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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On the menu: Toasted spinach ricotta gnocchi, cauliflower Siciliana and torta caprese

Ciao everyone! I hope this is the first of many dinners that we will enjoy together! On the menu for tonight: Toasted spinach ricotta gnocchi, cauliflower Siciliana and torta caprese (flourless chocolate almond torte) Intrigued?

Il primo (First course)

One of my favorite pasta dishes is gnocchi, although as an Italian, I think it's in my DNA to love and appreciate all kinds of pasta. Gnocchi is so versatile. There is no limit to how it can be made. Butternut squash, sweet potato, mushroom, ricotta and of course, potato. The list is endless. But tonight for dinner, we will be serving toasted ricotta gnocchi. A light, pillowy gnocchi made mostly of ricotta and spinach. If they are done right, they should turn out like little clouds. I like mine toasted and served in a sage butter sauce.

Toasted Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi         

2 pounds fresh spinach                                             
1 (16 ounce) container ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons Parmesan
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons butter
Salt + Pepper (quanto basta, to taste)
Sage leaves

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Boil some water for your spinach. Be sure to cut the stems off. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the water and put it in ice water to stop the cooking. Make sure to drain and squeeze the spinach, you do not want it wet! Chop the spinach very fine!

Put the spinach in a nice big bowl, add the ricotta, 4 tablespoons Parmesan, egg yolks, and a couple of pinches of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Mix well! Use 1 tsp. of the mixture and shape the gnocchi gently in your hands, until they are the usual shape of gnocchi!

Butter a casserole dish, lay all the gnocchi in it, and dress it with a sprinkling of Parmesan. Cook at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. I like to finish my gnocchi by lightly tossing them in a skillet with butter, sage and a dash of cream. Enjoy!!!

P.S. You can fry some sage leaves till crisp in butter to garnish, if you like.

Il contorno (Side dishes)

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved cauliflower.  My nonna used to make me fried cauliflower and just thinking about it puts a smile to my face. One of my new favorite takes on cauliflower is cauliflower Siciliana from Sicily. Traditionally, it is just made with oil, but I like to make sure mine is really crisp and crunchy, so I add some butter and cook it for a while. I know a lot of people have to be won over when it come to vegetables and I think this is just the recipe to do the trick.

 Cauliflower Siciliana

1 head of cauliflower                                                  
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
Lots of garlic (Remember, quanto basta)
Red pepper
4 tablespoons of shredded Parmesan

Chop your head of cauliflower to whatever size pieces you like- big or small. Mince your garlic. Heat your pan with olive oil, butter, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper. Add your cauliflower once the garlic has cooked slightly. Keep the flame on high for the first 5 minutes and then lower and cook for up to an hour, but remember to cook slowly. Once it is done, add the shredded Parmesan and toss.

 Il dolce (Dessert)

I am a big fan of flourless desserts. I find that having no flour makes a recipe very rich and intense. You can see how deep and dark it is, but the picture doesn't do it justice. I also love chocolate, but then again, who doesn’t? The torta caprese (flourless chocolate almond torte) is named for the isle of Capri where it originated. There are quite a few stories about how it originated. One story is that a baker was making an almond cake requested by a few tourists in the 1920s and the baker forgot to add flour. Another story credits the creation to two heirs of Austrian painter August Weber, who created it at the Strandpension Weber in the 1930s. And yet another story is that a woman was making the cake for American gangsters and forgot to add flour. Whatever the story, I’m glad the cake came to be. It has been referred to as "uno dei pasticci piĆ¹ fortunati della storia" (one of history's most fortunate mistakes). I couldn’t agree more.

Torta Caprese

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp blanched almonds  
7 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3.5 ounces dark chocolate (60 or 70% cacao)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inch pan, line with parchment paper and butter again. Toast the almonds slightly and let cool. Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until they become almost like flour. (You can use almond flour if you like, it can be found at many gourmet shops in the baking department.) Melt butter and chocolate and let it rest for a few minutes. Mix together the sugars, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl until blended. Mix the cocoa powder with almond flour. Add to the chocolate/butter mixture and fold them together gently. Pour batter into the pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Let it cool slightly before you serve. Garnish will a generous dollop of whip cream and if you like, a rasberry puree. Enjoy!

Now….off to dinner! Grab a glass of red wine and put on some opera and eat up. Boun Appetito!!

P.S. I encourage you to leave comments; I would love to know what you think!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Coming Soon To Your Local Kitchen

A preview of things to come:

* Recipe specialties from Naples, Sicily, Lucca and more

* Classic Italian faire including different types of homemade pasta (Gnocchi, gnudi, ravioli, pappardelle etc), special meatballs (eggplant meatballs, sausage meatballs, tuna meatballs), risottos (Butternut squash, truffle oil, fungi) pizzas (Ricotta, mozzarella di bufala, arugula)

*New takes on Italian recipes such as sausage burgers with pesto mayonnaise, Italian BLT’s, polenta French fries

*Special Holiday menus for Easter and Christmas including The Feast of the seven fishes and Easter Pie

*My Grandmas family favorite Easter Pie will be dedicated to my Nonna and detail all information on the Easter pie, the history of our families’ pie and how to make it just like grandma
*Vegetarian and Vegan Options such as Pasta with bread crumbs, cannellini bruschetta, polenta pie

*Italian pastries like cannolis, rum cake, mascarpone cheesecake, ricotta zeppoles  

*Nutella in all its glory will showcase nutella as the star with nutella molten cakes, nutella cookies, nutella gelato

*Gelato for summer including my quest to replicate my favorite gelato which I had in Ischia, Nero fondente, a dark deep, dark, rich chocolate gelato

*Italian for breakfast with ricotta lemon pancakes, eggs with spaghetti, olive oil muffins

*Journeys to wonderful Italian neighborhoods right here in the United States from Boston to Philadelphia and more

*How and where to market for authentic Italian ingredients

*Journals from my travels to Rome, Naples and Ischia

*Adventures in New York- The Bronx’s Arthur Avenue and Williamsburg featuring family run restaurants, fresh cheese and sausage shops and bakeries

*Where you can find REAL Italian restaurants  

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Love Affair With Food

For many people, food can play a special part in our lives. When we celebrate birthdays, weddings or my favorite, Christmas, we are surrounded by food. Food is something that we can all share. We can all relate to it. Food doesn’t separate us. It brings us together. We all have to live, therefore, we all must eat. I bet if you think about a special moment in your life you will probably remember what you ate that day. 

This summer I had the pleasure of spending a month in Italy studying opera. Most of the time I was in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples (where my mother’s family is from) and the rest I was in Rome. Not only did I become more in touch with my Italian roots, but with food. Italian food.

I have loved food for as long as I can remember. It has always been a special part of my life. Some of my best memories involve food. My grandma hard at work in the kitchen making Sunday gravy, Easter pie (more on that later) and my personal favorite, fried cauliflower. My mother preparing a Christmas Eve feast for our friends. When I was little I loved to bake. Now, I love to eat and I love to cook. It’s meditation. And when the food turns out well, it’s even more rewarding. Let’s face it, in life, nothing is certain. Most things are inconsistent, jobs and relationships may come and go. Things can let you down. But food will always be there for you. After a rough day it’s nice to come home to a nice tray of baked ziti. Food makes you feel good. Simple as that. And for me, it’s Italian food. Milky fresh mozzarella, al dente penne, tender meatballs and crunchy cannolis. There’s just something about Italian food that makes me feel the way no other food makes me feel. It’s a very special feeling, so come and join me for supper and experience that same feeling. Be Italian.