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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pizza with Roasted Tomatoes, Peppers and Smoked Ricotta

    When making pizza at home I tend not to stray from the norm.  Fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil on a thin crispy crust, commonly known as a pizza margherita  is what I usually make. 
As we all know, pizza can adapt to almost any ingredient and outside of Italy this is usually the case.  Crazy concoctions with almost any food are thrown on a flat dough, baked and voila...a pizza.  In a sense I admire people's creativity but when I see things like "Buffalo chicken wing pizza" it drives me insane.
When I do stray from the everyday basic pizza, I like to use ingredients that are within the realm of flavors typical to Italian cooking.
         
      Smoked ricotta I received this summer from my wife's uncle visiting from Calabria had been sitting in my fridge as I wondered what to do with it.  Typically it is eaten with salumi or shaved over pasta but I was itching to try and cook with it.  I quickly discovered that it had no real melting capabilities, rather it dried up a little more and the smokiness was intensified.  When I sliced and baked it, it browned nicely on the surface but retained a baked potato like texture on the inside. 
   Not wanting the cheese to over power the pizza I figured I had to pair it with other boldly flavored ingredients.  Oven roasting a tomato concentrates its flavor making it rich, smokey and a great match to the smoked ricotta.  The tomato loses much of it's moisture, concentrating the sugars but remains more plump than a sun dried tomato.  Since the cheese and tomatoes were slightly dry and lacking in cheesy, saucy gooeyness I added some roasted red pepper for moisture and sharp flavor.
   Basil pesto, fried garlic, red onion and good quality extra virgin olive oil balance nicely with the cheese, tomato and peppers.
To make the oven roasted tomatoes use canned, peeled tomatoes.   Gently fry a few cloves of garlic in some olive oil until golden, approximately 5 minutes and set aside.  Cut tomatoes in half and lay in a baking tray then sprinkle with a pinch of salt, some dry oregano and drizzle with oil from the fried garlic.  Bake in a 400f oven for 30 minutes.  They will shrink considerably but still be moist and a little charred.

Ingredients

1 pizza dough
Smoked ricotta sliced 1/8 of an inch thick ( as much as you like )
6 canned san marzano tomatoes -oven roasted (see above)
1 roasted red pepper cut in thin strips
3-4 Tbsp basil pesto
3 cloves of garlic, lightly fried
1 small red onion finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Roll out pizza dough and place on a tray.  Smother surface evenly with basil pesto and layer with roasted tomatoes, peppers, smoked ricotta, red onion and chunks of fried garlic.
Drizzle lightly with olive oil and place in a 400f oven.
Bake pizza until crust and smoked ricotta are golden brown.
Allow pizza to cool slightly before cutting.
Great ingredients in some of their boldest forms create a powerful flavor combination and a really intense pizza.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Squash, Chestnut and Ricotta Ravioli



   When I eat something delicious, I like to savor every flavor and texture.  Combinations of great foods give you the surprising feeling of knowing exactly what ingredients you are eating all in one bite.  As it swirls around in your mouth you can easily separate all the tastes yet they all go so great together.
   Many great chefs can make wonderful creations with various ingredients and bring them all together with whimsical presentation.  On the other hand, I enjoy seasonal ingredients and just let the flavors of the season make for a great combination.   Whether they are local to your area or come from across the ocean, seasonal ingredients are readily available.  As I often find when it grows together, it goes together.
  Vibrant butternut squash, earthy roasted chestnuts and creamy sheep's milk ricotta combine to create a taste that lets you know fall is here and it's harvest time.  Although ricotta is available all year long, fall is when I enjoy it the most.  Nuttiness from the chestnuts partners great with the sweet rich taste of a roasted squash.
  Why make ravioli when you can go out and buy them?  First of all we never truly know what is in them and secondly this recipe will show you a trick to making quick and easy ravioli using fresh pasta  you can buy locally.
   Using fresh lasagna  purchased from from my neighbourhood pastificio I take the leg work out of making the pasta my self.  When creating a stuffing for your ravioli, let your imagination run wild using seasonal flavors you enjoy together.
Ingredients

8 sheets of fresh lasagna
1 cup of fresh sheep's milk ricotta
1 cup roasted butternut squash, skin removed (400f oven for 1hour)
1/4 cup ground roasted chestnuts
1/2 cup grated parmigiano cheese
Flour for dusting
1 egg beaten with 2 Tbsp water

Once squash has cooled, place it in a bowl with ricotta,chestnuts and parmigiano and mix well.
On a lightly floured surface lay one sheet of lasagna and place 1 teaspoon of stuffing evenly apart keeping fillings closer to one side.
Using a brush or your finger tip, carefully paint egg wash around each filling and carefully fold lasagna over to match ends on the other side.  Firmly press around each filling until sealed then using a pizza cutter or sharp knife begin cutting out ravioli.  I usually make 5-6 ravioli per sheet but if you have the patience and skill you can make smaller ravioli.
Once cut out, firmly press around all edges to ensure a good seal.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and begin gently dropping the ravioli in.  Because they are made with fresh pasta the cooking time is short.  Once the ravioli come to the water's surface they are ready.

Sauce

In a frying pan on medium heat, melt some butter until lightly brown then add fresh sage leaves and a very small pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
Pour sauce over ravioli and plate with shavings of parmigiano reggiano.
The result is luxuriously tender ravioli with a sweet, creamy filling and an nice earthy aftertaste of roasted chestnuts and delicately flavored by the sauce. Finish with a few drops of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
If large ravioli are made, serve 3-4 per person.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stuffed Peppers

  Nothing infuses flavor into food the way a roasted pepper does.  Rich, subtle, peppery juices massage their way into ingredients taking them to a whole new level.
  Fall is here and peppers of all shapes, sizes and colors are ready to be eaten.  The bell pepper is used in most notable cuisines around the world.  The variety of colors lend spectacular visual effect in any dish and the taste is often the star of any great recipe they are used in.  Although the colors can be vastly different, the flavors are only mildly different.
  Peppers can be stuffed with an endless number of  ingredients not unlike the toppings on a pizza.  For this recipe  I chose to use a hand full of Italian ingredients with flavors that go great together.   Most Italian cooks would use red or green bell peppers to be stuffed but I use Hungarian bell peppers.  I find the Hungarian pepper to be a little sharper in peppery flavor than red or green but still keep the traditional recipe intact.
  Mild Italian sausage, mozzarella, parmigiano and tomato sauce go extremely well together to blend with arborio rice and be infused with the wonderful taste of the bell pepper.
  All this results in a fantastic little package that is like an entire meal filled with the 4 basic food groups.

Ingredients

6 bell peppers  ( any color can be used)
4 Mild Italian sausages, casings removed
2 cups Arborio rice
4 cups Tomato sauce
1 LB. Mozzarella, grated
1 cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 Onion finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slice peppers in half from top to bottom and remove stems, seeds and pith and set aside.
Begin by boiling Arborio rice until al dente.  At the same time saute sausage and onion in a frying pan until nicely browned.  Drain rice and place in a large bowl with cooked sausage and onion.  Add tomato sauce and both cheeses then season with salt and pepper.  All ingredients should be well mixed and can then be stuffed into bell pepper.
Be sure to use a generous amount and pack well into each pepper half.

Place peppers in a covered baking dish and into a pre heated 400f oven.
Cook peppers for 1 hour and 15 minutes then remove cover and bake an additional 15 minutes.

If you prefer a really soft roasted pepper, extend covered baking time an additional 20 minutes.
Unmistakable pepper flavor wrapped around  wonderful Italian ingredients can be enjoyed as an appetizer or along side any main dish to create a memorable meal.

Prep time 35 minutes
Cooking time 1 1/2 hours

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Apple, Potato & Bacon Pie with Pistachio Crust

    I love savory pies.  Fall is the perfect season for combining hearty ingredients as we tend to shy away from the lighter flavors of summer.  In creating a savory pie, the possibilities are endless.  This example has a wonderfully matched combination of mostly local ingredients.
 As harvest time comes around the great Canadian countryside is filled with apples, potatoes and succulent pork.
Earthy potatoes, sweet apples and smokey bacon pair extremely well with aged white Canadian cheddar, goat cheese and onion.  The twist in this pie comes from the pistachios carefully massaged into the crispy, flaky, buttery crust which tenderly cradles all these amazing ingredients.
The results will surprise you with a symphony of melding flavors and textures, making it very difficult to have only one slice.
Ingredients for filling

1 Russet Potato, boiled until tender
1 Apple peeled , cored and sliced
6 Slices of bacon, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 cup Shredded, aged white cheddar
1/4 cup Unripened goat's milk cheese
1 small Red onion, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for crust

2 cups All purpose flour
1 cup butter cut in cubes
1/2 cup Chopped pistachio nuts
1 tsp salt
8 Tbsp Ice water

To make crust combine flour, pistachios, salt and butter in a bowl.  Using a fork, gently mash together until fully combined.  Add water and mix together until all the flour in taken from the sides of the bowl and a dough ball has formed.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.

On a floured surface, roll out dough until it is big enough to fit a 9 inch pie dish.  Gently place dough in greased pie dish and set aside.  ( This recipe will create a fairly thick pie crust )

Filling Pie-  Sprinkle some grated cheddar into the base of the crust.  Slice potato 1/4 thick and layer over the cheese, covering the entire base of the crust.  Sprinkle remaining cheddar over potato and begin layering apple slices. Cover apple slices with bacon, goat cheese and onion then sprinkle with black pepper.

Place in a pre heated 375f oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
A wonderful treat for any Holiday celebration!  This hearty savory pie can be served as an appetizer or as a meal accompanied by a soup or salad.

Prep time 1 hour
Cooking time 1 hour and 15 minutes

Monday, September 6, 2010

Classic Lasagna


  Growing up in an Italian household was like living in a 5 star kitchen.  Food was what everything revolved around.  Not just any food, great food.  It wasn't just for parties or big events either.  Coming home everyday from school and walking in the door was a treat just smelling the scent coming from the kitchen...ahh what a feeling.

   Anticipation was the next feeling as we patiently waited for mom's creation to come to the table, even though we could recognize exactly what was cooking ( from the scent).  Like a finely tuned Ferrari each dish
 came to the table looking beautiful, tasting amazing and made just the way you knew it would always be....perfect.

   Lasagna is one of those traditional dishes that transports you  into the wonderful world that is Italian food.  Even most non-italians can relate as they bite into what is probably one of  the most recognizable and all round loved dishes of the world.  The different textures tasted in just a single bite with the sauce, meat and stringy melted cheese is one of the reasons people love it.
 It is these same ingredients, paired with fresh pasta that convey the wonderful feelings created by Italian food. 
Many people would never attempt to make a lasagna but the truth is, with a few simple ingredients and a little time anyone can recreate this amazing, traditional classic.
 Ingredients

8 sheets of fresh lasagna ( available in most supermarkets or your local pastificio)
6 cups Tomato sauce
1 lb. Ground beef
1 lb. Mozzarella
1 cup Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
2-3 Hard boiled eggs

Saute ground beef until browned, drain any liquid then add to tomato sauce.
In a baking dish begin layering sauce, pasta, mozzarella, parmigiano and sliced hard boiled egg.

                       Repeat this step until you have used all your ingredients.

Place lasagna in a pre-heated 375f oven and bake covered for 50 minutes.
Remove cover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until top is golden brown and bubbling.

Once cooked, allow the lasagna to cool slightly before cutting and serving.
Classically Italian, traditionally unforgettable Lasagna.

As with all Italian cooking, ingredients may vary from region to region.
Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour

Friday, September 3, 2010

Maple Pear Tart with Mascarpone and Dark Chocolate


Sinfully delicious extra dark chocolate and creamy mascarpone smother sweet maple syrup infused pears all cradled by a light and crispy puff pastry crust.  Wow, that is a mouthful but you will definitely want more than a bite when you sink your teeth into this.   Decadent is the first word that comes to mind describing this treat.

Fall is here and juicy Bosc pears are ripe and ready.  They transform into something wonderful as they  bathe in a warm bath of Canadian maple syrup.  Luscious mascarpone and dark chocolate already notoriously good in many desserts, complete the combination and the result is heavenly.

A simple preparation and assembly is all it takes to create this stunning tart but  your guests will easily believe you stopped by a patisserie to pick it up.

Ingredients

1 block of puff pastry
3 ripe Bosc pears cut into1/4 inch slices
1/2 cup Maple syrup
1 cup of mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
1 egg
2 Tbsp water

Roll out puff pastry and place it in a buttered pie baking dish.  Spread mascarpone into pastry then sprinkle with dark chocolate and set aside.
Place pear slices in a hot frying pan and cover with maple syrup.  Cook on medium/high heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until pears soften and begin to absorb syrup.  Set aside and cool for 5 minutes.
Pour the pears and maple syrup into the center of the tart and gently fold edges of pastry over the top leaving an opening for steam to escape while baking.  Beat egg and water together and brush the puff pastry until all the edges are coated.

Place tart in a preheated 375f oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until puff pastry crust is golden brown and flaky.
                                                 Allow to cool slightly before serving.

The tart pairs extremely well with a  nicely chilled Canadian ice wine.
 For more great wine info check out:
                                                              http://iyellowwineclub.com/

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