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Beet Ravioli with Goat Cheese

Monday
Jul072008

July 4th Dishes


It was a great July 4th weekend here. The weather was picture perfect, my youngest son, Nathan, turned twelve and we decided to have a big party. Parties always make me happy. I had a slightly ambitious menu and ended up cooking about 15 dishes from scratch. I had some help (thanks, Linda and Binder!) because I was going to crash and burn without it. Anyway, there were a couple of dishes which people wanted the recipes for and so I thought I would just go ahead and post them. Since I wasn't making these dishes for the blog, I didn't photograph them with my regular camera that I use for blog photos (my Canon EOS 10D with a Speedlite flash) so I just have some casual shots with my little Canon ELPH that my friend Linda took. I've blown them up the best I could so you could see the dishes.

Also, there is a new item on the blog site. It's the official Italian Dish apron, designed by my oldest son, Barry. Check it out!

And lastly, I wanted to include a photograph of my son's birthday cake. It was just too cute. It was created by a great bakery here in town, A Piece O Cake, and I thought I'd just show it to you. They have a beautiful web site where you can see all their great creations.

Orzo with Roasted Carrots

 

I use the Asian Orzo blend from Pappardelle's Pasta. It's a blend of lemon ginger, cayenne pepper, sesame, chive and garlic orzos. It's so pretty and looks great with the roasted carrots. The cayenne pepper orzo gives it a zing. If you've never heard of Pappardelle's Pasta, you should go to their web site and check them out.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds carrots
  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound orzo
  • Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 4 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
  • Fresh ground pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400. Cut carrots diagonally into 2 inch pieces. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss carrots and garlic with 2 Tablespoons oil and a big pinch of salt. Roast until carrots are tender and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Toss them and keep checking so they don't burn. Squeeze garlic from out of skins; mince to form a coarse paste and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add salt. Stir in orzo and cook until al dente. Drain. While still hot, transfer orzo to a large bowl and toss with 2 Tablespoons oil. Let cool slightly and add roasted carrots.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together lemon zest, juice, scallions and the roasted garlic. Add dill and pour mixture over orzo. Stir and season with salt and pepper. Serve or store, covered, in refrigerator for up to one day, bringing to room temperature before serving.

Italian Potato Salad

I don't use a recipe for this, so I never make it the same way twice. This is a basic recipe for you and you can adjust anything to your liking.  Personally, I like a lot of capers and parsley.

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart small red potatoes
  • 2 celery stalks
  • some chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon capers packed in salt, rinsed
  • salt and pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • white wine vinegar
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced into wedges.

Instructions:

Boil the potatoes in their skins and let cool slightly. Cut into fourths.

Chop the celery into thin slices. Add the celery, chopped parsley and capers to the still warm potatoes. Toss. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over the salad and then splash some vinegar over. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust vinegar and salt to your liking. Place the hard boiled eggs around the salad.

Saturday
Jun282008

Eggplant Parmesan

I have an Italian cousin, Laura, who lives in Turin. Her son Fabio speaks English really well and we correspond via e-mail. He sent me this recipe from his mother (grazie, Laura!) for the way they fix Eggplant Parmesan. It's what I love about Italian cooking - so perfectly simple and fresh.

Don't forget to salt the eggplant - remember my previous Eggplant Rolatini post? I explained the importance of salting the eggplant, not to get rid of bitterness like some people think, but to collapse the tiny air holes in the eggplant itself. If you like to read about stuff like this - the "whys" of cooking and the science of food, you should really pick up a copy of Harold McGee's must have book, "On Food and Cooking".   Lots of professional chefs refer to this book.  McGee has done an unbelievable amount of research on the science of cooking. It's a great reference book to have.

Eggplant Parmesan 

 

Ingredients:

For the tomato sauce

  • About 35 ounces San Marzano tomatoes (or canned if you can't find fresh)
  • 5 Tbsp. olive oil
  • some onion
  • some basil
  • salt
  • some water 
  • 2 eggplants
  • salt
  • canola oil
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Wash the tomatoes and squeeze them to eliminate the seeds. Skip this step if using canned tomatoes. Put the tomatoes in a pot, with the oil oil, salt, some minced onions and some basil leaves and 1/3 cup of water (skip the water if using canned tomatoes).

When the onion is well cooked, put the sauce through a food mill.

Slice the eggplants, put the slices in a bowl or colander and salt them generously. After an hour, wash the slices well and fry them using the canola oil.

Layer the slices in a baking pan, cover with the sauce, some basil leaves and the parmesan cheese. Serve cold.

Note: Laura says if you want you can make more layers and add ham and/or mozzarella cheese, baking it for around 20 minutes.

Friday
Jun202008

Umami and the Italian Nonna

What's a Japanese word doing in an Italian food blog? Because it's something every Italian nonna knows about when it comes to adding flavor to dishes. And if you don't know what umami is, you will. It's one of the hottest subjects in the cooking world right now.

We all know there are four tastes - salty, sweet, sour and bitter. But researchers have identified a fifth taste and that is umami - the rich, savory taste of some foods. This taste is found naturally in certain foods - very ripe tomatoes, anchovies, parmesan cheese and mushrooms to name a few. It's why fish sauce and soy sauce make fried rice so savory.  Cooks have known for ages that these foods enhance the taste of savory dishes. It's because these foods naturally contain glutamate. It is why MSG (monosodium glutamate) makes foods taste better. If you like the way adding a chicken or beef bouillion cube (which has MSG in it) enhances the flavor of a sauce or a stew, why not try adding a food that naturally contains glutamate? It's why Italian cooks often add an anchovy in the beginning when cooking a sauce. Even if you don't like the taste of anchovies, you will never know it is there. It completely dissolves but it adds a depth of flavor you would not have otherwise.  Don't say, "Ew!  I don't like anchovies!"  Take advantage of the glutamate in this food and enhance your cooking - your umami!

Umami means "delicious" in Japanese.  The Japanese, by the way, use MSG extensively.  MSG was undeservedly blamed for a number of side effects by people and fell out of favor in the United States.  It is widely used in other countries, though.  In 1995 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a large-scale review by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, clearing glutamates as a health risk.  Even Marion Nestle,  author of the recent best seller "What to Eat" and this country's leading nutrition and food safety expert, says MSG was stuck with the stigma of being bad for you.  “There was simply no clinical evidence for any of it,” she said.  She did not even mention MSG in her book.  “I thought the issue was settled, though I know a lot of people will never believe that,” she said.

 

 

And if you think you're not eating any MSG, think again.  The food industry has simply used variations of it with different names.  If you are eating processed foods, you're probably eating some MSG.  That bowl of Ramen your teenager loves so much tastes so good because of the MSG.  Look at the food labels - if you see these words - "yeast extracts, hydrolyzed proteins, antolyzed yeast, whey protein concentrates, " - you are basically eating a variant of MSG.  The food industry will be adding these ingredients more and more to foods. In their effort to offer lower sodium foods to consumers, like soups, they will make up for the flavor loss by putting in some form of MSG.   Some people will always be worried about MSG, even if there is no evidence that it's bad for you.  If you are, stick to whole foods, not processed foods.  Know which foods contain glutamate and use them in your cooking to boost your umami.

 

 

Spaghetti with Anchovies, Capers and Bread Crumbs

 

This recipe uses what Italians call "the poor man's parmesan cheese" - fried bread crumbs. It's actually a really delicious topping to put on pasta.  This pasta sauce takes a mere 5 minutes to make!

Ingredients:

 for bread crumbs:

  • some crustless bread (can be stale), pulsed into crumbs in food processor
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large pinches of kosher salt

Take about a cup of the bread crumbs and fry in the olive oil until crispy and turning rosy. Add salt. Set aside.

for spaghetti:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 anchovy fillets*
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon capers, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • lemon zest
  • 8 oz. thin spaghetti

 

Instructions:

While you make sauce, cook the spaghetti until just al dente.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add anchovy fillets. Heat them gently and stir with spatula until they dissolve.

Add garlic and heat gently for about two minutes. Do not let it burn.

Add half the parsley, all the capers and cook for one minute. Add the cooked spaghetti to the skillet and toss, coating with the sauce. If a little dry, add a few tablespoons of the pasta water. Add the rest of the parsley, the bread crumbs and lemon zest and toss again. Serve hot.

* Use good anchovies if you can find them. I can find Scalia anchovies in most good gourmet grocery stores.