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Shared Experiences: Santorini Fava

19 Oct

One of the best things you can bring back from a trip is a recipe. I’m excited when I or others try something delicious ­and learn how to make it. Sharing food traditions is special and important. My parents recently went on a trip to Santorini, where they tried a dish called fava, which has precisely nothing to do with fava beans. The hero here is a different fava, the humble yellow split pea, which has been growing on Santorini for over 3,500 years. With these peas and relatively few other ingredients, we create an incredibly earth, hearty, and smooth dip or spread that is popular in the local tavernas there.  Think of it as an alternative to hummus that can be served warm, room temperature, or even chilled.

Santorini Fava

  • 250g yellow split peas, rinsed
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 3-5 sprigs thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups warm water
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, thyme, and a pinch of salt, and saute until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent, 5-6 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute one minute more.

Stir in the split peas and then add the water and olive oil, reduce the heat to medium and cover.

Cook until the peas are mushy, 35-45 minutes.

Add the mushy peas and lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

I like to serve this room temperature with a spoonful of cold plain yogurt, caramelized onion, and chopped fresh parsley to garnish.

The combination of textures and temperatures is just excellent. Fried capers would be more than welcome here, I just didn’t have any on-hand.

I’m so glad my parents took the time to get this recipe and passed it along to me. It’s the perfect quick snack alongside some warm pita or crisp, cool vegetables. And I never would have heard of it if not for their travels! One savory little way to taste a part of their experience.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Leftover Treasures: Arancini

12 Aug

There are a lot of clever ways to revive leftovers, but one of my favorites makes a new dish that can be even better than the original. I am talking of course, about arancini, Sicily’s perfect little fried rice balls.

The name translates from Italian and Sicilian to mean “little oranges” for the shape and color of the finished product. They’re said to have originated in 10th century Sicily, and later gained popularity as a food eaten on the feast of Santa Lucia. “Arancini are a traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia on 13 December when bread and pasta are not eaten. This commemorates arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s day in 1646, relieving a severe famine” [1]. Today, arancini are so popular that most food outlets in Sicily sell them year-round.

Though meat in tomato sauce (ragù) and mozzarella are a traditional filling, variants are sold all over Sicily. Like any good leftover application, they are malleable enough to accommodate what you have on hand. These deep-fried delights are the answer to “I made a full recipe of risotto and only needed to feed 1 or 2 people. What now?”

Risotto already has such a wonderful depth of flavor that we don’t need to do much at all to make it something special again. Arancini are simple to make, freeze well, and fry up in less than five minutes. Sound good? Let’s go for it.

Mushroom and Cheese Arancini

Ingredients

  • Well chilled leftovers from 1 recipe Mushroom and Romano Risotto (about 3 cups for me). You can certainly use other varieties of leftover risotto, just make sure you chill it well so that it’s firm.
  • 3 eggs (2 beaten in one bowl, 1 beaten in another)
  • 2 oz. mozzarella cheese (or other melting cheese), cut into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Neutral oil such as peanut or canola for frying (enough to measure at least 2 in. deep in a saucepan)

Put the flour, 2 beaten eggs, and bread crumbs into separate bowls and arrange on the counter in that order. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat one egg and mix it into the chilled risotto.

Take 2 tbsp. of the risotto and flatten it gently into your palm. Place a cube of mozzarella in the center and then gently close your hand to surround the mozzarella with risotto. I also roll the ball between my hands a few times to get a nice compact shape.

Dip the ball into the flour, shaking off excess.

Next, dip it into the beaten egg, letting the excess drip off.

Finally, roll the ball in the panko breadcrumbs and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. I got 18 from 3 cups of risotto. (Yes, yes, there are only 17 in the picture. One was not-so-elegantly dropped.)

At this moment, I realized that I am one human with a somewhat small appetite and what on earth was I going to do with a dozen and a half arancini? Thankfully, these freeze well. If you need to do so, freeze them on a baking sheet until firm, and then move to a freezer bag. From frozen, fry 3-4 minutes and then put in a 350 degree F oven for 5-7 minutes to get the center piping hot. Win!

If not freezing, chill the arancini in the refrigerator for at least an hour before frying. They will hold their shape much better.

Prepare to fry by filling a saucepan with at least 2 in. of neutral oil. Clip a thermometer to the side of the pot and make sure the probe is at least ½ in. into the oil. This is important because greasy fried food is not what we’re after. Use an accurate thermometer, fry at the correct temperature, and the food will only absorb a very small amount of the oil. I’ve measured on a few occasions, and it’s usually only a few tablespoons total.

Bring the oil to 350 degrees F over moderate heat. You may be tempted to use high heat to get it there, but don’t. It will be harder to control the temperature later.

Fry the arancini 2-3 at a time to keep the oil temperature from dipping. They will cook in 2-4 minutes, depending on size. Remove when they are a deep golden brown. Bring the oil back to 350 degrees between batches.

Now you get a second course of your delicious risotto with added crunchy crust and gooey mozzarella center.

I mean, just check out that cheesiness:

They’re a great appetizer or lunch alongside a simple tomato salad. Now no delicious risotto leftovers need ever go to waste. And that feels pretty great.

Ciao for now,

Neen

1. Giuseppina Siotto, Vegetaliana, note di cucina italiana vegetale: La cucina vegetariana e vegana, 2014, ISBN8868101858, chapter 14

Back to Bread Baking: Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

7 Jun

So, it’s been a very strange two months.

The first week of April, I woke up suddenly with back pain so excruciating, Joe and I had to cancel our annual trip to Boston for PAX East. Things deteriorated from there. My joints swelled randomly and massively, there were weeks at a time when I could not walk, and I was in constant, excruciating pain. After a long two months of MRIs, x-rays, labs, and doctor appointments, I was finally diagnosed last week with rheumatoid arthritis. While things haven’t improved greatly (yet), I am much more comfortable and have a treatment plan to move forward.

Needless to say, I wasn’t doing much cooking. The last couple of weeks I’ve had a little more energy, my hands hurt a little less, and I have started to cook some meals and get back to baking. I’ve been going for a lot of comfort foods like meatloaf, soups, and homemade pasta. But what really feels like home to me is baking bread. So when my rosemary plant decided to offer this…

I knew a really good focaccia was on the way.

Let’s get back in the kitchen together!

Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

Bread:
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
2 tbsp. sugar
3 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1.5 oz. finely grated asiago cheese

Toppings:
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 oz. coarsely grated asiago cheese

Dissolve the salt in 2 tbsp. of water and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar, and water, and let stand until foamy, 5-10 min.

Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly add 3 1/2 cups of flour to the bowl. Add the salt water and olive oil, and once incorporated, add the chopped rosemary and finely grated asiago cheese.

Once the dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (You can also knead this in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, I just enjoy doing it by hand.) Add flour as needed if the dough is sticky.

Form the dough into a ball and transfer to an oiled bowl, tossing to coat in the oil. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a towel and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and adjust a rack to the lower third of the oven.

Lightly oil a baking sheet and turn the risen dough out onto it. Gently stretch the dough into an oblong shape about ½ in. thick.

Let rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Gently dimple the dough with your fingertips. Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil, and then sprinkle on the coarsely grated asiago cheese and chopped rosemary.

Bake the focaccia for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown all over. Allow it to rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.

This bread reheats especially well in the toaster or conventional oven (if you don’t finish it all in one day!)

While I often find the road ahead daunting and uncertain, I am lucky to be surrounded by supportive people, and have hobbies like cooking and yoga that ground me and offer me a meditative space. And I’ll keep writing to you here as often as I can, because food is meant to be shared and I will always be happy to share with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

The King’s Crispy Treats

26 Mar

I went on a granola bar making binge recently. First I had a friend who was traveling who I thought could use a snack, and then I was in a show with a lot of long hours and heavy lifting, so I made tons of bars for the whole cast.

Then Joe spoke up. He doesn’t like oats, or the texture of most dried fruit. What kind of bar could I make for him? I remembered a Kashi bar that he used to eat that had chocolate covered pretzels in it and a sort of crispy cereal base. I considered that banana chips weren’t chewy and so I added those to the equation, and that’s when it hit me. Add some peanuts and peanut butter and you have something approximating Elvis’ beloved fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches in breakfast bar form. With a little added chocolate because yes, please!

Elvis Bars

  • 3 ½ cups crispy rice cereal or puffed rice cereal
  • ½ cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup banana chips, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup chocolate covered pretzels, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt

Line an 8×8 in. square pan with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cereal, banana chips, and peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, honey, vanilla, and salt. Cook until the mixture just starts to bubble.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until smooth.

Add the peanut butter mixture to the cereal mixture and stir well to combine.

Wait 15 minutes for the mixture to cool slightly, and then add the chocolate covered pretzel pieces.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly into an even layer. Chill in the refrigerator for two hour before cutting into squares.

I wrap them individually in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

Crispy, chewy, sweet, and salty. Delicious! Hope you enjoy these royal treats soon.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Belated Birthday Post: Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

1 Aug

When I woke up on my birthday last month, I had a strange lack of ingredients in the house. Less than a stick of butter, no powdered sugar, and no milk specifically. Not ideal for someone wanting to make birthday cake with frosting, but certainly by no means an impossible task.

What I came up with was actually pretty delicious and reminded me a lot of a cake I used to make for Joe a lot when we were first dating. As for the icing, normally I’m a buttercream kinda lady, but toasted Italian meringue may have won my heart over. It was light and crisp on the outside, and soft and marshmallow-y inside. A perfect companion for this warm, spicy cinnamon cake.

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 whole egg and two egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

Italian Meringue Ingredients and Recipe Here

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand blender, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the whole egg and egg yolks one at a time, mixing between additions and scraping down the bowl. Then add the almond extract.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the yogurt and the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, scraping the bowl between additions, until everything is just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cups.

Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To frost, spoon or pipe the meringue on top of the cupcakes and then place under a broiler for 15-30 seconds or use a blow torch to lightly brown the meringue.

These were a pretty delicious way to celebrate #32, I have to say. I bet they’d be great with other toppings too, like maple buttercream, or a crisp brown sugar and oat crumble. Give them a try soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Sunday Morning Sweets: Old Fashioned Cake Doughnuts

26 Mar

If you were snowed in, work was cancelled, and you had all of the necessary ingredients, tell me…

Why wouldn’t you make doughnuts?

Sure it takes a little time to do it properly, but it wasn’t like I was going anywhere on that February morning.

A lot of people don’t like frying, because they’ve had bad experiences with poorly-fried food. I get it. Believe me, greasy food makes me queasy too. If you keep a thermometer in the pot, fry in small batches, monitor the temperature between batches, and drain food properly, you will end up with almost as much oil in the pot as you started with. Less oil leaching into the food, no greasy texture.

I am always a fan of peanut oil for deep frying as I think it has the most neutral flavor, but you can use anything with a high smoke point.

Since I was snowed in at the last minute on this occasion, I decided to make cake doughnuts. I prefer to allow yeast doughs to rise overnight and we didn’t have that kind of time.

Old Fashioned Cake Doughnuts

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ tbsp salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • Oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

20150222_114358In another bowl, Combine the sugar with the melted butter, milk, and eggs, and blend well.

20150222_114605Slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and beat until you have a batter that comes together, but is very soft and sticky.

20150222_114623Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for one hour.

After chilling, roll the dough out until it is about ½ in. thick.
20150222_122147Cut out doughnuts with a pint glass or biscuit cutter, and then cut out center holes with a small cookie cutter or shot glass.

20150222_122235
20150222_122554Fill a deep skillet with about 1 ½ in. of vegetable or peanut oil, and heat the pan until the oil is about 360 degrees.

Add doughnuts gently to the hot oil, cooking a few at a time so that the oil temperature stays between 360-375 degrees. Once you see golden brown around the edges, flip the doughnuts so that they cook on both sides. Total cooking time is about 2-3 minutes for doughnuts and about a minute for doughnut holes.
20150222_124221Remove the doughnuts using a spider and drain on a cooling rack inverted over a layer of paper towels.

While warm, glaze or sugar as desired. For this batch, I dipped some in cinnamon sugar and others are topped with a simple powdered sugar, milk, lemon zest, and vanilla glaze and sprinkles. I love crazy flavor combinations, but sometimes simplicity is perfect.

20150222_12375520150222_12545720150222_125746

And I have to say that toasty coffee, pajamas, and doughnuts is a pretty fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning with your sweetie, snowed in or otherwise.

Ciao for now!

Neen