Monday, March 21, 2016

ROASTED EGGPLANT SPREAD - Crema di Melanzane

This is a very healthy antipasto spread for burschette or crostini. It is also a delicious spread with carrots or celery for a light lunch or snack. It's perfect for picnics because it is served at room temperature. If you don't have pine nuts (pignoli), substitute walnuts.


2 medium eggplants, peeled and chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
½ large sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, cut in half
3 T extra-light olive oil or avocado oil
½ t red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pine nuts (pignoli) or walnuts
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
5 to 6 large basil leaves
1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained in a mesh colander
3 T chopped Italian parsley
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T finely chopped fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.


Toss the eggplants, bell peppers and onion in a bowl with the garlic, oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.

Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 30 to 35 minutes (save the bowl to use later). Stir once during roasting.
Meanwhile, lightly brown the nuts in a dry skillet. Do not walk because they burn easily.

When the eggplant mixture and nuts are cool, transfer them to a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, basil, and beans and pulse until the mixture is uniform but still slightly chunky. Spoon into the bowl and stir in the Italian parsley and extra-virgin olive oil.


Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the chopped basil and serve with bruschette, crostini, or vegetables.











Saturday, March 19, 2016

POTATO, LEEK & GORGONZOLA SOUP

This recipe is a version of potato and leek soup but with an Italian twist...Gorgonzola cheese!



2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra-light olive oil
3 large leeks, cleaned, white part diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 large Yukon Gold or yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
4 oz Gorgonzola cheese, broken into small pieces
¼ cup dry white wine
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Italian parsley leaves, for garnish

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the olive oil.
Add leeks and sauté for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.
Add garlic and sauté another minute.
Add potatoes, the sprig of thyme, bay leaf, chicken stock, and cheese.
Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Stir in wine and simmer another 5 minutes.
Smash some of the potatoes on the sides of the saucepan with a spoon to thicken the soup.
Add the half-and-half or milk and season generously with salt and pepper.

Remove the sprig of thyme and bay leaves. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with a couple leaves of the parsley.

Note: If you want a smoother soup, after removing the bay leaves and thyme, carefully use an immersion blender to blend the soup to the consistency you like.

Serves 4 to 6





Friday, March 18, 2016

SUNDAY RIGATONI WITH BEEF SHANK GRAVY

Here is a hearty Sunday Italian-American dinner from Mamaw. The beef is so tender and the marrow bones give the gravy so much flavor. Buona Domenica a tutti!


2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes
2 lbs beef shank with marrow bones intact
2 T extra-light olive oil or avocado oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
4 oz pancetta, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 T tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
½ t red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T chopped fresh basil
1 lb rigatoni
Chopped fresh basil, for garnish
Freshly grated Grana Padano* or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and hand-crush them, removing the hard center cores.
Alternatively, use an immersion blender to chop the tomatoes.

In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, brown the beef shanks in a tablespoon of oil for about 6 to 7 minutes on each side. Do not turn the shanks until they are deeply browned. This will add flavor and allow the meat to release from the pan. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
Pour off any excess grease and add the rest of the oil.
Sauté the onion and pancetta for about 10 minutes over low heat. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.
Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, wine or water, red pepper flakes, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Simmer for 10 minutes, then return the beef shanks to the pan and nestle them into the sauce. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in a 325 degree F oven for 2 to 2 ½ hours.
Using tongs, transfer the beef shanks to a cutting board.
When cool enough to handle, shred the meat and place back into the pot. Discard the marrow bones. Reheat gravy and stir in chopped basil.
Boil the rigatoni in salted water for about 9 to 10 minutes, until al dente.
Drain rigatoni and pour back into the pot.
Add a couple of ladles of the gravy (with some shredded meat) to the pasta and toss.
Spoon into warm pasta bowls, add a little more of the gravy and meat to the top of the pasta. Sprinkle with some chopped basil and serve with grated cheese.
Serves 4

* Grana Padano cheese is one of the world’s first hard cheeses; it was made by monks near Milan, Italy, in the 12th century. Grana means “grain” in Italian, referring to the texture of the cheese.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

CHICKEN BREASTS FLORENTINE - Petto di Pollo alla Fiorentina

Here is another Italian-American way to serve boneless chicken...on a bed of spinach. This recipe serves two but you can easily double it to serve four. If you don't have vermouth, you can substitute white wine, but vermouth is a fortified wine that is aromatized with herbs and spices and gives the sauce a wonderful flavor. This is the same vermouth that is used in making martinis. Sweet vermouth is used in the Italian drink Negroni, and both are used in the classic American drink, the Manhattan.



2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
½ cup flour, for dredging
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T extra-light olive oil or avocado oil 

2 T unsalted butter, divided 

Sauce

1 T unsalted butter
2 large shallots, cut in half and sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
¾ cup dry vermouth
½ cup heavy cream or half-and-half 

2 T chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

Cut each chicken breast in half, lengthwise.
Gently pound chicken between layers of plastic wrap to ¼-inch thickness.


In a shallow bowl, add the flour and season generously with salt and pepper.
Dredge chicken breasts in flour mixture, shaking off excess.
Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet and fry the chicken until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side.
Add a splash of the vermouth and cook for another minute.


Remove chicken from pan and set aside.


Using the same skillet, add the second tablespoon of butter and sauté the shallots for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
Add the remainder of the vermouth and continue to cook and stir for a couple minutes.
Turn heat down to the lowest setting and add the cream or half-and-half and gently heat for one minute.

Return the chicken to the skillet, cover and gently simmer for another 2 minutes.

Spinach

1 T unsalted butter
1 bag (10 oz) baby spinach, rinsed and drained in a colander 

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Meanwhile, in another very large skillet, melt the butter and add the spinach, season with salt and pepper, and cook while stirring, until lightly wilted. This takes just a few minutes.


Remove spinach with tongs to a warm platter and place the chicken and shallots on top. 

Pour the sauce over and serve.

Serves 2