Archive | March, 2013

Colomba con Crema al Limoncello (Easter Cake with Limoncello Cream)

28 Mar

If you have ever celebrated Easter in Italy, you may have tasted our Colomba di Pasqua (Easter Dove). This is an Italian dessert only available at Easter, something in between a cake and a sweet bread loaf. The particularity of this cake is that it is shaped like a dove, the symbol of peace and rebirth. In the Catholic tradition it also symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The cake is very soft and the ingredients are simple, flour, eggs, natural yeast, butter, sugar and candied orange. The dough is shaped into a dove, glazed with a shiny coat of sugar syrup, coarse sugar and sprinkled with almonds before baking. This is the traditional recipe, but nowadays many variations are available, such as glazed with chocolate or filled with creams, and without candied fruit. Colomba traces its origins to the middle of the sixth century. According to a legend, King Alboin conquered Pavia the day before Easter, and a dove-shaped cake was offered to him as a sign of peace. A more realistic story, though, is that at the beginning of the twentieth century the Milanese company Motta started producing an Easter version of Panettone (Christmas cake). You can enjoy it with sparkling sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti or sweet Passito wine from Sicily. Just like Panettone, it can be served plain or with mascarpone cheese cream flavored with different fruity liqueurs. One of my favorites to use is Limoncello, a delicious after dinner digestivo, frequently served in Italy and Italian restaurants, you might have tasted this delicious liqueur (served chilled) made from Sorrento lemon zest. This liqueur has a very fresh lemon citrus flavor that blends extremely well with the creamy taste of mascarpone and the sweetness of Colomba. Enjoy it and Happy Easter!  Buona Pasqua!

COLOMBA CON CREMA AL LIMONCELLO (EASTER CAKE WITH LIMONCELLO CREAM)
Preparation time: 10 minutes

Colomba smallINGREDIENTS
Mascarpone cheese cream
250 g (9 oz) fresh mascarpone cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
110 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
6-7 tablespoons Limoncello

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small bowl mix the cream and Limoncello
2. Place the mascarpone and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Use electric mixer to whisk for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Then add the cream-liqueur mix. You can serve the mascarpone either on top of the Colomba slice or aside.

Note: Colomba is a simple cake but the preparation is laborious because the raising time occurs in different stages and the temperature of the room is critical. There are so many good brands available on the market, and many pastry shops produce their own Colomba Artigianale or Artisan Colomba. -Paola

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Torta Pasqualina (Easter Pie)

23 Mar

Torta Pasqualina is a rustic savory pie typical of Liguria, filled with spinach, ricotta cheese and eggs. You can serve it as an appetizer with a nice sparkling wine (I love it with my Prosecco) or as an antipasto (starter) anytime of the year, but this dish is really part of the traditional Easter (Pasqua) dinner or served at the Easter Monday (little Easter, “Pasquetta”) picnic with family and friends. In fact you can prepare it a day in advance and enjoy it cold the next day. Torta Pasqualina traces its origins back to 1400 when it was prepared to celebrate Easter Sunday after Lent, a period of time marked by fasting. Catholics during Lent historically gave up more than just meat dishes – eggs, milk, and even fat were abandoned. According to the ancient tradition, 33 pastry layers were used (like Jesus’ age at his passing), while the eggs represented life, fertility and renewal. The ingredients (spinach, cheese, eggs and pastry) were something special, a celebration of the Easter feast. Nowadays the recipe calls for a fewer layers of pastry, and artichokes sometimes substitute spinach. Torta Pasqualina is an absolute hit for everybody who eats it – even kids like it! The perfect combination of spinach, sautéed onions and creamy ricotta cheese is its secret while the hidden eggs add a special surprise.

TORTA PASQUALINA (EASTER PIE)
Preparation time: 1 h           Baking time: 40 min.       Servings: 6

Torta Pasqualina small

INGREDIENTS
1 kg (about 2 pounds) fresh spinach leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 medium onions, finely sliced
1 sprig fresh marjoram
500 g (2 cups) ricotta cheese
1 egg + 6 hard boiled eggs
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan
460 g – 2 sheets (1 pound) puff pastry
Salt , nutmeg and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C -180 °C (350 °F)
1.Boil 6 eggs and shell them. Set aside
2. Wash the spinach several times to remove all the soil. Drain well then steam for 3-4 minutes. Cool, drain and squeeze dry
3. In a large skillet on medium-low heat sauté the onion with olive oil until onion is soft and translucent. Add the spinach and mix well with the onion. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and marjoram
4. In a large bowl cream one fresh egg with the ricotta cheese and Parmesan. Add the vegetable mix and season with freshly ground pepper and nutmeg. Set aside
5. Place one puff pastry sheet in a 25 cm (10 in) baking dish and prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient). Fill with half of the vegetable mix. Hollow out 6 depressions in the filling with the back of moist spoon. Place the boiled eggs in them and pour in the rest of the vegetable mix. Cover with the second sheet
6. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes. It is delicious when eaten freshly baked and a little bit warm, but it is also a treat to enjoy cold the next day.

Note: You can substitute spinach with new Swiss chard. You can store the pie in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can also freeze it after cooking. I would suggest to cut into slices and freeze each single slice. Before serving, defrost in the fridge and heat it in the oven.  -Paola

Tortino di Asparagi e Salmone Affumicato (Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Pie)

15 Mar

Every season has a flavor all its own. Spring should arrive soon with its delicious vegetables, and asparagus is one them. Actually it is available year-round, but Spring is the best season to enjoy fresh asparagus. Asparagus comes in different colors and varieties: green, white, violet or purple, wild. These varieties are interchangeable in recipes; the major difference is the color of the final dish. This pie is an elegant, impressive, colorful (don’t forget that we enjoy food first with our eyes) and flavorful dish made with fresh asparagus (violet-purple variety, typical of Italy), leeks and smoked salmon. It is a delectable dish to serve as a starter or enjoy as a main course accompanied by a salad. The mild onion-flavor of the leeks blends well with the distinct taste of asparagus and the tangy, intensive texture of smoked salmon. Asparagus has been considered a delicacy since ancient times (3000 BC), being used both as a vegetable and a medicine (diuretic). It is low in calories, and it is a good source of vitamins (B1,B6, A, C), minerals (zinc, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium) and dietary fibers. It is one of my preferred Spring vegetables; I can eat it with just about anything! In fact, it is a versatile vegetable which can be prepared in a number of ways as an appetizer, vegetable side dish, main dish accompanied by eggs, fish or first course with pasta, risotto and soups. Let’s enjoy asparagus for the next few months!

TORTINO DI ASPARAGI E SALMONE AFFUMICATO (ASPARAGUS AND SMOKED SALMON PIE)
Preparation time: 55 minutes      Baking time: 20-25 minutes     Serving: 6-8

Tortino di Aspar-Salmone_small

INGREDIENTS
Pasta Brisee
330 g (2 cups) flour 00
160 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
80 ml (1/3 cup) cold water
¼ teaspoon salt

Filling
1,350 g (3 pounds, or 3 bunches) asparagus
4 large leeks, white part only, finely sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
300 ml (1 ¼ cups) heavy cream
200 ml milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
280 g (10 ounces) smoked salmon, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 170°C – 180°C (350°F)
Pasta brisee (Brisee crust)
1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt
2. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
3. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time. Add the egg yolk until mixture forms an elastic ball
4. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Filling
1. Wash the asparagus under running water. Trim ends (see note), bind in bunches (7-8 asparagus each) and blanch in a pan of boiling water or in the microwave with 2 tbsp water on high for 3 minutes. Test doneness with a fork. It should be tender but not mushy. Cut in 1-inch pieces keeping 4 cooked asparagus for decoration
2. While asparagus is cooling, in a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté leeks, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add ½ cup of water and cook for about 10 minutes until leeks are soft. Cool for about 10 minutes
3. In a sauce pan mix cream, milk and flour with a whisk. Bring to boil stirring continuously for about 6-8 minutes until it starts to thicken. Cool and set aside
4. In a large bowl mix the leeks, the asparagus, the salmon and the cream mix. Season with salt and pepper
5. Flatten the chilled dough on a lightly floured board, then transfer to a 30 cm (12 in) ceramic or glass pie or tart baking dish. Gently pat the pastry dough in the pan to 4 mm (less than ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides. The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom, about 5 mm.
Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient), then spread with the mix, decorate with some asparagus on top (I like to slice the 4 stalks in half, lengthwise, and arrange them like spokes on the pie)
6. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until custard is set and golden on top
7. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for about 10-15 minutes before serving
8. Serve in wedges with salmon slices and fresh dill

Note: Look for asparagus with firm heads, stem should be firm but not dried up. Try to bend the stem, you will notice that at certain point it will not break, that’s the point where the stem begins to be tough. When shopping for leeks look for ones with straight and firm stalks, dark green leaves without yellow spots (a sign of lack of freshness). Leeks can be kept in the fridge for about two weeks. Before using leeks, trim the dark portion of the leaves down to the light-green white part. Clean carefully to remove any dirt. -Paola

Frittata al Forno con Zucchine (Baked Zucchini Frittata)

8 Mar

Frittata is an Italian-style omelette made with beaten eggs and milk, and enriched with various ingredients such as vegetables, cheese, ham, pasta and herbs. For example in the Neapolitan tradition frittata is commonly made with left over pasta (spaghetti, angel-hair, etc.), ham and cheese. The word frittata comes from the Italian verb “friggere” to fry. In fact, the egg mixture is usually fried in a frying pan on the stove, but nowadays there is a baked version as well, like my recipe below. Actually, I prefer this method because makes the frittata lighter on the stomach (no frying) and therefore easier to digest. The addition of zucchini makes this recipe a tasty, dietetic and nutritious dish. Zucchini is a rich in water, vitamins (E, C and folic acid) and potassium, while the eggs are highly rich in proteins. With eggs being one of the most readily available and low cost ingredients, frittata has long been a humble dish. Frittata di cipolle (onion frittata) was a typical workers’ lunch. You can serve it warm as a complete meal, at room temperature or even enjoyed cold the next day for a quick lunch or picnic. There is a technical difference between frittata and omelette: the omelette’s ingredients are placed on the omelette while it is cooking, while when making a frittata you must mix the eggs and the other ingredients together before cooking. You may have heard the expression “hai fatto una frittata” … perhaps understandably, that means you made a mess! This expression comes the fact that frittata is usually made at the last minute with the ingredients available in the fridge, left overs, too!! So the result is not always guaranteed!!!

FRITTATA AL FORNO CON ZUCCHINE (BAKED ZUCCHINI FRITTATA)
Preparation time: 35 minutes     Baking time: 15-20 minutes     Servings: 4

zucchine frittata small

INGREDIENTS
200 g (2 medium) potatoes, boiled and diced
450 g (4 medium) zucchini, thinly sliced
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
50 g (½ cup) Parmesan cheese
6 eggs, separate egg yolk from egg white

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 160°C -170°C (325°F -350°F)
1. Wash potatoes under running water. Put potatoes in a pan and cover with cold water. Turn on the heat and bring to boil. Cook for about 6-8 minutes until potatoes are done but not soft. Cool, peel and dice them
2. While potatoes are cooling, wash zucchini under running water and trim ends and slice
3. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté onions and zucchini in olive oil, stirring frequently for about 10-15 minutes. Stir in parsley and potatoes
4. In a large bowl beat egg yolks, add the vegetable mixture, Parmesan, salt and pepper
5. In a medium bowl beat the egg whites
6. Combine egg whites with vegetable mix and pour it in a 24 cm (10 in) ceramic or glass pie or tart baking dish previously covered with baking paper (see note)
7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until custard is set and golden on top
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for about 7-8 minutes. Serve warm. You can enjoy the frittata cold too.

Note: Baking paper is very convenient to use. I will tell you a small trick. Cut the paper (bigger than the baking dish), wash under running water and wring the water out. Place the paper in the baking dish. Let the edges go partially up the side of the pan to keep any batter from slipping into the baking dish. This method allow a better adhesion of the paper to the dish wall. Frittata should be stored in an airtight container as water and humidity can alter the texture and taste. If you add greens or vegetables you should first sautee to enhance the flavor. Paola

Insalata di Finocchi e Arance Rosse (Fennel and Blood Orange salad)

2 Mar

This year’s citrus season is almost over, but we still have time to enjoy this delicious Sicilian salad made with fennel bulb, blood orange and olives. This is a simple and refreshing dish, perfect to serve either for a light lunch or as a side dish with dinner. The sweet and beautifully colored blood oranges complement the delicate anise taste of fennel, while the addition of olives makes this recipe a symphony of flavors for your palate. The brilliant red flesh color of Sicilian blood oranges is due to an antioxidant compound which – although found in many fruits but uncommon to citrus fruit – makes this citrus very special! Fennel is indigenous to the Mediterranean area, but it is now widely cultivated in many other parts of world as well. The fennel bulb, foliage and the seed are used in various culinary traditions and medicinal purposes. Fennel is very refreshing, purifying and diuretic. The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be used in many ways: sautéed, braised, grilled, stewed, au gratin or just eaten raw in salads, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. This salad is not only very beautiful, but it is also delightful and healthy. It is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and nutrients, and it helps keep you healthy too!

INSALATA DI FINOCCHI E ARANCE ROSSE (FENNEL AND BLOOD ORANGE SALAD)
Preparation time: 15 minutes                   Servings: 4

insalata di finocchi small

INGREDIENTS
Salad
2 medium fennel bulbs, thinly shaved with a mandolin or meat slicer
2 blood oranges, peeled
12 green olives or black (pitted and sliced) + 4 whole pitted

Dressing
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Soak the unpeeled oranges in boiling water for about 5 minutes. This method facilitates removal of the white membrane when peeling
2. Using a sharp knife peel the oranges and remove membrane. Cut them into the shape you prefer. I like one in small pieces and the other one in slices
3. Coarsely slice the olives
4. Wash the fennel bulbs, slice off the stalk and any fronds, and thinly slice
5. In a large bowl combine the orange pieces, the fennel and the sliced olives. Toss with the dressing
6. Arrange the sliced orange on a serving plate. Place the salad mix in the middle and decorate with the whole olives. Serve immediately.

Note: When you purchase your vegetables choose fresh fennel; it is even better if you use male fennel without sprouts. Oranges should be firm and plump, and feel free to use either green or black olives, whichever you prefer. Fennel turns brown (oxidizes) quickly, so as soon as you slice it, quickly add the dressing to it. The presence of lemon juice will slow down the process. -Paola

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