Saturday, March 21, 2015

Leeks Baked with Cream and Gorgonzola

Years ago, when vegetables and fruits were only available in certain seasons, leeks were one of the few that survived winter and lasted until the first new spring vegetables were available. Maybe for that reason I still like most to cook and eat leeks from late fall to early spring. So the other day, which was still very cold and windy, I made a leek dish for dinner.

I wanted to try a simple Italian dish of leeks baked in cream. But when I was about to put a dish in the oven, I found in my refrigerator a piece of Gorgonzola cheese. I thought that Gorgonzola would go well with leeks in cream since this was an Italian dish. It seemed also that a slightly sharp cheese would add a little bit of spiciness to the mild and slightly sweet leeks. Then I came with the idea to finish the dish with shredded almonds to add some crunchiness. The dish turned out very nice and a combination of sweet leeks in cream and melted, spicy Gorgonzola was perfect.

It is a very simple dish that can be prepared ahead and finished (baked) at the last moment. It tastes great with baguette, tomato salad, and a glass of wine.

Leeks Baked in Cream and Gorgonzola

4 medium leeks (only the white and light green parts can be used),
1/2 cup table cream,
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese,
2 tbsp slivered roasted almonds,
1 tbsp butter,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Wash leeks thoroughly, especially between the leaves to remove all the dirt.
2.Put them in a pot of salted boiling water and cook about 10 minutes, until soft. Drain and cool down them down.
3. Preheat oven to 370F.
4. Butter an over proof dish (large enough for leeks to fit in) and place the leeks in it.

5. Pour on top the cream and crumbled Gorgonzola. Season generously with freshly grated pepper. Sprinkle with almond slivers.
6. Place the dish in the oven and bake about 20 minutes until the cheese melts. Serve hot.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Radicchio and Potatoes Cake

Another milestone of culinary sophistication has been attained by my local Safeway when it has started to carry radicchio treviso on a regular basis. I knew radicchio treviso  (Radicchio di Treviso) only from Italy where it is used for all cooking dishes, while the round one is mainly served fresh. So when I spotted treviso I have been buying it every couple of days and making all the dishes I have always wanted to try with a true cooking radicchio. And today's recipe is a combination of two dishes that I ate.

In a magazine that I brought last time from Italy I found a recipe for radicchio, potatoes, and ricotta cake. I made that dish some time ago and it was nice but, despite the natural bitterness of the radicchio, it seemed too bland for my taste.

Then an Italian friend served for dinner a tart on a shortcrust base, filled with layers of potatoes and radicchio, and finished with cheese. It was very good. I liked very much this combination. But since I make tarts very often, I decided to make purely a vegetable version of that dish. I think that the combination of a slightly bitter radicchio, mild potatoes, and melting cheese is very interesting, even without the crust.

The dish can be served alone in a vegetarian version but it can also accompany roasted lamb.

Radicchio and Potatoes Cake

3 heads radicchio treviso (or two of the regular round ones) cut in half and sliced,
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced,
1/2 cup white wine,
6 medium potatoes cooked in skins until tender,
3 tbsp olive oil,
1/2 lb fontina cheese, sliced,
salt and pepepr to taste.

1. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add onion and fry until transparent. Add radicchio and cook on a medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook until radicchio starts to wilt and darkens.
2. Turn off the heat and season the radicchio with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 375F.
4. Grease a 9-inch oven-proof dish with the remaining tbsp of oil.
5. Peel the potatoes and cut into thin slices. Spread half of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Spread the radicchio on top. Cover the radicchio with remaining potatoes.
6. Season the top of potatoes generously with freshly ground pepper and cover with fontina slices.

7. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the dish for another 10-15 minutes, until fontina melts and becomes gold.

Serve hot.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chocolate-Mint Creams--Easy Sunday Dessert

Last week, while cleaning my food pantry, I found in different boxes several pieces of leftover, quality chocolate, mostly Belgian. There were pieces of dark bitter and milk chocolate and a little bit of white chocolate. It turned out I had quite a lot, almost half a pound of chocolate--perfect amount for chocolate-mint cream that I always wanted to try.

I imagined that this dessert would be delicious, but I was even more sure that it would be pretty caloric and rather irresistible. I decided to make it over the weekend when my son had his friends over, so the dessert did not last for too long.

The Italian recipe I had for this dessert calls for bitter sweet chocolate. But since I am a lover of milk chocolate only, this leftover mixture worked better for me. I just cut the amount of sugar used in the recipe. Also, at my son's request, I added a little bit of mint extract to make it more aromatic. It is probably one of the easiest chocolate treats that can make a wonderful last minute weekend desert.

Chocolate-Mint Creams
(Makes 6 portions)

1/2 pound of dark bitter chocolate chopped into small pieces,
1 cup of half-and-half,
3 tbsp sugar (add only 1 tbsp if you use milk chocolate),
3 egg yolks,
1 tsp peppermint extract,
1/2 whipped cream for decoration

1. Heat the half-and-half in a medium pot until it almost boils. Take it from the heat and add chopped chocolate. Mix well until the chocolate melts completely.
2. In a medium bowl beat yolks and sugar until fluffy. Add mint extract and beat again.
3. Slowly add half of the chocolate to the eggs and mix. Pour the egg mixture to the remaining chocolate in the pot. Return to the heat and simmer gently for about 3 minutes.

4. Pour the chocolate to the small serving bowl and chill for 4 hours. Serve cold with whipped cream.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Very Light Napa Cabbage Salad

Today a very light and easy salad.

I used to buy Napa (also called Chinese) cabbage very often and made many salads with it. However, somehow drawn to different types of lettuce available those days I forgot about Napa cabbage for a while.

I made this salad this winter and tested it on my vegetarian friends over Christmas. They enthusiastically approved this recipe for sharing. Yesterday, I served it again and a young friend asked me for the recipe.

This salad has some exotic flavors thanks to mango and jicama. Both are those days widely available in all grocery stores. Jicama, which has a very delicate taste, gives mostly crunchiness and mango brings about the sweet taste to the salad.

This salad can be served alone but it goes even better with all kinds of meats, especially grilled.

Napa Cabbage Salad

1 medium Napa cabbage (about 2 pounds),
1 small jicama peeled and sliced julienne,
2 mangoes peeled,
1/2 red onion sliced,
2 tbsp roasted pumpkin seeds,

For the dressing:
Juice from 2 limes,
2 tbsp running honey,
1 tbsp Sherry vinegar,
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cut the cabbage in half and slice thinly. Place it in a medium bowl.
2. Add sliced onion and jicama.
3. Cut out large slices of mango avoiding the hard parts around the seed and slice them more thinly. Add to the cabbage.

4. To make a dressing mix, in a small bowl mix lime juice, honey, vinegar, olive oil, and add a bit of salt and pepper.
5. Pour the dressing over the cabbage. Toss gently and let it infuse for 10 minutes.
6. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve.