Friday, March 29, 2013

An Italian Easter

Grandma never wrote down a recipe. And my mother only wrote down the recipes she didn't know by heart. (She would just rattle off instructions to you.) Over the years, I have reached back to the foods of my childhood holidays through blogs. Below is a feast of breads, pies and Italian tradition. I hope you visit. And Savor. And cook. Enjoy

Tradition. It's how we reach out to the past and connect and visit. It's how people are remembered with love. On the night before Easter, my mother traditionally made calzones: sausage and cheese calzones, meatballs calzones, ricotta and spinach calzones. Why we dined on rich meats and cheeses tucked away in bread on the night before the all-day feast brings a smile and a shake of the head. Wouldn't be wiser to have salad-shakes all day? Maybe. But that wouldn't be Italian.

I changed things up a bit. So the night before Easter I typically made Pizza Rustica. I lightened it with a lot of spinach and roasted red peppers. But cheese is cheese and Italian cured meats are not for people who live with a skinny barometer. It's rich. It keeps. And slices are served for days. Because one slice is enough. For now.

For those not scared of a rich array of meats and cheeses for a spring meal, find the recipe here.
Pizza Rustica

A gorgeous egg-filled, sausage-stuffed, cheese (tuma) Easter bread comes from Proud Italian Cook. Richness soars to new heights.
Easter Bread

Frank from Memorie di Angelina has a meat-centric gorgeous Neopolitan Easter Pie (more like a meat cake). Find it here:
Neopolitan Easter Pie

I hope you try some of these out and throw caution to the wind during Easter week

And then there is the Neopolitan Wheat Pie.

Heavy cans of cooked wheat. That's my memory of trips to New York. Lugging back cans of cooked wheat.

"Bring back wheat for the pastiera," said my mother. And whoever went to New York did. I used to get them at the old Balducci's (sadly the new Balducci's doesn't carry them.) They were always down under some heavy shelving, piled with dust. And somewhere in the last 2 years, my mother scored some dried grain and kept it in her freezer. I am using the last of the grain for the pie this Easter.

My Midwestern family does not love this. Maybe you need an Italian gene - but my children believe it wouldn't be Easter without it. In fact, when I host Easter, my daughter hides the wheat pie until after our Midwestern loved ones left.

"They don't appreciate it," she declares helping herself to a big slice. Creamy ricotta, wheat (or farro or wheat berries) cooked in sugar and cream, dotted with chocolate chips and sprinkles.... really, what's not to like?

Find my recipe here:
Neopolitan Wheat Pie

Another take on this Easter pie can be found at Ciao Chow Linda's. She also gives a bit of its history and some winning step-by-step instructions. (Plus: she uses mascarpone which really makes this wickedly wonderful.)
Ciao Chow Linda's Neopolitan Wheat Pie

Linda also has a savory braided Easter bread reminiscent of some of my grandmother's breads. And it's a beauty. Centerpiece beautiful. It's here:
Braided Easter Bread
Salami... olives ... cheese ... oh my.

And for those who are not sure about cooked wheat in a sweet pie, Mary from One Perfect Bite has an Easter pie made with rice. Sweet, creamy and spring. It's here:
Easter Pie

A beautiful eggy traditional bread can be found at Claudia's What's Cookin' Italian Style. Permeated with anisette, it's a beautiful start to your Easter. Find it here:
Grandma's Easter Bread

Amid jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, the Easter Bunny brings torrone. Nougat/almond/ hard and then melt-in-your-mouth - it's hard to come by in the Midwest. (Which is why the Easter Bunny brings it.) A luscious rendering of this famous Italian treat can be found on Mister Meatball's blog. It isn't a feast day without torrone.
Mister Meatball's Torrone

The outside is not Easter although we've been treated to gorgeous sunsets. I expect the Easter Bunny to arrive on skis.

But spring is on the table - and occasionally nibbled by Murray.

I'm learning to bake when Luce is asleep. And wondering at the wisdom of dyeing Easter eggs with a kitten who loves liquids. (Tie-dyed kitten paws?)

Who knows? Luce may wind up with his own blog.
Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Out of an Orange Colored Sky...

Flash! Bam! Alakazam ... wonderful you came by.

That's how I feel about oranges in the winter. They brighten. Heighten - taste, sun, sweetness, tang. Alakazam! That's especially how I feel about orange sweets! Wham! Bam! I am obsessed with finding a recipe for these orange crisps that I had at the Forno Campo de'Fiori in Rome. We stumbled on the small bakery and somehow I managed to "stumble" upon that bakery every afternoon when we were in Rome. Serendipity?

I haven't found the right "orange crisp" recipe. But I have been devouring orange treats. I am calling it research. And much tastier research than the year I have spent seeking information on the North Pole and Siberia. Given the arctic winter* here - I probably would have been better researching the tropics.

*Note: In the last two days it was warmer in Siberia than in Minnesota. I researched.

I found this Sicilian Orange Cake from Mary One Perfect Bite blog. It's sort of an orange sponge cake. Just sweet enough. More importantly, it is citrusy enough. Bright enough. Sharp enough to cut through winter. When it occurs in the spring. I think of it as a snack cake. And a fruit serving. And a reward for donning six layers of clothes just to go get the mail. It's my way of fantasizing that I am in a Sicilian orange grove.

Florentine Schiacciata

2 eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice (I used a wee bit more)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil + 2 tablespoons
1-1/2 cups whole milk (I used 2%)
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
confectioner's sugar for dusting (I skipped that - I squirted orange juice over it - I am serious about citrus)

Mary states that preparation is fifteen minutes. I dutifully got out all my ingredients, zested and squeezed the orange and had the flour, salt and baking powder sifted in a bowl. Waiting to be transformed into cake.

When it happened.

You see that little thing below with an out-of-control Maine-coon cat tail?

He looks so innocent. doesn't he? After I squeezed the orange, I turned around and that little innocent feline was sitting in the bowl of flour. Splashing. No, there are no photos. All I could see was the flour being dragged through the home, over the piano, up the stairs and through the bedrooms. He has a lot of fur. And it had a lot of flour.

So my prep took considerably longer. Luckily, he likes water (he missed a cat gene somewhere along the line). So he got scrubbed and everything else did also.

(Not counting cleaning the cat, washing the kitchen and redoing the ingredients.) 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper; grease and flour it.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs, sugar, zest and juice. Combine olive oil and milk (Mary suggests in a 2 cup measurement.) Whisk it into the egg mixture. In a medium bowl sift flour, salt and baking powder. (I throw it all in the bowl and whisk it.) In three parts, fold it into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 20-25 minutes until done. (Mine took 35 minutes. The edges got wonderfully crackled but the inside was still mixture - so do the toothpick test all over to make sure all is cooked.) Cool in pan for ten minutes. Invert on to cooling rack till cooled. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. Or not.

It's all sunshine and light - which is what you want on March 20th - something springy and spongy - all sunbeams and light and Sicilian dreams.

In my search for the orange cookies from Rome, I came across these. They're not what I was looking for but I didn't mind. They were good. I'd skip the icing/glaze though. They're just sweet enough.

Orange Cookies

They're from Taste of Home and the link to the recipe is here.

I used Blood Oranges. Cause I could.

I haven't figured out how to cook with Luce yet. I never had a cat so determined to "help." "Like a bird with a French fry," says my daughter.

Or a kitten with a Cheeto. (For the record that's my sister allowing Luce a Cheeto. I don't do that stuff - heaven forbid.)

In case you're in an orange mood... alakazam! It's spring!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Beef Wellington

"What do you want for your birthday dinner?" I asked. In innocence.

"Beef Wellington," replied Matthew.

"Are you sure? I've never made Beef Wellington?"

"Yes you have."

"No. That was Grandma."

And so it came to pass that the night before Matthew's birthday we gathered for Beef Wellington.

The caviar for the fngerling potatoes went missing. The living areas were packed with boxes and bags. Kirsten was moving out on Matthew's birthday. Snow, sleet and freezing rain was the forecast. But inside all was warmth and good wishes for new lives emerging - encouraged by the aromas of mushrooms and beef - happy together.

What surprised me is - the dish is easy. Oh yes - many steps. Many. But if you follow the instructions - you have a show-stopper of a meal. Six people gathered for a 3-1/2 pound roast. Two small pieces are left over. Because some of us showed restraint. 

I used Tyler Florence's recipe - with a few little changes that I will note for you. I also followed advice from the reviews. And I also know what I would do differently the next time. (And the next time and the next....)

I've always had the roast coated with pate. This uses mushrooms. So if you want to save a few calories... who am I kidding? If you want to save a few calories you're eating fish.

I vowed to only do Italian recipes on my blog for 2013. There's something about the title of my blog ... So I state now that this is Italian Beef Wellington because it uses prosciutto. And if you use porcini mushrooms - really - it's authentic Italian. American.

Ingredients - 6-8 servings

2 pints favorite mushrooms (I used portabellas; Florence calls for 3 pints white button ones - it's too much)
2 shallots - peeled and chopped (don't go crazy - it's going in the food processor)
4 cloves garlic - peeled and chopped (ditto)
2 sprigs thyme - leaves only (I used 4 times that amount)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I omitted)
2 tablespoons olive oil (I may have used 3)
Kosher salt (I used sea salt)
Freshly ground pepper

1 3-pound beef tenderloin (mine was a little larger)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper (again, I did the sea-salt thing)
12 slices prosciutto (I used 10)
6 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Flour - for rolling out puff pastry
Puff Pastry (enough sheets to cover roast top to bottom)
2 large eggs lightly beaten (you probably just need one egg and a little water)
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt


Add mushrooms, shallots, garlic and thyme to food processor and pulse until finely chopped. (Either add in batches or stop and stir - so you don't puree the bottom mushrooms while leaving the top ones whole.)

Add butter (if using) and olive oil to large saute pan and set over medium heat. Add mushroom mixture and saute 8-10 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. (I would now put in towels or in a colander lined with cheesecloth or paper towels to squeeze out more moisture. Too much moisture and your puff pastry will be soaked.)

Lay an 18-inch sheet of plastic wrap on your table. (Large enough to hold the roast and then some. Put your prosciutto slices on it - shingle style - so it can cover the roast. Using a spatula, cover the prosciutto with a thin layer of the duxelles. Season once more with a little salt and pepper (I'd go sparingly with the salt at this point). Season duxelles with the thyme leaves.

Tie tenderloin in 4 pieces so it holds its shape when searing. Lightly drizzle a large fry pan and heat over medium-heat. Drizzle beef with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sear all over (sides, ends - everywhere) about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, cut of twine and smear lightly with the mustard. Put roast on top of duxelles (having the seam looking up at you so the top of the roast is covered with the prosciutto and mustard mixture.) Roll tightly in the plastic wrap (I used some extra wrap to get it nice and tight.) Set in fridge for 30 minutes to ensure it maintains its shape. (I put it in for 90 minutes and you would do very well to let it stay in the fridge overnight. It also lets you do the meal in pieces and not do all the prep in one day.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll 2 sheets of puff pastry out to 1/4 inch thickness. (If you have extra-large sheets - you may not need 2.) Remove beef from fridge, Cut away the plastic and set beef in the center of the pastry (again with the top of the roast going into the pastry and the bottom looking up at you. Fold over the pastry and when the seams meet, pinch them together and brush with the eggs to seal. Trim if necessary. Place beef - seam side down on large baking sheet. (Do put it on a small rack so the moisture can drip away.)

Brush the top with the egg wash and make slits on the top of the pastry to allow steam escape. Top with a little sea salt. Bake 40-45 minutes until pastry is golden brown and thermometer reads 125 degrees F. (Mine took exactly 40 minutes - and I went to 130 degrees F - which allowed rare pieces in the center and more medium at the smaller ends for my medium-beef eaters.) Remove from oven and let rest about 20 minutes.

This is excellent with roasted fingerlings, creme fraiche and the missing caviar.

It's just so do-able. That was my surprise. It's only March. There are probably a few snowstorms waiting for us. This would be a delicious end to a snow day. Who needs a major holiday?

"You're changing my room!" exclaimed Kirsten. "You left Matthew's as is! It was a shrine!" (I beg to differ - but I'm the Mom. Perception is everything.)

It probably wasn't a good idea to tell her my plans before she moved out...

Today the home is quiet. Birthday boy is helping his sister move. The sleet is merely rain. The hall is empty - the 20 pairs of shoes that resided there the last two years have gone to a new home. In a few weeks, Matthew leaves his Minneapolis apartment and moves near the University - in a place he does not need to share and can make his own. I remember all those milestones from once-upon-my-time. And the excitement.
There's a lot of promise in growth. A lot of newness. And they're all signs of spring.