Friday, December 31, 2010

Amusing Lasagne

We were having a few friends in last week for a very casual get-together. My husband Tom asked what I was thinking of making and I said "oh, I don’t know. Some sort of amusing lasagne." And he put that in the email invitation he sent out. Well, there I was, stuck with coming up with amusing lasagne. I quite like butternut squash anytime but this time of year it just seems right.

This looks like a lot of work but it goes quickly. And better, there’s no reason you can’t have it completely done a day ahead. Refrigerate covered, but be sure to let it sit out at room temperature for an hour or so before baking.

In Italy, I’ve never had lasagne using the wavy noodles so common here; it’s always with flat noodles. So I’ve often made my own pasta sheets. What a treat, then, to find Barilla makes a noodle that is not only flat but doesn’t have to be boiled before using. If you have them, or prefer them, there’s no reason you can’t make this with the wavy noodles, boiled according to package instructions.

One note: each noodle in the assembly is a "lasagna." All of them together comprise "lasagne." That's the way I spell it, and so does the English version of "The Silver Spoon" cookbook, the Italian equivalent of the French "Larousse Gastronomique."


2 medium butternut squash
2 tbsp. good olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 leeks
½ cup butter, divided
¼ cup fresh sage leaves, minced
6 tbsp. flour
6 cups milk
8 oz. goat cheese, divided
1 large pinch nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 box Barilla no-cook lasagne sheets
1 cup Italian cheese mix, divided

Preheat oven to 400. With a vegetable peeler, strip both the hard outside and the lighter flesh just under it from the squash. Cut in half lengthwise and with a spoon scoop out the seeds and fiber from the center. Cut into ½" cubes. Spread on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to cover. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and just starting to brown around the edges, 15-20 minutes.

Reduce the oven heat to 350
Cut a slice off the root end of the leeks. Cut off the dark green tops and discard. Cut the white and light green part in half lengthwise, rinse well, drain, then slice ¼" thick. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. butter over medium-low heat. Add the sliced leek and cook until just tender. Add the roasted squash cubes and the sage, toss to combine and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile in a saucepan, heat the remaining butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, a couple of minutes. Whisk in the milk and simmer until thickened. Add half the goat cheese and whisk until melted into the sauce. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, mix the ricotta and eggs.

Assemble the lasagne: Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish (or use cooking spray). Spread 2 cups of the sauce evenly on the bottom. Arrange four pasta sheets on top, overlapping slightly. Spread half the ricotta on top, then half the squash-leek mixture, then one cup of sauce. Sprinkle with one-third of the Italian cheese mixture. Repeat the layers. Finish with a layer of pasta sheets and the remaining sauce. Be sure the sauce/fillings are spread all the way to the edge of the pan. Crumble the remaining goat cheese over the top and sprinkle with the remaining Italian cheese mixture.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is nicely browned, another 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let set for 15-20 minutes before cutting into squares to serve. Serves 8 to 12.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Leftover Prime Beef Ribs

We had "Roast Prime Rib" for Christmas Dinner.  Hopefully we all know that  a "Prime Rib Roast" is rarely prime grade beef.   I ordered a beautiful roast from Fresh Market. They had three grades of beef, I got the middle one, so it should more properly be called a "standing rib roast." It was a lovely big piece of meat. I'm only sorry I don't have a picture of it to show you. The butcher at Fresh Market cut the roast away from the ribs, then tied it all back together so we got the advantage of the flavor of cooking on the bone without Tom having to figure out how to carve it in between bones and all.

Actually I had never cooked one before. But I went online looking for the best way to do it.  There were several ways described but I decided on the fast sear, then low finish. I started it at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then turned it down to 325 until the instant read thermometer read 125. I took it out and let it rest while I made a nice pan sauce with a port wine reduction. I can say with a total lack of modesty that it was delicious and tender and absolutely wonderful.

When it was all over I had a goodly chunk of beef left, and put that away for later. And then there was the rack of ribs... I'd once, long ago in France, had dinner at a friend's house whose mom had served beef ribs. Of course, coming from the South, I'd only known pork ribs. Later she told me they had been left over from a Sunday rib roast. So I took the rib rack and cut between the ribs.
I put them on a baking sheet and brushed them with olive oil.
I mixed up worcestershire sauce, pressed garlic, and some whole grain mustard and brushed that on. I couldn't help but add a touch of brown sugar. Most of the online recipes called for fine dry bread crumbs, but what I'd had in France appeared to be fresh crumbs. I had an end of a Tuscan loaf and I used that. Its course texture wouldn't blend into fine crumbs, so I used the coarse ones I came up with. I sprinkled them on top.
After about 15 minutes in a very hot oven, they were crispy and just heated through.  The meat around the bones was still medium rare, but the outside was nicely browned and very tasty.  Such a great and easy way to use what might have been discarded.

There is still some good meat left on the ribs, so they'll go into the crock pot tomorrow with onion, celery, carrots and bay leaf, and I'm pretty sure I'll get a good beef stock for some soup later this week!
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eggnog Panna Cotta


We were having some friends over for dinner yesterday evening and I wanted a dessert that was tasty and festive but not too labor intensive. I had eggnog in the fridge, thinking I would make an eggnog bundt cake but time slipped away. Instead I make this delicous but embarassingly easy dessert. I garnished it with an easy caramel-rum sauce and fresh raspberries, and I just don't see how I could have made anything any better!

"Panna cotta" means "cooked cream" in Italian, but really you only warm it enough to dissolve the gelatin. If you are not going to unmold it, the texture will be silkier if you use only 1-1/2 envelopes of gelatin. If you don't have dark rum in your pantry, you may use a teaspoon or so of rum extract, or just leave it out entirely.

It only needs about two hours in the fridge to set if you aren't going to unmold it, or three or more if you are. Make it the day you are going to serve it for the best texture.

This is a very rich dessert, a 1/3 to 1/2 cup mold or dessert dish will be plenty for each serving.


Panna Cotta:
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water
1 quart egg nog
1 large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)

Caramel Sauce:
1/2 cup Smuckers hot caramel sauce
1/4 cup dark rum

In a flat bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let set to soften. In a saucepan, warm the eggnog over medium heat just until tiny bubbles form around the edges. Scrape the gelatin into the pan and whisk until completely dissolved. Whisk in the nutmeg and rum and pour into molds sprayed with cooking spray, or small dessert dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the caramel sauce, combine the jarred sauce with the rum and heat gently. I put it into a plastic squeeze bottle and warmed it for 30 seconds in the microwave, and that was perfect.

When ready to serve, unmold (or not, according to your preference) and drizzle with the warm caramel sauce. Serve immediately. I garnished mine with fresh raspberries, which made a very nice complement. Serves 8 to 10.

Note: Picture taken by Gary Davis.
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Roasted Red Cabbage


I had a head of red cabbage sitting in my fridge a week or so. I had planned on making sauerbraten while my son and his family were here for Thanksgiving. I always make sweet/sour red cabbage (and spatzle of course) with sauerbraten. But sauerbraten needs to marinate for several days, and unfortunately I let the days get past me. Instead, I just made a standard pot roast.

I asked on Whining and Dining, Jennifer Biggs' blog, sponsored by the Commercial Appeal, about ideas for something different, and Allie suggested this: "Roast it! Just cut it in big slices, spray it with olive oil, sprinkle a little cumin and coriander (no salt, salt makes it shrivel) and roast until the middle is cooked and the top is crispy - depending on how thick you sliced it, maybe 30 min at 400."

So I cut half of it in wedges and did as suggested. I thought it was quite tasty, but next time, I think I'll salt it, even if it turns out a bit less attractive. Salt added at the table didn't quite do it for me or Tom.

Jim Wilson suggested that I fry it instead, with similar seasonings. I still have the other half!
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Lovely and delicious cranberry mold!


For a recent holiday gathering with friends, I was looking for an alternative to the usual cranberry-orange relish or salad. I came across a recipe for a sweet cranberry panna cotta on the Viking Cooking School website. I made a few changes to make it a savory mold, and everyone pronounced it quite tasty.

I made it in a two-cup mold, but it would be equally attractive made in individual ramekins and turned out onto greens for a first course salad. A sherry vinegar dressing would make a nice complement to the flavors in the mold.

The Viking recipe called for cranberry Jello, which I used,. If you would rather, you can soften one envelope of unflavored gelatin on a couple of tablespoons of cold water, then substitute cranberry juice for the one cup of water. Heat it, add the gelatin, stirring until dissolved, and then 2 tablespoons of sugar and the seasonings listed below.

One of my friends at the gathering said she’s going to use the recipe in a heart shaped mold for Valentine’s Day, so if you’ve already planned all your holiday gatherings, there’s always another appropriate time to use it!


1 cup water
1 package cranberry-flavored gelatin
¼ tsp. kosher or sea salt
Juice and finely grated zest of one lemon
2 tbsp bottled grated horseradish
½ tsp. dried dill weed
1 cup sour cream

Spray a two-cup mold generously with cooking spray.

In a saucepan, heat the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the gelatin, stirring until completely dissolved. Whisk in the remaining ingredients in the order listed and pour into the mold. Refrigerate at least four hours, or until completely set. This may be made one day in advance if tightly covered with plastic wrap or foil.

When ready to serve, dip the mold in very hot water, being careful not to get water in the mold itself. Turn a serving plate upside down on the mold, then invert and give it a little shake. If the mold doesn’t come out, repeat the hot water process. Serve with crisp toasts or crackers. Serves 8-10 as an appetizer, or 4-6 on a first course salad.

NOTE: I wanted to make this again but had used all my horseradish. I had a container of Penzey's horseradish dip mix and added 3 tablespoons of that instead of the seasonings. It turned out to be delicious, although less piquant than the one with real horseradish.
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Mom's Holiday Punch


As many of you know my mother was a wonderful cook. In recent years I didn't get home to Louisville as often as I would have liked, but one time I never missed was Christmas.

We've always shared our Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners with the family of a cousin of my mother's. There were eight children between the two families, so we had quite a crowd. We would gather in the early afternoon for a huge traditional holiday dinner, with turkey and all the trimmings, a big ham and every possible side dish. When the dishes were done, we kids (and later the grand-kids) would play with Christmas presents and games while the grown-ups chatted.

Late in the afternoon, the coffee would go on, the desserts brought out and my mom would make a big crystal bowlful of a very tasty holiday punch. I don't know where the recipe came from, since she's been making it for many years, but I love it. It's not too sweet, in spite of the amount of sugar. I think it really hits the spot as an accompaniment for holiday dessert, or as a tasty non-alcoholic offering for any party.

My mother passed away last year and after the service for her, we invited family and friends back to her house for supper before heading back to their homes, some quite a long way away. One of the things we girls made was the holiday punch.

Give it a try for your holiday party or dinner. Perhaps it will become a tradition for you, too.


2 packages strawberry Kool-aid (unsweetened)
1 46-ounce can pineapple juice
2 6-ounce (or 1 12-ounce) cans frozen pink lemonade (see note)
4 cups sugar
3 quarts water
3 liters ginger ale

Mix everything except the ginger ale in a large bowl and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour into three large plastic or metal containers. Freeze solid. Fifteen minutes before serving, unmold one container into your punch bowl. Pour ginger ale over the frozen punch mix. As the punch mix dissolves. add more ginger ale, or simply smush up the punch mix to make a sort of slushy punch.

This keeps a long time in the freezer, so I freeze a couple of large molds, then some smaller ones, just in case I have a few folks in and want to do something festive. One-third of the recipe will serve 15-20 people.

NOTE: Mom always insisted that it had to be pink lemonade. I couldn't find it once, and tried the regular frozen lemonade, thinking "How much difference could it make?" By George, she was right! Fortunately frozen pink lemonade is available in almost every supermarket now.
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Friday, December 03, 2010

Yummy Gooey Cake!


Every year friends of our have a get-together on the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving. It’s sort of a pot luck affair, with everyone bringing something to contribute to the main meal, plus an appetizer or dessert.

We had a house full of company this year, and took several of them with us. My sister Cindy Corum (whom you have met before on this blog) was here from Knoxville and made a cake which was a big hit with the crowd.

You know I don’t care much about dessert, but I have to admit this was just gooey and yummy enough to tempt me too. There was still some left over and we stuck it in the fridge. Two days later we pulled it out and it was still fine. That makes it a great candidate for your holiday entertaining—you know how I love dishes that can be made ahead!


1 package German chocolate cake mix
1 15-oz bottle of Smuckers caramel sundae sauce
3 Butterfinger candy bars
1 box instant French vanilla pudding mix
1 8-oz tub Cool Whip, defrosted

Prepare and bake cake mix as directed on the package in a 9x13 pan. As soon as you take it from the oven, poke holes in it with handle of wooden spoon (about 1" apart) and pour the caramel sauce over it. Let cool. Crush the candy bars and sprinkle over the top when cool. Make the pudding according to the direction on the box, then fold the Cool Whip into it. Spread on top of the cake. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 12 to 16 servings.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Tuna-Stuffed Shells

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I was trying to think of something different to make for my Monday evening tasting group and saw a mention in a restaurant review: tuna meatballs. That didn't ring my chimes but I thought about stuffed shells. How about tuna-stuffed shells?

The first try was a bit ordinary but I liked the idea. I spiffed up the filling flavors with some good smoky bacon and sundried tomatoes and changed the sauce from a marinara type to a sharp asiago cheese sauce. Voilà!

I baked the shells in individual gratin dishes, but you could just as easily do this in one large baking dish.

This makes 18 shells. I put three in each casserole, but we had started the meal with soup, and everyone agreed that with a salad, two would be enough for most people. One was enough for me.

The stuffed shells, without the sauce, could be make ahead and frozen on a baking sheet. Placed in freezer bags, you would have the makings for a quick meal on short notice.

This exact same recipe would be wonderful with either crab meat (use the lump, not the more expensive jumbo lump) or cooked salmon.


18 large pasta shells

For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, chopped
2 strips good smoky bacon, cut into 1/4" strips
2 7-ounce cans tuna in olive oil, lightly drained
1 cup fresh bread crumbs from firm white or baguette bread
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sundried tomato, diced (See notes)
2 tablespoons parsley, minced

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups half-and-half (See notes)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
12 ounces sharp asiago cheese or imported fontina, grated
2 tablespoons flour

To finish:
2 tablespoons sundried tomato, diced
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, slivered

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, onion and bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and the bacon is cooked (the bacon will not be crisp or browned). Let cool completely.

Place the bread crumbs in a food processor. Add the tuna and the onion mixture. Pulse several times to just combine. Scrape into a mixing bowl and stir in the egg, sundried tomato and parsley.

Make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook over low heat for about three minutes. Whisk in the chicken stock and wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about a third. Add the half-and-half. In a large bowl, toss the grated cheese with the flour to cover. Add to the sauce and heat, stirring constantly until the cheese is melted. Do not let the sauce boil.

Cook the shells according to package directions, using the lowest cooking time given. Drain and carefully spread on paper towels. Fill each one with a heaping tablespoon of the filling.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the shells into well-buttered individual oven-proof dishes, or one shallow baking dish, with the seam side up. They should fit snugly. Pour the sauce over the top, being sure to cover all the edges of the shells. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the top is just starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the sundried tomato and basil garnish and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTES: (1) I used sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil. If you use the dehydrated kind, soak them in hot water for an hour or so before using. (2) You could substitute whole milk for the half-and-half but the sauce might curdle a bit in the cooking. That won't hurt it at all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Italian Chestnut Stuffed Onions


You may know that my husband and I recently made a wonderful trip to Italy. A week of the trip was spent with a car, motoring around the Chianti district of Tuscany. We saw all the sights but we also indulged in an awful lot of great food and wine. Several seasonal ingredients were on most menus: cinghiale (wild boar), chestnuts and zucca (which refers to most any of the winter squashes).

One evening we dined at a small country restaurant with a fixed menu. The only antipasto offered was a chestnut-stuffed onion. It was served with a small salad and both of us just lapped it up. I knew I wanted to try it. Then I got several emails from readers asking if I planned on giving my annual fall chestnuts-in-anything-but-dressing recipe. I knew it was time.
I had a group of friends coming for dinner and served this as an antipasto, as we'd had it, with a salad on the side.

It would also make a great side dish with your Thanksgiving turkey, or grilled meats or poultry. In fact, it's filling enough to serve as a light lunch, brunch or supper entree with a bigger salad.

You might see fresh chestnuts in local markets, but I'd go with jarred cooked chestnuts. They're available at Fresh Market and Whole Foods, and at some local supermarkets.

You can prepare the onions for the final baking a couple of hours before dinner and bake when you're ready for them. Or you could do the first baking, add the chestnut stuffing, cover and chill up to a day ahead. Let them come to room temperature and then add the cheese and butter right before baking.

I didn't have any leftovers but if I had I would have chopped it all together and mixed it with sliced potatoes and then continued with my basic scalloped potato recipe. Doesn't that sound yummy?

Chestnut Stuffed Onions

4 large yellow onions
2 tbsp. minced parsley
1 tbsp minced fresh sage
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Extra virgin olive oil
8 oz cooked chestnuts
2 tbsp sweet Marsala wine
1 more pinch nutmeg
8 slices pancetta
4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cold butter
1/2 cup dry white wine (or chicken stock)
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375o. Cut a thin slice off the stem and root ends so the onion will set level in the baking pan. Peel the onions and cut them in half crosswise. Place in a well oiled baking dish just large enough to hold them all in one layer. Sprinkle with the parsley, sage, thyme and nutmeg, and salt and pepper lightly. Sprinkle with olive oil. Cover the dish tightly (with lid or foil) and bake for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the chestnuts and mix with the wine and nutmeg. Raise the oven temperature to 400o. Place a slice of pancetta over each onion half. Divide the stuffing among the onions and mound on top of the pancetta. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Using a vegetable peeler, make a shavings of butter and place one on each onion half. Pour the wine into the pan around the onions.

Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until onion is tender and topping is lightly browned. Place on a serving platter (or individual dishes) and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serves 8.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Tale of Three Ribolittas

A couple of years ago, I wrote about one of my favorite Italian soups, ribollita. Back in Tuscany recently for a visit, I had the chance to enjoy it three times.

The first was in Siena. Mostly beans and bread, it was more a stew than a soup. Okay, I guess, but...


The next was in a little wine bar down the street from our hotel in Radda in Chianti. Ah, this is more like it! Lots of veggies and plenty of broth even after the chunks of bread were soaked through.


The last was in a restaurant in a back street in San Gimignano. Nearly perfect!

Now I can't wait for the weather to get cool enough in Memphis to have another go at it!
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Can I remodel my kitchen?

This is a kitchen design studio in Rome, near the Medici gardens.

Sleek and shiny. How long would it stay shiny in MY kitchen? But it sure is flashy, isn't it?
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Wonderful Latino-Style Cake

A few weeks ago, I was a little under the weather due to emergency surgery. As one might expect, friends came through with tasty treats to keep me nourished. One of the treats was a wonderful cake, a rich chocolate cake topped with a flan typical of Latino cooking.

Although I’m not much of a sweets eater, or maker either for that matter, I found this so good I had to ask for the recipe. My friend told me she’d gotten it from an out-of-town newspaper a good while back. I went online looking for it, and found that there are various recipes for it, from many sources, but I didn’t find this one, using Coke instead of water to make the cake.

I’ve not specified the eggs and oil, if needed, for the cake mix since different brands use different amounts. Just use what the box calls for, substituting Coke (not diet) for the amount of water called for.

Most of the recipes called for cajeta. This is a Mexican caramel sauce made with goat’s milk. I couldn’t find it, and used Smuckers caramel ice cream sauce instead, with excellent results.

Once made, it is essential to chill before turning out onto a plate. And be sure to use a plate with a rim, because the caramel will run down the sides of the cake and pool around the edges. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as we did!


1 cup Smuckers caramel sauce
1 devil food cake mix, made as directed, using Coke for the liquid called for
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk (not skim)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (I always use Eagle brand)
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 12 cup bundt cake pan heavily with cooking spray. Pour the caramel sauce in the bottom, spreading evenly. Pour the prepared cake mix on top.

In a large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients until very well blended. Pour down one side of the cake pan. Some of it may float on top but most will sink. Don’t worry if it looks weird.

Place the cake pan in a larger pan and pour about an inch of hot water into the larger pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until cake layer tests done.

Cool to room temperature, then chill completely. A couple of hours before you plan to serve it, take from the fridge. Place a large plate with a rim over the top of the pan. Carefully turn it over, and let set with the pan on top. When ready to serve, lift the pan off. Most of the caramel will have run over the top and down the sides of the cake.

Cut into slices to serve, and refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 12 generous servings.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Not so pretty but oh so tasty!

For the second week of our Italian vacation, we used the charming town Radda in Chianti as our base for exploring the hill towns of Tuscany. We would be tourists during the day, but in the evening would return to our "home town" Radda for our apero and dinner.  One evening, we dined at the Ristorante Botte di Bacco.

For my main course, I chose a primo piatto, Blueberry Pasta with Cinghiale-Chianti Sauce. Now you can see from the picture that it was not the prettiest dish I've ever had put in front me, bless its little heart, but I gotta say, it was one of the best, if not the very best dish I had in Italy.

I had seen the blueberry pasta in another nearby town, but hadn't ordered it. It must be a VERY local item. I asked my friend (and Tuscan cooking instructor) Judy Witts Francini about it, and she had never heard of blueberry pasta. This isn't unusual in Italy (or France or Spain either, for that matter). Some menu items are just VERY local.

Cinghiale is the wild boar that populates the hills of Tuscany and during the fall can found on pretty much every menu around, perhaps as a sort of stew. Or it might be in a tomato-based pasta sauce, usually served on pici, a regional thick and chewy spaghetti.

For this sauce, the ground boar meat was simmered with Chianti wine and herbs.  Then a very reduced drizzle of Chianti wine was drizzled around the edges, garnished with sangiovese grapes warmed in the reduction.

I'm going to try to reproduce this (although I'll have to use ground pork for the wild boar) and if I'm successful, I'll share it with you!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dinner as a culinary experience...


In Florence, we went to Cibreo. It is considered one of the most creative kitchens in the city, and with good reason. The chef, Fabio Picci, has three establishments side by side (well, two are back to back). I'd eaten in the trattoria twice before, and enjoyed it immensely. There's also a cafe across the little street with a bar and snacks.

We went to the "real" restaurant, hoping we could get in without reservations (legend has it that one can NEVER get in without them). We lucked out. We were among the early comers at 8:00 and got a good table with as good as view of the kitchen as there is. Our first hint of the price level was that there were four fine stemmed glasses at each place.

One interesting note: Cibreo serves no pasta. The chef is reputed to have said "It's cheap and we all eat it at home. Why go out for pasta?"

So here's how it works: You don't get a menu. You get a card saying first courses (primi) are E20 and main courses (secondi)are E30. A handsome young man came to the table, pulled up a chair and listed the first courses. I chose a yellow bell pepper soup that had been recommended to me by a friend who'd been there. Tom got a "spicy fish soup."

For our main course, Tom got "coda de vacca," an oxtail dish cooked sort in a stew. I got pigeon with mostarda, a tangy fruit confit. Once we'd ordered, the sommelier came for wine ordering we asked for a light white wine, and were happy with the selection although in retrospect, a light red would have been better with our main course. He didn't suggest that to us. Hm...

Then came a lovely selection of antipasti: a tomato/basil aspic, a spoonful of marinated zucchini, a square of zucchini mousse, one crostini each of liver pate and another of sundried tomato, and tender, delicious marinated tripe, with a roll of the home-made potato bread they are known for. Tom even ate his liver. I didn't tell him what the tripe was until he'd eaten it. He liked it.

Then came the soups. I'd say the serving was around 6 ounces. My yellow bell pepper soup was good, and beautifully served, drizzled with a very fine flavored olive oil, with a couple of tiny slightly cheese-flavored croutons. Tom's spicy seafood soup was just that. A similar sized serving, it was dark and dense and delicious, with a little more than a hint of hot pepper.

My pigeon was wonderful. all dark meat but tender, and the waiter encouraged me to use my fingers (a real no-no for most Italian rules of etiquette) to get every bite. As my contorno (side dish) I was brought a ramekin of potato puree, lightly toasted on top. Tom's ox-tail was, well, boring. The sauce was a little on the sweet side, it was hard to eat, and, well, boring. And he doesn't remember if he got a contorno. So it must not have been memorable.

We pretty much never order dessert, and didn't there either, but they brought us a nice tasting slice of a very dense, very chocolatey tart. The bill was E180 with the wine, or somewhere around $250. Was it an interesting experience? For sure. Did I enjoy my food? Absolutely. Am I sorry we went? Definitely not. Will I ever go back? No. Am I recommending that you do? No.

Go to the trattoria, it's half the price for many of the same menu items and a LOT more fun!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A delightfully delicious martini

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My dear sister Cindy came from Knoxville a couple of weeks ago for a visit. Tom was out of town for the week, so we had a "Girls' Night In." Leave it to my sister to come up with a delicious contribution: Blood Orange Martinis.

She had brought Blood Orange Elixir, available online at Earth & Vine, and maybe at Fresh Market or Whole Foods.

I must admit to being a bit of a wimp, hard-liquor wise, so I cut the amount of vodka in half. I rimmed the glasses with regular orange juice and sugar, and we poured. Delicious!

Now I just have to order some for myself. She took her bottle home with her!


4 oz vodka
2 oz Concentrated Earth & Vine Provisions Blood Orange Beverage Elixir
½ oz Triple Sec or flavored orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)
Crushed ice

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice; shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange twist. Makes two.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Tasty Winter Squash Pizza


A couple of weeks ago, my husband had a work assignment out of town. So I decided it was time for a "Girls’ Night In." Several of my friends came over and we ate chips and dip, and cheese and crackers, and had a glass of wine or two. And we made pizzas.

I got several 12" pre-baked crusts. I had thought about making them from scratch but just didn’t have the time.

I have a pizza stone that lives in my bottom oven which makes for a nice crispy crust. If you don’t have one, just put a baking sheet in the oven while preheating and transfer your pizza to it when ready to bake.

I made one—Pizza alla Zucca--using acorn squash. A small butternut squash would be equally good. (The Italian word "zucca" refers generally to any of the hard-skinned winter squashes.)

The easiest way to peel either is to cut into slices with a heavy knife, and then cut off the skin around the edges of the slice. Then it’s easy to grate for this recipe.

You could cut this into 12 thin wedges for an appetizer, or into 6 wedges for larger servings. We had a little green salad to go along with it, and it made the perfect dinner for our girls’ get-together.


2 tbsp. good fruity olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 plump cloves garlic, peeled and minced
½ cup onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 cups peeled and grated acorn (or other winter) squash
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 12-inch pre-baked pizza crust
4 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 oz. mozzarella, grated

Preheat the oven to 450-degrees. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the squash and rosemary and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Lift the squash mixture from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving behind any fat or liquid that drains off. Spread on crust to about ½" from the edges. Sprinkle first with the gorgonzola and then the mozzarella.

Put on preheated pizza stone or baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, until topping is melted and lightly browned. Let set for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Golden Beet-Avocado Salad

A few weeks ago I wrote about Montmartre, a great little French restaurant I found in D.C. It was the sort of neighborhood bistro that you might find in France, with several tables of folks speaking French (always a good sign).

I ordered gazpacho and a salad. The gazpacho was delicious but I really loved the salad. I spoke to the server, Anne, who gave me a little hint as to how it was prepared. It was composed of roasted yellow beets, grape tomatoes, red onion and avocado. It was a very felicitous combination, and I couldn’t wait to make it at home.

Anne said they rubbed the beets with olive oil and roasted them. I’ve always wrapped beets in foil to roast, but found that this method sort of concentrated the natural sweetness of the golden beets.

They sprinkled it with a mixture of chopped fresh herbs; I used cilantro with equal success. And they used grape tomatoes, but in this season, good farmers’ market or home-grown tomatoes would be perfect.

Because of the lemon juice in the dressing, you can keep this for a day or two without having khaki colored avocado. This will make a great side dish to any of your grilled dinners this summer.


Juice and finely grated zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup good fruity olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 ripe but still firm avocados, peeled and cubed
3 golden beets, roasted, peeled and cubed (see note)
¼ cup slivered red onion
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (or 2 cups diced tomato)
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup minced cilantro, plus a couple of sprigs to garnish

Whisk the lemon juice and zest with the olive oil in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining ingredients and toss just until combined. Let rest for an hour or so for flavors to meld. Serve garnished with additional cilantro sprigs. Serves 6 or so as a side dish.

NOTE: Golden beets are available at Fresh Market. Cut off tops, leaving 1" of stems. Rub with olive oil, put on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Check to see if a small pointy knife can penetrate easily. If not, roast until it can. Let rest until cool enough to handle, then peel and cube.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Daley Plaze Farmers' Market - Chicago

Random shots, it was all quite appealing. Unfortunately I couldn't bring a lot back with me!

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

A lovely new café in Chicago

I get a weekly e-mail from Daily Candy that gives the weekend special activities in several major US cities. Since we were headed to Chicago, I looked up their recommendation for this weekend. One of the suggestions was a new café opened by the Omni Hotel. Café 676 has only been open a little over a week, but you wouldn't have known that from the service, or execution of the food. The alfresco new-comer uses ingredients from its hotel rooftop garden to use in salads, snacks, and sandwiches

The one page menu is widely enough varied to have something for everyone, yet each dish shows a nice touch of creativity. There are "Snacks," each priced at $4.00, a few bites of a perfectly aged cheese with a lovely accompaniment. Then a list of soups and salads, and a few amusing more substantial dishes.

Tom ordered the "Great Lakes Niçoise Salad." A riff on the classical French version, the fish was a perfectly grilled filet of walleye. I wasn't familiar with this fish but is was delicious. The salad wasn't the composed version typical of the South of France. Besides the usual haricots verts (skinny green beans), hard cooked egg and tomato, there were chunks of blue potato that did nothing for the visual appeal of the salad, and the dressing, a white wine vinaigrette was a little sharp for both our tastes. A little more olive oil would have softened it nicely.

I ordered the "Sweet Corn Soup." Smooth and creamy with a bit of spice that I wasn't quite able to identify, it was laced with tasty bits of crisp-tender veggies. I loved it.

After that, I had two "Snacks." Both were cheese. The first was the "Julianna," perfectly aged goat cheese from Capriole Farmstead in Indiana, accompanied by a sweet-tart Meyer lemon compote. The other was robiola, a rich and mildly pungent cheese from the Lombardy area of Italy, with a not-too-sweet strawberry jam. Each made a perfect match.  All were accompanied by crisps made from thin slices of sourdough bread.  The bread is house-made with, they claim, a 105-year old sourdough started.

Although the beer and wine was a little on the pricey side, on the whole we felt pleasant dinner, enhanced by the people-watching opportunities offered by being right on the corner of Michigan Avenue on a warm Saturday evening.  We both agreed that if we lived here, this would probably be a perfect place to stop after an evening out for a glass of wine and one of the snacks, or a nice afternoon stop after shopping for a cup of tea and of of their delicious sounding sweets.  But we probably wouldn't make it a meal destination in a town where there are so many!
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Insalata Caprese Redux

I had a goodly amount leftover of the Insalata Caprese that we spoke about a couple of days ago. I stuck it in the fridge thinking it would be my lunch the next day. Which didn't happen.

So that evening I had planned veal chops with pasta. I did as I planned with the veal chops: I rubbed them with a good olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and grilled them. (I'd planned on doing them on the outside grill but it was WAY too hot. The stove-top ridged cast iron grill had to do!) I made a lemon-caper butter that I dropped on top as it came off the grill.

And to go with it, I cooked imported fettucine nicely al dente and drained it, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Meanwhile, I chopped the tomatoes and mozzarella balls with the balsamic dressing left. Once the pasta was drained, I put it back into the pasta pan and added the caprese salad with a little drizzle of olive oil, a splash of the reserved cooking water and more fresh basil tossed into it.

I put the pasta on the plate and topped it with the veal chop. When some of the caper butter drizzled down onto the pasta...well all I can say is "Multo buono!"


1 stick butter, at room temperature
Juice and finely grated zest of two lemons
1 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 tbsp minced parsley, preferably Italian
1 good pinch kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients. Leave at room temperature so butter is soft. Use for grilled veal, pork or full flavored fish like swordfish, halibut or tuna.

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