Posts Tagged ‘gluten-free’

Easiest grilled squid, with a nod to Spain

On our Spain tours we’ve enjoyed some amazing seafood. Spaniards (like Sicilians) cook squid and octopus fearlessly, and most of the time it’s tender and delicious, with none of that “rubber-eraser” texture. I’ve always been a bit afraid to cook them at home due to that risk. However, last weekend we decided to throw caution to the wind and cook a squid appetizer on the grill!

I took the easy way out; I bought fresh squid from the fishmonger that was already cleaned and ready to go. We patted it very dry with paper towels first, both inside and out.

Then we marinated it for about 15 minutes, in a quarter cup each of extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt.

Drying the cleaned squid.

Drying the cleaned squid.

Marinating.

Marinating.

The grill was fairly hot, and we used a grill tray that had had time to heat up over the coals. Then we put the squid on the grill and cooked it for 2 minutes on each side. If your grill was hotter than ours was, you’d be able to cook it for even less time. We knew it was time to flip it or to pull it off when the outside started to bubble and turn lightly golden.

As soon as we pulled it off the grill, we brushed on a little more olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, and sprinkled with a little fresh parsley.

On the hot grill tray.

On the hot grill tray.

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

And then we devoured it. Here’s Elph having the kind of late-summer-discussion over great food and wine that helps us make it through the long winter to come.

Good food, wine, and conversation!

Good food, wine, and conversation!

Spanish Membrillo – a quince paste your Manchego cheese is begging for

While visiting Spain earlier this year (working on creating two new Zingerman’s Food Tours), I got to taste a wonderful fruit-paste-and-manchego-cheese appetizer. I learned that the fruit paste was called Membrillo, and is made from fresh quince.

The taste stayed with me, and when I got back to Michigan after leading the fall Tuscany tour I decided to try making Membrillo myself. (The full recipe is at the bottom of the post, following the photos.)

First, you need to get ahold of some ripe quince. Your neighbors may have a quince tree or bush, or speciality produce stores should carry them in the fall. Make sure to get quince that are ripe – they are yellow and smell good – kind of like a ripe apple-pear aroma with a bit of pineapple thrown in. They are very hard even when ripe. I washed them and peeled them. (The recipe I used called for peeling them; I also made quince jelly, a different recipe, and for that one I did not need to peel the fruit.)

Ripe quince

Ripe quince

Peeled - they look and feel like peeled apples

Peeled – they look and feel like very firm peeled apples

Then, you cut the fruit off the core (or use a corer if you have one), and chop it roughly. Put it in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add several strips of carefully-cut lemon zest (you don’t want the white pith), and a vanilla bean pod that has been slit lengthwise, and water to cover. Bring to a boil, and simmer until the quince is soft, about 30-40 minutes.

Chopped quince

Chopped quince

Add water, a vanilla bean, and strips of lemon zest

Add water, a vanilla bean pod, and strips of lemon zest

I really enjoy the aroma of quince – while cooking it made the whole house smell fruity. Once soft, you drain the quince, discard the vanilla bean but keep the zest in with the quince. Then puree it (I used a blender), and measure how much puree you end up with so you know how much sugar to add.

Blending the quince

Blending the quince

Quince puree

Quince puree

Return the quince puree to the heavy-bottomed pot, with the heat on medium-low. Measure out the same amount of sugar as quince puree, and stir it in. When the sugar has completely dissolved, stir in the lemon juice. Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour to an hour and a half. (This reminded me of cooking really good grits – I needed to find tasks to do near the kitchen where I could just pop up and stir the pot every few minutes and then go back to what I was doing.) The color will change from yellow to a deep orange, and it will get quite thick.

Quince puree with the sugar just added

Quince puree with the sugar just added

Quince puree after 1.5 hours

Quince puree after 1.5 hours

While the puree cooks, preheat the oven to 125. Butter some parchment paper well, and line a small baking pan with it. (I used a torte pan but a small square or round baking pan would be fine, 8 x 8 or 9 x 9.) Pour the quince paste in to the parchment-paper-lined pan. I used a spatula to smooth out the paste, so it was even.

Buttered parchment paper in a torte pan

Buttered parchment paper in a torte pan

The quince paste after being poured in to the baking pan

The quince paste after being poured in to the baking pan

Then I put the quince in the oven to dry for about 1.5 hours. I took it out and let it cool, before wrapping it in plastic wrap and keeping it in the fridge. The sugar in it meant that it lasted several weeks, and it was a great excuse to buy several kinds of aged cheeses to eat slices of the membrillo with. We ate the membrillo with an aged Spanish Manchego (which is sheep’s milk cheese), a cheese called Calcagno, which is another aged raw sheep’s milk cheese from Sardinia, and it was also really good with Challer-Hocker – a cow’s milk cheese that is softer than those other two – a mountain-style cheese from Switzerland. Yum. Recipe follows, enjoy!

The cooled membrillo, ready to wrap up and put in the fridge.

The cooled membrillo, ready to wrap up and put in the fridge.

The membrillo on a cheese platter - it was definitely a hit.

A wedge of the membrillo on a cheese platter – it was definitely a hit.

Spanish Membrillo
(with thanks to SimplyRecipes dot com for the recipe that I started with!)

INGREDIENTS
approx 4 pounds quince, washed, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
1 vanilla pod, split
4 strips of lemon peel – only the yellow, no pith – about 1/2 inch by 1 inch each.
3 Tbsp lemon juice
About 4 cups of granulated sugar, exact amount depends on how much quince puree you end up with

DIRECTIONS

Place quince pieces in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are soft (30-40 minutes).

Strain out the water, discard the vanilla pod, but keep the lemon peel with the quince. Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or using a food mill. Measure the quince purée. Whatever amount of quince purée you have, that’s how much sugar you will need. So if you have 4 cups of purée, you’ll need 4 cups of sugar. Return the quince purée to the large pan. Heat to medium-low. Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice.

Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the quince paste is very thick and has a deep orange color.

While the puree cooks, reheat oven to low (125°F, or 52°C). Line a 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of butter. Pour the cooked quince paste into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the oven for about 1 to 1.5 hours to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool.

To serve, cut into squares, slices, or wedges and present with Manchego (or other flavorful) cheese. To eat, take a small slice of the membrillo and spread it on top of a slice of the cheese. Store by wrapping in plastic wrap and keeping in the refrigerator.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

I love ginger in almost any form. A few years ago a friend gave me this recipe for chewy ginger-molasses cookies with chunks of candied ginger in them, and they’ve become one of my all-time favorite cookies. And, they’re easy to make with either regular flour, or, gluten-free flour.

I’ve posted the regular recipe below, and a note at the bottom with what flours I used when I made a gluten-free version. Enjoy!

After you make the dough, you roll small balls of it in sugar.

After you make the dough, you roll small balls of it in sugar.

You need to take them off the cookie sheets right away when they're done, so they don't keep cooking.

You need to take them off the cookie sheets right away when they’re done, so they don’t keep cooking.

RECIPE: Chewy Ginger Cookies

INGREDIENTS:

– 2 cup all purpose flour
– 2 teaspoons baking soda
– 2 teaspoons ground ginger
– 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1 stick melted butter
– 1/4 cup dark molasses (I used sorghum since my friend makes it on his farm, very good stuff)
– 1/2 cup white sugar, plus more for rolling the balls of dough in
– 1/2 cup light brown sugar
– 1 large egg
– 1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped very small

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the first 6 ingredients (the dry ones) together and set aside. Then put the rest of the ingredients in a mixer bowl, except the crystallized ginger. Mix on medium-low speed, and gradually add the dry mixture. At the last minute add the crystallized ginger. Scoop out by scant tablespoons, roll into a ball, roll lightly in regular white sugar (not powdered sugar), and put on parchment paper (optional) on a cookie sheet. Bake for exactly 10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

GLUTEN-FREE VERSION

Instead of the 2 cups of regular flour, I used 1 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup sorghum flour, and 1/2 cup tapioca flour, and I added 1 teaspoon of Xanthan gum.

French Sorrel Soup, with a nod to Julia Child

Sorrel is one of the very first plants to come up in the spring in my front yard, and after only a few weeks it’s so prolific I have plenty to make soup with, as well as to enjoy in salads. So, last weekend I made my first batch of sorrel soup, based on Julia Child’s recipe.

First, you pick the leaves (or buy them from the farmer’s market), and chop them fairly small. Admire the lively green color of the fresh leaves – as soon as you start to cook them they turn a very drab green (but don’t worry, they still retain their intense lemon taste!).

01 whole-sorrel-leaves

Whole sorrel leaves

02 chopped-sorrel

The sorrel rinsed, dried, and chopped.

Then you chop up your scallions or ramps or other mild onion, and cook gently for 10 minutes in a covered pot.

03 chopped-scallions

Chopped scallions

04 cooking-scallions

Cooking the scallions slowly

Add the chopped sorrel to the pot, and cook gently for another 10 minutes or so. Then stir in a bit of flour (I used a gluten-free rice flour.)

06 added-sorrel-leaves

Sorrel added to the scallions

07 added-the-flou

Adding the flour and stirring

While the sorrel leaves are cooking, bring broth to a simmer in another small pot. And, whisk together the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl.

05 heating-the-broth

Bringing the homemade chicken broth to a simmer

08 eggs

Egg yolks and cream whisked together

Whisk the hot broth in to the soup, stirring constantly. When this has come to a simmer, ladle a little soup into the bowl of egg yolk and cream, whisking constantly so it does not curdle, and repeat this two more times.

09 soup-ready-for-the-eggs

The broth added in to the soup and brought to a simmer

10 tempering-eggs

Whisking a little of the hot broth into the egg-cream mixture

Then you can slowly add the egg-cream mixture in to the soup, whisking the whole time. Let it cook at the lowest heat for a few minutes; don’t let it come up to a simmer or boil. Serve at once; I like to sprinkle it with a little bit of fresh chopped sorrel. And I enjoyed it with a dry rosé, preferably dining al fresco! Ah, spring. Recipe follows.

11 adding-eggs-to-soup

Slowly adding the tempered cream and egg yolks to the soup

12 finished-soup

Time to eat!

INGREDIENTS
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup green onions, ramps, or other mild onion, chopped
4-6 packed cups green sorrel, chopped, and keep a couple tablespoons to the side for serving
salt
3 tablespoons flour
1 quart chicken stock
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup cream

DIRECTIONS

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the green onions or ramps and turn the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and cook gently for 10 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, pour the stock into another pot and bring to a simmer.

Turn the heat up in the pot with the green onions, add the sorrel leaves and a healthy pinch of salt to the green onions and stir well. When the sorrel is mostly wilted, turn the heat back to medium-low, cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Mix in the flour and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.

Whisk in the hot stock, stirring constantly. Bring this to a simmer.

To finish the soup, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Temper the mixture by ladling a little soup into it with one hand, while you whisk the egg-cream mix with the other. Repeat this three times. (You are doing this to prevent the eggs from scrambling) Now start whisking the soup. Pour the hot egg-cream-soup mixture into the pot with the soup, whisking all the way. Let this cook — below a simmer — for 5 minutes. Do not let it boil or the soup will break. Serve at once. I like to garnish with a little shredded sorrel, and ideally a little drizzle of a fantastic olive oil on top.

Orange Almond-Polenta Cake

My cousin made this delicious, gluten-free cake for her birthday party last weekend, and provided the recipe to the many of us who asked for it! (Via a cook book called Homemade, by Yvetter Van Boven. Recipe below.) In the ingredients it has hints of both Piedmont (polenta) and Sicily (almonds and oranges).

The raspberries on top made it especially festive.

For the cake:
2 whole oranges
juice of one lemon
half cup polenta
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vanilla sugar (I just used half tsp vanilla)
1 cup almonds finely ground
6 eggs
One and a quarter cups sugar

To garnish
2-3 oranges
half cup apricot jam
raspberries – optional

Cook the 2 oranges whole (unpeeled) for 1 hour in plenty of water. When nearly done, preheat oven to 350. Leave oranges to cool fully, then roughly chop, removing the seeds. Place in food processor, and blitz with lemon juice. Stir in polenta, baking powder, and vanilla, then the ground almonds. In another bowl, beat the eggs with sugar into fine white foam. Carefully fold the polenta mixture into the airy egg foam and pour into a throughly greased 10 inch cake pan. Bake for 45 mins to 1 hour. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack to cool fully.

Peel the additional 2-3 oranges for the garnish, removing pith, and slice into thin rounds. Cover top of cake with oranges. Heat jam and pour over cake (there was something about adding gelatin too, but I skipped this), and then I added raspberries to make it look even prettier! Enjoy!

Dan Dan Noodles

I was inspired by a friend’s facebook post, and by a craving for noodles, to try making Dan Dan noodles, a Chinese Sichuan dish. The list of ingredients was really appealing to me – I love ginger, tahini, vinegar, and spice, so I knew it would be up my alley. And it was really easy! (The full recipe is at the end of the post.)

First I had to decide on the noodles; since I needed them to be gluten-free. I wanted to try something other than rice noodles, so, I picked up some pure Buckwheat noodles from Eden Foods. Pricey, but tasty, and high in protein. Step 1 in the recipe was cooking them, carefully tasting every minute after the first 8 minutes to make sure they did not overcook, and then rinsing them in cold water to stop the cooking.

Cooking the buckwheat noodles

Rinsing the cooked noodles in cold water

Next up was browning the pork, then adding the ginger, and then the rest of the ingredients except for the garnish, letting it cook for a few more minutes, until thickened. Then I poured it all on top of the noodles in a glass bowl, garnished with fresh scallion and fresh peanuts, and dinner was ready. Super-quick and delicious. (I served it with a quick bok choy stir fry, which I will post about shortly.)

Browning the pork, before adding the other ingredients

Dinner, with garnishes, in 20 minutes total. Yum.

Recipe follows, enjoy! -Jillian

Dan Dan Noodles
(Based on a recipe from a 2011 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.)
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

– 8 ounces Shanghai style noodles or udon (I used buckwheat noodles)
– 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
– 12 ounces ground pork
– kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
– 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped, peeled
– 3/4 cup chicken stock
– 2 tablespoons chili oil, or less. (I used 1 teaspoon chili paste since I did not have chili oil)
– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
– 2 tablespoons soy sauce
– 4 teaspoons tahini
– 1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns
– 1 pinch sugar
– 2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
– 2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

METHOD:

1. Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water until just tender but still firm to the bite. Drain; transfer to a large bowl of ice water and let stand until cold. Drain well and divide between 2 bowls.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add pork, season with salt and pepper, and stir, breaking up pork with a spoon, until halfway cooked, about 2 minutes. Add ginger; cook until pork is cooked through and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and next 6 ingredients; simmer until sauce thickens, about 7 minutes. Pour pork mixture over noodles; garnish with peanuts and scallions.

Ricotta-Spinach Gnocchi Roll

Or, more prettily in Italian: Rotolo di Gnocchi con Spinaci. The original recipe is from Autumn in Piemonte: Food and Travels in Italy’s Northwest, by Manuela Darling-Gansser.

I made this recipe last weekend, with logistics help and moral support from Elph and a couple friends who were over! It was a bit tricky, so I’ll post the recipe first, with pictures at the end once you have more of an idea what the process was. My comments on the recipe are in blue.

serves 6

Ingredients:

For  the potatoes:

4-1/2 lbs floury potatoes, boiled
1-2 teaspoons salt
2 organic eggs, lightly beaten
7-10 ounces flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill General Purpose Gluten-Free flour)
3-1/2 ounces unsalted butter, cubed
10 sage leaves

For the Filling:

9 ounces ricotta
2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 organic egg
salt and pepper
unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
9 ounces frozen spinach, thawed

(I found that my gnocchi roll was enormous – 15 inches long and about 6 inches wide and 3 to 4 inches high. Next time I make this, I will try using half the amounts listed above!)

Put the spinach out on the counter to thaw ahead of time. (Once thawed, I squeezed it quite a bit to get out excess water.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the potatoes until just done.

(Later in the recipe it says to saute the garlic and spinach in butter in a frying pan; I did it while the potatoes were cooking rather than having to do it later.)

(Also, you will need more boiling water to cook the gnocchi in, so keep another pot on the stove and bring water to a boil so you have it when you need it.)

While the potatoes are still hot, peel them and push them through a potato ricer. Now add the salt, eggs, and gradually, the flour. The amount of flour will depend on the kind of potato you use, but remember that the less flour you use, the softer the gnocchi will be. The dough should be soft, but not stick to your hands. (I used about 8 ounces of gluten-free flour.)

With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until about 1 inch thick. (I did this on a piece of parchment paper to make it easier to move later.) Mix ricotta, Parmigiano, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and then spread it evenly on top of dough. In a frying pan melt a little butter and lightly cook garlic. Mix the spinach with the butter and garlic, cook a few more minutes, and then spread this on top of the ricotta mixture.

Roll the gnocchi dough, ricotta, and spinach into a sausage. Wrap the sausage tightly in cheesecloth or muslin, tie each end, and boil in salted water for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool.
(This was the tricky part. Using the parchment paper, we folded in the two sides to the middle as best we could – it was too thick to roll it up into a sausage shape. Then it took two of us to carefully lift the parchment paper and slide the “sausage” on to the large square of cheesecloth. I wrapped it and tied the ends with cooking (cotton) twine. Then two of us carefully lifted it into my roasting pan, set across two stove-top burners with boiling water in it. My roasting pan was the only thing large enough! It was not ideal since the water did not come all the way over the top, but we filled it as high as we could, and boiled it 15 minutes. Then two of us very carefully lifted it out, using various kitchen implements, and let it cool some. )

Preheat oven to 400F. Butter an ovenproof dish that will hold the roll comfortably, and carefully put the roll in it. With a sharp knife, cut it into slices about 3/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, then dot with cubed butter and spread sage leaves evenly over the slices. Cook in oven until golden-brown, about 15 minutes. (I used a cookie sheet since its the only thing it would easily fit on. It was a bit hard to cut, I wiped the knife blade clean between each cut.)

Getting the slices apart when serving was a bit tricky too, but again if I wiped the spatula clean between each piece it helped. I served this with two other dishes from the same cookbook: Cipolle Rosse al Forno (baked red onions) and Cavolo con Acciughe (cabbage with anchovies). I have to admit we did not have a Piedmontese red wine to go with, but the hearty chianti we did have went very well. It was a delicious meal, and we definitely earned our dinner!  PHOTOS follow.

 

Pushing the (lava-hot) potatoes through the ricer.

The potatoes with salt, egg, and flour added - the dough was still nicely soft but a lot less sticky than it was before I added flour.

Spreading first the ricotta mixture and then the spinach on top of the potato mixture. Note the parchment paper to help later with moving it!

We used the parchment paper to help roll up the sides of the "sausage" ideally I think the dough would have covered the filling completely

Moving the roll to the cheesecloth

I tied the ends of the cheesecloth "log" with cotton twine

Then, carefully into the roasting pan of boiling water for 15 minutes

Once boiled, we lifted it out of the water (2-person operation), laid it on a cookie sheet, and untied the strings

Then onto another, buttered, cookie sheet

After slicing, we dotted it with butter and sage, and into the oven

15 minutes later, we were very ready to eat our lovely creation!

My dinner plate, with the gnocchi, baked red onions, and cabbage with anchovy - all Piedmontese recipes, which I'll post soon!

Sicilian Ricotta Easter Cake

I was reading a book about Sicily recently, and the author described tasting a delicious ricotta cake there, traditionally made around Easter-time due to the high quality of the spring milk. I was intrigued – I think about ricotta in relation to stuffed pasta, or cannoli, but not as the main ingredient in a cake, so decided to try it. The recipe is mainly about letting the fresh ricotta’s flavor and texture shine.  And having tasted fresh ricotta at a dairy in Sicily, I knew I wanted to make my own ricotta.

Ricotta is very simple to make! I happen to live only a few miles from the wonderful Zingerman’s Creamery, and they provided me with 5 gallons of fresh whey, from a batch of a cow’s cheese they had just made. (If you don’t have a good source of whey, you can use whole milk to make ricotta, but I believe there are other ingredients involved so please google that.)

Step 1, was to heat the whey to 200 degrees F. While it was heating, I lined a strainer (I used two strainers actually) with very fine cloth – I used a thin dishtowel for one, and a piece of fine cheesecloth doubled up for the other. (There is also an extra-fine cheesecloth you can buy, called buttercloth, that cheesemaker supply places sell.) If you think you’ll want to use the leftover whey for something else after the ricotta (such as making sauerkraut, etc), put the strainer over another pot or bowl.

 

Heating 5 gallons of whey to 200F

The strainer over one pot and the whey in another

 

When the whey reached 200F, I could see the white milk solids precipitating out of the whey. I used a large glass measuring cup to pour the hot whey into the strainer, some at a time. The solids start to “clog” up the cloth so I poured in some, then went and did something else while it drained, and then poured in more. I used a wooden spoon to scrape down the sides of the cloth sometimes.

 

Me (carefully) pouring some of the hot whey into the strainer

The full strainer would take several minutes to drain.

 
 

I ended up with nearly 4 cups of ricotta! Which I hear is a high yield, which may be a fluke; I intend to try making this again in a few weeks and I’ll report back. Then we started in on the Ricotta Cake recipe (the full recipe is at the end). We lightly beat together egg yolks, honey, orange zest and juice, and lemon zest and juice, and stirred it gently into the ricotta.

 

An unusually high yield of ricotta

Mixing the zest in to the ricotta

 

Since my household is mostly gluten-free, Elph made an almond crust, instead of the traditional Sicilian pastry crust. He mixed almond flour with sugar, butter, cream, coconut milk, and vanilla, pressed it in to a pie plate, and baked it for 10 minutes or so. Then I scooped in the filling, and we baked it about 80 minutes at 350.

 

Pressing the almond crust into the pie plate

Into the oven

 

We enjoyed a slice right away – it has a lovely fresh, mild, creamy flavor, with the hints of citrus. And it was just as good the next day, with more citrus flavor, although our crust had gotten somewhat soft. Still delicious though.

 

Mm pie...

 

Recipe follows:

Gluten-Free Almond Pie Crust

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups almond meal or almond flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons chilled butter or butter substitute
2 1/4 tablespoons cream or coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Toss the dry ingredients together in a bowl and mix well, and then add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix in a food processor until the dough forms a soft, workable ball. (Using a food processor is an easy way of mixing and handling the dough, but you can accomplish the same results using a pastry blender or wooden spoon.) Press the pastry directly into the pan without rolling, using your fingertips and the heel of your palm. Prick the pastry lightly with a fork and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 10 to 12 minutes before filling.

Sicilian Ricotta Easter Cake, filling

4 cups ricotta
4 egg yolks
6 tablespoons honey
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice

(NOTE, next time I make this, I may use twice that much orange juice, and try reducing it down on the stovetop, maybe mixed with the honey, let it cool, and then add that to the ricotta, to get more orange flavor.)

Preheat oven to 350F. (If you just baked your crust the oven is already preheated of course.)

Gently beat the egg yolks in a small bowl until just combined, and stir in the lemon and orange juice and zest, and the honey. Then pour the mixture in to the ricotta, stir gently, and scoop in into the prepared pie crust.

Bake approximately 80 minutes until light golden in color. Enjoy!

New Year’s Day Red Lentil Soup

It’s an Italian tradition to eat lentils around New Year’s for good luck – I find that I start to crave simpler, bean- and vegetable-based dishes after the winter holidays, so it’s a tradition I enjoy following. On New Year’s Day I made a red lentil soup, which my Mom gave me the recipe for. It’s easy and fresh tasting. I tend to use a bit more lemon juice than called for. Recipe follows, enjoy!

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground chili powder or cayenne, or to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Greek yogurt as optional garnish

METHOD:

In a large pot, heat 3 T oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, saute until golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne and saute 2 minutes longer. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils, and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup, but stop while it’s still somewhat chunky. (If you use a regular blender instead, puree some of the soup, and then return that to the pot with the rest of the soup.) Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired. Optional garnish of Greek yogurt.

Roasted Red Pepper Crostini

I was looking for an easy party appetizer using some of the sweet red bell peppers I still had from my garden, so I flipped through several Italian cookbooks I have and found the idea to make a roasted red pepper crostini (it may have been from a Faith Willinger Tuscan cookbook).

First, you need to char the outsides of the red peppers. I had about a dozen peppers, and I used an outdoor gas grill, which worked great. Then I put them in a paper bag, and closed it up tightly for a few minutes until the peppers had cooled down. Then I pulled off the peels with my fingers – from what I’ve read its important to NOT put the peppers under running water when you do this – you lose some of the tasty flavors that way.

Once I had prepped all my peppers, I prepared the other ingredients for the marinade – about 10 cloves of fresh garlic, also from my garden, which I sliced very thinly.

The first two of my roasted and peeled red bell peppers.

Garlic is nicely strong at this time of year.

And I picked fresh oregano leaves until I had about a half a cup.

Then, I cut the peppers into strips lengthwise, discarding the centers and seeds of course. Next, I took a round glass tupperware dish with deep sides, and I started layering. First a layer of the roasted pepper strips in the bottom. Then I sprinkled with a little sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and some fresh oregano leaves, and some of the sliced garlic. Then I repeated with more layers. Once all the peppers were in, I poured in enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover. (You’ll want to use a really good oil.)

And then, patience! It’s supposed to marinate ideally for two days in the fridge (covered), and then you let it come to room temperature before serving. I had only made this one day ahead of the party, but it still tasted great. I bought a couple baguettes, and some salted rice crackers for a gluten-free option. I sliced the baguettes but decided not to toast them. Just before the party I arranged pepper strips on a slice of baguette or a cracker and put them out on a platter. They were delicious! I had some leftover and I’m still enjoying them, I think they’ll last quite a while in the fridge.

Marinating the peppers

The final dish, in the front left and rear right, together with some other appetizers.