Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

42 Comments

A while ago I pulled out all of my Italian cookbooks to locate a specific pasta recipe, which I never found. But perusing these cookbooks gave me an opportunity to bookmark recipes and remind me of some I’d already bookmarked.

One cookbook was Molto Italiano by Mario Batali.

img_0620

Mario Batali is one of those chefs who really marketed himself into TV stardom, with many restaurants, cookbooks, plus Eataly that followed, all thanks to this stardom.

I remember his cooking show on PBS that I really enjoyed. There was no band, no audience clapping, just him cooking in a little kitchen.

At the beginning of every show he would pull down a wall map of Italy and give you some history on the provenance of the dish he was about to prepare – something I really appreciated. I didn’t feel “dumbed down” by Batali, in fact, it was more educational than entertainment.

There were always 2-3 odd people sitting off to the side, not saying anything terribly profound, which always made me wonder how I could get this gig because I’d be so much better at it!!! (Not really because I freeze even when someone pulls out an iPhone.)

In spite of Mario Batali being a household name, and easy to spot with his red hair and orange crocs, I do have a lot of respect for his knowledge and passion for Italian cuisine.

While perusing Molto Italiano I spotted a dish that really spoke to me.

_mg_3777

It’s baked pasta with ricotta and ham. Simple, like most all Italian recipes, but it sounded nice and comforting for this time of year. Plus my husband loves ham and I don’t make enough ham recipes.

_mg_3789

I’d recently mentioned that I don’t make casseroles. I don’t want to insult casserole lovers, it’s just that I wasn’t raised on them. And most of them look like regurgitated food, which is my biggest issue with them. I still remember my first experience with a casserole (tuna?) when my neighbor made one for us after my first baby was born. All I will say is that there were potato chips on top. I’m still traumatized by that.

So although casserole-like, this pasta bake is actually somewhat layered. It Is a delightful meal, served with a green salad, or with anything green for that matter. Here is the recipe:

_mg_3776

note: There is a glitch in the recipe that I will resolve below. I had to study the recipe for 30 minutes to figure out what was wrong!

Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham
Pasticcio di Maccheroni*

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian cooked ham, preferably parmacotto, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds ziti
1 pound fresh ricotta
8 ounces hard provolone, cut into small dice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes. (I used onion, mushrooms and carrot.)

_mg_3747

Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 50 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.

This is the beginning of my misunderstanding of this recipe. One is to actually separate the ham from the sauce and place the ham in a large bowl. I found this impossible to do.

_mg_3751

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.

_mg_3760

Cook the ziti in the boiling water for 1 minute less than the package directions, until still very al denote. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water to “melt” it.

Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta, provolone, and tomato sauce and stir to combine.

It’s the above paragraph that really makes this recipe confusing. The pasta is supposed to be with the ham that has been removed from the red sauce, and the ricotta, provolone and remaining red sauce are supposed to be mixed together in a separate bowl.

_mg_3761

Grease a round and deep 12-inch pie dish or casserole with olive oil. Place a ladle of the cheese and sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture.

Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Parmigiano over, then repeat with another layer of the cheese and sauce mixture, then pasta and meat, and Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used up.
_mg_3764
Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.
_mg_3766

You could always offer more Parmigiano, but I felt this pasta bake was cheesy enough.
_mg_3804
_mg_3801
_mg_3793
* Pasticcio, similar to its Greek sister pastitsio, also made with ziti, is commonly served at Easter.

Note: Because I couldn’t separate the ham from the sauce, I left it all together. To compensate, I added extra red sauce to the ricotta and cheese mixture. The whole pasta bake benefitted from having probably about 50% more red sauce in it, I think, than what’s listed in the ingredients.

Croxetti with Smoked Salmon

59 Comments

Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at Eataly.com instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

fullsizerender
_mg_3706
Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.

crozetti-004

I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.

_mg_3742

For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.
_mg_3705

No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.
_mg_3710

I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.

_mg_3713

Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.

_mg_3716

Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.

_mg_3717

Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.

_mg_3719
_mg_3709

If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
_mg_3735
Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.

_mg_3741

If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.

_mg_3745

The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!

_mg_3726

Carrot Cider Soup

43 Comments

My husband and I were lucky enough to go to the restaurant Square One in San Francisco many years ago. And we were on expense account. There’s just something about that benefit that makes the dining experience even more wonderful!

The restaurant, owned by chef Joyce Goldstein, opened in 1984. According to an article I found online, Joyce Goldstein was “one of, if not the first, to explore Mediterranean food with her interpretations of specialties from Turkey, Italy, Greece, Morocco and other sun-washed countries.”

All I remember was that the menu was impressive and the food delicious. I unfortunately don’t remember any specifics of that night. I’m guessing our wine was plentiful, however, this dining experience was 30 years ago!

In 1992 Joyce Goldstein published the cookbook Back to Square One – Old-World Food in a New-World Kitchen.
img_0613
Recently I decided to peruse some older cookbooks of mine, and I immediately fell in love with Back to Square One again. There are so many recipes I want to try, like Balkan crab salad with walnuts and lemon mayonnaise. As well as recipes I want to make again, like Catalan-style quail stuffed in roasted peppers with olives.

This weekend we’re having our favorite people over to raclette` and I found a soup in the cookbook that will be perfect to begin our feast.

The actual name of Joyce Goldstein’s soup is French Apple Cider and Carrot Soup. It’s a carrot soup with the addition of hard cider. To make it a little more festive, I decided to top off the soup with a little creme fraiche and some julliened apples.

Unfortunately I’m not so good at presentation, but here is the recipe:
_mg_3622

French Apple Cider and Carrot Soup
Back to Square One

Serves 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/4 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup hard apple cider
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and sweet, 10 to 15 minutes.
_mg_3593

Add the carrot chunks and the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are very tender.

_mg_3599
Purée the soup in the blender or food processor, using only as much of the stock as necessary to purée the carrots.

_mg_3605

Transfer the purée to a clean saucepan and then add the apple cider, the cream, and as much of the remaining stock as necessary to think the soup to the desired consistency.

_mg_3591
I actually added the cider and cream while the soup was still in the blender jar.
_mg_3608
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of sugar or nutmeg if the soup needs sweetening.
_mg_3647

I added a small dollop of creme fraiche, and a few jullienned apples, plus freshly ground nutmeg, and also pink peppercorns.

_mg_3644

note: After making this soup with the uncooked hard cider, I have a few thoughts.
1. In spite of the low alcohol content, the flavor is too sharp and raw for the soup.
2. Perhaps the hard cider would work better after first a reduction of 50%.
3. Regular apple cider would work, but it should be added along with the chicken broth.
4. A splash of Calvados could add a little flavor, but I recommend adding it along with the chicken broth.
5. Including a cored apple or pear to the carrots would add a natural sweetness to the soup.

Hot Buttered Rum

37 Comments

It has taken me years to figure out that hot buttered rum, what I consider the original hot toddy, at least in my life, does not exist outside of ski resorts.

I should know because if it’s winter time and we’re somewhere, anywhere cold, I ask the bartender if he makes hot buttered rum. After the quizzical reaction I know I’ll have to order something simpler.

Not that hot buttered rum is a challenging toddy to make. It isn’t. There’s even mix that can be purchased, although of course it’s most likely inferior to preparing the drink from scratch.

The drink, served hot, does indeed have rum and butter in it. But then it’s sweetened with brown sugar and spices.
_mg_3128

Following is the hot buttered rum base so you can make a hot toddy to warm your frosty bits, whether you’re in an alpine setting or not! Then all you need is rum.

_mg_3118
Hot Buttered Rum Mix

1 pound brown sugar
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

_mg_3067
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon of vanilla powder, or use vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a microwaveable bowl. Slowly and carefully melt the butter.
_mg_3064
Alternatively, allow the butter to first come to room temperature and add the remaining ingredients.

Mix together well, beating until any lumps disappear.
_mg_3065
The mix can be used immediately, or stored in the refrigerator for future use.

If you are crafty, unlike myself, you can place it in cute jars topped with cute ribbons, and give the mix away to friends along with the hot buttered rum recipe.

Here it is:

2 heaping tablespoons of the above mix
2-3 ounces dark, spicy, or clear rum
Boiling water

img_0923
Place the mix and rum in a heatproof glass or cup.
img_0928

Add the boiling water and stir well.
fullsizxerender
Serve with a cinnamon stick if desired.
_mg_3115

note: This hot buttered rum might look a little muddier than if I’d used clear rum, but I really like Captain Morgan!

Mulled Holiday Port

42 Comments

We’ve all had mulled wine, but have you ever had mulled port? It’s like mulled wine on crack. It will warm you on the dreary damp days of winter. It’s like medicine for the soul. Yes, it’s medicinal.

I found the recipe for mulled port and adapted it slightly from this cookbook:
IMG_4027
Port is fabulous as is, but I never thought to serve it hot. Or mulled.

So here’s the recipe. If you like mulled wine, you’ll love mulled port!
port
Mulled Port

4 Clementines or tangerines, preferably seedless
1 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
About 10 whole cloves
About 8 cloves allspice, smashed
port12

2 sticks cinnamon
Sprinkling of ground nutmeg
1 bottle ruby port

Slice open 2 of the Clementines and squeeze the juice into an enameled saucepan large enough to hold a bottle of port. Add the water, brown sugar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon sticks, and the nutmeg.

Add the segments from the other two Clementines and add them to the saucepan as well.
port22
Simmer the liquid and Clementines for about 10 minutes. The sugar will dissolve and your whole house will smell good.
port11
Then add the bottle of port. I happened to be low on ruby port (husband) so I substituted tawny port for the rest.
port9
Heat the mixture through, without letting it boil.
port7
Sieve the mixture into a bowl with a spout.
port8
Pour the mulled port into 2 or 4 heatproof glasses or cups. Serve immediately.

port2

I also put a couple of Clementine segments into each glass, but that’s optional.

port3

If I’d used shorter glasses, I also would have placed a cinnamon stick into each one.

port4

verdict: This stuff is perfect. I wouldn’t alter anything with the recipe. Sweet enough without being too sweet. The original recipe called for 2 cups of water, but let’s not kid ourselves. While we’re warming our bodies, we want a buzz. We’re not drinking watered down port. Amen.

Pumpkin Mousse

58 Comments

Someone recently asked me what my favorite dessert is. Without hesitation, I responded chocolate mousse. Not the fluffy, creamy chocolate stuff, but the dark, rich, almost fudge-like chocolate mousse.

I was honestly surprised that I didn’t have to think about it, not being much of a dessert eater. If you’d asked me for my favorite meal, I’d still be thinking of an answer, although a course of foie gras would be part of it…

So after I thought about how much I really do love chocolate mousse, I realized that it’s not on my blog.

But because it is my favorite time of year, and I’m one of those pumpkin “freaks,” I decided to create a pumpkin mousse recipe instead of preparing my traditional chocolate favorite. I wanted it to taste like pumpkin spice, yet still be fluffy, without the use of gelatin.

_mg_2741-2

Here’s what I did.

_mg_2733-2

Pumpkin Mousse
Makes about 10 8-ounce servings

3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/2 can pumpkin purée
16 ounces marscapone, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon powdered vanilla
Pinch of ground cloves

Beat the egg whites and salt in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until firm peaks form. Set in the refrigerator.


In a larger bowl, beat the pumpkin, marscapone, and sugar until smooth.
_mg_2678

Add the spices and blend. Taste the pumpkin mixture for sweetness and flavor. The strength of cinnamon really varies based on the source, so adjust the flavor according to your personal taste.

Also, pumpkin by itself tastes like, well, squash. So the spices, especially the cinnamon, are quite important!

_mg_2679

Gently but carefully fold in the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture. Try not to over fold, so as not to deflate the egg whites.

When more or less combined, place the pumpkin mousse in individual serving dishes.

_mg_2683

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight, well covered. Serve either chilled or at room temperature; I prefer room temperature.

_mg_2707-2

Add a little dollop of whipped cream or marscapone on top, and add some freshly grated nutmeg if desired. A little cookie doesn’t hurt!
_mg_2764-2

After I made the mousse, I realized I’d forgotten the vanilla powder. If you’ve never used it, I highly recommend it for situations when you want vanilla flavor without the extract liquid.
_mg_2684

Tartiflette

62 Comments

Years ago our family was travelling through Eastern France, and we stopped in the beautiful town of Annecy for lunch and a stroll. We were in Annecy-le-Vieux, the old part of town and we randomly chose a restaurant at which to have lunch. Our restaurant was one of the ones on the right side of the canal in the photo below. The canal encircles the ancient prison.
the-palais-de-lile-on-the-thiou-canal-annecy
We sat outside, the sun was out, it was about 70 degrees – we didn’t think it could get much better than this. But we were wrong.

My husband and I chose the local specialty Tartiflette for lunch. Tartiflette is a potato dish baked with a cheese called Reblochon, one of the cheeses of the Savoie province of France which we were in. The Tartiflette was extremely memorable, but Reblochon is now one of my favorite all-time stinky French cheeses.
img_0192
Reblochon is a cows’ milk cheese with a washed rind. It smells like, well, you’re in a cow paddy. But cheeses never taste as bad as they smell, do they?


Within the rind, Reblochon is a rich, velvet-like cheese that is perfect as is, served with my fruit and nut bread, or baked into tarts, or with potatoes, like this Tartiflette recipe.

When we got back to the states, I was so thrilled to discover that I could order Reblochon from fromages.com. Fromages.com has a recipe for Tartiflette, as well as an interesting history on Reblochon. (I learned that it’s actually made from a mix of milk from three different cow breeds!)

Then I happened upon a Tartiflette recipe in Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. I have to quote him on what he states about Reblochon:

51eu7niahwl-_sx378_bo1204203200_

Here’s more evidence that you can never have too much cheese, bacon, or starch.”

tartif-1-of-5

So here’s the recipe from Mr. Bourdain’s cookbook:
tartif-5-of-5
Tartiflette

INGREDIENTS
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled (I use russet)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into small dice
3/4 cup white wine
salt and pepper
1 pound Reblochon cheese

EQUIPMENT
large pot
paring knife
strainer
large sauté pan
wooden spoon
round, ovenproof dish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in the large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with the paring knife. Remove from the heat, drain, and let sit until they are cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes into a small dice and set aside.
tartif-1-of-16
In the large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat and add the onion. Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, until golden brown, then add the bacon and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Add the potatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
tartif-6-of-16
Remove the mixture from the heat and place half of it in the round, ovenproof dish. Spread half the Reblochon atop the potato mixture.

Cover this with the other half of the potato mixture. Top with the remainder of the cheese.


tartif-11-of-16
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot.
tartif-14-of-16

As you can tell, I used four ramekins for the tartiflette.

tartif-15-of-16
You can prepare the tartiflette as one large casserole, like this one I made last year, but I wouldn’t make it in a deep dish pan because the cheese to potato ratio is critical!
tarti-e1477955128698
Also, when searching online for how tartiflette is presented, because I find it challenging to photograph, I came across other ways to prepare tartiflette. You can place the whole wheel of cheese over the potatoes, or slice it horizontally first.

note: You can make Tartiflette with a different cheese, but please don’t. You’re missing the whole point. This dish really requires this stinky cheese, and you’ll be amazed at how smooth and mild Reblochon is with the potatoes. I personally love the rind, but my husband doesn’t, so I trimmed it.

photo from Annecy