Simplicity

74 Comments

Many different cuisines do “simple” well. I think it’s because of how regional “cuisines” began in the first place. It was about feeding your family – from milking a cow, killing a chicken, to picking ripe tomatoes and lemons. It’s about what grew and what you farmed.

But today in the wide world of all things culinary, things have become a little more fancy. We’re responsible for this, really. I mean, from my computer at home, I can now order just about any ingredient that 20 years ago I’m not sure I’d ever think I’d see in person.

And our demands for more upscale and modern meals at restaurants these days are relentless! There is more and more pressure on chefs to outperform even themselves. Maybe it’s good to keep the chefs on their toes, but as a result, I feel food has gotten a little complicated.

An appetizer, for example, that is built up like a tower 6″ tall, with no way of eating it politely. Or a beautiful piece of fish that has 8 different kinds of sauces drizzled artistically around it. Fun, but a little too much for me. In fact, I think of this example, because when my husband and I would go to Hawaii, I would ask for the fish to simply be grilled or pan fried, and for all of the accessory items to be omitted. This seemed to always take a lot of instruction, like they really didn’t believe my request. But I just wanted to taste the fish. I don’t get just out-of-the-ocean fish where I live.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with trends, like how foam is so popular now. But for me, I just want the best quality food, made from the freshest of ingredients, simply prepared. I don’t care if it’s a meal in my home, at a fine dining establishment, or in a little hole-in-the-wall pub.

Simplicity. And I honestly think the Italians do it best. Something divine, yet made with only a few ingredients, like the hors d’oeuvres I’m offering in this post. Simple grilled breads topped with ricotta and baked. Sure, there’s a little salt, pepper, and olive oil, but that’s it. Simple perfection.

This recipe is quite common, and there are many ways to make it, but I’m inspired by this book by Lorenza de Medici, called Antipasti. It’s an old book, but I just checked and it still can be purchased on Amazon.

6187XHTK0QL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

This recipe is adapted from the book above, to serve only two people.

ric3

Bruschetta di Ricotta

1 small loaf French or Italian bread
Olive oil

5 ounces ricotta cheese, well drained, whole-milk only
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Asiago or Romano
Salt
Pepper
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the bread approximately 1/4″ thick, and place the slices on a baking sheet. Brush some olive oil over one side of the slices. Toast the bread slices in the oven until they are lightly golden.
crostini1
Meanwhile, place the ricotta cheese in a small bowl Add the egg.
ricotta

Stir the ricotta and egg well, using a whisk if necessary. Ms. de Medici also includes the olive oil with the ricotta-egg mixture, but I left it out to drizzle over the crostini later. Then stir in the grated cheese.
ricotta1

When the bread has toasted, place a teaspoon or two of the ricotta-egg mixture on top of each crostini, then return the cookie sheet to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes more.
crostini2

The ricotta should be slightly yellowed and firm. Let them cool a little.
ric4

Sprinkle the crostini with a little salt and lots of freshly cracked pepper.

ric1

Drizzle the olive oil on the top, and then sprinkle with thyme leaves, if you’re using them.
ric5

The bruschetta are also good at room temperature.

ric2

I’m also offering a sweet twist of these crostini on Monday, so stay tuned!

note: Just think of all of the variations possible with these bruschetta! You could add fresh or roasted garlic, lots of herbs or a little pesto, bits of things like sun-dried tomato… So simple.

A Spinach Gratin

20 Comments

I happen to love spinach. I much prefer it to kale, which I know is so trendy right now. Well, no one’s ever accused this old lady of being on trend.

Spinach is fabulous raw, like in salads or even sandwiches. But when it’s simply sautéd with some oil and garlic, or creamed, or baked in a gratin with some ricotta or cheese, it becomes even more magical.

This is one of those magical gratins featuring spinach, plus leeks and red bell peppers. Yes, Christmas colors in a gratin. I can’t help myself. Green and red are two of my favorite colors. Another reason that I love Christmas so much.

This gratin is easy to make, and can be made ahead and reheated as well. It’s a fabulous side dish to protein. This evening I paired it with grilled flank steak. You don’t even need pasta or potatoes added to the meal, because there’s plenty of heft from within this gratin.

gratin2

Here’s the recipe:

Spinach Gratin with Red Bell Peppers

Olive oil or butter
20 ounces fresh spinach leaves
2 small red bell peppers*
1 large leek, cleaned, dried, thinly sliced
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 cup full-fat ricotta
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
4 ounces finely grated white cheese like mozzarella, provolone, or Swiss

Using a large skillet or even a wok, heat a little oil, about 1 tablespoon over medium high heat.

You will need to work with the fresh spinach in batches, so it’s manageable.
spin1

Add approximately 1/4 of the amount of spinach to the skillet. Carefully toss and turn it around so that every spinach leaf touches the hot skillet and gets coated with the oil.
spin2

It takes a few minutes for the spinach to completely wilt.
spin3

Place the sautéd in a colander in the sink, and return to complete the remaining spinach.
spinach9

Meanwhile, place the ricotta, cream, eggs, salt and white pepper in a medium bowl.
spinach8

Whisk the mixture until smooth. .

spinach5

Using the same skillet, heat a little oil, about 2 tablespoons, over medium-high heat. Add the red bell peppers and leeks to the skillet.
spinach7

Sauté them for a few minutes, then add the shallots and sauté for another few minutes.
spinach6

Then turn off the heat and let the vegetables cool off a bit. Then remove approximately half of the vegetables and place in a small bowl; set aside.

Using your hands, if the spinach is cool enough to handle, grab a handful of spinach and squeeze the excess water out of it. Alternatively, you can roll handfuls of spinach in paper towels or clean dish towels to remove the water. Place the dried spinach into the skillet along with the vegetables.

At this point, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the spinach and vegetable together to combine.

spinach4
Then add the ricotta mixture to the skillet. And add the grated cheese.
spinach3

Stir the vegetables and the ricotta mixture well, then turn it out into an 8″ square baking dish, greased if necessary.

spinach2

Sprinkle the top with the saved red bell pepper and leeks.
spinach1

Bake for approximately 55 minutes; you can test the gratin with a cake tester, and it should come out clean just as with a quiche.

spinach

This gratin is very spinachy, but it’s also blessed with a soft, quiche-like interior, plus a sprinkling of vegetables. It’s slightly rich, but also very hearty. I hope you enjoy it!

gratin3

* You could use jarred roasted red bell peppers if you wish, instead of raw, but I don’t think the resulting flavors will be much different.

Nutrition Facts Widget Image

Raclette Quick Bread

30 Comments

For those of you who don’t know what a quick bread is, well, it’s just that – a quick bread! As opposed to slow bread, you could call it, or a yeasted bread, which can take hours to prepare and bake.

A quick bread contains no yeast. Baking powder is the leavening that lightens the bread as it bakes. Without leavening of any sort, breads would come out of the oven as heavy, dense bricks.

I learned that the hard way as a young girl. I went through a baking spurt where on Sundays I would get up and make recipes from a cookbook written for youngsters by Betty Crocker, such things as cinnamon rolls and coffee cakes. Once I wanted to make a certain breakfast bread that required yeast and something called “rising time,” and being that I didn’t have that kind of time, I just ignored that part of the recipe.

Knowing that I had made something special, because I had a feeling that yeast was special, and being quite proud of myself, when my mother came down to the kitchen, I asked her to remove the bread from the oven. As she proceeded to lift it from the oven rack, she almost dropped it because it weighed a ton. And, of course, it was inedible. The rising process for yeasted breads is mandatory. Lesson learned at age 9.

But back to quick breads. Besides being quick, they are extremely easy. And you can really mix up the ingredients much like you can pancakes. You just have to respect the wet ingredients to dry ingredients ratio. Think about it. A cookie dough is different from a cake batter for a reason. You can’t make a pancake with a stiff dough, and just the same you can’t bake a quick bread from a drippy batter.

There are familiar quick breads that just contain honey and molasses, but also banana and pumpkin breads as well. These are all sweet quick breads. But I really like making savory ones.

Today I decided to make a quick bread using some leftover raclette cheese that I had frozen after Christmas, and a few other goodies I gathered together. If you decide to make this bread, you can completely change up the ingredients including the cheese, to make this bread your own. See what you think.

Raclette Quick Bread

2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes from a package
4 ounces unsalted butter
6 ounces pancetta
16 ounces milk
2 eggs
8 ounces ricotta
3 tablespoons leftover pancetta grease
1/2 cup, approximately, fresh, chopped herbs*
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
12 ounces grated raclette or your cheese of choice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Chop up the dried tomatoes and place them in a small bowl. Add the butter to the bowl and microwave it until it is melted. Let the tomatoes hydrate in the butter while you continue with the recipe.

racl9
Chop the pancetta into large dice.

racl7

Cook the pancetta in a skillet over medium-high heat. A little browning is good; don’t allow any burning. Remove the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate, but save the grease in the skillet.

To a large mixing bowl, add the milk, eggs, ricotta, pancetta grease, the herbs, and salt. Whisk this mixture until smooth.

racl5

Using a spoon, gradually add the flour and baking powder and stir until the flour is almost combine with the wet ingredients. The batter will be thick because of the ricotta cheese, so don’t think you’ve done something wrong. At that time, add the grated cheese and fold the batter until the flour and cheese is incorporated; do not over stir.

racl4

Divide the batter in between two greased 8 x 4″ loaf pans.

I actually used a handful of sliced Kalamata olives for half of this batter, because my husband doesn’t like them, but I do. The addition of the olives doesn’t affect the dry to wet ingredient ratio, so I just simply folded them in.
racl3
Place the pans in the oven for 45 minutes. The bread with the olives is in the foreground.

racl2
To make sure they are cooked through, use a cake tester or long toothpick to check them. No doughy substance should be sticking to the tester. If there is, the breads need to be cooked for maybe five minutes longer. An alternative is to lower your oven to 325 degrees to help the breads cook in the middle.

There should be a little rise along the middle of the bread, and it should also be firm to the touch.

racl8

Let the breads rest in the pans for about 30 minutes, and then remove them to cool completely.

racl

Serve these breads as part of a buffet, or for an hors d’oeuvres platter. They’re best warm or at room temperature.

racl12

* I used parsley, rosemary, and oregano straight from the garden. But you can use one herb or many, depending on your taste.

racl6

note: To change up the ingredients, think about adding nuts, for example, or even chopped jalapenos! This bread would also be good with a smoked cheese, cilantro, and adobo seasoning! Get creative!

racl14

Nutrition Facts Widget Image