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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Timballo alla Nettie

Ciao a tutti!! I’m very excited to share that I have been invited to be a La Cucina Italiana Blogger Ambassador. La Cucina Italiana is an amazing magazine dedicated to Italian cuisine, it’s one of my favorites!! My first “assignment” was to create an original pasta dish using one of three cuts of Delverde Pasta that I was sent. I went with the Mezzi Rigatoni for my….drum roll please….Timballo!!

A Timballo is an Italian dish made with baked pasta and whatever delicious ingredients you want to add.  Meat? Why not! Veggies? Sure! Cheese? But of course! There really are no limits, that’s part of the fun. Every family has their own version and this is mine, which I named after my late Nonna Nettie. I made my Timballo encased in beautiful, thin slices of grilled eggplant. Inside, you will find wonderful layers of different textures, flavors and all around deliciousness. There is a layer of the Delverde Mezzi Rigatoni with some of the liquid from my Bolognese, there is a layer of Bolognese and there is a layer of a ricotta and parmigiana blend. Buon Appetito!!

Timballo alla Nettie

The Bolognese Layer

4 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ pound of ground beef, at room temperature
6 Italian sausage links, casing removed
½ pound of chicken
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups meat broth, preferably homemade
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups concentrated tomato puree

Put garlic, celery, onions and carrots in a food processor and process until very finely chopped. Add oil and butter to a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Let melt. Add the finely chopped vegetables, sprinkle with half of the salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until softened and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Add the ground beef and sausage, breaking apart as much as possible. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat looks fully cooked, about 30 minutes.  Add the white wine and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Add the broth. Add the chicken and allow to cook for an additional ½ hour. When the chicken is cooked, take it out and chop very finely. Put the chicken back in the pan. Add the cream and tomato puree. Bring to a simmer and then reduce. Let the ragu cook 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning. You can allow it to sit as long as you have time for so the flavor really develops. While that is cooking, start preparing your eggplant…

The Eggplant Layer

2 large eggplants
4 tbsp. olive oil

First, you will want to clean your eggplant. Next, using a mandoline, cut your eggplant holding it on its side in long thin strips. Once you have cut enough eggplant, prepare a large grill pan with the olive oil and begin grilling your eggplant. Just briefly grill it so the eggplant is cooked through, since the eggplant is thin, it will cook pretty quickly. Once you are done grilling all of the eggplant, put the slices on a plate to cool. After around ten minutes, you can start making the eggplant “encasing” for the Timballo.

You will want to use a very large cake pan, preferably one with a removable bottom, the one I used was a 9 by 5 inch cake pan. You will first want to spray the cake pan with a non-stick spray. First, start draping some of the eggplant slices over the rim on the pan, overlapping with each other to cover the entire side of the pan and hanging over the rim. Once the entire rim is covered, start layering the slices on the bottom, making sure it is completely covered. The idea is to have enough eggplant hanging off of the side so you can then “close” the timballo. Save a few slices to top the timballo with.

Now you can prepare your Ricotta Parmigiana Layer…

The Ricotta Parmigiana Layer

1 cup of ricotta
½ cup of parmigiana
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tbsp. dried mixed Italian seasonings
1 egg, beaten

In a medium size bowl, add your ricotta, parmigiana, salt, pepper, dried Italian seasonings and egg. Thoroughly mix. Now start preparing the pasta..

The Pasta Layer

1 box of Delverde Mezzi Rigatoni

Start boiling a large pot of salted water. Put your pasta in when it is boiling and cook until al dente. Drain and put the pasta back in the pan and add some of the Bolognese….there will be a lot of “liquid” that almost separates from the Bolognese itself because of all the fat from the meat, use a lot of that to cover the pasta! Now it’s time to assemble the Timballo!!

Assembling the Timballo alla Nettie

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Put your cake pan with the already prepared eggplant on a sturdy surface. Start off pouring a layer of the pasta in the cake pan, covering the eggplant surface. Fill with around 2 inches of pasta. Then add a layer of the Bolognese, around 2 inches. Then add an inch of the Ricotta Parmigiana Mix. Top with a little more pasta. Then, using the eggplant that is draping over the side of the pan, bring it over the pasta, almost “closing” it. Then use your additional eggplant slices to cover the Timballo. Make sure it is covered with eggplant so nothing leaks out. Put the Timballo on a baking sheet and put in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. When it is done, take it out and allow it to cool for at least half an hour before slicing and serving. When those 30 minutes are FINALLY over, cut yourself a big slice and enjoy!! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fried Polenta Bites with Butternut Squash Mascarpone Mousse and Crispy Speck

Ciao a tutti!! I am so sorry for not posting for a while, things have been hectic. Between a recent family vacation, preparing for culinary school in Italy at the end of next month, an active social life and my fabulous internship with Feast on History, I've been pretty busy. But that’s the way I like it!! As I mentioned, I’m an intern with an amazing company called Feast on History where I recently got to help develop recipes and cook for their Feast of the Seven Fishes which was HUGE SUCCESS!! The kitchen space they used was so beautiful; it actually inspired me to use it for my own upcoming event!!! For more than a year, I have been toying around with the idea of doing a supper club. But where to do it? I didn't want to do it in my own apartment and all of the spaces I found where way too big for what I needed.

When I saw this space, I felt like Goldilocks. Not too bag, not too small, it was just right. So, I will be inviting close friends to this first event to get some feedback...it will be a Masquerade Pop Up Dinner tied in with Halloween. The theme is good vs. evil, as is showcased in the menu. Sweet, light and luscious vs. rich, spicy and indulgent. Eventually my plan is for people to purchase a ticket for the event, but I want to do a few test runs and receive some feedback first. For those that interested in the underground dining scene, does this sound like something that might interest you in the future? PLEASE COMMENT AND LET ME KNOW! So, I would like to share with you one of my recipes that will be served at my Masquerade….Fried Polenta Bites with Butternut Squash Mascarpone Mousse and Crispy Speck…fried carbs  with a light, sweet mousse topped with a piece of smoky cured Italian meat…how good does that sound?

Fried Polenta Bites with Butternut Squash Mascarpone Mousse and Crispy Speck

Butternut Squash Mascarpone Mousse

1 Butternut Squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup of mascarpone
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. dried rosemary
1 tbsp. crushed Aleppo chili

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with foil. Clean and cut your butternut squash in half. You will want to remove all of the seeds and “guts. ”Rub with olive oil and top with 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Roast for 2-3 hours or until the butternut squash is tender. Scoop out the butternut squash and put it in a food processor (if you have a Vitamix, use the Vitamix, I swear by this thing!!). Process until smooth and creamy and no fibers remain. Add your mascarpone, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, dried rosemary and Aleppo chili. Puree until thoroughly combined and smooth. Put the butternut squash mascarpone mousse in a container to chill for 3 hours.

Fried Polenta

1 ½ cups of polenta
4 cups of water
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tbsp. crushed Aleppo chili
1 cup of neutral oil (canola, peanut)
1 cup of flour

Prepare 4 cups of water in a medium size deep pot over high heat. While waiting for the water, butter a casserole dish. When water is boiling, add your polenta and stir with a wooden spoon for five minutes. You want to get the polenta nice and smooth. Add salt, pepper, dried rosemary and Aleppo chili. Pour the polenta into the casserole dish and spread so it is even. Put it in the refrigerator to chill for two-three hours.

When the polenta is done “chilling”, take it out to fry. In a medium size pan over medium-high heat, heat your oil. Cut your polenta into 1 inch squares and lightly drench in the flour. Put in the oil and fry on each side for three minutes. Continue doing this with all of the polenta bites.

Fried Speck

6 slices of speck
1 tsp. olive oil

In a medium size pan over medium heat, add your olive oil. When it is hot, fry your speck very briefly, around 2-3 minutes. Take it out of the pan and allow to cool before breaking the speck into small pieces.
Assembling the bites:

Take one of the polenta squares and using a small ice cream scoop, scoop some of the butternut squash mascarpone onto it. Top with a small piece of fried speck. Buon Appetito!!