The last couple of weeks have been awfully busy. With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s looming, lots of company coming and shopping and preparation to do, it’s nonstop from here on until January. That’s why I am so thankful for my slow cooker. I put in a few ingredients early in the day, go about getting things done, then come home to a hot cooked meal. One less thing to worry about.
Every other day this week, I made a different slow cooker soup. One day it was the Spicy Chicken and Vegetable Soup from The Mediterranean Slow Cooker. Another day it was the Spinach and Egg Bouillabaisse from The French Slow Cooker. Pictured above is the Fresh Pea Soup dusted with nutty Parmigiano Reggiano, a recipe from The Italian Slow Cooker. Each recipe makes a big batch, so I was able to stash some of the leftovers in the freezer to enjoy another day. Think of them as frozen assets. Tomorrow I’ll make a beef stew in the slow cooker and then move on to starting the preparations for our Thanksgiving feast.
Here is the pea soup recipe. I did not have any fresh mint on hand so I just left it out. The soup is delicious either way.
FRESH PEA SOUP
Prosciutto gives this soup a rich, hammy flavor. Thawed frozen peas work great.
Serves 6 to 8
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 pounds fresh peas, shelled, or 2 10-ounce packages frozen peas, thawed
1 medium celery rib, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
3 ounces thickly sliced prosciutto, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
In a skillet, cook the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until very tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the mint leaves and stir well. Scrape the mixture into a large slow cooker.
Add the peas, celery, carrot, and prosciutto. Add the water to cover by 1 inch. Cover and cook 2 hours on low. Let cool slightly. Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender.
Gently reheat the soup if needed. Stir the remaining 1/4 cup mint into the soup. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the cheese.
Copyright 2010 THE ITALIAN SLOW COOKER by Michele Scicolone
November 25, 2013 No Comments
It’s a beautiful fall Sunday here and all I could think of is spending as much time as possible out of doors before the cold weather closes in. That’s why I am so grateful for my slow cooker. While I took a long walk this morning, and worked in my garden this afternoon, my slow cooker has been simmering away, turning a handful of ingredients into a rich, spicy sauce to serve with pasta.
I made it with a fresh, snowy white cauliflower, crushed tomatoes, garlic and spices. The finishing touch is toasted bread crumbs, spiked with anchovies. It’s a traditional topping that adds a crunchy, salty finish, but if you like you can season the crumbs with some garlic instead of the anchovies and top the pasta with grated cheese. It’s hearty and warming — just what we want on a chilly fall evening.
Pasta with Spicy Cauliflower and Anchovy Crumbs
1 small cauliflower, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1/3 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
4 anchovy fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (16 ounces) shells, fusilli, or other dried pasta, cooked and drained
In a large slow cooker, stir together the tomatoes, water, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the garlic, oregano, salt and crushed red pepper. Add the cauliflower. Cover and cook on high 3 hours or until the cauliflower is very tender.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a small skillet. Add the anchovies (or 1 teaspoon very finely minced garlic) and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until the anchovies are dissolved, about 3 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring often, until the crumbs are toasty, about 5 minutes more. Season with black pepper.
Toss the the sauce with the hot cooked pasta. Sprinkle with the crumbs and serve.
Copyright 2013 THE MEDITERRANEAN SLOW COOKER by Michele Scicolone. All rights reserved.
October 20, 2013 9 Comments
Every year for his birthday, Charles asks me to make him a special dinner. He spends a lot of time planning his menu. Should he have lobster, spaghetti with clams, steak? He has a hard time deciding. But all that is just a lot of talk. He always comes back to three of his favorites: bucatini all’Amatriciana, a blueberry tart, and Roman style fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies.
Zucchini flowers may seem terribly exotic, but for Italian cooks, they are another delicious way to use up a portion of a plant that might otherwise go to waste. Zucchini, and other summer squash blossoms I should add, produce two kinds of flowers. The “female” flower has a short stem that looks like and will grow into a vegetable, while the large and showy male flowers have a longer narrow stem. The flavor is delicate but in addition to stuffing they make a colorful addition to pasta, risotto and many other Italian dishes. My mother used to grow zucchini and she would use the non-fruiting flowers to make a frittata or mix them into a batter for zeppole.
Charles discovered the mozzarella and anchovy stuffed ones on our first trip to Rome in 1970 and has been crazy about them ever since. You can buy the flowers at some specialty stores, individually wrapped in cellophane and sold for exorbitant prices, but luckily several vendors at the Union Square Greenmarket have them this time of the year. I bought a box of about a dozen large, fresh flowers for $5.
Prepare the flowers just before frying. Look them over carefully to be sure there are no insects hiding inside. Wipe them gently with a damp cloth if needed. You don’t want to wet the flowers or they will get soggy. For the anchovy and mozzarella stuffing, blot the pieces well so that they don’t leak moisture. Handling the flowers gently, place a piece of each inside, then pinch the flower closed. The batter is a mixture of all purpose flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder for leavening. Just before frying, add ice cold club soda or seltzer (or acqua minerale gassata, in keeping with the Italian). Mix very briefly — it should be lumpy. Too much mixing will make the batter tough. Dip the flowers in the batter, drain off the excess, and fry in hot oil, turning once until crisp and lightly golden.
Drain the flowers briefly on a wire rack. If placed on paper towels to drain, they will quickly become soggy. Serve them immediately. Be careful since the filling is blazing hot! Rush to the Greenmarket to buy another box.
Roman Style Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
12 zucchini or other squash flowers
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, patted dry
6 anchovy fillets, halved and patted dry
2/3 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
About 3/4 cup very cold sparkling water or club soda
Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying
Gently wipe the flowers with a damp paper towel. Open the flowers and tuck a piece of mozzarella and a piece of anchovy down into the center. Pinch the flowers closed.
In a shallow bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Just before using, gradually stir the club soda into the dry ingredients make a mixture about as thick as pancake batter. Don’t stir it too much, it’s okay if there are some lumps.
Preheat about 1 inch of oil in a large deep frying pan until the temperature reads 370°F on a deep frying thermometer and a few drops of the batter added to the pan sizzle and cook quickly. Place a wire rack over a plate.
Hold a flower by the open end to keep it from opening. Dip the flower in the batter turning to coat all sides. Carefully slip the flower into the hot oil without splashing. Add additional flowers without crowding the pan. Fry the flowers until crisp on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove the flowers with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining flowers. Serve hot.
August 31, 2013 4 Comments
Maybe it is because of all the Winnie the Pooh I read in my early years, but I am crazy about honey. I am constantly on the lookout for local varieties. My favorite sources are specialty food shops and farmers markets which I visit in my area and when I am travelling. Each honey has a distinctive flavor, color and texture based on the types of flowers that the bees have visited. Right now, I have some local honeys — one produced on Manhattan rooftops — and several others from Mexico, Italy and France. Some are mild while others are robust. Every day, I enjoy honey, either stirred into tea, or drizzled on toast, yogurt or fruit. But except for the bare facts, I really didn’t know much about honey until I read a new book called Taste of Honey: the Definitive Guide to Tasting and Cooking with 40 Varietals, written by my friend Marie Simmons.
In the book, which is full of gorgeous photos, Marie describes the whole process of how bees make honey. Did you know that the average honey bee makes about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime? It takes about five million visits to flowers and flights totaling 100,000 miles to make a pound of honey. No wonder bees are always so busy.
In addition to fascinating facts and honey history, the book contains recipes for everything from appetizers to snacks and desserts. I can’t wait to try the Baby Back Ribs with Chipotle Honey Barbecue Sauce and Salted Honey Peanut Brittle. Just thinking about the sweet and savory Grilled Dubliner Cheese, Bacon, Dill Pickles, and Honey Sandwich makes me hungry. Marie also includes a trove of “quick hits”, easy ideas to dress up everyday foods. She suggests glazing sauteed pork chops with honey and balsamic vinegar, for example, or using a mix of honey and Dijon mustard as a coating for grilled lamb chops. How about her fast, low calorie dip for vegetables made with plain yogurt, honey and mustard. Marie is a big fan of honey with cheese and devotes a section of the book to organizing a honey and cheese tasting.
Peanuts and honey have a natural affinity for one another. These fabulous cookies will taste great with a glass of cold milk.
CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER AND HONEY COOKIES
Marie recommends a full flavored honey for these cookies, such as, wildflower or mesquite.
Makes about 3-1/2 dozen
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup coarsely chopped, unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
1. Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with pachment paper or coat with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Place the butter, peanut butter, and brown sugar in the large bowl of a stand mixer and beat for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla until the mixture is well blended. Beat in the honey in a slow steady stream until blended.
3. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Gradually beat into the batter on slow speed until blended. Add the peanuts and stir in with a rubber spatula.
4. Drop the batter by rounded tablespoonfuls about 1-1/2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a tie for 10 to 13 minutes, until the edges are browned, but the centers are soft. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets before removing with a spatula. The centers will firm up as the cookies cool.
Variation: For Chunky Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies, decrease the amount of peanuts to 1/2 cup and add 1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips.
Copyright 2013 Taste of Honey: The Definitive Guide to Tasting and Cooking with 40 Varietals, Marie Simmons, Andrews Mc Meel Publishing
July 8, 2013 No Comments
The season for California figs has begun! To celebrate, I attended a dinner at Maialino Restaurant in NYC which featured figs in every course from appetizer to dessert. While you cannot go wrong with a sweet plump fig wrapped in prosciutto, or stuffed with Gorgonzola, the menu was an eye opener as far as creative ways to cook and serve figs.
Crostini topped with ricotta and sliced figs were among the starters followed by a salad of tiny Gem lettuce leaves, black Mission figs, walnuts and pecorino cheese with an olive oil and vinegar dressing. The salad was a study in contrasting flavors and textures, with sweet figs and salty cheese, tender lettuce and crunchy walnuts. Definitely a salad I’ll be making and eating a lot this summer.
Karla Stockli of the California Fig Board explained that the figs we were eating were from the first crop of the season, known as the breba crop. They were large and sweet, though the second crop, which appears later in the season, will be even more plentiful and flavorful.
Our next course consisted of tortelli, round ravioli stuffed with pork and chicken livers and drizzed with balsamic vinegar, butter, almonds and of course figs, followed by perfectly seared lamb chops with an “agrodolce,” sweet and sour accompaniment of dried golden and black figs with balsamic vinegar and red onion. Assorted vegetables accompanied the lamb, but the the slow roasted carrots topped with figs and pistachios had us swooning. A great leap forward in the annals of carrot cookery!
The meal ended with honey gelato topped with figs poached in red wine syrup and hazelnut brittle. My only regret was that I could not eat it all. The chef also brought out platters of ripe figs drizzled with vincotto. I packed up a takeout container full and the next day turned them into a small batch of tangy jam. You will find the recipe posted previously on this blog at http://wp.me/sEB1A-figs. We have been eating it for breakfast on whole wheat bread, and for dessert with a nice sharp cheese.
The California fig season is off to a great start. I can’t wait until more varieties like the golden green Calimyrna figs or the gorgeous striped figs known as Panache come into season later in the summer. I’ll be trying them plain or using them in recipes, like those on the California Fig Board website.
June 11, 2013 1 Comment
Every year my nieces and I get together to make Pastiera di Grano. The recipe we use is one I have written about before. It comes from my Grandmother who was born on the island of Procida in Italy over a hundred years ago. Of course she never wrote it down, but she taught it to my mother, who was also a great baker. Mom and I figured out the measurements to get the cake to look and taste just like Grandma’s. You can find the recipe in my book 1,000 Italian Recipes. I think that my Grandmother would be very proud to know that we celebrate her memory this way every year.
I can find most of the ingredients to make Pastiera easily in my area of New York City. I buy the grano, which is wheat grain that has been polished to remove the hull, at Kalustyan’s, and fresh ricotta from Calabro at Fairway Market or Whole Foods. I bought a big bottle of orange flower water the last time I was in Italy (though many markets like ALC Italian Grocery in Brooklyn or Di Palo’s in Manhattan sell it) as well as a whole piece of candied citron. The biggest problem for me is always the candied orange peel. The commercially made peel is dried out and lacks flavor, so this year I decided to make my own. It was easy to do and a perfect project for the cold rainy day we had earlier this week. I made a big batch, so that we would have plenty for our cakes plus more to nibble as a small sweet after dinner. The pieces are crunchy with sugar, yet tender inside and the flavor is intensely orange. Next time, I will dip some in dark chocolate, a flavor combination I adore.
Wishing all a Buona Pasqua!
CANDIED ORANGE PEEL
Makes about 4 cups
4 or 5 large navel oranges, preferably organic
4-1/2 cups sugar
Scrub the oranges with a brush under warm water. Cut off a 1/4 inch slice from each end. With a small sharp knife, score the peels into six wedges, cutting just down to the flesh. Remove each segment of the peel and cut it into 1/4-inch thick strips. Reserve the oranges for another use. (I made them into a salad with arugula, fennel and black olives.)
Have ready a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Add the peels and cook for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse the peels.
Rinse out the pot. Add 3 cups cool water and 3 cups of the sugar. Bring the liquid to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange peel and bring the liquid to a simmer. Add a little more water if needed so that the peels are just covered. Cook over medium low heat until the peels are tender, about 40 to 45 minutes.
Drain the peel well. Toss the pieces with the remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar to coat. Separate the pieces and place them on the parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to as low as it can go, about 175 F. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes so that the peels can dry out slightly. Let stand at room temperature until the surface coating is dry, about 24 to 48 hours. Cover them with a clean kitchen towel if you like.
Store in an airtight plastic bag for 1 week or in the freezer for 3 months.
March 29, 2013 No Comments