Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Day 45, Kitchen Quarantine, One of Those Days

Today dawned cloudy with a bit of mist in the air, we are scheduled to have some really nice weather, but today is just grey.  With all this time on my hands, I've been thinking about some of the adventures that Dr. C. and I have had, and the tours that I have led for students.  I've written a manuscript, but so far no publisher....too many books on Italian food, too many big names writing, etc.  That's fine, but somewhere I want to share some of these amazing dishes that we've had, and so I've decided it has to be here.  I will include recipes, but probably not a lot of photos of prep unless they are essential.
Forestiera La Planeta, Menfi, Sicily
Last year, my friend Phillis and I took a group to Sicily for 10 days; it was so much fun to share this beautiful island with its magnificent scenery, food, wine, and people.  One of my favorite places was La Planeta, a wine estate on the southern coast.  This is the view from our room.  After an amazing meal that night, the next day we loaded onto the bus, and drove about 30 minutes to one of their wineries.  There are 5 wineries that they operate on different parts of the island, the climate, and topography defining the type of grapes.  

We toured the winery, as you can tell it was quite cold and grey that day.  The vines were just budding, with hardly any leaves.  After our tour, we had a little aperitivo, and then headed into lunch.  

With tours like this, we get to give the venue a list of allergies/vegetarian options, and then we are surprised by what happens next.  This day, we were served what they call a timbalo (drum) It is grilled eggplant encasing pasta mixed with a glorious tomato sauce, and caciocavallo cheese.  It is a spectacular dish and can be made ahead, popped into the oven, rests for about 15 minutes, then turned out for a spectacular presentation.  Phillis and I tried to replicate it a few times at home, and finally think we hit the right note.  Ours isn't exactly like the one we had at La Planeta but the good news is, this one is do-able whatever your cooking prowess is. 


Phillis and Diane's Timbalo
Serves 8

5 eggplant, sliced 1/2-inch thick (skin on)
1 to 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (about 2 medium)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
Two 28-ounce cans San Marzano plum tomatoes, crushed, or pureed (we pureed)
½ teaspoon fresh oregano, rinsed and finely chopped or ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
10 leaves basil, rinsed, dried and finely chopped
1 pound short tubular pasta such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 pound sliced mozzarella or caciocavallo cheese
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, finely grated

1.      Toss the eggplant slices in a couple of teaspoons of sea salt and let sit in a colander for 30 minutes in the sink.
2.      Meanwhile line a springform pan with aluminum foil and coat the inside with non-stick cooking spray.
3.      Preheat the broiler.  Line baking sheets with foil, lay the eggplant onto the foil brush with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Broil until golden brown.  Repeat using all the eggplant. 

4.      When cool enough to handle, line the pan with the eggplant, overlapping the slices slightly to cover the bottom and sides. Leave enough to make a layer in the middle and to cover the top. Leave longer slices on the sides to fold over the top when finished.
5.      Bring 8 quarts of salted water to a boil.
6.      Separately, in a large saucepan film the bottom with extra virgin olive oil, fry the garlic, onions and sundried tomatoes in the olive oil until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.
7.      Add the crushed tomatoes, cover and cook for 30 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. 

8.      Add the oregano, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
9.      Boil the pasta, cook for the amount of time indicated on the package minus about 3 minutes. Drain the pasta and mix with the tomato sauce.  You want the pasta to be wet, but not drowning.  We used about 4 cups per pound of pasta.  Any leftover can be a serving on the side.

10.  Pour half of the tomato pasta into the eggplant lined tin.
11.  Top evenly with the cheeses. We cubed the cheeses.
12.  Place a layer of sliced eggplant on top of the cheese.
13.  Add the remaining tomato pasta.
14.  Fold the long slices on the sides over the top of the pasta, filling in with the rest of the eggplant. Cover, cool and refrigerate, or bake as directed.  
You can make this the day before and refrigerate, just take it out about 1 hour before baking. 
15.  Set the pan onto a baking sheet to catch any drips. 
16.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and let sit for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate.  Slice with a serrated knife into wedges.  Serve any remaining sauce on the side. 

 Obviously, this dish is a celebration; it was served with a variety of salads, which made it a perfect meal.  It is really an ode to the classic Sicilian pasta dish, pasta alla Norma, which is also delicious.  
Planeta has some interesting wines, you can find them here in San Diego at Mona Lisa Deli.  

So it's Wednesday, at least that's what my computer tells me; when it begins to lie to me, then I'll be in trouble.  It looks like some things will begin to change here in California in the next few weeks.  I'm in no hurry, being safe and well is much more important, but those who are out of work are suffering.  If you can, try and support your local restaurants by buying gift cards, to-go food, or delivery.  Every little bit helps to keep them in business.  Stay well and stay home.  Ciao for now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Day 44, Quarantine Kitchen, Foccacia

Sunday I decided to make some focaccia dough, and let it rise overnight in the fridge.  This is my friend Jenny's basic recipe, but I tweaked it a bit.  I've been practicing with focaccia during this quarantine, using sourdough, then yeast, no-knead, you name it I've tried it, and I've finally hit the right note; a long slow rise in the fridge and copious amounts of really good olive oil.  For this one, I sprinkled some Romano cheese over it, then dimpled the dough, and sprinkled some chopped rosemary and Maldon salt over the top before liberally dousing it with olive oil.  I use Cuore Verde olive oil that I order from our family in Italy at Enoteca Properzio.  There is something satisfying about taking this gorgeous bread from the oven, and knowing that you've created magic with just flour, yeast, and water.

Jenny's No-Knead Focaccia

3 2/3 cups (550g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (375g) warm water
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons flaky salt like Maldon
Optional:  chopped rosemary (about 2 teaspoons) 1/2 cup grated cheese

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and water, until well combined.  Brush a bowl with extra virgin olive oil, turn the dough in the bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour---I've done this and my suggestion is to actually refrigerate this overnight and give it a long slow rise---the focaccia rises higher and the finished product is way superior.  
The next day, pour at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a baking pan---mine is a 12-inch all-clad skillet, Jenny suggests a cast iron skillet, which is another choice.  You can even do this on a baking sheet if you like.  Push the dough onto the oil, and make sure it goes to the rim of the baking pan.  If it's a little slow to stretch, cover it for 15 minutes, then try again.  Once the dough is in the pan, allow it to rise, covered, for 1 hour.  
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, push your knuckles into the dough to make indentations.  Pour the remaining oil over the focaccia, and sprinkle with the flaky salt.  Make sure to pretty much drench the dough with the oil, otherwise, it will be dry when you take it out of the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes, until the bottom is crispy and the top is golden brown.    Let the focaccia rest for about 20 minutes before cutting and serving.  

We had the focaccia with a huge pot of pasta with meatballs, click here for a recipe.  The wine glass photo is one of my favorites from Enoteca Properzio in Spello. We have our friends in Italy on our hearts as they navigate this virus.  
I urge you to check out my friend Jenny's blog--she tests every recipe, and they are keepers.  Her dinner rolls are our go-to for Thanksgiving, you'll never buy another roll again, and that's coming from a non-baker.  Stay safe and stay well.   

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Day 41, Quarantine Kitchen, BBQ Beef

Aperol Spritz
With the weather finally getting warmer, it felt like a good day to break out the Prosecco and Aperol for a spritz.  This is one of my favorite aperitivos and when the weather is warm, this is the best. 
I was rummaging in the freezer looking for inspiration and found a tri-tip that was looking like it might have a bit of freezer burn since the vacuum sealer hadn't quite done its job, so I grabbed it and decided to make some BBQ beef.  With a tender cut of meat like this, it's a two-step process, you have to roast the meat to medium-rare, let it rest, then slice, and bathe it in BBQ sauce in the slow cooker.  Since I've got nothing but time, I'm in, plus we hadn't had this in a very long time.  Should you want to do this with brisket, follow my directions for the pulled pork in the slow cooker.  Slice the brisket and then bathe it in the BBQ sauce. 

BBQ Tri-Tip
Serves 4 to 6 

2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Better than Bouillon beef base
One 2 pound tri-tip sirloin (this is sometimes called triangle cut)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
Two 14.5-ounce cans tomato puree or tomato sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 
Make a paste of the beef base and the garlic, rub all over the roast.  

             In an oven-proof skillet, heat two tablespoons oil, and brown the roast on both sides.  

Transfer to the oven, and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 125.  
Transfer the beef to a cutting board, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  
While the meat is roasting, make the sauce.  

In a skillet, heat the remaining oil, saute the onion, until translucent.  
Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and transfer to the insert of a slow cooker. 
When the meat has rested, slice thinly against the grain, and transfer with any accumulated juices to the slow cooker insert.  

                     Cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, or low for 6 to 8 hours.  Serve on brioche rolls.  

As we head into our 7th week of self-isolation, I continue to look for joy, and whimsy each day.  When we went for our walk today, there was more sidewalk chalk art, with words of love and encouragement.  The beaches will reopen here in San Diego on Monday, only for walking, running, surfing, and paddleboarding.  I beg all of you to be careful, stay safe, and stay home if you can.  The photos from Orange County look like no one cares about social distancing, or keeping safe.  Remember this isn't about you, it's about the person you could infect, or who could infect your family.  Stay well and stay safe.  

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Day 39, Quarantine Kitchen, Mac and Cheese

Today was a beautiful day, in the 70's and it was time to take the covers off the patio furniture, as well a few cleaning projects.  As I get to the end of the week, my enthusiasm for cooking kind of hits a wall; I'm a little tired of eating my own food, and I'm not really enthused about any of our take out options.  So, tonight, I finally decided that Mac and Cheese was going to be our dinner.  It's not really the Mac and Cheese that is key here, it's the salad, which balances the creamy cheesy mac.  So, let's get to it. 

Mac and Cheese
Serves 6

One pound cavatappi, or elbow macaroni, cooked 2 to 3 minutes short of al dente
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
13/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups milk, heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
few drops tabasco and salt
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and coat the inside of a 3-quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.
In a saucepan, melt the butter, and saute the onion, until it is translucent.  

                                              Add the flour, and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes.  

                                                    Add the broth, and bring to a boil.  

Add the milk and Worcestershire.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheddar cheese, Tabasco and season with salt if necessary.  
Add the pasta, and stir to combine.  

Transfer to the prepared pan, sprinkle with Parmigiano, and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the mac and cheese is bubbling.  
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.  
A few Cook's Notes:  You can change up the cheeses here, Pepper Jack, Asiago, and aged Gouda, are all great choices.  Sometimes, I just use up what's in the cheese drawer, mixing them.  
I use broth as about 1/2 of the liquid, it tends to lighten up the sauce. 
I use DeCecco pasta, and highly recommend it.  It's generally more expensive but worth it.  Cook it 2 to 3 minutes short of al dente, since it will cook again in the oven.  
So, yeah, it was delicious, but the balance of the salad on the side sends it into All-Star territory. 

Curried Dressing
Makes about 2 cups

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.  
This dressing is great over butter lettuce, romaine, and field greens. It is also delicious when stirred into chicken salad, or rice salads. 

As we are all hanging on, I hope that you are safe and well.  Take care of yourself and your family.  

Monday, April 20, 2020

Day 36, I Think It's Monday, Quarantine Kitchen, Corn-n-Tine Chowder


Every day, I'm looking for whimsy; things that make me smile, and give me hope.  Today on our walk, someone had left painted rocks along our route, and they made me smile.  There were also chalk drawings every 1/4 mile from the teachers at our local elementary school saying that the teachers were missing their students.  Our world seems upside down, yet, kindness and love can be found if your eyes are open. 
There were lots of clouds today, when we went for our walk, it was cooler than predicted.  Living by the coast, the winds here can reduce the temperature a few degrees.  So, it was a great day for soup.  Another (almost) pantry meal, served with salad and bread, in this case, cheddar biscuits, it's a great meal.
Corn-n-Tine Chowder
Serves 6

5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
5 medium red or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
One 16-ounce package frozen corn, defrosted, or 4 cups fresh cut from the cob
1 cup whole milk, 1/2 and 1/2 or heavy cream
salt and pepper

Put the broth into a saucepan, add the potatoes and carrots bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes, until barely tender.  

Drain the vegetables, saving the broth.  

In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon until it is crisp.  Add the onion, celery and thyme, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onion is softened.  

                                   Add the flour, and whisk, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes.  

                         Add the reserved broth, whisking until the mixture comes to a boil.  

Add the reserved potatoes, carrots, and corn.  Bring to a simmer, and simmer for 10 minutes.  

At this point, you can cool, cover and refrigerate the soup, or add the milk, season with salt and pepper and serve.  
If you make this ahead, bring the soup to a boil, add the milk, and simmer for 10 minutes.  
As you can see, you have a really thick soup before putting the milk, 1/2&1/2, or cream into the soup, so if you want to keep it dairy-free, just add a bit more broth.  
Cook's Note:  If you don't want to use the bacon, start your saute off with 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter and proceed as directed.  
As we start another week, I'll have to make a grocery run this week for fresh veg, and a few other things I can't live without---I'm talking to you chocolate.  Please continue to support your local restaurants, and to follow the social distancing guidelines.  We walk wearing masks, there are enough people that we see along the way, that I want to make sure we are all safe.  So, stay safe, stay well, and stay home.  Ciao for now.