Category: italian

Oven roasted tomato deliciousness.

Oven roasted tomatoes with basil, oregano & garlic

Happy September, everyone. Wow, can you believe it’s September already? Where did the time go? Summer really flew by. I’ve had a pretty stressful summer- and I didn’t get to the beach once. Also, my cat of 13 years, Arwyn, had to be put to sleep a few days ago, so this summer has been officially marked as shit. She might have lived with my mom and become my “mother’s” cat, but she was my baby. I see Halloween stuff and back-to-school things in stores and I wanna cry, and I LOVE Halloween. How did the summer go by so fast… and why? It’s still a zillion degrees out, I’m not fully ready to plunge into 100% fall treats yet. Besides- IT’S NOT EVEN LABOR DAY. LEMME KEEP MY TOMATOES AND MY SHORTS AND MY SANDALS AND MY ICED TEA, PLZ. KTHX.

Oh, tomatoes. Tomatoes, you beautiful summer-long-into-September-and-maybe-October delectable morsels of life.

Fresh tomatoes!

I know we just spoke about tomatoes a few days ago, but come on. LOOK AT THESE THINGS. How do you not want to take pictures of them and eat them and cuddle them?

Okay, maybe not that.

In case you’re not a regular reader, we’ve been growing tomatoes in our raised garden beds. I had container gardens for years, and last summer we upgraded to raised beds that Jay built. This year we expanded them, and grew 5 varieties of tomatoes: Indigo Apple, Globe, Amish Paste, Cosmonaut Volkov and Supersweet 100. We also grew three kinds of basil (Cinnamon, Purple Ruffles and regular ol’ Genovese) and two types of oregano (regular and “hot & spicy”).

Tomatoes ready to be oven roasted!

I love tomato season. Unf.

So, I had a few tomatoes that fell off the vine before they were ripe, and I decided to pick a vine of Supersweet 100’s and toss ’em all together in the oven. Of course, what are tomatoes without garlic, basil and oregano?

So I washed and dried the shermaters, cut up the Indigo Apple’s to a smaller size, and grabbed some hot & spicy oregano, a bunch of basil leaves and some regular oregano. I added those to the ‘maters. It already smelled like heaven. Or a pizzeria. Same thing.

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The simplest, freshest, easiest tomato sauce you’ll ever make.

(This was originally written for a contributor post on eighteen25, go take a look and see! And look for more posts by me over there soon.)

Simple, fresh and easy summer tomato sauce. Adapted from a recipe by Marcella Hazan.

When it’s like, 200 degrees out, you do not want to be making something that takes hours over a hot stove. Nuh-uh. It’s too much. Even if you have the A/C crankin’ you still don’t want to be standing stirring something, sweating.

Wow, alliteration! My 8th grade English teacher Mrs. Clarey would be proud.

Anyway, I’ve been making this sauce for a couple of years now. Mainly in the summertime, but I’ve been known to make it in a double batch on a cold day. It’s my go-to simple sauce recipe because of a few reasons: 1) it’s easy, 2) it tastes delicious, 3) it’s quick to make and 4) it’s EXCELLENT on both pasta and homemade pizza. And it’s also amazing on crusty bread with a thick slice of fresh mozzarella. Yum.

All you need (plus salt and sugar) to make the best, freshest tasting tomato sauce ever.

And best of all? There are 4 main ingredients, shown above, and two minor ingredients (sugar & salt). That’s just 6 ingredients in all. And in 20 minutes, you’ve got a delicious sauce, ready to eat. Also, it can be made with peeled whole canned tomatoes as well, if you prefer a chunkier sauce. Just crush ’em in the pot with your hands before adding the other ingredients.

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Vanilla panna cotta with fresh cherry sauce.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

Don’t you just LOVE when desserts look like murder scenes?

Panna Cotta is one of the most perfect summertime desserts. Not only does it take about  5 ingredients, but it’s a dream to make, and you can make it ahead of time. Oh, and it requires only about 10 minutes on the stove! And it’s impressive to say. Panna cotta.

Panna cotta is kind of what would happen if Jell-O and vanilla pudding had a baby. It’s gelatinous, yet creamy. Almost flan-like. In Italian, “panna cotta” means “cooked cream,” and that’s essentially what it is. With sugar, vanilla, gelatin and yogurt. In Italy it’s traditionally eaten with chocolate sauce or fresh berries, or both. Some types of panna cotta can hold their shape when unmolded, this particular one is a crap shoot. If you leave it in longer than overnight, in a very cold spot in the fridge, you might be able to unmold it.

However- forget it if it’s a hot, humid day, or if your custard cups have an unusual shape. It ain’t gonna happen.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

The first time I made this recipe, my mother asked for it for her birthday. I made two types; the original Ina Garten recipe with balsamic strawberries, and some with just mini-chocolate chips mixed in before chilling it. Since then I’ve made it many times over- usually for her, since it’s one of her favorite things- and never really deviated from that.

But this year I made some fresh cherry sauce with all of those beautiful Rainier Fruit Company cherries I received, and I thought that would be a delicious variation to spoon on top.

And I was correct. And you should make it too, if you were smart like me and froze some of those gorgeous cherries.

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Olive oil cake with orange zest, rum & pistachios.

Yeah, I know. I know. It’s the beginning of June, and “who wants to be baking in a hot house?” I get it. I really do, no one knows better than I do about how horrid it is to bake a big complicated cake or bread in 90° weather.

But… this is OLIVE OIL CAKE. It’s easy. It’s refreshing, citrus-y, it travels well and it has rum in it. It’s like the perfect summer cake.

Believe me.

Olive oil cake with orange, rum & pistachios.

The citrus flavor & olive oil are very Mediterranean in taste, the rum adds a kind of pirate-y note and the pistachios add a mildly salty crunch. All in all it’s the best cake to serve at a summer party or picnic- and you can make it into muffins, a two-layer cake with mascarpone or ricotta frosting, or leave it as is.

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A fairy tale of eggplant proportions.

Magical trees.

Funny thing, memories are. When I was a wee little tot, there was a tulip tree on my property that had a hole in the bottom. It was one of the original trees from when the house was built, so by the time I was a kid it was already not only over 30-something years old, but massive. Right where the trunk met the grass, the roots grew in such a way that made it look like there was a doorway leading into the tree. A little cave, or “fairy house.” It intrigued me so much, that little door. I used to imagine that little creatures lived in there, and had a whole little tree house with furniture made of twigs & carpets made of woven grass. Maybe fairies, maybe gnomes, maybe even mice or squirrels. Preferably the kind that wear little vests & glasses.

Sadly, I grew up… & the tree was removed because it got too big.

Keeping that in mind, think of what went through my mind when I saw this recipe for “Pickled fairy tale eggplant” over at Food in Jars. It immediately conjured up images of fairies & that little door in the tree. It brought back memories that had absolutely nothing to do with eggplant. So of course, I had to make it. However- I do not like eggplant. In the past, I’ve made things like melanzane sott’olio & passed ’em along to my mother. So I figured why not do that again… who could turn down a pretty pinkish jar of something called fairy tale eggplant?

(I know, I’ve been stalking Food in Jars lately. I can’t help it)

Sicilian eggplant. Close enough to "fairy tale" eggplant for a jar of pickles, right?

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Hey melanzane, melanzane sott’olio.*

I first saw a recipe for this last summer on a blog, & I thought: wow, that’s interesting. Coming from a decidedly non-Italian family, I myself never ate eggplant in oil. I never had it in my house. However, I will say I never remember it being a staple in any homes I went to, either. Even the Italian ones. I had an Italian uncle by marriage, and I went to him & my aunt’s home for many dinners that he cooked: pasta fagioli, homemade pizzas, lasagne, etc. I also had many Italian friends with big old school Italian families & crazy huge Sunday dinners, and I never once saw a jar of eggplant in oil. I can’t say I really paid attention to something like that though, especially as a child. But apparently regardless of my total unobservance,  it is quite popular, as both a condiment and side dish.

I actually never ate eggplant as a child or young adult.

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I didn’t eat an eggplant myself until I was almost 27 years old.

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I know you’re probably thinking I’m insane. I’m not, I assure you. We can skip discussing my strange food phobias/quirks for now, okay? Let’s just stick to the topic at hand, which is eggplant in oil.

Let me give you the full background here: Last summer we were hit with Hurricane Irene (which thankfully was Category 1 as it got closer, but more like Tropical Storm Irene by the time it actually hit here) and she was a bitch. New York is never hit with hurricanes; by never I mean there have only been about 84 of them since the 17th century. And most of them- only if they hit directly and at their full power- have been, if not devastating, then massively destructive. Probably because it takes a monster of a storm to wind it’s way all the way up here keeping that strength the whole time. So Irene hits, & we were incredibly lucky to still have had a home, a car and power by the time she left, because many people here didn’t. But after that whatever veggies were on the vine before it hit pretty much weren’t anymore. I knew this would be the case ahead of time, so I just pulled all the vegetables that were growing (and were a decent/useable size) right off the plants. That meant that my eggplant wasn’t exactly large, it definitely wouldn’t have fed a family with an abundant eggplant parmigiana, which was my original plan. It was small and not very mature. After reading the aforementioned blog post about “melanzane sott’olio”, I sliced it up into thin slices just I like I saw on that blog and put it in a jar with some garlic, olive oil & oregano for my mother.

Not for me. Like I said above, it took me almost 30 years for me to even deign to try an eggplant. And I did, and I came to this realization: I am not a big eggplant fan. Unless it’s fried beyond recognition in seasoned bread crumbs & oil until crispy, and then slathered with melted mozzarella cheese & a delicious tomato sauce. And even then? I’d much rather have something else. Like the Local Kitchen said, it’s the slimy factor that gets me, I get the icks from slimy food (that explains why I don’t like oysters, either). The frying makes it crispy and kind of disguises the sliminess. Although at my friend Samantha’s wedding, I had a delish veggie casserole type-thing with a pastry topping & ricotta cheese, kinda like a veggie version of a pot pie, and it was loaded with eggplant. Not fried. But I still ate that shit like it was going out of style. That’s a rarity with me. However I know my mother loves eggplant, so I thought maybe she’d want some melanzane sott’olio for her sandwiches.

And whattaya know? It was a success! The tiny little 8 oz. jar I made for her didn’t last very long. I vowed to her I’d make another (larger) jar once I got my hands on fresh eggplant next summer (which would be this summer).

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But I didn’t grow any eggplant this summer. And time got away from me; I swear I don’t know where the summer went! I actually forgot ALL about the eggplants in oil until I saw that white eggplant at the market. It was sitting with a bunch of other white eggplants, and right next to it a bunch of equally lovely but skinnier lavender eggplants. All locally grown. All absolutely lovely. And I thought to myself, “I think it’s time for some melanzane sott’olio.” They were so pretty and plump, and for the most part unblemished. I figured I’d buy one of the bigger white ones and make a jar of pickled eggplants for my mother.

I’m such a good daughter.

Eggplant can be tricky for a lot of people. Most people complain it’s bitter, so they use the salting method to remove the bitterness. But the trouble is most of them either don’t let it “sweat” long enough or they don’t rinse all the salt off properly, so then it’s either still too bitter or it’s too salty. I’m quite sure that many an eggplant dish, all over the world, has been tossed in the garbage due to this mistake. But if you rinse it well, and then cook it in the vinegar mixture and squeeze it well, then you’ll be just fine. Also, if you’re using the white eggplant, it’s much less bitter than it’s darker counterparts, so this step is skip-able. I didn’t bother doing it, and everyone agreed there was no bitterness. Though if you’re a worry wart it won’t hurt you to do it. Just make sure you rinse all that salt off!

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It’s a very simple process. My directions that follow are for making ONE pint of this, using ONE eggplant. Adjust as necessary. Other than your eggplant, you’ll need:

  • salt
  • a container of olive oil (I used extra virgin, decent quality but not a very expensive one since it will just absorb the other flavors anyway)
  • oregano
  • hot pepper flakes
  • some red or white wine vinegar (depending on your taste), or even just plain old white vinegar if that’s all you’ve got.

If you want to add some thinly sliced garlic, basil leaves or other herbs that’s up to you. You’ll also need a pint jar. It’s fine to use one that isn’t a canning jar because there’s no canning involved, so make use of your old cleaned-out sauce jars or whatever.

Wash the eggplant and cut off the ends. If you prefer it peeled, then do that. I left the skin on mine, but you can’t tell since it’s white. There’s nothing wrong with the skin, it’s perfectly edible, so leave it on if it doesn’t bother you. If you use a purple eggplant it’ll add a nice color to the jar. Slice the eggplant fairly thin into about 1/4″ rounds, or if you prefer, slice it into strips. Using a colander over a large bowl, place a layer of eggplant in the colander then salt it. Repeat this process until all the eggplant is in the colander and salted. Place a plate on top of the eggplant and then weigh it down. I like to use a bag of sugar or flour if I have it around. Leave it like this for 8-12 hours. All the bitterness and moisture in the eggplant will leech out because of the salt. Now you can rinse it thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly. If you want to do it one more time, you can, but you don’t have to. And if you do, don’t leave it another 12 hours- I think 2 would suffice for a second round. Place the rinsed off eggplant on a plate covered with paper towels (or a clean, thin dish towel), making sure the paper towels hang over the sides of the plate. Raise the sides of the paper towels to form a “bag” holding the eggplant and gently squeeze the remaining moisture out. Now you’re ready to cook.

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In a medium saucepan, combine roughly 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring it to a boil and add the eggplant. Cook the eggplant for about 2-3 minutes, making sure it’s all submerged by pressing down with a wooden spoon occasionally. If you’d prefer to cook the eggplant in small batches, then you only need 1/2 cup of each. Place the cooked eggplant on another plate covered with paper towels and let dry for 20 minutes, or pat and squeeze dry once it’s cool enough to touch. I like to keep the eggplant hot before I add it to the jar, so I squeeze it and pat it dry (or as dry as I can get it). Add the cooked pickled eggplant to a clean jar in layers: first adding a few slices of eggplant, then some oregano, a few more slices of eggplant, then some hot pepper flakes, and so on, covering each layer with olive oil. Do this until your jar is full. I used dried oregano from my garden last summer, but fresh is okay too. You can add some chopped or thinly sliced garlic, like I mentioned above, if you wish, or even some basil. Maybe even a sliced fresh Bell pepper, if you want to get really wild & crazy. Close the lid and once the jar is cooled (if you filled it with hot eggplant, that is), pop that bad boy in the fridge. The olive oil will congeal, but if you remove it from the fridge and place it in a warm spot in the kitchen for 15-20 minutes before eating, it’ll re-liquify.

Some say to let it sit for a week or so to let the flavors fuse. My mom eats hers as soon as I give it to her. Do as you like.

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Some ideas for eating it? Well, for one it’s good right out of the (room temperature) jar. Also, it’s excellent on sandwiches, pretty much any kind. My most recent utilization (when I’m cooking for other people, people who enjoy eggplant much far than I) is to add some of it to hot pasta, with or without sauce. Just sprinkle a little cheese on top to finish it off and you’re good to go.

I have heard/seen people who leave the jars out on the counter for weeks (some say months) at a time. They have never died of botulism, nor did their ancestors who did things this way for centuries. There are also people who process the jars of eggplant in oil using a waterbath canner to seal them for shelf-storage. I’ve done this with peppers, myself, although they never really lasted long enough to pose a health risk either way (and were refrigerated once opened). However, I can’t in good conscience tell you to do this, because… well.. this is where I have to do the USDA/FDA public service announcement:

Herbs and oils are both low-acid and together could support the growth of the disease-causing Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Oils may be flavored with herbs if they are made up for fresh use, stored in the refrigerator and used within 2 to 3 days. There are no canning recommendations. Fresh herbs must be washed well and dried completely before storing in the oil. The very best sanitation and personal hygiene practices must be used. Pesto is an uncooked seasoning mixture of herbs, usually including fresh basil, and some oil. It may be frozen for long term storage; there are no home canning recommendations.

Preserving in oil is currently not recommended. Oil may protect botulism organisms trapped in a water droplet. Furthermore, oil may have a deleterious effect on lid gaskets and the at least one manufacturer of home canning lids recommends against it.

USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation

I have to be responsible and make you aware of any dangers that keeping this out unrefrigerated presents. That said, you’re all adults and you can make your own decisions. If you can make the decision to buy cigarettes, buy a 2-liter of Coke or get behind the wheel of your car after you’ve had a few beers, then you can decide for yourself whether or not this is a risk you want to take. I spoke briefly during my Canning for Dummies post about safely canning foods, and oils can’t be safely canned (even in a pressure canner). Therefore, it’s only recommended for use immediately or to store in the fridge. But again… you’re all adults. And you’re going to do what you want either way. I just don’t have to be responsible for it! I did say, “I told you so.”

And if you enjoy this idea, why not try some shrimp this way?

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*Sung to the tune of ‘Mambo Italiano,’ of course.

Ricotta me, ricotta you.

One of my favorite cheeses? Ricotta. I used to eat it plain, spread on a crusty piece of Italian bread when I was a kid. Or right out of the container. Yet in all my years of baking, I’d never made ricotta cake! I know, I know. So this week I changed that.

 

What’s that? Oh nothin’, just lemon ricotta cupcakes with powdered sugar.

 

Did you just fall off your chair? I know, ’cause I almost did myself. Ricotta is fuckin’ amazeballs. Pardon my French- er, Italian. But it seriously is. It can be sweet or savory, used as a condiment or a filling, mixed with sugar… never-ending possibilities.

Ricotta (Italian pronunciation: [riˈkɔtta]) is an Italian dairy product made from sheep (or cow, goat, buffalo) milk whey left over from the production of cheese. Although typically referred to as ricotta cheese, ricotta is not properly a cheese because it is not produced by coagulation of casein. Rather it is made by coagulating other milk proteins, notably albumin and globulin, left over in the whey that separates from the milk during the production of cheese. In fact, ricotta is safely eaten by individuals with casein intolerance.

Ricotta (literally meaning “recooked”) uses the whey, a limpid, low-fat, nutritious liquid that is a by-product of cheese production. Most of the milk protein (especially casein) is removed when cheese is made, but some protein remains in the whey, mostly albumin. This remaining protein can be harvested if the whey is first allowed to become more acidic by additional fermentation (by letting it sit for 12–24 hours at room temperature). Then the acidified whey is heated to near boiling. The combination of low pH and high temperature denatures the protein and causes it to precipitate out, forming a fine curd. Once cooled, the curd is separated by passing through a fine cloth.

Ricotta curds are creamy white in appearance, slightly sweet in taste, and contain around 13% fat. In this form, it is somewhat similar in texture to some cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. It is highly perishable. Ricotta comes in other forms as well.

RICOTTA CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta
  • Zest of 1 (organic) lemon
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons good quality Extra Virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 400˚ and line a muffin tin with liners. Cream the butter and sugar in a standing mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. On the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time. Then add the olive oil & beat. Slowly add the flour, salt, ricotta, lemon zest, & baking powder.
  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared liners about halfway and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  4. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn cupcakes out and cool completely on the rack. Use a sifter to coat in powdered sugar.

I made the full recipe and got 12 cupcakes and one round 8″ cake. You can make two 8″ cakes & layer them with the cannoli filling (keep reading) or some fresh whipped cream & berries, or you make a full 2-dozen cupcakes, or you can fill a 9/10″ springform pan. I guess you could use a 10″ bundt pan too if you really wanted.

Now, if you really want to be daring… or if you just want to make it totally over the top, you can add a cannoli cream filling. I chose not to, mainly because I had limited fridge space and also because I was bringing these somewhere and didn’t want to risk the filling getting gross. But I am giving you the recipe, ’cause I’m cool like that. I’d recommend making the filling on the same day you’ll be using it, and also the same day you’re serving it.

CANNOLI CREAM FILLING
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Ingredients:
  • 3 cups ricotta cheese, drained as “dry” as possible
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • teaspoon lemon or orange zest, optional

Directions:

  1. Put the drained cheese in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix ingredients together with a hand mixer until smooth & thick. Chill for about 20 minutes.
  3. Fill cooled cupcakes. Finito!

You’ll definitely need to store these in the fridge. The frosting is not stable at all and has a high cheese content. Ricotta is very delicate and must be chilled or else all kinds of nasties can grow. If you need help figuring out how to drain the ricotta, this website explains it pretty well. It’s very similar to the “jelly bag” concept in canning. I should stress here that the fresher the ricotta, the better. Artisan ricotta is the best to use, especially for the filling. For the cupcake itself you can get away with using a good quality supermarket brand.

But they’re pretty freakin’ awesome just with some powdered sugar! The cake is light & fluffy, with a super delicate lemon flavor. Not overpowering or heavy. I ate two in a row without blinking. It would make a great base for a strawberry shortcake too, given that it’s so light. You can even serve the cupcakes with fresh berries on top, or maybe a spoonful of lemon curd & some whipped cream. Or, some candied lemon peel. It’s the best spring or summer cupcake ever.