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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,
 

 

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.
 

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

UPDATE TO ORIGINAL POST

I had to update this post to let you know that as much as I loved this recipe the first time I made it, with a “traditional” pumpkin that cropped up in my son’s garden totally by accident (a so-called “volunteer” plant), I made it again for my book group with a purchased “cheese pumpkin,” and it was a game changer. The squat, tan-colored cheese pumpkin doesn’t taste anything like cheese, but is named that because of its resemblance to a wheel of cheese.

The interior is brightly colored orange, and is related to butternut squash. It has a sweet flesh that tastes  much like butternut squash and is superior over traditional pumpkins for both savory or sweet dishes, including pumpkin pie.

I filled it with the same recipe I used in the original post, even though the cheese pumpkin weighed twice as much as the pumpkin in the original post. The filling came only about 2/3 of the way up the pumpkin rather than all the way up to the top.  No matter, the filling rises somewhat after baking because of the eggs. It’s actually better not to fill the pumpkin all the way to the top anyway, since otherwise, there won’t be room for the lid to fit securely.

Here’s what the pumpkin looked like about about 2 1/2 hours in the oven. Be sure to remove the lid after about two hours of cooking because the pumpkin contained a lot of water. I actually drained away the water from the pan after removing the lid, then placed it back in the oven without the lid to “brown” the stuffing.

Another tip is to cube the bread and toss with the melted butter in a cookie sheet, rather than brown the bread cubes in a skillet as I did originally. Toast the bread cubes with melted butter in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, stirring them a few times to brown them evenly. Also, after the pumpkin has been roasting for a couple of hours, you may want to cover the sides so that they don’t burn (but keep the top uncovered in order to promote browning of the stuffing).

ORIGINAL POST:

I just love it when Mother Nature gives you some of her bounty without your even trying. It happened recently when a butternut squash grew in my garden as a “volunteer” plant among my rose bushes, and again when my son discovered a long vine with several pumpkins he hadn’t planted growing in his front yard. Either the birds or the wind carried seeds to these new places that provided fertile ground for the welcome plants.

We weren’t sure at first what kind of squash or pumpkin we were dealing with, since it was green for so long.

But as the cold weather progressed, the pumpkin started to turn orange on the bottom.

And the interior certainly looked like the typical orange jack o’lantern. I decided to use my lagniappe in a recipe I’d read about long ago in a memoir called “A Thousand Days in Venice” by Marlena De Blasi. I made several adjustments however, since I felt the amount of cheese in it was excessive (believe me, there’s still a lot of cheese in it). It would also make a spectacular showstopper dish at the Thanksgiving table.

Start by carving out the lid, and scooping out all the stringy stuff and seeds from inside.

Take some good bread (I used ciabatta) and cube it, tossing it in butter until browned.

Saute some mushrooms and onions in butter, adding some fresh sage leaves to give a bit more flavor.

Mix the mushrooms and onions with eggs and three different kinds of cheese – mascarpone, Emmanthaler and Parmesan. Marlena’s recipe calls for three cups of mascarpone, but I cut that way back to one cup and it was just fine. I cut back the amounts on the other cheeses too, and the dish was still plenty cheese flavored.

Layer the cheese mixture into the pumpkin with the bread, making several layers and ending with the cheese mixture.

Place the lid on top and bake in the oven for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, removing the lid for the final 20 minutes to brown the top. Pierce the flesh with a knife to see if it’s soft and if it’s not, leave it in the oven a bit longer.

Remove from the oven and bring to the table amid oohs and aahs. Scoop out some of the flesh and some of the pumpkin for each person. We had lots of leftover pumpkin after the stuffing was all gone, and it was great for leftovers one night. But I blitzed the rest in a food processor and used it to make the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever eaten. Stay tuned in the next blog post for that recipe.

By the way, if your pumpkin was too small to hold all the stuffing, place the rest in small buttered ramekins and bake them another night. They make a great side dish — a kind of mushroom bread pudding.

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.)

 

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large pumpkin (about 5 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion (about 2 cups minced)
  • 12 ounces sliced mushrooms (I used baby portobello, but a mixtured of fresh mushrooms and dried porcini would be great)
  • fresh sage leaves
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 3 ounces parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces Emmenthaler cheese (or Gruyere or Comte)
  • 3 whole eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons butter for toasting the bread
  • 6 slices hearty bread, cubed (about four cups)
Instructions
  1. Cut the bread into cubes (I didn't trim the crusts).
  2. Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a frying pan and add the bread, tossing it to brown all around.
  3. (I did this in two batches so each piece of bread could rest flatly on the pan.)
  4. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and add the onion and mushrooms, cooking until softened and the mushrooms give up their liquid.
  5. Season with salt and pepper
  6. I also added some sage leaves to the above to flavor them.
  7. Beat the eggs lightly with a whisk, then add the cheesesm and nutmeg and stir well.
  8. Remove the lid from the pumpkin and clean out the cavity of all its seeds and strings.
  9. Into the cavity place one third of the cheese/egg mixture, then layer half the bread cubes over it.
  10. Repeat again with another third of the cheese/egg mixture and the rest of the bread cubes, finishing with the remainder of the cheese/egg mixture.
  11. If you have more than you need, put the rest in a buttered casserole and cook it separately another time.
  12. Place the lid on the pumpkin and place the pumpkin on a heavy baking pan or cookie sheet.
  13. Bake at 375 degrees for 1½ - 2 hours, removing the lid during the last 20 to brown the top.
  14. Test the pumpkin to see if its cooked by piercing the flesh with a knife.
  15. It should be soft.
  16. Serve immediately, scooping out portions of the pumpkin with the stuffing.
 

Mushroom Beef Barley Soup

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

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

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

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more)

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

 

 

Pork Chops and Mushrooms in Marsala Wine Sauce

If you’re like me, dinner is often a consequence of what’s in the refrigerator, and on this particular night, I found a bunch of baby portobello mushrooms that needed to be used before they spoiled. I could have served them as a separate vegetable, but they seemed like a natural pairing with the pork chops I had just bought. A little marsala wine, plus a small bit of cream that was left over, would elevate those pork chops from ordinary to sublime.

It’s easy to overcook pork chops because they’re so lean. If you can find some with a little marbling, great, but that isn’t so easy. Marinating or brining helps, but knowing when to pull them off the grill or the stove is the most important step in avoiding a tough piece of meat.

I don’t use a meat thermometer for pork chops or steaks, but instead have learned to test meat with the finger test. It’s got to have a little softness in it when you touch it, like the fleshy part of your hand. If you let it cook until it feels hard, then it’s overcooked. It takes getting used to, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll never overcook meat again. Click here to get a more detailed guide on using the finger test for doneness of meats.

Pork Chops and Mushrooms in Marsala Wine Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • 2 thick pork chops (about ¾" thick)
  • To marinate the pork chops:
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T. butter
  • 8 ounces baby portobello (or button) mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • flour
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ¼ marsala wine
  • ¼ cup chicken stock (or water)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • parsley, minced
Instructions
  1. About an hour before cooking, marinate the pork chops in the olive oil, soy sauce and minced garlic.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and sauté the mushrooms on high heat. You want to get a nice sear on the mushrooms and let the water in them evaporate.
  3. When the mushrooms have turned a nice golden brown color, remove them from the pan and set aside with any remaining liquid from the mushrooms.
  4. Drain the pork chops from the marinate and dredge them in flour, salt and pepper. Shake off any excess flour.
  5. Place the oil in the same pan as you cooked the mushrooms and turn the heat to medium high. Add the pork chops and quickly sear on each side. This should take only a couple of minutes on each side.
  6. Lower the heat, add the marsala wine and the chicken stock, stirring to incorporate them.
  7. Flip the pork chops once to give both sides exposure to the liquid, then add the cream and swirl in, flipping again. Add the mushrooms back to the pan and cook until everything is heated through and just until the pork chops are done. Do not overcook. The meat should still have some "give" in it when you press it with a fork or with your fingers. If it's overcooked, it will feel hard.
  8. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
 

Puff Pastry Bites, Uncommon Goods and a Giveaway

 With the holidays approaching, you might want to have a few recipes for appetizers at the ready. These puff pastry bites couldn’t be easier. They freeze well too. You use packaged puff pastry dough, and in my case, leftover vegetables. I already had some roasted butternut squash, swiss chard, mushrooms and caramelized onions for the gnocchi dish I posted here. But I had more than I needed, so I transformed the leftovers into these appetizers. Use any vegetables you like – artichoke hearts, broccoli bits or spinach also come to mind. Add some cheese too, for a richer taste. For the ones below, I just cut the pastry into little squares and popped them into a mini muffin tin, then filled them with the squash and caramelized onions before baking.

For these spirals, I rolled out a sheet of the puff pastry and spread it with a mixture of the chopped Swiss chard and mushrooms. Then I added a layer of asiago cheese and rolled it up like a jelly roll, sliced it and baked it.
I served them on these handsome slate boards that were sent to me by Uncommon Goods. The company sells a variety of high quality gifts, for men, women and children. You’ll find a plethora of holiday shopping ideas on their website, including these beautiful slate boards.They’re made by Brooklynites whose family has owned a quarry in upstate New York for three generations. They’re available in both a grey slate and a terra cotta color too and they look great when serving all sorts of food.

They’re perfect for serving cheeses too, and arrive with pieces of chalk, especially useful if you’re offering different kinds of cheeses.

The company has a variety of other gifts available too, for both home entertaining or appropriate for gifting to men, women and children. Check out their site here.
Wouldn’t you like to have one of these slateboards to use for your holiday entertaining? Just leave a message in the comments on the blog (NOT on email) saying whether you’d like the grey or terra cotta colored slate, and be sure to leave a way for me to contact you – email is best. I’ll have the computer generate one lucky winner and the company will mail you the slate board a short time later. You’ll love it!

Puff Pastry Bites
printable recipe here
1 package puff pastry, completely thawed
(I used leftover vegetable for the filling, but if you want to start from scratch use the following:)
2 T. olive oil
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly
1 cup butternut squash, diced into small pieces
2 T. olive oil
salt, pepper
fresh herbs, finely chopped (rosemary, thyme)

Sauté the onions in the olive oil until golden. Remove from the pan, set aside, but cut into small bits. Add 2 T. more olive oil and sauté the squash, adding a bit of water if the squash starts to stick to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and herbs, and when the squash is cooked through, add the onions back to the pan.
Spray a small muffin pan with non-stick spray. Cut the puff pastry in small squares and push them down into the spaces in the muffin pan. Fill with a mixture of the vegetables and bake in a 400 degree oven about 20 minutes or longer, or until the pastry is golden.

For the spirals, spread the puff pastry out flat then spread with the following:
chopped spinach that’s been sautéed with minced onion, salt and pepper, mixed with sautéed, minced mushrooms (mine were leftovers). Spread some grated asiago cheese over the vegetables, then roll like a jelly roll. Cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick, then place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven about 20 minutes or longer, until pastry is golden.

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding

 The headline is a misnomer. I should have called it Butternut Squash, Mushroom, Sausage and Kale Bread Pudding. But that was a mouthful – granted, it’s a good mouthful, but too long for a title of this recipe. Anyway, it’s that time of year when butternut squash is abundant — a vegetable that just screams “fall.” I love it in soups, simply baked with olive oil and salt, or gussied up in lasagna or casseroles like this one. I served this as a main course, with a salad alongside, but you could leave out the sausage and serve it as a side dish. Thanksgiving will be here before you know it and it would be perfect on the table alongside Tom turkey.

There are a number of steps, but it’s easy to make ahead of time if you want. Keep the bread and the squash cubes in sizable chunks when you cut them – not too teensy so they don’t disintegrate into unrecognizable pieces after baking.
After all the ingredients are sautéed, sliced, etc. place them in a bowl.
Add the eggs and cheeses and mix everything together with a spoon.
This is what you end up with – a large casserole that feeds lots of people – at least a dozen if it’s a side dish or six if it’s a main course.
Or bake it in a lot of smaller dishes if you want individual portions.
Either way, it’s delicious, so get busy. And dig in.

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding
printable recipe here

In the photos, I used 1 cup kale, but I’d use more next time I make it. You can add or subtract any of the vegetables, and even leave out the sausage to make it completely vegetarian.

3 cups butternut squash, cut into cubes
2 T. olive oil
salt, pepper
ground sage or seasoned sage salt* or herbs de provence
4 cups sturdy Italian or French bread (preferably a day old)
2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
3/4 cup minced shallots
3 garlic cloves
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cup kale, chopped

1 cup half and half
2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella or fontina cheese, shredded

*I make seasoned salt at the end of the summer, by harvesting a lot of herbs and blending them with kosher salt. Use any combination you have – rosemary, thyme, sage, lemon balm, etc. I went heavy on the sage last year and it makes a great seasoning for the Thanksgiving turkey as well as recipes like this.
Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet and let it air dry for a day or two. When the herbs are completely dried, place the mixture into the blender or food processor and blend finely before placing into jars.

For the bread pudding:

Cut the squash into cubes – not wimpy ones, but about 1 inch cubes. Oil a cookie sheet and toss the squash cubes in the oil. Season with salt, pepper and the dried sage or sage salt or herbs de provence. Go easy on the salt if using the sage salt. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 – 45 minutes.

Cut the bread into large cubes and put it in the oven for about five minutes while the squash is cooking. Remove to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, saute the minced shallot in the olive oil and butter until wilted. Add the minced garlic and saute briefly until soft, then add the mushrooms and cook them through. When the mushrooms are browned and nearly done cooking, add the chopped kale and saute for a few minutes. If necessary, add a little more oil. Season all with salt and pepper, then remove from the pan and place all the cooked vegetables in the bowl with the bread.

Use the same pan to cook the sausage. Remove the casing from the sausage and break up the meat in the pan, cooking it through. Add a little more olive oil if there’s not enough in the pan to keep the meat from sticking. Add the cooked sausage to the bowl with the vegetables, along with the squash when it is cooked through.

Whisk the eggs, then add the half and half and milk and stir in the cheeses. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the bread, the sausage and the vegetables and mix it all together with a wooden spoon. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes for the bread to absorb some of the liquid. You can even make everything to this stage and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Pour it into a greased casserole dish – mine was oval but it measures roughly 9 x 13 inches. Bake it at 375 for about 35 to 40 minutes. I also turned on the broiler near the end to achieve a little more browning. This also reheats very well as leftovers.

 

Fusilli with portobello mushrooms and ham

This dish was quickly thrown together with our first portobello mushroom harvest. I sliced the mushrooms, sauteed them in some olive oil and butter with a shallot and minced garlic, added a little white wine and some pasta water, salt and pepper and that was it. But it still needed some umph, which is why I thought to add the ham. If I were making this vegetarian, I’d kick up the heat with more cracked black pepper.

I had only a couple of slices of prosciutto cotto in the fridge, which was plenty for just two people. Prosciutto cotto is a very delicate cooked ham and could be kind of hard to find depending on where you live. But you could substitute regular baked ham, or even prosciutto crudo if you like. Another option that would be delicious is to fry up a slice of pancetta or bacon and add that. There are lots of variations, but to me, turning out a tasty dish with what you’ve got on hand is important – not only because you don’t want to always be running to the store, but so that you learn to become resourceful and not waste anything either. It can lead to interesting combinations that you’d never have thought of otherwise.

I finished the dish off with a scattering of parsley and a dusting of freshly grated parmigiano cheese. Not bad for a quick meal, as my mother-in-law used to say.

For two people:

1/3 pound fusilli, or other pasta (or however much you eat)
about 3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. oil
2 T. butter
1/4 cup white wine
salt, pepper
2 slices prosciutto cotto, cut into bits
freshly grated parmesan cheese, to sprinkle on top
minced parsley

Get the water boiling and throw in the pasta.
Saute the shallot and garlic for a couple of minutes in the olive oil and butter, then add the mushrooms and saute until cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and cook for a few minutes on high heat to reduce a bit. Add a little pasta water too at this time, but only a few tablespoons or so. As you can see from the picture, this is not a dish that is swimming in sauce, but you should have enough for a light coating of liquid. Lower the heat to a slight simmer until the pasta is finished cooking.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the mushrooms, stirring around in the sauce to coat the pasta. Remove from the heat and put into a serving dish. Add the ham, top with parsley and parmesan cheese and serve.

Habemus Fungus

We grew these!
At home.
In a cardboard box.

Yes, that’s right, these delightful portobellos popped up as little brown buttons a few days ago and quickly er…… mushroomed to these large beauties in a couple of days.

I ordered the mushroom kit as a Christmas gift to my husband and another one for my father. There were quite a few companies selling the kits via the internet, but I ordered mine from a company in California. Email me if you want specifics.

I got the mushroom gift idea when we were traveling through the Italian Abruzzo countryside last fall. There we were on a country road, tootling along (is that a word?) when I see a sign with an arrow that says “Fungaia” (mushroom growing place).

“Stop the car,” I shout. “Let’s go find the mushrooms.” Always up for a new eating or gardening discovery, my husband quickly turns the car around. We end up a few minutes later at the fungaia – a quanset hut with a sign out front instructing visitors to ring the bell for assistance. Which we did. A few minutes later, a very handsome young Italian man appears to show us inside – a vast space filled with what look like bales of hay and two different types of mushrooms sprouting all over them. After a tour of the fungaia and a brief stop at the shop next door, we leave with a basketful of fresh oyster mushrooms (pleurotis), and a jar of mushrooms preserved in olive oil to take back to the U.S. Worth the detour, wouldn’t you say?

So back to the kit… A few days after Christmas my husband followed the easy directions that came with the box. Only a few simple instructions and we were off and waiting. We would have had our first crop earlier, if only we hadn’t initially stored the box in a place that was a little too cool.

Fast forward a few days to the dining room – a warmer climate than the guest room – when the little buttons appeared. A few days later and we were ready to harvest our first crop. Which is just what I did earlier this week. The mushrooms are supposed to keep producing with two very large crops and then a tapering off to smaller harvests. When all the nutrients are exhausted, the fungi stop doing their thing and go to mushroom heaven, or a compost pit in our case.

In the meantime, I’m going to have fun turning these into some delightful eats. Look for a recipe to follow. That is, if you can peel your eyes off this good-looking Italian dude who works at the fungaia.

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.