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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

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

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

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

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 – 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.

Jazzin’ in New Orleans

A short clip of the Jazz Vipers, a group we heard in New Orleans at the “Spotted Cat” on Frenchman Street. It’s everything you’ve ever envisioned of an old time jazz club — located in a ramshackle wooden house, musicians playing old jazz standards while clutching a cigarette, beer bottle on the side. Later in the evening, a young couple walked in the door, cast off their jackets, and immediately moved to the postage-stamp size dance floor, where they provided even more wonderful entertainment for the crowd as they glided to the music with their well-coordinated dance moves.

Beignets and more in New Orleans

It’s not a good idea to visit New Orleans right before Thanksgiving. It’s going to be hard getting rid of the extra weight I put on during a long weekend in “The Big Easy.” And now more of a food onslaught is in store with the holiday approaching.
But it was worth it. Here is a sampling of some of the temptations I ate during our short stay.
The photo was taken at “Emeril’s,” the eponymous restaurant named after Emeril Lagasse, whose cooking show can be seen on the Food Network. The pork chop was about two inches thick and smothered in a tamarind glaze and green mole sauce, and served with caramelized sweet potatoes. What a winning and unexpected combination of flavors. Thank you Emeril for that taste experience and also for the recipe, which is posted on the Food Network’s website. It’s a little involved, but in case you want to try it, here’s the link.
We also ate at “August,” one of John Besh’s restaurants. For those of you who watch the Food Network, you may remember that Besh won the Iron Chef competition against Mario Batali. “August” is an elegant, but not stuffy restaurant, with a more refined and subtle menu than “Emeril’s.” To give you an idea, we started with an amuse bouche of fish mousse, served in a small egg shell. The meal continued on a high note, including a salad of organic greens with pumpkin seed brittle, blue cheese and pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette. It’s a nice contrast of textures and tastes, and one I plan to make in the future for dinner parties. Since I haven’t made it myself yet, I’ll give you a link to a pumpkin nut brittle recipe on Epicurious.com.

I can’t talk about New Orleans food without mentioning beignets – those square-shaped puffy fried “doughnuts” that are a must when visiting the city. The most well-known place to eat them is the Cafe Du Monde, where this photo was taken. They are typically served with Cafe Du Monde’s version of cafe au lait, a blend of chicory and coffee. The beignets arrive covered with a blizzard of powdered sugar, so be careful if you’re wearing black slacks as I was!! One bite and you’ll become enamored of the traditional New Orleans favorite. They sell a beignet mix at the Cafe Du Monde and online, and there are plenty of recipes on the web as well. Most of the authors claim that the mix isn’t as good as the homemade recipe, which includes yeast. Here’s the link to a recipe from a website that’s all about NOLA (New Orleans) food:

Chicken Soup with tortellini and frittate

It’s been one of those weeks where getting out of bed was a major effort. You know the symptoms — runny nose, achy body, ear and chest congestion, blah, blah, blah.
What better way to get back on track than the old remedy so many of you already know – chicken soup. It’s such a cliche’, but it really does help. It also conjures up lovely memories of my childhood when my mother fussed over me when I was ill.
I had to content myself with canned chicken broth and pastina until I was well enough a few days later to at least put together a few ingredients for a homemade broth – so superior to anything canned! I made some last week too, from the left-over carcass I had after finishing the roast chicken I had cooked. There are many ways to make a good broth, so you can adapt it to whatever cut of meat you like. Sometimes I buy a whole chicken and sometimes I use just the thighs or just the breast and sometimes I add a piece of beef as well, making it more of a “bollito misto.” If I’m just using a small piece of meat, I’ll also add a bouillon cube, to boost the flavor. I wish I could say this photo was the soup I made, but it’s not. I was not prescient enough (or well enough) to think of photography. This photo is the chicken soup we ate when we were visiting my husband’s relatives last month in Abruzzo. His cousin Giovanna adds a couple of tomatoes to her broth, which adds color and more flavor. She also adds little squares of frittata, which also boosts the yum factor as well as the protein — all things that should help you if you’re trying to cast off a nasty cold. Even if you’re well however, it’s a delicious welcome for the body and soul.

Chicken Soup with tortellini and frittate

1 chicken, 3-4 lbs.
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
small bunch of parsley
2 tsps. salt
8-10 peppercorns

I like to start out with skinless chicken, so you have less fat in the soup. If you’re just using breasts or thighs, skin them, but don’t use boneless ones, if you can help it. The bones add to the flavor.
Place the chicken in a large pot, then add water to cover by at least an inch or two. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that forms on the top, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about two hours.

If you want to make it like the photo, add two whole tomatoes.
After cooking, strain the soup into a large bowl, and skim off the fat. If you put it in the refrigerator overnight, the fat will solidify and come off easily the next day. Either serve the meat on the side as a separate part of the meal, or break the chicken up into pieces and put back into the soup.

Serve with purchased tortellini (I mean who’s really got the energy to make home-made tortellini when you’re sick?) and frittate bits, if desired. (For all you non-Italians out there, frittate is just the plural of frittata.)

Frittata

6 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 thinly sliced scallions (or 1/4 cup chives)
3 tablespoons of butter

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the other ingredients until well blended. Melt butter in a large oven-proof skillet until foamy, and over low heat, add the eggs. Cook for about 10 minutes over low heat until the eggs have set but the top surface is still a bit runny. Place the skillet under the broiler until the top has set. Watch carefully, because it should take no longer than one or two minutes. Remove from the oven and loosen from the pan with a spatula onto a plate. Cut into little squares to serve over the soup.

Rose’s Manicotti

This is another one of those comfort food recipes that you’re likely to make again and again, not just because it tastes great, but also because you can make it ahead of time and freeze it for later.
I can’t take credit for it — It’s brought to you via my Dad and his wife Rose, who have frequently served it at their table, and have introduced it at mine as well.
It’s unlike the traditional manicotti that you might know, since the filling is contained in a crepe, not in pasta. It’s a recipe handed down from Rose’s mother and maybe it will become part of your tradition too. It makes a wonderful first course, but with the addition of a salad can also serve as the main course. Since there’s no meat in the recipe, vegetarians will be happy too.

Rose’s Manicotti

Makes about 20

For the crepes:

4 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup milk
2 tblspns. melted butter
2 cups flour

Beat the eggs slightly. Place the flour in a bowl, and add the eggs, water, milk and melted butter. Beat everything together.
Using a paper towel, smear the bottom of a 7 inch nonstick skillet with olive oil. Over medium heat, pour some of the batter into the pan, swirl around and watch carefully until the batter seems to solidify. Do not let the crepe brown. The color should be similar to the pale color of pasta dough. Flip it over and cook for only a couple of seconds on the other side.

Filling:

2 pounds ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix all the filling ingredients together and place some of filling along a straight line down the middle of a crepe. Roll up the crepe and place seam-side down in a baking pan that has been first layered with tomato sauce. Proceed until the pan is filled, then cover with another layer of tomato sauce. Do not put a second layer of crepes over the first.

Tomato Sauce:

Use your favorite tomato sauce – with or without meat. In my family, to use anything but homemade tomato sauce would be blasphemy, but if you resort to a commercial brand, I won’t tell. For this recipe, my father and Rose make a meatless sauce that is very smooth, since it enhances the delicate texture and flavor of the crepes.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 325 degrees about 1/2 hour.
If frozen, place the pan in the refrigerator the night before serving. Bake at 325 degrees, but you may need slightly more than 1/2 hour until the crepes are heated through and the sauce is bubbly hot.