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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

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Tortino di Porri, Patate e Triglie (Leeks, Potatoes and Red Mullet Pie)

17 Feb

This is a simple, versatile and absolutely delectable recipe.  It is a tasty dish to serve as a starter or enjoy as a main course accompanied by a salad.  The distinct but mild onion- flavor of the leeks blends well with the starchy potatoes and the delicate texture of the red mullet, a light-pink fish found mainly in the Mediterranean sea.  Leeks were used in Egyptian cuisine as early as from the second millennium BC, both as vegetables and as aromatic herbs.  In Roman times Emperor Nero loved leeks in his soups believing that they improved the resonance of his voice.  Nowadays we still enjoy leeks in our soups, risotto, pasta, frittata (omelets), or just raw and finely sliced in salad vinaigrettes.  Leeks are often used to flavor dishes such as fish, pork and lamb.  For example, you can use them as “ natural container” to wrap up food (especially fish) during cooking, to give it an enhanced flavor.  Leeks can be served as delicious vegetable side dish, boiled and then baked with butter and cheese, or simply seasoned with oil and lemon.  In addition, leeks are a nutritious and healthy vegetable, rich in water (over 90%), in vitamin A and C, as well as containing moderate amounts of B vitamins and few calories.  We should not underestimate the aphrodisiac aspect of the leeks, a commonly known since ancient times.

TORTINO DI PORRI, PATATE E TRIGLIE (LEEKS, POTATOES AND RED MULLET PIE)
Preparation time: 45 minutes          Baking time: 20 minutes              Serving: 6

tortino porri e triglie 3 small

INGREDIENTS
4 large leeks, white part only, finely sliced
1 medium yellow scallion (or small onion), finely sliced
5 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
120 ml (½ cup) water
4 medium sized potatoes
900 g (2 pounds) skinless, boneless red mullet filets
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
230 g (½ pound) puff pastry sheet
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)
1.Wash the potatoes under running water.  Put them 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, in a large saucepan over medium heat sauté leeks and scallion in olive oil, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.  Add ½ cup of water and cook for about 10 minutes until leek mixture is soft.  Cool for about 10 minutes
3.In a large bowl mix the leek mixture, the diced potatoes and the cream.  Season with salt and pepper
4. Place puff pastry in a 30 cm (12 in) baking dish, pour in the vegetable mix
5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until custard is set and golden on top
6. Remove from the oven and arrange the fish filets on top of the pie
7. Bake for additional 5-7 minutes until fish is done
8. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

Note: At the time of purchase, I would suggest to look for leeks 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.  You can also substitute red mullets with salmon fillets cut into thin and small pieces.  -Paola

Focaccia

29 Jan

Focaccia (pronunced foe-CA-cha) is a soft, flat oven-baked Italian bread, so popular that most people could very well have had their first taste of it in an Italian bakery or restaurant somewhere other than on Italian soil.  It is made of simple ingredients such as flour, yeast, water, olive oil and salt.  It is seasoned with olive oil and herbs and is often topped with different vegetables (tomatoes, onions, potatoes, eggplants, zucchini or whatever else you like), cheese or meat.  It’s something enjoyable any time of the day as an appetizer, a sandwich bread, with a meal instead of traditional bread, or even “come rompi digiuno” – as a snack (this is a common kids’ snack to take to school; they love it!!!).  Focaccia traces its origins to the ancient Roman pan focacious, a flat bread baked on the hearth.  In Latin, in fact, focus means hearth, a place for baking.  Nowadays focaccia is widely spread all over the country, and it seems that each region has its own focaccia recipe.  The most common and wide-spread ones are focaccia Ligure (from Ligury) and focaccia Pugliese (from the region of Puglia).  Focaccia Genovese from the city of Genoa is very simple, prepared with only salt and oil olive on top, but the flavorful and fruity olive oil from this region adds a unique taste to the bread dough and makes this ancient food one of the most appreciated snacks.  The Genovesi (people from Genoa) are very proud of their focaccia, and they even enjoy it for breakfast soaked in cappuccino or latte macchiato.  Not too far away, focaccia di Recco (near Genoa) is richer version with a cheese filling between two thin layers of dough, making it a nice choice for a light lunch.  Focaccia Pugliese is usually prepared with vegetables on top such as fresh tomatoes and olives, finely sliced potatoes or other vegetables such as onions.  You might have also tried Focaccia dolce (sweet focaccia), popular in some Northern regions, made simply from regular sweet focaccia dough sprinkled with sugar, raisins, honey and almonds. 

Preparation time: 2 ½ hours                                  Baking time: 15 minutes                Servings: 6-8 

Focaccia con olive 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Basic recipe
500 g (3 cups) high-gluten flour (Manitoba)
350 ml water (1 cups + 5 tablespoons) at 45°C, 110 °F
130 ml (9 tablespoons) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
10 g (2 teaspoons) salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package (7 g ;1 heaping teaspoon) dried yeast or 1 cube (25 g; about 1 ounce) fresh yeast
Coarse salt

Topping
Focaccia with rosemary/oregano
The leaves only from 2 fresh rosemary sprigs or 2 tablespoon dried oregano

Focaccia with olives
150 g (1 cups) green olives

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small pitcher dissolve salt in warm water, then add 40 ml (3 tablespoons) olive oil.  Mix well then dissolve sugar in it.  Sugar is the so called “nourishment” for yeast  
2. Pour the liquid in a large glass bowl and combine with half of the flour.  Stir well until you have a smooth batter
3. Add yeast to the batter stirring well.  Remember never add yeast directly to salt because it will prevent the yeast from rising
4. Add the remaining flour to the batter.  Mix well until you have a smooth and even dough, but still a little bit sticky
5. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly for about 1-2 minutesDo not add too much flour otherwise the dough will get tough
6. Lightly oil (with about 3 tablespoons) a 25×35 cm (10×14 in.) baking sheet; place the dough in center of the pan and cover with a cotton towel.  Let rise in a warm, draft-free place (about 30°C, 86°F) for about 60-90 minutes until doubled in size
7. Preheat oven to 220 °C (425°F)
8. Pat the dough into the baking sheet, filling it completely.  Brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with some coarse salt.  Let it rise for about 30 minutes at 30°C until increases its volume
9. Press some deep holes into the dough with your finger tips, covering the entire surface
10. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons oil olive (cover all areas of the dough) and wet the top with some water, using a spray-bottle, to keep focaccia soft.  Add your favorite topping
11.Bake for 15-20 minutes
12. Remove from oven and cool on a grid.

Note: You can add two tablespoons of semolina to the flour, this will makes the crust crunchier. The type of water is very important; the pH should be around 6.  I usually use bottled drinking water to avoid having too much chlorine in the dough. The rising temperature is critical too, therefore place the dough in a warm draft-free place and do not open the oven during baking.  Another important information is to never mix salt and yeast directly, because salt inhibits the action of the yeast.  Focaccia can keep for about two days wrapped in plastic wrap, but I suggest eating it fresh, just out of the oven, to fully enjoy its fragrance.  -Paola

Terrina di Gorgonzola, Fichi, Noci e Marsala (Gorgonzola Cheese, Figs, Nuts and Marsala Wine Terrine)

27 Jan

Gorgonzola terrine is an elegant recipe that you can serve at a buffet or as an appetizer, either with crackers or Italian ciabatta bread, and accompanied by nice glass of fruity white wine or an aged Port wine.  This delight is also suitable as a cheese course in an important dinner.  The pungent and distinct Gorgonzola flavor blends well with the sweetness and tenderness of the figs and the crunchy flavor of the nuts.  This is a rich recipe, but there also a healthy side to it, of course!!!!.  In fact figs are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals while walnuts, in addition to vitamins and minerals, also pack high amounts of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which as we know is beneficial to keeping your heart healthy and your cholesterol low.  (At least this is something to balance out the gorgonzola!)  With Italy’s reputation as the country of love and passion, it’s no wonder that a popular legend ascribes the origin of Gorgonzola cheese to a love story.  One evening a young boy working as an apprentice in a dairy factory neglected his job, because he was “distracted” by a visit from his girlfriend and forgot to tend to his daily task.  The next morning he found the milk curds covered by mold!  He tried to cover his negligence mixing the curd from the day before with a new batch.  He didn’t get rid of the mold, but the result was a new cheese never produced before and that now enjoys a solid and devoted following.  This is, of course, only a legend to lend a little extra passion to this delicious cheese, which is made by adding a species of mold to fresh curd from whole pasteurized cow’s milk.  It was already being produced in the Middle Ages, and its name comes from the town of origin, Gorgonzola, to the east of Milan.  Nowadays several cities in Lombardy and a few in Piedmont are the main centers of Gorgonzola production.  During these cold winter days I would also suggest enjoying sweet Gorgonzola spread on warm polenta. (for more on polenta, see the Brasato al Barolo con Polenta recipe https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/brasato-al-barolo-con-polenta-breased-beef-in-barolo-wine-with-polenta/ ).

TERRINA DI GORGONZOLA, FICHI E NOCI (GORGONZOLA CHEESE, FIGS AND NUTS TERRINE)
Preparation time: 40 minutes + 3-4 hours refrigeration                         Servings: 6-8

Tortina zola small

INGREDIENTS
10-12 dried figs
½ cup dry Marsala wine
400 g (14 ounces) sweet Gorgonzola (dolce) cheese
280 g (10 ounces) goat ricotta cheese
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) + 4-5 nuts to garnish
80 g (3 ounces) mascarpone cheese

DIRECTIONS
1.Finely slice the figs and soak in the Marsala in a small bowl for at least 30 minutes
2.Line the inside of a loaf pan with baking paper, allowing it to extend amply beyond the edge of the pan.  Divide the gorgonzola into 3 equal parts, remove the crust and place a gorgonzola cheese layer (about 1 cm, ½ inch thick) into the pan.  (I use a regular loaf pan as a form, filling only one end of the pan.)  Cover the gorgonzola with half of the figs, then place half of the ricotta cheese on top (about 1 cm, ½ inch thick).  Add half of the nuts on top of the ricotta
3.Repeat the same procedure, and finish with the third Gorgonzola cheese layer
4.Cover the top with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours
5. Remove the plastic wrap and lift the terrine carefully from the pan holding the baking paper.  Place the terrine on a serving plate and remove the baking paper.  Cover the top and sides with a thin layer of mascarpone and garnish with some nuts
6. Let it rest for 10 minutes at room temperature, then serve in slices. 

Note: You can store the left over terrine (if there is any!!!) in the refrigerator for one day in plastic wrap.  (Fresh ricotta does not keep very well once opened)  Anyway this recipe is tastier when it is eaten the same day it’s prepared.  There are two types of Gorgonzola: sweet Gorgonzola (dolce) and aged Gorgonzola (piccante, or zesty).  The first one has a distinct but mild flavor and a creamy texture, while the second one has a stronger taste and a hard, crumbly consistency.  You can freeze sweet Gorgonzola cheese, wrapped well in plastic wrap, for a few weeks.  -Paola

Tortino al Cavolo Nero (Kale Pie)

19 Nov

Italian savory pies have been around since ancient times, even Pre-Christian, and are linked to the farmers’ traditions.  They are made with simple and fresh ingredients available during the growing season.  If tomato is Italy’s summer vegetable, cabbage is definitely the winter vegetable.  Kale pie is a true veggie lover’s delight.  Tuscan kale, also called black leaf kale, dinosaur kale, Lacinato kale, or cavolo nero, appears in the markets in November and continues through spring.  It is one of the oldest vegetables in the cabbage family.  It is a leafy cabbage that resembles palm fronds with deep greenish black leaves and pronounced ribs.  It has an intense cabbage-y flavor, but is generally sweeter than other varieties.  It is the basic of ingredient of many other tasty dishes such as soups (i.e Tuscan Ribollita), stews and omelets, and it is delicious on crostini di pane, too.  You can enjoy it also raw in salads.  Kale is highly nutritional vegetable, rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, folic acid (if consumed raw) and potassium.  Kale pie can be served either as an antipasto (starter) or a main course.

TORTINO AL CAVOLO NERO (KALE PIE)

Preparation Time: 1 ½ hrs                  Baking Time: 40-45 min.                  Servings: 8

INGREDIENTS
Pasta brisee (Brisee crust)
250 g (1 ½ cups)  flour 00
120 g (about ½ cup, 4 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
60 ml (¼ cup) ice-cold water
¼ teaspoon salt

Filling
700 g (about  1 ½ pounds) kale
6 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2 cups water
120 g (¾ cup) goat ricotta cheese
3 eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°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 a ball
  4. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Filling

  1. Wash the kale, remove center ribs and stems, cut the leaves crosswise into ½-inch strips
  2. In a large skillet on medium heat sauté the onion with olive oil until onion is softened
  3. Add the kale, stir it to combine with the onion.  Season with salt and add 2 cups of water
  4. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally and adding some water if the pan begins to dry out.  Cook for about 35 minutes until kale leaves are tender.  Set aside and let cool
  5. In a large ball mix the eggs with the ricotta cheese.  Add the vegetable mix and season with freshly ground pepper.  Set aside.

Once the dough has rested, flatten it out on a lightly floured board, then transfer to a on a 24 cm (10 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 vegetable mix and bake until golden, about 40-45 minutes.  It is delicious when eaten freshly baked and a little bit warm. 

Note: When purchasing kale you want leaves that are not too long (no longer than 50 cm, 18 in), firm and fairly, evenly colored without brown or yellow spots.  The most tender kale are the ones harvested in late autumn and early winter after the first frosts.  –Paola

Pane con Pancetta e Formaggio (Bacon and Cheese Bread)

7 Oct

This delicious bread, soft and tasty, and flavored with bacon and cheese, originates from the regions of Tuscany and Umbria in central Italy.  The bread is simple and quick to prepare and is a suitable recipe to accompany a cocktail, a salad, or a picnic.

PANE CON PANCETTA E FORMAGGIO (BACON AND CHEESE BREAD)
Preparation time: 55 min.               Baking time: 50 min.

Pane con Pancetta e Formaggio 

INGREDIENTS
3 large eggs
370 g  (2 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
15 g (3 teaspoons) baking powder
150 g (about 1 cup) diced Swiss cheese (Emmenthal)
150 g (1 ½ cups) grated Parmesan cheese
80 g (½ cup) diced bacon
60 ml olive oil (Extra Virgin)
150 ml milk

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F)
1. Mix the flour, baking powder and grated Parmesan cheese in a medium bowl
2. Add the eggs, olive oil and milk, mix until well blended
3. Add the Swiss cheese and the bacon
4. Stir well until the dough is smooth (you can add extra milk)
5. Pour the dough in a greased and floured bread pan (34 cm x 10 cm)
7. Bake for 50 min.

Let the bread cool in the pan for 5 min. on a rack, then remove it from the pan and let it cool on the rack or about 15 more minutes.  

My son can hardly wait for this bread to cool before cutting into it.  It’s excellent served at room temperature, but he says that it tastes best just out of the oven!  -Paola

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