Manicotti–ricotta, parmesan, egg, and mozzarella filled-crepes–are are indulgently delicious. Like elongated ravioli or lasagna, they're rich and creamy and pair wonderfully with homemade tomato sauce. I associate the baked filled-pasta with my first foray into cooking: I was in high school, my parents were celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary, and I wanted to make something special for them as a surprise. I fished out my mother's grandmother's recipe from our recipe box and ignored the voice in my head that warned I might mess up. That batch turned out perfectly–and I was so excited I knew I'd keep experimenting more.
6 large eggs
3 cups water
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 lb fresh ricotta (3 cups)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 lb mozzarella
tomato sauce, for tray and topping
1. Break up eggs in bowl and stir in water. Add flour and salt, then stir batter until just combined. Force through a mesh sieve into another bowl to remove all lumps.
2. Lightly brush an 8-inch nonstick skillet with oil and heat over moderate heat until hot. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into skillet, tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom, reducing heat slightly if crêpe sets too quickly. Cook until underside is just set and lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then flip and cook its reverse for the same amount of time. Invert crêpe onto a clean towel to cool completely. Repeat for remaining crêpes, brushing skillet with oil as needed and stacking crêpes in piles.
3. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Stir together ricotta, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cut mozzarella lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick sticks.
4. Spread 2 cups sauce in baking dish. Arrange 1 crêpe, browned side up, on a work surface, then place about 2 tablespoons of filling in a line across center and top with a mozzarella strip. Fold in sides to enclose filling, leaving ends open, and transfer, seam side down, to baking dish. Fill remaining crêpes in the same manner, arranging snugly in one layer. Spread 1 cup sauce over manicotti. Tightly cover with foil and bake until sauce is bubbling and filling is hot, about 30 minutes. Serve with remaining sauce on the side.
Though it's not my intention, during the winter months I never get around to organizing meals with barbecued meat at their center. But as soon as the weather gets warmer I remember how much I love grilled dinners and all the side dishes that accompany them. This potato salad is nothing like a mayonnaise-based one (check out my recipe for that here), but I'd find it hard to choose a favorite between the two. German potato salad is sweet, salty, tangy, and smoky–a blend of contrasts that always has my table-mates reaching for more.
8 slices bacon
2 quarts cooked potatoes, diced
3 tablespoons flour
1 small onion, chopped
2/3 cup vinegar
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon powdered dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1. Fry (or bake) bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, drain, and crumble.
2. Heat olive oil in pan as needed. Add flour and onion, stirring until soft.
3. Add vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices and cook until mixture thickens.
4. Pour hot mixture over potatoes. Stir in parsley and crumbled bacon, mixing carefully to prevent mashing the potatoes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm.
Tiramisu is a strange dessert–but I mean that in a good way. I guess it's the Italian equivalent of a trifle–a cake-like base soaked in a liqueur-flavored liquid and layered with cream–but it's more pervasively found on restaurant menus and a whole lot more fancy when finished (this will impress your guests, seriously). It doesn't have a long history–most sources agree it was invented in the Veneto in the 1960s. It's rich for sure, but also light enough that you can enjoy a sizable piece for a satisfying indulgence.
14 to 17 ounces marscapone cheese
1 60-count package of savoiardi cookies (or homemade)
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
4 cups of espresso, mixed with one shot of rum
chocolate for grating
cocoa powder for dusting
1. In large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they are white and foamy. Then slowly add marscapone cheese and mix until incorporated.
2. In a separate smaller bowl beat the heavy cream until peaks form and fold into the marscapone-egg mixture
3. In another small bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and slowly fold them into the cream mixture
4. Briefly dip the bottom half of each cookie into the espresso rum mixture allowing the liquid to absorb only slightly. Place each cookie dipped-side down along the bottom of a tray or spring-form pan.
5. Once the entire bottom of the pan is covered with cookies cover with a layer of marscapone a cream. Repeat with another layer of cookies finished with a layer of cream. Refrigerate for at least three hours or preferably overnight to allow the flavors to blend and the cookies to soften.
6. Before serving only, dust the top of the cream with cocoa powder and/or finely grated chocolate. Finish with more cookies if desired.
Pastiera, an Italian Easter "pie," has always been part of the holiday's menu for me. It's a unique dessert, like a creamy baked rice pudding (you could thank the addition of ricotta cheese for that) with a soft, golden crust. Though the recipe is now ascribed to a Neapolitan nun who added ingredients symbolic of the Resurrection (eggs) and spring (oranges and lemons), the dish may ironically have pagan roots. The grain component (here I use rice, but wheat or einkorn could be substituted instead) links it to the goddess Ceres and the festivals welcoming spring's return. Since the pie tastes better when the flavors have a chance to blend, traditionally it should be mixed on Good Friday, baked on Holy Saturday, and eaten on Easter.
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tbsp honey
1/4 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp marsala or vermouth
scant 1/4 cup milk (or less as needed)
2 cups cooked rice (arborio preferred)
1/2 lemon, zested
1/2 orange, zested
2 tbsp oil
1 cup milk
2 cups ricotta
2 whole eggs, plus two yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange juice
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1. Follow the directions on the package of rice to make 2 cups of cooked rice. Let cool. Reheat the rice in a saucepan over medium heat with the oil, milk, and lemon and orange zest. Bring it to a low boil for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Place the mixture in a large bowl, let cool, then place in the refrigerator.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the ricotta, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and orange juice. Place in refrigerator, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to meld.
3. To make the dough, sift the flour, cornstarch, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Add honey, oil, egg, zest, and liquor. Stir briefly until the mixture is lumpy. Add the milk gradually as needed and knead until the mixture is smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 15 minutes.
4. Roll out about two thirds of the pastry and place in a greased 11-inch spring-form pan or a deep tart pan with removable bottom. Trim the extra pastry around the edges and add to the remaining pastry. Roll out the rest of the pastry and with a crimper pastry wheel cut long strips about 1-1/2 inch wide.
5. Fold the rice mixture with the ricotta mixture. Fill the pastry-lined pan. Gently place the strips on the edge of the pastry in a lattice pattern. Brush gently with beaten egg whites and bake in a pre-heated oven at 395° F for about 60 minutes or until the top is golden. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan. (Pie is best served one day later.)
This salad started with the cheese. The wheel of the semi-soft sheep's cheese was in my fridge and other than just breaking off chunks to snack on (which is never a bad idea), I wasn't sure what to do with it. This salad bursts with simple but complex Italian flavors–the lemony capers, the creamy cheese and garlicky peppers all pair so perfectly you'll be wondering why you never thought to mix them together in the first place. I always roast my own peppers–not only do you get to subtly nuance their marinade yourself, you can know for sure that no unappetizing additives or colors get into the mix.
4 peppers (red, yellow, or mixed), quartered and cored
2 tbsp olive oil
basil leaves, thinly sliced (to taste)
greens of your choice
50g pecorino fresco cheese, shaved
4 tbsp capers, drained
2. Whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Pour the marinade over the peppers and add the thyme. Leave the peppers to marinate at room temperature for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.
3. Toss together the basil and greens. Top with the peppers, pecorino, and capers. Drizzle with the remaining marinade, season to taste and serve immediately.
Baba ghanoush–roasted, mashed eggplant with lots of seasonings for those not in the know–and I were not fast friends. I'm not a fan of eggplant usually. It's hard to peel, needs to be drained of its bitter-tasting water, and I hate the mouth-feel of its tiny seeds. But this dish is worth the effort. Though its most a popular in the Levant (think Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Israel), variations are made elsewhere around the world. I always opt for the baking method of cooking–I'm not a fan of anything that becomes super smoky on the grill but when done well that's delicious too.
2 lbs eggplants (about 2-3)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2-3 Tbsp tahini
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 .5 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice of one lemon (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)
Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1. In the oven: Preheat oven to 400°F. Poke the eggplants with fork. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and brush the cut sides lightly with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet, cut side down, and roast until very tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. (Or, on the grill: Preheat grill. Poke the eggplants with a fork, then rub with olive oil. Grill over high heat, turning as each side blackens. Place the charred eggplants in a paper bag, close the bag and let the eggplants steam for 20 minutes.)
2. Scoop the eggplant flesh into a large bowl. Discard skin, drain excess water, and add to a food processor. Run with the eggplant, minced garlic, olive oil, tahini, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne until mostly smooth.
3. Allow mixture to cool, then season to taste with additional lemon juice, salt, and cayenne. Drizzle olive oil on top and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with pita bread, crackers, sliced fresh bread, celery, or cucumber slices.
I love creamy soups–especially when they omit cream (I like eating without heavy fats and the guilt that comes with them). Rest assured, this soup is so bursting with flavor you'll never even notice that there's no dairy blended into the final product. I love its mix of sweet and spicy. The combination of roasting vegetables and pureeing them leads to a robust, bright, and complex-tasting final product that'll have you licking the bowl–while you're on your way to get seconds.
6 lbs. red bell peppers, halved and cleaned (about 12)
12 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 cups chopped onion
4 large sprigs fresh thyme ( about 2 tbsp. leaves)
3 bay leaves
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp. hot sauce
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
3 tbsp. rice vinegar
1. Preheat oven to broil. Half the peppers, removing all seeds and membranes.Flatten on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet and scatter the garlic cloves.
2. Place the tray on the top rack and cook for 15 minutes.Once the peppers have blackened, remove from oven and place in a paper bag to steam for 10 minutes.
3. Heat a large pot to medium heat and coat with oil. Add thyme, bay leaves, and onions. Cook for 10 minutes, or until onions are soft.
4. Add the broth, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Peel the charred skin off peppers and place it in the pot and with peeled garlic cloves.
5. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and cook 20 minutes.Using a hand-held immersion blender or standard blender, blend until smooth. Stir in the vinegar and season to taste. Garnish with extra thyme leaves and thinned plain yogurt.