Due Finali Dolci

TiramisuTiramisu

This dish, again seems to be a bit labour intensive, but again, worth it! The best advice I have for you is to make it at least a day in advance, if not two, so that the flavours have a chance to meld and develop. If not, you might find it somewhat bland and unbalanced. I also recommend serving it chilled.

Ingredients:

6 egg yolks
¾ cup white sugar
⅔ cup milk
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound mascarpone cheese
½ cup strong brewed coffee, room temperature (espresso is even better)
4 tablespoons rum or alcohol of choice
2 (3 ounce) packages ladyfinger cookies
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well blended. Whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, don’t stop, until mixture boils. Boil gently for 1 minute, remove from heat and allow it to cool slightly. Cover tightly and chill in refrigerator 1 hour. Remove from the fridge and whisk mascarpone into yolk mixture until smooth, you may wish to use an electric beater for this if you have one, it will make the job easier and give you a silky texture. In a separate medium bowl, beat cream with vanilla until stiff peaks form. In a small bowl, combine coffee and rum. Take each lady finger and dip it into the coffee mixture. Arrange half of soaked ladyfingers in bottom of a 7×11 inch dish. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers, then half of whipped cream over that. Repeat layers and sprinkle with cocoa. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, until set, but preferably overnight or even a day or two.

BiscottiItalian Biscotti

This recipe is for a basic almond cookie, but the flavour options are endless. You can replace the extracts with ones of your choosing, such as anise, orange or lemon. You can add, remove or change the nuts used, or use chocolate chips or poppy seeds instead. Add citrus zest or dried cranberries! You are truly only limited by your imagination.

Original recipe makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients:

12 ounces butter/margarine
1 ¾ cups white sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 ounces chopped almonds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, and then add eggs one at a time, beating until fluffy. Stir in the almond and vanilla extracts. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and then incorporate them into the egg mixture along with the chopped almonds. Stir the dough with a spoon until it begins to come together. I find it easier, once the basic dough has formed, to then dump it out onto a clean floured surface and knead by hand at this point. Divide the dough into 4 parts. Roll each piece into a log about 15 inches long (or as long as your baking sheets are). Place logs onto cookie sheets, two to a sheet, the long way. Flatten the logs out until they are about 3 inches wide with a slight hump going down the middle. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, then remove them from the oven. The loaves should be firm to the touch. Transfer the logs to a rack to cool slightly, and then using a serrated blade, cut the loaves into diagonal slices ½ inch wide. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Stand the slices upright on the baking sheet and bake for another 40 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Time for Dessert!

Time for DessertFor even the most disciplined traveller to Italy, it is hard to say no to all the delicious temptations that await you. It seems that every bar-caffè or pasticceria has an endless display of cookies, chocolates or some other enticement. Italian desserts range in flavor from slightly bitter to sweet but usually not overwhelmingly sweet and are often best served with a wine. However you’ll find that most Italians generally avoid sugary pastries in favour of “Dulci per Adulti” or “Sweets for Adults”. When an espresso and some fruit isn’t enough to suffice, Italians reach for something both savoury and sweet. Traditionally, dulci per adulti consists of a pairing of cheese and sweet lipids and most visitors to Italy will experience the tradition as a cheese plate stacked with thin slices of aged pecorino – parmesan’s salty cousin – drizzled with honey. The two flavors are profoundly complimentary. The taste of the mild, nutty cheese and the taste of the honey melt into each other quickly, unifying on the palate into something extraordinarily delicate.

But dulci per adulti isn’t limited to one blockbuster combo. Gorgonzola cheese, spread across a thin slice of bread and drizzled with honey is a memorable after dinner treat that leaves a wonderful taste in the mouth and compliments a full-bodied red wine. A more toothy option comes from dipping chunks of crumbled parmesan into aged balsamic vinegar, drizzling lightly with honey, and consuming (typically, with relish). For those that cheese and honey won’t suffice, there are countless choices such as tiramisu, gelato, cannoli, biscotti… the list goes on and on. So for today, to end Italian week, I’ve given you two dessert recipes; one a little heavier than the other, depending on your mood (and your diet). The tiramisu is great for a crowd, and the biscotti are perfect for a quiet night, or curled up with a cup of espresso. No matter what you choose to finish your meal, it will be a dolce notte!

Osso Bucco

Osso Bucco 1 Ingredients:

6 veal/beef shank cross cuts, about 1 ½ inch thick
salt and pepper
flour for dredging, as needed
olive oil, as needed
3 cups onion, diced
1 ½ cups carrots, diced small
1 ½ cups celery, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (156ml) can tomato paste
2 ¼ cups dry wine
1 ½ litres chicken or beef stock
sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary*
cornstarch (optional)

Directions:

Trim the veal/beef shanks, and season them with salt and pepper, then dredge through the flour, shaking off any excess flour. Heat oil in a large pot and sear the meat to a deep brown colour, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Due to the amount of meat you are browning, you may have to do this in batches. Remove the meat and keep separate.

Put the onions in the pot and stir, until golden brown. You can add a little more oil if needed to keep the onions from burning, but you do not want a lot of oil in the pot. Add carrots, celery and garlic, and sauté stirring frequently, cooking for 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it turns a deeper colour and gives off a sweeter aroma, about 1 minute.

Deglaze the pan with wine, and reduce liquid by half. At this point, most likely your pot will not be large enough to fit all of the meat and vegetable mixture/sauce, so I often transfer everything to a large casserole dish or aluminum pan. Pouring about half of the vegetable mixture down first, then the meat in a single layer, then topping with the rest of the vegetable mixture. At this point you want to add enough stock to cover the meat by ⅔. Add the sprigs of herbs and cover the dish and put in a 350 degree oven, letting it braise for 2 – 2 ½ hours, until tender.

Classically, at this point, you would remove the herbs and the meat from the pan, and then strain the sauce, only leaving the liquid behind to be thickened with some cornstarch and served with the meat. In my household, vegetables are NEVER put aside! We do not strain the liquid, but serve it as an accompaniment to the meat, often on top of wide egg noodles. Should you wish the actual liquid of the sauce to be thicker, you can separate some and thicken it with cornstarch to serve as an almost gravy. Any way you serve it, you must enjoy!

* to learn how to clean rosemary and thyme properly, click here.

The National Dish of Italy?

Italian Cuisine

So when I looked up online what were the national dishes of Italy, I got three: Lasagna, Pizza and Polenta. Well, I already did a lasagna recipe (it was my first post! Click here for the reference). Pizza?! I could do an entire week on pizza alone! Thin crust, thick crust, deep dish, veggie, cheese-less, oy! The options are endless! And polenta? Personally, I love it. It’s rich and creamy, comforting and yet kinda fancy at the same time. But truth be told, outside of Italian families, not many North Americans know about its wonders. Well, I take that back, some people here do know about polenta, but they call it grits, and it’s a whole other ballgame.

So, to me, when I want to think of a big festive Italian dinner… one where I’m trying to impress someone, I think of Osso Bucco. Traditionally made with veal shanks, it can be done with beef or lamb shanks instead for those that are wary of veal. Heck, truthfully, it can be done with any well muscled piece of meat, as the steps that you are using to prepare it are simple. Sear. Flavour. Braise. That’s it. The benefit of using the shank bone is the amazing marrow that cooks along with the meat, adding delicious flavour, and for those not watching (or not caring about) their cholesterol, spread on a piece of bread, sprinkled with a little salt…. I’m in heaven! So today’s recipe is for the aforementioned dish… from my cucina to yours, mangiare bene and buona notte!

Risotto Milanese

Risotto

While risotto can be labour intensive, with all the stirring involved, the end dish is so worth it! This is a classic recipe in the Milanese style, calling for the use of Saffron. Saffron for those who are not familiar with it is the stigma from the crocus flower. It is pollinated and harvested by hand, making it one of the most expensive ingredients in the world. Luckily, a little goes a long way.  Saffron lends a distinctive taste and colour to this dish, and in my mind, is worth the price. This recipe makes 4-6 servings, as a side dish.

Ingredients:

extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
kosher salt
2 cups Arborio rice
2 large pinches saffron
3 to 4 cups vegetable stock, kept HOT
1 to 1 ½ cups dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
½ to ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Coat a large saucepan generously with olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and salt and sweat them until translucent, about 5 minutes. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, letting the rice slightly stick to the bottom of the pan and scraping it off. It should also sound crackly. Add the saffron to the hot stock; the stock should turn bright yellow. Add the wine to the pan until it covers the surface of the rice. Season with salt and cook over a medium-high heat, stirring continuously until the wine has absorbed into the rice. Add the saffron stock to the pan until it covers the rice. Cook over a medium-high heat, stirring continuously until the stock has absorbed into the rice. Repeat this process two more times with the hot saffron stock. When the third addition of the stock has absorbed and the rice is very creamy, bite a couple grains of rice to be sure it is cooked perfectly. If it is still a little crunchy, add a little more stock and cook the rice for another couple of minutes. When the rice is cooked perfectly, remove it from the heat. Toss in the butter and cheese and “whip the heck out of it.” The rice should be creamy but still flow and hold its own shape.

The Italian Diet

Italian Food FlagSo it seems like the Italians seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to eating healthy! Many of the standard ingredients that are a MUST for Italian cooking are up there are the heart-healthy eating guides. Here are just some of them:

Olive Oil
Make olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fat, your go-to cooking oil. By replacing butter with olive oil—the most commonly used oil in the Mediterranean—you’ll cut back on saturated fat, help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and boost levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. In addition, extra-virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants called polyphenols that have been linked to heart health.

Tomatoes
There’s nothing quite like a ripe tomato, whether served on a bed of fresh greens or made into an Italian red sauce to dress a bowl of hearty pasta. Tomatoes are packed with vitamin C and lycopene, a heart-protective antioxidant that may also help prevent some cancers (particularly prostate). Vitamin A, potassium and folate are also among the tomato’s nutritional benefits. Although cooked tomatoes have less vitamin C, their lycopene is more available and antioxidant activity is undiminished.

Garlic
Garlic is magical; at least that’s what the ancients Romans thought. We now know that garlic has both antibiotic and anti-fungal properties. In an era before antibiotics, garlic may have kept the Greeks and Romans free of infection. Garlic boasts anticancer characteristics—studies show it may lower breast, colon, stomach, throat and skin cancer risks. It’s heart-healthy, too, as it’s been shown to prevent clotting. The secret to all these health benefits? Sulfides. Those beneficial sulfides aren’t released, however, unless the garlic is crushed or chopped and left to sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes before eating or cooking. Garlic purchased already chopped offers the same benefits.

Red Wine
What Italian dinner is complete without a glass of wine? And preferably, for health, make it red wine. Enjoying wine in moderation during meals, not drinking alone outside of the meal and never in excess, can increase “good” HDL cholesterol, may help regulate blood sugar and can even help you digest your food and absorb its nutrients. Pour yourself a 5-ounce serving of your favorite Chianti, Montepulciano or other Italian red to pair with the earthy flavors of Italian cooking.

So if you were looking for an excuse to get cooking, just say your doctor told you it was for your health! Per la vostra salute!

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup

Now while I don’t know any Jewish wedding that this amount of soup would fit the bill for, you can feed about 8-10 people with it as a nice starter. Think of it as an Italian chicken soup, but with meatballs instead of matzo balls! Not that the edition of matzo balls would be a bad idea… hmm…

Ingredients:

Meatballs:

1 pound lean ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup dried bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
3 tablespoons minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
⅓ teaspoon salt, or to taste
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Soup:

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
⅓ cup coarsely chopped onion
⅓ cup coarsely chopped carrot
⅓ cup coarsely chopped celery
1 teaspoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 ½ quarts chicken broth
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
salt to taste
1 cup seashell pasta (or other small-shaped noodle)
2 cups spinach – packed, rinsed* and thinly sliced

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine the beef, eggs, bread crumbs, basil, parsley, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix until well combined, but do not over mix. Shape the meat into ¾ inch balls, and set aside. In a large stockpot, on medium-high heat, add the oil and sauté the onion, carrot and celery until the onion becomes slightly translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic, and let cook a few minutes more until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the broth, bay leaf and peppercorns and any salt that is desired, bringing the broth to a boil. You may wish to put the bay leaf and peppercorns in a little cheesecloth bundle, to make for easy removal later, but you can skip this step, and simply fish them out later. Once boiling, slowly drop in the meatballs and pasta. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, at a slow boil for about 10 minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the meatballs are no longer pink inside. At the last minute add the spinach and wilt it into the soup. Serve hot with crusty bread and enjoy!

* click here to check out how to clean spinach properly.

A Map of Flavour

Map of ItalyYou know, for a relatively small country (shaped like a boot no less!) Italy has a wide and vast range of cuisines running through out it. Each region has it’s own style of dish, and is well known for it, through out Italy, and the world. If you broke it down to the top five, they would be (in no particular order):

Emilia Romagna Region – Main city of Bologna
Tuscany Region – Main city of Florence
Latium Region – Main city of Rome
Lombard Region – Main city of Milan
Liguria Region – Main city of Genoa

And of course, each region has its own famous dish, calling from what is grown and produced in the area that makes up the region.

In Emalia-Romagne, the chief meat is pork (sorry kosher lovers!), and comprises the main ingredient in the area’s renowned Ragu sauce. This thick, rich, and complex tomato sauce is ideally suited for pasta. Ragu is often called “Bolognese sauce”, named after the region’s leading city. Don’t worry though, it’s just as good made with beef!

In Tuscany, Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a well-known dish, comprised of thick, choice steak cut from the local Chianina cattle, charcoal broiled and flavoured with olive oil, salt and pepper. Another interesting note, whenever you see the words “Florentine” on a menu, you can be pretty sure it will contain spinach. This goes back to a relied upon, but unproven, theory is that Catherine de Medici introduced spinach to the Court of France (or at least made it popular). To honour her Italian roots, she supposedly dubbed any dish containing spinach ‘Florentine’.

In Rome, the chief city of the region of Latium, they are known for their Fettuccine al Burro. Now before you start thinking that this is some kind of donkey pasta, in Italian, burro means butter, and this fettuccine dish is one that you are very familiar with, as it is also known as Fettuccine Alfredo or alla Romana. Flat ribbon-shaped pasta is tossed, generally, with cream, butter and cheese, then given a good sprinkling of freshly ground peppercorns.

Now from Milan, nestled in the Lombard region, comes my personal favourite: Osso Buco. Ahhh just saying it makes my mouth water! Traditionally, a veal shank braised with tomato, onion, stock and wine, then topped with Gremolata, a garnish made with parsley, garlic and lemon rind. The choicest morsel in Osso Buco (“hole in bone”) is the cooked marrow clinging to the hollow of the bone. Remember to come back on Thursday for my recipe for this dish!

Lastly, we travel to the Liguria region, and it’s main city of Genoa. Many of you may have heard of Genoa salami, but did you know that this region is the birthplace of Pesto! That fragrant, thick, green sauce that is now prepared by cooks around the world, pesto is made by pounding its ingredients together with a pestle (hence, the name) in a mortar. The essential ingredients are basil, garlic, Parmesan and Sardinian ewe’s milk cheeses, along with pine nuts and olive oil.

Well, that has been quite the tour, and we only hit on five regions! There are so many more! Think about it… we haven’t even broached the topic of pizza yet! Well, good things come to those that wait, so stay tuned for more from Italy throughout the week. Ciao!

Tre Formaggio Arancini (Three Cheese Rice Balls)

Arancini

This recipe may seem a little labour intensive, but trust me, the end result is worth it!! Of course, it’s always easier if you just happen to have left over risotto sitting around your kitchen :). For those of us that don’t though, you’ll find this a very easy recipe as it does not involve the time consuming process that a regular risotto does. Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
½ cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup arborio rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (2 ounces)
½ cup shredded fontina cheese (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 large eggs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 ½ cups breadcrumbs, divided
vegetable oil, for frying

Directions:

Bring the broth and ¼ teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice, garlic and onion, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let cool completely (if you’re in a hurry, try sticking the sheet in the fridge or freezer!). Combine the pine nuts, mozzarella, fontina and parsley in a bowl and set aside. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then stir in the cooled rice mixture, the parmesan and ⅔ cup of the breadcrumbs. Shape the mixture into sixteen 1 ½ -inch balls. Put the remaining breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Press your finger into the centre of each rice ball, and insert 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture, then pinch the rice around the filling to seal. Roll the balls in the breadcrumbs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Loosely cover and refrigerate, at least 1 hour or overnight. (If refrigerating overnight, roll in more breadcrumbs before frying). Heat ½ inch vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F. Working in batches, fry the rice balls, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; season with salt. Enjoy hot with marinara sauce or plain!

Italians… My “Other” Mishpacha

Jews & ItaliansHave you ever noticed how similar the Jews and Italians are? Is it just me? It can’t be just me! We both are family centred, religion driven cultures, who spend way too much time focusing on food and guilt! Yes, there are major differences, but they are so obvious, there is no need to focus on them. I rather look at our similarities and see how we stack up to our “brothers from another mother”. Mainly due to religious reason, we have large families, with multiple generations often living in the same household or neighbourhood. This means, in addition to your parents, you have your aunts and uncles (Memas & Fetas for the Yids and Zie & Zii for the Italians), your grandparents (Bubbe & Zaidie and Nonna & il Nonno), not to mention a whole slew of cousins raising you and your siblings. You can never hide! But, that also means that you have tons of people slipping you sweets and many a table to eat at. And yes, that is a big similarity. Both the Jews and Italians know how to eat! Multiple courses, many dishes at each, never ending plate after plate… whether it’s in Yiddish, Hebrew, English or Italian, food is a common language! So on that note, welcome to Italian week… Mangiare!