Baked Cod with Blood Orange, Fennel and Olives

baked cod with blood orange and fennel Are you having the winter blahs? Here’s a dish that will perk up all your senses, it’s light, bright, healthy and super flavorful and most likely a nice diversion from all the Super Bowl snacking you might have done.

cod with blood orange and fennel It’s so simple to make, everything goes in one baking dish, the more colors the better! You could use any white fish you like, I bought fresh Alaskan Cod that was on sale at Whole Foods but it would be equally good with sea bass or even halibut.

cod with blood orange and fennel I’ve seen fish cooked with blood orange and fennel before but I thought the addition of yellow peppers, olives, red onions, tomatoes and garlic would pop out the flavors even more, and it did!

baked cod with blood orange and fennel The mild sweetness of the fennel and peppers, the citrus flavor from the oranges, the briny olive taste, the juice from the tomatoes along with the garlic and onions, I promise you’ll be smacking your lips!

baked cod with blood orange and fennel A quick midweek meal or a dish pretty enough to serve to guests!

Baked Cod with Blood Orange and Fennel

Ingredients

  • Feel Free To Double Recipe!
  • 1/2 lb. fresh cod
  • 1 blood orange, peel cut off all around, then sliced
  • 1 bulb of fennel, sliced thin into strips
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 1 large yellow pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, shaved
  • handful grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • handful of kalamata olives
  • fennel fronds
  • chopped parsley
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Drizzle oilve oil on the bottom of a shallow baking dish.
  2. Scatter 3/4 of the veggies, citrus and olives on top, adding another drizzle of oil all over.
  3. Place fish on top and add remaining vegetables and other all around making sure to place some blood orange slices on top of the fish.
  4. Scatter fresh chopped parsley and fennel fronds all around.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Douse everything again with olive oil!
  7. Bake uncovered at 400 F. for 15 minutes or until fish is done according to thickness and veggies are soft.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2014/02/baked-cod-blood-orange-fennel-olives.html

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It’s a Chicken Cacciatore Kind of Day!

chicken cacciatore

It’s another frigid day here in Chicago, brutally cold weather with wind chill warnings, school closings and Artic air! You don’t have to convince me to stay inside. It’s definitely a comfort food kind of day, so a nice pot of slow cooked and braised Chicken Cacciatore it is!
fixings for chicken cacciatore Once the initial few steps are done, the browning of the chicken, sauteing your vegetables, deglazing, adding in your tomatoes, you can sit back for a couple of hours and let all the aromas fill your kitchen with comfort and warmth. Chicken Cacciatore is a classic Italian dish also referred to as hunter’s stew, I make it a few times during the winter and I just realized today that I never posted it on my blog, so here it is!

Carrots, onions, garlic, yellow and red peppers, assorted mushrooms ,olives, spices, herbs, tomatoes and wine when slow cooked and reduced makes the most delicious sauce to soak into your chicken and the bonus is, it tastes just as good if not better the next day!

chicken cacciatoreA mixture of crimini and shiitake mushrooms add nice texture and flavor to the sauce as well as oregano, basil, parsley and thyme.

chicken cacciatore This is rustic food, family style, hearty and oh so satisfying! Boil up some pasta to soak up those juices or a nice creamy polenta.

chicken cacciatore Maybe some warm crusty bread? Either way I can assure you this dish is amazing and one of my family’s absolute favorites.

chicken cacciatore

Mangia! Mangia!

Chicken Cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, bone-in,skin on and each breast cut in half for smaller pieces
  • 8oz. mixed mushrooms, like crimini and shiitake
  • 1 onion, diced medium
  • 1 small yellow and red pepper, diced medium
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, shaved
  • pitted kalamata olives, a large handful
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz. can of tiny whole tomatoes or if not available just whole tomatoes.
  • Assorted herbs, parsley, basil, oregano and thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Season chicken with salt, pepper and sprinkled oregano.
  2. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet, drizzled with olive oil.
  3. Place chicken skin side down and do not move it until it reaches a deep golden brown and it's easy to turn, brown other side for a few minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.
  4. Add vegetables, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, a few twigs of thyme, saute for 5 minutes.
  5. Add wine and let it reduce.
  6. Add chicken broth and tomatoes.
  7. Toss in 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and chopped fresh basil.
  8. Place the chicken back into the pan and sink into the juices.
  9. Simmer on low, stove top, for a couple of hours or until chicken falls off the bone. Uncovered.
  10. Garnish with fresh parsley.
  11. Serve with cooked pasta, polenta or warm crusty bread.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2014/01/chicken-cacciatore-kind-day.html

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Individual Kale Baked Eggs

kale baked egg

 

What do you do when you’re stuck in the house, it’s frigid outside and you have a nasty winter cold? I like to stay inside where it’s warm and play with food. I saw this idea while mindlessly wandering the web one day. Individual portions of eggs that were baked in kale leaves, how cute is that? Since I had everything on hand I thought I’d try my own version. It looked healthy and simple to do, so why not!

kale baked eggs

 

I decided to whisk my eggs up with grated romano and asiago cheese for added flavor but you can certainly plop a whole egg right in the middle like the original recipe. I used curly kale because that’s what I had, but any variety would do. I bent a larger leaf so it would fit inside the muffin pan then anchored it down with sliced cherry tomatoes and a cube of cheese.

kale baked eggs I was curious to see how they would turn out and how it would  all taste cooked together but I was pleasantly surprised. The eggs puffed up and stayed right inside the crispy kale cups and of course they had a nice flavor with the different cheeses and tomatoes.

kale baked eggs I don’t think I would make these for a crowd but if you have the patience you certainly can. Personally I think they would be excellent for a small brunch or a special breakfast because visually it looks very impressive and pretty on your plate. As far as flavoring your eggs, well the sky is the limit! Think goat cheese, feta, brie,  bacon, sausage bits, herbs, I could go on and on!

kale baked eggkale baked eggs

They came out nice and easy from the muffin tin, just be careful because the kale gets crispy and fragile. I misted my kale with olive oil and sprinkled a tiny bit of salt on top which gave it the taste of the popular kale chips that are all the rage.  They looked pretty all lined up on a white platter too!

kale baked egg Tasty, cute, healthy, what’s not to like?

Individual Kale Baked Eggs

Ingredients

  • For six individual portions I used;
  • 6 eggs, scrambled
  • 6 large kale leaves or enough to cover muffin tin hole with some extending over for easy removal
  • 1/3 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup or more shredded cheese of your choice
  • 3 or 4 cherry tomato slices per muffin cup
  • 1 small cube of cheese to anchor bottom of kale leaf
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Spray or grease muffin tins with olive oil.
  3. Whisk 6 eggs preferably in a pourable container along with the grated and shredded cheese or anything else you might add, plus salt and pepper.
  4. Take a kale leaf or 2 and place it into greased muffin tin, anchor it down with a wedge of cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes.
  5. Carefully pour egg mixture on top to about 3/4 full.
  6. Mist or drizzle olive oil all over kale leaf and sprinkle with salt.
  7. Bake until eggs are set, at least 15 minutes but check according to your oven.
  8. Let cool for 5 minutes then carefully remove.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2014/01/individual-kale-baked-eggs.html

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King Oyster and Crimini Three Cheese Mushroom Tart

three cheese mushroom tart This is a savory tart with a crispy phyllo dough bottom that’s slathered with a creamy, cheesy base that becomes the perfect platform to anchor earthy, meaty mushrooms on top!

three cheese mushroom tart A mixture of ricotta, mild goat cheese and grated parmesan is blended together for the cheese base, with just a touch of herbs folded in.

king oyster mushroomsOyster mushrooms have a mild earthy flavor with a nice bite, the consistency of a tender Shitake. A little goes a long way when you start slicing them up.
roasted mushrooms Don’t try and roast them in the oven like I did the first time unless you are on constant vigil, they cook up super fast and before you know it they’ll be all shriveled up. I suggest you saute them in a skillet just until they’re lightly golden brown on each side. The crimini mushrooms can take a roasting in the oven with no problem at all!

three cheese mushroom tart with phyllo This tart works beautifully for a brunch, lunch or dinner, all you have to do is serve a simple green salad beside it.

mushroom tart Satisfaction Guaranteed!

King Oyster and Crimini Three Cheese Mushroom Tart

Ingredients

  • 11x7 inch tart pan with removable bottom
  • 5 full sheets of phyllo dough folded in half to make 10 layers
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese, well drained
  • 1 cup mild goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, a mixture of parsley, basil or any other favorites
  • 1 lb. crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 finely minced garlic clove
  • 1 package of 3 large or 4 medium sized king oyster mushrooms, sliced lengthwise
  • olive oil and extra grated cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Either spray or brush olive oil onto the tart pan.
  2. Prepare mushrooms ahead of time by sauteing oyster mushrooms until golden brown and roasting the crimini in a 400 F. oven drizzled with olive oil and tossed with the 1 garlic clove until golden.
  3. Carefully open up the phyllo dough working with one sheet at a time and keeping the rest covered with a sheet of wax paper.
  4. Fold one sheet of phyllo in half and place it into tart pan and either spray or brush with olive oil, sprinkle with grated cheese and black pepper. Do this for each layer until 5 full sheets are used which folded in half equals 10 layers. Don't be afraid of phyllo, if it rips continue on it's very forgiving.
  5. FOR THE CHEESE MIXTURE. Combine ricotta, goat and parmesan in a medium bowl and blend together using a hand mixer, add a drizzle of olive oil to loosen it a bit.
  6. Fold in herbs and add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Spread cheese mixture all over last phyllo layer.
  8. Place cooked mushrooms over top.
  9. Place tart pan on top of a baking sheet and place in the oven at 400 F. for 25 minutes or until phyllo is a nice golden brown.
  10. Let tart sit for 10 minutes before cutting.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2014/01/king-oyster-and-crimini-three-cheese-mushroom-tart.html

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Butternut Squash – Filled Roasted Pork Loin

butternut squash filled pork loinWhat do you get when you open up a pork loin, rub it down with garlic, olive oil and tuscan herbs, smother it with roasted mashed butternut squash and then tie it back up? I’ll tell you… The most delicious flavor combination with an absolutely beautiful presentation!

Tuscan herbs I saw this recipe in the cookbook Fabio’s Italian Kitchen, the minute I saw the photo I was smitten and couldn’t wait to make it. Swirls of butternut squash between layers of pork, what’s not to like! This is the second time I’ve made this roast, the first time I followed the original recipe but this time I adapted it a little bit using those Tuscan herbs in that cute little crock above that were gifted to me by family who vacationed in Florence, Italy a few months ago. It’s a combination of sage, rosemary, crushed peppercorns and thyme.

cut and rolled out pork loin The most important thing about this recipe is that you have to cut open your pork loin properly and turn it into a 1/4 inch thick slab. The book explains how to do it but I needed a visual so I found a YouTube that showed me very quickly how to do it. After I opened it up I pounded it down to the thickness I wanted.

pork loin with Tuscan herbsThen all you have to do is rub your herby mixture all over the top.

pork loin spread with butternut squash Next, take your pre-roasted and mashed butternut squash and spread that on top of your herb mixture. Feel free to use your favorite mix of herbs, any combination would do. In the book Fabio just used garlic with minced sage which I tried the first time and that was very, very good!

pork loin tied and stuffed with butternut squashNow carefully roll up the loin not pressing down too much as you don’t want that filling to squish out, then tie it up with some butchers twine!
butternut squash stuffed pork loin I wish you could have seen how the whole roast looked when it was finished and I made that first cut, it was a perfect spiral of goodness but it was pitch dark and my inside lighting did not do it justice so I took these photos the very next day for you so you could see how nice the spirals of squash turned out.

butternut squash stuffed pork loin This dish is amazing and it certainly has the ” Wow” factor! You really need to make this soon. Here’s my adapted version.

Butternut Squash – Filled Roasted Pork Loin

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash, cut lengthwise, seeds scooped out and roasted until tender at 375 F.
  • 1 pork loin 2 1/2 lb.
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced finely
  • 3 tablespoons or more of a Tuscan dry herb mixture of sage, rosemary, thyme and cracked black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • heaping teaspoon of salt
  • butchers twine

Instructions

  1. After the squash is cooked tender and cooled, mash it up.
  2. In a small bowl mix the olive oil, herbs, garlic and salt together and let it sit for a bit.
  3. Open up your pork loin to 1/4 inch thickness
  4. Rub oil and herb mixture all over the top.
  5. Spread mashed butternut squash on top and all over herb mixture.
  6. Start at one end and roll up and tie with butchers twine.
  7. Place pork loin in a roasting pan, brush with more oil and herb mixture then roast in the oven at 375 F. until internal temperature reaches 165 F.
  8. Cut into thick slices and present the whole loin at the table for serving.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2014/01/butternut-squash-filled-roasted-pork-loin.html

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Farro and Arugula Salad

farro and arugula saladIf the holidays left you craving something green and healthy right now, no worries, I have the perfect salad for you! I’m currently in love with this salad, thanks to my friend Stacey who posted it on her blog. I could literally eat this for lunch all week, and I have!

farro salad ingredients

Simple but superior ingredients is what makes this salad so scrumptious. Cooked farro, that wonderful chewy and nutty tasting Italian grain is tossed with baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, pitted nicoise olives, buttery and over the top extremely addictive Marcona almonds and really good feta.

Speaking of feta, I’ve been obsessed with the brand that you see above for some time now, I buy it at my Costco, it’s about $11.00 for a 2 pack. It’s outstanding and a little goes a long way because the flavor is so intensified. No comparison in taste to the feta crumbles you can buy in the stores, none what so ever! If you can’t find this particular brand just get the real deal.

All those ingredients and flavors combined with premium extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice for your dressing and you have a salad that you will crave and dream about eating, it’s that good!

farro and arugula saladIf I were you I would cook up a whole bag of farro, stick it into a container in the fridge so it’s handy when you want to toss this salad together, especially if you plan on eating it for lunch during the week.

farro and arugula salad I chose nicoise olives because I adore them along with a lemon and olive oil dressing which went heavenly together, but you can certainly use pitted kalamata olives and a vinegar based dressing like my friend Stacey did. You can’t go wrong, it’s all good!

Farro and Arugula Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of cooked farro
  • 1 lb. baby arugula
  • handful of marcona almonds
  • 1/2 cup, sliced cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup nicoise olives
  • 1/2 cup good feta crumbled
  • FOR THE DRESSING
  • 1 lemon
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Make the dressing by squeezing the juice of one lemon into a small bowl then whisking in olive oil and tasting until you get the right balance.
  2. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and then toss with the dressing adding salt and pepper to taste.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2014/01/farro-and-arugula-salad.html

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Celebrations, Traditions and Good Eats!

making ravioliRecently I got together with my side of the family to make ravioli for our Annual Ravioli Night with The Cousins dinner. We incorporated this tradition a few years ago when a dear close cousin of mine past away. Her mother, (my aunt) and my mother, were not only sister in laws they were best friends. They would always cook together and be together during the holidays so all of us cousins wanted to do the same thing along with our own families. We use their cherished ravioli recipe that has been handed down to all of us.
making ravioli Making ravioli for a crowd is probably not the smartest thing to do, you really have to be organized. We make and form the actual ravioli on trays which gives them a consistent look, size and seals them perfectly. I do this a couple of weeks ahead of time and then all get put into the freezer. I make all the dough and the fillings the night before we gather together so everything is ready to go, I use my trusty food processor method for the dough which always works perfectly and never fails me.

When morning comes around, all I have to do is take the dough out of the fridge and get to room temperature. Ten batches of dough yields 400 ravioli, I’m going to cut that down a bit for next year, we finally figured out the right amount to make so there will still be enough leftover for everyone to take a container home.

making ravioli We set aside the whole day to make them, only stopping for lunch in between and a few coffee breaks, this year we made 200 meat and 200 cheese.
homemade ravioli Once we get our mojo working properly the ravioli start coming together quickly. We all have our jobs, I usually do the rolling of all the dough with my pasta machine then after they’re formed I’ll get them into the freezer and then when frozen solid I’ll put them into freezer bags.

homemade ravioli I did a blog post a while back on making ravioli for a crowd, here’s the link there’s some good tips on how to get it done efficiently.

cooking ravioliOne thing I didn’t want to do is have pots of water boiling on my stove with 30 people in my house, so the night before the actual party all that messy work is finished.  I also make sure that days before my sauce is all pre-made and ready to go.

I boil each and every one of the ravioli the night before the party and place them single layer on commercial quality full size foil sheet pans that I get from a restaurant supply store, they work great plus it’s a throw away with no clean up!
cooking ravioli After they cool down I cover the pans with heavy duty foil and keep them cold overnight. When it’s party time all I have to do is pop the whole pan in the oven at 350 degrees F. for 15 minutes, they get perfectly warmed and the pans are great for serving but more importantly there’s nothing major for me to do on party day with a house full of people.

aftermath of boiling 300 ravioli No one sees the disaster on my stove from the night before with all the boiling going on, that’s a good thing! Believe it or not it gets all clean and shiny in time for the party!

ravioli partyRavioli Night with The Cousins is now an annual event in my house, we do it a couple of weeks before Christmas and we all look forward to it every year!
homemade ravioli Can you see why I love those big pans? I can get 60 to 70 ravioli single layer on one full sheet pan, they’re great for a big party.

homemade ravioliWe keep our menu simple, it’s basically the same every year, meat and cheese ravioli, a couple of different salads, good bread, my brothers famous sausage and peppers and chicken that he makes on a charcoal grill. There’s plenty of wine and tons of desserts.
meat raviolicheese raviolitoasting with homemade limoncelloAnother tradition that is now added to our annual Ravioli Night with The Cousins is my daughters homemade limoncello, it’s the best and truly one of the highlights of the night, she makes it every year with much love and care and we all look forward to sipping it. We toast to those who aren’t with us any longer and to all our families here and now. The younger cousins kept doing multiple toasts throughout the night, it was so much fun!  That’s my daughter, upper right hand corner picture, bottom center holding a glass. Thanks V!

It may seem like a lot of work to pull this all off but I can honestly say that it’s worth every bit, and besides we’re creating memories and traditions for a lifetime!
Christmas dinner

And last but not least I’ll leave you with a photo of our Christmas dinner as it might be something you would want to create for New Years Eve. Crab stuffed shrimp, I’ve made it before but this time I made a lemon aioli for dipping the shrimp, it added a ton of flavor and was a nice compliment. Corzetti pasta with pesto was on the side along with a salad, but the one thing I’m super excited about more than anything else is that I finally figured out how to make a proper lobster tail and how to get the meat out of the shell in one piece! I watched a You Tube about it and it all came out without a glitch, literally!

So if you’re staying home on New Years Eve and want to make a special elegant meal I would highly recommend this lobster tail and my crab stuffed shrimp along with a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate and bring in 2014!   Salute!

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A Homemade Decadent Gift, Mendiants

gifting mendiantsNeed a last minute gift idea? You can make these quick and very decadent little French confections called Mendiants.

I instantly got inspired to make them the second I saw them featured on the beautiful blog, Manger. They’re surprisingly simple to make and inexpensive yet they look like such a high quality treat!
mendiant toppings Gather up some dried fruit and nuts, I’m sure you have some in your pantry or cabinets already, use whatever you like, you won’t need much just a handful of each. One other component I added was flaky sea salt, the salt complimented the chocolate so well and gave it a little crunch, I highly recommend using it.

melting dark chocolateMake sure you use premium dark chocolate and slowly simmer until melted over a double boiler. I bought a 1 pound bar and was able to make 42 mendiants out of it.
mendiants Some ideas for toppings are orange peel, apricots, cranberries, golden raisins, figs, coconut, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and cashews to name a few. I did plump up my figs, cranberries and golden raisins by placing them in boiling water for 1 minute, make sure to dry them off.

mendiantsA little goes a long way, you can quarter your figs and cut off small slices from your apricots, you don’t even need to add as much topping as I did.
mendiantsgifting mendiants Now go find some pretty little boxes to place them in and you’re good to go!

Wishing all of you my dear readers a Very Merry Christmas! xox

Mendiants, a French Confection

Ingredients

  • Inspired and adapted from the blog, Manger.
  • 1 lb. premium dark chocolate, chopped
  • A small mix of dried fruits and nuts, set out and ready to go

Instructions

  1. Line baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Melt 80% of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over an inch of gently simmering water. When chocolate is melted take off the heat and add the other 20% of the chocolate, stirring until all is melted.
  3. Take a teaspoon of the melted chocolate and drop on to the parchment and smooth out a round disc shape.
  4. Only do 6 at a time,so as not to cool down the chocolate, then add your desired toppings and finish by sprinkling them with the flaky sea salt.
  5. Continue until finished, if chocolate starts to harden, place bowl over the simmering water again to melt. ( I didn't have to do it, it stayed melted and warm).
  6. Let them harden in a cool place or your refrigerator for 15 minutes, then lift off.
  7. Makes 42
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/12/a-homemade-decadent-gift-mendiants.html

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Making Homemade Corzetti Pasta

red pasta machineWhen the holidays start approaching I always get the urge to make homemade pastas. I make ravioli each year but I also enjoy making some other out of the ordinary pastas, like corzetti.

Corzetti  are thin round coins of fresh pasta dough that get stamped out and embossed with a beautiful design using a handmade artisanal tool called the corzetti stamp. The look is so unique, not something you see often, eatable works of art!

I recently received a brand new shiny red pasta machine as a gift so I couldn’t wait to break it in!
pasta dough I’ve only made corzetti a few times, once was with my girlfriends when I first got my new stamps, we spent the whole day together making garganelli and corzetti pasta, I did a post on it a couple of years ago here.

Recently I got inspired to make it again after reading my friend Adri’s beautiful post on her corzetti, I also decided to use her dough recipe which I highly recommend if you decide to make them. Her dough recipe is simply made with unbleached flour, an egg and water. I used the food processor method and it came together perfectly!

corzetti stampsYou can order these heirloom quality crafted stamps from Artisanal Pasta Tools. We are so fortunate to have such a skilled craftsman here in the U.S. that makes these stamps and other traditional pasta tools, otherwise they were only available in Italy.
stamping corzetti Making corzetti is a true labor of love but I can’t imagine a more beautiful pasta to serve for a very special occasion. I wouldn’t recommend making them for a crowd but for a smaller dinner party they are wonderful. They’re just so extraordinary your guests will surely be impressed!

corzetti stampsAfter you get your dough together you’ll want to roll it out thin with a pasta machine. You cut the coin shape with one part of the stamp then flip it over and place the pasta disc on top and then pressing down using the part with the handle, each side will have a design embossed into the pasta, they’re amazing to look at!

making corzetti I even got my granddaughter to help me make some, she caught on right away and did a great job!corzetti pastacorzetti pastacorzetti pastaYou can freeze them individually which I do, single layer on a baking sheet and then when frozen I place them into freezer bags for later use.
boiling corzetti pasta When you’re ready to eat them place into salted boiling water, they will rise to the top and only take about 3 minutes to cook. Scoop out gently with a handheld spider strainer. Treat them with tender loving care.

corzetti pasta with sauceAlthough the traditional way to eat corzetti is with a pesto of some sort, we love them just the same with marinara spooned all over the top.
corzetti pasta with sauce And don’t forget to sprinkle generously with freshly grated romano or parmesan cheese, so, so delicious!

corzetti pasta with squash and kaleI had some leftover so I tossed them into a brown butter sauce with grated parmesan cheese and added sauteed kale and roasted butternut squash for a wonderful midweek dinner.
corzetti pasta with herb pesto Here’s the more traditional way to serve corzetti, a pesto made with olive oil, parsley, basil, garlic, parmesan and walnuts, it’s so scrumptious and really highlights the design.

Once a year I make this and it’s well worth the time and effort, a beautiful tradition indeed!

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Creamy Polenta with Butternut Squash and Spinach

polenta with butternut squash and spinachI can’t think of a better dish for a cold wintery night. Creamy, cheesey, polenta laced with roasted butternut squash and chopped spinach. Guaranteed to warm you up from the inside out. Comfort food in the most delicious way!
Christmas wreath Chicago received it’s first snow yesterday and with temperatures predicted mostly in the teens all week the reality of winter is in full force, so it’s comfort foods that are calling my name.polenta with spinach and butternut squash Hearty enough to eat alone or with a nice green salad or it’s just plain wonderful as a side dish next to baked chicken or roasted pork.polenta with sausage and peppers Have leftovers? No problem, you can easily morph your leftover butternut squash polenta into another meal by topping it with chunks of Italian sausage and roasted peppers, this is crazy good!

butternut squash polenta with sausage and peppersbutternut squash polenta with poached egg But if all you have left is just a teeny bit, no worries, you can mold it into a small ramekin, warm it up, unmold and plop a cooked egg on the top, my favorite!

Creamy Polenta with Butternut Squash and Spinach

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into small dice and pre-roasted
  • 1 cup, instant style polenta
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup or so grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 2 cups chicken broth, homemade or low sodium store bought
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra olive oil for drizzling

Instructions

  1. Roast squash at 400 degrees on a baking sheet drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast around 15 minutes or until slightly golden. Set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan add the broth, water, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and slowly start whisking in the polenta, keep whisking so as not to get lumps, it will bubble and squirt, be careful!
  4. Switch over to a wooden spoon and keep stirring until thickened, remove from heat.
  5. Fold in the grated cheese, the spinach and the butternut squash, drizzling more olive oil all over the top.
  6. Serve immediately.
  7. Leftover polenta can be warmed up the next day by adding more water or broth, or leftovers can be molded into ramekins.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/12/creamy-polenta-with-butternut-squash-and-spinach.html

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Garlicky Mussels with Fregola

mussels with fregolaWell I’m officially “turkeyed out” until next year so it’s time to change it up here with a nice pot of mussels! Did you know that mussels are an inexpensive, sustainable shellfish that gives a boost to your immune system and your brain? Many people shy away from mussels thinking they taste fishy, to the contrary, if you buy them fresh from a good source they have a nice clean meaty flesh and smell just like the ocean plus they take on all the flavors that you use to cook with them.

Mussels are not just for special occasions like Christmas Eve, they can be a very quick dinner in the middle of the week or the weekend and it amazes me just how inexpensive they are, even at my Whole Foods when not on sale I can get them for 4.99 a pound and they’re even cleaned and debeard! Just make sure to grab a good bottle of wine while you’re there, sipping wine and eating mussels go hand and hand.
fregola I normally make my mussels with a sauce that has lots of shaved garlic, white wine, red pepper, a few ladles of marinara or cherry tomatoes and that’s it, sometimes pasta on the side sometimes not. This time I made it with Fregola, the Italian version of Israeli couscous. Fregola comes from Sardinia, it’s a firmer semolina pasta shaped like little pearls that has a toasted and nutty flavor. mussels with fregola This is rustic eating at it’s best, my favorite. Just put the pan in the middle of the table, have plenty of napkins, your wine close at hand, a separate bowl for your shells, and dig in!mussels with fregola The juice of the mussels, the garlic, wine and tomatoes is what flavors the Fregola pasta, every bite is a delight! mussels with fregolamussels with fregola

A little crusty bread on the side for sopping up doesn’t hurt either!

Garlicky Mussels with Fregola

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs mussels, fresh, cleaned and debeard ( May substitute all clams or a mix of both)
  • 5 cloves garlic, shaved ( shaving the garlic is a must!)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes sliced, or a couple of ladles of homemade marinara
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup or so, white wine
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil, extra for finish drizzle
  • 1 1/2 cup of pre-cooked Fregola, according to package. ( May substitute Israeli couscous)
  • chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a large pan with sides and lid combine olive oil, all the shaved garlic and red pepper flakes until golden on medium heat, then add tomatoes.
  2. Add mussels with the white wine, stir to get them coated then increase the heat to high and cover with a lid.
  3. Cook until all the mussels are open, about 5 minutes.
  4. Spoon in the pre-cooked Fregola, coating it with the sauce.
  5. Add chopped fresh parsley all over the top plus an extra drizzle of olive oil.
  6. Serve immediately.
  7. Discard any unopened shellfish!
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/12/garlicky-mussels-with-fregola.html

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Next Day Turkey Soup with Corzetti Pasta

turkey soup with corzetti pasta I made this quick soup for lunch today using my leftovers from turkey day. I didn’t boil the carcass like I should have for a couple of hours because it got tossed ( I know, I know), instead I just used one leg and one wing that I had saved and it still was mighty good!

I make this type of soup often in the winter, beans with greens, with or without pasta, sometimes chicken, sometimes not, turkey in this case, and other vegetables I want to use up.

turkey soup with corzetti pasta I recently made some Corzetti, which are thin rounds of pasta which is embossed and stamped with a design (more on that in a future post). I had one bag left in my freezer so I added that to my soup but you could certainly add some nice shells or even broken up lasagna sheets, basically any favorite pasta of your choice, it’s all good. With in an hour my soup was on the table and warming me up!

Turkey soup with Beans, Greens and Pasta

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey leg and 1 wing leftover and cooked from Thanksgiving
  • 1 extra large leek, cleaned and sliced
  • chopped kale, a few handfuls
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 cans, cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 slices of chopped precooked bacon, optional
  • water and broth, enough to cover turkey parts plus a little more
  • 2 parmesan rinds to flavor broth
  • 1/2 lb of cooked pasta, tossed in a tiny bit of olive oil and set aside separately
  • parsley, red pepper flakes and thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste, plus grated cheese

Instructions

  1. In a large pot add turkey leg and wing and enough broth to cover plus a little more. Add in parmesan rinds.
  2. Cook turkey meat for around 40 minutes then remove leg and wing, take the meat off and then place shredded meat back into the pot.
  3. In a saute pan add leeks, or onions, garlic and kale until slightly wilted, then add to large pot.
  4. Add rinsed beans and chopped cooked bacon.
  5. Add seasonings and cook for 20 more miinutes, remove rinds.
  6. Ladle into bowls then add your cooked pasta and additional cheese.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/11/next-day-turkey-soup-with-corzetti-pasta.html

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A Few of my Favorite Thanksgiving Sides

roasted autumn veggiesBesides all the traditional dishes of Thanksgiving like stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberries, I like to throw in a few extras, sometimes it’s simply roasted seasonal vegetables.
roasted autumn veggies Different shaped squash, colorful carrots and vibrant greens are the perfect backdrop on a pretty platter, you can roast them ahead of time, reheat in a hot oven and finish them off with a good drizzle of balsamic glaze!

kale and brussel sprouts In my family we all like brussel sprouts in some form or another so I always try to have them on my Thanksgiving table, this year I’m doing a Kale and Brussel Sprout Salad. ( recipe below)kale and brussel sprout salad It’s fresh, crunchy, creamy, slightly sweet with a tiny bit of heat and laced with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, lemon and Marcona almonds and plumped cranberries.

kale and brussel sprout salad I seriously could eat this for lunch everyday, it’s that good! Pull out a large bowl because you’ll be surprised how much it makes with just one bunch of kale and half a bag of brussel sprouts. I encourage you to double the recipe please!cipollini in thyme and parmesan cream Everyone needs a little decadence during the holidays and these Cipollini bathing in Creamy Parmesan and Thyme sauce are the perfect addition to your table, besides they’re small and a few on your plate won’t hurt you! Cipollini are the saucer shaped onions but you can certainly replace them with pearl onions which are even smaller.cipollini in thyme and parmesan cream Roast your onions ahead of time in a 400 degree oven until golden, then place them into a shallow baking dish. Meanwhile in a separate saucepan place 2 cups of cream and three sprigs of thyme, salt and pepper, when cream starts to come to a boil remove pan from the stove and stir in 3/4 cup of grated parmesan, add salt to taste, then spoon it over and around the onions. Sprinkle additional 1/4 cup of grated parmesan on top and place into the oven at 450 for 15 minutes or until the cream has thickened.creamy fennel Creamy Fennel with Parmesan and Thyme, another decadent treat! Prepare it the same way as the onions above, slightly roasting the fennel before hand. I used three bulbs thinly sliced.pumpkin gnocchi I usually make a side of pasta on Thanksgiving and either Butternut squash or Pumpkin Gnocchi is always a wonderful complement to the turkey dinner.butternut squash stuffed shells But my all time favorite are these Stuffed Shells with Butternut Squash, Spinach and Ricotta.  All the flavors of a butternut squash lasagne stuffed into individual pasta shells, one or two on your heavily loaded plate is plenty and there’s no hassle cutting into a big lasagne, what could be better than that?  Happy Cooking!

Kale and Brussel Sprout Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of Tuscan kale, chopped with stems removed
  • 1/2 lb. brussel sprouts, sliced thin or shredded in a food processor
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 large celery stalk, sliced thin
  • 1 cup of plump dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup of Marcona almonds
  • 3/4 cup coarsely shredded parmesan cheese
  • FOR THE DRESSING
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 small smashed garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. Place chopped kale, shredded sprouts, carrots, celery, dried cranberries and almonds into a large bowl, sprinkle cheese all around.
  2. Whisk olive oil, lemon, garlic, red pepper and Dijon together in a smaller separate bowl then toss with the kale and sprout mixture, adding more cheese and olive oil if needed. Cover and refrigerate or eat immediately.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/11/a-few-of-my-favorite-thanksgiving-sides.html

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Scenes from Our Annual Cucidati Making Day

homemade cucidatiYesterday I spent the whole day with family making Cucidati, Italian fig cookies. We stopped counting at 500 but I think it was actually close to 600 in the end. I figure if you’re going to do this only once a year you might as well go big!
cucidati dough Everything was prepped the night before so when everyone arrived we could get right down to the business of making and baking the cookies, we knew it would be an all day project.heirloom rolling pins My husband has a soft spot for Cucidati, I did a post way back about them. A tender dough filled with figs, dates, raisins, walnuts or almonds, orange peel or marmalade, dark rum or whiskey, some clove, cinnamon and honey he looks forward to them every year, they’re nostalgic and remind him of his mom. So it was fitting that his sister and cousin brought along two special rolling pins, one was his moms and the other, his aunts, they were with us in spirit.pistachio liqueur  They also brought along some of this fabulous pistachio liqueur to sip as we were baking, it’s become our tradition and it pairs perfectly while you’re taste testing the cookies. ( wink, wink!) Besides fig and pistachio are a perfect match!  making Italian fig cookies After a few minutes everyone got in their groove doing their specific jobs, we had the music going and we started pumping them out!fig cookies before frosting Straight from the oven onto my marble dining room table which was a good spot for them to cool down on.lunch break When we got half way through the dough we stopped for a lunch break of lentil soup and a frittata, then back to work!Italian fig cookies The table started filling up fast after lunch so it was time to get them frosted so the glaze would be completely dry before they got packed into containers.making fig cookies A proud moment, waiting for the last two batches in my oven to come out and then every inch on my dining room table would be filled with fig cookies!cucidaticucidatiItalian fig cookies, cucidati  The best part, enjoying the fruits of our labor!

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Delicata Frittata

delicata frittataThis frittata was born from leftover squash that I had in my fridge and it was a big hit, I love it when things come together at the spur of the moment! You could eat this for breakfast, brunch or even dinner with a salad and it’s so quick to put together like all frittatas are.
delicata squash I’ve been experimenting with my new favorite squash, Delicata. It’s smaller in size and has a very thin skin which is all eatable, the flesh is very creamy in texture and rich in flavor. I love the look of the smaller rings when you cut into it with it’s scalloped edges. You can also slice it length wise, remove the seeds, stuff it and eat the whole thing, it’s very tender.

delicata frittataI used freshly grated romano cheese along with and an aged cheddar to flavor my eggs which complemented the squash perfectly. Spinach and tomatoes were also added.
delicata frittata Make sure not to use too many eggs because you want to be able to see the squash sitting up there real pretty, of course it all depends on how big your pan is, I used a 10″ skillet, five eggs, 5 slices of squash.delicata frittatadelicata frittata Every wedge I cut into had one perfectly whole ring of squash nestled in among the eggs and I didn’t even plan it that way!

Delicata Frittata

Ingredients

  • 10 inch oven proof skillet
  • 5 slices of pre- roasted delicata squash (400 degrees for 20 minutes tossed in olive oil turning once)
  • 5 eggs, scrambled
  • a generous handful of baby spinach, chopped
  • 5 sliced cherry tomato halfs
  • grated romano and aged cheddar, enough to sprinkle around the whole frittata
  • olive oil for drizzling

Instructions

  1. Drizzle skillet with olive oil and reheat squash.
  2. Whisk eggs then gently pour all around your squash in pan.
  3. Place tomato slices in the center of each squash.
  4. Sprinkle spinach all around as well as the cheddar and romano.
  5. Cook on medium heat until eggs set slightly.
  6. Finish frittata under the broiler for a few minutes but watch carefully so as not to burn.
  7. Let it rest for 5 minutes before you cut into it.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/11/delicata-frittata.html

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Butternut Squash Ribbons with Spinach Tagliatelle

butternut squash ribbons with pasta

I love adding veggie ribbons whenever I can, I think they make a simple dish look so pretty, especially when used with pasta.  Here I’m using butternut squash for my ribbons along with spinach tagliatelle for a nice contrast in color as well as taste, I also adding some mushrooms for extra flavor along with a light parmesan cream sauce. I’m telling you, this is good!

spinach tagliatelle The key to making nice looking ribbons is to find a butternut squash that has a long neck, you’re only going to be using the top so the longer the better, the shorter stumpier squash won’t work. I recommend either tagliatelle or pappadelle for the pasta as both hold up well against the butternut squash ribbons which tend to be wide.

butternut squash ribbonsI used a medium sized squash, top only, and you’ll would be surprised how many ribbons you’ll get. I used a simple vegetable peeler to make mine, I keep turning my squash as I peel the ribbons off.

roasted butternut squash ribbons Roast them on a baking sheet 375 to 400 degrees but watch them carefully because you don’t want them to burn or dry out. The edges will start to curl but the centers will still be soft and moist, that’s exactly what you want.

squash ribbons with tagliatelleToss them gently into your cooked pasta and sauce then place it all on a nice platter for the wow factor!
squash ribbons with spinach tagliatelle It all looks so pretty as the pasta and squash intertwines together but even better yet you’ll love how it tastes!

Butternut Squash Ribbons with Spinach Tagliatelle

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. spinach tagliatelle
  • butternut squash ribbons created from the neck only of a butternut squash
  • 1 cup of sauteed mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup cream or half and half
  • 1/3 cup of stock, chicken or vegetable
  • 1/3 cup of grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • parsley for garnish
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Cut the top off of a long neck medium sized butternut squash, peel skin off then make long ribbons using a vegetable peeler. Turn as you peel. Toss into a bowl and drizzle olive oil and salt and pepper all over then place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 375 to 400 until edges start to curl, keep watching as to not burn. Set aside.
  2. Cook tagliatelle al dente.
  3. In a saute pan drizzle olive oil, add garlic and cook until golden.
  4. Pour in the cream, stock and cheese, cook until slightly thickens.
  5. Add mushrooms and gently toss everything together and place on a platter adding more grated cheese, a nice drizzle of olive oil and fresh parsley for garnish.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/10/butternut-squash-ribbons-with-spinach-tagliatelle.html

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Soups On!

meatball and gnocchi soupAs soon as the weather turns cold I’m instantly in a “soup mood”. Nothing says comfort food more to me than a big pot of soup simmering on the stove. I make sure I have my kitchen stocked with everything I need so when I get the urge to make some, I’m good to go. Recently I made three different soups, some oldies but goodies and some new.
meatball and gnocchi soup This recipe above is an old standby, it’s quick and it takes no time at all to make, but I’m always improvising depending on what I have in my fridge. This time I replaced the beans with mini Italian meatballs that I had tucked away and I substituted the pasta which I normally use, with some leftover kale gnocchi I made a while back. So now I’ll call it my Meatball and Gnocchi soup! For the greens this time I used kale, but spinach, escarole, or swiss chard would be just as good, plus you could even use a good store bought gnocchi, just use the basic recipe I linked to above for the base. It’s hearty and it screams comfort!

sausage and lentil soupMy next soup, Sausage and Lentil, is a huge family favorite. I put this recipe on my blog back in 2007 and nothing has changed except my photos, here’s the recipe.  Please don’t let the brown color turn you off, the flavors are out of this world! A bowl of this, some warm crusty bread and dinner is served! I like to garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and shaved parmesan.
sausage and lentil soup Italian sausage and lentils, a match made in heaven!

posole soupI recently made a pot of Chicken Posole something I’ve never made before but became obsessed with after having a bowl of it from Panera. One bite and I was smitten with these puffed up little corn things, so much so I walked up to the counter and asked what it was and they said, HOMINY. Am I the only person in the world who never ate hominy?? It tasted like little polenta balls. I love this stuff, where have you been all my life? Since I never made Chicken Posole before I got the recipe here. To make things easy I used store bought rotisserie chicken,  good boxed chicken broth and canned hominy, my new friend.
posole soup I will be making this over and over again!

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Shaved Brussels Sprouts Tart

brussel sprout tartI always keep a box of phyllo in my fridge because I know I can create a quick and easy tart using whatever vegetables I have on hand. In this case I had a bag of shaved brussels sprouts that I got from Trader Joe’s and some leftover roasted butternut squash and before I knew it, a tart was born!
brussel sprout tart prep Phyllo is so forgiving and that’s why I like it, you can wing it, patch it and it still looks beautiful in the end. I usually use five or six layers for my 9″ tart pan, each layer sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with grated romano or parmesan then topped with the cheese of your choice so that all the toppings can sink right into it. I like to use a cheese that melts really good like fontina, gruyere, mozzarella or asiago which happened to be the one I chose for mine. I recommend grating your cheese first then spreading it evenly all over the top, I got lazy as you can see, but it still worked!

brussel sprout tartMy squash was already roasted and the brussels sprouts were quickly sauteed in olive oil until they wilted slightly.
brussel sprout tart Ready for the oven!

brussel sprout tartThe phyllo gives this tart a nice crispy, crunchy bottom which is a great base to hold all your toppings. The sky’s the limit on what to top your tart with, another favorite I love is caramelized onions, butternut squash and kale, try that next time around!

brussel sprout tart All you need is a salad or a bowl of soup along side this tart and it becomes the perfect dinner, lunch or brunch.

Congratulations to Terri of Terri’s Table, you’re the winner of my giveaway and the book, SOUTHERN ITALIAN DESSERTS!

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Tart

Ingredients

  • 9" removable bottom tart pan, sprayed or brushed with olive oil
  • 6 sheets of phyllo dough
  • 10 oz. bag of shaved brussels sprouts or shave your own by using the slicing disk on your food processor.
  • 1 cup of diced and pre-roasted butternut squash
  • shredded asiago cheese, enough to completely cover tart pan
  • 1/2 cup or so, grated romano or parmesan cheese
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and prepare tart pan by brushing or spraying with olive oil
  2. You need to wilt the brussels sprouts by either placing them in the oven on a roasting pan drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper or stove top just for a few minutes.
  3. Place the first sheet of phyllo into tart pan, press down and fit it in, spray or brush sheet with olive oil then sprinkle with romano and black pepper, repeat remaining 5 sheets the same way making sure to always cover your phyllo with wax paper while working with it so it doesn't dry out.
  4. Distribute shredded asiago all over.
  5. Spread the sprouts all over the shredded cheese then dot with the pre-roasted butternut squash.
  6. Drizzle top of the tart with olive oil and sprinkle more romano cheese all over.
  7. Place in oven 20-25 minutes or until phyllo is nice and golden.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/10/shaved-brussels-sprouts-tart.html

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Ricotta Filled Baked Pears and a Giveaway

ricotta stuffed pearsI love making desserts using ricotta so when I first saw this recipe in the cookbook, Southern Italian Desserts, I knew I was going to make it!

Crushed amaretti cookies, almond paste, candied orange peel, some of the pear that is scooped from the centers, cinnamon and vanilla all mixed into creamy ricotta then stuffed into a pear and baked, what’s not to like?
Southern Italian Dessert cookbook I received this book for review written by Rosetta Costantino she’s also the author of the acclaimed, My Calabria. I was instantly drawn in by the cover photo which was a beautiful watermelon pudding tart, I’ve never seen anything like it. When summer returns to Chicago and watermelon is back in season I’m definitely going to make that!

All the mouthwatering desserts in the book are organized by region, you’ll find Sicilian Cannoli, Zeppole di San Giuseppe which are fried pastries, Sfogliatelle Ricce, a flaky pastry stuffed with ricotta, Zabaione al Limoncello, Biscotti and various other Italian cakes, pies, cookies and candies and gelato. No doubt I will be referring back to this book quite often.

almond paste and ricotta fillingFor the stuffed pears I needed almond paste which I didn’t have, no worries she tells you how to make it in the book along with many other tips. It was actually quite simple to make, blanched almonds, sugar, water and a little almond extract whirled until it forms a paste in the food processor.
hollowed out pears The key is to find firm but ripe fat bottomed pears so you’ll have plenty of room to stuff them with the ricotta mixture.

baked pearsAs the pears are baking the ricotta mixture puffs up inside and over the top. The recipe gives you the option to then eat it as is, or to drizzle the pears with a chocolate sauce.
chocolate coated baked pears Obviously I went with the chocolate!chocolate coated pearsricotta stuffed pear One word…. DECADENT!

Would you like to win a copy of this book? One lucky reader of mine from the U.S. who makes a comment here on this very blog post will be sent a copy directly from the publishers. The winner will be chosen randomly on Sunday 10/13/13 and announced next week. Anonymous comments will not be accepted.

Ricotta Filled Baked Pears and a Giveaway

Ingredients

  • 6 firm-ripe pears
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta, well drained
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup crushed amaretti cookies
  • 5 tablespoons of almond paste, homemade or store-bought
  • 2 tablespoons packed finely chopped candied orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of vermouth or sweet white wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • CHOCOLATE SAUCE
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces good quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ALMOND PASTE
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pure almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons water, plus 1 teaspoon if needed.

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400F, rack in center oven. Have a 8-inch square pan ready.
  2. Cut off the tops of each pear and set aside. Use a melon baller or a small spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/4 inch all around careful not to poke through bottom. Discard seeds, chop flesh and set aside.
  3. Place ricotta into a bowl. Stir in egg, amaretti, almond paste, orange peel,cinnamon and vanilla. Add chopped pears and stir to combine everything.
  4. Place pears into baking pan, fill the cavities with the ricotta filling. Replace the tops on the pears.
  5. Stir together the wine, sugar and water then pour mixture into the pan. Bake until soft and beginning to collapse, mine took a little over an hour. Filling will puff out and brown. spoon some of the sauce over the pears.
  6. Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate until cold or overnight.
  7. Serve the chilled pears in shallow bowls, drizzled with chocolate sauce if you so desire.
  8. CHOCOLATE SAUCE is made my heating the cream until the sides start to bubble, turn off the heat and whisk in the chocolate until smooth and shinny.
  9. ALMOND PASTE is made by placing the almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar until it looks like fine cornmeal then add extract, water and remaining sugar until a paste forms. This can be frozen but thaw 1 hour before using.
  10. Notes: If you don't have candied orange peel I would use grated fresh orange peel from 1 orange. I used half and half instead of heavy cream for the chocolate sauce and that worked fine. This recipe has been slightly adapted.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/10/ricotta-filled-baked-pears.html

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Scenes from Chicago Gourmet 2013

Chicago Gourmet 2013Beautiful weather set the scene for a perfect day at Millennium Park as I perused my way through Bon Appetit’s Chicago Gourmet 2013. Guests were there to enjoy exclusive tastings from some of Chicago’s finest restaurants and chefs, attend live cooking demonstrations, book signings, learn about the latest food trends, seminars from Master Sommeliers, speak with renowned vitners, spirit makers, breweries from all over the globe and the opportunity to sample some of their finest and latest creations.

Exhibitors lined the walkways with samples of their goods, it’s non stop food and drink, you really have to know how to pace yourself as you walk, taste and sip along the way.
Chicago Gourmet 2013 One of the things I really enjoy doing is attending the live cooking demonstrations, the venue where they have it is very intimate, up front and personal, not a bad seat in the house! Loved this one in particular with Chef Hubert Keller where he transformed a very rustic braised beef dish into something you would have at a fine dining restaurant, I can’t wait to try it myself!Chicago Gourmet 2013 Chef Art Smith and Chef Lorena Garcia became great friends during their time on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” which was very evident from the chemistry they had together. For their demo they fused her Latin with his Southern cuisine and made a masa cake stuffed with an avocado smashed chicken salad, and it was all gluten free.Chicago Gourmet 2013 Chef Sarah Grueneberg is the executive chef of Spiaggia along with Chef Carrie Nahabedian of NAHA, their demo was all about vegetables, they talked about venturing out of our comfort zones, trying different varieties of peppers, squashes, eggplant, beans, okra, mixing them together into a ratatouille or salads, be adventurous in the kitchen you can’t go wrong when it’s all fresh and in season. Oh, FYI, the latest trendy vegetable is…. cardoons! They taste like artichokes, I’m in!Chicago Gourmet 2013 Here’s a view of the culinary stage, I seriously could have spent the whole day there, I really wanted to see Chef Graham Elliot but I was getting hungry and thirsty!Chicago Gourmet 2013 So many choices this doesn’t even scratch the surface, Mexican, Italian, Asian, Southern, French, American, Seafood, Brazilian, I could go on and on! There were several Chef Tasting Pavilions and yes, some had long lines but they seemed to move fairly quickly once they got going, besides it gave you a chance to slow down and digest a bit because in the tasting pavilions you would normally get anywhere from three to seven bites from the various restaurants featured.Chicago Gourmet 2013 Why don’t I make chimichurri sauce more often? It takes a good piece of meat and elevates it to another level!Chicago Gourmet 2013 I’ve learned from the past in order for me to make it through the day when sampling, you must pull off all bread products and just take a few bites, that’s it!Chicago Gourmet 2013 With the exception of a lobster roll!Chicago Gourmet 2013Chicago Gourmet 2013 Desserts were everywhere, sticky toffee pudding, root beer floats, cupcakes, gelato, apple and plum creations along with a separate Dessert Tasting Pavilion, which I didn’t even enter into for fear I might never come out!Chicago Gourmet 2013 There was plenty of charcuterie to nosh on while sampling your favorite drinks, small bites of proscuitto, salami and salty cheese, they even had a “protein bar” that was filled with cups of chili ready to go.Chicago Gourmet 2013 Wine of every variety, champagne, Patron, Stella, sake, whiskies, vodka, cognac, Grand Marnier, again I could go on and on. I encourage you to really sample what you like, mixing too many different things might not be such a good idea and remember to hydrate, there’s plenty of water stations all around.Chicago Gourmet 2013 I’m partial to Prosecco and the two brands that stood out for me were Zonin and Voga although I have to admit I liked Voga brand a little better and their bottles are gorgeous! A great gift for the holidays. I will be making many trips to Binny’s!Chicago Gourmet 2013Chicago Gourmet 2013 Deep blue skies in Chicago, great food and drink, nice crowd, entertainment and education, what more could you ask for on a beautiful Sunday afternoon?Chicago Gourmet 2013 Hope to see you next year!

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Homemade Kale Ricotta Gnocchi

pan fried kale gnocchiI still have so much kale growing in my garden, I think it loves the cooler weather. I’ve already froze a bunch to put into soups, made my kale pesto, and since I’ve had gnocchi on my mind I thought, why not add some in there?
ricer I don’t remember where I got this tip from but if you’re trying to squeeze out all the liquid from frozen or boiled spinach, kale, or any other leafy green, use a potato ricer! Even when I think I squeezed it all out by hand I’m so surprised how much more liquid comes out using the ricer, it’s amazing and it’s key to making this kind of gnocchi because you don’t ever want your dough to be really wet.

kale dough
Same thing goes for your ricotta, especially if you buy it from a good Italian deli. I usually always have some liquid in the container when I bring my ricotta home, that too needs to be drained really well to achieve a good gnocchi dough, in fact I think it is key.

kale dough I like to drain my ricotta in a strainer over a bowl that I keep in my fridge overnight, when your ricotta is nice and cold the dough comes together beautifully, if the ricotta is warm or room temperature it tends to be more sticky and you’ll keep adding more flour which in turn makes your gnocchi heavier, and we don’t want heavy gnocchi do we?

making kale gnocchi
Feel free to replace the kale for spinach or even swiss chard, but I have to tell you this was so good that I’ll be making it again and again!

kale gnocchi Light and tender little pillows of dough filled with ricotta, parmesan or romano cheese and kale, surprisingly quick to whip up!

kale gnocchiI decided to make mine 2 different ways, pan-fried with butternut squash in a brown butter sage sauce, and the more traditional way, boiled and tossed into a light homemade marinara. Please, never use jarred sauce from the grocery store!

pan fried gnocchi Gnocchi takes only a few minutes to cook, toss them into boiling salted water, give them one good stir, let them rise to the top and boil for an additional 2 minutes, scoop them out with a wide hand strainer. Never pour them directly into a strainer for fear they might break, you must be gentle and handle with care.

For the pan-fried version you scoop them out of the water and immediately toss them into your hot and sizzling brown butter sauce, let them get slightly crispy golden on each side.

pan fried gnocchiThis is a perfect dish for the fall season, I added small diced pre-roasted butternut squash and tossed it in with the gnocchi. Finish the dish off with freshly grated parmesan cheese scattered all over the top, perfection!


pan fried kale gnocchi
 Slightly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and flavored so good, it doesn’t get better than this, one of my absolute favorites!

kale gnocchiUnless you prefer them simply boiled and tossed into homemade marinara, ( I repeat… homemade!) my husbands favorite way.
kale gnocchi 
Either way you choose you won’t go wrong, I promise!

Homemade Kale Ricotta Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of drained ricotta, nice and cold
  • 1/4 cup of grated cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper
  • 3 heaping tablespoons of cooked, squeezed dry, then pulse chopped in a food processor of either kale, spinach or swiss chard.
  • 1 cup or so of unbleached AP flour

Instructions

  1. Place ricotta, grated cheese, salt and pepper into a bowl, whisk egg then add in.
  2. If ricotta is lumpy, which it usually is, take a hand mixer on low to break up the lumps and just to incorporate all the ingredients.
  3. Turn off the mixer and stir in the kale, I know it sounds like a small amount but the kale is damp and it all clumps together, when stirred it incorporates and distributes very well, 3 heaping tablespoons worked for the amount of flour and ricotta I used, but feel free to use more if you like.
  4. Then fold in flour, little by little, you might need less or you might need more, but dough should come together quickly.
  5. Lightly flour your finger tips and a board.
  6. Cut off a chunk then roll it into a round snake, then cut off bite size pieces.
  7. Leave as is or make indention's with a gnocchi board or the tines of a fork.
  8. Toss gnocchi into salted boiling water, let them float to the top and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes, taste for doneness, then scoop them out with a hand strainer.
  9. Toss into your favorite sauce and eat immediately.
  10. For pan-fried, drain them and crisp them up in the sizzling butter sage sauce, then add small diced pre- roasted butternut squash and plenty of parmesan cheese.
  11. For my marinara sauce or additional sauce ideas for gnocchi, check out my e-book on Italian Sauces.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/09/homemade-kale-ricotta-gnocchi.html

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Mushroom Marsala with Cipollini and Thyme

mushroom marsalaMy husband is the official taste tester around here so when I see him take a bite, close his eyes, move his head from side to side I know I’ve made something really good, that’s exactly what he did when he tasted this dish! We’re all familiar with Chicken Marsala, Veal Marsala and I even make Pork Chop Marsala, but in this dish there is no meat and you won’t miss it one bit because the star of the show that gets to soak up the creamy Marsala sauce is the pasta, along with some wonderful earthy mushrooms and those adorable saucer shaped cipollini!

DelverdeRecently I was asked to be a part of the La Cucina Italiana Blogger Ambassador panel which was very exciting for me since I have been an avid reader of their magazine for years, and I have the stacks of them to prove it! They also invited me to participate in The Dish your Blog with Delverde Recipe ChallengeThey sent me a sample of three different cuts of pasta and I was to choose one, then create a recipe with the cut of my choice. If I win I get to go to New York City and share my pasta recipe with the world! If I don’t win, guess what, you’re getting the recipe here anyway.

marsala sauceYou can use any mushrooms you so desire for this dish, the more of a variety the better, I hand picked some shitake and crimini so they would all be about the same size but if I would have found some good looking oyster mushrooms I would have added those too. The sauce consists of Marsala wine, garlic and thyme with mascarpone cheese to thicken it up. I also added cipollini, which are small saucer shaped onions, the Italian version of a pearl onion.

mushroom marsala The pasta shape I chose was Delverde’s Mezzi Rigatoni, handmade flavor artisinal pasta half the size of traditional rigatoni. Short and stocky with a nice bite, it was the perfect match for the other bite size ingredients.

mushroom marsalaAll drenched in creamy Marsala sauce, who needs meat?
mushroom marsala 

Mushroom Marsala with Cipollini and Thyme

Ingredients

  • Assorted mushrooms, a dozen of each kind, hand picked to keep them on the smaller size
  • 8 cipollini, small
  • 1 3/4 cup Marsala wine
  • 1 heaping 1/4 cup, mascarpone cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • fresh thyme and parsley
  • 1/2 lb. cooked Delverde Mezzi Rigatoni

Instructions

  1. Pre boil cipollini for 2 minutes with skins on then submerge in ice bath for easy peeling.
  2. Heat oven to 400 degrees, then place all mushrooms and cipollini on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive, oil salt and pepper. Cook until caramelized around 10 minutes or so. Set aside.
  3. In the meantime make your sauce by placing the garlic, butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a sauce pan, saute until garlic turns golden then pour in the Marsala and the thyme from one or two branches, let the alcohol cook down for a few minutes then whisk in the mascarpone cheese, reduce heat and slowly let the sauce thicken.
  4. When the sauce thickens then add in your roasted and caramelized cipollini and mushrooms then toss in the cooked pasta, gently stirring to coat everything with the sauce.
  5. Garnish with parsley and more thyme.
  6. DISCLOSURE: This recipe is posted as an entry in the Delverde Dish Your Blog recipe contest to try to win a trip to NYC. Some entrants may have received free sample products in addition to the opportunity to compete for the prize.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/09/mushroom-marsala-with-cipollini-and-thyme.html

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Butternut Squash Cannelloni with Ricotta and Kale and a Lemony Sage Brown Butter Sauce

stuffed cannelloni It’s that time of year when you start seeing butternut squash all over the place, it’s my favorite kind of squash so I usually always have one on hand sitting on my counter ready and waiting for me whenever I need it. I’ve made scones with butternut squash, individual lasagna, stuffed shells, gnocchi, ravioli, tossed it in salads, soups, risotto’s. I made other lasagna, sformato, tarts and even pizza with it, and I’m sure I missed a few, but never stuffed it into cannelloni, until now!cooked squash Fresh ricotta, kale, parmesan and a little lemon zest gets mixed into the tender baked squash for a very flavorful filling.pasta sheets Try to get a hold of some good quality fresh pasta sheets, you could make your own if you like especially if your doing it for a crowd or for the holidays but this is my quick mid-week version.  I like to cut my store bought pasta sheets in half, I find the cannelloni gets too doughy otherwise. So for every sheet of pasta I can make two cannelloni.filled cannelloni Spoon on a generous amount of filling then roll them up and place each one seam side down on a buttered baking dish.stuffed cannelloni

When finished, spoon the nutty brown butter sage sauce that has a touch of lemon all over the cooked cannelloni, tossed together a nice salad, and dinner is ready!

Butternut Squash Cannelloni with Ricotta and Kale and a Lemony Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 package of good quality premade pasta sheets
  • 1 lb. ricotta drained of liquid
  • 1/4 cup of chopped cooked kale, squeezed and drained (swiss chard or spinach will also work)
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped and smashed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • xxxx
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 10 sage leaves
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds. Add squash to a parchment lined baking sheet then drizzle both halves with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until tender and knife tip goes through easily, about 45-60 minutes. Let it cool completely then scoop out the flesh and discard the skin.
  3. Add ricotta, egg, grated cheese, garlic, zest and squash into a food processor and pulse, just until mixed. You can also whip it all together by hand.
  4. Add in the chopped kale little by little folding in between, just making sure the greenness of the kale doesn't overwhelm the ricotta mixture.
  5. xxxxx
  6. Cook pasta sheets for 2 minutes in boiling water, then cool them in an ice water bath. Drain on tea towels.
  7. xxxx
  8. For assembly, cut pasta sheet in half, my package had 8 sheets so I was able to make 16 cannelloni from it. Add filling then roll up placing them seam side down on a buttered baking dish.
  9. xxxx
  10. For the sauce, melt butter in a sauce pan on medium until bubbly and golden brown, throw in all 10 sage leaves, let them sizzle and get crisp.
  11. Take sauce off heat and squeeze in juice from 1/2 lemon.
  12. xxxx
  13. Spoon a tiny bit of sauce on top of each shell and sprinkle each with grated parmesan or romano. Loosely cover with foil and place in 400 oven until filling is cooked, around 15 minutes, remove foil spoon remaining sauce on top along with the crispy sage leaves. Place back in the oven for 5 more minutes. Remove and enjoy!
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/09/butternut-squash-cannelloni-with-ricotta-and-kale-and-a-lemony-sage-brown-butter-sauce.html

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Grilled Onions with Thyme and Cream

grilled onionsEven though summer is winding down there’s still plenty of time for grilling. I made these over the weekend, charred slabs of onions bathing in a shallow pool of cream and garlic. Pure decadence!
grilled onions What is it about onions and cream, they’re such a perfect combo!  I’m now adding this to another favorite onion recipe that I adore and previously did a post on back in 2011, my Roasted Parmesan Cream Onions, they’re always a big hit, so simple to make and a great side dish for the upcoming holidays. I think that’s why I was instantly drawn to this recipe when I saw it in Fine Cooking magazine, it’s similar but with grilled onions.

grilled onions The grilled onions become super sweet when caramelized and then you have the smokiness of the grill which gives this dish a whole other flavor dimension. Who would ever think that the humble onion could transform into something so luxurious! Don’t stress about the cream, for 12 slices you only use 1/2 cup!

grilled steaks Did I mention they are wonderful as a side with steaks or burgers?

 Trust me, they are!

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3 Ways to Use Up Summer’s Bounty!

zucchiniGot zucchini coming out of your ears? No problem, make a huge platter of Zucchini Carpaccio! Thinly sliced raw zucchini that gets slightly “cooked” by a lemon and olive oil dressing.  I recently brought this to a party on the biggest platter I could find. It looks very impressive, quite the show stopper with all the zucchini slices neatly layered on top of each other. I think I used 5 zucchini  and 1 yellow squash. Try and pick squash that is similar in size, it will visually look better on the platter.
zucchini carpacio I used a mandoline to slice all the squash nice and thin, then shaved Parmigiano Reggiano all over the slices, I added chopped fresh basil, parsley, and a little salt and pepper.party tray When I got to the party I dressed the whole thing with a fresh lemon and olive oil dressing that I had pre-made in a jar and brought along. It was a big hit and a great way to use up my zucchini!fresh corn Whether you grow your own corn or just buy a ton like I do during the summer, this is something you just have to make! Grilled Corn Planks with Creme Fraiche and Tarragon. Three simple ingredients that go so amazing together, we just can’t get enough of it, it’s that good!corn planks Use a good serrated knife and cut off your kernels in a sawing motion to assure nice “planks” of corn.creme fresh Even if you don’t quite care for tarragon, ( I admit I was one of those) I promise you, it makes the whole dish spectacular, I can’t imagine it with out!corn with tarragon I found this in Fine Cooking magazine, here’s the recipe. I did not use the vinegar, but followed everything else exactly.  Hurry and make this while sweet corn is still in abundance!

grilling kale I’m ending this post with kale, Grilled Kale, we grow a ton of it. I’ve froze some, made a bunch of salads, made pesto, but sometimes I just get lazy so I walk out to the garden, pick a gigantic bunch, bring it in the house, wash it and pick the tough stems off then pat dry. Throw the cleaned kale into a huge bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss until well coated, then pile it all directly on top of the grill.

grilled kale It only takes a few minutes to cook down and you’ll have a large bowl full to do whatever you want with it. It’s a great way to cook up massive amounts and besides, the nice smoky flavor adds another dimension. I like to saute shaved garlic in olive oil, add a pinch of red pepper flakes, pour it over the grilled kale and toss. Finish it by squeezing fresh lemon all over. I’m going to miss all this goodness!

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Lions and Tigers and Pizza, Oh My!

Dorothy from Wizard of OzYou might be wondering, what does The Wizard of Oz have to do with pizza? Well just keep reading and I’ll explain it all to you.. This past weekend was my granddaughter’s 4th birthday and a very special guest attended her party, it was Dorothy and she even brought her little dog Toto too!
ruby red slippers She came complete with her sequined studded ruby red slippers! My granddaughter is a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, she can tell you the whole story from beginning to end, sing all the songs with much enthusiasm , so it was no surprise that she wanted that to be the theme of her birthday party.

Dorothy even brought along her ipod so she would have background music to sing some songs with her. My granddaughter dressed in full Dorothy garb was mesmerized! The expressions on her face were priceless!
mobile pizza truck Here’s where the pizza comes in. My son and DIL hired a company called The Pizza Via, which is a wood-fired mobile brick oven that came directly to their home, set up was right in their driveway where they hand made Neapolitan style pizzas for everyone at the party.

Even the names of the pizzas went along with The Wizard of Oz theme. We had,“I’m Melting”- Cheese Pizza, Ruby Red Slipper-oni- Pepperoni Pizza, The Munchkin Guild- Sausage Pizza, Wicked Witch of the Westo’s- Pesto Pizza, The Cowardly Lion’s- BBQ Chicken Pizza, The Wizard’s-Spicy Hot Italian Beef Pizza, Auntie Em’s- Margherita  Pizza, and a few others that were custom made.

pizza dough The balls of dough were pre- prepped and ready to go, which were made with Caputo “00” imported flour.

rolling pizza doughAlex Ciciora is the Head Chef who’s earned certificates in Neapolitan and classic Italian pizza. This guy knows how to throw dough!
prepping pizza Anticipation was brewing as the pizzas were being assembled with the freshest of ingredients.

wood fired ovenThe wood fire was at the perfect temperature, 1,000 – degrees, it was time to start cooking. Each pizza only takes a mere 90 seconds to cook up.
mobile pizza oven Chef Alex was quickly cranking them out one by one. The smell in the driveway was out of this world between the aroma of smoky wood and all that dough and sauce cooking together!

wood fired pizzasThe crust was perfect, delicate and crisp on the outside, tender on the inside. One of the pizzas I really liked was the pesto, prosciutto and olive pizza, so good!
Italian beef pizza But of course the Chicago style Italian beef and peppers pizza smothered with hot giardiniera was also a huge hit, us Chicagoans love our Italian beef!

cutting pizzaActually they all were a hit, it’s really hard to choose a favorite because each one was unique in it’s own way. I confess, we loved them all!
making salad They even made a “Tornado Tossed” Greek Salad for us with an amazing feta dressing.

Nutella pizzaAnd then came dessert! “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”- Banana Nutella Pizza, with toasted hazelnuts and white chocolate chips, need I say more?
lemon pizza But this pizza shown above was a real crowd pleaser because no one had ever tried anything like it before, it was called, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” – Lemon Pizza. Thinly sliced lemons baked on top of a crust dotted with butter, when it came out of the oven Chef Alex generously sprinkled powdered sugar all over it. He suggested we wait until it cooled down to eat it for optimal flavor, but no one could wait! We’re still talking about that lemon pizza!

Dark chocolate gelato along with the birthday girls cake ended our pizzeria feast!
 For those of you who live in the Chicagoland area I highly recommend The Pizza Via for your next party or event, it’s something out of the ordinary and your guests will love it! Chef Alex and his assistant were a wonderful, fun, hardworking team, they even made extra pizzas for everyone to take home. For a very unique party experience call Chef Alex at The Pizza Via!

 Our little Dorothy had a very memorable day!

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And the Winner of My 6th Year Blogiversary Giveaway is…….

Gift basket First of all I just have to say THANK-YOU! I was so touched by all your sweet and heartfelt comments, I loved reading each and every one of them! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

The winner of my giveaway who is going to receive the beautiful Mediterranean- Santorini gift hamper by Manhattan Fruitier is…. DENISE BROSCH! Congratulations Denise, you’re going to absolutely love it!  I will be contacting you via email today.

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It’s My Blogiversary Today, and a Giveaway!

It’s hard to believe that 6 years ago today I started this food blog called Proud Italian Cook and what a journey it has been from day one! It still continues to be one of the joys of my life. I’m honored to be a part of  a wonderful community of bloggers, many of whom I can truly call my friends. To all my readers, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support with all your comments and personal emails that you’ve taken the time to write. Thank you to all those who “liked” me on Facebook, and a thank you to all my loyal subscribers and those of you who have “pinned” any of my recipes on Pinterest. And last but not least my close family and friends!
 This past year has been full of change for Proud Italian Cook, I really moved out of my comfort zone complete with a makeover! I took the leap and left a free blogging platform and moved forward on to one that I own, and I’m so happy I did! With it came many modern updates that I so wanted to give all my readers. The other thing I did, (and I still can’t believe it myself), I wrote my first e-book on Italian Sauces. Inside you will see what I cook for my own family, special recipes and stories that bring me back to my own traditions from childhood. For all of you who bought my book, thank you, I appreciate it. For those of you who might be considering it, it’s always available for purchase right here on my blog.

What will the future bring? Well one thing for sure I’m not going anywhere yet, this is too much fun, and who knows, there might just be another e-book in the works!

 AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!

Recently I received the most beautiful gift basket from a company called, Manhattan Fruitier, in exchange for my honest review. I have to tell you I was so blown away the minute I opened the box. Inside there were two superior quality wicker hampers, which I will reuse at another time, it was tied together like the photo shows above and at the top was a large, wrapped round loaf of walnut bread from Balthazar Bakery.

 The hamper I received from them called, Mediterranean-Santorini was filled with wonderful products such as Emmer farro, Herbes de Provence, capers, preserved lemons, almonds, organic Medjool dates, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Ligurian olives, Ventrusca tuna, seasonal fresh fruit, flowers and 2 dipping bowls. Everything needed for eating the healthy Mediterranean way!

I would highly recommend Manhattan Fruitier if you want to send someone a very special gift, they offer all different price points, something for everyone and you can even customize your own baskets. Please keep them in mind for the upcoming holidays!
 NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS THAT INVOLVES YOU!

Manhattan Fruitier wanted to help me celebrate my 6th  Blogiversary so they are graciously sending ONE of my lucky readers the Mediterranean-Santorini gift hamper!

Unfortunately because there are perishables, shipping is limited to the U.S. Also, for the purpose of the giveaway they can’t serve Hawaii or Alaska.

For those of you who qualify to enter, please leave only one comment per person telling me what recipe or features you like on or about Proud Italian Cook. No anonymous comments will be accepted as I will need an email address to contact the winner. Comments will not be accepted after 11:59 pm central time, Sunday August 18, 2013. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Monday August 19th, 2013

If you are reading this via Facebook you must enter on this blog to win the giveaway, not Facebook.

Disclaimer… I did receive 1 Mediterranean- Santorini gift hamper for review, but as always all opinions expressed here are 100% my own.

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Making Basil Oil

basil oilOne of the absolute joys of summer for me is to walk out into my garden and pick fresh basil leaves when ever I feel like it. I have basil growing all over my backyard, in pots and in the ground. Our seasons are so short here that I have to get it while I can. I’m not the gardener in my family, the husband is, but he takes great direction from me concerning how many plants I want even if I go a little overboard!
fresh garden basil This was a stellar year for basil, all the leaves were vibrant and lush, perfect for pesto and my new found love, basil infused olive oil!

Making basil oil is so simple and the end result is so amazing, trust me you’ll want to drizzle it all over your fish, meat, vegetables, eggs and crusty toasted bread! I had my sweet granddaughter help me in the process picking the leaves, check out her green toes!
making basil oil All it takes is just a few short steps and you’re finished, and a little goes a very long way. Put some in a pretty glass bottle and hand it off to your friends and family, they will love it!

basil oilGive the 3 ingredients a quick whirl in a blender or a food processor until nice and pureed. Check out that beautiful color you can tell by looking at it how good it’s going to taste!
basil oil When it’s finished you can choose to strain it through cheesecloth for a more refined and clear result or just leave it as is, I did it both ways to show you, but either way the flavor is dynamic!

Here it is not strained dripping over a tomato and mozzarella stack sprinkled with flaky sea salt. To-die-for!
 And here it is pictured above strained through cheesecloth, clear and still vibrant green. I made this for breakfast the other day, crusty toasted Italian bread drizzled with basil oil, layered with bacon, sliced tomatoes and a sunny side up egg drizzled with more basil oil. Another to-die-for!  Thanks M-A for the inspiration!

Basil Oil

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Wash basil leaves then blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute.
  2. Remove and place in an ice bath to cool down.
  3. Squeeze out water and dry with paper towel.
  4. Place blanched basil, the oil and salt into a blender or food processor and puree.
  5. Let it settle a little then pour into a glass container.
  6. Use immediately or refrigerate. Flavors are even more intense the next day.
  7. Keeps for 1 week refrigerated.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/08/making-basil-oil.html

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Lemon Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

lemon risottoHere’s a wonderful summery risotto filled with bright flavors of lemon that has roasted cherry tomatoes folded inside, it’s the perfect side dish for any type of grilled fish!
garden tomatoes Also a brilliant way to use up some of those cherry tomatoes you might have exploding in your garden like me. I’m guaranteed a bowl full everyday from my garden so I’m constantly thinking of different ways to use them up.

lemon risottoThat’s why I was thrilled when I came across this recipe from an old bon appetit  magazine. The original recipe folds in arugula at the end but I opted not to do that, I don’t think it needed it, also the original recipe includes rosemary and thyme, I eliminated those and just added more fresh parsley. While my tomatoes were roasting in the oven at 400 degrees I had a separate pan roasting thin lemon slices for garnish, (watch those they don’t take long!) I also added a little more lemon zest and grated parmesan to the risotto because my theory is, “more is better”. My suggestion to you is, taste as you go!
cedar planked salmon I served the risotto with cedar planked salmon, the bright citrusy flavors paired so well with the smoky salmon.

cedar planked salmonMy daughters favorite way of preparing salmon is brushing it with coconut oil and topping it with salt, pepper, lemon slices and fresh cilantro.
cedar planked salmon This one was brushed with olive oil, finely smashed garlic, salt, pepper, lemon zest, lemon slices and chopped fresh parsley. Soak your planks for a few hours beforehand then keep outdoor grill around 400 degrees, the time it takes will depend on the size and thickness of the fish.

This was such a perfect summertime meal!

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Grilled Kale Salad

grilled kale salad Who knew you could grill kale? I didn’t. It wasn’t until I saw this technique done in a book called, Hero Food by Chef Seamus Mullen’s, that I got inspired to do it. Actually, the minute I saw it I knew I had to try it, why not, I grill everything else!

garden kale We grow a ton of kale, we have it all over our garden, three different varieties so I’m always thinking of ways to use it up, as it keeps growing well into the fall. I’ve made kale chips in the past and I have to admit I didn’t like them at all, but I’ve since realized it was the way I made them, they lacked flavor. With a little more seasoning and a little more olive oil I’ve come to love those crispy little chips, maybe it’s an acquired taste I don’t know, but they’re very addicting if they’re made right!garden bounty Our tomatoes are finally getting red, it’s exciting to walk out into the garden everyday to see what kind of loot we have vine ripened and ready to pick. grilling kale Tossing the kale in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic, lemon zest and garlic gives you a nice base for a salad or just to eat as is.grilling kale The kale leaves hold up very well on the grill with the stems and all. Don’t walk away because it just takes one to two minutes per side. You could grill up a large platter in a few minutes!grilled kale Grilling brings out a rich smokey flavor with a texture that is crunchy and chewy at the same time, and it looks quite unique on a platter, something you don’t see often.grilled kale salad  As I said you could eat it right off the grill as a side dish to fish, poultry, beef or pork or you might want to break it up and toss it into a salad like I did.grilled kale with grilled veggies For my grilled kale salad I used vegetables that I had previously grilled, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, corn, yellow and red peppers. In addition to that I added fresh cherry tomatoes and goat cheese to the salad with an extra drizzle of my vinaigrette over the top. Summertime freshness that is so good for you!

Grilled Kale Salad

Ingredients

  • Adapted from Chef Seamus Mullen's
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons, balsamic vinegar
  • 2 bunches of kale, washed and spin dried, any variety with big leaves will do
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat grill.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine olive oil, garlic, vinegar, juice, zest and kale. Toss until well coated.
  3. Lay kale side by side in a single layer on top of the grill until crispy, 1 - 2 minutes per side.
  4. Pile the kale in a big stack on a large platter or break up and place into a salad.
  5. For salad add grilled assorted veggies, goat cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes.
  6. VINAIGRETTE RECIPE to drizzle on top.
  7. 3 parts good olive oil to 1 part wine vinegar, a splash of balsamic, 1 smashed garlic clove, a dollop of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, ground pepper to taste. Whisk everything together.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/08/grilled-kale-salad.html

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Cherry Studded Ricotta Tart and Summer Scenes in Chicago

cherry studded ricotta tartAs promised, I said I was going to post my Cherry Studded Ricotta Tart, so here it is! Creamy, light, slightly sweet and bursting with cherry flavor, all nicely baked into an almond crust. It’s the perfect summer dessert to have out on the patio with a cup of espresso!
Morello cherries Deep into summer cherries are bountiful here right now, so if you don’t mind pitting fresh cherries go right ahead, you’ll need around 23 or so for a 9 inch tart. I must confess pitting is not my favorite thing to do so I cheat a little bit and use these yummy dark Morello cherries I discovered from Trader Joe’s. All you have to do is open the lid, pour them into a strainer and drain them really good.

almond meal crustNormally I would make a graham cracker crust for this tart but I thought I would change it up this time and make an almond crust, since almonds and cherries go so well together.
cherry ricotta tart It was a great choice if I do say so myself!

cherry ricotta tartJust look at that crunchy, nutty crust!

slice of ricotta tart Put the espresso on, grab a slice and enjoy!

ChicagoThis past weekend we had relatives from out of town visiting, they wanted to go into the city to see Millenium Park and “The Bean” so we drove down, parked our car and walked all over town.
Chicago scenes It was a gorgeous summer day, the perfect temperature to dine outside and enjoy the views.

Chicago riverThe river looked exceptionally beautiful that day, the sun was glistening on the water, even the buildings were shining! If your visiting Chicago take the architectural boat tours it’s one of the best ways to see the city.
Chicago scenesChicago BeanWe made it to “The Bean” then sat and people watched by the fountain, I highly recommend it!

Chicago food Of course eating and drinking along the way makes it even more fun!

Cherry Studded Ricotta Tart

Ingredients

  • ALMOND CRUST
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • RICOTTA FILLING
  • 2 cups, drained ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • feel free to add 1 tablespoon of Limoncello if you so desire, optional
  • 24 pitted cherries.

Instructions

  1. FOR CRUST.
  2. Add melted butter to almond meal and sugar, mix well then pat into a 9" tart pan.
  3. Place tart pan on a baking sheet then place into a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove.
  4. FOR FILLING.
  5. With a hand mixer blend together the ricotta cheese, sugar, eggs, zest and flavorings until smooth and creamy. Pour mixture into the tart pan and place into the oven for 5 minutes. Remove, then carefully studd your cherries on top.
  6. Place cherry studded tart back into the 375 degree oven and continue baking 30-40 more minutes or until toothpick comes out clean in the center.
  7. Let it cool completely, then refrigerate for an hour or two before serving.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/07/cherry-studded-ricotta-tart-and-summer-scenes-in-chicago.html

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Patty Pan Squash Carpaccio for a Hot Summer Night

patty pan squash carpaccioSometimes on a hot summer night or when I’m just being lazy, I’ll put together a nice antipasto platter and we’ll have that for our main meal. My refrigerator is never without a variety of olives and cheeses and either salami or prosciutto of some sort, so it’s pretty quick for me to whip this up. This is casual dining at it’s best, just open a chilled bottle of wine, add some crusty bread then relax and enjoy!
farmers marketpatty pan squashOver the weekend I went to our local farmers market and couldn’t resist taking home a bag of these tiny saucer shaped squash and a few 8-ball zucchini, even though I had no clue how I was going to prepare them!
patty pan squash I’ve seen these tiny squash stuffed before and roasted, but because it’s been so hot outside I decided to make mine carpaccio style, raw uncooked thin slices tossed in olive oil and lemon with shaved parmesan and parsley, it was the perfect addition to my cool and refreshing antipasto platter. I just love the scalloped edges and the tops on the patty pan squash, it’s all edible and it makes for a nice presentation.

italian antipastoI also made a caprese salad to go along with everything, because in the summer that’s a staple at my house and besides I have basil growing like crazy all over my backyard!
antipasto Aaaah summertime, when the living is easy!  Don’t you love it?

Patty Pan Squash Carpaccio for a Hot Summer Night

Ingredients

  • patty pan squash
  • 8-ball zucchini
  • fresh chopped parsley
  • arugula, optional
  • shaved parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • Lemon zest
  • fresh lemon and olive oil dressing

Instructions

  1. Slice the tops off of the patty pan squash with a knife, set aside.
  2. Slice tops off of the 8-ball zucchini, discard.
  3. Thinly slice remaining squash with a mandolin if possible, slices should be thin.
  4. Add sliced squash, plus the tops of the patty pan squash into a bowl and add parsley, zest, shaved parmesan, arugula, use as much as you want, to taste.
  5. Whisk together a fresh lemon and olive oil dressing then pour over the squash and toss very gently.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/07/patty-pan-squash-carpaccio-for-a-hot-summer-night.html

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Rainbow Carrot Ribbon Salad

rainbow carrot saladI couldn’t resist these beautiful rainbow carrots the other day while I was shopping, I quickly stuck them into my cart not knowing what I was going to make with them, but I was inspired by their vibrant colors!
raw rainbow carrots Just look at these beauties! The colors are amazing, deep purple, yellow, red, white, peach and of course orange. I decided to make a salad, shaving the carrots into ribbons using my vegetable peeler so I could showcase all the gorgeous colors inside.

rainbow carrotsAs I was shaving them their deep rich colors were even more pronounced, my favorite was the purple with the yellow center.
shredded carrot ribbons Surprisingly their flavor isn’t all that much different, some of the carrots might taste slightly sweeter than the others but you sure can’t beat the visual! Imagine this on a large platter as a side dish. I served it with grilled salmon, a beautiful healthy meal that needed nothing else!

rainbow carrot ribbonsWorks of art for under five dollars, your guests will be impressed, it’s turns the humble carrot into a very sophisticated dish!
carrot salad Of course I had to make my salad Italian style with ribbons of Parmigiano Reggiano tossed inside, I also added arugula which balanced the sweetness of the carrots perfectly.

rainbow carrot saladFresh basil, parsley and slivers of red onion added and tossed with my homemade vinaigrette, I’m telling you there wasn’t one ribbon left on the platter!
carrot salad Don’t pass these babies up!

Rainbow Carrot Ribbon Salad

Ingredients

  • I'm listing the ingredients, the amounts are to taste. Taste as you go!
  • rainbow carrot ribbons
  • baby arugula
  • Parmigiano Reggiano ribbons
  • slivered red onion
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh basil
  • toasted pine nuts, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • light vinaigrette, recipe below

Instructions

  1. Use a large bowl to toss and coat every thing completely then place your salad on a platter.
  2. VINAIGRETTE RECIPE
  3. 3 parts good olive oil to 1 part wine vinegar, a splash of balsamic, 1 smashed garlic clove, a dollop of dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, ground pepper to taste. Whisk everything together.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/07/rainbow-carrot-ribbon-salad.html

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Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July!

SangriaNo recipes today, just relaxing and sipping sangria, enjoying the beautiful weather here in Chicago, and wishing winter never comes back!
steak and vegetable kabobs Many grills will be fired up and good smells will be in the air, some of the things we enjoy grilling are, steak kabobs. It’s not summer without a kabob  of some sort!

BBQ baby back ribsOf course ribs are a given. We make no claims here to be rib masters, we just cook them low and slow then slather on some really good bbq sauce.
beer brats The hubby makes his famous beer brats. Sweet onions, butter and beer flavor perfectly grilled brats!  A nice side for all this would be my red, white and blue potato salad.

cherry ricotta tartAfter a heavy meal a nice light dessert goes well like my cherry studded ricotta tart, I promise I will get this recipe on the blog soon, it’s that good!
fireworks Have a great day and enjoy the fireworks!

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Olive Crusted Cod in Foil

olive crusted codNext time you’re making fish consider wrapping and cooking it in foil. You can either bake it in the oven or stick it on the grill, which ever way you choose you’ll love how these foil packets lock in all the moisture and flavor of the fish, and clean up is a breeze!
fresh cod I bought a beautiful fresh filet of Alaskan cod the other day from Whole Foods, I’ve always been a fan of cod I love the texture, the mild flavor and those big moist flakes. I’ve made cod this way, and this way before but this time I wanted to try something a little different.

After a little Google research I got my inspiration from a Jacques Pepin recipe. I was sold when I read that the assertive ingredients used in this crust is just right for flaky and mild flavored cod. I made mine slightly altered but the basic ingredients are the same, briny olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic, parsley and scallions rough chopped and drizzled with olive oil.
 I placed my olive crusted fish on top of a layer of zucchini ribbons then drizzled the whole thing with a lemon and olive oil dressing that I whisked together. Extreme flavor!

It was a hot day and I didn’t want to turn on my oven so I decided to make individual foil packets for the grill, something I do often anyway. Easy cleanup and it takes less then 15 minutes to cook!
 Just look at all that flavorful juice! Here is my version for the grill.

Olive Crusted Cod in Foil

Ingredients

  • 1lb of fresh cod
  • 3/4 cup of mixed olives, kalamata, nicoise, and green
  • 1/2 cup of sundried tomatoes, dried or drained of oil
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • 3 scallions
  • 3/4 cup of parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • zucchini ribbons, optional

Instructions

  1. Rough chop the olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic,scallions and parsley in a food processor.
  2. Use heavy duty foil and cut it large enough to be able to enclose fish without leakage.
  3. Drizzle bottom of foil with olive oil, place zucchini ribbons first and then fish.
  4. Spread olive mixture all over the top of the filet.
  5. Whisk together the juice of 1 lemon and olive oil and drizzle that on top of the olive crusted fish.
  6. Crimp foil to enclose fish.
  7. Place on hot grill at 400 degrees for around 15 minutes.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/06/olive-crusted-cod-in-foil.html

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