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Pear and Pecorino “Ravioli”

Many years ago, when my daughter was a student in Florence, Italy, she took us to a restaurant called “Quattro Leoni” where I first ate little bundles of pasta wrapped around pear and pecorino cheese. I’ve been wanting to make them at home for years and finally got around to trying, inspired by the restaurant in Florence.

I’ve got time on my hands these days, as many of you do, with so many people quarantined due to the Coronavirus outbreak. I hope and pray that the deaths around the world will soon taper off and stop, especially for Italy, where more people have died from the illness than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, stay indoors and keep “social distancing” when you need to go out. Wear a mask if you have one, even if it’s not an N-95. My brother-in-law, who is a leading aerosol scientist in the world and studies movements of aerosols (small airborne particles), says that spray droplets are huge and that almost any cloth should stop them effectively. If you must be in situations where you encounter people, breathe through a cloth covering of some sort. There are many links on Youtube showing how to sew your own mask like this one, even some that don’t require sewing, like this one.

A great stress reliever in these troubling times is pasta making. I won’t give a primer on how to make the pasta, but there are instructions in the recipe below and if you want more detail, click here on how to make homemade pasta. I used “OO” flour from Italy, or you could use a combination of semolina and all-purpose flour. In a pinch, all-purpose flour will do.

My version is slightly different from Quattro Leoni, in both the shape and the sauce. Their’s look more like little purses, but I decided to try shaping mine into these small bundles instead. And their sauce was made with taleggio cheese and asparagus – so delicious but I had neither in the house so used butter, sage and walnuts with a sprinkling of pecorino on top.

After you’ve kneaded the pasta dough, you need to let it rest a half hour, so take that time to make the filling. I used a mixture of pear, pecorino and ricotta cheese, with a little white pepper.

Mix it all together very well.

Dab a teaspoonful onto each 3″ x 3″ square. In the background, you can see I pieced together some strips of pasta so I could make continuous strips without having to knead the scraps back together and roll them out a second time. Each time you roll the pasta, it will get tougher, so try to avoid doing that. Just make sure you wet the edge of the strips so the pasta adheres. You don’t want it separating when you cook it in the boiling water.

To help you shape the pasta into the little bundles, I made this short video with instructions:

The recipe below makes enough for about 20-22 bundles, and I made small “quadretti” with the scraps, to use in some soup.

While the pasta is boiling, put together the sauce by melting some butter, adding sage and chopped walnuts.

Drain the pasta loosely, leaving a little water on each one as you place it directly into the pan. Add more butter and more of the pasta water if you want more sauce, but this was a rich dish and I didn’t feel the need for additional calories.

This serves two people generously as a main meal, and would even be enough for four if you’re serving it as a first course. But if you’re cooking for more people, you can easily double the recipe. Sprinkle grated pecorino on top and enjoy.

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Pear and Pecorino "Ravioli"
 
Author:
Serves: makes about 20-22 ravioli
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • FOR THE RAVIOLI STUFFING:
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 pear, cut into small dice
  • ¼ tsp. white pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • some fresh sage leaves
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • fresh pecorino cheese to grate on top
Instructions
  1. FOR THE PASTA:
  2. Put the flour into a food processor, along with the eggs and salt.
  3. Process it for a couple of minutes until the mixture comes together.
  4. If it's too sticky, add more flour. If it doesn't seem to adhere to itself, add a little water.
  5. Knead it on a board for a few minutes, then let it rest for ½ hour, covered.
  6. Roll out the dough, either by hand or in an electric pasta roller.
  7. Don't roll it to the thinnest setting though, or the filling might break through when you're handling it.
  8. Place the dough on a board and cut it into 3 inch squares.
  9. Patch some of the long pieces together so you don't waste the dough, or so that you don't have to re-roll and re-cut it.
  10. The more you handle the dough, the tougher it will get.
  11. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the center and press the edges together, as in the picture, until you have a square shape with the four points meeting at the top center.
  12. Boil gently in water until cooked, which may take 5-8 minutes.
  13. Make the sauce, adding butter to a pan until it melts, then add a few fresh sage leaves and the chopped walnuts.
  14. Remove the ravioli from the water with a strainer, but don't worry if some of the water adheres -- it will help with the sauce.
  15. Gently stir the ravioli in the sauce, tossing them to coat with the butter sauce.
  16. Remove to plates and sprinkle more pecorino cheese on top.
 

 

Pork Tenderloin with Stewed Dried Fruits

Still undecided about what to make as your main course this Easter? For us, it’s typically lamb, or sometimes ham, but if you want to try something different, yet festive, easy and delicious, then give this recipe a go. Roast pork and fruit are a delicious pairing and perfect for any holiday or special occasion. It won’t keep you from your guests for long, since it can be prepared ahead of time and takes only a half hour to cook. You can roast the meat while you’re sitting down to pre-dinner drinks with friends and family. Stew the fruit the night before to save time, but even this takes only 15 minutes. I bought an assortment of dried fruits – peaches, apples, pears, prunes and apricots, plus some orange and lemon peel – and covered them with boiling water, a bit of sugar and a cinnamon stick and whole cloves.

The fruit can sit in the fridge overnight, and you can reheat it at the last minute, while the meat is resting. After you slice the meat, arrange the fruit around the sides, and pour both the meat juices left in the roasting pan, and the fruit juices all over the meat.

Buon appetito e Buona Pasqua a tutti.

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Pork Tenderloin with Stewed Dried Fruits
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 1½ pounds each)
  • Dijon mustard
  • salt, pepper (or herbed salt)
  • herbs de Provence
  • about two cups of mixed dried fruits (apricots, prunes, apples, pears, peaches)
  • water, to cover
  • ½ cup sugar
  • a few strips of orange peel
  • a few strips of lemon peel
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • a couple of whole cloves
Instructions
  1. Bring the meat at room temperature and dry with paper towels.
  2. Smear a little olive oil on the bottom of a roasting pan.
  3. Place the meat on the pan and smear with a light coating of Dijon mustard.
  4. Season with salt and pepper (or herbed salt) and a light sprinkling of herbs de Provence.
  5. Place the meat in a 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until a meat thermometer reaches 140-145 degrees. (The temperature will continue to rise for a bit when you take it out of the oven.)
  6. Remove from the oven and let the meat rest for 10 minute, then slice.
  7. FOR THE STEWED DRIED FRUIT:
  8. Place the fruit in a saucepan with water to cover.
  9. Add the sugar, the citrus peels, the cinnamon and the cloves.
  10. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes or until fruit is softened.
  11. Remove the citrus peels, the cinnamon stick and the cloves.
  12. Remove from the heat, and serve along the sides of a serving platter with the sliced meat.
  13. Pour the juice from the fruits and any juice from the meat (on the carving board) over the sliced meat.
 

 

 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

 

I’ve made dozens and dozens of gingerbread cookies, and baked and decorated many gingerbread houses when my kids were little, but a gingerbread cake? Well, I’d never made one, and if truth be told, had never eaten a slice of one until a few years ago. It wasn’t a flavor that I’d grown up with or ever had the yen to seek out on my own. But I have to say, I was a convert after tasting that first slice of gingerbread cake a few years ago at the house of friends.

Those same friends who served the gingerbread cake – Jan and Dave – also send us a box of Harry & David pears each Christmas. Last year, I made an upside down pear walnut cake with some of them last year here. We loved the nuttiness of this cake, but I wanted to try something different this year.

Eureka! I found a cake recipe combining gingerbread with pears in an upside down cake crowned with a luscious caramel-y top. It turns out pears and gingerbread were made to party together!

Although I’ve made many upside down cakes, with fruits of all kinds, most of them (not the walnut cake) have a basic white or yellow cake batter as the base. Like the walnut cake though, this gingerbread cake recipe is a welcome change from the standard upside down cake batter.  Lay the pear slices in a cast iron skillet (or a 9″ cake pan) and pour the brown sugar/butter mixture on top.

Then make the batter, which is very dark since it contains molasses and many spices.

It comes out of the oven looking like this. Run a butterknife around the edge, then using two pot holders, place a large platter (a wider diameter than the pan) over the cake and flip it over. Careful, don’t burn yourself on the pan or the hot syrup.

Top it with whipped cream or ice cream. Of course, the topping is not strictly necessary, but the coolness of the cream with the spiciness of the cake is divine. Besides, what are a few more calories when bathing suit weather is still months away?

This cake is best eaten warm from the oven, but it tastes delicious the next day too. Unlike most white or yellow upside down cakes, whose texture get denser the next day, this gingerbread cake maintains its tender crumb and moist texture even a few days after baking. The pears and the brown sugar topping do soften somewhat if you don’t eat it all the day it’s baked, however. It serves at least eight people, so plan on taking some to a neighbor as I did, or invite some friends in for coffee and cake.

 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
moist and flavorful upside down pear gingerbread cake
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
Serves: 9-12 servings
Ingredients
  • TOPPING:
  • 4 firm medium pears
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • GINGERBREAD CAKE:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1½ tsps. ground ginger
  • 1⅓ tsps. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup unsulphured or dark molasses
  • ¾ cup hot water
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ⅓ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • whipped cream, to serve (optional)
Instructions
  1. Prepare the topping: Lightly grease a 9" square or round baking pan (I used a cast iron skillet).
  2. Peel, core and slice pears into thick slices.
  3. Tightly layer the pears in the prepared pan. Set aside.
  4. Whisking constantly, heat the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Once butter has melted, vigorously whisk to ensure the butter is not separating from the brown sugar.
  6. Once it comes together, pour evenly over pears.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. MAKE THE CAKE:
  9. Whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and slat together.
  10. Set aside.
  11. Whisk the molasses and hot water together. Set aside.
  12. Beat the butter and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  13. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  14. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 1 minute.
  15. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.
  16. Turn the mixer off and add the dry ingredients and molasses/water.
  17. Turn the mixer on low and mix just until combined.
  18. The batter will be a little thick.
  19. Carefully pour/spread batter on top of pears.
  20. Bake for around 35-45 minutes or until the cake is baked through (I put a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil on the rack below the cake to catch any butter/brown sugar that might spill out).
  21. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake.
  22. If it comes out clean, it's done.
  23. If you notice the edges or top browning too quickly, tent the cake with aluminum foil.
  24. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate
  25. Best served warm.
 

Pear Apple Crostata

Pear Apple Crostata

Last week I promised you this recipe, courtesy of my friend Jan who brought it for dessert recently following our dinner of stuffed shells. It was warm and beautiful. I wish I had thought to take a photo of the entire thing before we sliced into it, but one can only resist so much temptation. You can call it a galette, a croustade, a crostata or even an open-face pie. But whatever you call it, call it fantastic.

Jan used dried cranberries and dried cherries, but if you don’t have both, you can substitute more of one or the other. Eat this warm topped with a scoop of ice cream, and it could become your go-to dessert.

pastry crust:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel (maybe even a little bit more, but not a tablespoonful)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter cut cross-wise in 1/2 inch slices
1/4 cup or more heavy cream

Whisk flour, sugar, lemon peel, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter; using pastry cutter, blend butter with flour mixture until coarse meal forms. Drizzle 1/4 cream over; toss with fork until moist clumps form adding more cream by teaspoonfuls as needed if dry. I added 2 more teaspoons. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. You may do this a day ahead. In that case, let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling out.

Filling:
5 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, peeled cored, and thinly sliced
1 large granny smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2-3 tablespoons dried cherries
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons (maybe a bit more) finely grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground nutmeg
heavy cream for brushing
sliced almonds for edge

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix all fruit, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon peel, and nutmeg in a large bowl to coat. (I whisked together the sugar, flour, lemon peel and nutmeg before adding the juice or the fruit.)
Roll out pastry on sheet of floured parchment paper to 14inch round, Transfer crust on parchment paper to baking sheet. Mound fruit in center of pastry, leaving a 2 inch border all around. Fold pastry border over fruit, crimping slightly. Brush edges with cream and gently press on sliced almonds.

Bake until filling bubbles and almonds are lightly toasted, about 1 hour. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream if desired.

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