“Mini” Spring Pasta

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At the moment my life is all about small things. The little boy is seven months and he’s ready to motor. That means pint-sized shorts and mini socks. Tiny sandals and mini baseball hats for the summer. Teeny toes and fingers reaching for everything. I’m starting to cut up small bits of food and I’ve found it’s changing the way I’m looking at dinner and grocery shopping.

That’s how I ended up with “mini mini bocconcini” in my fridge. Tre Stelle asked if I wanted to take a fresh look at their cheese selection, so off to the market I went with coupons in hand. And in looking over all the options in the cheese aisle, I realized that I seem to only buy the regular size bocconcini (rounds of fresh mozzarella) when I’m having an event – tossing them into salads or on skewers for appetizers. In honour of my son, why not try the “mini mini” bocconcini and see what we can do with them? Paired up with “mini” (or cherry) tomatoes, there’s no way this cheese can lose.

Plus, chunks of cheese in pasta means my husband had his two favourite things together. For me, I wanted something fresh and spring-like for dinner. Fresh cheese, with raw tomatoes and a dose of garlic scape pesto says spring to me. For you readers, I realized I hadn’t posted a pasta recipe in a little while, so it was time to catch up.

Turns out, mini items are fun to eat. This pasta, which serves two, was devoured in minutes. And while he’s not ready for this food yet, my son was eyeing my bowl, those little fingers reaching as far as they could to get a taste!

“Mini” Spring Pasta
250g of your favourite semolina pasta
1/2 recipe of garlic scape pesto
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 container Tre Stelle mini mini bocconcini (200g)

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By |30/05/2015|Primo, Recipes|0 Comments

Fried Garlic Scapes

Fried Garlic Scapes

The tops of fresh spring garlic are popping out of the garden. I’m always so glad to see it’s survived the winter! I don’t have enough room to plant tons of garlic, but the 18-20 bulbs I do get in the ground always come in handy. The best thing about growing your own garlic – collecting the garlic scapes. But you can also buy them in bunches at local farmer’s markets.

I’ve written about garlic scapes before: scapes are the curling tops of the garlic plants. They should be picked before the developing flower opens. To eat them raw, you should pick them when they begin to emerge from between the main garlic leaves, even before they start to curl, when they are still tender. If you catch them a little later, they can always be blanched to soften them up a bit. Two years ago I posted two recipes for garlic scape pesto.

The pesto is still a favourite of mine, but with garlic scape season just around the corner, I thought I’d share another way to cook them up: lightly battered and fried. I’ve served these for dinner, over steaks or chicken, or even as an appetizer. Trimming and blanching them first removes any fibrous parts that aren’t so pleasant to chomp into. The batter makes them crisp as you bite into the light, fresh garlic taste.

Fried Garlic Scapes

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By |19/05/2015|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|1 Comment

Quick and easy pasta dough (to freeze!)

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After a small dinner party last week, one guest pushed back her chair and threw up her arms. She told us that we must have some tricks to being able to whip up dinners so easily. I’m glad it looked easy – it was hard to balance with a six-month-old!- but we just love cooking and having people over.

So I usually say, no, I don’t have any tricks. But the truth is there are one or two things we rely on to get good food on the table. The first is the freezer – we do large batch preps in advance and when vegetables and meats are in season – so it’s all ready to go. The second is my FoodSaver. If you’ve been paying close attention to some posts you’ll see the FoodSaver bags in the background or note my suggestions to vacuum seal vegetables. That’s how all my freezer foods stay fresh.

Well the folks at FoodSaver noticed and sent me a new FoodSaver 4400 to try out. With it, I’ll show you a third trick – you can freeze pasta dough so you can have it fresh any day you want.

So for dinner guests that say, “I can’t believe you made fresh pasta!” Well, we did…we just did half the prep in advance! This comes in very handy when we get a few flats of eggs from my husbands’ families’  duck farm. One can only eat so much quiche and I’d hate for them to go to waste. So we make large batches of pasta dough and freeze them for later use. This was an experiment we did last year and it’s turned out pretty handy. If you ever make too much dough, want to prep for a dinner party or find eggs on sale, this is a perfect way to make your pasta in advance.

First – an easy pasta recipe:

Nonna makes pasta by eye, she knows just the right amount of flour by looking at it and when the dough is ready by the feel. I have yet to acquire that talent, so instead I use a rule of thumb: about 100g of flour to one large egg. If you want to get technical about it you can weigh your eggs since size can vary and weigh your flour as sometimes it can have more moisture in it and use a 3:2 ratio of flour to eggs. I’m not mathematically inclined, so I’ll stick to my rule of thumb.

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200g all purpose flour
200g semolina flour
4 eggs

This makes about one pound of pasta, or about four servings. Stick it all in a mixer and set it to medium. When the dough comes together, stop the mixer and dump it out on a floured surface and knead it five or six times. Form the pasta into a smooth ball.

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By |07/05/2015|Conservare (preserving), Primo, Recipes|1 Comment

Italian Lemon Twist Cookies for Easter

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It’s holiday season again! It’s also my sons’ first Easter. It would be slightly more exciting if he were crawling or walking and hunting for eggs but I’ll still take the opportunity to get some classic sweets on the table to celebrate. And boy, am I going classic!

Lemon twist cookies. If you know an Italian, you probably know these cookies. Tangy, dense and not-too-sweet but still a treat. Every Nonna has a recipe like this one and, in fact, this was my Nonnas’. One way to tell this for sure: it is made with oil, not butter. Also, the ingredients include lemon zest and juice. Many modern recipes ask for lemon extract, but I’m betting they didn’t have any of that in her mountain town in Italy. Dipped in a lemony glaze and decorated (usually with sprinkles – but more about that later), you can find these on many cookie tables at special events.

Since it’s Easter, you’ll find them next to Easter Ciambelle and Easter Bread and one of those large Italian chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in brightly-coloured foil. All this probably following a meal of lamb and spinach and ricotta pie. It’s a big celebration with all the family, and all the food you would expect. To tell the truth, the kids might bring Easter baskets to fill up on chocolate eggs, but these days my basket just gets filled up with Easter leftovers and I don’t mind a bit. Double up this recipe and you’ll have plenty to share too. Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

Italian Lemon Twist Cookies
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tsp baking powder
Zest and juice of one lemon + 1/3 cup lemon juice for glaze
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups icing sugar

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By |02/04/2015|Dolce, Recipes|11 Comments

Pezzetti di Cannella (little cinnamon cookies)

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Confession: I gave up sugar for lent. And I’m craving cookies.

If you know me well, you know that cookies are my downfall. And Italians have SO many good cookie recipes. The options run through my mind all day and it’s got to stop. On top of the cravings, I get emails – lots of emails – about cookies, especially during the spring.

Cost_Southern Italian DessertsSpring often means bridal showers and that means home baking for the cookie tables. I would guess this is one of the most popular times for baking each year (second only to Christmas). Have you never been to an Italian bridal shower? You can check out pictures from my own and my sisters from this previous post, then you’ll understand the allure. To help you get ready for your baking (for whatever the reason) and save me from eating cookies myself, I’ve found an easy, traditional and flavourful recipe to add to your repertoire. From Rosetta Costantino’s book Southern Italian Desserts, Pezzetti di Cannella (little cinnamon cookies) are the classic Nonna cookie. In fact, my husband’s eyes lit up when he grabbed a few off the tray the last time I made them, he hadn’t had them for years. Rosetta’s book is a recommended purchase for anyone who loves Italian desserts, I refer to it regularly! Enjoy the baking!

A foreword from Rosetta: My mother’s friend Yolanda Tateo shared her mother’s recipe for these cookies. Yolanda moved to the United States from Sava (Puglia) when she was in her twenties. This is one of the few recipes from home that she has kept over the years. These bite-sized cookies are perfect to have on hand for visitors or to enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea. It’s worth splurging on good-quality cinnamon because it is the predominant flavouring. The recipe makes a lot of cookies; they can be stored for up to a month in an airtight container.

Pezzetti di Cannella
2 cups (264 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (60 ml) safflower or other neutral-tasting vegetable oil
2 tablespoons whole milk
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

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By |26/02/2015|Dolce, Recipes|3 Comments

Chicken Cacciatore

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We spent the summer putting away fresh vegetables and meat products into the freezer. We like knowing where our food comes from, how it is prepared and preserved. Our freezer is well stocked for the winter and even has an accompanying spreadsheet and map (it’s needed! As are labels on everything!). But all that work means making sure we use everything too.

That can be a little difficult months later when you want to branch out to new dishes instead of the same old. There is only so much rapini one person can eat, says my husband, who, last summer, thought it was a good idea to freeze a bushel of the greens. When I pulled out what I thought was a packet of pork last week, and it ended up being chicken, it was time to break out of the go-to recipes and think about something we hadn’t had in a while.

The answer: chicken cacciatore. I’m not a huge fan of green and red peppers, which is why we don’t have this dinner often, but after making it this time, I’m not sure why not. I stuck to the recipe that my family uses, and they used at their Italian restaurant they had when I was young. This is a basic cacciatore recipe, relying on the flavours of the tomatoes, peppers and chicken, rather than wine or capers as you may see in more modern recipes. Smothering rice or pasta, it’s perfect for a workplace lunch the next day too. Now to find a way to get my husband to eat more rapini…

Chicken Cacciatore
2 pounds, bone-in chicken pieces
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 pound button mushrooms
1 large onion
1 jar or can plum tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

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By |12/02/2015|Recipes, Secondo|3 Comments

Pastina

Recipe for Pastina

There’s a draft coming in from the base of our sliding door. Maybe we need more insulation or a new door but for now, my feet, under the kitchen table, are getting stone cold. It’s funny how a little line of insulation, filling in the tiniest crack, can make all the difference to making you fill warm and comfy.

Protection from those icy winds of January, at least the ones we have here in Canada, can mean the simplest of things. A good warm blanket, a crackling fire. And to keep your belly and toes warm, a hot bowl of Nonna’s secret weapon: pastina.

My baby boy isn’t old enough yet to appreciate this recipe, but no doubt he will learn it soon enough. The subtle broth and simple pasta make a bowl of goodness that every Italian kid knows well from deep winter nights and those days spent home from school with a cold. Plain enough that every kid will eat it and hearty enough that even adults crave it years later, pastina is as basic as it comes and every Nonna knows it well.

This cold draft is starting to give me the sniffles, so it’s off to the stove to warm up some of this myself. Feeling chilly? Try out the recipe yourself…

Pastina
1 cup pasta, any tiny kind like stars, rice shapes, or the most typical: acini di pepe
4 cups chicken broth
1 cheese rind (optional)
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, to taste

Recipe for Pastina

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By |29/01/2015|Primo, Recipes|2 Comments

Potato and Onion Frittata

Recipe for potato and onion frittata

If you follow this blog, particularly through the summer, you’ll know that I’m a huge supporter of local food and fresh food. From the garden and from the surrounding farms, we have tons of fresh vegetables to choose from when the weather is bright and sunny.

Well, it’s still sunny today but in the winter, these clear blue skies mean it’s achingly cold outside, the kind that hits you right down to the bone. And the view from my kitchen window is one of barren winter land. My backyard garden is a pile of snow. And in the kitchen, root vegetables and pantry items abound. Sigh. In the winter, I have to think long and hard about what to pull together to eat.

On a side note: I do not go in for those hothouse tomatoes in stores this time of year. They get soft on the outside but are strangely still hard on the inside and taste like water.

But a brand new cast iron pan I got in the post-Christmas sales (75% off folks!) is calling my name and may provide the solution this week. Seasoned up, it’s a good tool for making frittata. I’ve done a couple of other frittatas (spaghetti and asparagus) on the blog, but none in the oven so this is a bit new.  What’s on hand: potatoes and onions and one of my favourite cheeses: goat cheese. Put together and warm and hearty, it should make those winter blue skies look warm, at least from this kitchen window. Happy cooking everyone… (p.s: you don’t need a cast iron pan for this recipe, a oven-proof pan will do!)

Potato and Onion Frittata
12 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 medium yellow onions
2 pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold
100g goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Recipe for potato and onion frittata

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By |15/01/2015|Primo, Recipes|3 Comments

Panettone (or Pandoro) French Toast

Recipe for French Toast made with Panettone

One, two, three, six….ten…..just how many panettone or pandoro do you have in your house this season? My current count is four, but I imagine more are on their way, especially when they go on sale. I can’t resist the chocolate ones. Of course, buying more panettone, on top of the ones you receive, is just an excuse to make panettone French toast!

As much as a Christmas tree or turdilli are traditional, piling up panettone is also an Italian tradition. (At least I think so!) You might find these breads under two names: panettone or pandoro (like the one pictured in this recipe). What’s the difference? Where they are made, the shape and the history of each bread differs. Here’s an account of the differences, but for this recipe either will work. This sweet Italian bread, studded with raisins, dried orange or chocolate is a typical gift between friends and family during the holidays. Usually served with espresso after a meal or during friendly visits, the breads are so popular they can tend to pile up in the cupboard or catina. In fact, in areas of the city where many Italians live, whole aisles in some grocery stores are dedicated to variations of this treat.

So after you’ve eaten a few with your coffee, what are you do to? Get creative! Use it in bread pudding. Try an ice cream bombe (here’s the recipe I wrote for Aurora Importing). The quick and easy way is this: the day after Christmas, my family has panettone French toast, making this sweet bread a breakfast treat. Other than an excuse to essentially have cake for breakfast, the best part of panettone French toast is it is totally Italian-Canadian: Italian sweet bread served with Canadian maple syrup. Perfect! Here’s how to do it at your house:

Panettone French Toast
1 panettone, sliced into 8 -10 servings
4 large eggs
½ cup milk or cream
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Butter

Recipe for French Toast made with Panettone

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By |26/12/2014|Dolce, Recipes|0 Comments

Christmas dessert recipes roundup

What’s in your oven this week? After three years on this blog, I’ve been able to record a few of my family’s holiday recipes, particularly desserts. I’ve taken a moment to round up these recipes so you have them handy in the lead-up to Christmas, all in one post. From potato doughnuts to chocolate salame, it’s hard to pick one favourite. I’m going to try and bake few over the next days (if the little one will sleep!) – I hope you join me.

Click the photo, or the link below it, to get cooking or baking!

Italian Potato Doughnut Recipe

Recipe: Italian Potato Doughnuts (Colluri)

Torrone recipe

Recipe: Torrone

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Recipe: Chocolate Salame

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By |22/12/2014|Recipes|4 Comments