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Saffron Fazzoletti with Sausage and Mushrooms

Fazzoletti (the Italian word for handkerchiefs) is a pasta I’ve been wanting to make for a long time, after eating it years ago at Le Virtù, a favorite Philadelphia restaurant. I finally got in the fazzoletti-making mode a couple of weeks ago and decided to channel fall flavors, with sausage and mushrooms in the sauce. But to kick it up a further notch, I added saffron to the dough. Saffron is expensive here in the states, but a little goes a long way. It’s a lot less expensive in Italy, and it’s much fresher if you buy it near the source (Abruzzo is famous for its saffron from Navelli). So whenever I’m in Italy, I buy saffron, whether in a pretty little ceramic container, as I bought in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, or in paper packages, that you can find in any supermarket in the country. One of my very favorite ways to use it is in the classic risotto alla Milanese, a recipe I wrote about here.

The dough is made with OO flour, the gold standard when making pasta, with its fine, soft grain and high gluten content. I added two of the small glassine envelopes of saffron to the dough, after dissolving it in a tablespoon of warm water. And yes, you can taste the saffron in the pasta, although it is subtle. Dump everything into a food processor, leaving some of the flour aside because when you’re making an egg/flour pasta,  it’s much easier to add more flour to a wet mixture than add more eggs to a dry pasta mixture. Feel free to mix it on the countertop, but you’ll need a lot more muscle. Even with the food processor, take it out and knead it on the counter, adding more flour if it’s too sticky, and kneading it until it’s as soft as a baby’s bottom. Cover it and set aside for at least a half hour, which gives the gluten time to relax and do its thing. It’ll be much easier to work with as a result.

This is the amount of pasta I made using the recipe below. As you can see, I made about a dozen fazzoletti, that each measured 4″ x 4″, plus a lot of pappardelle that I plan to use in a separate recipe. Of course, you can always buy packaged pasta, or even fresh pasta in the refrigerated section, but you’ll have a hard time finding fazzoletti pasta, and there’s nothing quite so delicious as home made. I had a few scraps left over and cut them into thin spaghetti that I’ll most likely use in chicken soup.

The sauce comes together quite quickly, with some olive oil, herbs, sausage, shallots and mushrooms, all cooked in one pot.

Lift the cooked fazzoletti from the boiling water directly into the sauce, letting some of the water come along with it. Stir and mix everything together gently so you don’t rip the pasta. Add more of the pasta water, if needed.

Serve on a large platter, sprinkled with a drizzle of olive oil, some parmesan cheese and minced parsley.

Wait till you bite into this toothsome, yet silky pasta with these complementary flavors. If you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time stopping at one bowl.

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Saffron Fazzoletti with Sausage and Mushrooms
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 packages (glassine envelopes) of saffron
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • FOR THE SAUCE
  • 1½ links of sweet Italian sausage (about ½ pound)
  • 8-10 small portobello (or cremimi) mushrooms
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ olive oil
  • fresh sage leaves
  • fresh thyme leaves
  • salt, pepper
  • minced parsley
  • a little pasta water
  • parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Dissolve the saffron in the hot water.
  2. Place the flour (keep ½ cup of the flour aside) and eggs and the watered down saffron into a food processor (or mix by hand if you have the strength).
  3. If the dough is too sticky, add the rest of the flour, a little at a time.
  4. When the mixture has turned into a ball, remove to a wooden board.
  5. Knead a bit more (keeping flour on the board) until the dough is smooth.
  6. Shape it into a ball (or two balls) and wrap in plastic wrap, or keep covered under a bowl.
  7. Let the dough rest for a half hour.
  8. When ready to shape the dough, roll it by hand to a thin consistency, or using a pasta machine, roll it to the smallest number on the setting.
  9. For the fazzoletti, cut into 4 inch squares.
  10. This recipe makes a lot of fazzoletti, but you can shape some of it into fettuccine, or pappardelle or other shapes and reserve for other meals.
  11. I used 12 fazzoletti for two people and it was plenty for a meal.
  12. If you're making it as a first course, you will want fewer fazzoletti for two people.
  13. Boil the fazzoletti in ample salted water and add to the sauce.
  14. FOR THE SAUCE;
  15. Add half the olive oil to a large saucepan.
  16. Heat to a medium heat, and add the sausage, crumbling it into pieces, and removing the casing.
  17. Wash the mushrooms and cut into quarters.
  18. Add the mushrooms to the sausage and when almost cooked, add the minced shallot and garlic.
  19. Add the fresh sage leaves and thyme leaves and let everything cook for about 10 minutes.
  20. Start cooking the fazzoletti in the boiling water.
  21. They should take only a few minutes to cook.
  22. Meanwhile, if the sauce looks too dry, add some of the pasta water.
  23. Drain the fazzoletti and add to the sauce.
  24. Don't worry if some of the water comes along with it.
  25. Gently stir the pasta into the sauce, letting it absorb the flavors, and reducing the water.
  26. Season with salt and pepper.
  27. When the water is nearly all gone, add the rest of the olive oil.
  28. Toss gently into a serving bowl, and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and minced parsley,
 

 

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Have you got a celebration coming up? If not, consider this afternoon a good enough occasion for a celebration. Forget Norman Vincent Peale. If you want to win friends and influence people, chocolate is where you want to be and this is the route to take. This cake has great flavor and texture, and is the second best chocolate cake around. THE best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten is a chocolate truffle cake from a local shop here in town (Olive’s) and the hubs is getting it for me for my birthday this week. (Yea!) Only fitting, since I made this cake for his birthday earlier this year.

Most of you don’t live within a quick drive to my town and that shop, so I’ve giving you the next best thing. It’s almost the same recipe as Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate Cake” but since I had buttermilk in the house from another recipe, I decided to use that instead of regular milk. Buttermilk adds a bit of a tang, and makes a big difference in the tenderness of cakes. Even if you don’t have buttermilk in your refrigerator, you can create it by squeezing a little lemon juice into regular milk and letting it sit for five to ten minutes.

This ratio of chocolate frosting to cake is crucial, in my humble opinion, but then again, I’m a pushover for chocolate frosting (well, any kind of buttercream frosting, actually).

I melted a little chocolate for the decoration, and also shaved some chocolate to press into the sides of the cake.

If that’s too much chocolate for you (you’re kidding, right?), it tastes delicious with a plain buttercream frosting too, as my granddaughter demonstrates in the video below.

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Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • ¾ cup dark cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee, cooled (I use espresso, and add more water to bring to one cup)
  • CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup dark cocoa powder
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
Instructions
  1. MAKE THE CAKE:
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Grease and flour two 8" cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment paper for easy removal later.
  4. Whisk together in a large bowl of a standing mixer (or use a hand mixer) the sugar, flour. cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, add the buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla, and whisk to combine.
  6. Beat at a low speed, then and slowly pour in the wet ingredients until just combined, scraping sides of the mixing bowl if necessary.
  7. Keeping the mixer at a slow speed, carefully pour in the coffee. Mix until just combined, scraping the sides of bowl as needed.
  8. Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Remove cakes from oven.
  10. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then flip gently onto cooling racks to continue cooling.
  11. Remove the parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.
  12. MAKE THE FROSTING:
  13. Beat the butter, vanilla and salt together until smooth and creamy.
  14. Whisk together the cocoa powder and powdered sugar, then add the mix and the whipping cream to the butter mixture, a little at a time until mixed together.
  15. Continue beating for 3 or 4 minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy.
  16. Frost the cake, using about ⅓ for the inside of the cake and the rest for the tops and sides.
  17. If you want to decorate as I did, shave some chocolate using a vegetable peeler and press on the sides (It can be messy)
  18. For the top, microwave an ounce or two of dark chocolate with a 3-4 tablespoons of cream.
  19. You may need to add more cream to get to a pourable consistency.
  20. Stir until it is liquid enough to pour, then drizzle in lines across the top.
  21. Using a toothpick or butterknife, swipe across the opposite directions of the chocolate lines, first in one direction, then the other, to get the wave pattern.
 

Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Mushrooms and Crispy Sage Leaves

I love carefree summer days at the beach, but when autumn rolls around, and some of my favorite foods are at their peak — like butternut squash — I enjoy spending more time in the kitchen. Pumpkins and squash are so redolent of crisp fall days, of Halloween, heartier cooking and family time. Unfortunately, Covid has severely limited family time, although we were all tested recently so we could gather for my granddaughter’s second birthday – YEA!!! I decided to make gnocchi for the occasion, one of my husband’s all-time favorite meals, and I knew it would be equally welcomed by my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. The recipe is included below, but if you want a photographic step-by-step tutorial on making potato gnocchi, click here.  If you haven’t got a gnocchi paddle, a little wooden implement that makes these ridged impressions, you can easily use a fork to roll them, as my mom always did when I was growing up — or even the rough edges of a cheese grater.

Getting the right consistency is the key to successful gnocchi, and it helps to have a “feel” that comes after you’ve made them a number of times. Too much flour and they’re leaden. Too little flour and they disintegrate in the water. So after you’ve mixed the dough, make a few gnocchi and test them out by boiling them in water. You’ll know right away if you need to add more flour. It’s so much easier to add more flour, but if you’ve already added too much, then you’ve got a problem. You can make these ahead of time, but refrigerate them on floured dishcloths if you’re making them the day before you serve them. You can freeze them too, but in my experience, they sometimes attract too much water from the freezer and fall apart when later boiled in water. Instead, I boil them to start with, drain them on paper towels or dishcloths, then lay them on cookie sheets and put the cookie sheets in the freezer. After the gnocchi have individually frozen, you can pull them off the paper towels or dishcloths, and pop them in plastic bags, ready to be reboiled again whenever you want to serve them. They seem to retain their consistency better, at least for me.

I wanted to showcase some fall flavors with the gnocchi, so I cut up some butternut squash (I’ve used honeynut squash too, which I love) and some mushrooms. Roast at high temperature after you’ve drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. You can do this ahead of time too, even the day before, and just set it all aside in the refrigerator until you need it.

Fry up some sage leaves in olive oil, drain on a paper towel, and sprinkle with salt. They’re hard to resist as a crunchy snack, so make a bunch if you have enough sage to spare.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add some fresh sage leaves and let the butter absorb the sage flavor for a couple of minutes. Then add the roasted squash and mushrooms, and scoop the cooked gnocchi directly from the boiling water into the pan with the butter and vegetables. Don’t worry if some water comes along with it. In fact, reserve a bit of water to add in order to get a little more “sauce.” Toss everything gently, and remove the sage leaves, which have become soggy. Serve with grated parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, and some crispy sage leaves on the side.

It’s a family favorite, as you can see from my little granddaughter. They was worth making just to see her sweet little smile.

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Gnocchi with Butternut squash, Mushrooms and crispy sage
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE GNOCCHI:
  • 5 large brown-skinned baking potatoes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 t. salt
  • ¼ t. white pepper
  • pinch of grated nutmeg
  • ½ c. parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups flour (or more if needed)
  • FOR THE ROASTED SQUASH AND MUSHROOMS:
  • 1½ cups honeynut or butternut squash
  • a handful of mushrooms (cremini, baby portobello or button mushrooms)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • seasoned salt, pepper to taste
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • 8-12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • a dozen sage leaves
  • some water from boiling the gnocchi
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • FOR THE CRISPY SAGE LEAVES:
  • olive oil
  • sage leaves
Instructions
  1. FOR THE SQUASH AND MUSHROOMS:
  2. Cut the squash into small pieces, cut the mushrooms into halves, or quarters if large, and toss with the olive oil and seasonings.
  3. Roast in a 475 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until the pieces are tender.
  4. FOR THE CRISPY SAGE LEAVES:
  5. Place a little olive oil in a shallow saucepan and when it's hot, add the sage leaves.
  6. Fry for a minute or two and flip, removing to a paper lined plate.
  7. Sprinkle salt on them immediately and set aside.
  8. FOR THE GNOCCHI:
  9. Bake the potatoes uncovered in a 375 degree oven for about an hour or until done.
  10. Remove from oven and when you can handle them, peel them.
  11. Put chunks of the potato through a ricer and spread on a cookie sheet.
  12. Let it cool completely, then mix with the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg and cheese.
  13. Add flour, ¼ cup at a time.
  14. You may not need all 2 cups flour, or you may need more.
  15. Just add enough until the dough comes together and you can easily roll it into a big “log.”
  16. Cut the log into four or five pieces, then take each piece and roll it out like a snake, about ½ inch to ¾ inch thick.
  17. Using a knife, cut off some pieces of the roll, maybe about ½" each.
  18. Take each ½" gnocco and make an imprint on it, using either a fork or a gnocchi paddle.
  19. At this point, you can refrigerate if not using immediately -- even overnight.
  20. Bring water to a rolling boil, add salt and the gnocchi and let simmer gently until they rise to the top.
  21. The recipe makes about 225 gnocchi so freeze half if you like.
  22. If I'm planning to freeze some, I actually cook them all in the water, then drain them on paper towels, place half on a cookie sheet and put those in the freezer. When they have frozen hard, I move them to a plastic bag and keep them in the freezer until I need them.)
  23. FOR THE SAUCE AND TO ASSEMBLE:
  24. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the sage leaves, letting them simmer a few minutes to impart their flavor.
  25. Then using a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the water and place them directly into the pan with the melted butter and sage leaves.
  26. Don't worry if a little water comes along when you ladle out the gnocchi, in fact, it's good to add a little of the water to the sauce.
  27. Add the roasted squash and mushroom pieces, and gently stir everything together.
  28. Place everything into a serving bowl, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and scatter the crispy sage leaves on top.
 

Pork Tenderloin with Plums

Pork tenderloin is such an easy and delicious cut of meat that pairs so well with fruit — especially plums. Even if you can’t find these oval-shaped Italian plums that are in season right now, the round ones are fine. The plums I found were quite large, so I cut them in quarters, but next time I’ll just cut them in half, since they will be likely to retain more of their shape that way.

Season the meat (I used a homemade seasoned salt, and pepper) then sear it on the range to brown the outside a bit. It will finish cooking in the oven.

When I first made this, I roasted everything together right from the start. But when the meat and plums were ready, the onions weren’t cooked enough, so I removed the roast and plums and put the onions back in for another 15 minutes. I don’t recommend doing that, since the juices that had released from the meat and plums dried up and the pan started to smoke. Instead, I would start out by cooking the onions alone in the pan for 15 minutes, then add the meat and plums and cook another 20 minutes.

Let the meat rest for at least five minutes before slicing and serving, Take a bite of the plum and the pork in the same forkful, and see if you don’t agree that they were meant for each other.

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Pork Tenderloin with Plums
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • homemade seasoned salt (or use a mixture of salt, dried thyme, parsley, rosemary and sage)
  • black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 3 or 4 plums
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Season the pork with the salt/herb mix and pepper.
  3. Sear it in a pan that has been coated with olive oil, turning it on all sides until it's lightly browned.
  4. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside.
  5. Add the onions to the pan, season with salt and pepper (herbed salt if you have it) , drizzle with olive oil, then cook the onions in the oven for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven, stir the onions a bit and place to one side of the pan, then place the pork in the middle of the pan at a diagonal.
  7. Add the plums on the other side of the pork.
  8. Place the pan back in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven and let the pork rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
 

Flounder Baked in Fig Leaves

Since our fig tree is recalcitrant when it comes to producing ripe fruit, I decided to use some of its abundant leaves instead. Did you know that fig leaves are edible? They’re kind of tough to eat without boiling first, but for this kind of recipe, they’re perfect. They keep the fish moist, and impart a delicate flavor to what’s inside. Don’t turn away if you don’t have a fig tree — this recipe can easily be made with Swiss chard (or grape) leaves instead. But if you have a fig tree, or know someone with one, you will love this recipe. It’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s low in calories and it’s good for you to boot. Cut a nice size leaf or two from your tree for each fish filet, and place it on a baking sheet that has been smeared with olive oil. Center the fish filet in the center of the leaf, then season with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. I used a combination of chives, parsley and thyme. Place a couple of lemon slices over the herbs and fish, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Fold the leaves over the fish, overlapping them to hold them in place. If you have a gap where the fish shows through, cut up another leaf and cover the space. Flip the entire leaf-wrapped fish over, so that the flaps are on the underside.

After 15 minutes in the oven, it will look something like this:

Using a long spatula, carefully flip the package of fish and leaves back over so that when you place it on your plate, you’ll be able to peel back the leaf easily and reveal the fish. The lemon will have softened enough that just pressing gently with a fork will release the remaining lemon juice onto the fish. Then bite into and enjoy a very moist, delicious piece of flounder.

If I can’t enjoy a bounty of figs from my tree, at least I can make use of some of those beautiful leaves.

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Flounder Baked in Fig Leaves
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Flounder (or salmon or snapper) (1 filet per person)
  • fig leaves (1 or 2 large fig leaves per portion)
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh herbs (I used a combination of chives, thyme and parsley)
  • lemon slices
Instructions
  1. Rinse the fig leaves.
  2. Spread a little olive oil on a cookie sheet.
  3. Lay the fig leaf down, then place a filet of fish on top.
  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, the minced herbs, then drizzle a little olive oil on top of the fish.
  5. Lay a couple of slices of lemon over the fish.
  6. Close the fig leaf over the fish, then flip it over so that the flaps are on the bottom.
  7. If some of the fish is uncovered, but up another fig leaf and wrap around the exposed parts.
  8. Bake in a 375 degree over for 25 minutes.
  9. Serve immediately with the fig leaves, allowing each person to unwrap the leaves.
 

Fresh Fig and Ricotta Cake

Are you lucky enough to have a fig tree growing in your yard? I’ve known many Italians (and non-Italians) with fig trees, either in the ground or in pots, and they all seem to get a prolific harvest each year. I wish I could say the same for my fig tree, or should I say fig trees, because I’ve tried year after year to grow them and never seem to get more than a handful of fruit, if that. Each year, I declare I’ve had it with my barren fig tree — no more relegating precious real estate to this freeloader. One winter I even followed through on my threat, refusing to protect a 10 year-old fig tree from its frigid fruitless fate. As expected, it died from the cold temperatures and what did I do? I went out and bought another fig tree in the spring. That was two fig trees ago. Long story short, the current fig tree died this last winter too, or so I thought. We had protected it from winter’s blast, but when we uncovered the tree in the spring, it had as much life in it as a Latin word at a rapper’s concert. But surprise! By June, the tree sprang back to life from its roots, and has even produced a half dozen fruits, although whether they ripen before the frost is doubtful. What’s a fig lover to do? Buy figs, naturally, which is what I did when I saw these zebra figs in the market.

I ate a few, gave some to my dad, but had a hankering to bake a cake with them, since my husband is such a dessert lover. In the past, I’ve posted recipes for several fresh fig desserts including a fig upside down cake, a lemony olive oil fig cake, a fig frangipane tart, a fig crostata, and a poached fig and almond crostata,  But I had never made a fresh fig and ricotta cake until now. In searching for a recipe, I came across many, and settled on one by Rosella Rago, whose website Cooking with Nonna, is always a great source of inspiration.  Rosella’s recipe calls for slicing the figs thinly.

Then placing them on top. Rosella’s recipe also called for using a round springform pan, but I didn’t have one handy at the beach house,where we spend our summers, so I used a rectangular one that measured 8″ x 11.”

The cake was moist, with a nice crumb and a lemony flavor, and is a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee. Next time, I plan to double the amount of figs, and spread half the batter into the pan, cover with a layer of figs, then add the rest of the batter, and top it with more figs. Maybe I’ll even have my own stash of figs from my own tree by the end of next summer. Wish me (and our fig tree) luck.

Coincidentally, while I was baking my cake, my friend Stacey was also baking a fig ricotta cake, using a recipe from one of my favorite cookbook writers, Ina Garten. You can find that version here.

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Fresh Fig and Ricotta Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ½ cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top
  • 2 packets Vanillina OR 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (preferably full fat)
  • 1¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 6 fresh figs cut into thin, round slices
  • confectioners sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan or spray with baking spray.
  3. (I used a glass baking dish that measured 8" x 11" - Linda)
  4. In a large mixing bow combine the oil, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Using an electric mixer beat the ingredients on medium speed until combined.
  5. Add in the eggs one at a time and beat until they are fluffy and pale yellow in color.
  6. Add in the ricotta and yogurt and beat until combined.
  7. Add in the flour and salt and finally the baking powder.
  8. Beat until the dry ingredients are just fully incorporated.
  9. Do not overmix!
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and arrange the fig slices in a single layer on top making sure they are not overlapping one another.
  11. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake until the top is lightly golden and the center of the cake has set. About 40-45 minutes.
  12. (I baked the rectangular pan only 35 minutes,)
  13. Allow the cake to cool 20-30 minutes in the pan before opening the spring and slicing.
  14. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.
 

Grilled Rack of Lamb

If you’re like most Americans, lamb isn’t the first thing you think of when you’re planning a barbecue for a holiday weekend. But with Labor Day just around the corner, you may want to reconsider. A rack of lamb cooked on the grill is delicious, easy to cook and makes a beautiful presentation. Lots of people think of lamb as having a ‘gamey’ or strong taste, but if you prepare it according to these directions, your family (and guests) will be asking for seconds.

This is typically how the rack of lamb looks when I bring it home from the market. As you can see, it has been “frenched,” meaning that the tips of the rack have been scraped clean of any fat or bits of flesh. But there’s still a lot of fat remaining, and in my opinion, the fat is what gives lamb the “gamey” taste that many people find objectionable. Also, removing most of the fat helps the marinade to penetrate better.

Use a sharp knife and remove most of the visible fat and the “silver skin,” as in the photo below.

Here’s a photo of how much fat I removed from just one rack of lamb.

Smear the herbs, garlic, olive oil and soy sauce all over the rack, on both sides. Let it sit in the refrigerator at least an hour or two, and if you have time, even overnight.

Place the rack on a hot grill and sear on both sides, before lowering the grill to medium heat.

Use a thermometer to test for doneness, placing it inside the thickest part of the lamb, and away from the bone. For medium rare, remove the rack when the internal temperature has reached 125 degrees. It will continue to cook when it rests off the grill. Optional – Serve with a mint pesto if desired.

Grilled Rack of Lamb
 
Author:
Serves: serves 2-4 depending on appetite
Ingredients
  • 1 rack of lamb (about 2 lbs)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a sprig of rosemary, chopped finely
  • salt, pepper
  • rind of ½ lemon, grated
  • FOR MINT PESTO:
  • about 1 cup of fresh mint, plucked from the stem and packed firmly
  • ½ cup parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons almonds
  • salt, pepper
  • grated rind of ½ lemon
Instructions
  1. Trim the rack of lamb of most of the fat, but leave enough so that the rack doesn't fall apart.
  2. Pour the olive oil, soy sauce and garlic over both sides of the rack, and sprinkle with the rosemary, salt, pepper and lemon rind.
  3. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least one or two hours, or even overnight if possible.
  4. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
  5. Place it on a hot grill with the fat side down for about five minutes or until a nice sear has formed.
  6. Turn it over and do the same thing on the other side.
  7. Then lower the heat, flip back on the fat side and cook until the internal temperature measures 125 degrees fahrenheit for a medium rare doneness.
  8. Remove from the grill and let it rest for about 5 minutes.
  9. The temperature will rise a bit more.
  10. Keep it on the grill longer, for a medium or well done finish.
  11. Cut between the ribs and serve.
  12. MINT PESTO:
  13. Place the mint leaves, parsley, garlic, almonds, lemon rind and salt and pepper in a food processor. Slowly add the olive oil and process until a paste is formed. Add more olive oil to make a looser pesto.
 

 

Foglie D’Ulivo with Browned Butter Pine Nut Sauce

Aren’t they cute? I was enchanted by this shape of pasta and learned to make it following a video by Rosetta Costantino on her excellent Instagram page. They’re called foglie d’ulivo (olive leaves). This pasta shape is widely known across Italy, but originally is from the Apulia region. It’s made similarly to orecchiette, another specialty of Apulia, but instead of forming round little “ears,” the leaf-like shape requires a different technique.

You can make this with plain white or whole wheat flour, but I added spinach to the dough to attain the bright green color, mimicking actual leaves. After making the dough, (and letting it rest at least a half hour), roll it out into snake-like shapes, then cut into small pieces, which you then roll into smaller “logs” that are slightly more lumpy in the center.

Here is a step by step demonstration of me shaping the pasta leaves.

It takes a little practice, but after a few minutes of trying, you’ll be an expert and these adorable little leaves will be the beautiful result of your labor.

I served them in two different ways – with a browned butter sauce and pine nuts, plus a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Another time I tossed them with a summer salsa verde that was featured in Food 52 and includes mint, parsley, basil and capers. We liked it, but thought we might like the salsa better over fish or vegetables.

We much preferred the browned butter/pine nut sauce over this pasta, or a traditional basil pesto. You might also like it with a red sauce, but I would keep it light and use fresh tomatoes (maybe even small cherry tomatoes) so the color and shape of the green leaves don’t disappear in the sauce.

If you’ve never made pasta at home before, foglie d’ulivo may seem a bit daunting. Want to increase your knowledge of making pasta, with a really comprehensive guide to everything pasta – from the ingredients to the techniques?  It’s an online cooking school run by two sisters in Rome, Benedetta and Valeria, who started their company, Local Aromas, to teach people about Italian food. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic and passionate about Italy and its food, they conduct food tours in Rome in addition to their online slate of classes.

They started with courses on pasta and gnocchi but plan to expand in the future to include other foods and wines too. In their classes, you’ll learn why certain flours are used for certain pastas, how to make the dough and shape it to specific types of pasta, from farfalle to fettuccine and much more. Especially during this pandemic, if you can’t get to Italy and are looking for a great way to learn a new skill, sign up for a class at Local Aromas.

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Spinach Foglie D'Ulivo with Browned Butter Pine Nut Sauce
 
Author:
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • 1 10-ounce box frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 cups 00 flour
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • parmesan cheese, to taste
Instructions
  1. FOR THE PASTA:
  2. Drain the spinach thoroughly, squeezing out all the water you can with your hands.
  3. Then press it with paper towels to get out any remaining water.
  4. Place the spinach and the two eggs into the food processor to break down the spinach.
  5. Start adding the flour.
  6. You may need as little as a cup and a quarter of flour.
  7. It's easy to add more flour later, but much harder to work the dough if you place too much flour into the food processor.
  8. Add just enough flour and process until the dough comes together into a ball.
  9. It will be sticky.
  10. Place the dough onto a wooden work surface, add more flour until the stickiness disappears and the dough seems more "homogenized" and softer.
  11. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a bowl and let it sit for at least ½ hour.
  12. To make the foglie, take a piece of the dough and roll it out to a snake-like shape, about ½ inch thick and about 6 to 8 inches long.
  13. If you roll it too long, it's harder to handle.
  14. Cut off small bits of the snake-like roll.
  15. Roll the small bit so it is a bit thinner on the ends than in the middle,
  16. Holding one part of the dough with one hand, use a knife or spatula in the other hand and press down on the dough, sliding the knife or spatula along the dough.
  17. Shape with your fingers to make the ends more like a "point" of a leaf if you like.
  18. Cook the pasta in abundant salted water.
  19. If you let the pasta dry overnight, it will take longer to cook, maybe as long as 15 minutes, depending on the thickness.
  20. Meanwhile, take the butter and place it in a saucepan.
  21. Cook it on medium heat until it starts to turn tan.
  22. It can burn easily, so be careful not to let it get to that point.
  23. Add the toasted pine nuts, then the drained pasta and toss everything together.
  24. Place in a serving bowl, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
 

Brutti Ma Buoni

Do you ever make a recipe that calls for egg yolks only, leaving you with leftover egg whites? I sure do, and as a result, there are usually at least three containers in my freezer containing leftover egg whites. After thawing, they’re as good as using fresh egg whites, and they’re perfect for making these delicious cookies from Rosemary Molloy’s “Authentic Italian Desserts.” They’re also perfect for anyone on a gluten free diet, since no flour is involved. They’re called “brutti ma buoni,” or “ugly but good,” but I think that’s a misnomer. I wouldn’t call them ugly at all. Homely, maybe, but not ugly. And boy are they good. It’s hard to stop eating these, so make a double batch and watch them disappear.

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Brutti Ma Buoni
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line a 10 x 14 inch baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar and salt and beat on medium speed to combine.
  4. Fold in the hazelnuts.
  5. Pour the mixture into a medium pot over low heat and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, gently stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
  6. The mixture is ready when it becomes a light brown color and has thickened.
  7. Remove the mixture from the heat and place heaping tablespoons on the prepared baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.
  9. Let the cookies cool completely before serving.
 

Everything Cheddar Tomato Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? And particularly one that elevates the pedestrian sandwich to sublime, oozing with cheeses, herbs, bacon and tomato. If that’s not enough to convince you, just wait till you crunch into the coating of parmesan cheese and “everything-bagel” seeds after crisping the sandwich in butter. After I saw this posted on Half Baked Harvest‘s Instagram page, I knew it was in my future. Bacon is not a staple in my house, but I bought it to make this sandwich, and have to confess, I’ve been enjoying bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s an indulgence to be sure, but even if you make it only once a year, this sandwich is worth the calories.

I cooked the bacon a day ahead, to make things go more quickly when I prepared the sandwiches the next day. When you’re ready to get the sandwiches started, slice the tomatoes and salt them first, then let them rest on paper towels to drain off some of the water, so your sandwich doesn’t get soggy. Mix the cheeses with the herbs. I used a combination of sharp white cheddar and Havarti with dill.

Don’t add any salt to the cheese, since the “everything bagel” seasoning (bought at Trader Joe’s but you can make your own with the recipe below) is salty enough. Spread the butter on the outside bread slices, then sprinkle with the parmesan cheese (which also is plenty salty) and the “everything bagel” seeds.

Assemble the interior of the sandwich, placing the cheese, tomatoes and bacon inside,

Top with the second slice of bread and sauté in butter.

Flip the sandwiches over and cook until nicely browned on both sides. Use a little more butter or olive oil if needed. (This is definitely NOT a low calorie meal).

Then get some napkins ready to keep your hands clean, and enjoy one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches you’ll ever eat.

To really complete the meal, make yourself some tomato soup, the traditional accompaniment to grilled cheese sandwiches. And don’t forget to take a photo before you eat, as the bowl says.Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what Ciao Chow Linda is up to in the kitchen (and other places too) each day.

Everything Cheddar Tomato Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 slices sourdough bread
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup shredded Havarti cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 2-4 tablespoons everything bagel spice (recipe below)
  • 2-4 slices cooked crispy bacon
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil to cook the sandwiches
Instructions
  1. Arrange the tomatoes on a cutting board and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Let sit 15 minutes to draw out excess moisture.
  3. In a bowl, combine the cheddar, Havarti, basil, thyme, and chives.
  4. Brush the outside of each slice of bread with butter.
  5. Sprinkle the parmesan and everything spice over both buttered sides of the bread, pressing the spice mix gently into the bread to adhere.
  6. On the inside of half of the slices of bread, evenly layer half of the cheese mix, the tomatoes, bacon, and the remaining cheese. Add the top piece of bread.
  7. Heat 1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.
  8. Place the sandwiches in the skillet and cook until golden on each side, about 3-5 minutes per side.
  9. Everything Spice: In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons toasted white or black sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons poppy seeds, 2 teaspoons dried onion., 2 teaspoons dried garlic, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Keep stored in a cool, dry place.