Aleppo Pepper…right next to the salt

Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo pepper has crept into my cooking over the years and has become as much a staple as salt (overstatement — close to salt) (salt is THE most necessary seasoning condiment).

But consider: aleppo can be thought of as a hot pepper, but it’s not that hot. For me, it spikes the food not heats it. It gives it a LIFT. Wakes it up. Use more and you can get heat. But it’s a subtle heat…it’s a sleepy heat…it’s a heat that feels tame and feisty, too. The flavor is smoky and deep. Dare I say: perfect?

What do I use it on? Aleppo can jump into almost anything except the most delicate and I leave it out of desserts.

Making a ricotta filling for ravioli? A little aleppo gives it some pep. (You know how ricotta can be. Creamy, but needs salt…and aleppo).

ravioli

ravioli

Roasting some asparagus? A little aleppo wakes them up.

roasting asparagus

roasting asparagus

Aleppo turns meats into soulful mouthfuls…

roasted lamb with fennel

roasted lamb with fennel

Tomato Sauce loves a little aleppo…

sun-dried tom sauce

Seafood and aleppo go out on dates all the time…

clams oreganata

clams oreganata

Savory Breads just love that little punch of aleppo…

tomato & olive baguette

tomato & olive baguette

Lasagna embraces a small shake of aleppo…

lasagna

lasagna

Frittata’s say yippee when aleppo visits….

peppers frittata

peppers frittata

And don’t forget pizza! What more can I say?

pizza

pizza

Get some! You’ll soon figure out how much you’d like for whatever dish you want to give a little nudge to – or a lot. I always find it at Penzeys Spices, or if you have a Savory Spice Shop near you, I know they carry it.

Enjoy the heat this winter! 🙂

 

I Give a Fig

fig tart

fig tart

The fig tree in our patio garden has been evolving, spurting, freezing, fruiting for about 6 years now. It took 3 years for fruit to first appear in quantity, then the tree took a dive after an icy winter, then grew back with no fruit, then dove again because of an icy winter last season, now its branches and leaves are threatening to take over the backyard–but no fruit. By this time in the summer, 3 years ago, it was full of fruit (so Facebook tells me with one of their blasts from the past to remind me what I was doing years ago).

Figs from my tree 3 years ago

Figs from my tree 3 years ago

This coming winter I’m determined to wrap the tree in plastic or tar paper (like they used to do in the Brooklyn backyards of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents). Maybe then it can get thru a harsh winter and continue the 3-year growing need to start giving fruit again.

But guess what? Figs are in the food stores now and I’m not shy to snap them up from a shelf. Here are some turkey figs my mom got in Publix.

brown turkey figs

brown turkey figs

I couldn’t resist the black figs and grabbed a large box of them. The two fig types taste pretty much the same. WONDERFUL.

black figs

black figs

What to do with wonderful figs? Figs and prosciutto. Figs in a Moroccan tagine. Figs stuffed in a ravioli. Figs just in your hand and then in your mouth. Or figs in a simple tart. This one is easy peasy. I sliced the figs into thinnish slices.

sliced figs

sliced figs

I had a cup of ricotta in the refrigerator leftover from a class. And I also had a small ball of pastry dough leftover from a class. I rolled out the dough intending to make a galette but there was enough for an 8-inch tart pan. I mixed the ricotta with some sugar and a bit of vanilla extract, and spread it evenly in the dough shell (uncooked).

ricotta in tart

ricotta in tart

Then I placed the fig slices into the ricotta…

figs placed in ricotta

figs placed in ricotta

…and sprinkled it all with white sugar…

sugar on figs

sugar on figs

…baked it in a 375 oven for about 30 minutes until the tart dough got a little golden.

fig tart

fig tart

Stunningly tasty. So simple. Like sitting at the backyard arbor table of a Tuscan villa, in the heat of lazy summer, and the sun playing hide and seek with a nearby giant fig tree. That’s what it tastes like. Bring that villa home to you with this tart.

Good Old-Fashioned Lasagna

Good Old Fashioned Lasagna

Good Old Fashioned Lasagna

Sometimes I’m surprised that people need a recipe to make lasagna. Just shows how sheltered I am. How Italian food is part of my genes. How silly I can be.

Lasagna? You just make it! You need a recipe?

To be honest, I have made all kinds of lasagna from recipes. True Bolognese style. All white lasagna. Polenta lasagna. Spinach and vegetable lasagna. Butternut Squash lasagna. But in my cooking class the other day we made a good old-fashioned lasagna (with a few modern perks). It was so delicious! I wondered why did I ever stray from the classic?

Okay. What’s classic?

Classic is what I grew up with. A classic lasagna has: the pasta, ricotta, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. That’s the classic. But here’s my “modern” perks.

Turn the tomato sauce into a sausage sauce (like a meat sauce but use broken up sausage instead of ground beef. why not? it’s great). Let’s add some sliced hard-boiled egg to give it that Napolitana spin (or so my Sicilian-leaning background labels it). And instead of just plopping the ricotta as is, let’s add a little milk to it. Season it with salt and pepper. Make it smooth, looser, so it spreads more easily. The mozzarella? Not slices, not strips. Let’s grate it so it melts lightly and evenly. AND instead of buying lasagna pasta that you boil, use the no-boil which in the end tastes like fresh-made pasta (yes, it does!).

There. My classic lasagna. With some additions and tweaks. And it’s got the “oh man, this is REALLY GREAT” vibe.

Here are the details. Make it! Let me know how you like it. Grazie!

Lasagna w Sausage Sauce & Hard-Boiled Eggs

For the Sauce:

1 1/2 or 2 lbs. Italian sausage, meat removed from casings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, small dice

½ cup dry white wine

3- 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes

salt & pepper to taste

For Lasagna:

1 lb. no-boil Lasagna pasta

1 lb. mozzarella, grated on shredder side of a box grater

1 lb. ricotta., mixed with a ÂĽ cup of milk, seasoned with salt & pepper

6 hard-boiled large eggs, cut into thin slices

½ lb grated cheese, parmigiano, pecorino or mixture

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Make the Sauce: Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large sauce pan. Break up the sausage meat into small pieces. Cook until browned. You may have to do it in batches. Add the onion and cook until it softens. Add the wine and let evaporate. Add the tomatoes and season with salt & pepper. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Make the Lasagna: Spoon a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of a pan that’s about 9″ X 13” and at least 3-inches deep. Place 3-4 pasta strips  in one layer on top of sauce. Coat each pasta strip well with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle some mozzarella. Spoon dollops of ricotta. Place a few rings of egg. Sprinkle some grated cheese and some black pepper. And a light drizzle of sauce. Repeat 3-4 more times until all the pasta sheets and ingredients have been used. Sprinkle some mozzarella and grated cheese on top. Drizzle some sauce.

Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and the lasagna is bubbling. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving. It’s even better the next day.

Lasagna all prepared and ready to bake

Lasagna all prepared and ready to bake

 

Making a Good Thing Better – Italian Shepherd’s Pie

Italian Shepherd's Pie

Italian Shepherd’s Pie

Well. It’s arguable. Is this better than the original? Maybe they’re 50-50…equally wonderful. All I know is you get some tasty meat topped with something creamy and you probably can’t go wrong. The original Irish Shepherd’s Pie starts with a layer of ground seasoned beef, dotted with peas and carrots, topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked in the oven until the potato top gets golden. Good, right?

Here’s my version (since it seems I only have Italian ingredients in my kitchen). And I’m obsessed with cute, small portions, so these are done in 4-5 oz. ramekins–individual servings.

ramekins for Italian Shepherd's Pie

ramekins for Italian Shepherd’s Pie

 

Cook up the ground beef, but add some broken up Italian sausage, too. And sautéed onion.

Sausage and onion sautéing

Sausage and onion sautéing

Yes, add the peas, but also add some diced tomato (Italian, remember?). That’s your bottom layer.

Sausage, onion, beef, tomato & peas mixture

Sausage, onion, beef, tomato & peas mixture

The top: no potatoes. Instead, RICOTTA. (I can’t stay way from the stuff). Mix ricotta with some diced or shredded mozzarella, add some grated parmigiano, salt & pepper, and an egg yolk. Mix well.

Ricotta, mozzarella, parmigiano, s & p, egg yolk

Ricotta, mozzarella, parmigiano, s & p, egg yolk

Top your meat with this swirly, swoon-worthy concoction. Sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Bake till golden.

Italian Shepherd's Pie

Italian Shepherd’s Pie

The Irish becomes Italian right before your eyes.

A Favorite Corner of Rome

A Favorite Corner of Rome

Individual Italian Shepherd Pies

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 Italian sausages (mild or hot, your preference)

1 lb. ground beef

1 15-oz can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup peas

1 lb. ricotta cheese

1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella(use a box grater)

1/4 cup grated parmigiano

2 egg yolks

salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, then add onion and cook 2-3 minutes until softened. Cut the sausages in half and push out the meat from the skins. Break up in sauté pan and cook with onion, 2 minutes or so. Add ground beef. Break up in pan and cook thru until the meats are browned. Add the tomatoes and peas. Season with salt & pepper. Cook 5 minutes more.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the cheeses and egg yolks. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the meat into 10 or 12 ramekins leaving 1-inch open on top. Divide the cheese mixture on top of the meat. Smooth gently to cover meat with a spoon. Place ramekins on a sheet pan. Bake until golden on top, about 20 minutes until golden.

(If you try it, let me know how it goes!)

FYI: Click here for a link to my cooking segment on WSMV-TV More at Midday demo’ing this recipe!

 

Cooking Class on the Italian-French Border

 

IMG_3263

Well, actually, we were in Nashville.  But the menu was both French and Italian: fresh ravioli stuffed with ricotta-gorgonzola-arugula in a pomodoro crudo sauce, coq au vin, and roasted zucchini flecked with bite-sized lemon pieces (peel and all).

The local Jr. League Transfer Chapter came by for the class and dinner for their dining club night.  A terrific bunch of cooks! They were meeting as a pals-get-together, but they were all strangers to me. By the end of the evening they adopted me as an honorary member. Then the limoncello was poured. (Well, no one was interested in espresso!)

chicken sauteed for coq au vin

chicken sauteed for coq au vin

mushrooms, shallots, carrots for coq au vin

mushrooms, shallots, carrots for coq au vin

coq au vin

coq au vin

tomato crudo sauce

tomato crudo sauce

ravioli

ravioli