Tag Archives: Lent

Cheese Ravioli

When I weeded out my cookbook collection last year, I was pretty vigilant. I took an especially critical look at my Italian collection, as I had quite a few volumes about this cuisine. In doing some research on the last of the series of Lent-friendly family recipes, I combed through several of them, but this one was where I found the recipe for which I was looking – classic Cheese Ravioli.

Again, this was not one of the favorites of the siblings with whom I did a straw poll. Bland, was one word that was used. Heavy, was another. Having eaten plenty of ravioli, tortelloni and other cheese-filled pastas in Italy proper, I can attest to the fact that they can be culinary wonders, luscious and comforting, if prepared properly. This is completely the opposite of any pasta that ever came out of a can when we were growing up, not that we ate that in my house, that was only available at other people’s houses. In re-reading this book, I was drawn into the poetry and passion of the author for his subject, and I completely share his conviction that handmade pasta can be simple and ethereal.

I don’t do reviews of cookbooks, but this one is fantastic, if you would like to know more about typical, traditional pasta recipes and some of the history of the regions that they represent. This book was a gift to me literally weeks before I found out I’d gotten into graduate school in Italy, where I’d never been in my life. It holds a special place in my heart because of that, but in re-reading it for the first time in many years, I realized how wonderful it was as well. I became so engrossed in the section about the pastas of Liguria – one of my absolute favorite places to vacation – that I missed my subway stop.

It takes a lot to distract me that much, but I guess memories of really great food is one of those things. It got me dreaming about past meals and lovely summer afternoons on the Italian coast. That was all the inspiration I needed to try to tackle this recipe. My first attempt at this wasn’t all that successful, frankly, which just means I need to try to make pasta from scratch more often.

The typical proportions for making pasta from scratch is one egg to 100 grams of double-zero flour, which is the kind used in Italy.
The beaten egg and a pinch of salt are poured into the well created by the flour – think sandcastles and moats at the beach.
Mix everything together to incorporate the egg and flour – working with your hands is best.
After a few minutes, it will start to come together more.
Knead the pasta for 10-15 minutes. Then, shape it into a ball.
Cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pasta very thinly. You can do this with a rolling pin or a machine, but a real pasta connoisseur will be able to tell the difference between the two.
I made a classic filling with ricotta, parmesan cheese, finely chopped parsley, black pepper, beaten egg, and a pinch of nutmeg.
After placing filling on the pasta sheet, I cut them using a fluted pastry wheel (actually bought in Bologna).
Cook in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes or until they puff up. Fish out of the water, don’t dump the pasta, to avoid it breaking and creating a large mess.
Serve immediately with marinara sauce and let melt in your mouth, or as the Italians say, “Si scioglie in bocca.

Another option, as I discovered when I had left over filling, is to make crespelle, which is an Italian dish that doesn’t usually spring to my mind, although I enjoy it and always think it looks elegant. These are basically, filled, baked crêpes. The April 2008 issue of Food & Wine (which I was reading during my subway rides into work this week and which didn’t make me miss my stop) features this recipe. It gave me another chance to use my crêpe pan, which I have to confess, I haven’t done since last year’s blog post in honor of Julia Child’s birthday.

I think that this was much better than my attempt at making cheese ravioli. If we’d had this meal growing up, I’m sure that it would not have been on my siblings’ list of Lenten dishes that they dislike. This recipe can be altered to include spinach combined with the cheese (another classic pasta filling combination). I was also dreaming (as I do on meat-less Fridays), about slivers of proscuitto cotto layered inside the crespelle, lying on top of the cheese. I am definitely keeping this recipe in my collezione di ricette italiani.
Buon appetito!

You Caved and Just Ordered Pizza for a Lenten Friday

Let’s face it, there are just those times when it is easier to order in than to cook. As much as I love cooking, sometimes it is just too much of a stretch after pulling a 10+ hour day to try to figure out what meal to make for dinner. Pizza is easy. Pizza is relatively cheap. The fact that there is a pizza place on the corner near where I live just makes it even easier not to bother to fix anything myself and to grab a quick slice on the way home from the office.

For Lent, pizza is optimal because it can be a meal without meat. It is also simply something that pleases almost any appetite at any age. There’s probably a reason why it was on the rotation of elementary school lunches. Remember those squares of industrially produced pizza facsimiles? They came in two flavors: sausage and cheese. I still think I can remember how they tasted, and I would always want to buy my lunch on the days that it was on the menu.

Now I know better that no self-respecting pizza would taste like that, but at the time, it was quite exotic. Then, there was the place in town where we would go for the party at the end of soccer season. You could stand on a chair and watch them actually making the pizza. It wasn’t so much in the eating, but in being able to view its construction that was the real treat. Somehow, it always seemed to taste better, knowing that you were able to take in every detail of its construction: the flipping of the dough, the shaping of it on top of cornmeal, the swirl of tomato sauce, the sprinkling of the shredded cheese, and the dotting of the toppings.

When my mother would go away for the weekend, we would beg my father to let us order pizza. The alternative, when we were younger and did not cook for ourselves, was to let him concoct something, usually created from the leftovers in the refrigerator. Those meals were never a hit. Good thing, then, that after a few years, we were able to bring him around to our way of thinking and pizza became the go-to option when Mom was away.

Making my own pizza is something that I have never managed to get around to tackling. [I am, of course, leaving out the whole category of pizza varieties made with pre-made dough, English muffins, and pita bread as bases.] On this year’s list of things to do, that is definitely one of them. I’ve collected several recipes, but which one is actually worth trying? While I contemplate this, I think I’ll just enjoy a slice bought from my corner pizzeria, ample, cheesy-tomatoey, with a thin film of extra grease, just the way a New York slice should be. Here is a sample, in all its glory:

Buon appetito!

Truffled Potato Galettes

This year is a special one. The United Nations has dubbed 2008 the International Year of the Potato. En français, c’est l’Année Internationale de la Pomme de Terre. Sounds a bit more fancy that way, doesn’t it? The idea is to draw attention to a food that is nutritious, flexible and integral to many cultures.

In an attempt to interact more with other food sites in the blogsphere, this year I had decided to participate more in blog roundups hosted by Is My Blog Burning. Eating Leeds is hosting one this month related to aforementioned tuber. The great thing about the recipe I chose for this, is that it let me take something that I hadn’t made in a while and rework it completely into something a bit more elegant and suitable for a nice dinner à deux.

I did use the typical (for the U.S.) Yukon Gold potato as my base, which I really love for cooking. I know that Eating Leeds had wanted us to try to use a variety with which we normally don’t cook, but that would make it probably too difficult for most of you to try. Having to locate truffle oil for this dish might be enough of a challenge. I had bought a bottle during my trip to Italy last year and was just looking for a good excuse to tap into my supply.

It also gave me the chance to dig something out of the back of my cupboard which worked perfectly for this recipe. I’d done a big kitchen clear-out last year of all kinds of extraneous utensils and fussy cooking things that I don’t really use on a regular basis. For some reason, though, I’d hung on to these mini springform cheesecake pans. Not that I make cheesecakes at all, but I think in the back of my mind, I knew that they might have another purpose. They were perfect for this dish. Before you run out and buy these, though, you can achieve a similar result by making rings with aluminum foil and cooking these on a greased baking sheet.

Truffled Potato Galettes

Prep time: about an hour
Serving size: 2 galettes

2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 tsp parsley, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
3-4 tsp olive oil and truffle oil

Peel potatoes, cut into cubes, and cook in boiling water. Drain water and thoroughly mash potatoes with a fork or a ricer until there are no lumps. Do this with the pan on turned-off burner to cook out the last of the moisture.

Start by pouring into potatoes 1 tsp truffle oil and 1 tsp olive oil, putting in additional oil as necessary (both types as preferred, to taste), and whip until a completely smooth purée is formed. Stir in garlic, thyme, and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two mini cheesecake pans, about 4 inches in diameter, with a drizzle of olive oil and divide the potato mixture between them. Leave about half an inch room at the top to allow for potatoes to rise while baking. Bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Remove from oven. Release clasp. Galette will be golden brown on top and sides. Slide a knife underneath the bottom to release and put on a plate. Serve warm. If you happen to have any fresh truffles at hand, garnish with slivers of that.

Serving suggestions:
Eggs are often just considered to be breakfast fare, but they are also good for dinner. Consider serving this with a poached egg and mesclun dressed with vinaigrette. I decided to add a little leftover smoked salmon to mine.

Buon appetito!

Flounder Florentine

When I chatted with a few of my siblings about the theme for the blog for these few weeks, a couple of them asked if I was going to add this dish to my list. Now that I’ve tried it again, I called around to find out their reactions to it to see if they matched my own. “Because it is disgusting,” was one sibling’s reaction as to the level of her distaste. Another one assured me that she had liked it when we were growing up, but agreed with me that it could use a little bit of work.

Again, I have no idea where this recipe came from originally. My mother said that it was published in a woman’s magazine. When I tried to research it on Google, I got many versions of this dish, each slightly different from what I have written down on my notecard. I have to confess that I’d not actually made this, ever, but had pulled it as one of those fish/Lenten dishes that sounded like a good thing to have my repertoire.

In going through all the ingredients, it did seem a little bit bland-sounding to me. While waiting for the fish to cook, I was just wishing for an idea of how to jazz it up a bit more, flavor-wise. I’d planned to serve it alongside some boiled, small red potatoes. Then, it hit me – I needed to sauté the potatoes in olive oil and garlic to give the entire meal a bit more of an interesting kick. Sure enough, that did it.

This dish is very easy to cut in half which makes it a lovely (with the garlic potatoes and a glass of white wine) meal for mommy and daddy to have while the kids get to enjoy fishsticks and tater tots, which is really what they wanted for dinner anyway instead of something “disgusting” with spinach in it. Maybe it was just a bit too sophisticated for my sister’s childhood palate. This is the child who, after all, survived for at least a year on hotdogs, applesauce and cottage cheese for dinner.

Flounder Florentine

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 25 for cooking
Serving size: 4 (can be cut in half)

2 bunches fresh spinach, cleaned, cooked and cooled
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. leaf oregano, crumbled
olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 fresh flounder fillets (about 7 oz. each)
2 tsp. butter
2 tsp. breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Centigrade / Gas Mark 4). Grease small shallow baking dish. In bowl, combine mozzarella, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and oregano. Separately, mix together spinach, lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

Cut each flounder fillet in half lengthwise. Spread a layer of the spinach on each fillet. Add a layer of the cheese mixture on top of that. Roll up each fillet, making sure that the spinach and cheese stays inside and pierce with a toothpick or small wooden skewer to keep it intact.

Place in baking dish, seam-side down. Put a small pat of butter on top of each fillet and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Bake, covered for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more to brown breadcrumbs. Serve hot.

Buon appetito!

Tuna Tettrazini

I didn’t put this recipe up in time for this past Friday, the first Friday of Lent, because, like usual, it always takes me about a week to get myself in gear for this season. It’s always a challenge to remember that I’m not supposed to eat meat the first week or that I was supposed to have given something up for the next month and a half.

My brain still hasn’t activated the “You are banned from eating meat today” voice until at least the second week. In good years, this happens prior to my eating a chicken sandwich for lunch. In not-so-good years, I’ll have already had bacon for breakfast before it occurs to me that I shouldn’t have eaten it. This year, I felt pretty good about being on top of it, even having my first tuna melt on Ash Wednesday. Good thing that this is only once a year.

So, after the first Friday of pizza for dinner or fish sticks and tater tots (mmm, remember those from school lunches), it’s time to dust off the tuna recipes. Tuna Tetrazzini was among the first of the dishes that I was put in charge of making. It was usually served with “salad” (aka iceburg lettuce with bottled Italian dressing). To be a bit more grown up, I opted for having my recipe for Freshly-Shelled Peas with Sautéed Shallots as the side dish.

In discussing my cooking project with one of my sisters, she mentioned that she also hadn’t made it in a while. I have to say that, periodically, I’ve even had a craving for it. Its base is similar to that for macaroni and cheese, with a variation on white sauce (see my recipe for it here), and it has that gooey, creamy quality that is a hallmark of many a comfort food. We weren’t a tuna casserole family so there aren’t any veggies mixed into this dish, there’s no cream of anything soup as the base, or potato chips [plain crisps for my English friends] crumbled on top. (That actually doesn’t even sound appetizing as I write it, even though it was a culinary staple when I was growing up.)

Tuna Tetrazzini

Prep time: 45 minutes
Serving size: 4 large to 6 medium portions

1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. whole milk
1 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 c. sherry (cooking sherry is fine)
8 oz. cooked noodles or macaroni
1 large can tuna, liquid drained
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. shredded American or Cheddar cheese*

In saucepan, over low heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir to make sure that it is completely absorbed by the butter. Cook for 1-2 minutes until golden brown, but do not let it become dark. Add milk one-quarter cup at a time, making sure to stir continuously to avoid lumps forming.

The milk needs to be whisked in thoroughly after each addition until it has been completely absorbed by the flour-butter mixture. Continue to stir over low heat until the sauce has become very thick, like mayonnaise. Add dry mustard to the cream sauce. Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste. Then, stir in sherry and allow mixture to thicken once again.

Stir in 1/4 cup of shredded cheese to the cream sauce. Fold in tuna. Add cooked pasta to cream-tuna-cheese mixture. Pour into baking pan (I used a 9-inch by 9-inch one.) and sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top. Place in preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (180 Centigrade / Gas Mark 4) for 20-30 minutes until cheese has melted and dish is bubbling hot.

Remove from the oven to cool for few minutes and make the peas side dish in the meantime. Serve peas immediately with the tuna tetrazzini.

*The original of this recipe called for using Velveeta, but I don’t allow that to cross the threshold of my abode. Instead, after doing a little bit of research on macaroni and cheese, I decided to go with an American and Cheddar cheese combo, which melts just as nicely.

Buon appetito!

Shrimp Remoulade for Fat Tuesday

As we were all reminded at Mass this morning, Lent is quite literally around the corner. This year, we have Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone eats and drinks lots of not-so-healthy game day snacks, back to back with Ash Wednesday, the start of the holiest season of the Catholic calendar and one that means fasting, abstinence and reflection. Fortunately, we have Mardi Gras in the middle to help us get from one to the other.

Jotted down in pen in the blank pages of a much-used cookbook that I found in my parents’ house, is the recipe I decided to try this weekend: Shrimp Remoulade. If you do an on-line search for this recipe, you’ll find as many variations on the theme as there are Cajuns in Louisiana (one of the places of origin of this dish). The version I copied down from the recipe file was an oil-based emulsion. Other remoulades (like those made with celery root) call for mayonnaise as the dressing base instead. This is the perfect, lightly spicy dish that, along with a small side of boiled white rice, would be a wonderful starter for any Fat Tuesday party that you might be having.

I’m keeping my post super short this weekend as the big game is getting ready to start. I’ve got to support the boys in blue of my adopted hometown. Let’s hope they pull it off, otherwise, it will be kind of miserable in the office tomorrow, with everyone armchair-quarterbacking the loss.

Shrimp Remoulade

Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus time for the shrimp to chill
Serving Size: 4-5 portions of 5-6 shrimp each, depending upon size of shrimp

1 to 1-1/2 pounds medium-count shrimp
several lemon slices
1 bay leaf
1 Tsp. red peppercorns
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped

1-1/2 c. light olive oil
1/2 c. Creole mustard (or strong mustard)
1/2 c. white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
2 Tsp. paprika
1 c. minced celery
2 Tsp. grated white or yellow onion
1/4 c. minced parsley
1 Tsp. minced green pepper


Whisk together the first six ingredients of the dressing until emulsified (i.e., it looks like a thick dressing) and everything is completely combined. Add the rest of the dressing ingredients and mix together again.

Fill a large pan with enough water to allow shrimp to cook without being crammed together. To the water add the lemon, bay leaf and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and let cook until they have all risen to the top and are thoroughly cooked, about five minutes at most. Drain shrimp immediately and rise with cold water to keep them from being overcooked.

If the shrimp were not peeled initially (I prefer to cook mine with the peels on.), peel the shrimp as quickly as possible in order to add them to the dressing while still slightly warm. Chill for several hours and then serve cold, garnished with the chopped hard-cooked egg and with boiled white rice or crackers on the side.

There is a note on the recipe card that the dressing can be made up to a week in advance and that the shrimp can be left to soak in it for two to three days in advance, if kept very cold.

Buon appetito!