Archive | May, 2013

Brie in Crosta (Baked Brie in Puff Pastry)

25 May

Brie wrapped in puff pastry and baked until the cheese is hot and gooey and the crust is golden brown …  mmmmmmm! This is an elegant and tasty appetizer to serve at a dinner party to please and impress your guests.  It’s probably one dish that you don’t want to eat all the time (full of calories!), but when you do it is heavenly.   Try it on either toasted Italian bread or your favorite crackers. To fully enjoy Brie’s taste you have to eat it with its rind, a integral part of its flavor. Some cheeses are conserved in plastic wax or even natural rinds that have, however, an unpleasant taste; Brie’s rind, on the other hand, adds a pronounced and distinctive taste to the cheese, so please do not remove it. Brie is a soft French cheese named after the French region Brie, where it was originally created. It is a rich cheese but also a good source of protein, vitamin B12 and vitamin B2.  It is a popular cheese in Italy, even though we have a very similar one called Camoscio d’Oro.

Preparation Time: 35        Baking Time: 15 min.                    Servings: 6

Brie con Fette di Pane

200 g (14 oz) wedge of Brie
230 g – 1 sheet (½ pound) puff pasry
1 tablespoon water
Crackers or toasted bread

1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C – 400°F
2. Shape the brie as a rectangle by cutting off the point (halfway between the tip and the outer edge), then divide the point longitudinally in half. Place the two thin triangles obtained along each side of the larger piece of brie to create a rectangle
3. Cut the puff pastry sheet to obtain a strip of about 25×15 cm (10×6 in), wrap the cheese completely as if making a little package like a gift
4. Wet the overlapping parts and seal the pastry by pressing firmly with your fingers. This step is very important to avoid having the cheese leak out during baking
5. Decorate the “package” with pieces of puff pastry in a design of your choice
6. Place the wrapped cheese on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown
7. Let cool for 15 minutes, and serve with toasted bread or crackers.




Risotto ai Fiori di Zucca (Zucchini Flower Risotto)

17 May

Whenever I think of spring, I think of flowers.  In spring Italian markets are filled with bright yellow-almost orange edible zucchini flowers. There are two types of zucchini flowers: female and male flowers.  The female flower is a golden blossom on the end of each new zucchini, while the male one grows directly on the plant stem. Like zucchini, zucchini flowers are good source of vitamin C, potassium and folate.  Zucchini flowers can be sautéed, stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, or added to pasta and risotto. Risotto is one of my favorite ways of eating zucchini flowers. This is a healthy, delicate, colorful and elegant dish. The flowers add a sweet taste to the risotto.  This is a perfect vegetarian and gluten-free dish.

Preparation time: 25 minutes    Cooking time 16-18 minutes     Servings: 4

Risotto fiori di zucca

500 ml (approx. 2 cups) vegetable stock
450 g (1 pound) new zucchini with flowers
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
120 ml (½ cup) dry white wine
50 g ( ½  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

1. In a saucepan over medium low heat, warm up the stock2. Cut off the flowers from the zucchini and remove the pistil. Wash the zucchini and the flowers. Dice the zucchini and slice the flowers into thin strips
2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) of butter. Add the chopped shallot, and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and shallot. (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.).  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 9 minutes. Add the diced zucchini and the flowers and one more ladle of stock.  Cook for another 6-7 minutes until the stock is nearly absorbed. If you prefer softer zucchini, add the diced zucchini at the beginning with the shallot. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.
The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 30 g (2 T).
4. Remove your risotto from the heat. At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter. You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes. Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: When you buy the zucchini flowers, choose firm flowers that are mostly closed. They keep a few days in the refrigerator in tightly sealed containers.  – Paola

Insalata di Pollo (Chicken Salad)

11 May

How about a refreshing summer salad made with grilled chicken breast, carrots, red pepper, celery, pickles and delicious Taggiasche olives?  The dressing is prepared with Greek yogurt, mayonnaise and flavored extra virgin olive oil.  The addition of olive oil lends a special taste to this salad, a Mediterranean touch.  Chicken is a healthy choice, in fact it contains less fat than beef or pork, and it is rich in vitamins and minerals; it is  therefore is an excellent choice for a light and nutritious diet .  In addition its milder taste complements a lot of dishes. This salad may be served on top of lettuce, tomatoes  (or the combination of them) or in a sandwich, and it is an easy dish to take on a summer picnic.  Try it cold or at room temperature, as an appetizer or main course.

Preparation time: 20 minutes                                       Servings: 4

Insalata di pollo piatto

500 g (18 oz) grilled chicken
3 carrots, peeled and julienned
1 medium red pepper, julienned
3 celery stalks, diced
7 medium pickles, julienned
2 tablespoons Taggiasche olives

1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet mustard
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Pound the breast chicken to 1 cm (½ in) thickness . Grill the chicken for about 3-4 minutes each side but not too long otherwise the meat will dry out. Let it cool and cut into strips 1 cm (½ in) wide and  6 cm (2 ½  in) long
2. Clean and wash  all fresh vegetables.  Julienne the carrots, the pepper and the pickles. Dice the celery. Pour all vegetables and chives in a large bowl.  Set aside
3. In a small bowl mix well the yogurt, mayonnaise, the mustard, salt and pepper.  Then slowly add the olive oil until well blended
4. Combine the vegetables and the chicken. Mix well and toss with the dressing
5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Note: I partially substitute mayonnaise with Greek yogurt because it makes the dressing lighter. You can use a variety of mustards. I like sweet mustard, but you can substitute with your favorite one.  -Paola

Torta di Fragole (Strawberry Tart)

4 May

This delicious and fresh strawberry tart is prepared with an almond-flavored dough (pasta frolla), filled with custard and then decorated with fresh strawberries for a tasty and colorful touch. It is a water-mouthing dessert to serve on a special occasion such as the Mother’s Day! But this is a classic for any other occasion too, such as a birthday party or a dinner with friends. The preparation of this tart is not difficult, but it requires a bit of patience and some creativity in decorating. The look and the taste are worth it! May  12th will be Mother’s Day in most countries, and we like to celebrate this special day by preparing something special. Mother’s Day actually has pagan origins and dates back to ancient times. Even the Greeks and the Romans dedicated one day each year to their parent. In Italy the first celebration was in Assisi in 1957, and since then it has been in our calendar on the second Sunday of May. This day is a very special day, all mothers should be surrounded by love, attention and gratitude, and of course delicious food!

Preparation time: 90 minutes           Crust cooking time: 40 minutes       Servings: 8

Torta fragole fetta

Pasta Frolla
250 g flour (200 g 1 ¼  cups all purpose flour  + 50 g ⅓ cup potato starch)
100 g (⅔ cup) roasted almonds
8 g  (1 heaping teaspoon) baking powder
130 g  (⅔ cup) sugar
140 g (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
The grated rind of half a lemon
dried beans or other dried legumes (about 1 ½ cups)

500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
1 whole vanilla bean
6 egg yolks `
150 g (¾ cup) sugar
50 g (⅓ cup) potato starch
500 g (18 oz) fresh strawberries

230 ml (1 cup) water
20 ml (1 heaping tablespoon) lemon
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 packet of cake gelatin (like Tortagel)

Preheat oven to 170 °C – 180 °C (350 °F)
1. Toast the almonds for a few minutes in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cool them and pulverize them in a food processor until you reach the consistence of flour
2. To prepare the pasta frolla (pie dough), mix the flour, almond flour, baking powder, sugar and lemon zest a medium size bowl. Cream the butter with an electric mixer in a separate bowl. Stir into the butter, the eggs and all dry ingredients. Knead the dough by hand until it forms a homogeneous ball. Remember to manipulate the dough as little as possible. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes
3. While the dough is resting in a refrigerator, prepare the custard. In a large saucepan, place the vanilla bean in the milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes; remove the vanilla pod from the milk. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a whisk or an electric mixer until frothy. Mix in the starch a little bit at a time. Add 160 ml (⅔ cup) of the cooled milk stirring continuously with a whisk. Pour the egg mixture and the milk back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Bring to boil, cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Lower the heat (medium-low) and continue to beat with a whisk for 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Pour the cream into a glass bowl. To avoid formation of a “film” while the cream is cooling, lay a disk of plastic wrap directly on the surface
4. Once the dough has rested, on a lightly floured board, roll (or gently pat the pastry dough directly into the pan) the pastry dough to 6 mm (about ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides of a 24-25 cm (10 in) spring form pan.  The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom.  Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient). Cover with a disk of baking paper of diameter slightly larger than the tart, fill with dried beans and cook for approx. 25 minutes. Then remove the beans by lifting the edges of the paper. Continue cooking for  about 15 minutes so that the dough dries out. Cool on a wire rack
5. While the crust cools, clean the strawberries by removing the green leaves and washing them quickly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and cut them in halves or into slices of about 2-3 mm (⅛ in). Transfer the crust onto a serving plate, fill it with custard and decorate with strawberries
6. For the gelatin, place 230 ml (about 1 cup) water in a sauce pan, add the filtered lemon juice,  the gelatin powder and sugar. Mix together all the ingredients with a whisk, bring to  boil and cook for 2 minutes. Allow the gelatin to cool, stirring a few times for about 2 minutes, then pour it over the entire cake
7. Put the strawberry tart to cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Note: Traditionally the pasta frolla crust is quite hard.  I prefer a tender, fluffy crust.  My recipe calls for starch,  baking powder (a leavening agent) and creaming the butter; all contribute to the dough’s lighter texture. -Paola

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