“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Salted Caramel Doughnuts with Roasted Pecans

Ciao tutti!! I know, I know. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted and I’ve missed you all. Life has been nuts. Between working and building up my brand, Magic &Pasta Events and trying to juggle a social life, I have been getting ready for the biggest decision of my life. You may remember that back in February I announced that I brought a house in Italy, in the beautiful town of Guardia Sanframondi. I am going to be leaving for Guardia at the end of the month and will be there until the middle of September, getting my house ready, starting renovations and I’ll be in the process of working on a HUGE project (more details in the next few months.) I am also planning on completely redoing La Cucina Della Prima Donna and making it more accessible and easier to search for recipes and including some travel tips, photos, etc. In the meantime, I would like to share with you my newest recipe…

Classic Yeast Doughnuts with Salted Caramel and Roasted Pecans

Yeast Doughnuts
2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 packet of instant yeast
4 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 cup whole milk, warmed to 105 F- 115 F
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. pure maple extract
3 egg yolks
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Vegetable oil, for frying (I prefer peanut oil)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the 2 cups of flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the warm milk, vanilla, maple and egg yolks. Mix till smooth. Add the whole wheat pastry flour and the butter and mix until incorporated. You can prepare this recipe with all bread flour, I just always prefer to bake with a  little whole wheat flour because I find it adds a light nuttiness to ever recipe and it makes your treats a little healthier. Continue to mix on medium speed until the dough is soft and smooth (it will be slightly sticky).
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a draft free place to rise for 1 hour. You can also refrigerate for up to 12 hours and have perfect dough just in time for breakfast. Lightly flour 2 baking sheets. Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut with a floured doughnut cutter or biscuit cutter. Use the extra dough for doughnut holes, don't throw those babies out! Place the doughnuts and doughnut holes at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheets and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise a second time until they are puffy and almost double in size, this should take 15-30 minutes. The doughnuts and ready when the dough springs back slowly after being touched with a fingertip (if it springs back too quickly, it needs more time, if it collapses, it has over proofed and you can reroll the dough and cut it once).
While the doughnuts rise, fill a large heavy bottomed pot with at least 2 inches of oil. Heat over medium high heat. As always with frying, please be very careful. Using a spatula, carefully lower a few doughnuts into the oil; do not overcrowd the pot. If you have too many doughnuts in the pot, not only will it take longer to fry, but the dough will absorb more of the oil and we don't want greasy doughnuts. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes per side, turning a few times, until the doughnuts are a light golden brown and cooked though. Remove with a  slotted spoon, drain on a wire rack over a paper towel. Let them cool slightly before glazing. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts and doughnut holes. Next step....the Salted Caramel. Cue Homer Simpson drool.
Salted Caramel
¾ cup cream

½ a vanilla bean, split length wise

½ cup sugar

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

4 tbsp. butter, chilled and cut into cubes

¼ tsp. kosher salt
Pour your cream in bowl, scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean. Add the whole bean and set aside.
Stir the sugar, corn syrup and 2 tbsp. cold water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high, boil, occasional swirling the pan, DO NOT STIR. Continue to cook for 5-6 minutes or until a deep amber color forms. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the vanilla cream. When I say gradual, I mean gradual, otherwise the sugar will seize up and you will have to re-melt it, so add the cream slowly. The mix will bubble, that is to be expected. Whisk over medium heat until smooth and thick, anywhere from 2-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter and salt. Stir until melted and smooth. Strain into a shallow bowl for dipping!!
Roasted Pecans
1 cup of crushed pecans
Toast your pecans on a pan in the oven. I prefer the low and slow approach when roasting nuts to decrease the odds of burning. I like my nuts slightly toasted, so toast on 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Every oven is different so please pay attention and don’t burn the nuts!! Place the nuts in a shallow bowl for dipping.
Assembling the doughnuts
Dip the doughnut in the caramel. Its okay, I like to double dip too!! Let the caramel set for at least 20 seconds and then dip in the nuts. Set on a wire rack. Dig in!! I enjoyed these last Saturday morning with a big glass of iced coffee on my terrace. Enjoy!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A new dinner with Magic & Pasta in NYC, a new haircut and a new house in Italy....

Ciao a tutti!! Tutto bene?! It’s been too long! Last I posted I was exploring Florence and having the time of my life. What has happened since then? To put it more accurately, what HASN’T happened since then? I’ve gotten a haircut. I know that might not seem like a big deal to you but I have always grown my hair for years at a time, even cutting it for Locks of Love Twice. One day in Florence I looked at my hair, almost down to my shoulders and thought “it’s time for a change.” Thinking on it just one day, I marched into a saloon, translated best I could and ended up with a fabulous short, shaggy chin length bob. I figured with all of the big changes I was making in my life this just part of it. What do you think??

Next up was going back to Guardia Sanframondi. Remember I had mentioned I spent some time in a beautiful village in Campania before getting to Florence? Well, I loved it there so much, I actually cut my time in Florence short and returned to continue my journey. What did I do while I was there? Well, I made a ton of wonderful friends, ate some of the best food I’ve ever had and bought a house. Anyhow…..wait, what? A HOUSE, YOU SAY? That’s right. I BOUGHT MY VERY FIRST HOUSE IN ITALY!!!! As you can clearly see, Italy is very important to me. I am very proud of my Italian roots and have always wanted to be closer to what I feel is really my home. In fact, Guardia is just two hours from where my great-grandfather was born in Naples. I will be posting pictures and I will dedicate a whole post to the beauty of Guardia. I have never been anywhere like Guardia. It really is magical and I can’t wait to share this journey with you. Here is my new view...

I then returned to NYC and have been cooking regularly, doing private events with Magic & Pasta. Here are some of the dishes I have made for some dinners. In the order that they are shown are my "Caprese Salad" with parmigiana mousse, pesto gelatin and candied baby tomatoes, Polenta Fritti with Mushroom Onion Tapenade and Garlic Rosemary Chicken with Grilled Scallions over Parsnip Puree….

I actually am hosting one of my stylized ticketed dinners coming up on March 7th in NYC that I would love to invite you all too….”Aperitivo Italiano.” The menu will include small bites of Aperitivo Style dishes with my own twist, such as Rosemary Fried Chicken with Semolina Pancakes and Spicy Chestnut Honey and Herbed Parmigiana Polenta Bites with Speck. What to see the full menu for this delicious dinner? Then click here, you will also see ticket information. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to comment here or e-mail me at magicandpasta@hotmail.com Here are a few photos from one of my last dinners to give you an idea of the setting...

Until then my friends, I will be spending the day doing some prep in the kitchen and trying to stay warm!!! Ci vediamo!!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Un Altro Day in the Life da Firenze

Another days look at my daily life here in bella Firenze. Ciao ciao per ora!
"A Day in the Life in Bella Firenze"
November 18th, 2014
Part 1- Walk by the Duomo and catch a rainbow after a morning shower. — at Piazza del Duomo.
Part 2-  Enjoy your daily cappuccino with a cornetto while people watching.
Part 3- Cross the Ponte Santa Trinita and arrive on
Via de' Tornabuoni to indulge in some window shopping.
— at Via De' Tornabuoni - Firenze.
Part 4- Eat at your favorite pizza spot, but actually try a different pizza. This baby is topped with eggplant, parm and prosciutto. — at Trattoria Pizzeria GUSTOLEO.
Part 5- Take a picture in the rain...because I like the pretty pop of color from the umbrella. — at Piazza della Signoria.
Part 6- Take cover outside at the Uffizi when the rain starts coming down and sneak a photo of the man who you can always expect to see out front....Da Vinci. — at Uffizi.

Part 7- Look out at the piazza and appreciate the beauty that is all around you. This is the Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati. Yes, it's chilly and raining, but hey, they is my view!
— at Piazza della Signoria.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ciao da bella Firenze!

Ciao a tutti! I apologize for not posting for a while. Things have been very very busy. I am actually in bella Firenze for the time being and enjoying every second of it. I hosted a fabulous Halloween party with The Florentine and I have a lot of other VERY exciting things coming up. What are they, exactly? Well, if I told you that would spoil the surprise, now wouldn't it?

Want to see pictures from the party I hosted with The Florentine? Check them out right here!

In the meantime, I will be posting pictures at least once a week, but hopefully more, entitled "A Day in the Life"....photos of my what my day looks like while in Florence. I will also be heading back to Campania soon where I spent time in a beautiful medieval village before I arrived in Florence and then I'll be headed back to Rome. Tell me..what is your favorite site to see in Florence? And if you haven't been yet, what do you hope to see someday? Addio per ora!

"A Day in the Life in Bella Firenze"
November 13th, 2014

Part 1- Find a delicious cornetto filled beyond belief with nutella. Enjoyed at café in Piazza Santa Croce.
Part 2- Explore some of the beautiful museums that Florence has to offer. — at Museo del Bargello.
Part 3- Take a moment to stop and LOOK. Appreciate what is in front of you. This is Donatello's David. — at Museo del Bargello.
Part 4- Enjoy pizza that is topped with speck, ricotta, grana and stracchino. AND FINISH THE ENTIRE THING! — at Trattoria Pizzeria GUSTOLEO.
Part 5 - Catch a glimpse of a rainbow peaking through the sky as I slowly walk home in the rain without an umbrella...because I'm in Florence and I don't care about getting wet.
Part 6- Enjoy un altro cappuccino and tiramisu. Because I'm an adult and I can eat however many sweets I want!! — at Piazza del Duomo.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Olive Oil Muffins with Dark Chocolate Chips & Almonds and A RECIPE CONTEST!!

Ciao a tutti! I have some really exciting news… I'm a finalist in the Eggland’s Best Your Best Recipe Contest, AGAIN!!! The last time I won my category, can you help me win again? Here’s what you have to do…

Please go to this link- http://www.egglandsbest.com/yourbestrecipe.aspx and take a look at the top of the page at the Breakfast Category. You will see my Olive Oil Muffins with Dark Chocolate Chips and Almonds, click on it, enter your e-mail and click vote! You will have to confirm your vote via e-mail and you can vote once a day until Oct. 31st. I have some really big plans in the near future and this money could really help me out. It would greatly appreciated, as always. Grazie mille a tutti!! Thank you so so much, here is the link again just to be safe: http://www.egglandsbest.com/yourbestrecipe.aspx

In the meantime, I’m sharing the recipe for my yummy muffins again, so if you want to make them and see what you think of them for yourself, please let me know! These are great for breakfast, an afterschool school, dessert…pretty much any time of day that you feel like having one! Buon Appetito!!

 Olive Oil Muffins with Dark Chocolate Chips and Almonds

3 cups of flour

4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of almond milk (you can use regular milk, the almond milk just adds a slightly sweet almond flavor that I like)

½ cup of olive oil

½ tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. almond extract

1 cup of Dark Chocolate Chips (you can use regular chips)

1 cup of chopped almonds
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 6 muffin tin pan with non stick spray or you can use muffin liners.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until combined. Add the milk, olive oil, vanilla and almond extracts. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and gently fold. You do not want to over mix, that will result in a heavier muffin. Fold in the chocolate chips and almonds. Pour the batter into your muffin tins, be sure not to go all the way to the top, just a little bit below. Bake for 30 minutes or longer if needed. You can stick a tooth pick in to make sure they are set. Everyone’s oven is different so baking time may vary. When they are done, let them cool for around 15 minutes in the pan. Then after 15 minute, EAT!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Potato Gnocchi in Sage Butter with Crispy Potato Skin Petals

Ciao a tutti!! I know it has been a while. I’ve been very busy getting ready for my upcoming time in Italy, setting up dinners, events, classes, etc. I am SO EXCITED!!!!! In fact, to say I’m excited is downplaying it. Like last year, I will be journaling a lot of my trip and will be sure to share a lot of pictures, details, recipes, menus and more with you. I look forward to another wonderful adventure.
 In the meantime, I will share with you my recipe for Potato Gnocchi in a Sage Butter Sauce with Potato Skin Petals. I got the idea for the petals because I really don’t like to waste ANY food if it can be helped. So, when I was preparing the potatoes for the gnocchi and I had all the skin left, I thought “hmmmmm, why not fry this in some butter and top the gnocchi with it?” I know, I know, I’m crazy!! Enjoy!!

Potato Gnocchi in Sage Butter with Crispy Potato Skin Petals
Potato Gnocchi

3 ½ ounce of double zero flour (if you can’t find 00 flour, you can use AP)
1 lb. potatoes
1 egg
Pinch of salt
Sage Butter
5 tbsp. butter
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Sage leaves, gently torn (as much or as little as you like)
Potato Skin Petals
1 tbsp. butter
Potato Skin
Put you potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold salted water. Bring the water to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, this should take around an hour.
Let the potatoes cool. Peel them and be sure to set the potato skin aside! Put the potatoes through a rice. Combine the potatoes with flour, egg and salt. Mix by hand or using a fork. Put the dough on a floured surface and divide into 4 portions. Roll each portion into a long log and cut each log into ¾ inch pieces using a flour knife. Press each piece of dough against tines of a floured fork, carefully push with a floured thumb in a forward motion toward the end of the tines and let the gnocchi fall from the fork. You can also use a gnocchi board (which I did, I also made jumbo gnocchi, which of course, you can do too!)
Cook the gnocchi in salted boiling water. Fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dried, package pasta, do DO NOT OVER COOK!! The gnocchi should be tender and cooked within 3-5 minutes.
 In the meantime, while the gnocchi is boiling, prepare a medium size pan over medium heat. Add the butter, salt and pepper. Allow the butter to brown slight and add the torn sage leaves. By this point, drain the gnocchi and add to the pan with the butter sauce. Let the gnocchi sit and heat in the sauce for a few minutes so the butter leaves a nice coating on the pasta. Feel free to add a little pasta water as well, I always do. For the potato skin petals, in another small pan, heat on medium heat. Add the butter and the potato skins. I like to tear the potato skin with my hands and create little shreds. Let it fry in the butter for a few minutes until crispy. Plate the gnocchi and add the potato skin petals directly on top and of course, you must add a sprinkle of parmigiana and a glass of wine. Buon Appetito!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Baked Pasta alla Norma....Sausage, ricotta and penne, OH MY!

Day 1 of “The Box Project.” In case you missed my last post, for the next month or so I am on a mission. That is…A Box Project Mission. What’s the Box Project? Well, it’s a box of delicious treats I brought back from Italy and am always saving “for something special.” I finally decided, what am I waiting for? On top of it, I have a bad habit of food shopping too often and I hate to say it, but sometimes things unfortunately go to waste. The idea with the Box Project is to use ingredients that I already have on hand and add necessary proteins, dairy or vegetables. So…day 1.

Pasta al Forno.

Pasta al Forno is basically an Italian baked pasta dish made with a pasta, cheese and preferably meat/vegetables. Well, I had a lovely can of tomatoes that I actually got last year that the real estate agent left in our kitchen “goody bag”, (when I was in Florence, Italy, the real estate agent had a bag full of groceries, ahem, and some wine in the kitchen for our arrival). Along with the tomatoes, I also had a jar of Pesto Rosso with basil that I purchased at Conand. Conand is a supermarket chain in Italy and I swear, every time I go in there, I come out with 6 bags…and that’s on a  good day.  Also on hand was a jar of San Marzano tomato paste, penne and ricotta (yes, when I can’t make my own ricotta or get to my usual cheese guy, I have to settle for supermarket ricotta). The extras I purchased for this dish were some parmigiana, eggplant and hot sausage links. So without further adeu…

Baked Pasta alla Norma
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 pack of hot sausage links
1 large eggplant (properly prepared, see below)
2 tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
1 can of tomato paste
6 tbsp. tomato pesto
2 tbsp. fresh basil, torn (NEVER CUT BASIL!!)
1 tbsp. oregano
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1 box of penne
2 cups of ricotta
½ cup of parmigiana, grated

Set a medium size pan over medium/high heat. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil. Uncase your sausage links (I do this simply by wetting the link and cutting the case with a knife to remove it). Tear out all of the sausage into little pieces and add in the pan. Cook for 30-45 minutes (this depends on how well you like your sausage of course). Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl to cool.
Prepare your eggplant. First off, clean it. Then cut it into slices and layer them in a colander, sprinkle on some salt. Let the eggplant release some liquid. Then rinse the eggplant, squeeze it with your hands and pat it dry. I know this seems like a lot of work, but trust me, it’s worth it. I picked up this technique when I was studying cooking in Italy. Not only does it make the eggplant less bitter, but by releasing the liquid, it is easier to fry. After you have rinsed and dried the eggplant, chop it coarsely. Add to the pan that you had the sausage in. I basically used the fat that the sausage released to fry the eggplant in. Not the healthiest I know, but delicious nonetheless.
Fry the eggplant until a little golden and crispy. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. By this point, you should have water boiling. Add your garlic to the pan and let it fry until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and remove all of the excess oil and fat from the pan. Put the pan back over medium heat.  Add the tomato paste and let it “toast” slightly. Add 6 tbsp. of red pesto (basically, tomato pesto), a splash of pasta water, the basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it very briefly. Six minutes top. Strain the pasta and add it to the tomato sauce, along with the sausage and eggplant. Let it cook over low heat while the tomato sauce reduces slightly. In the meantime prepare your ricotta.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, whip 2 cups of ricotta with the parmigiana. Add the fried garlic. You will want to get out a casserole dish to prepare the pasta in. Add one layer of the pasta and then add dollops of the ricotta mix. Continue doing so until filled. Put the pasta in the oven and bake for 30 minutes to one hour. Remove, let it cool and then DIG IN!!!