Becoming an Italian Grandmother: Spinach pasta and Almond Cookies

I decided to try spinach pasta using the same method as the previously mentioned beet pasta.  It was a success.  I was rewarded with beautiful, bright, green noodles.  The same day these sat drying on my counter, I went to the store and examined the commercially available spinach pasta.  It was drab and barely green at all.  My husband shook his head sadly and said “yours is much prettier.”  The recipe and method are exactly the same except 1 lb fresh, raw spinach was substituted for the 3 oz of beets.

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This was also my first attempt at drying the pasta in nests rather than straight.  Usually I string pasta over clothes hangers which then get hung up on every available ledge in my kitchen, making it impossible to open several cabinet doors for an hour or so.  This time I separated the strands, floured them, and let them sit out separately on the counter for about half an hour.  Then I gathered them up in little bundles and carefully placed them on the drying rack.  After a couple hours, I flipped each bundle over to dry the other side.  Eventually they were transferred to a plastic bag and put in the freezer.  I’ve cooked one meal of the nests and it was a success!  The nest didn’t completely separate until the last minute of cooking, leading to some very tense moments where I thought I’d be serving a globby mass of pasta.  But eventually the noodles freed up and dinner was saved.  I like the nests, they’re much easier to keep in the freezer, and less delicate.

While we’re on the subject, I took a sweet culinary trip to Sicily, thanks to David Lebovitz.  He recently posted a very beautiful collage of his trip to Sicily.  I sent it to my Sicilian colleague who rewarded me by calling me 10 minutes later and cursing, annoyed, “Damn it, Tiffany!  Now all I can think about are almond cookies.”

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Well, when the he posted a complete breakdown of the almond cookies the following day, I had my marching orders.  I got to work.  I followed the recipe exactly and was rewarded with beautiful, rich, delicious, almondy cookies.  I brought a few into work and sent my colleague a cryptic “come see me” e-mail.  She found her way up to my desk and quickly spotted the cookies sitting in the corner.  She instantly started dancing around giggling.  “Oh, they look perfect!” she told me.

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If I’m any judge of her reaction, they tasted pretty perfect, too.  It made her day, and seeing her so happy made my day as well.  See, the heart of an Italian grandmother.  Making people happy with food!  Big kudos to Mr. Lebovitz for this recipe.  It’s easy, it’s fairly fast, and it yields an awesome, not-too-sweet cookie.

Becoming an Italian Grandmother: Beet Noodles with Garlic Cream Sauce

Having moved past squid ink noodles, we’ve now approached beet noodles.  I decided to make these after we got a small bunch of beets in our box this week.  Like the squid ink pasta, beet pasta is mostly just pretty.  The flavor of beet was pretty much gone by the time the pasta was cooked and sauced.  But they were so pretty!  If you’re rolling pasta and setting it aside, it would be so much fun to make beet pasta, spinach pasta, or other colored pastas and collect the colors in a single meal.  I could also see a really good argument for making beet pasta to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Or combining beet and spinach pasta for red and green Christmas feast!

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Beet Pasta

3 oz beets

2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

3 c AP flour

Pinch salt

Wrap the washed beets in aluminum foil and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the beets are fork tender.  This can be done a couple days in advance.

Peel the roasted beets and remove the stems.  Place the beets, eggs, and egg yolk in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture is completely pureed.

Mound the flour and pinch of salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the flour and pour in the beet mixture.  With a fork, begin slowly incorporating the flour from the inside of the well out.  This can also be done on a counter top, but the bowl helps prevent staining.  As the dough gets stiffer, switch to kneading the mixture by hand.  Transfer to the counter and continue kneading the dough until it makes a smooth ball – about 5 minutes.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes.  Once the dough has rested, use a pasta machine to roll the dough to your desired thickness and cut.

Yield 4 generous servings.

Pasta in Garlic Cream Sauce

8 oz pasta of your choice, or half of the beet pasta made with the recipe above

2 T butter

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 c heavy whipping cream

Salt and pepper

Shaved Parmesan

Cook the pasta in salted water until the noodles are al dente.

Meanwhile in a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic to the melted butter and cook until the garlic is fragrant and softened (3-5 minutes), but do not brown.  Browning will make the garlic bitter.  Add the cream and the drained pasta.  Continue cooking until the cream thickens and coats the pasta.  Generously salt and pepper and top with the shaved Parmesan.

Swiss Chard Phyllo Pie

This recipe started life as an attempt to use up some frozen phyllo I had hanging around, but it ended up being something the husband and I fought over the last piece.  This is great for a light lunch or supper, or as an addition to a brunch.

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Swiss Chard Phyllo Pie

1/2 c onion, diced fine

Olive oil

1 lb Swiss chard or similar green, stems removed, chopped

1/2 c Parmesan cheese

8 oz cream cheese, softened

2 eggs

1/2 c parsley, minced

2 t dill

salt and pepper to taste

8 oz phyllo dough, thawed

1/4 c unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In skillet over medium heat, saute the onion in a drizzle of olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the chard and continue cooking until the greens have wilted and reduced significantly, about 2 minutes.  Transfer the greens to a bowl and add the cheeses, eggs, herbs, salt, and pepper.  Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Brush the inside of a 9″ springform pan with a think coating of the melted butter.  Lay one sheet of the phyllo in the pan and brush with butter.  Continue laying the sheets of phyllo in the pan until the sides and bottom are completely covered.  Reserve about 10 sheets of phyllo for the top crust.  It is not important that the phyllo be neat, just that the sides and bottom be covered.  Layer it at different angles as necessary, it’s not a precise science.  Pour the filling into the pan.  Cover the filling with the remaining sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with butter after it’s arranged on the pie. Fold the phyllo from the sides into the center of the pie to seal in the filling completely.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Cream of Sweet Potato (or any kind of winter squash) Soup with Bacon

Cream of sweet potato soup
This is my version of this Cooking Light recipe. I’ve changed some techniques and ingredients a bit. It is also no longer light. I have to admit I find creamy soups kind of bland after a while. Tasty, but just not enough variation. Enter, bacon!

  • 2.5 pounds sweet potatoes or winter squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 4 -6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil; toss. Roast in oven until soft and slightly browned, 20-30 minutes. Cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Drain bacon grease through sieve. Measure 1 tbs of grease into soup pot and add onion, cooking until softened and slightly caramelized. Add cumin, salt, and chipotle power. Add 4 cups veggie stock and heat until simmering. When sweet potato is cooked, add in batches  to blender with seasoned broth. Return to pot and add cream. Heat, and re-season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve with crumbled bacon, shaved Parmesan, and chopped parsley.

Next time I make this, I’m going to try roasting some oil-coated sage leaves with the sweet potatoes and crumble those on top instead of the parsley. I’ll post the results!

 

Don’t let Pumpkin have all the fun – Butternut Squash Spice Cake

It’s that special time of year when everything turns pumpkin.  Pumpkin spice coffee, cake muffins, cookies, pumpkin beer, pumpkin creamer, pumpkin pumpkin PUMPKIN.  Don’t get me wrong – I love pumpkin.  I love this time of year where everything is warmly spiced and pairs nicely with a warm cider.  It’s the time of year when we here in Central Texas might actually get to turn our air conditioners off and maybe possibly wear jeans all day without sweating.  It hasn’t happened yet, the current forecast is still containing the words “heat index,” but I have faith that autumn will soon be here.  I decided to do my darndest to lure it in with some delicious butternut squash spice muffins.

Here’s a concept that seems to have drifted past many:  pumpkin is not the only squash available at this time of year!  Fall is squash time.  And many of these squashes can be substituted for pumpkin with no difference in flavor or texture.  In fact, often times the cans of pumpkin you purchase at the grocery actually aren’t 100% pumpkin, they are a mixture of other winter squashes.  The beauty of butternut squash is that it’s easier to cook than pumpkin, cooks faster, and tastes pretty much exactly the same.  When it appeared in the box, I decided it was time to make some cake.

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This recipe was originally a pumpkin cake, and you can definitely substitute pumpkin in for the squash.  I’ll share a secret with you:  this is the #1 most versatile recipe in my repertoire.  Bake it in a loaf, you have bread.  Toss in a handful of chocolate chips, you have chocolate-spice bread.  Bake it muffin tins, you’ve got muffins.  Top those muffins with a cream cheese frosting and you’ve got a cupcake.  Bake it in layers and frost them with cream cheese frosting, you’ve got a layer cake that will beat any white cake with buttercream.  It can be anything, it can be everything.

Butternut Squash Spice Cake

Yield two 9″ cake layers or about 30 muffins/cupcakes

1 large butternut squash (or 1 15 oz can pumpkin)

1 c vegetable oil

2/3 c water

3 c sugar

4 eggs

3 1/2 c all purpose flour

2 t baking soda

1 1/2 t salt

1 T cinnamon

1 T nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place the squash cut side down in a baking pan or rimmed baking sheet.  Place the pan in the oven and pour about 1/4 inch of water into the bottom of the pan.  Roast the squash for 30-45 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the skin.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Scrape the squash out of the skin and puree in a food processor until it is very smooth.  Set aside until ready to proceed with the cake.  This step can be done a couple days in advance, or omitted if using canned pumpkin.

To prepare the batter:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 pound of pureed butternut squash (or 1 can of pumpkin puree) with vegetable oil, water, and sugar.  Mix to combine, then add the eggs one at a time, combining after each addition.  Sift in all of the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Mix until just combined.  Scoop into your chosen greased pan or muffin tins and bake until a toothpick comes out clean.  For muffins, this will take about 17 minutes, for cake layers, about 20-30 minutes.  If baking in a loaf pan, allow between 45-60 minutes for baking.

Becoming and Italian Grandmother: Squid Ink Noodles with Eggplant and Tomatoes

If I had known that putting a bowl of squid ink noodles in front of my toddler was going to result in that kid slurping down the noodles at record pace, I might have introduced them a year ago.  As it stands, this was my first time using squid ink noodles.  It seemed like a box that needed to be checked in order to become an Italian Grandmother.  I did not make the noodles myself because I didn’t want to go through the trouble of trying to track down the ink when prepared squid ink noodles were available at Central Market, our local fancy grocery store.  If you’re a little intimidated by the idea of squid ink, know this:  it’s just there for the color.  A little ink goes a long way, and it does next to nothing in terms of influencing the taste or texture of the noodles.

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Squid Ink Noodles with Eggplant and Tomatoes

Yield 3 servings

8 oz squid ink fettuccine or similar pasta

1 small onion, diced fine

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bell pepper, diced fine

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 14 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly shaved Parmesan or Peccorino

Cook the noodles in salted water according to package directions.  Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.

In a large skillet, saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent and softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and bell pepper and saute until the pepper is softened, 3-5 minutes.  Add the eggplant and continue to saute until the eggplant softens and begins to release it’s juice, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes with juice and continue cooking until the juice begins to reduce and the sauce becomes fragrant.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the drained noodles and cook briefly so that the sauce coats the noodles and the noodles absorb any remaining tomato juice.  Serve warm topped with shaved Parmesan or Peccorino.

Bacon Cheddar Spaghetti Squash

What is better than taking a healthy vegetable and turning it into a delicious, artery-clogging bacon fest?  Not much!  That’s why I love this use of spaghetti squash.  You get to convince yourself you’re doing good while eating cheese and bacon.

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If you’ve never worked with spaghetti squash, don’t be intimidated.  It is very easy to cook and yields a squash product that is close enough to spaghetti to successfully fool my toddler.

Bacon Cheddar Spaghetti Squash

1 large spaghetti squash

6 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

6 oz cheddar cheese, shredded or diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by preparing the spaghetti squash.  Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Then lay the squash cut-side down in a large dutch oven or saucepan.  Add enough water to reach about 1/2 an inch up the squash and simmer over medium-high heat until the squash is very tender – about 30 minutes.  Add more water if the pan begins to go dry.  You will know the squash is tender when you scrape the flesh with a fork and it easily releases the meat of the squash in spaghetti-like strands.

Drain the water from the pan.  Scrape the flesh of the squash into the pan and continue to cook it over medium heat until any water left in the squash has evaporated.  Add the bacon and cheddar and cook, stirring frequently, until the cheese is melted.  Salt and pepper to taste.