Tag Archives: Italian

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Warm Tomato Sauce

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This is a story about the plight of the male squash blossom.

Squash blossoms, I have learned, are either male or female. Females bloom, become fertilized and swell to produce the fruit. Males bloom as well, fanning the sky with their magical essence that floats into the soft yellow petals of any female nearby…with the help of our winged friends. And once this job is done, the males lose their purpose. And, as so often happens in the wild, they die.

I came upon this realization as I recently researched how to harvest one’s own squash blossoms for the purposes of cooking. We are lucky enough to have a glorious growing season in N.C., and planted one too many yellow summer squash in our little garden patch. Grant clips the soft yellow squash, but just as many “male” blossoms stay there, not producing fruit, being wasted.

Until I came along with a desire to stuff them with creamy ricotta and herbs.

If you are lucky enough to find squash blossoms at the market, I would cook them within 24 hours. Garden-grown is always best, of course, as I ate mine less than 10 hours after picking, which was ideal because some were still wide open and easy to fill. I leave a bit of stem – makes for easier handling – and be sure to clean them of any bugs and pull that little…”male thingy” out from inside. Picking in morning is best, as the flowers will be open.

You can find a much more professional recipe elsewhere, such as epicurious.

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Warm Tomato Sauce

Use 6-8 fresh squash blossoms, cleaned, stamen removed.

Filling:

Mix together 1/2 c. ricotta (I used fat-free ricotta from Trader Joe’s, but by all means go whole milk!), 1 egg yolk, 4-5 fresh sliced basil leaves, S&P to taste.

Using a spoon or your hands, push about 1 T filling into each flower. Careful! Gently twist the top closed.

Batter:

In a medium bowl, mix 1 c. AP flour with enough white wine to make it look like pancake batter. That is as technical as I get. I used a really sweet wine that I hated, and it turned out great. Probably close to 1 c. wine.

Meanwhile, heat 2 inches of canola oil in a deep pan until shimmering – probably close to 300 degrees but I didn’t check. Test and learn! I also didn’t have enough oil, so mine were shallow-fried and a little flat on one side. Oh well!

Dip each stuffed blossom in the batter and let excess drip off before dropping into hot oil.

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Make sure squash brown on all sides – it will only take a few minutes. Sprinkle with coarse salt when you remove them to a towel to drain and cool.

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Serve with warm tomato sauce, or, as I have been calling it, tomato oil.

In small saucepan, cook 1 large clove garlic in 2 T olive oil and a pinch of chili flakes. Add 1 large chopped garden tomato or equivalent. Cook over low until soupy – season to taste.

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I served mine with extra basil and Maldon sea salt sprinkled over. It was lovely. The crust was crunchy and the blossom and filling were so soft inside. It felt like biting into a Krispy Kreme donut. You can really taste the wine in the batter.

The garlicky tomato sauce is a perfect complement. See how that ricotta just oozes out…

20140727-145706-53826268.jpgEnjoy, friends! xoxo

 

Tuscan Sausage With White Beans and Sage

Seasoned to Taste: Tuscan White Beans and Sausage

The more I look into pantry cooking and “peasant fare,” I find that the combination of beans and pork fat are a comforting mainstay across many cultures. From the purple-hull peas and ham hocks we make in The South to this simplified version of an Italian staple – pork sausage with white beans and tomatoes.

I altered the original recipe significantly, based solely on what I had on-hand. Canned beans instead of dried cannellini soaked overnight; one large, over-ripe fresh tomato instead of canned.

The one-pot dish creates a thick gravy as the beans cook and the starches swirl with white wine, hot garlic and melting bits of tomato. Simple and easy enough for a weeknight meal. I used pork sausage, but next time I will try chicken or turkey sausage, as we found the pork a bit rich.

Tuscan Sausage with White Beans and Sage

Ingredients:

  • 2 T EVOO
  • 5-6 sweet Italian sausages (1 package)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 c. crisp white wine (or to taste, depending on liquid level)
  • 1 can cannellini beans, with liquid
  • 1 large ripe tomato, or 1 can diced (drain a bit of the liquid if using canned)
  • 4 fresh sage leaves, sliced
  • S&P to taste

Heat oil in large skillet over medium. Brown sausages on all sides, 3-4 min. Add garlic and pepper flakes, continue to cook 1 min. Add wine and stir until bubbling. Add beans, tomato and sage, stirring to combine. Simmer 5 min, adding liquid as necessary so sausages are submerged 1/3 way, until sausages are cooked through. Uncover, simmer to thicken the sauce, if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Seasoned to Taste - Tuscan Sausage and White Beans

I recommend serving with a crusty bread and simple green salad. And a glass of that white wine.

Seasoned to Taste - Tuscan Sausage and White Beans

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

 

Shrimp Scampi

Merry Christmas! This was the first year that I’ve been away from “home” for Christmas. I visited my family and friends in the Northwest earlier in the month, spending the actual Christmas holiday with Grant and his family. It was really wonderful and an important step in making The South my new homebase…and creating new traditions.

On Christmas Eve, we walked to our neighborhood Moravian church for the Lovefeast ceremony – full of lots of beautiful choir music, Moravian buns (rolls with orange and vanilla), sweet coffee and beeswax candles that everyone holds at the end. Then, we came home and I made a seafood dish in keeping with the Italian tradition of having fish for the holidays.

After dinner, we made hot toddies and walked through the neighborhood, where each street was dotted with flickering luminaries. I don’t know who organizes the luminary thing, but it looks really magical – all those glowing lights trimming the streets, winding around the foothills of Buena Vista. There must have been thousands.

But back to food traditions – seafood at Christmas! I must have red meat on Christmas day, so seafood the night before is a wonderful balance. I made a recipe that I saw in Food Network Magazine from the amazing Lidia Bastianich, who is frequently featured in Bon Appetit and partnered with Mario Batali to create “Eataly” in NYC. I always wanted an Italian grandmother just like Lidia. So I should have known that this recipe would knock my socks off…

Scampi means heavy on the garlic and lemon…and butter. But Lidia’s recipe really goes above and beyond by creating a garlic-shallot paste that you treat much like and Indian curry paste – frying it in the pan until it dries out a little, then adding the liquids and simmering to thicken.

The flavors are aggressive and the seasoning is perfect – Grant about died when he snuck a spoonful of the buttery sauce simmering on the stove. I served mine over capellini, but it would also be good with crusty bread or any other thin pasta.

I have to call this recipe a MUST for anyone who loves Italian food, seafood and/or garlic.

Shrimp Scampi with Capellini

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 3 shallots, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 7 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 lb. dry capellini pasta

Combine the shallots, 5 cloves garlic and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a food processor. Process to make a smooth paste. Set aside.

Pour 6 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining garlic into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Let the garlic sizzle for a minute, then add half of the shrimp and all of the thyme. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the shrimp are seared but not fully cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining shrimp and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove the shrimp and thyme from the skillet to the plate.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic-shallot paste to the same skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the paste has dried out and begins to stick to the bottom of the skillet, 2 to 3 minutes. Return the thyme to the skillet and pour in the white wine, lemon juice, the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons butter and 1 cup water. Bring the sauce to a rapid boil and cook until reduced by half, 4 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Keep warm.

When the sauce has reduced, whisk in the remaining butter and return the shrimp to the pan. Cook and toss until the shrimp are coated with the sauce and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs and bring to a boil just to thicken.

To serve, spoon shrimp mixture over pasta and garnish with more parsley and cracked pepper, if needed.

Rich and filling, this was just what we wanted on Christmas Eve.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Baked Manicotti

Sometimes, a girl just craves a baked pasta. Big noodles rolled around a creamy ricotta/herb filling and then smothered in a spicy garlic tomato sauce. Making one’s own tomato sauce is key here, because you want the right amount of moisture for the noodles to absorb but not so much that the dish becomes soggy.

This recipe did all the proper testing you would need to get it right, and baking the noodles in a loaf pan is genius because it’s just the right size.

I couldn’t get enough of these manicotti, so I made a double batch and enjoyed the leftovers for lunches. It is simply wonderful if you’re craving that kind of thing.

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

Baked Manicotti

Ingredients – Sauce:

  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
  • 1 T EVOO
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (or more…)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 T chopped fresh basil

Ingredients – pasta:

  • 3 oz. part-skim ricotta
  • 3 oz. whole-milk mozz. cheese, shredded (3/4 c.)
  • 2 oz. Parm cheese, grated (1 c. )
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 T chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles (use Barilla brand)

Preheat oven to 400.

Process all sauce ingredients except basil in food processor until smooth, 10 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and stir in basil. Set aside.

Combine ricotta, mozz, 1/2 c. Parm, egg, basil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Fill large bowl or pan with boiling water, slipping the noodles in one at a time. Let soak about 5 min., separating with a knife if needed. Remove from water and drain on paper towels.

Spread 1/2 c. sauce over bottom of a greased bread loaf pan (brilliant!). Spread 1/4 c. of the cheese mixture over 3/4 of a noodle, then roll up starting at the cheese end. Place in loaf pan, seam side down. Repeat with rest of noodles to fill pan. Spoon remaining sauce evenly over the top, then sprinkle with 1/2 Parm.

Cover with foil and bake until bubbling, 25 min. Remove foil and bake until cheese is lightly browned, 10 min. Let cool 15 min. before serving.

These are my firmed-up leftovers, but the night you serve it, they will be much softer and ooze goodness. Finger-licking good.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Christmas in the Empire State

This always happens to me. I get all excited about Christmas, make all these plans for the delicious dishes and cookies I will be making, promise to blog about all my seasonal exploits and start listening to holiday music nonstop. This year was a record – I tired of all that stuff by Dec. 9.

I’m trying to reinvigorate my culinary sensibilities, however, and tomorrow’s tacky Christmas sweater party might give me an excuse (I’m bringing garlic-sizzled chicken wings and eggnog cheesecake squares).

Meanwhile, I spent last weekend on a dreamlike mini-vacation with a bunch of my girlfriends in New York City. We saw the city in all its holiday splendor, shopped ’til we dropped, stayed up way too late and abused our feet. I even lost my voice!

We also ate a ton of amazing food. Let me take you on our Big Apple culinary adventure:

The best pizza I have ever had in my life was at Artichoke, near Union Square. It was $4 a slice and worth every overpriced bite. Creamy cheeses oozed out of it – we were in heaven as we ate, standing on a dirty sidewalk pocked with old gum.

Artichoke/spinach pizza

While waiting to meet up with friends, Heidi and I enjoyed a few drinks and an appetizer of gnocci at Aroma, a wine bar in lower Manhattan. The wannabe actor-waiter was nice eye candy. 🙂

Cocktails and an app. at Aroma

All weekend, my two girlfriends and I stayed with my cousin, who lives in an Italian neighborhood (Guidos and Guidettes). She was surrounded by Italian delis, bakeries and markets. We had brunch at one deli/bakery (I couldn’t help saying, “leave the gun, take the cannoli”):

Pastries like you wouldn't believe!

They had a menu full of cured meats that I hadn’t even tasted of before. This is the sandwich menu…

We all ordered sandwiches piled high with fresh ingredients. I got house-made prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes.

Later, we wrote Christmas cards at The Little Cupcake Shop (when in Rome):

Lemon cupcake

They had apple cider, cookie dough, gingerbread and pumpkin flavors!

Later that night, we went out to eat in Little Italy, where an old man told us that we all looked like “flowers, sent down from God.” Then he blew us a kiss and touched his heart. Gotta love older Italian men! After that, we went to a bar that was serving all-you-can-drink mojitos for $20 a head (drinks were normally $9 each)…which of course we took advantage of, and then got the crazy idea to go to Times Square at 2 a.m. This was a good seven subway stops away, and like an hour away from home. Still, we carried on, some of us ate hot dogs and we slunk back, too tired to do much more than giggle.

The next morning, we slept it off and had bagels from a shop down the street that had a bunch of neat cream cheese flavors.

Bagel as big as my head

Our last day, we ate at a French cafe near Rockefeller Center…

Fresh berry tart

Tea and espresso

This was one of my very best vacations in a long time. Just goes to show that the company you keep really impacts how your vacation experience will be. I think all of us need to have a lovely weekend in New York City at least once in our lives – it is at once exhilirating and utterly exhausting.

Just stay away from Macy’s – that place is madness. Cheers, friends. xoxo