A Fall recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Fontina Fonduta

It’s warm and creamy and delicious … keep reading you will love it!

Today I am giving you a break from my Italy trip journal and I am sharing one of my favorite Fall dish: Risotto di zucca con fonduta di Fontina (Butternut squash risotto with Fontina cheese sauce).

Fontina is a typical cheese from the Italian region of Valle d’Aosta. Fonduta is a variation of the classic cheese Fondue.

It ‘s a classic Italian pumpkin risotto in which I substituted the pumpkin with butternut squash. Also, while in a typical risotto recipe you add butter at the end to “mantecare” (final step to make it creamy), I added Fontina cheese sauce instead.

I did not inherited this recipe, I don’t  remember my mother ever using pumpkin in a recipe. My mom was from Naples and the Risotto alla zucca (pumpkin risotto) is typical of Northern Italy so, although she wasn’t opposed to recipes out of her comfort zone, zucca was not in her repertoire. I honestly don’t particularly enjoy the pumpkin’s taste myself; I find it too sweet. However, I have been substituting pumpkin with butternut squash in all pumpkin based recipes (including pumpking gnocchi and pumpkin ravioli) and my family and I enjoy its milder and nuttier flavor.

In a previous post I told you that risotto is one of my favorite dish to prepare and I have shared the recipe of my Shrimp Risotto. I also explained that risotto is a way of preparing riso (rice) rather than a recipe and I have mentioned that the variety of rice you use will affect the recipe. The best rice for risotto is the Vialone Nano, which belongs to the semifino variety. This variety has medium long grains and it has a good ability to release the starch that ensures the creaminess of the risottoCarnaroli and Arborio, both in the ultrafino variety, are good alternatives.

One of my brother’s client in Novara – one of the main area of rice production in Italy – asked me to test a Vialone Nano of his production. The name is ECORÌ and it is an eco-friendly rice.

I tried the rice and I liked it; it cooked nicely and the final product was very creamy. The problem is that I doubt I will find this rice in my area so: “dear friend at ECORÌ, I would love a case of rice!”

Ricetta

Risotto alla zucca con fonduta di Fontina

Cosa serve ( What you need) for 4 people

For the risotto

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 medium onion finely chopped

1 shallot finely chopped

2 cups rice – Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio

1 butternut squash peeled seeded and cubed (about 1-1/2 pound)

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt

Black pepper

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

6 cups vegetable broth

For the fonduta

2 oz. Fontina cheese cubed

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Cosa fare (What to do)

First prepare the fonduta. While you are preparing the fonduta, bring 6 cups of vegetable broth to boil and keep it hot; you will use it for the risotto.

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over the low heat, and whisk in the flour until well blended.

  • Slowly add the milk, whisking until the mixture thickens slightly.

  • Add the Fontina, the Parmigiano- Reggiano, and the nutmeg and stir until to combine. The result has to be smooth, silky, and slightly thick sauce.

  • Season with salt and pepper, cover the sauce with plastic wrap and set aside.

Preparing the risotto.

  • In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the oil and  half butter with the onion and the shallot.

  • Once the onion has softened add the butternut squash, salt, and pepper and cook until the squash cooks to a purée.

  • Move the purée around the sides of the pan to create a large hot spot in the middle. Add the remaining butter and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the bits of squash.
  • Add the  rice to the pan and toss to coat with the butter.

  • When the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates. At the same time start incorporating the purée into the rice. Start adding 1/2 cup of hot broth at the time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

  • Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at the time, stirring constantly.

  • Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, it should be al dente, tender but not mushy.
  • When the rice is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the fonduta until it is all blended with the risotto. Add 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Regiano and give it one more stir.

  • Plate into individual bowls, top with Parmigiano and garnish with fried sage leaves (oops, I burned my sage so I used a fresh leaf instead!).

As promised here it is my perfect Risotto, warm, creamy, flavorful and delicious . . . buon appetito!

Which one is your favorite Fall recipe?

Related post: If it’s Friday . . . it’s Pesce!

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Delizia al Limoncello . . . a cake fit for celebrations!

In three days I will be flying to Italy and I cannot tell you how excited I am, however, I could not leave without sharing with you another moment of excitement in my adventure as a blogger.

I am celebrating 10,000 views on my blog . . . I am ecstatic!

Coincidentally, I hit the 10,000 mark exactly 9 months after my very first post which I thought was pretty cool.

Early Saturday morning I realized that I was close to the magic number so I decided that this time I would celebrate in style – Italian style of course – with a cake.

Back in July, I visited Fante Kitchen Shop in Philadelphia’s Italian Market. The store is like candy land for cooks. I only needed a Fusilli iron but I came out with much more, including a hemisphere cake pan.

As soon as I saw this dome shaped pan I knew what I wanted to bake: A Delizia al Limoncello!

Since July, however, I hadn’t had a chance to bake my Delizia, among other reasons I had to wait for my homemade Limoncello to be ready – for my Limoncello recipe click here.

What better occasion than my 10,000 views to inaugurate my new pan and experiment with a new recipe?!

The original name of this dessert is Delizie al limone (delizie is plural of delizia); it’s the youngest dessert of the Campania region. The dessert has quickly become the symbol of the Amalfi coast, where in 1978, chef Carmine Marzuillo presented this delicacy for the first time.

Generally, the delizie are prepared as individual servings, in the shape of a small dome and they are often arranged in a cluster to allow for a large, more dramatic presentation. I decided to utilize my large hemisphere cake pan to create one big Delizia. Also, I call my dessert Delizia al Limoncello, because, unlike the original recipe, I use Limoncello in every element of the cakes.

So, I celebrate another milestone of my adventure sharing this recipe with all of you.

It’s my way to say THANK YOU to all of you for following me, leaving kind comments, and showing your support.

Please keep visiting and sharing with the world my little piece of Italy.

NOTES:

  • You can bake as individual serving using half sphere baking pan – I just found a silicone mold that seems great on Amazon – or muffins pan.
  • For a more kids friendly version, you can substitute the limoncello with equal amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  • You can substitute the potato starch with cornstarch. In this case use only 2 tablespoon of cornstarch and increase the flour by 2 tablespoons.

Ricetta

DELIZIA AL LIMONCELLO

Cosa serve (What you need)

For the Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake)

5 eggs (yolk and white separated)

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup all purpose flour

¼ cup potato starch (you can substitute with cornstarch – see note above)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 pinch of salt

1 teaspoon limoncello

For the pastry cream filling

¾ cup flour (sifted)

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cups whole milk

Grated zest from 2 lemons (best quality and organic)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

¼ cup limoncello

For the pastry cream to cover the cake

2 cups whole milk

¾ cup sugar

3 teaspoons cornstarch

Grated zest from 2 lemons (best quality and organic)

1/3 cup limoncello

1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

For the syrup

1-1/2 cup sugar

½ cup water

zest of 1 lemon

¼ cup limoncello

Cosa fare (What to do)

Step 1: making the cake

  • Pre heat oven at 350 degrees. Butter and floured the cake pan.
  • Sift together the flour, potato starch and ¼ teaspoon salt.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer, with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites and a pinch of salt and beat until stiff peaks form.

  • Transfer to another bowl.
  • Rinse and dry the bowl of the standing mixer, switch to the paddle attachment and add the egg yolks and sugar. Beat until light, fluffy and creamy at least15 minutes.
  • Add the grated lemon zest and limoncello and blend into the mixture.
  • Slowly add the egg whites meringue. Make sure you are working on low speed during this step.
  • When the egg whites are blended into the mixture start adding the sifted flour. Blend the ingredients always working on low speed.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pan.

  • Bake for 40 minutes. Test: a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean when the cake is done.
  • Turn the oven off but leave the cake inside for 5 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, let stand in the pan for additional 5 minutes.
  • Carefully remove from pan (upside down) and cool completely on a cooling rack.

Step 2: making the filling and topping creams

In a pan add all the milk (4 cups) and the grated lemon zest of the 4 lemons. When is about to boil turn the heat off, cover with a lid and let rest for 30 minutes. Then filter through a sieve and divide the milk into two equal parts (you will use each half for each cream).

For the Limoncello cream filling:

  • In a pan add the eggs and the sugar and with a hand held mixer beat until light, fluffy and creamy.
  • Add the sifted flour and mix well with the aid of a whisker.
  • Slowly add the one half of the filtered milk (2 cups). Mix well to blend.
  • Move the pan on the stove and on low heat – while stirring – cook until cream is dense.
  • Remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap and let cool completely. TIP: place the plastic wrap directly on the cream to avoid forming the skin.

  • In the bowl of the standing mixer, with the whisk attachment, whip the entire heavy whipping cream (2-1/2 cups total).
  • When the cream is cold, stir until smooth, add ¼ cup of limoncello and fold in 1/3 of the previously whipped cream.

For the Limoncello topping cream:

  • In a pan add the sugar and cornstarch. Slowly add the second half of the filtered milk (2 cups) and mix well with a whisk.
  • Move the pan on the stove and on low heat – while stirring – cook until cream starts to become dense.

  • Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  • When the cream is cold add 1/3 cup of limoncello and fold in the remaining whipped cream. This cream should result fluid and not very dense.

Step 3: making the Limoncello syrup:

  • In a small pan add the water, sugar and zest of 1 lemon. Bring to boil and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  • When cold add the limoncello.

Step 4: Assembling the cake:

  • When the cake is completely cool you can cut the base. Do not discard the base; you will use it later. Tip: To avoid flattening the dome top, I set my cake over a small bowl.

  • Leaving a ½ inch edge, (I used a small bowl as template), using a spoon, carve out the inside of the cake.

  • Splash the interior and top edge with the syrup.

  • Pour the filling cream into the carved cake.

  • Top with the base that you had previously. Splash the base with syrup.

  • Place your serving dish over the base of the cake and carefully turn upside down.

  • Splash the dome with the syrup and then cover with the topping cream. Make sure you are using a large serving plate. Remember, the cream should be fluid and will run all around the base of the cake.

  • Let set for 5 minutes and then decorate the base with whipped cream.

  • You can decorate the top with candied lemon or, as I did, with thin lemon zest ribbons.

Step 5:

HAVE A BIG SLICE AND ENJOY!!!

NOTES:

  • You might have some extra filling cream, use it to make a thin layer into each individual serving plates . . . a little bed for you wonderful slice of cake.
  • If you bake small individual cakes, you can arrange them in a large dish and cover with the topping cream. You will then spoon out into individual serving plates.

This recipe has many steps and requires some time but it is a wonderful treat for a special occasion.

I will be in Sorrento in two weeks and I will sure enjoy a delizia there, but in a meanwhile my family and I have been enjoying My Delizia al Limoncello very much!

Which is your favorite cake for a special occasion?

The recipe for Pan di Spagna is adapted from my old cookbook, Il libro dei dolci.

The recipes of the creams are adapted for gennarino.org

From an Old Cookbook . . .

An almost forgotten simple, sweet recipe.

Last week while doing some housekeeping, I came across an old, little cookbook: il libro dei dolci (the dessert book).

I had not seen the book in years, as it got lost among my boxes full of magazines and loose recipes. It was a free insert of Insieme, an Italian magazine for new moms and moms to be. The publication was from 1991, the year my first second son was born. I am not exactly sure why a new mom would need a cake/biscotti cookbook for her new baby, however, there are some nice recipes for kids and adults alike. On the very first page I had also jotted down a couple of recipes: the brioche and the zeppole but I will share those at a later time.

Browsing through the book I could not believe that I forgot about one my kids favorite breakfast cakes: la ciambella dei 7 vasetti. Let me explain, ciambella is a ring shaped cake, vasetti are little jars. So the translation would be something like “the ring shaped cake of the 7 small jars” . . . it sounds so much better in Italian!

The name comes from the fact that you can measure everything with a yogurt tub as a measuring cup.

So, this past Sunday night I decided to bake the ciambella for a quiet Labor Day breakfast with my husband. I made very few variations to the recipe and I will list them below.

I guess you realized that one of the ingredients is yogurt. When I used to bake this ciambella for my kids I used yogurt’s flavors that they enjoyed such as strawberry or peach. This time I decided to use lemon flavored Greek yogurt, which I thought it sounded more grown up. The original recipe lists whole yogurt, however, I used low fat. You can also use plain unsweetened yogurt, which I am sure would be delicious as well. Also, there is not butter in this cake, which makes it a little lighter and healthier . . . yeah, I know it’s still a cake, but don’t we all need an excuse to have dessert? Hey, no butter seems a good excuse to me!

The butter is substituted with vegetable oil. My next experiment will be to try  plain Greek yogurt and extra virgin olive oil, I think this combination will achieve a more tangy flavor that I might enjoy . . . I will keep you posted.

Another small variation in my recipe is the use of vanilla sugar instead of regular sugar. I made my own vanilla sugar some time ago; it is probably the simplest thing to make in the kitchen. You just need 1 vanilla bean, 2 cups of sugar and an airtight container. The vanilla beans can be fresh, but you can also use the beans after scraping the inside for a different recipe. If you are using a fresh bean, just pour the sugar in the container, split the vanilla bean and scrape into the sugar. Stir and then bury the bean into the sugar. Seal tight and let sit for two weeks. Replenish with sugar as you use it.

Also, since in my pantry I had some packets of Italian vanilla flavored baking powder, that’s what I used. It’s called “Lievito Pane degli Angeli ” (Angels’ bread yeast) and it is flavored with vanilla. In the recipe below, however, I have listed baking powder and baking soda.

NOTE: I used a bundt pan instead of a ring pan. So, may be I could call it “7 jars bundt cake“, what do you think?

 Ricetta

CIAMBELLA DEI SETTE VASETTI

(Adapted from il libro dei dolci)

Cosa ti serve – What you need

3 extra large eggs

1 tub of yogurt (your favorite flavor or plain)

2 tubs of vanilla sugar (or regular granulated sugar) Tip: use only 1-1/2 tub if using sweetened yogurt

3 tubs of flour sifted together with ½ teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 tub of vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (not on original recipe)

Zest of one lemon

Powder sugar

Oil and flour to grease and dust the pan

Come si fa (How you do it)

Preheat oven at 350 degree. Oil and floured the bundt pan.

Pour the yogurt in a large bowl. Rinse and dry the yogurt tub and use it as measuring cup. Add 2 tubs of sugar to the yogurt.

Whisk to blend the ingredients. While whisking add the eggs one at the time.

Also add the salt and the lemon zest.

Slowly add the sifted flour, whisk to incorporate all the flour carefully avoiding any lumps.

Lastly, pour the oil very slowly. Keep whisking until all the oil is has been absorbed into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. Test: an inserted toothpick comes out clean when the cake is done.

Remove from the oven and transfer the pan on a cooling rack.

Let rest for 5 minutes, carefully remove from pan and allow the cake to cool completely on the cooling rack. Before serving dust it with powdered sugar.

Since the ciambella had not butter, I served it with apricots butter, a 5 minutes preparation that I had seen on one of the Barefoot Contessa shows. You just need to blend together, in a food processor, 8 tablespoon of butter and 4 tablespoon of apricots preserve . . . heaven in 15 seconds!

APRICOTS BUTTER

I AM READY FOR BREAKFAST!

MY SLICE . . .

Store the cake at room temperature and cover with a plastic wrap to keep it moist.

Do you have a favorite breakfast cake? Please share!

The Recipe of the Neapolitan Ragu` . . . Dedicated to my Father.

“Babbo” and I at the beach, Paestum 1964

Today is Father’s Day in USA and although in Italy we celebrate this holiday on March 19th, it feels appropriate to dedicate this post to my father.

It was June 5, 1998, it was a sunny afternoon and I was sitting on the sideline of the soccer field where my children were training. Unexpectedly, I saw my husband walking toward me, his expression was gloomy and when he asked me to step aside, my heart skipped and I just knew that something terrible had happened. My father, 4600 miles away, had died, suddenly, of a stroke. I don’t need to explain what or how I felt then, but today what still hurts the most, is that I could not say goodbye.

No time for tears, just let me tell you about the Ragú Napoletano,  that wonderful, comforting slow cooked meat-based sauce, synonym of pranzo della domenica (Sunday family supper). My mother was an excellent cook and she would make handmade pasta, tagliatelle, gnocchi, fusilli, strascinati, orecchiette . . . like no other, yet my father was the king of the ragú.

My father would wake up at 5:30 AM every Sunday and after his caffè and his first cigarette he would start the ragú. First he would prepare the braciole (slice of meat rolled -up), one made with beef and one with cotica (pork rind). He would season them with with garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, pine nuts, raisins and grated cheese. The braciole, along with the rest of the meat, were going in the pot with the onions, then the wine, last the passata di pomodori (tomato pureed) – which we usually bottled at the end of summer. For the next 4-5 hours, my father would tend to the ragú  like it was a work of art . . .  Letting the sauce pippiare – an onomatopoeic word that describes the sound of the sauce that barely simmer producing tiny bubbles – stirring once in awhile, tasting for salt and pepper.

My brothers and I would wake up to the aroma of the ragú and my best treat of the morning was a small slice of bread smothered with sauce.

The  sauce usually serves as condiment to the ziti spezzati – my mom used to buy the long ziti and it was my job to cut them into short pieces – or to the paccheri, or to the handmade pasta that my mom had prepared. The meat, covered with sauce,  was the second course along with the obligatory patatine fritte (fried potatoes) and  insalata verde  – just plain green lettuce – simply seasoned with olive oil and squeezed lemon.

Now, to find an original, traditional recipe of  ragú it is not easy task, so I have always relied on my memories and some research. The ragú, is prepared with large pieces of meat that are browned together with a lot of onions. The choice of  meat cuts seems to be the main issue, and not just for me . . . If you have 3 minute to spare,  you might enjoy this clip from  Sabato Domenica Lunedì, an Italian movie, starring Sofia Loren. Rosa Priore (Sofia Loren) is shopping for the perfect ingredients for ragú; in the macelleria (butcher shop), she gets into an argument  with another client about which meat cuts to use.  I am sorry the clip is in Italian – actually Neapolitan – however, tone of voices and expressions tell it all . . . and who doesn’t want to see the beautiful Sofia Loren!

Italian meat cuts have such distinctive names, cappello del prete, piccione, locena and so on, that I often find very difficult to translate them into an English equivalent. So many times, I show up at the butcher counter with a meat chart  and I point out the cuts I need. So here is a picture for you.

One of the more traditional recipe advise to use the following cuts of meat (The numbers correspond to the cuts in the picture, I also added the English equivalent):

Scamone (#14 – beef rump), annecchia (veal stew), one slice of locena (#2 – beef brisket), noce di vitello (#16 – veal sirloin), pork ribs, and one piece of cotica (pork rind).

In my recipe, I follow the traditional cooking method, however, I do not use the lard – originally used instead of olive oil – and the pork rind. For the meat cuts, on this particular day, I used what I found available – pork and beef.  Keep in mind that I often cook for only 3-4 people therefore I need to adjust my recipes accordingly.

Ricetta

RAGÚ NAPOLETANO

Ingredients for 8 persons:

1 pound rump (#14)

1 large slice of brisket (#2) not too thick.

1 pound veal sirloin (16)

1 pound veal stew

1 pound pork ribs

2 large Vidalia onions – sliced

6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoon butter (I use butter-oil combination as substitute for lard)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup of red wine

1-1/2 pound tomato pureed

salt and pepper to taste

fresh basil leaves

fresh parsley

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1 tablespoon raisins – previously soaked in water

½ cup freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano

1 clove of garlic finely chopped

Directions:

First prepare the braciola: lay the slice of meat on a chopping board, season with salt and pepper. Add parsley (hand-chopped), pine nuts, raisins, and grated cheese. Roll-up the meat and tie with cooking twine.

Season the rest of the meat with salt and pepper. Tie the large pieces with cooking twine to keep the shape.

In a large pot heat the oil and melt the butter. Add the sliced onions and the meat at the same time.

On medium heat let the meat brown and the onion soften until almost disappear. To achieve a perfect result you must tend to each step with care. During this first step you must be vigilant, don’t let the onion dry, stir with a cucchiaia (wooden spoon) and start adding wine if necessary to keep moist and facilitate the melting of the onions.

Once the onions have dissolved and the meat has browned, add the tomato paste and a little wine to dissolve it. Stir and combine the ingredients. Let cook slowly for 10 minutes.

Time to add the tomatoes pureed, season with salt and black pepper and stir.

Cover the pot but leave the lid ajar, you can place a wooden spoon under the lid. The sauce must cook very slowly for at least 3-4 hours.

Remember, as they say in Naples, the sauce must “pippiare”.

Pippiare . . . can you see the tiny bubbles?

After 2 hours add few leaves of basil and continue cooking.

IMPORTANT: Half way through, don’t forget to dip a piece of bread into the sauce and have your first taste of heaven!

During these 3-4 hours you must keep tending to the ragú, stirring once in awhile and making sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Carne al ragu`

The sauce, as I mentioned can be use as condiment for different kind of pastas. This sauce is also used in the preparation of the lasagna napoletana and the parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmigiana).

On this particular occasion, I used my ragú to make fusilli e strascicati al tegamino – my husband had just returned from Italy and brought me back these fresh homemade pasta. See in pictures the steps and final product.

Before I leave . . .HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO ALL THE DADS!!!

Fusilli and Strascicati directly from Italy!

Maccheroni al gratte` . . . a Neapolitan dish.

When you think about the cuisine of Naples, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the traditional “ragú” – a slow cooked meat sauce – or spaghetti with fresh tomatoes sauce. Here it is an unexpected Neapolitan dish I am sure you will love:  Pasta al gratin or – as they call it in Naples – Maccheroni al gratté.

This is typically a holiday dish, however it is simple enough to become a weekday alternative to one of your pasta dishes. I have to warn you that this is not a diet friendly dish but it is sure delicious . . . I trust this could become one of your new favorites!

It is basically a baked pasta seasoned with béchamel sauce and enriched with few extra ingredients. One of the beauty of the dish is the flexibility in the choice of ingredients. Mozzarella is usually the cheese of choice – that’s what I used – but you can substitute with Emmenthal or another mild cheese of your like. At time, hard-boiled eggs are also added. Diced ham, prosciutto or mortadella are generally used. This time, however, I decided to use speck – salt cured /smoked ham – which add a smoky flavor to the dish. Beside loving speck for its intense aroma and flavor, it also brings back a very special memory: my honeymoon!

While traveling by car from Ravello to Vienna, my newlywed husband and I stopped first in San Gimignano, in Tuscany, and then to Merano, in the South Tyrol. While crossing the Alps, between Vipiteno and Bressanone, we stopped at a tiny shack by the side of the road and there, while overwhelmed by the breathtaking scenery, we had the most memorable merenda (snack): warm rye bread (Pusterer Breatl), fresh butter and…speck! How can I forget, it was August 1, 1996 . . I had been married for six days!

The South Tyrol, 08-01-86

Enough with the nonsense, here it is my ricetta. I hope you will love it!

MACCHERONI AL GRATTÉ

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)

1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 quart whole milk, at room temperature

Pinch fresh nutmeg

kosher salt

2 cups cubed mozzarella

1/3 pound thinly sliced speck, cut into strips (reserve the strip of fat from each slice)

1 pound dry ziti ( you can also use penne or rigatoni)

unsalted butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.

Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Always stirring, slowly add the milk and continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of the whisker – approximately 10 minutes.

Stir in nutmeg and salt to taste. Remove from heat, set aside keeping warm.

Add the ziti to the boiling water and cook 2 minute less than the indicated time (the pasta will finish cooking in the oven). Into a greased 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pour a little of the béchamel sauce.

Drain the pasta in a colander and transfer to the baking dish. Pour 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Mix well until all the pasta is coated with the sauce.

The ingredients: Speck and Mozzarella

Add 2/3 of mozzarella, 2/3 speck, and grated parmigiano.

Mix well, add remaining speck and mozzarella.

Top with remaining béchamel sauce. Arrange the strips of speck’s fat on top. (this is my variation to the ribbons of butter)

Cover with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

Just out of the oven

A tavola!

Scallops and Shrimps in Guazzetto . . . My twenty minutes recipe!

Mouthwatering…

One common misconceptions about Italian cooking is that Italian women – or men – spend many hours in the kitchen. While it’s true that it takes 5-6 hours to prepare a traditional  Neapolitan ragú or that an eggplant parmigiana could take up to 2 hours, yet most everyday dishes don’t take more than 30 minutes. Usually, I don’t know what will be at the dinner table until after my daily visit to the market; once there, I let the produce, meat, and fish talk to me. Simple, fresh ingredients require simple, quick preparation.

If you only have 20 minutes, I will share with you how to prepare an easy dish that is perfect for a family dinner yet, so rich in flavor that it would surely impress your guests. Capesante and gamberi in guazzetto, that is “Scallops and shrimps in . . . guazzetto“! The word “guazzetto“, pronounced gwahts-TZET-to (don’t you love the sound of it?) doesn’t have an exact translation but it refers to the fish that is “splashed” with a light creamy sauce. Just trust me, it is buonissimo!

Ricetta

My Capesante e Gamberi in Guazzetto

Ingredients for 4

8-12  sea scallops

12-16 large shrimps peeled and deveined (I like to keep the tail on. Also, if you are using head-on shrimps, remove and reserve the heads)

All-purpose flour, for dredging

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided in 1/3 (you might need an extra tablespoon)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped shallots

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tablespoon capers

1/3 cup Marsala or dry white wine (your preference, I like the sweetness of Marsala)

1/2 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional red pepper flakes

Directions

Cut each sea scallops in half horizontally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss with flour, and shake off the excess. Do the same with the shrimps.

In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over high heat until sizzling and add the shrimp in one layer.

Allow the shrimp to turn pink-brown on 1 side without moving them, then turn and brown lightly on the other side – 3 to 4 minutes total.

Remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the scallops: heat two more tablespoon of butter until sizzling and add the scallops in one layer.

Lower the heat to medium and allow the scallops to turn light brown on 1 side without moving them, then turn and brown on the other side – 3 to 4 minutes total.

Remove from the pan and set aside. Melt the rest of the butter in the pan with 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil.  Add the shallots, capers, and parsley and sauté for 2 minutes. If you would like a little heat, add some red pepper flakes. If you have reserved the shrimps’ heads, add them to the pan and let them cook for few minutes while pressing with a fork to release the juice.

Add 1/2 of the wine cook for 1 minute. If you used the shrimps’ heads, spoon them out now and discard.

Add the scallops and shrimp and gently toss the seasonings with the scallops (add a little butter if necessary – I did). Add the wine, let evaporate, cook for 1 minute.

Lastly add ½ of the cream gently tossing with the shrimps and scallops. Taste for seasoning.

Plate the scallops and shrimp. Add the remaining cream to the pan and stir to blend with the seasoning.

Spoon the creamy mixture over the shrimps and scallops. Serve hot.

Pronto!

I like to serve this dish  with a side of roasted finocchi (fennel) and spinach in lemon-garlic vinaigrette. A peppery arugula salad would be perfect too.

Buon Appetito!

For the roasted fennel: cut the bulbs into tick slices. Boil in salted water for 5-8 minutes. Drain. Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish. Transfer the fennel to the baking dish, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. With your hands toss to coat the fennel then arrange them in 1 layer. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Bake in preheated oven – 375 degrees – for 20 minutes. They should be fork-tender and golden brown.

New Recipe: My Polpettone Ripieno

My Polpettone e Piselli

Today I share one of my family’s favorite recipes, Polpettone ripieno con contorno di piselli (stuffed meatloaf with side of green peas).

Not much to chat about it, so I will get right to the recipe. This is my mom’s recipe, to which I have made only few modifications.

It is easy, flavorful, and satisfying. It is also versatile,  you can choose you favorite cheese and cold cuts for the stuffing, and even add some spinach if you want.

I like to use provolone cheese and mortadellaprosciutto cotto (ham) is typically used. Even the choice of meat is up to you, use beef or veal or combine the two, add pork if you want.

I just prepared this meatloaf few nights ago and I used a mix of beef/pork/lamb, it was delicious. I also added one  smashed boiled potato to the meat, it helped to keep the meatloaf moist.

The recipe will yield one large polpettone or two medium one. I got slightly carried away, so I ended up with two medium and one small, and I also made few extra polpettine (small meatballs), which I fried; we ate them during the Capitals ice hockey’s  game . . . Go Caps!!!

NOTE: To prepare a perfect polpettone you need to get your hands dirty – literally. DO NOT use a food processor.

Ricetta

My Polpettone Ripieno

For the meat mixing:

¾ lb (organic) ground beef – I use 93% lean

½ lb ground pork

½ lb ground lamb

8 ounces day old bread – cubed and crust removed

1 cup milk

1 large Russet potato – boiled

2 large eggs

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 tsp salt

For the filling:

8 ounces thinly sliced Mortadella

8 ounces sliced Provolone

2 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano

For the side dish:

2 lb frozen peas

½ onion sliced

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup dry white wine

salt – pepper

Directions:

To defrost the peas: Pour the frozen peas into a colander. Set the colander under cold running water for 2 minutes. Shake the colander often then let drain.

Ready to start!

In a medium bowl, mix the bread and milk. With your fingers break the bread and make sure it is covered with milk. Let soak for 5 minutes, squeeze out excess milk from the bread. Discard milk. In a large bowl mix the meat and the bread.

Using your hands mix until the meat and bread are well combined. Pass the boiled potato through a ricer and add to the mixture. Add the eggs, grated Parmigiano, and salt.

Again, use your hands to mix and combine the ingredients. You can add chopped parsley to the mixture if you wish.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, slightly moisten the foil with water (to prevent the meat from sticking to the foil). Take half of the meat mixture, place it in the center of the foil and pat down to form a rectangle ½ inch thick.

Preheat oven at 360 degree and oil the bottom of a deep baking dish.

Sprinkle the meat with Parmigiano, then arrange the slices of mortadella on the meat to cover the whole surface.

Arrange the slices of provolone on top of the mortadella. Keep the provolone at least 1 inch off the edges (this will make it easier to roll up the meatloaf and also will prevent the cheese to drip away while baking).

Sprinkle more Parmigiano if you wish.

Starting at long side and using the foil as aid, roll up the meat.

Fold ends and seams together. Make sure the long side is completely sealed.

Oops . . . A little extra!

Place the meatloaf in the previously oiled baking dish.

Repeat with the remaining meat mixture. Place the second meatloaf in the baking dish. Space them at least 2 inches from each other.

Arrange the green peas between the meatloaf and all around. Drizzle with oil, add the sliced onion, salt, pepper and the wine.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil, stir the peas and continue baking for 20 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes.

My Polpettone e Piselli

Slice and plate along with the peas.

Not much leftover!

I hope you like my Polpettone as much as my boys do.