Sunday, November 18, 2018

Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Sides

Thanksgiving week is upon us, it's only Sunday, so relax and start cooking now so that on Thanksgiving you can just roast the turkey and relax with your family and friends.  For years I've taught my Do-Ahead Thanksgiving classes to sold out cooking schools.  Although the menu has never changed (you can find the recipes in my book Perfect Party Food) this year, I've decided to give you a few more ideas for sides which are really my favorite part of the meal.  Dr. C, our son and I are in Maui for the NCAA basketball tournament, and I will be cooking dinner here in a condo on Kaanapali on Thursday. 
Brussels sprouts had never been a favorite until I tried this recipes, now it's a go-to.  Roasting the sprouts brings out the sweetness in in the vegetables, pancetta provides crispy salty nuggets and the balsamic vinegar balances the whole thing.  Make sure to buy an aged balsamic from Modena. 

Holiday Brussels Sprouts
Serves 6

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
one 1/2-inch slice pancetta, cut into a fine dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cut into quarters
salt and pepper
1/3 cup aged balsamic vinegar

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with silicone, aluminum foil or parchment.
  2. In a bowl, combine the oil, pancetta, garlic, sprouts, salt and pepper.
  3. Spread the sprouts onto the baking sheet in an even layer.  
  4. Roast for 10 minutes, turn, and roast another 5 to 7 minutes until the sprouts are just al dente.  
  5. Remove from the oven, transfer to a serving bowl, and drizzle with the vinegar, tossing to coat.  
  6. Serve warm.  
  7. Do-Ahead:  When roasting, in step 4, roast for a total of 13 minutes, 10 to begin, turn and roast another 3 minutes.  Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.  Reheat in a skillet before proceeding.  

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6 to 8
This is a delicious soup to keep warm in your slow cooker.  Refrigerate the finished soup for up to 4 days, or freeze it (without the cream) for up to 2 months.  

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped peeled and cored Granny Smith apple
8 cups cubed butternut squash
2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
8 strips bacon, cooked crisp, and crumbled
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, line 2 baking sheets with silicone, aluminum foil, or parchment.  
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oil, onion, apple, squash, thyme, and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for 15 to 20 minutes until the squash is soft when pierced with the tip of a sharp paring knife.  
  3. Transfer the mixture to a Dutch oven, add the broth and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  
  4. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, add the cream, and bring to the soup to serving temperature.  
  5. Garnish each serving with crispy bacon.  
  6. Do-Ahead:  Prepare the soup through step 3, puree the soup, cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.  Reheat on the stove top add the cream and bring to serving temperature.  

Do-Ahead Cornbread Dressing
Serves 6 to 8

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 pound prosciutto, finely diced
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 firm pears, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
8 cups crumbled cornbread (use your favorite recipe)
4 to 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cups of the butter, and saute the prosciutto until it is crispy.
  2. Add the onion, celery, pears, thyme and sage leaves, and saute until the vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes.  
  3. Put the cornbread into a large bowl, add the onion prosciutto mixture, adding 3 to 4 cups of chicken broth,until the dressing holds together.  
  4. Coat the inside of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Transfer the dressing to the casserole, melt the remaining butter and drizzle over the dressing.  At this point you can cool, cover and refrigerate the dressing for up to 3 days.  
  5. Bring to room temperature and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the dressing is golden brown.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.  

One of my favorite desserts, that's easy and delicious is my mother's apple pie cake.  Basically apples seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, covered with a buttery pecan pour over crust that baked up into crispy topped apple pie.  This can be made the day before serving, or you can make the components and then bake while you are eating Thanksgiving dinner.  The photo doesn't do it justice, just trust me here that it's worth peeling the apples.  My favorite gadget peels cores and the apples in no time, or you can have your kids do it for you---it's endless entertainment!

Mom's Apple Pie Cake
Serves 6 

For the Apples
1 1/2 pounds apples, cored, peeled, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1.      To make the apple mixture, toss together the apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl.
For the Batter

3/4 cup unsalted butter melted
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup pecan halves

1.      Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.  Transfer the apples to the prepared pan.
2.      To mix the batter, combine the melted butter, flour, sugar, eggs, and pecans, stirring until blended. Pour over the apples and bake until the top is crisp and golden, and the apples are bubbling underneath, 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

3.      Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with unsweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.  I'm grateful to all those
colleagues who have worked with me over the years, as well as the students who 
keep coming back for classes.  You make my days when I am on the road.  
Aloha and mahalo.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fendi: Fashion and Wine

Several years ago, we had the pleasure of eating lunch with the enologist and the owner of Tenuta Le Corgne, Andrea Formilli Fendi at Enoteca Properzio. 
The winery was getting started, and the enologist was speaking about the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Noir that they were producing at that time, about 300 bottles.  This year we were fortunate enough to visit the winery, Tenuta Le Corgne in the Northern Umbrian town of Valfabricca.  You don't just drop into vineyards like this, you have to be invited, and getting there is an adventure since the road is narrow, twisty and mostly gravel. 
Fendi, is a luxury brand specializing in fashion and leather goods.  They were founded in 1925 by Adele and Edoardo Fendi.  The next generation were 5 daughters.  If you know anything about Italy, you know that the men usually take over the family business, but since there was no male heir, the girls continued the brands' overwhelming success.  Franca Fendi's son, Andrea decided to grow grapes at the estate his mother had bought in the 1990's.  Originally a country estate where the family would gather for holidays, now the estate is an organic vineyard producing world class wines. 

 The winery sits on a hill overlooking a valley, with only 24 acres of vineyards, growing Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Merlot.  They have a few acres in Montefalco as well, growing some Sagrantino and Trebbiano Spoletino.
As you can tell it was a rainy, windy day up on the hill, and we were soon inside the winery discussing the process with the enologist, Martin.  Martin explained that the winery is all organic, the detris from the grape crush is put back into the limestone sandy soil, and to quote him, "this paradise must be maintained, not destroyed." 

Oak from Burgundy for the barrels

The grape crush had happened, and we were smelling the fermentation process as we came into the room filled with tanks.  This year there will be about 90,000 bottles of wine produced.  This wine will be hard to come by in the States, most is shipped within Europe and Asia.  

Our guide through the winery, Martin

Martin is the enologist at Formilli Fendi, and he is a genius.  If you have an opportunity to sample these wines, you will be amazed.  The Sauvignon Blanc is truly delightful, with a nose of white flowers, and citrus...many times a Sauvignon Blanc will be flat without any real flavor, acid or balance.  

We moved into the tasting room, and were surrounded by art, and wine; my favorite things

The door from the tasting room is historic, since it is the door to the original Fendi store in Rome

This white wine is Trebbiano Spoletino (indigenous to Umbria) and a bit of Sauvignon Blanc

Casa Franca is 50% Sagrantino, almost 50% Sangiovese and a bit of Merlot

Of course we tried these wines, and loved them, each with a distinctive nose and characteristics that make them unique and definitely worth buying if you can find them.  If you are in Italy, stop by Enoteca Properzio, they carry the wines and are happy to pour them for you.  

Another reason to love the Fendi family is that they provided 2.2 million Euro to restore the Trevi fountain in Rome.  
Our afternoon ended with us trundling down the hill to lunch with the administrator of the winery.  Grazie Tenuta Le Corgne for an unforgettable day.  

Sunday, October 14, 2018

White Lasagna with Sausage and Truffles

Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy because it is land-locked; it doesn't border another country or either coast.  Often bypassed by visitors for it's more glittering neighbor, Tuscany, Umbria has a wealth of history predating the Romans, amazing scenery and magnificent cuisine.  The culinary treasures here are black and white truffles, pork in any iteration, pecorino cheese, black celery and cippolini that earn a DOC seal, lentils, farro, olive oil, and Sagrantino wines all contribute to the bounty of delicious foods that are served not only in homes but in the restaurants and shops. 
A week ago, Dr. C. and I were invited to a dinner in Todi at a friends' house.  She confessed that she hadn't made the lasagna, but had bought it at their favorite pasta shop---I'm all for making things easy, and this lasagna was memorable.  Thin sheets of pasta sandwiched with pork sausage, in a creamy truffle sauce.  I have dreamed of this pasta for a week, and today decided to make it.  It's Sunday and that calls for something special for Sunday lunch, the UK isn't the only place that reveres a Sunday lunch.
Yesterday Dr. C. and I traveled to Bevagna to Scottadito Tagliavento to pick up some sausages for the lasagna and ended up with a bisteka for last night's dinner. 

I'd say that for the sausage we used about 1/2 pound removed from the casings for the lasagna. Here in Umbria the sausage is made with pork, salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of garlic, but not a lot. 
This is a pretty simple dish to put together, and all the components can be made ahead then put together and baked. 

My friend who was serving the lasagna gifted me with this black truffle, Mama Mia!

White Lasagna with Black Truffles
Serves 6
I know not everyone has access to fresh truffles; rather than using truffle oil, which is usually made in laboratories, I'd suggest sauteing some meaty mushrooms like cremini, or if you can find them porcini, dice them finely or shave them, you want them to dissolve into the sauce.  

1/2 pound sweet Italian pork sausage, removed from the casing
1/4 cup unsalted butter or olive oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 to 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (if you aren't using truffles, use 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup shaved black truffle
salt and pepper
Fresh pasta to make 3 layers, or 9 Barilla no boil lasagna noodles
sliced soft pecorino cheese for garnish (if you can't find it, use Asiago)

In a skillet cook the sausage until it is no longer pink, breaking up any large pieces.  Drain and set aside to cool.

In a saucepan melt the butter, add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes to cook the flour.

Add the broth and milk, and whisk until the mixture comes back to a boil.  

Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and truffles, season with salt and pepper if necessary.  

Coat the inside of a 13-by-9-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Ladle some of the sauce into the pan, and spread to cover the bottom.  

lay a sheet of pasta over the sauce, and ladle a bit of the sauce over the pasta.  Top with 1/2 of the sausage.  

Top with a layer of pasta, sauce, and the remaining sausage. 
Lay the last 3 pieces of pasta on top, spread the remaining sauce on the top and spread the soft pecorino over the sauce.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes until the lasagna is bubbling, and the cheese is golden brown.  Allow the lasagna to rest for 10 minutes before cutting. 
Do-Ahead: The entire lasagna can be assembled 48 hours ahead of time, bring to room temperature and bake.  Since truffles are so delicate, I probably wouldn't freeze this, but you could.

This is a rich lasagna, studded with nuggets of pork and redolent of truffle and pecorino, the perfect way to enjoy Umbria on a Sunday afternoon.  We served it with a salad dressed with red wine vinegar (to cut the richness) and a white Grecchetto.  And, I have enough truffle left over to make this again before we leave.  Now it's time for a walk and a gelato.  Ciao for now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Good Day for Soup

Wednesday is market day in Spello; unfortunately, since Spello is a very small town, the market here is more flea market than produce market.  There are only 2 produce sellers, the rest sell clothing, shoes, and plants.
My guy talks non-stop to the buyers, and is a lovely man.  Happy to sell you his wares, and also adding what he thinks you'll need for your meal.  Since I was gifted with a few zucchini and an onion from a friend, I wanted to make a minestrone.  That necessitated a few more ingredients from the frutivendolo.  As I was making my purchases he asked if I wanted the black celery from Trevi a nearby town that has a DOP (denomination of protected origin) designation for its special celery---it is aromatic and delicious, so of course I chose it, after that he was putting extra carrots and parsley and onions into my bags.  The celery isn't actually black, they cover the root end, and the chlorophyll goes to the leaves, which turn a very dark green. There is an annual festival in Trevi celebrating the sedano nero.


Here pepperoni is the vegetable, not the meat on a pizza



Golden delicious apples from the north

Gala apples from the north

Really new potatoes


Beautiful flowers

Serves an army
Let me just say that you can sub in your favorite vegetables here, I usually use escarole, but the heads he had were as big as my head, and I didn't need that much, so I picked up some spinach instead.  Pancetta is also optional, perfectly acceptable to leave it out.  Minestrone means without stock but I used chicken for this one.  You can use water if you prefer, the fresher the vegetables the better your soup will be. 

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
one 1/4-inch piece pancetta finely diced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (today I'm using the DOP cippolini from Cannara)
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery with leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup chopped spinach
1/2 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup diced zucchini
1/4 cup pearl barley
1/4 cup small lentils
salt and pepper

Lining up the ingredients
  1. In a Dutch oven heat the oil, and saute the pancetta until it is almost crisp.  Add the onion, carrots, and celery, and season with salt and pepper.  Saute for 5 minutes until the onion is softened.  
  2. Add the broth, spinach beans, zucchini, barley and lentils and simmer, partially covered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the barley and lentils are softened.  
  3. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.  
Bubbling on the stove top
After our lunch, we took our afternoon stroll and ended up in the piazza and had a gelato to celebrate having such a healthy lunch. 

Ciao for now.