Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving and a Twist on Traditional Stuffing!

This year for Thanksgiving, my husband is going to smoke a turkey breast and ham, instead of roasting a traditional whole turkey. (Sorry neighbors, the smoke will be flowing!) Not only does this provide the option of turkey and/or ham, it allows me to use my oven for all the sides and desserts sans turkey! YES! So, while my Thanksgiving feast is straying from tradition, so is the stuffing. I first saw this recipe in the October 2013 issue of Real Simple for "Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding" and just had to try it. After all, it has all my favorite things: mushroom, leeks, and cheese. Mmm! It was so stunningly delicious that I knew I would be making this savory delight again for Thanksgiving! In addition, it allows me to deplete all the random pieces of baguettes that I always have lurking in my freezer! So, why not throw tradition to the wind (along with some smoke), and mix things up with this exceptional recipe!

Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding

Serves 6


2 tablespoons olive oil
4 leeks (white and light green parts only), cut into half-moons (see Techniques for more about leeks.)
10 ounces cremini mushrooms (aka., baby bellas), trimmed and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 pound country bread, cut into 1" pieces (about 5 cups) (I use crust-less baguettes.)
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, tossing frequently, until the mushrooms are tender, 3-4 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the bread, Gruyere, and mushroom mixture and mix to combine.

Transfer to an 8" or other 2 quart baking dish. Cover with foil and bake until the edges are set but the center is slightly wobbly, 20-30 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned, 20-25 minutes more. Sprinkle with the chives before serving.

What else am I serving?

and for dessert:

Traditional Pumpkin Pie and Chocolate Ganache Cake (I haven't posted this recipe yet, but will very soon!)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

La Crostata

Nothing says fall to me more than apples! One of my favorite ways to prepare them is to make Ina Garten's "Apple Crostata!" A crostata is a rustic free-form Italian tart, which can be sweet (filled with fruit jams or fruit) or savory (filled with meat and/or vegetables), all tucked into a shortcrust pastry and then baked. This recipe, from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!, is so simple and wonderful that I make it all the time! The addition of orange zest and a dash of allspice gives it that "je ne sais quoi." I've never served it to anyone who didn't love it!

This recipe makes enough pastry for two crostatas, but you can halve the ingredients for just one. Although, it's so delicious you might as well have the other half waiting in your freezer to make another, or fill it with your favorite jam and top with powdered sugar for a more traditional Italian version. In addition, the most important thing to remember is to keep the pastry COLD or it can melt while baking. Sometimes, I even fill and shape the crostata ahead of time and store in the refrigerator, to be popped in the oven 30 minutes or so before serving. Whether you serve this at a dinner party, casual family meal, or even Thanksgiving, this recipe will not disappoint!

Apple Crostata

Serves 6

For the Pastry (enough for 2)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 pound very cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup ice water

For the Filling (enough for 1)
1 1/2 pounds (about 3-4) McIntosh, Macoun, or Empire apples
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

For the Pastry
Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Be careful; the blades are sharp! Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the 1/4 cup ice water all at once through the feeding tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and form into 2 disks. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate one of the disks for at least an hour. Freeze the rest of the pastry.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Roll the pastry into an 11" circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (I actually prefer to roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and then store it in the refrigerator while I prepare the apples. Remember: cold, cold, cold!)

For the Filling
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Cut each quarter into 3 chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Remove the dough from the refrigerator (remove the plastic wrap) and then top with the apple chunks, leaving 1 1/2" border.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into  a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly on the apples. Gently fold the border over the apples, pleating it to make a circle.

Bake the crostata for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Let the tart cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer it to a wire rack.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sometimes, Simpler is Better

Now that fall is quickly sliding into winter and the holiday rush is just beginning, it's time for some comfort food that everyone loves, specifically, "Stuffed Shells." Although stuffed shells are more American than Italian, it has everything you could want: pasta, cheese, and hopefully a delicious homemade tomato sauce. I've tried many recipes that include spinach, ground beef, and even sausage, but sometimes simpler is better. These shells are stuffed with a creamy filling of ricotta, Parmesan, and eggs, topped with an easy homemade marinara sauce, and sprinkled with chopped parsley and Parmesan. The result is a "lighter" version that is not forbidding or heavy, and has a burst of freshness from the homemade marinara. Not only is this recipe very satisfying, it's fast and easy! While the sauce simmers, you can make the filling, cook the shells, and stuff them all within about an hour. Then you can cover it and tuck it into the refrigerator until you're ready to bake it, even a day in advance! Serve it with a Caesar salad and garlic bread, and everyone will be happy!

Stuffed Shells with Homemade Marinara Sauce

Serves 8, and can easily be doubled for a crowd.

For the Marinara
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2, 28-ounce cans whole, peeled roma tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

For the Stuffed Shells
1, 12-ounce box jumbo shells
2, 15-ounce containers of whole milk ricotta cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, for serving

For the Marinara
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. When you smell the garlic, carefully (it usually spatters) pour in the tomatoes, juice and all, and remaining ingredients.

Break tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, stir and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour. When done, remove the bay leaf and basil sprig and whiz up with an immersion blender (see Gadgets) or blender. Season to taste, if necessary. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Stuffed Shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the shells until al dente, about 5-6 minutes. (You don't want them too soft or they can fall apart when stuffing.) Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and spread out on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper until well mixed. Fill each shell with a large spoonful (about 2 tablespoons) and lay side by side in a buttered 9"x13" baking dish. (You may have to "stuff" them in, but they will fit.) At this point, the shells can be covered and refrigerated, even overnight.

Pour some of the red sauce over the shells, just enough to cover and moisten them.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with the remaining reheated sauce and Parmesan cheese, on the side.

Creamy Goodness!