Friday, July 23, 2010

Recipes from an Italian Summer: Avocado Salad

I can't believe that I went pretty much my entire childhood without avocados.  How does something like that happen?  Something that is now the bright center of my universe.  Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration.  Chocolate is the bright center of my universe.  Avocados are the next galaxy out.

Avocado Salad
From Recipes from an Italian Summer

2 avocados
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
2 mandarin oranges or tangerines
1 head romaine lettuce, separated into leaves
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons (generous ⅓ cup) olive oil
Salt and pepper

Peel, halve and stone the avocados, then cut them into slices and sprinkle with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Peel the mandarins, remove all traces of white pith and cut into round slices. Arrange the lettuce leaves on individual dishes. Make a layer of tomato and spring onion slices on the leaves, cover with avocado slices in a circle and top with slices of mandarin. Sprinkle with the parsley.

Whisk together the mustard, oil, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper in a bowl, pour over the salads and serve.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recipes from an Italian Summer: Spinach Pie

I was testing some recipes from Recipes from an Italian Summer for a review I was writing, and I just about died when I saw a recipe for spinach pie.  Can you tell I like spinach?  I took advantage of the summer's bounty and bought a bag full of fresh greens, which I then cooked down, mixed with cheese, and baked in a puff pastry shell.

While the rule of summer is generally no ovens, I think this pie is definitely worth heating your kitchen up over.  It can be eaten hot or cold, so you can even drag it around on picnics or family reunions.  The only thing I didn't like is that the garlic flavor tends to get really lost.  I also didn't salt it enough before baking, so the salt had to be added at the table.  I also kept wishing it had...more.  Like sautéed mushrooms or something.

Spinach Pie (Torta di Spinaci)

2¼ pounds spinach, coarse stalks removed
4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing
1 clove garlic
2 eggs
Generous 1 cup ricotta cheese
Scant ½ cup heavy cream
1 pound 2 ounces puff pastry dough, thawed if frozen
All purpose flour, for dusting
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper

Wash the spinach and put it into a pan over low heat with just the water clinging to its leaves. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the spinach well, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the garlic clove and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, until golden brown, and then remove and discard the garlic. Add the spinach to the skillet, and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, then remove the skillet from the heat and let cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a pie plate with butter. Finely chop the spinach, put it into a bowl, and stir in the ricotta, eggs, and cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll out ⅔ of the pastry dough on a lightly floured counter and use it to line the prepared pie plate. Spoon the spinach mixture into the pastry shell. Roll out the remaining dough. Brush the rim of the pastry shell with egg yolk, place the dough on top, and press the edges together to seal. Brush the pie with egg yolk and prick the lid all over with a fork. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden brown. Serve warm or cold.

Serves 6

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Epinards a la Crème (Creamed Spinach)

This is my favorite vegetable dish ever. EVER. I could eat creamed spinach every night for the rest of my life. But I've only ever had it at restaurants or from frozen packages. I've never made it from scratch because I somehow thought it would be a long complicated process. This recipe, however, was surprisingly simple.

You have to work off of two preparation recipes before getting to the actual creamed spinach recipe, but the preparation is basically just blanching the spinach, squeezing out water, and adding butter and seasonings. I did learn something new from Julia. Apparently spinach becomes bitter if you cook it in aluminum or iron. Didn't know that. That explains quite a bit about previous spinach dishes for me.

Epinards a la Crème (Creamed Spinach)
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

3 cups blanched fresh spinach
3 to 4 tablespoons butter, divided use
Salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1½ tablespoons flour, sifted to remove any lumps
1 cup brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or whipping cream

When 2 tablespoons of butter is bubbling in a saucepan over moderately high heat, stir in the spinach.  Continue stirring for 2 to 3 minutes until all the moisture from the spinach has boiled off - the spinach will begin to adhere to the bottom of the pan.  Season to taste.  Lower the heat to moderate.  Sprinkle on the flour and stir for 2 minutes more to cook the flour.

Remove from heat and stir in two thirds of the stock, bouillon, or cream by spoonfuls. Bring to the simmer, cover, and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the spinach from sticking to the bottom of the pan, and add more liquid if the spinach becomes too dry. Correct seasoning.

Remove spinach from heat, fold in the remaining butter, and turn into the serving dish.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Barbecue Meatloaf

This is the flavor of my childhood. When I need something warm and comforting, this is one of the things that I put on the dinner menu. I'm not sure where my mom got the recipe, but this is a fabulous meatloaf. It has a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal, with barbecue sauce in the loaf and on the top. It's perfect with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. It's even more perfect in a meatloaf sandwich, but there's very rarely any leftovers for the next day.

Barbecue Meatloaf

1 cup Progresso dry Italian breadcrumbs
½ cup milk
 pound ground beef
 pound ground pork
 pound ground veal
½ cup white onion, diced
¼ cup green pepper, diced (optional)
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup barbecue sauce, divided use

Grease a 9x9" glass or ceramic baking dish. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Soak breadcrumbs in milk for a minute, then add ground meats, onion, green pepper, and beaten egg. Add ½ cup of barbecue sauce a little bit at a time until the mixture has a sticky texture and stays together. You don't have to add the whole amount of barbecue sauce if it reaches the right texture with a lesser amount.

Form the mixture into a football shaped loaf and make sure to pat away any cracks or crevices. Any cracks will open further while the loaf is cooking. Put the loaf in the greased dish. Mix the remaining ½ cup of barbecue sauce with about ¼ cup water. Brush some on top of the loaf and put in the oven. Bake for 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes or so. Let stand for about 15 minutes before trying to cut, or it may try to crumble on you.