Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pasta alla Carbonara

There are 2 dubious origins of this dish. One says that this hearty, warming pasta was served to coal miners (evoking the name “Carbonara”) and the key ingredient of coarsely ground black pepper helped to disguise any flecks of coal soot in the meal! Yech! The other myth comes from World War II. When U.S. soldiers came to Italy they brought the custom of bacon and eggs, and somehow this mingled with the Italian tradition of pasta with parmesan and a new dish symbolizing the U.S.-Italian alliance was born. Which is true? Who knows! But it IS delicious, so who cares!

*Many recipes for this dish call for ½ cup of whipping cream rather than milk and no vinegar. This may be the most canonical version but I rely on the knowledge that most Italians I know distrust the use of cream in anything except gelato, and find “heavy” food unpleasant. My version is by no means diet food anyway. Enjoy!

PASTA ALLA CARBONARA
2 tbsp butter
3 slices of bacon (or pancetta) cut into ¼ inch pieces
½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ package of your favorite type of pasta
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
Salt to taste
lots of freshly cracked pepper

Serves 2
Boil pasta in abundant, salty water according to package directions. In a medium saucepan, fry the bacon pieces over medium low heat until they are thoroughly crispy. High heat will make them dark brown on the outside, chewy on the inside. Take the pieces out with a slotted spoon and reserve the fat. Add the butter to the pan. Once it has melted, add the milk and vinegar and stir constantly until heated through and steaming, but not boiling. The milk will curdle but don’t worry, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Take the pan off the heat and add the beaten egg and parmesan, stir. This will make a light custard. Once the pasta is al dente, strain it completely (no extra pasta water added to this dish), add it to the sauce and mix thoroughly. Salt to taste, sprinkle with lots of roughly cracked pepper and the reserved bacon pieces. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Spaghetti 101: Bachelor Pad Pasta

My brother, Brian asked me to publish some pasta recipes that he really likes. Brian has just moved into his new condo in Downtown Chicago and now has to cook for himself. He's threatening to live on ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese like he did in college, so I'm a little concerned and hoping these recipes will help. Anyway, he loves pasta, especially the three dishes I'll explain this week: PASTA AGLIO OLIO PEPPERONCINO, FETTUCCINE ALFREDO and PASTA ALLA CARBONARA.

I have to say that when asked what their favorite dish is, most Italians I know will answer, “pasta asciutta” which literally translates as, “dried pasta” what they really mean is, pasta with very little sauce on it. Italians consider “pasta aglio, olio, pepperoncino” to be the easiest dish they know.

*Two rules about pasta:
1. Boil the pasta in a LOT of water; for this dish, I would use at least 10 cups of water. If you use abundant water the pasta texture will be much better than if you cook the pasta in just enough. Try it and see.
2. Use a LOT of salt. The pasta water should be salty, that means for this dish, at least 3 tablespoons of salt added to the water. Unsalted water leads to bland pasta. Somehow no matter how much salt you add to the dish at the end, if you didn't salt the water enough, when you bite into the pasta it'll still be bland.

The dish goes like this:

PASTA AGLIO, OLIO, PEPPERONCINO
1/2 package of very thin pasta, (ex. capelli di angeli, fedelini)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
salt to taste


Serves 2 people or 1 Brian
Boil the pasta in abundant, salted water following package directions for cooking time. While the pasta is boiling, heat the oil in a medium frying pan, sauté the garlic for less than a minute, (do not let it brown), add the red pepper flakes. When the pasta is just al dente, drain it lightly (not too completely), and add it to the frying pan with a little bit of pasta water. The pasta will finish cooking in the pan. Stir the contents of the pan or flip the pan to combine everything. Salt to taste if necessary. Once the pasta water has evaporated, plate the pasta and serve immediately.

*You can make delicious variations on this dish by adding a bit of lemon juice, parmesan cheese, or dried oregano.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Coffee Explosion!

This is my last Thanksgiving post, I promise! But I thought you'd really want to see this!
At the end of our delicious meal, Gabriel started making some coffee in one of those Italian stovetop espresso machines that have the water in the bottom part, the packed coffee in the middle part and the final product flowing into the top part. Know what I mean? Well they come in all sizes and our dinner party size that makes 9 espresso shots was missing the rubber washer that seals the top and bottom parts. We didn't realize this until it was too late. The thing was on the stove forever and no good, strong coffee was flowing into the top part. So we waited. And waited. And finally, with everyone sitting at the dinner table at a safe distance (Thank God!) we heard a BANG! The coffee pot, now with all the water having steamed its way out of the bottom was just an empty metal container getting hotter and hotter until the inevitable happened.

That's a Thanksgiving event none of us will forget soon! So we started to wipe down the previously white kitchen tile and the previously yellow painted walls. Man! We're going to have to re-paint the walls and make sure this time that it's a washable gloss and not a matte finish. The yellow is now permanently stained brown. Here's Gabriel trying to minimize the damage.

Thanksgiving Reviews

Every year, cousin Bill enters his notes on how the most recent Thanksgiving went, which ideas to keep for next year and which to chuck into the trash can of Thanksgivings past. I've got some comments on last night's dinner. Today my lunch consists of the most perishable leftovers from last night: the antipasti.

Antipasti: The Endive leaves with gorgonzola and walnut are (and were) delicious! An incredible combination. This is a keeper! The persimmons were yummy last night, I'd say they're a keeper, but I'd make fewer of them next year. Why? The next day, if there are any left over, they taste acrid. When I warned you about underripe Hachiya persimmons, that if they're not completely mushy, they taste terrible, well today as I eat my lunch, they have a little bit of that taste. Last night they were really good. I served these appetizers in the living room as finger food along with dishes of olives and nuts. Next time, they'll be served at the dinner table as a formal "primo piatto" first dish. No leftovers.

Wild Rice Soup: I wouldn't change a thing! This was great!

Turkey Roulade: This turned out to be VERY tender. The pancetta all around and the basting and surely the short cooking time really made this turn out great.

Crimini, Porcini, Pancetta Stuffing: Hmmm...kinda boring. A lot more boring than I'd expected. Then again, I've never been a big fan of stuffing. Maybe some Italian sausage in the mix could replace half of the bread? We'll see next year.

Mashed Potatoes: Very good! Gabriel always does a good job on these. In the heat of the moment I forgot to cut some chives from the balcony garden to garnish them. Oh well, nobody noticed.

Sauteed Fennel With Pernod: Blech! Here's an example of times when you can't double or triple a recipe. I tested this dish last week adjusting the amounts to serve 2 rather than 6. With 1 fennel bulb, 1 tbsp Pernod and a bit of water, it was great! Tripled, the fennel came out way too soft.

The chutneys: I really like them and would serve the pear and cranberry chutneys with this turkey again. The tamarind chutney was too aggressive and out of place with this meal. I'm looking forward to having it with some Indian food this week, though.

Zingy Pumpkin Pie: This pie was delicious and the addition of the candied citrus was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I've never been a fan of pumpkin pie, so this is really saying something. But zingy? I didn't get "zingy" from this pie except from the candied citrus peel on top. If I had it all to do over, I'd put double the crystallized ginger the original recipe called for, double the ground ginger I suggested AND add in a tsp of finely minced fresh ginger. Maybe that would give this a boost.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Today's the Day

So, actually, our real Thanksgiving dinner is tonight. In Italy, of course, Thursday was not a holiday; everyone works, so Americans in Milan tend to have their Thanksgiving dinners on the Saturday after.
Yesterday, I double butterflied the turkey breast, beat into a state of relative (if lumpy) flatness, spread the mushroom-pancetta stuffing over it, rolled it up and tried my best to tie it together. We don't have the needles called for in the recipe. It seemed like an insurmountable task. This photo above shows you about as far as I could go without professional help. Rolling the thing with a combination of plastic wrap and newspaper did make things a lot easier than with just the plastic.

So after spilling a lot of the stuffing on the floor, I went to our butcher and asked for a "roasting net" to keep the roll together in the oven. They didn't have one but offered to tie it themselves. Elated, I went home, got the turkey roll, brought it back to the butcher and he expertly layered the pancetta strips longways, and strung the thing up beautifully, expertly and secretly! I looked on as he did this and all the knots he made he did really quickly. So, I remain dependant on him for tying roasts. Here is the result. It's a work of art. My parents in Chicago are having their second Thanksgiving dinner today as well with my brother Mike and the family. They roasted (or should I say incinerated) their bird using a recipe from Dominick's, the local supermarket chain. Just goes to show you, sometimes recipes don't work and you have to wing it. Happy Holidays.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! This is my favorite holiday of the year. There's nothing like ushering in the Holiday season with a great family dinner. You have all the other holidays to look forward to. This is the day when everyone in the country becomes a foodie. As I write this, NPR is interviewing celebrity chefs about their past Thanksgiving disasters and I feel like I'm home. I'll miss the Macy's Parade this morning (well my time, It'll be at about 3pm) and of course going to cousin Bill's for the afternoon and evening. Our family is very musical, at least that's what Gabriel said after Thanksgiving 2002 when Bill and my Dad took turns playing the grand piano in the living room and everybody else sang along. Gabriel, with a symphony conductor for a grandfather, had never spent an evening like that. Bill does a great job on the music and the food and keeps a Thanksgiving computer log of what he did, how he did it and what to change for next year. I ought to get him in on this blog; he's probably got a lot of good advice.

When your turkey is in the oven, you can start on the side dishes: mashed potatoes with butter and chives and sauteed fennel with Pernod. Gabriel will wive you the lo-down on mashed potatoes but right now, here's the fennel recipe:

SAUTEED FENNEL WITH PERNOD

Again, as with the soup recipe, I have to make something else up. Online you can find many great roasted fennel recipes that mostly call for the oven to be at 400F. This would be great if your oven on Thanksgiving didn't have to simultaneously be at 375F. I looked around for sauteed fennel recipes and found one, from Mario Batali that has garlic, anchovy and Sambuca. He warns that this recipe is very full flavored and so is best as an accompaniment to a full flavored main dish like braised lamb shank. Well, nobody's ever accused turkey of being full flavored, so I'm changing the recipe a bit. Here's my version: I've skipped the strong flavors of garlic and anchovy and exchanged the Sambuca for the less sweet Pernod. The result is mild, rich and beautiful with the bright green fennel fronds as decoration.

3 fennel bulbs cut in half logway and sliced to ¼ inch thick
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup water
2 tbsp Pernod
salt and pepper to taste
reserved fennel fronds, minced

Place all ingredients except the fennel fronds in a large saute pan. Over high heat, saute until most of the water is evaporated (10 minutes) and the fennel is evenly tender. Place on a serving dish and sprinkle with the fennel fronds. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Zingy Pumpkin Pie

O.K., it's T minus 24 and we're almost ready for Thanksgiving! Today is pumpkin pie day and your finished product will sit well covered on the counter until tomorrow.

I've made some changes to this Epicurious recipe for Orange-Spice Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin pies usually seem too thick and cloying so an even zingier pie is in order. The original recipe, actually, really goes in the direction of zingy since it includes crystallized ginger. According to the NPR (National Public Radio) pre-Thanksgiving broadcast, crystallized ginger is the "in" thing to put in your pie for 2005. SO, we're in style! I've added 1/2 tsp ground ginger to the cinnamon and nutmeg that the original recipe calls for because I want maximum zingy. To make the pie more beautiful, I'll add a decorative touch of thinly-sliced candied orange, clementine and lemon peel on top. Grapefruit works with this as well, but the others, I had on hand. Here's my recipe.

THINLY-SLICED CANDIED CITRUS PEEL

I've taken some good ideas from several candied peel recipes and come up with this one here.

1/2 packed cup peel from oranges, clementines, lemons and/or grapefruit
1 cup of granulated sugar
abundant water for boiling
1 cup water for sugar syrup

Peel the citrus fruit (except the clementines) with the large setting of a citrus zester (the one that makes 1/8 inch wide strips). Move the instrument in a circular fashion around the fruit trying to get the longest strips possible. If you succeed only some of the time, the result will still be beautiful. For clementines, score the fruit along the perimeter and carefully separate the peel halves from the fruit. Flatten the 2 concave pieces of peel and cut off any parts that tear. Slice the peel as thinly as possible with a sharp knife.

Fill a small saucepan with water and add the peel. Bring to a boil, and continue boiling uncovered for 10 minutes. Drain the water and repeat the boiling process with new water. This process helps to soften, sweeten and purify the peel.

Place 3/4 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water in another small saucepan. Bring to the boil and cook until the sugar dissolves. Add the drained peel to the sugar syrup and simmer uncovered for 1 hour.

Put the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar into a wide, shallow bowl. Once the peel has cooked for 1 hour, drain it and quickly roll it in the sugar. If you don't act quickly enough, the peel slices will stick to themselves. Arrange the longer pieces of peel into curly shapes. Remove the peel and set to dry on waxed paper.

*The left-over sugar syrup is wonderful as a sweetener for black tea!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TURKEY BREAST ROULADE WITH CRIMINI, PORCINI, AND PANCETTA

This recipe looks like it'll be great! I'll be making this for the first time tonight and storing the turkey roulade on the fridge until Thursday afternoon. This way, the Thanksgiving day preparation will be minimal: cooking the roulade and making the gravy. The recipe comes from Epicurious and I'm only going to change one thing: My turkey breast is skinless, so I bought strips of pancetta (actually regular, everyday bacon strips would do just fine) and will layer them over the roulade before baking to keep it moist and tender.

The recipe calls for "double butterflied turkey breast. You can do the double butterflying yourself if you don't have a butcher's help. First take off the skin if you have it. The idea is to make a long, flat rectangle out of a thick, roundish piece of meat. First place the breast flat on a cutting board and measure its height in three parts. Mine is 6 inches high so I will be cutting it into three 2-inch sections. I'll make the first horizontal cut at 2 inches from the top. I'll cut straight through leaving 2 inches intact on one edge. Do not cut all the way through! This will leave me with one part of the breast 2 inches thick and the other part, 4 inches. I'll then cut downward 2 inches from where I left off, and then slice horizontally from there leaving 2 inches on the edge intact. This opens up the 4 inch section into one long 2 inch section. This will leave me with the turkey breast 2 inches thick and opened up to three times as wide as it started out with three sections that could be folded back as if they were a business letter going into an envelope. Good luck! I've got me fingers crossed!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving Wild Rice Soup

Having spent 7 years living in Minneapolis, MN I have a certain familiarity with wild rice. Wild rice is something the native Ojibwe harvest using (at least) centuries old techniques that coincidentally re-seminate the rice insuring another harvest the next year. There is also a conventionally harvested, cheaper variety available just about everywhere in Minnesota. Since living there I've had a certain pride about this local foodthat's so good! Since it lasts a long time, I brought several packages with me to Italy. The problem is that most of the time, Minnesota Wild Rice Soup recipes contain things I would NEVER willingly eat. Velveeta process "cheese" food is about the most popular MN wild rice soup ingredient. My well meaning ex-roommate, Jen has a recipe handed down to her from her dad, bless his heart that's full of Velveeta and no matter how many times she offered me some of this soup, I never could muster the courage to eat it. So this time I set out for something different, a "cheese" free Wild Rice Soup! The recipes online that I found usually don't have any cheese or "cheese" but contain canned chicken broth, canned mushrooms, pieces of chicken or turkey (fine if we weren’t having turkey already) green bell peppers (blech!), and even curry powder (double blech!). So, I’ve invented an elegant wild rice soup that can be made days before and reheated just before serving. Here it is:

Elegant Thanksgiving Wild Rice Soup

2 medium carrots
2 stalks celery, leaves reserved
1 medium yellow onion
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp flour
6 cups chicken stock
1 large bay leaf
3 cups cooked wild rice *(recipe follows)
1 cup diced cooked ham
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the carrots and the onion. Chop vegetables very roughly just to get them to fit in the food processor. Place in the carrot (it’s the hardest, so it needs the most time in the processor) and process briefly, follow with the celery and the onion. Process everything until you get a rough paste called a “battuto” in Italy. Place the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Once it is melted, add the battuto of vegetables and sautee for about 5 minutes until the mixture is lightly browned and has lost most of its moisture. Then add the flour, stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and bay leaf. Stir vigorously with a wisk to assure that the vegetable-flour mixture incorporates into the stock evenly. Bring to a boil and then continue cooking for 5 minutes or until the soup thickens. Add the cooked wild rice and the ham and continue cooking for 5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Take out the bay leaf. Serve immediately with chopped celery leaves sprinkled on top. Alternatively, store in the fridge for 2 days or freeze indefinitely. If you store the soup, you may have to add extra water or stock to return it to its original consistency.

*BOILED WILD RICE
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
3 cups water
1 tsp salt

Boil the water with the salt. Add rice return to the boil then lower heat to the lowest setting, cover and simmer for 50-55 minutes.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Thanksgiving Antipasti II

WHOLE ENDIVE LEAVES TOPPED WITH "SWEET" GORGONZOLA AND WALNUT
I got the idea for this one from my in-laws who make a winter salad of the aforementioned 3 ingredients all in small pieces and tossed together. This version is a beautiful "salade composee" with a dramatic presentation on the table. "Sweet" gorgonzola or "gorgonzola dolce" is the less aged version of the gorgonzola we get imported to the States, that wonderful blue, crumbly stuff. The sweet version has a lot of the texture of a good, Brie with a mild, not pungent gorgonzola taste. YUM! In the U.S., I would substitute half gorgonzola and half mascarpone. It's not the same as the dolce but it's a great combination.

For 6 people:
2 large endive heads
4 ounces of "sweet" gorgonzola or a combination of crumbly gorgonzola and mascarpone
20 toasted walnut halves

Separate, wash and spin the endive leaves. You will have larger and smaller ones, of course. Begin with the large leaves. Place one tbsp of cheese on each leaf, top with one walnut half. Arrange the leaves, largest ones first on a large, round serving tray. Follow with the smaller ones. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Thanksgiving Antipasti I

So, today I'll tell you about two quick, simple and elegant dishes you can make hours ahead, put in the fridge and serve as appetizers while the turkey is still in the oven. First, Persimmons wrapped in prosciutto. One important thing about persimmons, 2 main kinds are commercially sold in the U.S. and both have a rich orange color: one, the Fuyu is fatter than it is long and the other, the Hachiya is longer than it is fat. USE THE FATTER, SHORTER ONE or you and your guests will be puckering throughout the whole dinner! The longer kind must be almost fall-apart mushy in order to be sweet. We don't want mushy, for this recipe we want toothsome. Epicurious disagrees with me. They suggest the mushy, Hachiya persimmons as a fall/winter alternative to the traditional prosciutto with melon. In Spain however, when melon is not available, jamon serrano is draped over sliced pineapple with delicious results.

PROSCIUTTO WRAPPED PERSIMMONS

3 short, fat Fuyu persimmons
6 thin slices of prosciutto or Spanish jamon serrano
12 toothpicks

Cut your persimmons in quarters. Take 6 slices and cut them lengthwise to make 12 long, thin strips. Roll one strip around each persimmon chunk and fix with a toothpick. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thanksgiving Chutneys: What to Do if Your Supermarket Doesn't Carry Cranberries

O.K. The countdown to Thanksgiving is on! Here are three recipes you can make well before Thanksgiving day. Tomorrow, tune in for tips and comments on elegant Thanksgiving antipasti: Prosciutto and Persimmons; Endive with Gorgonzola and Walnuts.

DRIED CRANBERRY CHUTNEY.

If you live in the United States, Dried Cranberry Chutney on your Thanksgiving table seems unnecessary; you have fresh cranberries, canned cranberry sauce (ahhh, the memory of that schlopping sound as it came out of the can, really brings me back home!) and frozen cranberries along with thousands of recipes for homemade cranberry sauce. Here in Italy, all I have at the moment is a bag of “craisins” given to me by Suzanne Mallon, a fellow ex-pat American. So, my plan is to test out this recipe:

1 cup of dried cranberries (mine were pre-cut in half)
½ cup brown sugar, if you can find jaggery, it will give a more voluptuous flavor
1½ cups of water
1/4 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
1-3in piece of orange zest
1 tsp whole cloves
4 whole cardamom pods, broken open
1 cinnamon stick
4 tbsp lime juice or bitter orange juice
julienned zest of lime or bitter orange

Place the cranberries, water, sugar or jaggery and salt in a saucepan. Tie the cayenne, orange zest, cloves cardamom, and cinnamon in a piece of cheese cloth. Add sachet to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Then lower the heat to slowly simmer the mixture for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat. Take out the spice sachet and press it to release as much flavor as possible. Mix in the citrus juice. Serve at room temperature sprinkled with citrus zest julienne. This can stay covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Ladled into a sterile jar and sealed tightly, it can last for months.

TAMARIND CHUTNEY
This chutney is a standard of mine. It is delicious! Its sweet, tangy spicy flavor goes well with any roast chicken dish as well as (I hope) with Thanksgiving turkey. I adapted it from a recipe in The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi.

¼ cup of tamarind pulp (available in “bricks” at Asian markets)
1 and ¼ cups of hot, almost boiling water
¼ cup of pitted dates
1 tsp whole cumin seed
½ tbsp minced fresh ginger root
¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
3 tbsp dried grated or flaked unsweetened coconut
½ tsp salt

Place the tamarind pulp in the hot water and let it steep and soften for about 20 minutes. Place the mixture in a food processor and pulse until you have a thick, pulpy consistency. The hard seeds in the tamarind pulp could damage a processor if you work it too long or too constantly. Scrape all of the pulp from the processor into a sieve set over a bowl and press it through with a rubber spatula. Scrape the underside of the sieve to get all of the tamarind puree into your bowl. Toss the dry residue into your compost bin (compost bin instructions coming soon).

Place the dates in the food processor. There is no need to wash the processor after mixing the tamarind. Add back as much tamarind puree as you need to get the processor going. Keep the processor on for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until you reach a uniform consistency. Add all the other ingredients and pulse to combine. This keeps in the refrigerator for 4 days or in the freezer for months.

PELION PEAR CHUTNEY
I made this chutney this summer at my in-laws’ house in the Pelion peninsula of Greece. A local pear orchard had suffered a thunderstorm and the fallen pears were distributed to us and others in town. We had to do something quick with these pears, many of which were bruised. I whipped up a batch of this chutney with my father-in law’s homemade red wine vinegar, and all the sweet spices we had on hand. It turned out beautifully! I think the best part is the coriander seed.

4 cups of peeled, chopped pears
enough red wine vinegar to barely cover the other ingredients
2 cups of sugar
minced peel from ½ lemon
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp mixed “tea spices” (a combination of ground cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom and black pepper)
1 tsp of whole cloves
1tsp of whole coriander seed

Place all the ingredients in a large, deep saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that forms at the surface (usually during the first 5 minutes of cooking). Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for 40 minutes or until the chutney reaches a thick consistency. You may test if the sauce has set by letting a couple drops of liquid fall on a saucer. Wait a second and run your finger across the small pool of sauce. If the sauce holds rather firm and does not run together again after your finger has run through it, it is set, if not, continue cooking 5 more minutes and try again. This chutney can be poured while still very hot in sterile containers, sealed and stored for several months. Follow standard jarring procedures.
*When you eat this chutney, of course be careful to remove the whole cloves but enjoy the succulent flavor of the whole coriander seed. When combined with the pear, sugar and vinegar, there’s nothing like it!

Friday, November 18, 2005

How to Survive an Italian Thanksgiving: Turkey as a Side-Dish

First, I must credit Angela Costanzi for the title of this entry. In college, she wrote an essay with this title all about how her mom, aunt and grandma would make stunning bounties of food every year that would make even the traditional Thanksgiving binge-fest look meager.

So, we’re having Thanksgiving at our house this year. This is the second time I’ll host one. The first was a complete disaster. That was the year I lived in Barcelona and had no Aunt Corinne, no Cousin Bill to host the thing as they always have, so I winged it. With an Irish boyfriend and his English boss as guests, I was the only one who really knew what to expect, but I think the rawness of the turkey and the chewy quality of the re-heated mashed potatoes may have tipped them off that something was wrong. Well that was 1991. I have developed a lot of experience since then, I can even call myself a full-fledged foodie. So I think this time it’ll go better.

Here’s what’s on the menu:
  • APPETIZERS “antipasti”: 1.) Prosciutto with persimmons. 2.)Whole endive leaves topped with a dollop of "sweet" gorgonzola and a walnut half.

  • STARTER "primo": Susan's elegant Thanksgiving wild rice soup

  • MAIN DISH “secondo”: double butterflied turkey breast rolled with a porcini, cremini, pancetta stuffing and (since mine’s skinless) wrapped with thin strips of pancetta.

  • SIDES “contorni”: 1.) mashed potatoes with butter and chives and 2.) sauteed fennel.

  • CRANBERRY SAUCE ALTERNATIVES: 1.) tamarind chutney, 2.) pear chutney and 3.) dried cranberry chutney.

  • DESSERT “dolce”: a zingy, ginger-laced, candied orange zest-strewn pumpkin pie.

Tune in this week as we count down to Thanksgiving. I'll give you the recipes for all the dishes you see above and show you what you can prepare ahead of time so you can actually spend the holiday with your guests and not slaving over the stove.

We’re having an all-Italian set of guests for this one which I think is kind of cool. They won't know what to expect any more than my guests in Barcelona did, and I'm hoping to win them over to thinking "American" food is a good thing. Opinions of "American" cuisine on this side of the Atlantic tend toward the negative, to say the least.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Polenta Without the Insanity

You are free to ignore all the cookbook instructions on how to make lump-free polenta! No sifting polenta between the fingers into boiling water that you’re simultaneously whisking like mad so as to keep the dry falling grains from coagulating upon contact with the water. No residue of uncooked, burned polenta grains that fell onto your stovetop on the way to the pot. I don’t know what every other cookbook author is thinking setting you all up to make lumps galore unless you’re fastidious as all get out. No! Just make it as I used to make Cream of Wheat as a kid: mix the COLD water (3.5 cups) with the polenta (1 cup) and salt (1 tsp) in a pot and THEN put it all on the stove at high heat stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Just when it starts to bubble and gurgle like Mt Etna threatening to spew droplets of extremely hot, molten polenta onto the stovetop, turn the heat down to low and mix more frequently making sure to scrape the bottom thoroughly. Non stick works great but even a regular pan lets go of cooled polenta nicely enough. Day-old polenta is fabulous cut into slices and fried (for a long time, mind you) in olive oil until brown and super crispy on the sides. Mmmm…it’s good!

Greetings from Milan

Gabriel and I moved to Milan, Italy two and a half years ago. When people here ask me what's my favorite thing about living in Milan, I always say, "fresh porcini mushrooms". They laugh, but it's true. There's nothing like waking up on a crisp Wednesday morning in September or October and heading to the local open-air market for those fragrant, rich brown goodies. I've been a foodie and an organic gardener for several years now. I love cooking. I’m meticulous but practical so I almost always improvise over cookbook recipes and then jot notes and reviews in the margins about how I really made the dishes (skipping this and adding that) and how they turned out. I've also had some success translating my old Minneapolis community garden to the Italian balcony. We have herbs, heirloom peppers and flowers on the front balcony and a home-made compost bin on the back one. In the next weeks and months, I'll be writing recipes, and giving gardening and composting tips along with some comments on what its like to live here. So, here we are in Italy, I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Middle Eastern Cuisine


  1. Algerian Mint Tea (Thé à la Menthe)

  2. Baba Ganoush

  3. Challah

  4. Couscous With Merguez and Summer Vegetables

  5. Hummous Mint Sandwich

  6. Lamb and Vegetable Tagine With Dried Fig Couscous

  7. Lamb With Eggplant

  8. Martha Stewart's Pound Cake With Orange Blossom Syrup (my riff on Basboosa)

  9. Middle Eastern Rice Pudding With Orange Blossom Essence

  10. Moroccan Spiced Mutton Chops

  11. Orange Blossom Iced Tea

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Italian Autumnal Delights


  1. Beet, Ricotta and Parmesan Ravioli

  2. Bruschetta With Fresh Porcini Ragout

  3. Chestnut Honey-Drizzled Ricotta

  4. Minestrone With Fresh Borlotti Beans and Farro

  5. Potato-Ricotta Salata Gnocchi

  6. Pumpkin-Sage Ravioli

  7. Radicchio Soup

Friday, November 11, 2005

Cocina Hispana

Here you will find dishes from Spanish-speaking countries on both sides of the Atlantic.

  1. Arroz Gratinado (Mexican)

  2. Bacalao a la Vizcaina (from the Basque Country)

  3. Basque Red Bean, Chorizo and Borage Stew

  4. Black Bean Chili With Adobo de Ancho (Texan)

  5. Carnitas (Mexican)

  6. Dark-Meat Chicken With Mushrooms and Poblano Crema (Mexican)

  7. Gazpacho Andaluz

  8. Gazpacho Blanco (Málaga, Spain)

  9. Leftover Turkey Mole(Mexican)

  10. Quince Paste With Ginger, Cinnamon and Allspice, a,k,a, Membrillo (Spanish and Argentinian)


  11. Poblano-Spinach Soup (Mexican)

  12. Roasted Poblano Soup (Mexican)

  13. Salsa Verde (Mexican)

  14. Tequila-Drunken Pinto Beans with Cilantro and Bacon (Norteno Mexican)

  15. Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish)



Thursday, November 10, 2005

French (Francophone) Cookery

Here's where you'll find recipes from France, Switzerland (Suisse Romande, the French-Speaking part) maybe Belgium and if I find any recipes from Senegal or French Guyana, you can bet they'll show up here too.


  1. Croquembouche

  2. Eggs Florentine

  3. Floating Islands - Oeufs a la Neige

  4. Oysters on the Half Shell

  5. Papet Vaudois With Saucisse au Chou and Côtes de Bette

  6. Potage Parmentier / Vichyssoise (Recipes from Julia Child)

  7. Raclette

  8. Salmon Tar Tar

  9. Steak Tar Tar

  10. Stinging Nettle Soup

  11. Swiss Fondue/Fondue de Fromage

  12. Terrine de Lapin (Wild Hare Terrine)

  13. Tomato Concasse

  14. Tourte Milanese



Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Italian Summer Cuisine


  1. Eggplant Parmesan

  2. Farro Salad (Pan-Mediterranean)

  3. Homemade Italian Sausage

  4. Mafalde Pasta with Fresh Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

  5. Mediterranean Summer Vegetable Terrine

  6. Pasta alla Norma

  7. Spaghetti With Sea-Urchin Roe, Lemon and Field Balm

  8. Torta di Zucchini e Ricotta

  9. Zucchini in Carpione

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

East Asian Stuff


  1. Mangoes and Coconut Sticky Rice (Mamuang Kao)

  2. Soba Noodles (Homemade) With Sesame Dipping Sauce

  3. Thai Meatballs in a Coconut Milk, Peanut Curry Sauce (Panaeng Neua)

  4. Tuna Tataki

  5. Twice-Cooked Pork Belly

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sweet Things


  1. Balsamic-Wild Strawberry Preserves

  2. The Best Tiramisu'

  3. Candied Citrus Peel

  4. Carrot Cake With Walnuts

  5. Chocolate Babka

  6. Cinnamon Babka

  7. Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

  8. Croquembouche

  9. Finnish Pulla

  10. Guinness Cake

  11. Hazelnut-Cocoa Biscotti

  12. Indian Milk Fudge (Khoa) With Cardamom, Orange Blossom Water and Mastiha

  13. King Cake

  14. Lemon Basil Flan

  15. Mangoes and Coconut Sticky Rice (Mamuang Kao)

  16. Martha Stewart Pound Cake With Orange Blossom Syrup

  17. Mrs. Field's Chocolate Chip Cookies

  18. Mysore Pak

  19. Plum Tart

  20. Pumpkin Pie With 3 Gingers

  21. Pumpkin Roulade

  22. Pumpkin Spice Cookies

  23. Quince Paste With Ginger & Cinnamon (Membrillo)

  24. Rice Pudding With Orange-Blossom Essence

  25. Rose Geranium Cookies

  26. Spiced Hot Chocolate (or Chocolate Milk)

  27. Zingy Pumpkin Pie

  28. Wild Blackberry Preserves


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Italian Springtime Recipes


  1. Balsamic-Wild Strawberry Preserves

  2. Frittata degli Spaghetti

  3. Pasta With Fresh Favas and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

  4. Polenta With Asparagus, Prosciutto and Ramps

  5. Strawberries & Balsamic Vinegar

  6. Trota al Cartoccio (Trout in a Bag)

  7. Whitefish Risotto With Saffron and Fresh Spring Chives


Saturday, November 05, 2005

Special Pasta Dishes


  1. Pasta With Fresh Favas and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

  2. Potato-Ricotta Salata Gnocchi

  3. Ravioli di Barbabietola, Ricotta e Parmigiano (Beetroot, Ricotta and Parmesan Ravioli)

  4. Ravioli di Zucca e Salvia (Pumpkin Sage Ravioli)

  5. Spaghetti al Pesto delle Lipari

  6. Spaghetti alla Bolognese

  7. Squid Ink Pasta

Friday, November 04, 2005

Italian Winter Dishes


  1. 30 Minute Bagna Cauda

  2. Bagna Cauda

  3. Cardoons au Gratin/Radicchio au Gratin

  4. Cassoeula

  5. Fennel-Pancetta Ragout

  6. Marinated Oven-Grilled Rabbit With Roasted Vegetables

  7. Pinzimonio With Creamy New Umbrian Olive Oil and Winter Vegetable Crudités

  8. Pizzoccheri

  9. Salsa (Bagnetta) Verde to accompany a Bollito Misto

  10. Sicilian Orange-Olive Salad

  11. Stuffed Cabbage Kicked Up a Notch


Thursday, November 03, 2005

U.S. "American" Recipes


  1. Balancing Act Gumbo, I

  2. Balancing Act Gumbo, II

  3. Braised Short Ribs With Root Vegetables

  4. Butter-Roasted Pecans

  5. Carrot Cake With Walnuts

  6. Carrot-Cardamom Bread

  7. Charlie Trotter's Roasted Mushrooms

  8. Chestnut Caramel

  9. Chocolate Babka

  10. Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins

  11. Cinnamon Babka

  12. Cream of Broccoli Soup

  13. Lavender Sea Salt Scrub

  14. Muffuletta Sandwich

  15. New Orleans King Cake

  16. New York Times No-Knead Sourdough

  17. Pumpkin Spice Cookies

  18. Rose-Geranium Cookies

  19. San Francisco Sourdough Bread

  20. San Francisco Sourdough Bread Starter

  21. Southern Greens and Ham Hocks

  22. Spiced Hot Chocolate (or Chocolate Milk)


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Indian Recipes


  1. Chutneys: Cranberry, Tamarind and Pear

  2. Chai Masala (Indian Spiced Tea)

  3. Indian Milk Fudge (Khoa) With Cardamom, Orange Blossom Water and Mastiha

  4. Methi (Fenugreek) and Potato Curry

  5. Mysore Pak

  6. Simple Basmati Rice Pilaf

  7. Sourdough Naan Bread

  8. "Tramezzini" With Curried Roast Chicken and Pear Chutney

Greek Recipes


  1. Greek Easter Roast Lamb I (the preparation)

  2. Greek Easter Roast Lamb II (roasting techniques)

  3. Greek Red Easter Eggs

  4. Horta (Wilted Wiled Field Greens With Lemon and Olive Oil)

  5. Hortopita

  6. Kadota Fig Preserves With Naranzes and Ginger

  7. Kritama Preserved in White Wine

  8. Melitsanosalata

  9. Olive al Forno aka Dry-Cured Pelion Olives

  10. Slow-Cooked Octopus in Tomato Sauce

  11. Spanakopita

  12. Taramasalata

  13. Tsoureki

  14. Wild Greek Blackberry Preserves

  15. Wilted Vlita Greens With Feta Cheese

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Thanksgiving Recipes


  1. Brined Roast Turkey With Sage

  2. Endive With Gorgonzola and Walnut

  3. Pelion Pear Chutney

  4. Prosciutto Wrapped Persimmons

  5. Pumpkin Pie With 3 Gingers and Candied Clementine Peel

  6. Pumpkin Roulade (Bûche d'Automne)

  7. Quince Chutney

  8. Sauteed Fennel With Pernod

  9. Thanksgiving Wild Rice Soup

  10. Zingy Pumpkin Pie




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