Tag Archives: Parmesan

FOUR-CHEESE-STUFFED PHYLLO TORTE

Our six-months probationary period is up, and I think we now qualify as Angelinos. We drive, relatively terror-free, on the 405 and think nothing of an hour+ cross-town odyssey for a 15 minute appointment. The very best part of our transplant has been getting more involved with our children and their families. As part of that, the Sunday dinner has become a firmly entrenched tradition that we all anticipate each week.

I have written a number of times about our family dinner. The guidelines are fairly straightforward: the venue alternates between our home and Carol’s family home; whoever hosts is responsible for the main dish and sides; the other is responsible for appetizer and dessert; both bring a bottle of wine that is interesting; cleanup is sort of a joint effort except that the home team winds up finishing the dishes. These guidelines have remained intact except that the appetizer has been dropped from the menu. That is because even without it, there is a lot of food. Everyone is on a diet, and I have gained 10 pounds since moving to Los Angeles. Of course, this dish is not responsible for all of my weight gain, but it certainly helped push us to dropping the appetizer rule.

The recipe is an adaptation of one from Melissa Clark of New York Times fame by way of Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift in their cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends. If you choose to make it, I guarantee that there will be gasps of amazement when you bring the finished torte to the table. Then there will be complete quiet as folks sit around wolfing down the whole thing. At the same time, it is easier to make than you might think. I know that Carol saves it for special occasions. You might want to do that, too.

 

RECIPE

Four-Cheese-Stuffed Phyllo Torte

Ingredients

  • 2 cups feta cheese, drained, dried, and crumbled
  • 1½ cups cottage cheese, drained
  • 1½ cups Asiago cheese
  • 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh dill fronds
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed according to instructions on the carton
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • honey

Method

  1. In a large bowl, prepare the filling by combining the four cheeses, onion, dill, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. Stir in the eggs, and set aside.
  2. Unfold the stack of phyllo leaves on a work surface covered with plastic wrap. Cover the stack with another layer of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Keep unused sheets of dough from drying out while you work with individual sheets.
  3. Brush the inside of a 12-inch Bundt pan with some of the melted butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo across the pan, pushing it down against the sides of the pan and breaking a hole around the center tube of the pan. Repeat in a crisscross fashion with additional sheets of phyllo until the inside of the pan is completely covered with many layers of the dough.
  4. Fill the lined Bundt pan with the cheese filling, folding the free ends of the phyllo sheets over the filling and pressing it together gently. With a sharp knife, pierce the assembled torte all the way through to the bottom of the pan in many places – 2 or 3 dozen. Pour the remaining melted butter over the torte.
  5. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 75 minutes or until the torte is browned and puffy.
  6. Cool in the pan for 1 to 2 hours.
  7. When ready to serve, unmold the tart by flipping it onto an inverted plate. Remove the baking pan, garnish the torte as you please, and serve. Pass honey to be drizzled over individual slices as desired.
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BUCATINI ALL’ AMATRICIANA

Bucatini is one of my favorite pastas. It is sort of like eating spaghetti on steroids or macaroni for Lilliputians. One of the best ways to eat it is in the style of Amatrice, the Italian town that was devastated recently in the massive Italian earthquake. Recipes abound. Mario Batali and Anne Burrell, both famous for their Italian-based cooking, have recipes on the internet. So does Giada de Laurentiis. Two of my favorite versions are by Marcella Hazan in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Tom Maresca and Diane Darrow in La Tavola Italiana.  Not surprisingly, with so many recipes there must be controversy as to what is exactly the “correct” way to prepare this famous and classic dish.

Controversy begins with the pasta. Most folks accept the notion that bucatini is the real deal. But you may have a hard time finding it, so spaghetti or penne are quite acceptable substitutes. Then there’s the matter of tomatoes. Some advocate canned whole San Marzano tomatoes while some argue that only fresh can be used. You may have to settle for Roma unless you are lucky enough to find San Marzano. Most agree that tomatoes should not overwhelm the other ingredients, but that is a quantitative judgement. There is much disagreement about the choice of meat. Traditionalists call for guanciale, cured pork jowl, more strongly flavored  but similar to pancetta, which for most writers is a totally acceptable substitute.  The cheese proponents come down on either the side of Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino romano. You can find a middle ground and use both. The purists would not countenance American parmesan and romano.  Finally, there is a choice for heat from chiles. Pepperoncini are perhaps most commonly used, but then there is a debate about whether to leave them in the sauce or remove them. Red pepper flakes are often a substitute, and many other chiles have been recommended. Actually, all of these many choices mean that the cook has unlimited options and can really create a dish that is uniquely his or hers.

Here’s how I cooked it last night.

RECIPE

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/3 pound guanciale, sliced and cut into ¼inch x ½ inch rectangles (Be sure to have the butcher cut off the thick rind. It is tough and not very tasty. Use pancetta if you can’t find guanciale)
  • 1 medium onion, diced finely
  • 5 green chiles (or red pepper flakes to taste)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 5 fresh Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese + more for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1 pound dry bucatini (imported Italian Granoro brand is a good choice)

Method

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sliced guanciale, stirring frequently  until it begins to crisp but is not completely rendered. Stir in the onions and continue to sauté until the onions are translucent and have begun to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the chiles and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the wine and cook until the wine has almost completely evaporated.
  2. Add the tomatoes, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for another 20 minutes. Stir in the grated cheeses. Remove the chiles.
  3. Boil the bucatini in a large pot of boiling salted water until cooked through but slightly al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked bucatini to the warm sauce in the large sauté  pan, tossing to completely coat the pasta with the sauce. Serve immediately with more grated Romano cheese. Should serve 4-6.

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TWICE-BAKED POTATOES

There were a few more items in our fairly bare cupboard when we returned from our Colorado visit. Besides, I was holding off a trip to the grocery store for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I felt a bit lazy.

I found two russet potatoes, and baked potatoes came to mind. They are certainly easy, but they also seemed a little boring. Twice-baked potatoes use almost exactly the same ingredients, but somehow they seem a little more festive, so that’s what I decided to do.

Just out of the oven

Just out of the oven

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

RECIPE

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • vegetable shortening
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 4 crimini mushrooms, chopped coarsely
  • 4 tablespoons butter + more for the topping
  • ¼ cup cream
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup  freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Rub the potatoes all over with vegetable shortening, pierce on both sides in several places with a kitchen fork and place on a baking rack in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, turning once halfway through the baking. Remove from the oven and cool until the potatoes are easy to handle.
  2. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, and with a large spoon, scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼ inch rim intact. Try not to pierce the skin. Transfer the scooped out flesh to a large bowl. Mash coarsely with a table fork.
  3. In the meantime, sauté the bacon in a small pan over medium-low heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on several layers of paper towelling and crumble when cooled. Set aside.
  4. Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat in the still hot pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked through. Drain and set aside.
  5. Melt the butter, and stir it into the mashed potatoes along with the cream and sour cream. Then add the shallot, garlic and Gruyère cheese. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed potato shells. Smooth the tops, paint with more melted butter using a pastry brush. Sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake in the middle of the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Then increase the oven temperature to 400°F and continue to bake until the tops of the stuffed potatoes are browned, about 10 more minutes. Watch closely to prevent burning.
  8. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Two potato halves make a light dinner or lunch. One potato half is a good side dish.

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FRICO – CHEESE CRISPS

Cheese crisps, those incredibly lacy, crisp, and tasty wafers that some restaurants tuck into a bread basket, use to decorate a salad, or sit beside a bowl of soup look so hard to make, but are actually simple.

The hard part is figuring out what to call them and what their origin might be. Some people call them frico, and some people call them parmesan crisps.  Some sources say that “frico” comes from the Friulian language spoken in Friuli Venezia Giulia, an autonomous region in northeast Italy. Its capital is Trieste, and it stretches from the sea to some of the most beautiful mountains in Italy.  It is the part of Italy where Italian, Slavic, and Austrian cultures have bumped against one another for centuries. Some say that “frico” means little trifle in Italian, but there is no such entry in my Italian-English dictionary.

Some sources say that frico is similar to the Swiss rösti, a crisp, savory dish made of potatoes and cheese. In particular the cheese is supposed to be Montasio or Asiago cheese. Lidia Bastianich has a recipe on her website, lidiasitaly.com.

There are several recipes for frico/parmesan crisp on the web by various celebrity cooks, and Martha Stewart has one for cheddar crisps. Some cooks add chopped herbs, seeds, and other flavorings, so you can do just about whatever you want to and still call it a frico (Shouldn’t the plural be frici? That is more fun to say.)

To add to the complication, Montasio may be hard to find where you live. Our cheese monger didn’t have any. And even then you have to make a decision because Montasio comes in three versions depending upon its age. The cheese is made from raw cow’s milk, and that  may explain why it is hard to find in this country. Younger cheeses have a soft paste that doesn’t lend itself to crisping. The middle-aged cheese is firmer and might work, but you really want the fully aged cheese.

Undoubtedly availability is one of the reasons that most American recipes call for freshly grated Parmesan. At first, I was a bit dismayed by Martha Stewart’s suggestion to use cheddar. Then I started to play around with various cheeses in my stocks. I had some leftover Mexican cheese that I had used for my green chicken chilaquiles. I was surprised and pleased to learn that it made a very acceptable frico.

Another source of disagreement is whether to mix the grated cheese with a little bit of flour. Some think the flour makes the crisp too doughy and soft. I think it helps to absorb the fat that is released when the cheese melts. Do whatever you want.

Finally, there is the bake-them-in-the-oven school of thought and the cook-them-on-a-hot-skillet persuasion. I favor the latter because I think it gives me more control of the process, but again, choose your own pathway.

In view of the short list of ingredients and the even shorter process, all of this is probably a lot more than you want to know about fricos (Or is it frici?) Whatever, you are bound to enjoy these crispy trifles; guaranteed they will disappear quickly from a buffet table.

RECIPE

Frico

Ingredients

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (coarse or fine depending on the texture you desire)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Method

  1. Combine the grated cheese and flour
  2. If you are making the fricos on a skillet, heat a dry, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Spread about one tablespoonful of the cheese mixture in a circle about 3-4 inches across. Press down. Heat until the frico is lightly browned on the bottom. Turn over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towelling to cool.
  3. If you are baking the fricos in the oven, preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread tablespoonful-sized circles of the cheese mixture on a silicone-lined baking sheet. Do not crown. Press down. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until the fricos are lightly browned and crisp. Cool on paper towelling.

 

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COOKING FOR THREE-YEAR-OLDS: GNOCCHI, CHICKEN, MUSHROOMS, PEPPERS, BEURRE NOISETTE

Susan and I just returned from another trip to San Francisco. We babysat our 10 months-  and 3 years-old grandsons while Sarah and Evan travelled to Dallas. They were invited to cook with the staff at a hot, new Dallas restaurant, FT33. Sarah and Evan and the local chef alternated dishes for an 8-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The place was sold out, and Sarah got to see Corey and Megan, school friends of our other daughter, along with a fellow member of her crew team at the University of Texas.

My cooking task was more challenging: I was charged with feeding the two little ones. Actually, the 10-month-old was not difficult. He is still drinking a lot of liquids, and he will eat anything else you put in front of him.

The three-year-old was another story. The first morning, he wouldn’t eat his cheerios until I added some milk, so the next morning I anticipated him and poured in the milk. That morning he decided he didn’t want milk, so I had to scrap the first bowl. The next morning I made French toast with maple syrup. He didn’t like it, but the 10-month-old polished it off.

My greatest failure turned out to be lunch. I put together some things for his lunch box for nursery school. My first thought was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What child doesn’t like PB&J? Besides, PB&J is not forbidden at his nursery school as it is in many places. As I was planning my menu, Sarah sent a text message that the toddler doesn’t like peanut butter. I made a quick change of plans and substituted some chèvre that I found in the fridge. Then, I reached for a jar of fig jam when he announced that he didn’t like jelly. For that, I substituted some hummus. I thought a goat cheese and hummus sandwich on whole wheat bread looked pretty tasty, so I packed it with freeze-dried strawberry slices, crispy apple chips, and a stick of string cheese. Imagine my disappointment when the lunch box came home at the end of the day with only the string cheese gone.

We took advantage of the kids being at nursery school by taking a little trip to the Embarcadero and enjoying a good lunch at the well-known Fog City Diner.

I was more successful with dinner one night. I found some packaged gnocchi and a cooked chicken breast in the refrigerator along with some mushrooms and colorful “snacking peppers”. I put it all together with some brown butter sauce, and it turned out to be a huge favorite with both kids.

RECIPE

Gnocchi, Chicken, Mushrooms, Peppers, and Beurre Noisette

Three-Year-Olds-1

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • juice of  ½ lime
  • ½ cooked chicken breast
  • 6 white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 each, red, orange, and yellow snacking peppers, sliced crosswise
  • 1 package prepared gnocchi
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup grated Romano cheese
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over low het, melt the butter. Heat gently until the milk solids float to the top and begin to brown. Skim off the solids with a tablespoon. Pour the melted butter into a small bowl, leaving any remaining solids on the bottom of the saucepan behind. Wipe the pan clean, return the clarified butter, and continue to heat over a low flame until it turns a nut-brown color. (hazelnut to be specific) Stir in the lime juice and set aside.
  2. Shred the cooked chicken with two table forks. Set aside.
  3. Sauté the sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the butter sauce over medium heat. Add the remaining butter sauce. Stir in the shredded chicken and pepper slices until heated through.
  4. In the meantime, boil the gnocchi in a pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions. Drain. Return to the pot, and stir in the butter sauce, mushrooms, chicken, peppers, and grated cheeses. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve.

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IMPROMPTU PASTA

I’m in San Francisco right now, after the California Chili Cook-Off in Lodi. (More about that in another post.) Last night, Sarah, our chef-daughter, cooked dinner. Originally she planned to go to the grocery store, but ultimately decided to clear out her refrigerator. Needless to say, her made-up dish using leftovers and odds and ends turned out to be better than anything I could have cooked. The dish combines chicken and pork chop (left over from my chili cook-off venture) with pasta in a simple but delicious sauce seasoned with herbs de Santa Fe*. The side dish was a tomato and burrata salad with an herb vinaigrette. It was a delicious dinner with very little fuss.

* Herbs de Santa Fe is a mix of lavender, rosemary, thyme, savory, fennel seed, basil, and marjoram. You could substitute Italian seasoning.

Impromptu pasta

Impromptu pasta

Here’s the impromptu pasta recipe:

RECIPE

Impromptu Pasta

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
  • 2 pork chops, cubed
  • cooked chicken (breast and thigh), cubed
  • herbs de Santa Fe*
  • 1 pint hard apple cider
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • kale, chopped
  • button mushrooms, sliced
  • red onion, diced
  • pasta cooked al dente, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • Parmesan

Method

  1. Heat the schmaltz in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and chicken, browning lightly. Stir in the herbs and hard cider and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a very slow boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add lemon juice to taste.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Add the kale, mushrooms, and red onion. Sauté until  cooked through. Set aside.
  3. When the cider has reduced, stir in the sautéed kale, mushrooms, and red onion. Add enough pasta to suit your taste. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Top with freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

 

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PESTO

It is basil season. We have harvested the plants in our back yard, and many stalls at the farmers market have big, beautiful bunches of basil picked just that morning. That means it is time for pesto.

Pesto is really one of those things that you can make without a recipe and adjust it to your personal preferences

Pesto is also something that you can keep for a while. For years we made fresh pesto and ate it all, believing that if you didn’t do that it would immediately turn an unappetizing brown. We didn’t even think about freezing it. The truth is, you can do both.

If you want to keep it for a day or two, put it in a container with an air-tight lid, cover it completely with olive oil, seal the lid, and pop it in the refrigerator. If you are going to freeze it, divide it into amounts that fit into the cups of a muffin pan, freeze pan overnight, pop out the pesto “muffins”, and double bag them in zippered freezer bags so you can use the amount you need without having to thaw the whole batch.

RECIPE

Pesto

Ingredients

  • large bunch of freshly-cut basil, enough that the leaves will fit into the beaker of a food processor
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, more if needed to make a sauce-like mixture
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces Parmesan, grated
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Wash the fresh basil, cut or pull off the leaves, and dry them in a clean kitchen towel.
  2. Transfer the leaves to the beaker of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade.
  3. Add the olive oil and process until the basil has been chopped very finely.
  4. Add the garlic and Parmesan. Continue to process for 30 seconds or until thoroughly combined.
  5. Add the pine nuts and pulse until the nuts are well-chopped but not puréed. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Adjust consistency with additional olive oil, if needed.
  6. Serve over cooked pasta with additional grated Parmesan and dry-roasted pine nuts. If desired, store for a day or two in an air-tight container topped with olive oil and refrigerated or freeze and double bag individual portions for later use.

PS: Here’s a little lagniappe from our garden:

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