Tag Archives: pistachios

PISTACHIO-STUFFED MUSHROOMS

Stuffed mushrooms are so retro. They were very popular in the 1960s, but you almost never see them now except at the Olive Garden. That is too bad, because they are easy to make and delicious to eat. They are perfect with cocktails and also make a good first course. The important step is to sauté the mushroom caps before you stuff them. Then you can let your imagination run wild and stuff them with whatever sounds appealing. We have a big bowl of pistachios that we have been snacking from for days, and even though pistachios are surprisingly low-cal, they are not when you eat them by the bowlful. Stuffing them into mushrooms seemed like a good dodge. That’s partly because I have no idea how many calories are in a stuffed mushroom.

RECIPE

Pistachio-Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 8 large crimini mushrooms (the largest you can find not labeled as Portobellos)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 scallions, including green ends, chopped coarsely
  • ¼ cup shelled pistachio nuts, chopped coarsely
  • ¼ cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons Pernod
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Method

  1. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the mushroom caps. Sauté for about 3 minutes and turn over. Sauté the other side of the mushroom caps until cooked through. Remove to a plate, draining any liquid that has accumulated in the caps.
  2. Remove any woody part of the mushroom stems and chop finely. Return them to the sauté pan along with the chopped scallions. Add more olive oil if needed. Sauté until cooked through. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the pistachios, Swiss cheese, bread crumbs, sour cream, and Pernod. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  3. With a small spoon, fill the mushroom caps with the pistachio mixture. Sprinkle the tops with the grated Parmesan cheese, and place under a hot broiler until the mushrooms are heated through and the tops have browned.
  4. Serve immediately.
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TAORMINA, SICILY AND CANNOLI

Sicily is such a beautiful place with deep blue seas and fleecy clouds The surf pounds against the beaches, and the mainland of Italy is just across the Straits. The island traces its history back to Greek times when Syracuse was one of the great city states. Since then it has had a tumultuous history as its own country  as well as under the dominance of many other countries and empires including the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Arabs, and Italy.

That rich history has produced amazing archeology, architecture, food, and customs. The beautiful sunlight has produced a sunny population that seems to take everything in stride.

In the USA, many think of Sicily as the home of the Godfather. That stereotype annoys the locals. At the same time, they often feel obliged to mention it – mostly so they can dispel the myth.

Messina is the port city at the straits, and it is filled with beautiful old buildings and famous churches. Undoubtedly, one could spend days exploring, but the highlight of our trip was a drive along the coast and up a narrow winding road to the town of Taormina. The port is beautiful. with the Stele of the Madonna greeting and saying farewell to vessels as well as wishing a blessing for the city and for all sailors. The mainland of Italy is just across the Strait of Messala which is 1.9 miles across at its closest point and 3.2 miles from Messala to the mainland. Plans to build the world’s longest sing-span suspension bridge are well along.

Taormina has been a tourist destination since Grecian times. The town looks down on the coastline far below, and in the distance, clouds play around the summit of Mount Etna. The air is clear and sunny, and the town streets are lined with interesting shops, ancient palaces, and vendors of all kinds.

One of the required visits is the Greek amphitheater on a hill overlooking the town. The walk is steep but not very long. It is well worth it. The ruin is very well-preserved, and the views from its upper heights are spectacular. It is impossible to visit without thinking of the countless people who have been here before you.

After the visit, the walk back down the hill leaves most tourists either hungry, thirsty, or both. There are plenty of vendors in little stalls to accommodate, and the choices seem limitless, ranging from soft drinks to pasta.

Among the most popular items for sale are the cannoli. There are different sizes and different flavors, and they make great treats to enjoy on the stroll back to the center of the town. The recipe that follows is my take on the pistachio cannoli that we bought on our stroll down the hillside. To make your own, you will need some special aluminum cannoli molds for shaping the shells. Molds should be easily available at a well-stocked kitchen store. A 4 inch cutter is also handy. You may find a nest of cutters of different sizes another useful purchase.

 

RECIPES

Shells

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons limoncello or other citrus-flavored liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons madeira
  • 1 egg white whipped lightly until it is slightly foamy

Method

  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa.
  • Cut in the butter with a pastry blender so that the mixture resembles coarse meal
  • Add the liqueur and wine and combine with a fork until the mixture comes together as a firm ball
  • Wrap the ball of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.
  • Divide the dough in half, and roll out each half on a lightly floured surface to about 1/16th inch thick and large enough to cut out 4 4 inch circles using a cookie cutter or a cardboard circle as a template.
  • Using a rolling-pin, roll each circle into an oval.
  • Wrap each oval around a cannolo mold, long side parallel to the mold. Seal the seam with a dab of the egg white.
  • Fry each cannolo shell  in a heavy pan containing about 2 inches of canola oil and pre-heated to 375°F, turning until the shell is well browned and crisp.
  • Transfer to a pad of paper towels to let cool enough until you can easily remove the mold without burning your fingers.
  • Continue to fry the shaped shells until they are all fried. Set in a dry place ready for filling.

Filling

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces fresh ricotta
  • ¼ cup baker’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips + more to sprinkle on the filled cannoli
  • ¼ cup ground unsalted pistachio nuts + more for dusting the fille cannoli

Method

  • In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing well.
  • Transfer to quart-size zippered plastic bag and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to fill the shells
  • When you are ready,  cut a ¼ inch corner off the plastic bag so that it can be used as a pastry bag
  • Fill both ends of each cannolo. Dust with ground pistachios and sprinkle a few chocolate chips on each end
  • Serve immediately so the cannoli don’t get soggy.

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THE PARTHENON AND BAKLAVA

The Acropolis in Athens must certainly be on most people’s list of places they want to visit. It has been on my list since grade school, so it was a thrill to go there during our recent cruise. At the time of our visit, Athens was a worrisome place. The city is a teeming metropolis of more than three million people and there were demonstrations outside our hotel on Syntagma  Square (also called  Parliament Square) which caused the management to lower metal screens to protect the windows. The changing of the guard in front of the Parliament building went on schedule , but we had to walk past a cordon of police buses and armed military to get to our hotel.

Visiting the Acropolis was as if none of this was happening.  We got off our tour bus across from the entrance and began the long walk up the paths cut into the steep, rocky base of hill. Even though we were “off-season”, there were thousands of other tourists making the same pilgrimage, some racing up the steep stairs while others like me took it more slowly. Marble steps and paths were polished smooth, and one could only reflect on the thousands of years and millions of footprints that produced the patina. Even at that, there were flowers pushing up through the cracks.

As we climbed higher and higher, we could see some of the great landmarks. First was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ruins of this enormous theater, built in the second century are set against the Athens skyline. At one time this was one of the largest covered theaters in the world. Now it is an open air setting where Athens frequently stages modern musical and theatrical productions.

Beyond was a wonderful view of the Olympieion, an enormous temple to Zeus begun in the sixth century BCE but not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian more than 600 years later. Only a few columns remain standing, but it is clear how huge it once was.

We reached the steps of the Propylaea. This served as the ancient entrance to the complex on the Acropolis. Apparently the purpose of the structure was to serve as a barrier to individuals who were not qualified to visit the holy sites.

Off to the left we saw the Temple of Athena Nike with its beautiful columns and lovely symmetry.

Then the centerpiece of the Acropolis: the Parthenon. Construction equipment, scaffolds, and cranes were all over the place obscuring views that were not already obscured by tourists. Even at that, the building is an impressive sight and the ruins are beautiful. The building has been much abused over the centuries. The famous statuary of the friezes was taken by the Scottish Lord Elgin and now resides in the British Museum.  The building has been a Christian church, a Muslim mosque, and a Turkish munitions warehouse at which time it was it was destroyed by the Venetians. It is truly amazing that such a lovely ruin has survived so much abuse and neglect.

The Erechtheion sits off to the side with its famous Porch of the Caryatids. The pillars supporting the roof of the porch are marble maidens – both sculptural and engineering marvels in that their thin necks provide support for the heavy marble roof. Unfortunately, Lord Elgin  took one of the maidens for his estate, and one was seriously damaged, but the others have been moved to the Museum of the Acropolis. Still the replicas capture the marvel of the originals.

Too soon our visit to the Acropolis ended and we rushed back to the bus. It is clear that one could spend a lifetime visiting and studying this magic place.

RECIPE

Baklava

When I think of Greece I think of baklava even though it is apparently originally a Turkish creation. That should not be too surprising since the histories and traditions of Greece and Anatolia have been intertwined for thousands of years (Think Trojan War.) In Greece, baklava is a traditional Easter confection, and apparently it is often made with 40 leaves of phyllo to honor the 40 days of Lent.

In this version, I have used only one of the two packages of dough that come in a one-pound box. There are 20 leaves in the package, so if you are able to fold them over on themselves, you will have the 40 requisite layers. I used an 8 x 8 inch pan, so that wouldn’t quite work, but I think you’ll find it close enough for an amateur try at the real thing.

 

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter
  • 3 cups mixed walnuts and unsalted pistachios, toasted in a dry sauté pan and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon powdered lemon peel
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup honey (preferably orange blossom)
  • peel from 1 orange without pith
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • ¼ teaspoon orange flower water
  • ½ pound (one packet from one pound box) frozen phyllo dough, wrapped but thawed for 2 hours

Method

  • Prepare clarified butter by melting in an ovenproof measuring cup in the microwave. Skim off foam and pour off carefully without the solids that settle to the bottom. You should have about 180 mL. Set aside
  • Combine the chopped nuts, sugar, powdered lemon rind, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, orange peel, and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to the simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur and orange flower water. Strain and set aside. Reheat when ready to pour over the baked baklava
  • On a clean, dry work surface, open the package of phyllo dough.The leaves will probably measure about 9 x 15 inches.  Spread out, cover with a sheet of plastic film, and a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out while you work. Work as quickly as you can.
  • With a pastry brush, paint the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Then take one leaf of dough and fit in the bottom, folding over as much as you can. Brush on some of the clarified butter. Repeat with 4 additional leaves of dough.Then sprinkle the top with 1/3 of the nut mixture.
  • Repeat the layering process twice more. You should have three layers of dough and nuts.
  • Top with the remaining leaves of dough, buttering each one as you go. That should use up all of the phyllo.
  • Score the finished stack into 1½ to 2 inch diamonds with a sharp knife. It is important to do this before you bake the baklava; otherwise the pastry will shatter when you cut it.
  • Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 325°F for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300°F and bake for 6o minutes more.
  • Meanwhile, reheat the flavored syrup.
  • When the top of the baklava is a golden brown, remove from the oven and cover with the syrup while it is still warm.
  • Let cool completely for at least 4 hours so that the syrup is completely absorbed.
  • Serve by cutting through each score.

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EPHESUS AND LOKUM (TURKISH DELIGHT)

Ephesus

One of the highlights of our recent visit to the Mediterranean was the ruins of  Ephesus in Turkey. Our ship docked in the nearby port of Kusadasi (Bird Island) which is named after the island, now called Pigeon Island, which dominates the harbor. The island is crowned by an ancient Byzantine fortress which has been rebuilt several times over the centuries and is still a commanding presence. The island has restaurants and entertainment centers and is connected to the mainland by an ornate causeway. At night the lights along the causeway and on the fortress battlements create a stunning view.

Ephesus is not far away on a modern highway and is only a little over a mile from the modern Turkish city of Selçuk, population 36,000. . Ephesus dates back thousands of years and was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League during the seventh century BCE.  One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis, was located nearby. Ephesus was a center of Greek culture until the second century BCE when it became a part of the Roman Empire.  At its height, the city had between 250,000 and 500,000 inhabitants and was one of the largest cities in the entire empire. Later, it was an important city of the Byzantine Empire.  Its dominance was because  it was a center of trade, related to its harbor. Over the years and in spite of dredging efforts, the port and the river silted up, and Ephesus became landlocked. Earthquakes and Arab raids also contributed to the decline of the city, and it was abandoned in the eighth century.

Ephesus was important in early Christian activities. Because of its size and importance, there were early missionary activities there. In the Book of Acts in the New Testament, there is a story of Paul arriving to preach in the massive open-air theater. He was discouraged from doing so by friends who worried for his safety. One of Paul’s’ letters, “Epistle to the Ephesians”, was addressed to the Christian community in Ephesus. Tradition has it that Saint John was imprisoned here and that Jesus’s mother Mary lived out her final days in a house a bit removed from the city.

Ephesus was clearly a wealthy city. The ruins, including baths, gymnasia, temples, theaters, and enormous residences all bear that out. The Library of  Celsus is beautifully restored and preserved. In its day it served as a mausoleum for a prominent Roman as well as a library with many scrolls.

Terrace homes of wealthy residents line one side of the main thoroughfare, Curetes Street. The houses were at their peak from about 100 to 700 CE at around the time of abandonment of the city. The rooms filled with dirt resulting in remarkable preservation comparable to that in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Still under excavation, the homes reveal elaborate mosaic floors, ornate wall decorations, and marble doors, walls, and pools.

The enormous theater, seating 35,000 has been amazingly well-preserved as have the agoras (gathering places) with their arcades and shops, public latrines, a brothel, and numerous public buildings.

Map of archaeologic site open to visitors

Map of archaeological site open to visitors

Of course the marble streets are filled with tourists, and you could easily spend much more time than that alloted in the usual tours. Even with all that, though, it is a place well worth visiting.

Lokum

This is a traditional sweet that was invented by a famous Turkish cook in the 1700’s. It is soft, sweet, dusted in sugar, and usually flavored with rosewater.  Supposedly lokum or Turkish delight is offered to guests with coffee, but you will see it everywhere, boxed up for purchase from street vendors or small shops.

There are many recipes for lokum on the internet. In general, they fall into three categories depending upon what is used as a firming agent. Some use cornstarch; some use gelatin; and some use pectin. This recipe is derived from one published in the Joy of Cooking as late as 1975. Subsequently the recipe disappeared from the index of the cook book, I think because the candy may turn into a sticky mess if you are not careful. I have made the recipe several times over the years, and this is by far the most successful version. You need to make sure the pan and waxed paper are well-greased or you will never get the candy out of the bottom of the pan.  Actually, I had to throw away the pan the first time I tried making Turkish delight. You also need to make sure that you cook the sugar mixture at least to the soft ball stage or it will not get firm enough.

My very strong advice is that you should travel to Turkey and buy your supply of Turkish delight from a street vendor. Failing that, go to your local Middle Eastern market.

 

RECIPE

Lokum (Turkish Delight)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 packet (  ) liquid fruit pectin
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup fruit jelly
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup unsalted pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
  • confectioners’ sugar

Method

  • Prepare an 8 x 8 inch baking pan: grease well with butter, line with two buttered sheets of waxed paper arranged crosswise and overhanging the rim of the pan. Set aside.
  • Combine the water, pectin, and baking soda in a heavy 2 quart sauce pan. The mixture will expand and foam.
  • In a second saucepan, combine the corn syrup and sugar.
  • Bring the corn syrup and sugar mixture to the boil and heat to the soft ball stage, 240° F. Check with a candy thermometer. Then bring the pectin and baking soda to the boil over another flame. Stir until foaming subsides.
  • Gradually pour the pectin mixture into the sugar mixture, stirring continuously.
  • Stir in the jelly
  • Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pistachio nuts.
  • Pour into the prepared pan and let cool at room temperature for at least 3 hours or preferably over night.

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