Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Pressure-Cooker Polenta

I bought an Instant Pot multicooker on Cyber Monday. It’s a combination pressure cooker-slow cooker-rice cooker, yogurt maker and steamer and I’ve been using it, in some cases, to make foods I have never attempted before. One of the special features of a pressure cooker is that flavors are literally pushed into foods, so they come our tender and very tasty.

I recently made polenta for the first time. Polenta is coarse-grained, ground dried corn that you mix with liquids and other ingredients and usually have to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, in order to rehydrate and flavor the corn. With the pressure cooker, it’s done in 15 minutes and the agitation of the liquid caused by the pressure eliminates the need for stirring.

So I started with a polenta recipe I had cut out of a magazine years ago. When it was done, the texture was good, but the flavor wasn’t quite where I wanted it, so I added a little more seasoning and some white balsamic vinegar to give it some spark. It was great.

polenta-roasted chicken-salad
I served the polenta with roast chicken and a simple green salad.

Fresh Corn Polenta

5 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. Penzeys Mural of Flavor or other all-purpose seasoning
2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 3 large ears)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar, or to taste

Heat the broth or stock to simmering on the stovetop or in the microwave; this will make the dish come to presure more quickly.

Place the broth, polentaq, salt, sugar and seasoning in the Instant Pot liner. Close the lid and make sure the release valve is set to Pressure, then press the Manual button and change the time to 12 minutes by pressing the minus button.

When the beeper sounds, allow the cooker to release pressure naturally for 15 minutes, then release the pressure valve and remove the lid. Stir in the corn and mascarpone till cheese is melted. Add 1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper or vinegar if needed.

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The World’s Best Lasagna

Yes, it really is. If you disagree, make this one and then tell me why yours in better 😉

I’ve been perfecting this recipe since I started making it after I got married. It’s based on one in the old Betty Crocker cookbook; the cinnamon is a tip from Dan’s mother, who got it from her Italian neighbor, Mrs. Oro. The flavor gets better if you make the sauce the day before. Since there’s only two of us, I make this recipe in two 8×8-inch pans, then bake one and freeze one. Just cook a few more lasagna noodles and cut them to fit the pans with kitchen scissors.

Lasagna and salad
Lasagna and salad

I generally make it once a year, for Dan’s birthday. This year, though, he talked me into making three huge pans of it for a group of 35 teachers he and a couple of colleagues took on an overnight trip as part of a professional development class they conduct. And he’ll get another one next month for his birthday! Lucky guy 😉

I’ve never made that much sauce or lasagana before, but apparently the recipe scales well because I got a lot of compliments and a few requests for the recipe. So here it is.

The World’s Best Lasagna

1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 16-oz. can whole tomatoes
1 24-oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup Chianti
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped, divided use
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided use
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces provolone cheese, sliced
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided use (reserve 4 oz.)
9 uncooked lasagna noodles

Cook and stir Italian sausage, onion, and garlic in 3-quart sauté pan until sausage is lightly browned; drain. Add tomatoes with liquid, tomato sauce, wine, ¼ cup parsley, sugar, basil and ½ tsp. salt. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until mixture is consistency of thick spaghetti sauce, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook noodles as directed on package. Reserve ½ cup of the sauce. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese, ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tbsp. parsley, cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt and oregano.

Layer ingredients in ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking dish, or two 8×8-inch baking dishes, in this order: thin layer of sauce on the bottom; 1/3 of lasagna noodles; 1/3 of ricotta cheese mixture; 1/3 of sauce; 1/3 of provolone cheese; 1/3 of mozzarella cheese; repeat for two more layers. Spoon reserved sauce on top, sprinkle with reserved mozzarella, and top that with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

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Photo Friday: Breathtaking

When we were in Florence, Italy, in September 2009, we went to the Mercado Centrale, or Central Market. I’ve never seen anything like it – all kinds of fresh and preserved foods, wines, vinegars, oils – it went on and on and on. Took my breath away to think about being able to shop in a place like that every day.

Mercado Centrale (Central Market) in Florence, Italy

This is my entry in the weekly photo challenge at Photo Friday. Last week’s topic was Breathtaking (yeah, I’m late posting again).

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Photo Friday: Travels

Time flies when you’re freezing half to death. I can’t believe it’s been so cold here in January. So that’s my excuse for not blogging more 😉 That and my micro-studio fell apart and I haven’t found a suitable new box for it yet. Anyway …

This week’s Photo Friday challenge is Travels, and those of you who know us know we love to travel. So for this challenge, I went back to the photos from our 25th anniversary trip to Europe in 2009. We had purchased train tickets for traveling from Rome to Florence and then from Florence to Zurich to Frankfurt to go home, and we had an extra day of travel on the tickets. So while we were in Florence, we took a side trip to Pisa.

This is when you find out how important prior planning is 😉 Since the tower isn’t stable (it’s leaning, after all), they limit the number of people who can climb it at one time, and you have to buy tickets in advance. We had no tickets, so we spent a beautiful afternoon wandering the grounds and taking pictures of the tower, the cathedral and the baptistery.

I was hungry after we traveled to Pisa and walked several blocks from the train station to the grounds, so I bought a local specialty as a snack – marinated seafood salad – and ate that as we sat and admired the beautiful marble that comprised the buildings.

Seafood salad in Pisa
Marinated seafood salad and Pisa guidebook

The popular thing to do in Pisa, apparently, is to hold your arms as if you’re preventing the tower from falling over. I can’t tell you how funny it was to see dozens of people from all over the world all posing the same way.

"Holding up" the Leaning Tower of Pisa
“Holding up" the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The tower *is* leaning to a frightening degree. It was definitely worth the side trip to see it again (for me – Dan had never seen it before).

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

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Straccotto – Italian Pot Roast

So, I decided to be brave and try a pot roast recipe different from my mom’s New England pot roast that I have always made. I mean, I know we love it, so why risk doing something different that we might not like? But I decided it was time, and since our trip to Florence, Italy, last September, I’ve been more into Italian food than ever, so that’s the direction I went.

I looked online for recipes, and found several for Straccotto, or Italian pot roast with red wine and tomatoes. I didn’t really follow a recipe for this, but sort of combined elements of several. It turned out great. I served it over rotini pasta with a green salad and garlic bread.

I’m not a big fan of red wines, but I did want to use one for this recipe. So I went to Angry Adam’s, a local wine, beer and cheese shop, for a recommendation. Randy recommended a Guenoc Lake Country Petite Sirah. It was perfect – not too dry or tannic; nice and soft on the palate. You could also use Barolo or Chianti.

The Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind is not strictly necessary, but I found it really smoothed out the flavor of the sauce. I buy it from D’Italia through Amazon.com – it’s a lot less expensive that way.

Straccotto – Italian Pot Roast

3 lb. chuck roast
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup red wine
1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (I used shiitake, because I already had them)
1 cup hot water
1 14.5-oz. can stewed tomatoes, chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 2×2-inch square of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind (optional but gives great flavor)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. water

In a small bowl, add hot water to 1/2 ounce dried mushrooms and set aside to rehydrate. Drain, reserving the liquid, and chop the mushrooms.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Sprinkle one side of the meat with salt and pepper, then place it in the Dutch oven, seasoned side down. Brown well, season the second side, then turn to brown the second side. Remove to a plate.

Add onions and garlic to the pot and saute till softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan (stir to loosen browned bits on the bottom of the pan). Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes, to cook off some of the alcohol and reduce the wine a little.

Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pot, along with the reserved liquid, stewed tomatoes, rosemary, bay leaf and cheese rind. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add the meat back to the pot. Spoon some of the liquid over the meat. Simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. Using large tongs, turn the meat over, cover, and simmer for another 1 1/2 hours.

Remove meat to a plate and tent with foil; let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl; stir into sauce and bring sauce to a boil. Simmer for five minutes. Serve over pasta or polenta with garlic bread and a green salad. Delish!

Italian Pot Roast

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GYO: Antipasto Pesto Pasta

I love the sound of that 🙂 And the dish was pretty good, too.

We had about 16 people over for Thanksgiving, and since we had spent two weeks in Europe, including a week in Italy, in September, naturally I wanted to serve antipasto for an appetizer.

But most people were holding out for the main event, so there was quite a bit left over. What to do with all these preserved meats and veggies? Put them in a pasta, of course! I found this great-sounding recipe and modified it for what we had and like, and it turned out great. I’ll definitely make it again.

This is my entry in Grow Your Own, the foodie event started by Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes and hosted this month by House of Annie. GYO celebrates the food we grow ourselves. We grew the basil and parsley for the pesto in this dish, and I froze pesto to use during the winter, since the basil was so prolific. The round-up of all the entries has been posted, so check them out!

Antipasto Pesto Pasta
1 medium roasted red bell pepper, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup marinated cocktail onions, halved
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
3 ounces salami, chopped
1/2 cup marinated mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/3 cup refrigerated pesto
8 ounces uncooked bow-tie pasta (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Place the roasted pepper, onions, olives, salami, mushrooms, and artichokes in a large bowl and mix gently.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt; drain. In a small bowl, mix together the pesto and 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; add to bell pepper mixture, and toss to combine. Add pasta to bell pepper mixture and stir.

Sprinkle each serving with 2 tsp. remaining cheese and 2 tsp. pine nuts.


Antipasto Pasta

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