Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Farro with Dried Porcini and Sage

Farro is one of the oldest wheat varieties. In recent years it has become very popular, especially among vegetarians and foodies who always look for new sources of nutritional values, as farro is an excellent source of fiber, minerals, and vitamin B.

In the modern cuisine farro is often used in place of traditional grains, especially rice. It is easy to cook and more forgiving as it is hard to overcook it. Cooked farro has a stronger taste and firmer texture than rice but some appreciate it for those qualities. For the same reason it is also often used in salads.

One of the way to serve farro is a dish similar to risotto but lighter since it does not include cream or cheese. This particular dish is made with dried porcini, so popular in both Polish and Italian cuisines. If you don't have dried porcinis, you may make it with white cup mushrooms (about 1/2 lb). The recipe calls for sage leaves which give that dish a very nice seasonal flavor. It can be served alone, as a vegetarian dish or to accompany roasted meats.

Farro with Dried Porcini and Sage

1 cup farro, washed,
1/3 cup dried porcini soaked for 1 hour in 1/2 cup of cold water,
4-5 cups vegetable or beef stock,
1 small onion, chopped,
6-8 fresh sage leaves, cut into strips,
1/4 cup plus extra 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. In a large pot heat half of the oil. Add chopped onion and fry until transparent. Add sage leaves and fry for another minute.
2. Add farro and the rest of the oil to the pot. Stir it so farro is well coated with oil.
3. Drain and cut porcini into thin strips. Add them to farro. If you like a stronger taste add also the water in which the porcini were soaked.

4. Pour in 2 cups of stock and bring farro to boil, then let it simmer on a low heat stirring frequently. Follow with the rest of the stock until farro becomes tender. This will take 40-50 minutes.
5. Serve the dish hot drizzled with 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil and decorated with sage leaves fried in butter.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Turnip Lasagna

I have never tried turnip before but this month I ate it already twice. Last week, my Afghan friend invited my whole family for dinner and, at my request, she made a very autumnal dish made from turnip and meat. It was very aromatic and delicious and I will post a recipe for it as soon as I get all the details of it.

Yesterday, I made a dish that I will share today. It was inspired by a recipe from an Italian cooking magazine, but I made a lighter, vegetarian version of it just to use a box of an already opened ricotta cheese. The dish is easy to make and can be prepared ahead. It can be served alone, as a gluten free vegetarian main course, or served with breads.

Turnip Lasagna

4 medium turnips, sliced in 1/8th inch-thick slices,
2 cups milk,
16 oz ricotta cheese,
1 large (27 oz) can of crushed tomatoes,
2 tbsp olive oil,
2 garlic cloves, minced,
1/3 cup shredded asiago cheese,
salt and pepper to taste,
fresh parsley to garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Place the sliced turnip in a medium pot and cover with milk. Bring to boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, until just softer but still firm. After that, drain the milk.
3. In another pot, heat the oil, add garlic and fry it for 2-3 minutes. Pour in tomatoes and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
4. Place 1/2 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a medium oven-proof dish. Spread a third of the turnip slices. Then on each slice spread half of the ricotta cheese.

5. Put another layer of turnip slices. Cover them with another layer of ricotta and then again with turnips. Generously season with salt and pepper on top.
6. Pour over the rest of the tomato sauce and finish with the shredded asiago cheese.
7. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes, until lasagna bubbles. Remove the foil and let the cheese melt until it turns gold.
8. Cool the lasagna and serve with chopped parsley on top.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Hazelnut Cream Dessert

This is a kind of dessert that almost no one can resist, and especially those who like flans and crème brûlée. The recipe is also very similar to crème brûlée but there is one secret ingredient that makes the whole difference, that is hazelnut butter or hazelnut purée. This gives it a wonderfully nutty flavor which makes this dessert even more delicious.

A pure hazelnut butter without any cocoa added is however not easily available. You can buy it at Eataly or online, or make it yourself by grounding roasted hazelnuts with vegetable oil. The best for that are European hazelnuts or those from Oregon, as they have that sweet flavor that most other hazelnuts lack. If you have a ready made sweet hazelnut butter use less sugar than the recipe calls for. Instead of 10 tsps add just 5. Besides that one difficulty the whole dessert is very easy to make and can be even made a day ahead.

Hazelnut Cream Dessert
(Makes eight)

500ml hot whole milk,
4 eggs,
3/4 cup white chocolate chips,
10 tbsp sugar (or 5 if hazelnut butter is already sweet),
1 tsp vanilla extract,
4 tbsp. hazelnut butter or purée,
1/3 cup roasted, crushed hazelnuts for decoration.

1. Preheat oven to 335F.
2. Place white chocolate in a small pot and melt over a low heat.
3. Beat the eggs with sugar and vanilla extract. Pour in hot milk, beating constantly. Add white chocolate and hazelnut butter and mix well into a smooth cream.
4. Divide the cream between 8 ramekins.


5. Place ramekins on a baking form and fill the form with boiling water up to a half of ramekins' heights. Put the form in the hot oven and let the cream bake for 20 minutes.
6. Let the cream cool in the water and then take the ramekins out and let the desserts cool in a refrigerator.
7. Serve cold decorated with hazelnuts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dried Figs and Walnuts Spread

This easy spread may come handy during the holiday party season. It is a very simple recipe and the spread is made entirely in a food processor. It is just another variation of a fig or quince spread that have been popular in recent years and are served with cheese, but it is less sweet and more crunchy thanks to the addition of celery and walnuts.

I made it recently just to used the figs that I discovered in the deep end of my refrigerator. They were getting very dry so I soaked them in a warm water to restore the moisture and just blended with all other ingredients. The spread goes well with all kind of hard cheese, especially the Spanish Manchego. It tastes even better if finished with pomegranate seeds which add extra taste and color.

Dried Figs and Walnuts Spread

6-8 dried figs, soaked in warm water for about 20 minutes, if they are too dry,
2 celery sticks, sliced,
1/3 cup toasted walnuts,
1 tbsp olive oil,
1 tbsp white wine,
salt and pepper to taste,
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds for decoration,
1/2 lb Manchego cheese cut into small triangles.

1. Put walnuts and celery in a food processor and swirl a couple of times until they break into smaller pieces.

2. Drain the figs and cut them into smaller pieces. Add them to the mix together with olive oil, wine, salt and pepper, and blend until figs turn into a purée but walnuts and celery pieces are still visible.
3. Transfer the spread to a bowl and let chill for two hours. Serve at room temperature spread on cheese and decorated with pomegranate seeds.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Autumn Tart with Plums and Mascarpone

This is the tart that I make most often. It is easy, delicious and, so far, everyone loved it. Moreover, the crust for it can be made up to two weeks ahead and keeping it refrigerated makes it actually more delicate. I have already shared the recipe for this tart, but recently I have been experimenting with it and, today, I would like to share of the new versions, which I think turned out quite good.

I make this tart with different fruits, toppings, or add extra ingredients to the base. Last weekend, I made it with plums. In Poland, fall is the season when we make many desserts with plums. For baking, the best are those dark blue plums called Hungarian or Italian plums but, if they are not available, any black or dark plums can be used instead.

The base is the same that I always used; however, this time I changed the topping. Since plums can be quite strong in taste and are often sour, to contrast them, instead of cream I used Mascarpone cheese to make a delicate and somewhat richer topping. This tart can be served at room temperature but it tastes even better slightly warm, especially on a cold autumn day.

Tart with Plums and Mascarpone

(For 10" tart form with removable walls)

For the crust:
2 sticks of unsalted butter at room temperature,
1/2 cup confectioners sugar,
2 cups all purpose flour,

For the topping:
1 and 1/2 lb Italian plums (or any other not too juicy dark plums),
17 oz box of mascarpone cheese,
1 large egg,
1/3 cup sugar.

1. To make the crust, put butter, confectioners sugar and flour in a large bowl. Working with your hands make crumbles. Use extra flour to clean your hands.

2. Place the crust in a large ziplock bag, and let it chill in a refrigerator for at least an hour, up to two weeks.
3. Preheat the oven to 350F.
4. Spread the crust on the baking form and press gently into bottom and walls.
5. Remove seeds from the plums and cut them into thick slices. Arrange at the bottom of the form on top of the crust.

6. Bake the crust for about 20 minutes, until set and light gold.
7. In a medium bowl mix sugar with egg and Mascarpone cheese until smooth. Pour over the pre-baked tart.
8. Place the tart in the oven and bake for about 30-40 minutes until the crust is gold and topping set.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Savory Pumpkin and Feta Pie

Nothing makes me realize more vividly that another year has just past by than the mountains of orange pumpkins piling up in my local food stores. And each year I look for another recipe to use as much as possible of that giant Halloween pumpkin.

Unlike most other fruits and vegetables, which these days always grow at some point somewhere else, in a different climate zone, pumpkins are very seasonal. They appear in September and October and usually after Halloween it is hard to find them anymore. So, this pumpkin season, I would like to try two new pumpkin recipes.

The first idea, for a pumpkin and feta pie, comes from the Greek culinary tradition. It is similar to a classic spanakopita with the pumpkin filling replacing the spinach. However, in all the Greek recipes I found, dry mint was also added to the pumpkin-feta filling and, when I tried it for the first time, the taste of the mint was too dominant and overshadowed the delicate taste of the pumpkin, which is what I was hoping would give this pie its special character. So, when I was making it for the second time, I replaced the mint with a dash of dried thyme and I think this worked much better. But I also think that just a plain pumpkin-feta filling would work as well.

Savory Pumpkin and Feta Pie

(For a 9-inch baking dish>
8-10 sheets filo dough,
2 lb peeled and grated pumpkin,
1 medium leek, washed well, sliced (or one large onion chopped),
3 medium eggs,
1 cup crumbled feta cheese,
1 cup milk,
1 tsp dried thyme,
1/3 cup olive oil,
ground pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and fry leeks until transparent. Set them aside.
3. On the same pan heat another 2 tbsp of oil and add grated pumpkin. Fry it for about 5 minutes until it softens.

4. Add leeks to the pan with the pumpkin filling, mix them in, and simmer for another 3 minutes.
5. Pour milk into a large bowl. Add eggs and beat together. Add crumbled Feta, pepper, and thyme (if used). Mix all the ingredients. Add fried pumpkin to the bowl and gently mix everything together.
6. Grease the baking dish with oil and spread the first filo sheet, so that its edges hang out over the dish. Brush in some olive oil on it and put another layer. Follow the same procedure with the remaining sheets.
7. Spread the pumpkin filling on top of the filo. Fold the overhanging pieces of the pastry in and brush them with olive oil.

8. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is set and the filo becomes gold.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Italian Cake with Pears and Stale Bread

At Whole Foods, they used to sell a cake called croissant pudding. It was made out of leftover croissants, which the store could not sell on time. The pieces of the croissants were baked in a kind of pudding made from eggs, cream, sugar, and butter. It was absolutely delicious and certainly very fattening.

While looking for the recipes on how to use bread that was getting stale, in several Italian cookbooks I found a similar recipe for the croissant cake but made of old bread. In Italy it is often served for breakfast, or as a dessert. But those recipes I found were much lighter than a croissant pudding. The Italian cake was made from white country bread, milk, eggs, and most importantly pears. Pears not only made the cake moist but also lighter and very well suited for the fall season.

This recipe was invented long ago in a poor countryside where nothing was wasted. And, as it is so often in the Italian cuisine, this very simple idea yielded a very tasty cake. So, yesterday morning, I made that cake using all the old country bread I managed to collect over the last week and a couple of very ripe pears. First, my entire house started to smell wonderfully and soon I enjoyed a slice of a still warm cake with my morning coffee and later again with my afternoon espresso.

Pears and Stale Bread Cake

1 lb of European style old white country bread (or baguette) crushed into smaller pieces,
2 cups whole milk,
3 eggs,
1/2 cup sugar,
1 tsp vanilla essence,
3 ripe pears,
1/2 cup raisins,
5 tbsp unsalted butter,
1 tbsp lemon juice,
1 tbsp brown sugar,
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg.

1. Place pieces of crushed bread in a large bowl and cover with milk. Let it soak for an hour turning the pieces from time to time so they all become moist. If after that time there is some extra unabsorbed milk drain it out.

2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Soak the raisins in warm water until they get plump, drain them out.
4. Peel off pears, core and cut into small cubes. Mix with lemon juice and add to the bread following with raisins.
5. In another bowl beat sugar and eggs, adding at the end 3 tbsp melted butter and vanilla essence.Pour the mixture to the bread with fruits and mix.
6. Grease a round baking form with 1 tbsp of butter. Sprinkle with a little bit of sugar.
7. Transfer the bread mixture to the form. Brush on top a tbsp. of melted butter, sprinkle tbsp. of brown sugar and grated nutmeg.

8. Bake for about 60-70 minutes until cake is dark brown.
9. It's best if you could serve when it is slightly warm but it still great when it turns cold.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rigatoni with Dijon Mustard Sauce

My home is very gluten friendly. All kinds of pastas, noodles, pizzas, and breads are highly appreciated. And recently, after reading an article that only two percent of population suffers from gluten-related allergies and the rest of us needs gluten in diet as an ingredient that helps to absorb toxins, I feel even less guilty about my love of pasta. It is a kind of food that always brings comfort, is easy to digest, and goes nicely with a glass of wine.

So today another super easy dish--Dijon mustard sauce pasta. But I think that because of the mustard this pasta dish belongs rather to the French than to the Italian cuisine. This pasta came fortunately to my mind last week, when I had 10 minutes and no idea what to make for dinner. In two minutes the smooth and slightly spicy sauce was ready and then the pasta was on the table. My kids enjoyed it a lot.

Rigatoni with Dijon Mustard Sauce

2/3 lb rigatoni pasta,
1 cup heavy cream,
1 yolk from a large egg,
2–3 tbsp of Dijon mustard,
1/4 tsp white pepper,
3 tbsp chopped chives (or spring onion),
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

1. Cook rigatoni until al dente.
2. In a large pot pour together the cream, egg yolk, Dijon mustard, and white pepper. Mix all the ingredients and bring slowly to boil. Let it simmer for about 2 minutes.

3. Drain pasta and dump into the sauce. Mix well.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with chives and and Parmesan.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Roasted Plums Dessert

These are busy days and with the beginning of the school year we understand and appreciate the value of "easy" cooking even more than we usually do. This simple dessert that I came up with the other day perfectly fits into this category. It is also a nice seasonal dessert made of plums, which are now their tastiest peak, and ice cream.

I roasted the plums in an oven until they got soft and juicy. Then I prepared an ice cream-cookie topping for them. It melted on warm plums into a wonderful vanilla cream. Simple and delicious.

Roasted Plums Dessert
(Makes 6 portions)

2 lb round black plums,
2 tbsp brown sugar,
1 pint Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream,
1/2 cup digestive or graham cookies, crushed,
2 tbsp pistachios or slivered almonds to decorate.

1. Melt ice cream until soft. Add crushed cookies and mix gently. Freeze again.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Cut plums in halves, remove stones, and slice them into thick wages. Sprinkle with sugar and mix.

4. Put a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Spread the plums on top and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. Let them cool until just warm.
5. Divide plums into serving bowls or plates, scoop ice cream on top, decorate with nuts and serve.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bread and Kale Gnocchi

During my recent vacations in Poland I did not cook at all but ate a lot. I enjoyed Polish food and most of all Polish bread. I think we have one of the best breads in the world and the richest variety of it.

In any Polish home it is almost religious to have plenty of bread in a bread box. But, because we are so obsessed with bread, we often buy too much of it. Then, on the next day, we cannot resist buying a new batch straight from the bakery, fresh and warm and this way we repeatedly end up with significant amounts of old bread which, although still good on the next day, cannot compete with the fresh one.

Unfortunately, we do not recycle bread, not even to feed animals. The only way then to use old bread is to cook with it. Today's recipe, which comes from the Italian cuisine where this gluten loaded delicacy is also very popular, is one of the great ideas how to recycle old bread. Not surprisingly, Italians being Italians use bread leftovers to make yet another variety of gnocchi.

For this particular recipe I used different types of old bread which I happened to have, mostly whole wheat and country style. Just to make it more healthy and nutritious I added kale, which also enriched the taste of my gnocchi, which can be served with butter or butter fried sage.

Bread and Kale Gnocchi

2 lb of one or two-day old bread, such as country style, cut into smaller chunks,
1/2 lb kale, preferably Tuscan,
3 eggs,
1/2 cup all purpose flour,
a pinch of nutmeg,
6 tbsp unsalted butter,
8-10 sage leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan.

1. Place bread in a large bowl and cover with milk. Let it soak for about an hour. Squeeze the milk well out and place the bread in a food processor.
2. Chop roughly kale and blanch it in a hot water. Drain well on the colander and add to the soaked bread. Puree all the ingredients until smooth.
3. Transfer the mixture to the large bowl. Sift in flour, add eggs, 1/3 cup Parmesan, salt and nutmeg. Mix well.

4. Bring to boiling a large pot of salted water. Scoop a portion of the mixture on a soup spoon and drop into a pot by dipping the spoon in boiling water. Let the gnocchi afloat and cook on a low temperature for about 4 minutes.

5. Drain the first batch of gnocchi and follow with the remaining batter.
6. To finish the dish, fry the butter in a small pot until it bubbles. Add sage leaves and fry them until crispy for about a minute. Pour the hot butter and sage on gnocchi and finish with Parmesan.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Peach Crostata

Crostata is a type of Italian, rustic pie or tart. It is very easy to make, does not require any special baking pan or skills. I make mine in a food processor, which is even easier.

There are many crostata doughs. I have been often experimenting with a basic crostata base adding different types of flour or nuts and trying it with different toppings.

Crostata can be made with almost any seasonal fruit. Even those most juicy once like blueberries or raspberries are good since you can always add extra flour to absorb the juice.

Peach crostata made with local peaches has recently become my favorite crostata variety. Locally grown peaches are now wonderfully sweet and aromatic. For that particular crostata I make a base with whole wheat flour and finish my crostata with pistachios to add crunchiness.

So today, I offer you a summer peach crostata. When I serve it, straight from the oven, it often disappears before it even cools down completely.

Peach Crostata

6 peaches,
1/4 cup brown sugar,
1 tbsp all purpose flour,
2 tbsp pistachios (preferably Iranian, for their green color)
1 and 1/2 stick cold, unsalted butter,
1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour,
1/2 cup wheat flour,
1/2 tsp salt,
1 tbsp sugar,
1/4 cup iced water.

1. Put both flours, salt, and 1 tbsp sugar in a food processor. Pulse until blended. Add butter cut into cubes and pulse again until crumbles form. Pour in iced water and run the engine until a smooth dough forms.
2. Place a dough between plastic foil and make a disc. Cool the dough for at least an hour.
3. Cut the peaches in halves, remove the stones and cut into thick slices.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out into a 16-inch large circle.
5. Mix brown sugar and flour and dust on top of the dough.
6. Arrange slices of peaches on top, leaving a two inches wide edge around. Sprinkle the top with pistachios.

7. Preheat oven to 400F.
8. Fold the edges on top of fruits and let the crostata chill in a refrigerator again, for 10-15 minutes.

9. Bake crostata for about 45 minutes until light gold and peaches bubble.
Cool down at serve.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cauliflower in a Herbs and Mustard Sauce

When I am in Poland I like my cauliflower to be cooked and served in a traditional Polish way, sprinkled with fried breadcrumbs and accompanied by a tomato and onion salad. But this dish tastes best in Poland where cauliflower and tomatoes taste different than here. So whenever I make a cauliflower here, I am always looking for a recipe that is not similar to that Polish dish.

Since this is a high season for a locally grown cauliflower I have been buying it more often at my local farmers market. Besides the traditional white ones, now they also come in yellow and purple varieties, which look even more appealing. Just recently, I tried two new cauliflower dishes from different cuisines. Today the first of them, coming from France.

This one is a simple dish with the cauliflower being cooked or roasted and finished with a traditional French sauce Gribiche. Gribiche is used with many cooked vegetable, mainly asparagus, green beans, and potatoes. Since it is slightly spicy thanks to mustard and cornichons it also tastes great on a cauliflower, which is rather bland. The dish can be made ahead and if you wish to serve it warm just roast it shortly in the oven and serve it immediately after cooking or serve as a cold appetiser or a salad.

Cauliflower with a Herbs and Mustard Sauce
(Serves four)

1 medium cauliflower (cooked until soft but firm, in water with a tbsp of salt and a tbsp of sugar),
2 hard boiled eggs,
1 tsp Dijon mustard,
1 garlic clove, minced,
1 tbsp lemon juice,
1/4 cup light oil such a grape seeds,
1 tbsp capers,
4 small cornichons, cut in thick slices,
1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, chopped,
1 tbsp flat leaved parsley, chopped,
2 tbsp chives, chopped,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Place the cooked cauliflower in a large bowl,
2. In a bowl of food processor place eggs, mustard, garlic, lemon juice, and oil and run the engine until a smooth sauce forms.
3. Add capers, cornichons, parsley, and tarragon (leave the chives aside) and purée the sauce again.

4. Try the sauce and season it with salt and pepper according to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the hot or room temperature cauliflower.
5. Sprinkle the cauliflower with chopped chives and serve.