Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Buon Natale

I couldn't let it pass and the day's not over. My sister and I created some of the traditional foods of our childhood Christmas. Waves of Christmastide have swept over us all day. The days of the 14 courses and ten-hour Christmas meals. If we're lucky, there's love in our live. Furry, human, nature, spiritual, angelic....

We hold on to some of the old and embrace the new - because life evolves. Traditions are both maintained and newly created. I hope this frazzled season brings you peace, merriment and joy. (And maybe some lasagne and a cannoli.)

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


I always think my anniversary is May 25th. The wedding was May 24th but that was the dice throw - not the destination. Everyday would begin May 25th. And the destination was life.

It was "everyday" with Paul that I craved. The errands, the cleaning, the planning, the joining, the yearning and the growing.

It isn't everyday that the azaleas are in bloom - but it's part of an everyday.

Everyday is writing or avoiding writing (rubbing cat tummies and deciding where I'd go in my time machine - I have a stellar talent for avoidance.)

It's something like this tilapia  (fish roll-up stuffed with shredded carrots) from Proud Italian Cook.

It's a simple fish roll-up. The fish is spread with pesto and then dimpled with shredded carrots. Add a little bread crumb topping, put in oven and the heat works it magic - and dinner is grand. Find Marie's recipe here.

The rhubarb is up and in Minnesota you learn to love rhubarb - because it's the first thing to make an appearance. It's even abundant along the highways. (Highways! Come on, that's everyday.)   

And because my daughter knows her mother, I am in possession of a lovely book Edible Twin Cities. Paul has already made the requisite strawberry rhubarb pie and there will be many more of those pies during the summer. But I was attracted to this - because it was a wee bit different - a rhubarb meringue pie. It's an old family recipe from the President of the St. Paul's Farmer's Market. The St. Paul Farmer's Market is a true local, farmers market. Everything must be local. Everything. You cannot get early Iowa corn - you must wait for Minnesota (and some of Wisconsin). Unlike the Minneapolis Farmer's Market where you can get bananas and citrus fruit - you cannot get that in the St, Paul market - it must grow within a certain radius of the cities or is ineligible.

The sweet meringue is a perfect foil the rhubarb. Dig down and the sweet tart taste is a wake-up call. And when it's enveloped in all that lovely meringue, it's welcome.

It's not remotely Italian of course. Let's just say it's in the spirit of the Italian tradition: fresh, local, garden-to-table. My grandfather Egidio who was an avid gardener would understand.

Everyday is Luce.

Lately everyday has been turkeys in the yard ... and ducks.

And lately - a fox! (Better watch out duckies!)

And now every day is this:

Part of the MN Fringe Festival. My everydays are better when focused on a show. The website info is here. And after last year's show about coping with grief, a zany, pasta show is in order! (And for chronic readers, an excerpt is here.)

There was another interview: "I Interview Playwrights."  (That would be me.)

And another showcase. Tease.

And - a lot of thinking. About the blog. I am at a loss without google reader and know there are other avenues to explore. But no time to go exploring. Everyday. It's crammed. It's sweet. The La Dolce Vita fairy has visited me. But it's packed.

And I am thinking about my focus with the blog - unlike with a play - do I even have a focus? I have no money/book deal/food writer aspirations. I don't want that. I love my work. And I do want that. For me, this has always been about community. But I think and ponder and obsess. "To blog or not to blog, that is the question?" But I'm not Hamlet and I'm not asking the audience. I'm everyday-Claudia and every-day Claudia needs to focus.  

And rub cat tummies.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Blossoms and Orange Olive Oil Cake

Tree blossoms. The yards are blanketed in them.


And the rhododendrons - they are late coming to spring's party - but they are here. They're pretty fleeting. One swirl of the Minnesota winds and they scatter. But everything is fleeting, isn't it? The days I thought I would never be able to walk through my home without stepping on a lego or a miniature racing car - are gone. A blip in our history.

And now one of the culprits of my "toy-carpeted home" is in China - for his work in plant pathology.. And his partner in crime is getting ready to go to Mexico - for her work in audiology. I received an e-mail from China today:

"I tried duck blood soup because I am adventurous. It was pretty good! And I took a photo because I am my mother's son."
I saved the photo. Yeah - I saved the entire e-mail. We scatter. But we don't go as far as we think.

I could make an analogy about cake - you bake it and it's fleeting. It's true but not important. What's important is you bake it and you savor. And if you're kind you share.

And if you're smart - you'll make this - for a homecoming, for a picnic or just because it's Thursday. Which is partly why I made it. It was Thursday and the day called for cake. Husband-person was working late again and I got it in my head that he needed to come home to cake. And so he did. And a good one. Just sweet enough (because I am not saccharine - just sweet enough).

I love how olive oil cakes crust on the top and then give way to delicate, melty crumbs. Yin and yang, crunch and smooth, yesterday and today. If I add some Orange Blossom Water - I could declare this an Orange Blossom Cake!

Orange Olive Oil Cake
from the blog: Where Women Cook

Nonstick spray with flour
4-5 naval oranges (or shhh ...1-1/2 cups orange juice) - 3 zested and 4-5 juiced
3-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-3/4 teaspoons - Kosher salt (or shhh ... table salt)
5 large eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil
confectioner's sugar for dusting (I didn't dust - I frequently don't dust)

Position rack in middle of oven. Remove upper rack. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan or tube pan with spray. Really coat it! Don't be shy. This is a sticky batter.

Zest 3 oranges. Squeeze the juice of 4 oranges. If you don't have 1-1/2 cups of orange juice, juice another one. (Or shhh ... add orange juice).

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl (and set aside).

In the bowl of a stand mixer (use paddle attachment) or with a handheld mixer and a la-r-g-e bowl, beat the eggs for one minute.

With mixer on, slowly pour in sugar and beat until well-combined - about 3 minutes. You should have thick, pale yellow ribbons.

On low speed, alternate adding the flour and the olive oil - starting and ending with the flour.

Pour in orange juice and zest and beat until well combined - just 10-15 seconds really.

Pour into prepared pan and cook for 1 to 1-1/4 hours - until a tester comes out almost dry - a few moist crumbs are fine. Mine took 65 minutes. If the top is browning too much, cover with a little foil. Mine did brown a lot. I didn't cover it - I like it. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes. Turn the pan upside down and flip and cool on rack. You can cool over night - just cover and let it sit. We ate it after 45 minutes!

Before serving dust with confectioner's sugar. Or not.

This would also be good with berries and cream. Or orange curd. Or lemon curd. Or tangerines... or - yes oranges.

Or toasted the next day for breakfast. Or dolloped with creme fraiche... it's a canvas. And it's pretty tasty on its own.

I am learning the secret of cooking with Luce. He passes out fifteen minutes after eating.

That's when you do your prep.

Or you open a window.

And let him sit.

I still don't have the secret as to how to let a pie cool without a paw indentation in it (yes - it's covered with something).  I really need kryptonite to cover my food. And that photo above is apropos of nothing. I just love those double-jointed back legs! I hope they're not fleeting.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Artichokes with Gorgonzola and Herbs

During the second snowfall in May, I looked at my sister and announced, "I'm going to Bachman's, want to come?" It's a huge floral/garden shop in Minnesota. And it's beautiful. And so we went. And spent almost 3 hours inspecting every orchid, seed, hanging baskets, fairy gardens and flower bouquets. It was time well spent.

And we spent a little money. We walked away with a wine/cheese pairing book. And put it to work. A new goat cheese, an aged goat cheese, Marcona almonds and quince paste. And a fine Sauvignon Blanc. That made it onto the patio a few days later. When it didn't snow and spring arrived - maybe to stay.

That was a well-earned glass of wine. And a mighty fine pairing. I heartily recommend it for whatever ails you. And when spring came, it was much the sweeter for the suffering! I love how the wealth of cheeses in Minnesota has soared. (But of course I am part mouse.)

During the last sleet/snow/rain, Sangria artichokes appeared in the stores. We've been eating our share of asparagus - keeping spring in the kitchen. And now it was time for artichokes. Baked artichokes with herbs and Gorgonzola to be exact. It was worth the wait.

This is from Food Network. I changed a few things but the original recipe is here.

Artichokes with Herbs and Gorgonzola - serves 4
4 artichokes
2 lemons
8-10 ounces Gorgonzola dolce (a sweeter, younger Gorgonzola - it melts beautifully)
4 tablespoons fresh thyme
4 tablespoons fresh parsley plus one tablespoon fresh parsley
3 cloves of garlic - minced
fresh ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Panko Breadcrumbs
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Artichoke with Herbs and Gorgonzola Preparation
Cut stems of artichokes so they can sit upright in a pan.Peel off outer leaves on bottom of artichoke. Trim away the top of the leaves - all those pricklies. And cut the tops of with a sharp knife. Dig into the middle and dig out the choke. You're going to replace the choke with the Gorgonzola mixture.

Fill a pan with water and squeeze in the juice of two lemons and then throw in the lemons. Bring the water to a boil and put the artichokes in the pan and simmer for 25 minutes. Drain and cool. While the artichoke is boiling, you can make the Gorgonzola filling and the breadcrumb topping.

*Bear in mind, you have time before you bake the artichokes - you can let let them rest for at least an hour.

In one small bowl mash the Gorgonzola, thyme, parsley, garlic and pepper. In another bowl mix the bread crumbs and parsley.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Dividing the cheese mixture into fourths, fill the cavity of the artichoke with the Gorgonzola filling. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 25 minutes (mine were done earlier.) Serve. Eat. Savor. It's spring.

When I took it out of the pan, the artichoke leaves parted and it just looked like a spring blossom to me. And that's what it's about in May, isn't it?

There's something appropriate about this recipe - artichokes/spring/sweet/tart/creamy/fresh. The dish delivers all of that. And so it was savored.

The windows are open. There is a cat in every open window. And wine to be drunk on the patio. We try to save the wine corks to put back in the bottle for later.

Except when we come back in, there's not a cork to be found. (Unless you check under the stove and china cabinet where you can also find many pens, nail files, "fake" mice (I hope), and the occasional; cell phone.)

He looks so innocent.

If you're going to sit out on the patio without cat, the cat will be busy. These days Luce runs around with a long stick that has a longer string that has a mouse attached to it. As he runs, Pippin chases. It seems Luce has figured out how to do our job of dangling cat toys. That works.

As you know, in my other life - I write plays for young audiences. The winter was good for output and I have found myself writing sweet, gentle plays this year. A lot of my smart-alecky self seems to have gone away for a while (I expect it will return). The local White Bear Lake magazine did an article about me. It's shameless self-promotion I know. And Luce finds the magazines very good - for sleeping on. But if you care to take a peek into my other life, here it is.

I smiled at the headline. No, I'm not "the Bard." Yes, I am smitten with my work. And spring. And Luce. And artichokes. And wine with corks. That go back into the wine and don't court dust under the stove.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tilapia with farro, black rice, spinach and tangerines

There was a time (and what a time it was) ... the fridge was so covered with photos, art, coupons, school work and miscellaneous paper remnants - that finding the actual fridge was looking for Waldo. The dining room table housed pennies, cleaning solutions, cotton... pieces of sciences projects in various stages of analysis. Dinner was 1/3 protein, 1/3 vegetable, 1/3 carb. I had speed dinners down to a science.  We ate in the kitchen because to unpile the dining room table one needed to plan ahead and hire a crane.

It didn't snow in May.

Life shifted and a few years ago the dining room table became a table for dining (and we pile up the kitchen table with computers and fruit). Dinner is 2/3 vegetables, a lean protein and a bit of carbs (except on pasta nights - all bets are off).

And it snowed in May.

Life shifts and what I would have made for a growing family of 4 is not what I make today. (Unless the family of 4 is home with requests.)

I saw this Sea Bass with Tangerine Sauce and it suited my "bring spring into the kitchen because it's not happening outside" mood. Even with the rice and farro, there is a transitional lightness of being that suits our winter-in-spring. I changed the fish, changed the amounts and made a dinner for 8 into a dinner for two.

And it was lovely. And spring. And balanced. The original recipe from Zen Can Cook can be found here. It's a beauty. Flaky white fish studded with tangerine zest and thyme. It sits on a nutty bed of black rice and farro. Which sits on a bed of spinach. Adding color and spring. Halfway through dinner, husband looked up and said, "You can make this again." And then he went back to eating. And I shall make it again. Even though it uses every pot in the house. It's the different textures - from flaky to chewy to crunch to mellow. And then there's that bright sauce - sweet and tart - the tangerine sauce ties it all up in a citrus bow.

Black rice can be found in specialty Oriental and Italian groceries. I actually had some from a lovely meeting with Ciao Chow Linda last March in NYC where we dared to go into Eataly. (It's ... busy).

Tilapia with Farro, Black Rice, Spinach and Tangerines - 2 servings

2 boneless tilapia fillets (You judge - you might want more or less depending on individual taste)
2 tangeringes - zested and juiced (save some segments) - in hindsight - I'd another 1 or 2  for the sauce
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (I used more)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 chopped white onion
1/4 cup farro
1/4 cup white wine
1-1/4 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1/4 cup black rice
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces baby spinach
salt and pepper

FISH: Zest and juice your tangerines. Set aside the juice. Cover tilapia with tangerine zest and thyme. Put in a covered bowl and let rest in the fridge for 4 hours (I did 2 hours) or overnight.

To cook: After cooking the farro and rice, cook the fish - it comes together fast. Salt and pepper the fish. Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil on medium-high heat in medium skillet. Add fish and cook 3-4 minutes per side (adjust to your thickness). Keep in warm oven or on a warm plate.

Wipe out skillet. Add tangerine juice and sugar. Stir. Cook till reduced by 1/2. (This happens very fast!) Add butter. Stir. Finished.

FARRO: In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium-high. Add onion and saute 3-4 minutes till softened. Add farro and stir. Add wine and cook till most of it is gone. Add water. When it comes to a boil, cover and cook on low for 40 minutes or until water is gone and farro is soft and just a bit chewy. (Mine took 50 minutes.)

RICE: Basically the same thing. In (yes, another) medium sauce pan, heat olive oil. Add onion and cook till softened. Add rice and stir. Add wine and cook till almost gone. Add water, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook for 40 minutes or so - until rice is tender and water is gone. (This also took me 50 minutes.)

In skillet that had fish, add a drop of olive oil. Add spinach. Salt and pepper. Cook until just wilted.

Combine farro and rice in one point. Salt and pepper to taste.

To plate: But down a bed of spinach, then the farro-rice combination. Top with the tilapia and drizzle with the juice.

I bought my first cookbook - in 16 months. (I am trying to curb my addiction.) Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. I know a lot of you know it - and I must say I am smitten. I will be seasonally cooking my way through it.

I am looking for others - vegetable-centric cookbooks for the coming months (the fields won't be covered with snow forever.... she says optimistically). If you have any suggestions... I am looking at Fresh and Natural Every Day, Smitten Kitchen, Jerusalem... mainly not Italian because - I need to sneak those into the house. Nobody here thinks I need another Italian cookbook.
Oh! That kitchen table piled with our computers and fruit - I should have mentioned that there is also a kitten. Watching my every stir. Look at those back paws! What class! Luce must be double-jointed.

Kirsten has a new kitten in her kitchen. She and Devon brought home a rescue cat. More than the ring, more than the search for a wedding venue - I think the adoption of a kitten is a sign of their commitment. Luna - because she is many colors of the night.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Parmesan Souffle in Narnia

A Parmesan Souffle - it's been on my agenda all winter and since winter is still here - there's no time like the present to make it. It's official. The Winter Witch rules and we live in Narnia - waiting for Aslan to help us. The fishing opener is less than three weeks away and it doesn't look like there will be ice-out on any of the 10,000 lakes soon. Minnesotans are trying to hold on to their sense of humor - calling it the "ice fishing" opener. I foresee a whole lot of people in Bermuda shorts and snowmobile boots out on the lakes with axes trying to clear a path for their boats.  

I'm not a fussy cook and this is really a no-fuss souffle. Five ingredients (yeah ... a bunch of bowls) but a ten-minute prep time and flawless results. (Just get those souffles to the table ASAP - they do deflate - you have less than a minute of "ooh and ahh.")

The original recipe makes one huge souffle or six small ones. I made three, but will give you the recipe for six. Do bake them in 8-ounce ramekins. Making a large one could be tricky - but the smaller ones are fast and puffy! The recipe is from Food Network. Find the original recipe (with hints and tips) here.

Ingredients (for six 8 ounce Parmesan Cheese Souffles)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter - plus more for greasing ramekins
3/4 cup grated Parmesan (you can use a wee bit more) plus more for coating ramekins
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (I didn't use salt - the Parm has enough salt for me)
6 eggs - separated

Parmesan Souffle Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter six 8-ounce ramekins and coat with Parmesan. Tap out excess. Set aside. Grate Parmesan. Separate eggs.

Heat milk over low heat in a small sauce pan. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and flour and stir for two minutes to "cook the flour." Whisk in the hot milk, bring to a boil and then to a simmer. Take pot off heat, add the grated cheese, salt and pepper to taste and then set in a bowl to cool.

In a mixer, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Whisk egg yolks into cooled cheese-bechamel mixture. Add 1/3 of egg whites - fold in to lighten mixture. Slowly add  rest of egg whites. Divide into 6 ramekins. Bake 15 minutes until top is golden and souffles puff up. The middle may jiggle a bit.

Ironic that as I wait for spring, I concoct something fluffy and white. It's rich and while it is a winter balm - all comfort and warmth - the puffy lightness is a prelude to spring.

I may moan about the winter (because - I am good at it!) but you must also know - I thank my lucky stars that I can make a souffle, get up in the morning to work and "while away" the hours with loved ones and all of you. My heart - like everyone else's - has been in Boston all week. I am a huge fan of the city, the state and a great lover of the Boston Marathon.

Today, I minced apples to deliver to the robins. Worms are scarce and flocks of robins are in the crab-apple tree searching for last year's fruit. As I walked into the snow edging past  covered flower beds - I saw a tulip emerging in the new snow.  There are some things you can't keep down.

And then I came inside to the Jester of White Bear Lake. Who needed a purr and tummy rub. It's the "little things," you know? The "little things" that bring the good things.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grape Focaccia, Gorgonzola Popped-Over Popovers and Snow

I've been cooking. A lot. But Saturday when I woke up to a fresh coat of snow and sleet for the 8th day in a row and realized the date in Minnesota was February 73, 2013, I went on strike. Well, I had a meltdown - because Minnesota isn't melting down any time soon.

"I'm having chocolate for dinner," I announced. And did. Of course I had something else with it. I also had Camembert.

This Grape Focaccia Bread is billed as a flatbread. It's more a combination of cracker bread on the outside and a flatbread texture in the middle. It's meant to be eaten as a snack as opposed to a side for a dinner. It's actually said to be a taste-treat made up for those who harvested the grapes for wine. I will attest - it's a fine snack for the spring-less soul.   And for those who crave a little wine with their snow.

What I did love - was the hint of sweetness without it being sweet (I'll save my sweet tooth for chocolate dinners, thank-you.) I also liked that it was easy. I have a short fuse these days and am not above throwing dough against walls if it frustrates me.

Focaccia with Grapes (Schiacciata con L'uva) - 1 large flatbread; about 24 servings
(The recipe is from Epicurious - I changed a little and will let you know along the way)

1 package active dry yeast (or 2-1/2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons Chianti or another dry red wine
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
2-1/2 -3 cups Italian "oo" flour or a half-and-half mixture of all purpose flour with cake flour
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3-1/2 cups Concord or champagne grapes (I used a little less of regular globe red grapes because I had them and it was snowing and I wasn't going out and the stores don't have the other grapes now anyway - yes the juice in the grapes will seep. So what? If using grapes with pits, don't pit. Warn your guests. (I'd still pit - yes, the juice would seep, etc.)
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup)
I also sprinkled with dried thyme and if it wasn't snowing, I would have gotten fresh thyme

Stir together yeast, wine, honey and water until yeast is dissolved.*

*I stirred together the wine, honey and water and sprinkled the yeast on top - not having the yeast touch the honey until later. Let sit for ten minutes while the yeast becomes bubbly (about ten minutes). Then, stir in 1 cup of the flour and mix. Mixture will be lumpy. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel and let sit in a warm corner until doubled in size (about 50 minutes) and - in retrospect - I should have oiled the bowl a bit.)

Add oil, flour and salt and stir until a sticky dough forms. Put it out on a lightly-floured surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes until shiny and elastic. You can add up to an extra 1/2 cup of flour if dough is too wet. Put in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and dish towel and let sit until doubled in size - about an hour

Oil a baking pan (about 10x15x1 inch).

Turn out dough on work surface and and knead gently to reduce the air in the dough. Divide dough in half and roll out first half into a rectangle (about 10x15 inches to fit the pan - don't go nuts measuring - just stretch it as best you can. This is rustic.). Put in prepared pan.

Scatter half the grapes over the dough (gently press grapes into the dough) and then half the sugar over the grapes. (Again, I did not use 1/2 cup sugar and what I did do was mix the sugar in with grapes and then scattered them.) I then scattered some dried thyme.

Repeat. Lay the second dough over the first dough - stretching as much as possible to make the rectangles even. Scatter your grapes and sugar. Press grapes gently. Add a little thyme. Cover and let rise in a warm area until doubled in bulk - about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake 40-50 minutes - until the bread is well-browned and the middle is firm. Cool a bit. Slide off pan and cut into squares. Can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

The edges were more like a cracker bread and the inside was a lovely soft dough. I love the oozing of the grape juice. A little wine-spill on your bread! My two doughs did meld together for 3/4 of the bread - but in the last 1/4 - it seemed to be 2 separately cooked doughs on top of each other. But the dough had a mellow sweetness and the grapes gave bursts of wine-sugar that was most satisfying. Especially when it is sleeting.

And from Williams-Sonoma - a tiny taste treat. My sister made this during today's daily sleet. After this week, don't be surprised if you see us on street corners trying to give away baked goods.

Tiny Gorgonzola Popovers - makes 24  (they popped and went over - but everyone ate them - including Luce - don't write me letters - he's a fast, dexterous little fellow  Think of a squirrel with a nut - that's Luce with a popover.)

Vegetable oil, for brushing
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon Italian parsley - minced (go for broke and use more - other herbs such as chives and thyme would also work)
1-1/4 cups milk at room temperature
2 eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces Gorgonzola or other crumbly strong blue cheese - crumbled (use more).

Preheat oven to 450 Degrees F. Generously brush (really generously) 2 12-cup, non-stick mini muffin tins or popover tins.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, salt, white pepper and parsley. In  a large measuring pitcher, whisk together, milk, eggs and melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk together till just combined (may be a bit lumpy). Pour batter (or spoon it) into popover/muffin tin - leaving a 1/4 inch rim (so about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the batter in each). Put a scant teaspoon of the crumbled Gorgonzola into the middle of each of the filled tins (go for broke and use more). Bake for ten minutes (do not open door!). Lower oven temp to 350 degrees F and bake until browned, a wee bit crusty and puffed - about 8-10 minutes longer. Remove from oven, transfer popovers to a napkin lined-bowl. Serve at once or let cool on wire racks and serve at room temperature. Or - let sit on cooling racks for up to 2 hours and reheat in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.

They did deflate immediately - which we are trying to rectify - did we take them out too soon? No matter - they are a savory, creamy addition to a Sleety-Snowy-Sunday. We ate six each before anyone came home. No regrets. And no one knew exactly how many we made...

While Luce has proven himself to be an adept food thief - he does try to help with the dishes.

And then when your back is turned -

He's in the caviar.

But that's another blog post.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tagliatelle with Black Truffles

The first time I had a truly fresh black truffle was in Perugia. Spaghetti with black truffles.

That was 19 months, 2 weeks and 2 days ago.

But who's counting?

It was our second to last meal in Italy. I hesitate to count the last one at the hotel by the airport...

If you swim in an ocean, waves of salt water filled your senses. The fresh salty air stays with you long after you've left the beach. And that's what having a fresh black truffle is like. Only, it's waves of the earth that rock you.

Musty, sensual ... downright sexy. They may be homely little creatures, but don't judge. These little black truffles flirt and charm and finally seduce.

After a snowy winter with cold temps below the usual frigid temperatures, I was not enamored of the outdoors. And so put nose-to-grindstone. And just wrote. With amazingly good results. My quirky And the Universe Didn't Blink was chosen as part of a Playwright's Tease evening in the Twin Cities - introducing Twin Cities playwrights to Twin Cities theatres (what a novel idea!). La Bella Cinderella won a playwrighting contest and will be touring the Prince George County Parks in Maryland this summer and Cap o' Rushes won another playwrighting contest and will be part of East Valley Children's Theatre season next year. (And I get to go to Arizona in the dead of the next Minnesota winter!) Heady stuff! Hence: the black truffle. I won't kid you - it's an investment.

The upside of using truffles is the recipes are just plain easy. The truffle does all the work - just by being.

Before cooking, I put Luce in jail.

Because he gets into things.

This is from Mary Ann Esposito's Ciao Italia in Umbria. Aside from changing the shape of the pasta, I kept the recipe as is. I thought the truffles would stick better to the tagliatelle than the spaghetti. When you invest in a truffle - you don't waste.

You just boil your pasta and then stick it in a skillet and you're done. My kind of recipe.

Tagliatelle with Black Truffles (Tagliatelle ai Tartufi Neri)
2 fresh black truffles (1/3-1/2 ounce); can also use canned - don't shudder
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used a little less)
1 pound tagliatelle (or spaghetti or bucatini or fettuccine...)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pasta water
Grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese for passing
*I also used some black pepper (In Perugia - they also added Italian parsley and some chili pepper flakes)

I just wanted the truffle! So I left it plain.

The night before or the morning before:
Clean truffles gently. Then: slice thin or grate or shred or peel the truffles and put them in a shallow bowl. Pour some extra-virgin olive oil over them and let them sit overnight or all day covered with plastic wrap - at room temperature.

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil from the truffles in a large skillet. (I didn't - I used fresh olive oil - I didn't have enough extra oil - the mushrooms soaked them up - so maybe be very generous when pouring your olive oil over the sliced truffles).

Cook the garlic very gently in the olive oil. (I warmed them for awhile and kept the heat on low heat).

Turn off heat and add the rest of the olive oil and the truffles.

Drain the spaghetti reserving 2 tablespoons of the pasta water. (I used less olive oil and more pasta water.)

Add the drained pasta and pasta water to skillet. I added some black pepper. Toss. Again and again. Serve, passing cheese separately.

I've spent 18 months pondering the life of our universe - how a young girl might be comforted by the loss of a loved one if she understood how connected we all are to each other through it's presence. The truffle may not connect me to the universe but it does give you the earth. The beauty of it - is its taste is the song of the earth. I will be investing (without taking out a second mortgage) in the Oregon truffles - they don't travel as much and may be just fine for my needs. And I will be trying the jarred ones.

My truffle came from Urbani in New York City via Italy. It was quite good - but not as perfumed as the one in Perugia. Traveling does that to a mushroom. But no regrets - it capped a Siberian winter and welcomed spring. (I think it's coming - the ducks are back - looking at the frozen lakes and no doubt quacking expletives.)

Still pondering a blog for Luce - or a picture book. Wonder at the wisdom of giving him such an elegant name.

Secretly he's a Guido.