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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spinello

    SPINELLO [ spih-ne-low]  The combination of a warm, fresh, pizza dough wrapped around fresh deli meats and cheese.  Tired of eating sandwiches on sliced bread, squashed in a panino press or on a big fat bun?  I certainly am and this is the perfect "thinking outside the box" solution. 
    Simple, fast and fresh describes this wonderful spin on an old classic.  Your favorite salumi (deli meats) and cheese combined with fresh greens and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette are snuggly rolled up to create the perfect hand held lunch.
    In my spinello, I decided to stick with my basic favorite Italian flavors.  Fresh sliced prosciutto di parma, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and field greens bathing in extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.  As with any sandwich, you can substitute meats and cheeses to suite your palate.

Ingredients

1 fresh pizza dough (makes 4-5, 10 inch spinellos)
1/2 LB of your favorite Italian deli meats
Fresh mozzarella or bocconcini
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
2 cups mixed field greens
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged Balsamic vinegar
Pre heat oven to 375f and place a bowl of water inside to create moisture (this will keep dough soft enough to roll once baked)
On a lightly floured surface, cut and roll out dough to approximately 10 inches.  Place dough in oven and bake for 10 minutes.  The dough will puff up slightly and cook through. Avoid getting too much color on dough or it will become brittle when you try to roll it up.  Remove from oven, do NOT allow to cool.
   While still warm, layer entire surface with sliced meats.
   Continue layering with cheese, fresh greens and chopped tomatoes.
     Drizzle entire surface with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
   Using both hands, tightly roll the spinello, being careful to keep all the ingredients inside.
Slice spinello in half and serve immediately while still warm.
Light and warm,  a spinello makes a very satisfying lunch.  I like to serve my prosciutto and mozzarella spinello with a slice of fresh melon, a typical, fresh Italian combination.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Red Snapper with Citrus Chili Crust

   Fish is great for weeknight dinners because in most cases it can be prepared quickly.  Grilled, pan fried, or oven baked, versatility is key to preparing to your quest's tastes and needs.   Flavor possibilities are also endless when preparing most light tasting fish.  Lightly seasoned , battered or sauced up versions of your favorite fish make it easy to please everyone at your table.
  When preparing a light tasting fish I prefer to keep flavors and preparation simple and mild.  A delicate fillet of any white fish or in this recipe , Red Snapper usually benefits from a mild preparation to keep it light and healthy.
   This dish consists of a lightly crusted snapper fillet with a sweet citrus flavor and a little kick from some fresh chili pepper.  Just about any fish can be used for this recipe.
Ingredients

2 Red Snapper fillets
1 slice, whole grain bread pulsed into crumbs(using food processor)
1 lemon
Juice and zest from 1 orange
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 small chili pepper, minced(seeds and pith removed)
Salt and pepper
1 small red onion, diced
Extra virgin olive oil

Place bread crumbs in a bowl.   Add brown sugar, zest and juice from 1 orange, juice from 1/2 a lemon, diced onion, minced chili pepper and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Mix well until all ingredients are combined and has a slightly wet, coarse dough like consistency.  Set aside.
Place fillets in a pan or baking dish , oiled on both sides and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
Add bread crumb mixture to the top of each fillet making sure to spread evenly over entire surface.  Place fish in a pre heated 375f oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Switch oven to broiler and broil for 3-4 minutes until crust is golden brown and crispy.
Remove fish from oven, plate and serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

The sweet, citrusy crust is balanced by the mild heat from the chili pepper and makes a perfect topping for a flavorful, easy, quick to prepare weeknight fish dinner.  Serve with salad or your favorite vegetable side dish.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Creamy Broccoli & Shrimp Fettucine

   Week night dinners can be a pain when you are not prepared.  When you walk in the door after a long day of work and stare at your kitchen, you just want to pick up the phone and order in.  Realizing this may not be the healthiest alternative you talk yourself out of doing so.  The problem is you want to make something quick but not boring,  providing you have something in your pantry and refrigerator that you can easily whip up.
   This recipe allows you to make a great meal in less time than it takes to have food delivered to your door.  With a few simple ingredients and enough time to boil a pot of pasta this meal will have you smoothly sailing through the rest of your week night.

Ingredients

1 pkg. Fettucini or  pasta of your choice
1 head of broccoli, chopped
1 lb. frozen, raw (medium sized)easy peel shrimp, defrosted and peeled
1/2 cup of heavy cream
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 Tbsp butter
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Grated parmigiano reggiano

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. ( cook as per directions on package)
Meanwhile, as the pasta is cooking,  heat some oil and smashed garlic in a pan (med/hi heat) then begin to saute the broccoli turning frequently for 5 minutes.
 Add shrimp to pan, cook for 3 minutes.
 Add 1/2 cup of the boiling pasta water and cream.  Toss mixture making sure shrimp and broccoli are evenly coated and cream is heated.  Add the butter, salt and pepper and mix well until butter is melted.
Strain cooked pasta and toss into creamy broccoli and shrimp mixture.  Finish with a sprinkle of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and serve.
Even with the addition of cream to this healthy pasta dish you can see the creamy sauce is just enough to lightly coat the ingredients.  The shrimp pairs beautifully with the fresh, crunchy, garlic coated broccoli and tossed together with the pasta makes a complete, easy week night meal.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Skillet Baked Focaccia with Rapini and Asiago

   Many people don't like eating leftovers.  The thought of eating the same thing two days in a row makes life boring and repetitive.  When dealing with leftovers I try to use them to create something new or different.  Sometimes they are better left untouched and sometimes they are received with great success and enthusiasm.
   Experimentation in the kitchen is one of my favorite things.  When it works out, a new recipe is created which can be made from scratch without using leftovers the next time.
Rapini and pizza dough are the two leftovers that ended up being the stars in this recipe.  Super crispy golden crust cradles earthy rapini and sharp, pungent asiago cheese sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt which dance together in this wonderful, rustic focaccia.

Ingredients

1 pizza dough (home made or store bought)
1 small bunch of rapini (8-10 stalks)
1/4 cup of Asiago cheese chunks or shavings
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
  ( If using leftover rapini, disregard this step) Toss rapini into boiling water for about 8 minutes until tender then remove and run under cold water to cool slightly.  Allow them to drip dry.
Place rapini in a heavy cast iron skillet, cover with asiago cheese shavings or chunks. 
Sprinkle liberally with sea salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
   Place pizza dough over rapini and cheese then gently press down with finger tips creating dimples. Drizzle with more oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
   Place skillet in a pre heated 375*f oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
Once focaccia is baked, remove from oven and flip over onto a serving dish or cutting board.  Cut in wedges and serve hot or cold.
The slightly greasy (in a good way) crispy crust will be light and airy on the inside and the toppings with be caramelized and firmly pressed into the surface.
Can be served as a side or eaten with  fresh cheeses and salumi.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Squash, Spinach and Asiago Dip/ Thanksgiving weekend

    Thanksgiving in Canada is a wonderful thing.  As with all other countries we give thanks for the bounty which mother earth gives us.  Aside from this great bounty is the amazing fall season which gives us wonderfully mild weather, the turning of the leaves and just an all round great time of year to experience all of this with family and friends.
The last thing I wanted to post was another recipe for a roasted turkey, I mean we have seen it a million times. As we anticipated the holiday weekend we decided to plan a small road trip to celebrate Thanksgiving and the fall season. Living outside of the big city has its advantages in this case.  All the splendor that is fall is just a short drive from our place.  This little road trip takes place in and around my beautiful hometown of Caledon Ontario Canada.
   We started with a short drive northwest to beautiful  Forks of the Credit,Bellfountain where the salmon spawn in the Credit river and the quaint old world charm and shops are a treat, followed by the natural phenomenon- Badlands of Cheltenham . The rolling hills covered with an amazing aray of  color from the leaves is just stunning.  The Badlands, a small area covered with a red clay of sorts where nothing really grows, is a truly incredible yet almost creepy place.
   Close by we found a wonderful place called Spirit Tree Cidery. Surrounded by acres of apple orchards and rolling hills, this was a real culinary treat.  As we approached the doors the aroma filled the air with an alluring scent of baked goods.  Using a stone, wood fired  oven the friendly staff bake artisan breads, quiche, tarts  and other fantastic food.  We could not resist the temptation to buy a few goods from the great selection.
Country French Loaf  (used in recipe seen below)
A sourdough loaf made with  Red Fife whole wheat flour,  white, unbleached artisan bread flour, sea salt & pure well water was a nice crusty bread, perfect to accompany a Thanksgiving meal.
The Bacon, potato and leek quiche filled with ricotta, Canadian cheddar and spinach was decadent!
  Hard cider is the alcoholic beverage produced by fermenting fresh apple juice (Sweet Cider) and Spirit Tree's interpretation of Pub Cider is a great example.  The beer like beverage is lightly sweet with a mildly bitter apple aftertaste not unlike a sparkling wine.  Very refreshing, I enjoyed it with the boldly flavored quiche.
   Moving west from here we arrived in Erin Ontario where the wonderful fall fair was going on for the Thanksgiving weekend.
The country feel of a fall fair is loved by young and old with midway rides, animals and culinary treats.
The fresh and hot, hand glazed donuts were a great snack as we walked through the fair enjoying the sights and sounds.
A wonderful fall day in the country was had by all and a real inspiration for the Thanksgiving feast to follow.
This was the calm before the storm.  The house was filling with the scent of turkey creating an unruly anticipation.
In typical Italian family fashion, dinner washed through with the destructive force of a tsunami leaving only scraps and a bones.
 
Not long after the dinner feast was the unveiling of the "dessert table" with fresh brewed espresso, homemade chocolate and limone gelato, hand made ricotta filled Sicilian cannoli , pies, cakes and other luscious cookies and treats.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings family and friends together with the love of food and despite the chaos and over eating, I wouldn't have it any other way!

Squash, Spinach and Asiago Dip

Ingredients

1 small butternut squash ( oven roasted for 1 hour)
1 bulb of garlic ( oven roasted for 1 hour)1 1/4 cups sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese
1 cup frozen chopped spinach ( defrosted and well drained)
1 package french onion soup mix

  Once squash and garlic have cooled, peel and mash them in a bowl and add all other ingredients.  Mix until well blended.  Using the bread loaf of your choice, cut a circle around the top of the crust and remove it and the bread below leaving a large bowl like cavity.  Place dip in the bowl and cut the removed bread and crust into chunks to serve with the dip.  Once bread chunks and most of the dip is gone, cut bread bowl into pieces and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pan Grilled Chicken Braised in Peperonata

  [Peh-peh-roh-NAH-tah] is an incredibly flavorful dish of stewed peppers, tomatoes and onions cooked in olive oil.  The amazing thing about peperonata is, it can be prepared quickly or slow roasted and yet each process will yield fantastic results.  A quick saute of peppers and onions with tomatoes creates a wonderful sauce with a somewhat al dente bite to the veggies, great for things like veal or sausage on a bun.  Slow cooking peperonata intensifies the peppery flavor and gives you that deep roasted tomato taste with a finish of caramelized sweetness.
  Aside from using it as a topping, it makes for an amazing vessel to braise meats.  As a matter of fact, beef, veal, pork, poultry and even most white fish don't mind bathing in this luxurious sauce.  Braising with peperonata infuses super rich flavor into whatever you decide to add to it.  Your choice of peppers and onions, which ever size shape or color they may be will make all a fantastic tasting dish.
  Succulent, tender, boneless-skinless chicken breast is pre-grilled to retain a nice smokey flavor in this preparation yet allows it to marry with the rich tasting sauce.
You may choose to grill the chicken on your outdoor grill  but the use of a super hot grill pan and some smoked sea salt will give you that outdoor grill flavor without having to brave the cool fall weather.
For this reason the delicate breast is not over powered by the bold tasting peperonata.
  Use this recipe for what ever type of meat you like.  The preparation will be identical for any type you choose.
Ingredients for Peperonata

3 Peppers -any color, seeds removed and chopped in strips or squares
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 can San Marzano tomatoes ( hand crushed )
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. sugar
*optional* 1 fresh chili pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped

In a large hot pan, saute smashed garlic and chili pepper in 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil for 2 minutes.  Add chopped peppers and onions and saute for 10 minutes on high heat.  Now add tomatoes and their juices, salt, pepper and sugar, cover with lid and cook for 20 minutes on medium heat.
For chicken, drizzle chicken breasts in olive oil and sprinkle with smoked sea salt ( I use smoked Fleur de sel ), black pepper and some dry oregano.  Place in a very hot grill pan and cook for 2 minutes per side.
Once chicken is grilled,  add the breasts into the peperonata, cover with lid and place into a pre heated 350*f oven for 20 minutes.
 As a finishing touch, I  remove the lid and set under the broiler for 5 minutes to give a nice caramelized coating to the chicken and sauce.
I like to plate the chicken and peperonata over a slice of Italian bread that has been rubbed with garlic and olive oil and toasted until golden brown.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

 Squash is my absolute favorite fruit (vegetable in today's culinary terms) for the fall season.  I eagerly await the harvest of these beauties just so I can make any recipe where it can be used.  There is something to be said about an ingredient that is hearty, savory and sweet all at the same time.  Richness is amplified as butternut squash is slow roasted also making it sweeter and deeper in color.
Risotto is a cold weather favorite amongst many people and squash is a perfect match for such a dish.  Creamy, heart warming rice slow cooked with sweet, earthy squash make a perfectly balanced dish and is a true classic northern Italian dish enjoyed around the world.
Contrary to many people's beliefs, risotto does not need the addition of heavy creams and copious amounts of cheese to achieve the smooth creamy texture.  The slow cooking process of the rice releases the starches in the grains to create the wonderful dish giving you the  addition of whole grains in your diet without adding extra saturated fats.
Most risotto recipes call for using Arborio rice but I prefer Carnaroli rice.  I find that carnaroli is very starchy like arborio but it stays more firm when cooked, retaining a better texture.  A properly cooked risotto should be creamy and smooth yet still retain a loose texture with every grain defined.  In other words, risotto should not be a large pile of congealed gloopy starch and it is easier to achieve with carnaroli rice. 
Butternut can be replaced with regular pumpkin (called winter squash in many countries) for a slightly less sweet taste.

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash ( approx. 2 lbs)
2 cups carnaroli rice
6-7 cups chicken stock ( use vegetable stock for lower fat content)
1 cup white wine
1 onion finely diced
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
Parmigiano reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Cut squash in half, remove seeds and place flesh down on a baking tray.  Roast in a 400*f oven for 45 minutes or until very soft and caramelized. Remove from oven, peel and set aside.
Bring stock to a simmer in a pot on stove top.
In another large pot heat 4 tbsp. olive oil and saute onion and garlic for 4-5 minutes on medium heat (do not burn garlic!)
Now add the rice and stir constantly for approximately 2 minutes making sure to coat rice evenly with oil .
Rice should be warm throughout but not burning.
Add squash to pot and stir until well blended with rice.
Add wine and stir until  absorbed by rice.( approx 2-3 minutes)
Begin adding 1 ladle at a time of stock and stirring occasionally until rice absorbs it, and repeat this process until stock is used.
A good simmer is all you need, boiling will cause stock to evaporate too quickly.
This process should take 25-30 minutes.
At this point the risotto should be "al dente" (subtley firm) to the bite but very creamy,
Plate risotto and add parmigiano shavings , serve immediately.

The sweetness of the squash and the nice subtle bite to the rice has this very creamy texture and is extremely flavorful and hearty.

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