Vegetable Lasagna “in bianco”

•September 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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I love a little help in the kitchen, especially when it is my four year old daughter helping me with her little hands. My hope was that if she helped me assemble this lasagna she would also want to eat it, but I was wrong, she turned her nose up at it and ended up with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I remember my mother calling it food wars and we are deep in the trenches, I can’t complain too much, according to her teachers she is the only kid in her class who eats everything on her plate, vegetables included. It is at home that we have these problems, to the point of creating a “try it, try it” chart and the promise of a toy when she fills it with stickers of delicious things that she has tried without making gagging noises and eventually spitting it out. We are moving very slowly on the progress of this chart.

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The important thing is that we had fun making it, raising her enthusiasm for making the next thing. My husband and I thought it was delicious and were able to lunch on it for a few days afterwards too. I usually stick with a tomatoey lasagna, but with all of these veggies I knew that the tomato would overpower, so a bechamel sauce was the perfect delicate match. I used an olive oil bechamel recipe from my favorite New York Times author, Martha Rose Shulman, which is so delicate and much healthier than it’s butter alternative.

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Vegetable Lasagna in Bianco

  • ½ pound no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella
  • 2 cups of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 3 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 head of radicchio, chopped
  • ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small onion or shallot, minced
  • a few slices of ham
  • zucchini flowers, if available

for the bechamel:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot or onion
  • 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

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vegetables:

Saute the vegetables separately, I sauteed them all in the same pan, but to save time in the process, but not necessarily in the clean up, you can saute them all in separate pans. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil to blanch the radicchio. In the meantime heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan, add zucchini and saute until browned on both sides, be careful not too crowd or they will release too much liquid and not brown very nicely. Remove from the pan and set aside. After blanching the radicchio for 1 minute, drain well and add to the pan, if you need to add a drizzle more olive oil, do so. Saute the radicchio in the pan until it has started to change color. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add another tbsp of olive oil to the pan and add the minced onions, saute until translucent and add the mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to release their liquid, when that liquid has evaporated turn off the heat and remove from the pan to set aside.

bechamel:

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Add the shallot or onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until smooth and bubbling, but not browned. It should have the texture of wet sand. Whisk in the milk all at once and bring to a simmer, whisking all the while, until the mixture begins to thicken. Turn the heat to very low and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce is thick and has lost its raw-flour taste. Season with salt and pepper.

assembly:

Spread a thin layer of bechamel at the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, preferably glass. Place one layer of noodles on top, covering the entire dish. Distribute the mushrooms on the layer of noodles. Place the second layer of noodles on the mushrooms and spread another dollop of bechamel evenly over the noodles, topping that with the spinach, half of the mozzarella and some parmigiano reggiano. Place the 3rd layer of noodles on the spinach, and place the zucchini on that third layer, placing the ham slices over the squash. Place the 4th layer of noodles of the zucchini and ham and spread some of the bechamel evenly over the noodles, add the radicchio to this layer and distribute over the noodles. The final layer of noodles will be topped with bechamel, mozzarella cheese, zucchini flowers and what is left of the parmigiano-reggiano. Cover and let sit until you are ready to bake, it can be made 1 day ahead of time and chilled in the fridge. If you make it a day ahead, allow it to come to room temperature before putting it in the oven.

Preheat oven to 375°. Bake the lasagna, covered with aluminum foil, for 30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and allow to cook for an additional 10 minutes, until it is bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for a few minutes before serving.

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One Year Ago: Merenda Napoletana

Two Years Ago: Chilled Zucchini-Yogurt Soup, Risotto with Sausages and Green Beans, Herb Baked Fish, Moroccan Beet Salad & Aunt Lois’s Challah

Three Years Ago: Spaghetti con Acchiughe, Erbe e Limone, Mediterranean Green and White Bean Salad, Zucchini and Rice Tian & Pasta alla Norma di Zucchine

Four Years Ago: Pan Seared Wahoo over Grits with Fresh Puttanesca

Five Years Ago: Lincoln Park Farmers Market, Chicago Il, Risotto agli Asparagi e Zafferano, Crochette di Riso & Parmigiana di Zucchine

Tiella Barese con Cozze, Riso e Patate

•September 2, 2014 • 2 Comments

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This tiella has been a quest for my husband since we have moved to Puglia, he tried it for the first time at a restaurant in Polignano a Mare, on the Adriatic coast and was instantly hooked. Puglia is all about good peasant food, the primary ingredients should all be of the best quality, but they are rarely ingredients that will break the bank. Mussels can be found everywhere, sold on the side of the road all along the coast and sold for nothing. At my fishmonger one kilo runs for about a euro, they are sold in giant dirty clumps, and considering the fact that there are often men tasting them raw on the premises, they are guaranteed to be fresh.

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We searched far and wide this winter for this dish, this is fill your belly and stick to your gut food, not something you want to eat in 90° weather. Oddly mussels are a summer food in Italy, and hold the opposite rule as they do in the US, they should only be eaten in months that don’t have an R in them, not sure why the rule is different over here. If anyone can give me some insight on this, I would love to know!

We have made this recipe once before, a terrible failure, but I decided to try it again and though it wasn’t perfect, it came out pretty well this time. I think one of the things that would make it outstanding would be a wood burning oven, giving it a smokey flavor. We also need to figure out the liquid situation, the recipe that I followed oddly didn’t ask for any liquid to be added, and I’m not sure how all of that rice would have cooked with just the liquid from the potatoes and the zucchini.

My quest is to find a mamma Barese to show me how it is really done.

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Tiella alla Barese

translated from Ricette di osterie della Puglia. Mare, erbe e fornelli Slow Food Editor

  • 300 grams arborio rice
  • 1 kilo of mussels
  • 500 grams of potatoes
  • 500 grams of zucchini
  • a few cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 small bunch of parsley
  • 100 grams of aged pecorino, finely grated
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste

Clean the mussels and steam them open in a covered pan for a minute or two. Remove them from their shells and set them apart. Filter the liquid that they released when cooked and set apart.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Slice the vegetables into even rounds. Sprinkle some salt on the bottom of a heavy casserole, preferably terracotta. Spread some of the potatoes in an even layer on top of the salt, followed by some of the mussels, some of the zucchini, some of the rice, some of the onion. Add some of the cheese, some of the tomatoes, olive oil and pieces of garlic. Repeat with the potatoes, mussels, zucchini, rice, onions, garlic, tomatoes pecorino and parsley. Continue with the layers until all of the ingredients have filled the casserole. Pour the liquid from the mussels over the casserole and add about 1/2 cup of white wine or water.

Cook for one hour until it is golden and crusty on top.

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Two Years Ago: Casareccie with Green Beans and Ricotta, Holland & Cappelletti con Salmone Affumicato e Fagiolini

Three Years Ago: Pasta e Patate, Summer Squash with White Beans and Tomatoes, Ricotta, Tapenade and Cherry Tomato Pizza & Spaghetti con Acchiughe, Erbe e Limone

Four Years Ago: Greek Stewed Green Beans and Yellow Squash With Tomatoes, & Gemelli with Grilled Sausage and Scamorza

Five Years Ago: Banana Blueberry Muffins

Acciughe Sotto Sale

•August 20, 2014 • 3 Comments

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I missed out for years on the wonders of the anchovy. It was always something that I turned my nose up at, and culturally I feel like all American kids were trained, in my day, to think anchovies were the most disgusting things on earth. Cartoons with anchovy pizzas stinking up rooms, thinking that people who ate them must have the worst breath in the world. They should have been targeting quarter pounders and supersized fries, not one of the world’s healthiest food.

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My mother-in-law buys jars of these artisinally salted anchovies in Lavagna, near Genova, where anchovies are a religion, served every way possible. These treasures in a glass jar don’t come cheap, but they are a little piece of heaven. They are a pain to clean, and it is a process, but well worth it. They need to first be rinsed in cold water to get the salt off, carefully pulling out their spines and pulling off that pesky tail without breaking the anchovy too much. After months in that salt they become very delicate. Another rinse and then dry them out on clean paper towels. We then place them in a dish and pour good extra-virgin olive oil over them to cover them. They are usually best after a night in the olive oil, but a few hours will also do.

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We use them to cook with, adding that delicious umami to pasta dishes that need a little extra love. When the anchovies have all been consumed, we filter the oil and use that to cook with, which adds great flavor to most things and leaves nothing to waste. Our favorite way to eat these guys though is to smear unsalted butter on good crusty bread and lay a few of these babies on top, a delicious little antipasto, but is also the perfect meal with a little salad on the side.

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One Year Ago: Orecchiette nelle ‘Nchiosce & Moscardini-Polipi agli Agrumi

Two Years Ago: Spaghetti alla Chittara con Cicoria e Paté di Olive, Spaghetti con le Cozze e Pomodori Freschi, Pranzo di Ferragosto & Fusilli Bucati alla Puttanesca

Three Years Ago: Grilled Bread Salad, Amatriciana with fresh tomatoes, Herb Marinated Kebabs, Cherry Clafouti & Blueberry Basil Vinegar

Four Years Ago: Pizza Bianca with Fresh Figs and Prosciutto Crudo & Sweet Pea Pesto

Five Years Ago: Grilled Lemon-Balsamic Asparagus, Zucchini and Ricotta Pie, Melanzane al Funghetto & Risotto with Zucchini and Saffron

Ricotta and Sweet Potato Gnocchi

•July 31, 2014 • 2 Comments

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Sweet potatoes are a precious root here, not easy to find and fairly expensive since they are shipped from the US, I also doubt that many of the locals buy them very often. Leftover sweet potatoes therefore cannot be thrown away and instead of reheating them, re-purposing them was the more delicious alternative. Our lovely neighbor often pops by with fresh ricotta from her family’s farm and serendipitously brought some by the day after we had smashed sweet potatoes. A delicious combination for the perfect gnocchi.

I made these ahead of time and froze them for an easy weeknight meal, they do not need to be thawed prior to plopping them in the water, but note that you should only boil about a dozen at a time or they will turn to mush. A lesson that I sadly learned after making potato gnocchi for the first time.

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Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage

adapted from epicurious.com

  • 2 1-pound red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
  • 1 12-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 3/4 cups (about) all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons chopped fresh sage plus whole leaves for garnish (we used rosemary since sage is as hard to find as the sweet potatoes)

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place sweet potatoes on plate; microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and nutmeg; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. Transfer to baking sheet. (I hand rolled them for bigger gnocchi).

Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to clean rimmed baking sheet. Cool completely. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Preheat oven to 300°F. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter solids are brown and have toasty aroma, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add chopped sage (mixture will bubble up). Turn off heat. Season sage butter generously with salt and pepper.

Transfer half of sage butter to large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add half of gnocchi. Sauté until gnocchi are heated through, about 6 minutes. Empty skillet onto rimmed baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining sage butter and gnocchi.

Divide gnocchi and sauce among shallow bowls. Garnish with sage leaves.

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One Year Ago: Penne with Sausages and Cicoria & Acciughe al Finocchio

Two Years Ago: Fried Zucchini Flowers, Watermelon, Quinoa and Feta Cheese Salad, Casareccie con Triglie e Pesto di Acciughe alla Menta, Insalata di Seppie e Zucchine alla Scapece & Farfalle alla Primavera

Three Years Ago: Chickpeas With Baby Spinach

Four Years Ago: Flounder in Cartoccio & Torta Caprese

Five Years Ago: Panzanella, Green Beans alla Napoletana, Chickpea and Vegetable Stew with Couscous, Pasta e Lenticchie & Pasta all’Insalata Caprese

Insalata di Farro

•July 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Grain salads in summer are delicious and a simple solution for dinner. My daughter and I have been packing up in the afternoon and heading to the beach, which makes for a very tired mama by the time we get home. Making dinner is usually the last thing on my mind after the trip home and the process of de-sanding ourselves. I can easily make a whole grain salad in the morning and have it waiting for us in the fridge for that evening.

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When the weather starts to warm up I usually start to stock my pantry with pickled vegetables, because those are the best for grain salads and again, simplicity. Italy has a wonderful tradition of preserving vegetables and though the ones that you can find in the stores are nothing compared to the homemade version, they aren’t anything to complain about either. I usually have too many veggies in my fridge too and toss in whatever is ready to be consumed.

For the longest time I felt the need to cook my beets and recently realized that I could peel them and grate them, and despite my pink fingers, I love how easy and cool that makes my life. They roast at crazy high temperatures.

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Insalata di Farro

  • 1 cup farro, soaked for one hour in water to cover and drained
  • 2 medium beets, peeled and grated
  • 1 barattiere or cucumber, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, if dry, soak in warm water for an hour before slicing
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/4 cup lampascioni, cocktail onions will be a good substitute
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • extra-virgin olive oil, as much as you need
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and add the farro, boil for about 10 minutes or until the farro is tender. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.

In a large bowl combine the cooled farro,  grated beets, cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers, onions and parsley, drizzle the olive oil and toss well. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago: Orata Steamed with Zucchini and Mint

Two Years Ago: Sarde Incinte in Agrodolce & Carrot Coconut Cake

Three Years Ago: Pizza with Ricotta, Zucchini, Olives and Provolone

Five Years Ago: Daniel Island Farmers Market & Boiled P-Nuts

Mercato del Pesce, Chioggia – Veneto

•July 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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We recently spent a few days in Chioggia, which is an island in the Laguna Veneta, much like its neighbor Venice, with canals running through the city. We chose to stay in Chioggia partly because my husband’s step-father’s father was Chioggiano and because we liked the idea of seaside Veneto without all of the craziness and tourist mobs in Venice. Not to mention avoiding the high prices and mediocre food that is so easy to run into in Venice. We were a boat ride away, spent one day there and the rest of our trip we meandered around the Veneto, enjoying the food and the delicious white wine.

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We had two meals in Chioggia and were blown away by the fresh fish and the delicious way that everything was prepared. The fish market in Chioggia was enormous and was the first thing that I wanted to see in the town, I know that they are famous for their fresh fish and they have one of the largest wholesale markets in Italy.

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There were so many different types of fish, eels, cuttlefish, shellfish, every type of Mediterranean fish imaginable. We were lucky to have been able to try some of the local specialties and what was in season at that moment. Though they weren’t at their peak, I had the fried moleche, which are soft-shelled crabs. I had had them the first time we went to Venice where they dip them in egg and flour, but in Chioggia they only dust them with flour. One of the restauranteur’s stated that she had never tried them in the Venetian style, they seemed too heavy. That is the type of provincialism that keeps traditional cooking alive in Italy, from one town to another.

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I started this blog as an exploration of the 20 “breads” of Italy, a metaphor for the 20 regions and the endless different types of cuisine that you can find within each region and in the case of Chioggia and Venezia, within the same province. Frying with an egg batter or a simple dusting of flour seems trivial, but Italians take these differences very seriously and they distinguish themselves by them. I love traveling in Italy and trying the local cuisine, especially when it is seafood based.

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My daughter, who loves octopus, wouldn’t touch the octopus up there, she asked where the tentacles were and was freaked out by the texture, which was indeed different. They peel the skin off of the octopus in the north and don’t beat their fresh catch against something like they do down here, making it much less tender.

Delicious trip, I look forward to our next jaunt in the Veneto, hopefully for a few more days.

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One Year Ago: Orecchiette al ragu di polpo & Torta di Riso Integrale

Two Years Ago: Sarago in Cartoccio, Spaghetti con Fagiolini Paesani, Panzanella Pugliese, Insalata Fredda di Seppioline & Cole Slaw

Three Years Ago: Tagliatelle with Rhubarb, Cranberry Bean Salad with Celery, Basil and Mint & Spaghetti Integrali con Zucchine Gratugiate e Fior di Zucca

Four Years Ago: Asparagus Panzanella & Orecchiette with Cauliflower and Anchovies

Five Years Ago: Baby Artichokes and Scallops Risotto, Couscous Salad with Yellow Zucchini, Farfalle with Zucchini Flowers and Saffron, Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas & Casareccie with Pattypan Squash

Octopus and Black Pepper Spaghetti

•June 17, 2014 • 1 Comment

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It’s been a while since I have come up with any new ideas of second lives of meals, recycling meals or just getting creative with leftovers. For Father’s Day I made our favorite octopus dish baked with potatoes. Having started with pasta we weren’t able to finish the whole thing, leaving us with a lot of octopus. I could have gotten creative with the potatoes, but let them go and just used the octopus and the broth that was leftover at the bottom of the pan. I added a few cherry tomatoes and a lot of black pepper, the results were amazing, it was a rich and delicious pasta.

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Octopus and Black Pepper Spaghetti

There are two different ways that you could make this dish, if you are using leftovers from your Polipo al Forno con le Patate, pour the broth into a dish and reserve the leftover octopus, you really want at least 6 tentacles and a head or two to make an abundant enough dish. You can also make this with a fresh octopus, though it may not have the same depth of flavor. The octopus will create its own broth cooking.

  • 1 medium octopus, cleaned or about 6 tentacles leftover from the baked octopus
  • 8 to 10 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup white wine (if cooking from scratch)
  • 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti

Rinse the octopus and cut the tentacles into small disks. If using cooked, don’t bother rinsing.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high, add garlic. When the garlic starts to sizzle add the quartered tomatoes, cook over high heat for a minute before adding the octopus. Keep the heat high when adding the octopus and lower it as the octopus starts to release its liquid. If you are using leftovers, you can immediately add the reserved broth. If using fresh let the octopus release some liquid before adding the white wine.

If you are using fresh octopus, let the octopus cook, covered, over low heat for at least an hour. The cooked octopus can cook for that same amount of time, but will be equally delicious with about 20 minutes on the stove.

In the meantime, fill a large pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water starts to boil for the pasta add a small handful of salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

When the pasta is about 1 minute from being cooked to al dente perfection, turn up the heat on the sauce and drain the pasta. Without shaking all of the water out of the colander pour the pasta into the pan and toss it with the sauce, finishing up the cooking in the octopus broth. Sprinkle an abundance of freshly grated black pepper on the pasta and continue tossing. Remove from the heat and toss with chopped parsley, serve immediately.

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One Year Ago: Wine-Braised Brisket with Tart Cherries & Citrus Shrimp Salad

Two Years Ago: Strawberry, Mulberry and Cherry Tatin, Linguine alla Beccafico e Albicocche & Torta di Riso

Three Years Ago: Farfalle with Yellow Zucchini and Tuna, Fried Flounder with Zucchini Straws over Grits & Beet and Beet Green Gratin

Four Years Ago: Summer Squash and Potato Torte & Pasta alla Norma

Five Years Ago: Okra Sautéed with Tomatoes and Garlic alla Napoletana, Carbonara with a Twist, Peach and Blueberry Cobbler & Morningside Farmers Market

 
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