapted from “The Splendid Table” by Lynne Rossetto Kasper):

I don’t use the typical Halloween-style pumpkin, since it doesn’t have as much flavor as squash. This recipe gives you the closest approximation to what you’ll find in Italy. Some recipes call for the addition of crushed amaretti cookies, but I find that a little too sweet. The squash itself provides adequate sweetness. I also do this ahead of time and drain the cooked squash in a cheesecloth-lined sieve overnight. Otherwise, you risk having a filling that is too watery.

1 large butternut squash
1 1/2 large sweet potatoes, or two small ones
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
nutmeg, black pepper

Roast the potatoes in a 375 degree oven. Roast the squash at the same time. Cut the squash, remove seeds and place on an oil baking sheet. Roast for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until it is easily pierced with a fork. Remove the flesh from the squash and puree it in a food processor, then place in a sieve that is lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Place a bowl under it to catch the water that is released and put the bowl in the refrigerator overnight, along with the potatoes.
The next day, remove the skin from the potatoes, puree them in a food processor, and put in a bowl. Add the pureed squash, the cheese and a grating of nutmeg and black pepper.

Make and fill the ravioli.

When you are ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the ravioli but do not let the pot to continue at a rolling boil or you may burst the ravioli. Boil for four or five minutes until cooked.

Cover with sauce and parmesan cheese.

Walnut cream sauce
(This is enough sauce for about four dozen ravioli.)

1 1/2 cup walnuts, roasted in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a few grindings of nutmeg
dash salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sweet wine such as vin santo or moscato
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Roast the walnuts in the oven. If you have the patience, remove some of the outer skins of the walnuts. This is easier to do if you put them in a linen dishcloth, fold in half and rub back and forth. Grind the walnuts in a food processor until they are coarse – not fine. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the heavy cream and wine. Cook for a few minutes on high heat until the
sauce reduces and emulsifies. Add the nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg salt, and pepper. Take off the heat and add a generous amount of parmesan – at least 1/2 cup or more. Pour over the ravioli and serve with additional parmesan.

Turkey Quesadillas

Turkey quesadillas

So you’ve had your fill of turkey sandwiches by now. But you’ve still got plenty of meat leftover from Thanksgiving and can’t face another plate of microwaved turkey and reheated gravy. Time to switch gears with a whole different flavor palate. Think Tex-Mex. Think quesadillas. This is so simple to prepare there’s really no recipe.
It’s simply a matter of assembly.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
flour tortillas
leftover turkey meat
onions
bell peppers (any color)
cheese (cheddar or monterey jack)
salsa (I made my own by mincing together fresh tomatoes, onion, green pepper, jalapeno and cilantro, then adding some salt and lime juice. You can always buy a good commercial brand.)

Slice the onions and peppers and fry in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil until cooked through. Then begin the assembly. There are no measurements because you can use more or less of any ingredient to your pleasing. Place one tortilla on a plate. Cover with grated cheese, strips of turkey meat, some of the onions and peppers, and a few tablespoons of the salsa. Place another tortilla on top of the mixture.

If you have a grill with ridges, oil the surface and place it on your stove burners over medium heat. If you don’t have a grill, use a cast-iron skillet or heavy steel pan. When the grill or skillet is hot, place the tortilla on top and put a heavy press on top. If you don’t have a press, just push down a little with a spatula. Cook for a couple of minutes until the cheese melts and grill marks begin to show. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. Turn over and grill for a few minutes on other side.


This is what it looks like after all the ingredients are in place and just before you’re ready to cover with a second tortilla.

Chestnut, Sausage And Apple Stuffing

Chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing

Pardon me while I sing a few bars of “The Christmas Song,” more readily known by its opening lyrics “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
I couldn’t help myself as I sat in front of the fireplace yesterday, shaking a pan filled with chestnuts resting on hot embers. I decided to make a chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing for my Thanksgiving turkey and wanted to get a jump-start on the chestnuts.
Chestnuts are used much more commonly in Italy, where towns even hold chestnut festivals (sagre de castagne) in the fall. We visited one such town – Soriano – in October, where chestnuts were roasted on huge mesh-bottomed pans out in the streets. After about twenty minutes of vigorous jostling back and forth by a Soriano resident, where many of the chestnut skins fell away from the nutmeat, the chestnuts were then dumped into a straw basket and handed out free in small paper bags to any and all nearby.
Maybe it was the atmosphere as much as the open fire roasting, but these were the best chestnuts I had ever eaten.
We also visited some friends who live just outside of Rome and gathered dozens of chestnuts from their trees, hoping to bring back some untreated nuts to start our own cluster of chestnut trees. Check back with me in the spring to see if they have germinated.
But I digress.
OK, so back to the fireplace, which is where I sat yesterday, shaking my chestnuts in a pan punctuated with holes on the bottom. Don’t ask me where I got the pan. I’ve had it for a couple of decades. Don’t worry if you don’t have such a pan, you can use a cast iron skillet. No fireplace? No problem. You can cook chestnuts in the oven too. First, with a knife, cut an “x” on the chestnuts and soak them in water for about 15 minutes. Do this if you’re roasting on an open fire too. Drain the chestnuts, put them on a cookie sheet or pan and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, shaking them once or twice. Peel them, using a napkin or paper towel to protect your fingers from the heat and blackened outer skins. There’s also a very thin inner skin that needs to come off too. Sometimes it comes off easily, but sometimes it’s a battle between you and the chestnut. For all of you who think this is too much fuss, I recently discovered that you can buy already cooked and peeled chestnuts in a glass jar at the supermarket. Whichever way you decide, once you’ve got the chestnuts, you’re ready to make the stuffing.

Chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing

1 16-ounce package Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing mix (or any other brand or type of bread)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 pound roasted chestnuts, broken into pieces
2 apples, diced in large pieces
2 1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth
1 stick butter, melted

Remove the casings from the sausage and saute in the olive oil, breaking it up into clumps. Add the onions and celery and saute until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are limp. Add the chestnut pieces and swirl around to mix the flavors. Pour the stuffing mix into a large bowl and add the sausage and chestnut mixture, plus the apple pieces. Add the broth and the butter, using more broth if necessary to make a moist stuffing. This will make more than enough to stuff a 12-pound bird with enough left for a casserole. Bake the casserole at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Swiss Chard Flan

Swiss Chard Flan

I wasn’t quite sure what to call this recipe – is it a custard, a flan, a tian? It’s kind of like a quiche, but without the crust. Call it what you like, but I call it delicious. It would make a nice lunch or dinner with the addition of a salad, but I plan to make it as a side dish this Thanksgiving. You can even assemble it the night before and bake it the next day. If you don’t have swiss chard, or don’t like it, you can substitute spinach. Actually any vegetable would do for this recipe. I happened to have some orange bell pepper on hand, and added that for extra color and flavor, but it’s not essential either. I used asiago cheese in the recipe, but the choice is yours here too – cheddar, parmesan, feta even. They would all work. The important thing is to get going and make it.

Swiss Chard Flan

swiss chard (about 4 cups of raw swiss chard packed into a measuring cup. After boiling and squeezing out the water, you should have about two cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt, pepper
5 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 cup asiago cheese, grated

Boil the swiss chard in water for about five minutes and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess moisture and place on chopping board. Mince the chard until you have small pieces. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a saute’ pan and add the shallots, garlic and bell pepper. Saute’ until soft, then add the chopped swiss chard, parsley, salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the milk and grated asiago cheese. Add the swiss chard mixture and mix in the bowl until everything is blended. Pour into a buttered casserole and place the casserole in a bain-marie (water bath). Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Broccoli Romano

Broccoli Romano

Broccoli romano – Until five or six years ago, I had never heard of it, much less tasted it. Flashback to a dinner at “La Cisterna,” a restaurant in Rome, when our waiter “Romeo” rips the menus out of our hands and announces, “Stasera mangierete il migliore abbacchio in tutto Roma,” or “Tonight you will eat the best baby lamb in all of Rome.” He proceeds to choose our entire meal for us, including a platter of broccoli romano sauteed in olive oil, garlic, salt and a little red pepper. I was immediately infatuated with the adorable green vegetable, (and he was right about the lamb) and saw it in nearly every market in the city. I eat it every time I’m in Italy. But finding it here in the northeastern U.S. is a little difficult. I’ve seen it at Whole Foods, but only as a miniature head. And if you wanted to buy enough to serve for a dinner party, the cost would be so steep you might as well book a flight to Italy (well, not really, but any excuse to travel there and I’m ready.) So you can imagine my joy recently when I stumbled across the vegetable at a local organic farm with a friend for the annual “pig out day,” the last harvest of the year.
Whenever I’m in Rome and near a kitchen, I usually prepare broccoli romano as a side dish just the way I had it at “La Cisterna” – parboil it first, drain it, then toss it in a saute pan with some olive oil, garlic, salt and a little bit of red pepper flakes. It’s also delicious with a gratinee of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese on top. But after arriving home from the farm earlier this week, I decided to throw together a pasta dish for lunch, using the broccoli romano. If you can’t find it, the recipe could be made just as easily with many other vegetables – regular broccoli, broccoli rape, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini – anything. It will be good, but it won’t transport you back to Rome (and Romeo) like the broccoli romano does for me.

Pasta with broccoli romano
(serves two)

1/2 pound pasta, any type
florets of broccoli romano, about 1 – 1/2 cups
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
garlic, three large cloves
salt, black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
chopped parsley
parmesan cheese

Heat a large pot of salted water and add the pasta while you make the rest of the recipe.
Trim the broccoli romano into bite size florets. Parboil in water for about five minutes and drain. Heat half the olive oil in the pan, add the garlic and saute a minute or two. Add the drained broccoli romano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir for a few minutes then add a small amount of the pasta water (1/4 cup or so) to the broccoli romano and put the lid on the pot. Cook for another five minutes on low heat, being careful not to burn it. Lift the lid and test the broccoli romano to see if it’s cooked. Make sure to cook it long enough until it’s tender to the bite. Italians like their pasta al dente, but not their vegetables. If there is water remaining in the pan, remove the lid and turn up the heat to help evaporate the water. Drain the pasta and add to the vegetable mixture in the saute’ pan. Mix everything together, adding the chopped parsley. Off the heat, stir in the remaining olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese.