Tag Archives: italian

Spaghetti Squash … Various

I remember trying spaghetti squash at least five years ago and not being impressed. As I recall, I microwaved the squash and served it very simply with a marinara sauce on top. I thought it was watery and fairly bland. Not really a substitute for pasta, but it was part of my attempt to introduce new vegetables to my diet.

A few days ago, I went grocery shopping and decided to give spaghetti squash another try.

I stabbed the small, whole squash (<800 gm) with a paring knife and then par-cooked it in the microwave for 5 minutes. Then I cut the squash in half, removed the seeds, sprinkled it with some salt, and baked it, cut side down, at 375 deg Fahreheit for 30 minutes, until a fork inserted into the squash met little resistance.

After letting the squash cool, I used a fork to scrape out the flesh.

First impression: The resulting squash strands looked fine but there wasn’t a lot of them. A scant 3 cups, I’d estimate. Of course, I had picked the smallest squash on the pile ($1.49) so you have to take that into account.

Spaghetti Squash topped with jarred spaghetti sauce (sausage and pepper) – Tasty but still a bit watery. Possible solution is to drain the spaghetti squash strands a bit and make sure the spaghetti sauce is thicker. At least now I know it’s not JUST due to the cooking method ie. microwaving.

Spaghetti Squash topped with cheese, sour cream and chili con carne with beans – After hand squeezing the remaining half of the squash, about 1/4 cup of liquid was expelled. The resulting dish was much less watery than the previous serving with meat sauce.

Baked squash seeds for snacking

The seeds were picked free of the surrounding squash flesh, rinsed and simmered for 10 minutes in salted water. I used paper towels to get most of the water off the seeds, placed them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and drizzled them with a bit of canola oil and sprinkled them with fine sea salt and a shake of paprika. Then the seeds were baked at 350 deg Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, turning them over after 5 minutes, to ensure as even baking as possible.

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Sour Cream White Bread and Spaghetti Sauce

I wanted to make a white sandwich bread and picked this sour cream white bread recipe found on “The Spruce” web site for something that was a bit different.

Sour cream replaces the egg, milk and butter found in many enriched bread recipes. The resulting bread was nice and fluffy and tasted great either served as an accompaniment to a bowl of pasta or with jam as a snack.

The bread is meant to be baked in a 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan but the amount of dough I had (820 gm) seemed a bit excessive to me, so I made four (54 gm) buns with part of it. I didn’t bother using the egg white glaze suggested to give the loaf a glossy finish, though I did brush melted butter on the buns.

The dough rose beautifully during the bulk proofing in the oven with the light on, taking only one hour, and though my loaf shaping was a bit lacking, the final proofing took only 45 minutes and baked up golden brown. For some reason, I decided to slash the top of the loaf before baking but, obviously, I didn’t put my heart into the matter as the cut turned out pretty anemic.

 

 

The loaf pan was oiled and lined with a small sheet of parchment paper which made removing the finished loaf a breeze.

I didn’t want my buns to round up too much during proofing so I pressed them down after 15 min, as in my earlier hamburger buns, and let them continue proofing for another 30 minutes. I found the oven spring a bit disappointing though the crumb was nice.

While my bread was proofing, I made a quick batch of spaghetti sauce with a couple of 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes (with herbs and spices) and 4 hot Italian sausages. I doctored the sauce with some additional dried Italian herbs and hot pepper flakes and served them over ditali pasta. There was enough sauce for 2 two serving containers to be tucked away in the freezer for later. All in all, a very successful cooking day.

Old and New Meals, Again

Nothing too exciting happening in the kitchen. I made an attempt at a type of hand shaped pasta, called strascinati rigati, using a sushi rolling mat, but the results were a bit disappointing. Next time, I’d roll the pasta much thinner and cut smaller pieces for shaping. I’d also cook them fresh rather than drying them. Taste wise … well, it’s pasta with a home made marinara sauce. Tasty but nothing to write home about.

The pasta on the left was made only with all purpose flour while the pasta on the right used half fine ground semolina flour as well.

Once again, the freezer is providing the start of some great meals … leftover pork ribs (remember that blueberry bbq sauce) with purchased hash brown patties.

And pulled pork sandwiches with roasted potato wedges.

I had a sirloin steak in the freezer so I thawed it out, seared it in a cast iron frying pan and served it rare. Simple but delicious with mashed potatoes, carrots and salad. There was enough steak leftover for a steak sandwich too.

I had a bit of a chocolate craving so I whipped up some blender chocolate mousse/pot de creme, flavoured with orange liqueur (Cointreau), to pour into a couple of prebaked pastry shells from the freezer. I had visions of something like a chocolate cream pie but since the shells had shrunk so much, not much of the mousse fit into the shells. So, I poured most of the mousse into a couple of ramekins and topped them with a dollop of whipped cream.

I should have let the pies set a bit longer before cutting into them but I couldn’t wait. (Sorry for the poor lighting in the first picture.)

Beef, Bean and Cheese Burritos/ Meat Lover’s Lasagna

I had a pound of lean ground beef in my freezer and, with a bountiful pantry, was torn between various possibilities. The front runners were beef burritos and a meat lasagna as I already had all the ingredients for either one. Including a batch of fresh pasta sitting in the fridge ready to be rolled out.

I decided to make small batches of both starting with a common base.

Ground Beef Base for the Two Dishes

1-2 tsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2-3 small cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb/454 gm lean ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano

In a large saute pan, fry the onions in the vegetable oil over medium heat until they become translucent and start picking up some colour on the edges. Add the garlic and continue frying for another minute or so, until the garlic is translucent as well.

Crumble the beef into the pan and fry until no longer pink, breaking up the meat into crumbles. Sprinkle the salt and dried oregano over the top of the meat, stir through and continue cooking for another few minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, drain off the excess fat and transfer half the mixture to another container. Reserve for the meat lasagna.

Unfortunately, my home made flour tortillas weren’t large enough to fold into burritos, especially with anything else inside other than a generous tablespoon of Beef, Bean and Cheese Burrito filling, so I settled for burrito ‘wraps’.

Beef, Bean and Cheese Burritos – enough filling for 8 burritos, 4 servings at 2 burritos per servings

1/2 of the Ground Beef Base from above
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp Spanish paprika
1/4 cup salsa (mild, medium or hot) **
1/2 lb/ 227 gm canned re-fried beans
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Optional toppings or fillings
sour cream
guacamole
shredded lettuce
additional salsa
Mexican rice

8 home made sourdough flour tortillas or purchased regular 8 inch tortillas

** I had a package of taco seasoning (from a Taco Bell taco making kit) left in the freezer from the last time I made tacos so I used that instead.

To the ground beef base left in the saute pan, add the herbs and spices (cumin, chili powder, both paprikas) and stir through, cooking for a few minutes. Add the salsa and re-fried beans, mixing well, and continue cooking until the burrito mixture is warmed through. Take the pan off the heat and stir the shredded cheddar cheese through the mixture.

A picture of the ground beef base reserved for the lasagna and the finished beef, bean and cheese burrito filling.


Fill warmed tortillas with a couple of tablespoons of the burrito filling and then the other toppings or fillings.

Serve with salad.

Meat Lover’s Lasagna – enough for 3 to 4 servings

Meat Lover’s Lasagna – makes one 2.2 lb/1 kg lasagna, fills one 8 x 3 7/8 x 2 15/32 inch disposable aluminum baking pan

Meat Filling
1/2 of the Ground Beef Base from above
1/4 lb (2) hot Italian sausages, removed from casings
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup jarred tomato sauce

For Assembly
8 sheets commercial or home made pasta sheets, cooked until al dente
1/2 cup jarred tomato sauce, reserve 1/4 cup for topping
bechamel sauce (1 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp flour, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg, 3/4-1 cup milk, salt and pepper to taste)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
~1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large saute pan over medium heat, crumble the sausage meat, frying the meat until it is no longer pink. Drain off any excess fat. Add the reserved half of the ground beef base and the dried basil. Cook for several minutes. Stir in the first 1/2 cup of tomato sauce and set aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 deg F.

Reserve half of the 2nd 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.

In the bottom of your baking pan, spread 1-2 tbsp of remaining tomato sauce. Lay a sheet of cooked pasta over the sauce and then spread one quarter (1/4) of the meat mixture over the pasta. Spread another 1-2 tbsp of tomato sauce over the meat. Add another pasta sheet and one third (1/3) of the bechamel on top of that. Sprinkle a generous tablespoon of the grated parmesan over the bechamel and then top with another sheet of pasta. Repeat with the meat sauce/tomato sauce, pasta, bechamel/parmesan, pasta layers until you finish with your last sheet of pasta. You’ll have used up all eight of your pasta sheets.

Tuck any excess portions of your pasta sheet down into the pan so that it doesn’t poke up. Spread your reserved 1/4 cup of tomato sauce over the pasta and sprinkle a generous handful of the grated mozzarella cheese over the tomato sauce.

Place your baking pan onto a large baking sheet, in case of over flow during cooking, and bake for 40-45 minutes in your pre-heated oven. If you like a browned top, you can turn on the broiler and brown the cheese … a BIT. Be careful. You don’t want a black cheese topping, especially after all the time you’ve invested in assembling this delicious dish.

Serve with salad.

Pasta Possibilities … Egg Noodles

ETA (07/31/2017): Picture of Mákos tészta added

Whether or not you’re on a budget, pasta is the start of many amazing dishes that don’t make you feel like you’re tight on cash.

I ended up making the usual ‘boring’ pasta dish because I had leftovers in the fridge that I wanted to use up … cooked hot Italian sausages and jarred pasta sauce from making a couple of pizzas on Saturday. And, because I’ve already made several heavy Hungarian dishes and both my two other options were also Hungarian. I hope to make them sometime in the next week and post pictures then.

These are the Hungarian noodle dishes I was GOING to make.

Mákos tészta (sweet poppy seed noodles) …

or Túrós czusza (curd cheese and bacon noodles) or Kaposztás tészta (cabbage with noodles)

Which one do you think I should make??

Instead of using dry pasta, I made fresh egg noodles with semolina … just enough for 2 servings (scaled down to use 1 egg) and am re-posting the recipe here. It’s very easy and you don’t even need a pasta machine to make them though I did for the convenience.

Fresh Semolina and Egg Pasta – 1 lb of pasta, enough for 4 servings

1 cup (170-180 gm) all-purpose flour
1 cup (200 gm) semolina flour
a pinch salt (1/8 tsp)
3 large eggs
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sift together all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and pinch of salt. (Remove about 1/4 cup to a separate bowl and use it to knead with.)

On a clean surface, make a mound out of the flour mixture then make a deep well in center.

Break the eggs into the well and add olive oil. Whisk eggs very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading with your hands.

Knead dough for 8 to 12 minutes, until it is smooth and supple. (To know when you’ve kneaded it enough, form the dough into a ball and cut it in half. The inside shouldn’t have pockets/holes in it but look nice and compact.)

Dust dough and work surface with semolina as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. Wrap dough tightly in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Roll out the dough with a pasta machine or a rolling pin to desired thickness (<1/16th of an inch or 1 mm).

Let air dry for 10-15 min before cutting, especially with your pasta machine cutters. Cut into your favorite style of noodle or stuff with your favorite filling to make ravioli.

Bring water to a boil in a large pot, adding about a tbsp of salt.

Cook pasta until it is tender but not mushy, 1 to 8 minutes (2 1/2 minutes in this case) depending on the thickness. Drain immediately and toss with your favorite sauce.

Speaking of pizza … here’s what I made.

Brutti Ma Buoni ver. 2 – Uncooked Batter

I recently made a quick batch of blender Hollandaise sauce using a recipe a blog friend shared with me and had two egg whites to play with. So I made the ‘easy’ version of ‘brutti ma buoni’.

Pavlovas, vanilla pine nut ‘brutti ma buoni’ and chocolate almond ‘brutti ma buoni’

I left out the cocoa powder. Instead, I added a tablespoon of vanilla sugar for flavour. And for nuts, I toasted pine nuts and chopped them up coarsely. I took the egg whites out of the fridge and let them sit at room temperature for about half an hour, and added the sugar a tablespoon at the time, but had trouble getting the sugar to dissolve so I stirred in the nuts and baked them off anyway.

  

Rather than getting my usual glossy looking meringues, they were dull and gritty looking after baking.

The taste was still good though. I only added nuts to half the meringue while baking the rest plain. I loved the moist centers of the plain meringues … they turned out more like pavlovas but the vanilla ‘brutti ma buoni’ were tasty. I preferred them to the chocolate version, to be honest.

Inside the vanilla ‘brutti ma buoni’

Brutti Ma Buoni (“Ugly But Good” Cookies) ver. 1 – Cooked Batter

UUUUGLY Cookie Warning!!

REALLY … I’m NOT kidding. These cookies look funky, especially before you bake them, but they DO taste good.

I’ve been meaning to make these cookies for some time but kept putting it off, until now.

There are two basic techniques or versions of “brutti ma buoni”, and of course, I chose the more complicated one which involves cooking the meringue batter to dry it out before it’s spooned out onto a baking sheet and baked. Even though I watched several videos, I overcooked the batter so that the last few cookies ended up dried and crumbly. These cookies had cocoa powder folded into the batter. Hazelnuts seem to be used most commonly in the recipes that I researched but, I used sliced almonds, since I had some in my freezer. Other nuts like pine nuts, pecans or even walnuts, may be used alone or in combination.

Brutti ma buoni al cioccolato (Chocolate “Ugly but Good” Cookies) – makes 10-12 cookies

2 egg whites (~75 gm)
150 gm white sugar
150 gm nuts, toasted and chopped coarsely**
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

** Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove 1 tbsp of the sugar and sift it, together with the cocoa powder, into a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large, clean mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually spoon in the sugar and continue whisking until hard peaks form. Fold in the sugar/cocoa mixture, then the nuts.

You can spoon the meringue “batter” onto the baking sheet at this point and bake it OR transfer it into a thick bottomed sauce pan and cook on the stove top at medium-low heat while stirring gently. Cook, scraping the bottom, until the batter has dried out and starts pulling away from the bottom and sides, about 10-12 min. (NOTE: Remember, the batter keeps cooking when you pull the pan off the heat so you might want to under cook it a bit.)

Using 2 tablespoons (scrape out the batter from the first with the second) transfer mounds of the batter, onto your lined baking sheet, about an inch apart, and bake for 20-25 min. They will be firm to the touch, but soft deep in the centre.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes, after which they’ll be easier to remove with a thin spatula.

Let finish cooling on racks.

You can store leftover cookies in an air tight container in a cool dry place. Don’t refrigerate or freeze.

Spinach Malfatti or “Poorly Made” Spinach Dumplings

Sometimes you run across the most interestingly named dishes while browsing through cookbooks or surfing the internet. Malfatti, or “poorly made”, refer to a type of rolled spinach and cheese dumpling, and like the cookies brutti ma buoni or “ugly but good”, also from the Italian, the result is much tastier than the name would suggest.

Although they’re commonly served with a browned butter and fresh sage sauce, I’ve also found a version served with a marinara sauce and one with halved and sauteed grape tomatoes.

The dish is tasty but also an example of frugality … stretching a bit of cheese, spinach from the garden, and leftover bread in the form of bread crumbs, into a tasty and filling meatless dish.

Spinach Malfatti – I forgot to add the lemon zest to the dumpling mixture so I sprinkled it over the cooked dumplings instead. It was still tasty.

Regional naming variations:
ravioli nudi or gnudi (naked ravioli), gnocchi or ravioli verdi (green dumplings or ravioli), gnocchi di ricotta e spinaci (ricotta and spinach dumplings), strozzapreti (priest stranglers)

Spinach Malfatti (‘Poorly Made’ Dumplings) – serves 4

1 pound of fresh spinach (or a 10 oz/300 gm package of frozen spinach)
1/2 pound (8 oz, 225 gm) ricotta
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one lemon, lemon reserved for sauce
flour for rolling the malfatti (all purpose or tipo “00”)

Sage Butter Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 113 gm) unsalted butter
2 tbsp fresh sage, whole, torn or chopped as preferred and depending on the size of your sage leaves
1/4 cup cooking water from the dumplings
lemon, reserved for juice

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and then finely chop. Remove all the excess water out of the spinach by squeezing it really well in a dishtowel. (For convenience, a thawed 10 oz/300 gm package of chopped frozen spinach that has been squeezed dry may be used.)

Combine the spinach with ricotta, breadcrumbs, grated nutmeg, lemon zest, grated Grana Padano cheese, and eggs.

Flour your work surface, and divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log, about an inch thick. Cut each log into dumplings about an inch wide. Toss the dumplings with a bit of flour if you’re not going to cook them right away.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil then add the dumplings and cook until they float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Before you drain them, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

The bar shaped dumplings are most often called ‘malfatti’ while the round ones are what seem to be called ‘gnudi’

Making the sage-butter sauce

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add fresh sage, and cook until the butter just begins to brown. Then whisk in about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, gradually, so it emulsifies with the butter. Add your drained dumplings to the butter and shake the pan gently to coat.

Just before you serve the dumplings, squeeze some lemon juice over them and grate a little more grana padano cheese over the top.

Sweet Potato and Ricotta Ravioli with Prosciutto and Pea Sauce

I haven’t made ravioli from scratch in a while but after picking up a pound of ricotta cheese from the local Italian grocery store and with a medium sized sweet potato sitting on the counter in the kitchen, I had my inspiration. An economy ($2.31 for ~3.5 oz) package of prosciutto ends and a cup of frozen peas made for a tasty sauce.

Word to the wise … don’t start rolling out pasta late in the day when your kitchen is hot and you’re cranky and tired. Cause you end up rolling the pasta too thin, and then forget to cover it so it dries out. And trying to turn your thin drying pasta into sacchettini (little purses) when the tortellini shaping isn’t working out. Well, it’s not pretty. I ended up with some misshapen sacchettini and free-form square ravioli which I froze for bagging. Then I dropped the package. Cooked them anyway and covered them with the sauce and grated cheese and ate them anyway in protest.

Broken free-form ravioli covered with sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – It was delicious.

I made a couple dozen ravioli in my molds with the last of the filling, boiled them up, as well as the sacchettini, tossed them with the sauce and then froze them away for work lunch and two future meals.

RECIPE … well, here’s a list of ingredients, anyway

Pasta – 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 3 large eggs make 1 lb of pasta, enough for 4 people

Filling – 1 cup cooled mashed sweet potato, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tsp dry minced onion, 1 large egg, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, pinch or two dried garlic powder, salt (1/4 tsp) and ground black pepper (1/8 tsp) to taste. Enough for about 4 dozen ravioli at 1 tsp filling for each.

Sauce – 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into strips, 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed

Prosciutto and pea sauce combined with the broken ravioli … pretty all on its own.

I have the trimmings of the pasta in the fridge and may make plain noodles later today. Or maybe not.

PS: Ended up with 200 gm of tagliatelle noodles.

I made some duck fat brioche dough and turned it into hamburger buns and hoagies earlier that morning for a planned bbq the next day. Watch for pictures.

Simple Spaghetti Sauce/ Sunday Gravy

A while ago I bought a big (100 fl oz) can of peeled, whole San Marzano tomatoes with the intention of making Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter. But you know what they say about ‘intentions’.

And then, a couple of days ago I was brainstorming an idea for a “Sunday sauce”, a pasta sauce that varies with the household making it. I was going to throw in some ground beef, a couple of pork chops, even a chicken breast, all of which transform a simple pasta sauce into a ‘gravy’. Then I realized that that pound of ground beef that I had in my freezer … wasn’t there after all. And I didn’t want to just use the chops and breast.

So I went to the market and ended up with five pounds of medium ground beef. At which point, I was faced with a variety of culinary possibilities. Three pounds were immediately portioned into freezer bags of one pound each and stored away for the future. I browned off the other two pounds and made a quick spicy beef burrito filling with half.

The second pound of cooked ground beef was drained well and frozen as well.

And now back to that can of tomatoes … I took out my dutch oven and sauteed a finely diced onion and a large clove of garlic slowly, over medium heat, in 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tbsp of unsalted butter until they were soft but not coloured at all. Then, I added about a teaspoon of dried basil (as I didn’t have any fresh), a half teaspoon of salt and a heaping teaspoon of sugar, and half the can of the tomatoes, crushed by hand and roughly seeded, along with their liquid. I had a bit of Parmesan cheese rind so I threw that in as well. After simmering the tomatoes, covered, for an hour …

… I pureed them with a hand blender and then simmered the sauce for another hour. Taste for seasoning. You might want to add another pinch or two of sugar if the sauce is too acidic.

The result was amazing.

Serve the sauce over pasta or polenta, as a dip for bread or pizza rolls/bites, dress a meatball sub or chicken parmigiana or use as an ingredient in a decadent pan of lasagna.