Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie

Are you “pumpkined-out?” I can’t blame you if you are since you’ve probably been gobbling the remaining leftovers since Thanksgiving — and I know for a fact that some folks (you know who you are) have even raided the refrigerator for a pumpkin pie breakfast. Still, this recipe (adapted from Everydaypie.com) is so delicious I just couldn’t wait until next Thanksgiving to share it. There’s no shame in baking another pumpkin pie before the season is out. I used a “cheese pumpkin” for this recipe, which gave it an exceptional flavor, but you can certainly use canned pumpkin instead. Actually, you could even make this pie with different squashes too, or even pureed sweet potatoes. Whatever you do, make sure you prick the crust and blind bake it before filling it or you’ll end up with a wet bottom — and who wants that?

To blind bake the crust, I usually butter one side of a piece of aluminum foil and place it into the uncooked pie crust, then gently pour in some beans to weigh it down. These beans have been reused countless times over the decades. They’re at least thirty years old, if not older.  I just store them in a tin until I need them again. Follow the instructions in the recipe below.

Place dollops of the mascarpone filling atop the pumpkin, then swirl them in using a knife, or chopstick. Since I was using some pumpkin I had leftover from another recipe, I had only about 1 1/2 cups and it really didn’t fill the crust as high as I would have liked. Try to use about 2 cups of pumpkin, which is what you’ll get from a 15 ounce can.

I have to say that this was really one of the best pumpkin pies I’ve ever eaten, and I don’t know if it was because of using the cheese pumpkin, the addition of mascarpone, the mixture of spices, the perfectly baked crust or a combination of all of them. I do know that I’ll be making this again and I won’t wait for next Thanksgiving to do so. I hope you try it too. Don’t forget to add the whipped cream on top!

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Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1–9″ pie crust, homemade or purchased, blind baked (see instructions below)
  • 1 cup (8 ounces; 227 grams) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (This turned the mascarpone a beige color, so I might eliminate it next time and just add the vanilla to the pumpkin instead.)
  • ½ cup packed (100 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1–½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
  • Pinch cloves
  • 1 (15 ounce) can 100% pumpkin puree (I used 1½ cups of freshly cooked and drained pumpkin but 2 cups would have been better)
  • heavy cream for whipping and decorating the top of pie
Instructions
  1. TO ROLL AND BLIND BAKE THE PIE CRUST:
  2. Roll out the pie dough to an 11″ circle and line a 9” pie plate, crimping the edges as desired.
  3. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork to let steam escape during baking. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes to let the pie dough chill.
  4. While dough is chilling, preheat oven to 375ºF.
  5. Remove the pie from freezer and line the pie dough with a parchment round piece of paper (or aluminum foil that is greased on the side that touches the pie dough) and then add pie weights (or dry rice or beans or lentils) to fill the pie shell, making sure to push pie weights to the edges.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes on the lower rack, then remove from oven and remove the parchment and pie weights.
  7. Return to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  8. Set aside until ready to use. Lower the oven to 325ºF.
  9. ASSEMBLE THE FILLING:
  10. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the mascarpone and the sugar, until smooth.
  11. Add in 1 egg and beat until thoroughly combined.
  12. Scoop out ½ cup of the mascarpone mixture and set aside.
  13. Then, add to the mascarpone mixture the remaining eggs, vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin puree.
  14. Beat together until fully combined.
  15. Add half of the pumpkin filling to the fully baked pie crust.
  16. Spoon in a few dollops of the set aside mascarpone filling to the pumpkin mixture.
  17. Then, pour the remaining pumpkin mixture over the top. Spoon drops of the remaining mascarpone mixture.
  18. Using a knife, chopstick or toothpick gently swirl through all layers of the pumpkin filling to achieve a marble effect.
  19. TO BAKE:
  20. Bake the pie on the middle rack for 45-55 minutes, or until the pie reaches a temperature of 180ºF and the outer edges have started to puff up but the center is still slightly wobbly.
  21. Remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature before placing in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to finish firming up.
 

 

Pappardelle with Beef Ragù and Chestnuts

OK, now if this pasta dish has you drooling, let me tell you it’s really easy to make and so delicious you’ll be eating seconds and thirds and fending off marriage proposals from anyone who tries it. Of course, that assumes you make your own pappardelle, following the instructions here. But if you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own pasta and instead buy a good quality pappardelle, and serve this ragù as the accompaniment, you’re still likely to have suitors filling up your dance card after they fill their stomachs.

It all starts with that beef stew I recently posted. I asked you to put some aside in the freezer for a reason (before adding the peas and carrots.)

When you defrost it, add a 1/2 can of Italian cherry tomatoes with the juices. It’s not the same with fresh cherry tomatoes, so make sure you buy the canned ones. If it’s hard to find canned cherry tomatoes where you live, you can buy them online at many places, including here. By the way, I have no financial interest in this brand or any other, so choose whatever brand you like.

 

 

After you’ve added the tomatoes, some wine, chestnuts and a little seasoning, let everything simmer for another 1/2 hour to 45 minutes to blend the flavors. You’ll get a thick and flavorful ragù that is just begging for some pasta to keep it company.

I was lucky to find fresh chestnuts from Italy in the produce section at my local grocery store. You’ll see plenty of sealed bags of chestnuts on the shelves that are already peeled and cooked, but they come from China, and I’m leery of the quality control, so I always seek out the Italian ones. The fresh ones are not that hard to cook and clean. Just cut a slit or make a cross cut in each chestnut; place them in a pan with cold water; let it come to a boil; boil for two or three minutes, then drain the water and roast the chestnuts in a 425 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. They should be fully cooked by then. It’s easier to peel them when they’re hot, and some of the skins will peel off easily. Others are a little more resistant, but for this recipe it doesn’t matter if the chestnuts come off in one piece. You’ll be breaking them up to put in the sauce anyway. (But munch a few with a good glass of wine while you’re peeling them too!)

Get the pasta water boiling (“Butta la pasta,” as we say in Italian) and add the pappardelle, then toss the pasta with the sauce.

My mouth is watering just looking at this dish. By the way, you can freeze any of those chestnuts if you’ve cooked more than you need for this recipe. With chestnut season so short, you’ll be glad you did. As the dish below says, take your photo first, then dig in.

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Pappardelle with Beef Ragù and Chestnuts
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups leftover beef stew (without carrots or peas or potatoes - just the meat and the sauce)
  • 1 cup canned cherry tomatoes with the juice (1/2 of a 14 oz. can)
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon of finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup cooked chestnuts, broken into pieces
  • pappardelle (about 1 lb.)
Instructions
  1. Take the leftover beef stew, and cut, or shred the chunks of beef into small pieces.
  2. Place the beef in a saucepan with the canned cherry tomatoes, the wine, the chestnuts and the rosemary and let it all simmer for about ½ hour to 45 minutes.
  3. Boil the pasta until it is cooked and toss gently with the sauce.
 

 

Beef Stew with Oven Baked Polenta

Although we’ve had warm, nearly 80-degree days here in New Jersey recently, it’s most unusual for this time of year. Cold weather in November is as predictable as election results on the first Tuesday of the month (oh wait………. well, let’s not go there).

And when the down comforter comes out, and the fireplace kicks in, so does my need for comfort food. One of my favorite meals to make (and eat) when the temperature drops, is this beef stew. You may like potatoes in your beef stew, and if so, feel free to add them. But I prefer mine served over creamy, cheesy, soft polenta. And this polenta doesn’t require stirring over a stove for an hour since you make it in the oven, stirring only once every twenty minutes. If you prefer, you can also serve the stew over mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or rice.

Another reason I omit potatoes from beef stew (aside from the fact that reheated potatoes never taste that good) is because I like to set aside some of the beef stew (before the addition of peas and carrots) to use in another recipe, one that I’ll write about in an upcoming blog post. Without divulging that recipe right now, suffice it to say that it’s worth making this beef stew just to have the leftovers. I know you’ll thank me for it later. For now, the beef stew and polenta is pretty darn comforting too.

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Beef Stew with Oven Baked Polenta
 
Author:
Serves: 4-6 servings
Ingredients
  • FOR THE BEEF STEW:
  • 2½ - 3 lbs beef cubes
  • flour for dusting
  • salt and pepper to season the meat
  • ¼ cup olive oil, or more as needed to brown the cubes
  • one large onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canned cherry tomatoes, (or crushed tomatoes if you can't find the cherry tomatoes)
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 T. minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 or 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 squirt of "kitchen bouquet" (if you can find it - it helps make everything a richer brown color)
  • FOR THE OVEN BAKED POLENTA:
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. If the beef cubes are large, cut them into smaller pieces, about ½" to ¾."
  2. Dust the cubes with flour, salt and pepper.
  3. Saute the cubes in the olive oil, in one layer, repeating as necessary, and turning on each side until browned,
  4. Remove the beef cubes from the pot, add more olive oil, if needed, and cook the onions over low heat until translucent.
  5. Add the garlic cloves and cook for another couple of minutes
  6. Put the beef cubes back into the pan, and pour in the red wine.
  7. Let it cook for a minute, then add the canned tomatoes, beef broth and water, and season with salt, pepper, paprika, rosemary and sage.
  8. Place the lid on the pot and place in the oven at 325 degrees for 2 - 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.
  9. Place the frozen peas in the pot about ½ hour before removing it from oven.
  10. Boil the sliced carrots in water and when nearly done, remove the carrots from the water and add to the beef stew in the oven, stirring to blend everything,
  11. If you can find "Kitchen Bouquet," add about 1 teaspoon to the pot.
  12. It will give it a rich, brown color.
  13. If the liquid in the beef stew is not thick enough, remove the cover, and cook on top of the stove for a bit, until some of the liquid has evaporated and thickened.
  14. Serve over polenta, noodles or mashed potatoes.
  15. FOR THE POLENTA:
  16. Whisk together the cornmeal, milk, water and salt.
  17. Place in the oven, uncovered, with the beef stew during its last hour of cooking.
  18. Whisk or sttir every 20 minutes.
  19. If it looks like it needs more liquid, add more water or milk.
  20. After an hour, it should be thickened enough. It will thicken some more when you add the cheese.
  21. If it's still not thickened enough, return to the oven for another 20 minutes,
  22. Add the butter and stir.
  23. Remove from the heat, and stir in the parmesan cheese.
  24. Serve with the beef stew.
 

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.