|Photo l Marie DiFeliciantonio|
|Buttered up and oven-ready|
Have you ever tried roasting your own? Once you split the plums lengthwise, scoop out the innards (I save for soup stock but you don't have to) toss with olive oil, salt, and maybe a little basil you put 'em on tray lined with parchment in a 225 oven then forget about it except for the occasional look and turn for 5 or 6 hours. Cool and if any of them make it past the next hour (seriously, it's like candy) store in the fridgie. It makes the house smell great, too. Oh.. and if you want to go whole hog (or tomato in this case) I once made yogurt from the goat milk at FairFood, drained and put a dollop on each tomato half. Fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of good olive oil. The only problem is you wish you'd done more tomatoes-not matter how many you've made. I've never tried anything but the plummies, but often thought cherry tomatoes would do well by that method, kinda like a tomato raisin.Learn more from Lari Robling in her cookbook that revives home cooking from the past, Endangered Recipes: Too Good to Be Forgotten (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).
|Photo l Michael Persico|
|Matzagna al Pesto for Passover|
Born in Rome and raised in Riverdale and Manhattan, Il Portico (1519 Walnut St.) chef/owner Al Delbello shrugs at the notion of "typical" seder dishes. "Typical depends on your background," the chef says over a plate of his matzagna al pesto, an airily layered take on lasagna he makes especially for Passover.
Il Portico, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary in September, was one of the first restaurants to colonize Philadelphia's Restaurant Row, as well as bring the cuisine of the Roman Jewish ghetto to the city. "Il Portico d'Ottavia was the walled Jewish ghetto," says Delbello. "This cuisine is over 2,000 years old. It is very different from Eastern European Jewish cuisine, from Sephardic cuisine."
Now appearing on Il Portico's menu, matzagna al pesto is a delicate combination of unleavened matzah squares (standing in for the usual flat lasagna noodles), bÃ©chamel sauce, basil pesto and ricotta cheese, garnished with pine nuts. The recipe comes down through Delbello's family, many of whom own and operate restaurants from New York to Hong Kong, Bali to Istanbul.
"The Jewish faith spread throughout the world," sayd Delbello. "So every culture has their own style of cuisine. It was the Jews who brought fennel, eggplants and artichokes to Italy in the first place."
Learn to make Il Portico's kosher for Passover matzagna al pesto, after the jump.
Matzagna Al Pesto (Matza Lasagna with Pesto Sauce)
Recipe courtesy Al Delbello, executive chef/owner, Il Portico
2 cups pesto sauce
8 egg matzot
2 cups ricotta sauce
1 cup milk
Coat the bottom of deep square baking dish slightly larger than the matza with pesto. Make alternate layers with uncooked matza and pesto sauce with dollops of ricotta sauce. Continue to make layers until you have exhausted all the ingredients. End with the ricotta sauce. Pour all the milk over the prepared matzagna, covered with aluminum foil, and bake in preheated 350 F oven for 30 minutes. Serve hot or at room temp.
Salsa Di Ricotta Per Pesach (Passover Ricotta Sauce)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons Passover cake flour
1 1/2 cups hot milk
1 cup ricotta
Heat the butter and flour in a saucepan and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the milk all at once and cook another 2 minutes, and whisk. Add ricotta and simmer, stirring until ricotta is almost completely melted
Yields approx. 2 cups
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Medi-Veggie Snack Wrap|
In 2006 McDonald's introduced the American eating public to the $1 Snack Wrap. Fried or grilled chicken, or even a shuddersome wedge of what passes for a burger, are dressed with shredded lettuce and cheese and wrapped in a flour tortilla. We don't know why the Snack Wrap exists, what deep ravenous need it fulfills, but we knew we could make a better, healthier and worlds more satisfying 3 p.m. bite.
Bitar's Market (947 Federal St.) in South Philly is a Lebanese sandwich shop/market with two equally appetizing faces. The tiny sandwich shop-side vends combinations like the grilled chicken Angelo Cataldi sandwich with roasted red pepper spread, lettuce and string cheese ($5.50) as well as more traditional lamb gyros, chicken kebabs and falafel-stuffed pitas. On the market side lives any Middle Eastern ingredient your cookbook can send you out for -- beautiful handmade pita in a multitude of sizes, the essential herb blend za'atar and creamy, salty Bulgarian, French or Greek feta by the pound.
Our Bitar's-sourced snack wrap is a vegetarian assortment of hummus (or baba ganouj, or both) spread on pita toasted on one side in olive oil, a few slices of that sharp feta and crisp cucumbers topped with a heaping handful of mixed winter greens. Crushed into a portable cylinder, the contrasting textures and bright flavors snap against the warm delicate pita, crispy on the inside and soft outside.
Learn how to assemble our Medi-Veggie Snack Wrap after the jump.
Medi-Veggie Snack Wrap
Yields one wrap
Go Get This:
One 8-inch Bitar's hand-stretched pita
Few tablespoons of hummus or baba ganouj, or both
Few slices of Bulgarian feta to taste
Half a cucumber, peeled and sliced
Big handful of raw greens (spring mix, arugula, weeds, whatever you like)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Now Do This:
Pour about a teaspoon of olive oil into a 10-inch or larger skillet. Heat until shimmering over medium heat. Tilt pan so olive oil covers the surface in a thin layer.
Place the pita in the warm oil and allow to toast, about 1-2 minutes. Do not flip; you want the outside of the wrap to stay nice and clean and soft.
Remove warmed pita and place toasted side up on a plate. Spread with hummus or baba ganouj or both, just 3/4 of the way across the round. See photo.
Layer sliced feta over spread(s). Add sliced cukes. Place big handful of greens on top.
Roll wrap, starting with side that has lots of ingredients on it.
Eat. Feel smugly healthy.
|L.P. adventures in the refrigerator|
Around 6 p.m. each day, I begin to rummage through my cabinets and refrigeration units in search of little nuggets that I'll throw together and call dinner. Usually, I find fish filets, ground beef, chicken and a handful of veggies. On nights I am feeling particularly uninspired and burned out from cooking the larger part of an eight hour shift, I'll throw that ground beef in a pot and make chili. At first, pretty much the only thing standard about my chili was that I never used actually chilies. In recent attempts, I have found a combination that is savory, sweet, and spicy. Still no sign of chilies, but I love this rendition.
Hit the jump for the recipe.
1lb. ground beef (I usually buy 85/15 or 90/10)
2 tbsp. canola oil
Â½ onion, chopped (Vidalias are great, but plain white or red will do)
Â½ pepper, chopped (green peppers are the cheapest)
Â½ bunch scallions, chopped (chives are ok if that's what you have)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Â½ bunch cilantro, chopped (as finely or roughly chopped as you like)
2 large cans diced tomatoes in juice
Â½ cup honey
2 tsp. paprika
1 tbsp. cayenne (add more or less if you like or don't like your spice)
2tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a large pot. Once it is glistening hot, add the onions and peppers. Sweat the liquid out of those then add your garlic. Once the garlic is slightly browned add the beef and cook that a few minutes (Remember, you don't really have to cook the beef until it's completely done because it will continue to cook as it stews with the other ingredients).
Now, throw in the cans of tomatoes, cilantro and scallions. Let that reduce down until it's a bit thicker, then toss in all the spices, salt, pepper and the honey. At this point, the longer you let it simmer (on very low heat) the better it will taste and all the flavors will marry. It's up to you how long you feel like waiting to dig in.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Cheap & easy protein|
Many home cooks (including myself) who aren't afraid of breaking down a leg of lamb or spending two hours blanching and peeling minute pearl onions for an edible project still flinch away from cooking fish.ï¿½ The invisible bones, the lingering smell and the inevitable sticking and trashing of the expensive fillets are kind of a scary prospect.
My dear friend Nicole Pogas (who has cooked at Pif and Vetri, and taught me how to perfectly poach an egg) and I cooked a fast dinner the other night that employed her oven-roasting method for skinless, boneless fillets of tilapia. Her method removes the fear from cooking fish because you pre-heat a sheet tray in the oven and then add the fillets to it, which keeps the flesh from sticking and the lingering fishy smells under control.ï¿½ All tilapia, a hardy, freshwater white-fleshed fish native to North Africa, are farm-raised, mostly in the U.S., Central America and Asia.ï¿½ The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch lists U.S.-raised fresh tilapia as the Best Choice for sustainability; with Central American specimens as a Good Alternative.ï¿½ They recommend avoiding frozen tilapia from Asia because of pollution and farming practices.
Other thin, boneless-skinless fillets of fish can also be cooked using this method.ï¿½ After the jump, Nicole Pogas' super-fast Oven-Roasted Tilapia with Cucumber Salad.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Placing the fish fillets on a preheated sheet tray keeps them from sticking|
Oven-Roasted Tilapia with Cucumber Salad
By Nicole Pogas
Go Get This:
3 boneless, skinless fresh tilapia fillets
2 English cucumbers (you can use ordinary cucumbers, too, but English cukes have way fewer seeds)
3 thin green onions (scallions)
A few sprigs dill
A few sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
A few small glugs extra-virgin olive oil
Two small pats butter
Your choice of starch or sauteed greens
Now Do This:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for at least fifteen minutes.ï¿½ When oven reaches temp, place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to heat, at least 15 minutes.
While the oven is preheating, completely peel both cucumbers.ï¿½ Cut 1/4 inch off ends and discard.ï¿½ Slice trimmed cuke in half lengthwise and place flat side down on cutting board. Thinly slice cucumbers and place in large mixing bowl.
Cut root ends and tough green parts off green onions and discard, keeping the white and light green parts.ï¿½ Slice the green onions as thinly as you can and add to mixing bowl.
Take one lemon and zest it all over with a peeler or Microplane.ï¿½ Add all lemon zest to cucumber/green onion bowl.ï¿½ Cut zested lemon in half and juice both halves thoroughly; add juice to mixing bowl.ï¿½ Take second lemon and cut in half; juice one half into bowl and reserve other half to be cut into wedges for garnishing finished plate.
Wash and finely chop dill and parsley; add to mixing bowl.
Season cucumber salad with salt and pepper to taste; cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in refrigerator while you cook the fish.
Remove tilapia fillets from packaging and season all over with salt and pepper.
Once the sheet pan has heated in the hot oven for at least 15 minutes, remove it from oven with oven mitts or tongs and place on heatproof surface (the range top is ideal, or use a few hot pads or a trivet).
Pour a hearty glug of olive oil onto hot sheet pan, then add a pat or two of butter.ï¿½ Arrange tilapia fillets on oil and butter and return to oven.ï¿½ Roast for about seven minutes; then remove sheet from oven and flip fish with large spatula.ï¿½ Return to oven and cook about five more minutes, until flesh is opaque white and firm to the touch.
Serve hot fish over your choice of starch or sauteed greens; top with cold cucumber salad.ï¿½ Cut wedges from reserved lemon half and serve on plate for squeezing over.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|This was only one table of the spread last year|
T-day is just around the corner, procrastinators. Whether you're hosting the big feed or trekking out to Grandma's, it is time to get your shop on. Acme and Whole Foods have already descended into Lord of the Flies-style madness; DiBruno Brothers is more Apocalypse Now.ï¿½ Still, arriving right at opening hour keeps you ahead of the worst of the fray, along with arming yourself with detailed lists of to-dos and things you need to beg, borrow or buy before Thursday (as well as a protective bubble of patience and/or well-developed appreciation for chaos).
Just in case you're still stumped on what to offer your loved ones this holiday, we've pulled our most holiday-appropriate SUPPER recipes and tricks from the archives.ï¿½ Check it out:
- Butternut (or Kabocha) squash soup gets spiked with garam masala and apple cider vinegar in a first-course recipe that's incidentally vegan
- Massaging a kale salad can help relieve turkey anxiety. A little salt and olive oil breaks down the superfood for raw eating; add seasonal treats like toasted pine nuts, sliced kumquats or pomegranate seeds to this healthy green side that takes up zero space on the stovetop (vegetarian)
- My great-grandmother invented aï¿½ stuffing that has traveled the word. Bacon, celery, onions, parsley, white bread and a clutch of eggs make this savory bread pudding the highlight of the meal and everyone's most-wanted take home item
- Don't forget about the bread, which you can make the day before and smash into the oven for ten minutes to warm when the guests arrive.ï¿½ Try classic, gruyere-rich gougeres to butter your family into good behavior, or a batch of savory muffins (we like rosemary-Parmigiano) that add a homey touch to the table.
|Photo l Michael Persico|
|Homemade gnocchi with pesto, spinach and Parmigiano|
Eating a bowl of fluffy gnocchi, simply sauced with pesto or sage in brown butter,ï¿½ is the equivalent of falling into a soft feather bed.ï¿½ Easy to do and easy to enjoy, but to actually make that feather bed you've got to kill a whole lot of geese and get pretty messy.ï¿½ The analogous pitfalls and time requirements of hand-making pasta has kept me from attempting those feathery pillows until now, when I went on the hunt for the Ultimate Gnocchi Recipe.ï¿½ Prescriptions for perfect pasta abound on the Web; the Food Network came up high offering versions from Emeril Lagasse (who starts with mashed potatoes) and Mario Batali (who has you par-cook the things and hold them in oil until service). ï¿½ï¿½ Further research turned up dozens of other, slightly less corporate sources.
The first method that stood out came from Anna Maria Volpi, a native of Italy who provides step-by-step instructions (with photos) for classic Gnocchi Patate.ï¿½ Her version is as traditional as it gets, boiling the potatoes in their skins and incorporating only flour and salt into the dough (the egg is optional) to create a super-light and incidentally vegan dumpling.
Executing Volpi's recipe resulted in puffed, airy dumplings that came at the expense of a difficut-to-work, crumbly dough.ï¿½ These boiled potato, egg-free vegan gnocchi worked best when cut intoï¿½ 1" pieces from a 3/4" rolled dowel of dough.
The second recipe worth using originates at The Italian Dish, a blog devoted to simple recipe/photo guides to classic Italian preparations.ï¿½ The Italian Dish bakes their Russet potatoes instead of boiling, mixing drier riced potatoes with eggs and flour. This egg-enriched dough held together better and was easier to work with.ï¿½ The gnocchi were also stiffer and took to their sautï¿½ without tearing, without sacrificing the fluff and bite of a quality gnoccho (singluar of gnocchi).
Gnocchi made in a large batch can be frozen and used later, by placing freshly cut gnocchi on a floured cloth on a baking sheet and freezing for 20 minutes.ï¿½ Partially frozen gnocchi can then be transferred to a freezer bag and stored for up to one month.ï¿½ To serve, add gnocchi straight from the freezer to vigorously boiling water until they float.ï¿½ Add gnocchi to sautï¿½ pan containing warmed sauce of your choice; toss to combine sauce with gnocchi.ï¿½ Serve hot, immediately.
To make successful vegan, traditional gnocchi, follow Anna Maria Volpi's technique, which can be modified by using baked potatoes instead of boiled.ï¿½ Bake the 2 lbs. of Russet potatoes for 65 minutes in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven, then proceed with the recipe as usual, omitting eggs.
To make successful egg and potato gnocchi, follow The Italian Dish's recipe.ï¿½ Bake 1.5 lbs. of Russet potatoes in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 65 minutes, until tender to the fork.ï¿½ Be cautious peeling potatoes of their skin; steam released from under the skin can burn you badly.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
This simple, filling soup is like the edible translation of a crispy fall day.ï¿½ In addition to being inexpensive and healthy, my vegan version omits all of the butter and cream that make restaurant versions delicious but fatty.
I tested two methods of roasting the butternut squash: peeling the whole squash and cutting it into chunks before roasting, and slicing the unpeeled squash in half and roasting it cut-side up, both in a 400 degree oven.ï¿½ The peel-and-chunk method emerged as the winner for both speed (the chunks of squash roasted twice as fast as the squash halves) and ease (scooping flaming hot squash into a stockpot without bringing the tough skin along for the ride was painful and annoying).
You will need a blender or food processor for the recipe; I also pressed my pureed soup through a mesh strainer to further refine the texture.
Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
serves four to six
Go Get This:
Two medium-sized butternut squash
Several glugs extra-virgin olive oil
One large red onion or two medium onions
Three stalks celery
1 tbsp. Salt
Smoked black pepper to taste
Nutmeg to taste
1 tsp. garam masala or curry spice
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
16 oz. vegetable stock
Thyme, for garnish
Now Do This:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
With a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off the squashes.ï¿½ Slice each squash in half lengthways.ï¿½ Scoop out and discard squash guts and seeds.
Cut squash into 1-inch chunks and lay in a single layer in a metal or glass baking dish.ï¿½ Pour a glug of olive oil over squash chunks.ï¿½ Season generously with salt, smoked black pepper and nutmeg. Stir everything around to coat.
Place uncovered dish in oven.ï¿½ Roast 25-35 minutes, until squash is tender. It will give easily when pierced with a fork when it is done.
When squash has been in oven for about fifteen minutes, peel and chop your onion and carrot.ï¿½ Chop the celery, discarding the leaves and tough white root ends.
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat another few glugs of olive oil overï¿½ medium-high heat.ï¿½ When oil is hot and shimmering, add onions, carrot and celery to pot.ï¿½ Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and slightly colored.ï¿½ Reduce heat to low.
Once squash is cooked, add it and all its oil to the stockpot.ï¿½ Turn heat up.ï¿½ Add garam masala, cider vinegar and vegetable stock.ï¿½ Use a potato masher to break squash down.ï¿½ Bring the whole thing up to the boil and let it boil for a minute.
Turn heat off under pot.
Carefully (this is HOT) and working in batches, add mixture to a food processor or blender.ï¿½ If you have an immersion or stick blender, you can use it right in the pot.ï¿½ Puree mixture until smooth.
Place a mesh strainer or china cap over a large metal or glass bowl or pot.ï¿½ Working in batches, press the puree through the strainer with the back of a wooden spoon.ï¿½ Set solids left in the strainer aside; they can be used to enrich mashed veggies or pasta sauce.
Taste your strained soup for seasoning; add more salt, pepper, garam masala or vinegar to taste.ï¿½ Serve hot, garnished with stripped thyme leaves.
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