Sunday, December 25, 2011

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Very few areas in Italy, and probably around the world , have such a rich culinary tradition like the Emilia Romagna region. Every city, every little "Borgo" or "Villaggio" is an incredible and exquisite concentration of wonderful people, romantic landscapes and, of course, pure, simple gluttony. I had the privilege of going to college in the city of Bologna, called " La Grassa" (the fat) for obvious reasons. I was lucky that having to study and being under stress for a long period of time, I was able to counteract the countless number of calories I was indulging on a daily basis. From mortadella to piadine, continuing on to tortelloni and ragu' of every kind. From this perspective, the city of Parma is a valid and strong contender for the title of food capital in this splendid region. Some people might ignore the origins of very well known food such as the Parmesan Cheese (the real Parmigiano Reggiano) and the famous Prosciutto di Parma, not to mention the incredible variety of mushrooms and truffles which are abundantly found in the hills adjacent Parma and equally used in different pasta recipes. Thus the name"food valley" where famous chefs such as Mario Batali found inspiration and glory. A recipes that is equally famous, but very often misrepresented around the world in the Melanzane all Parmigiana or Eggplant Parmesan. Very often this recipe is mistaken with the Parmigiana di Melanzane, which is typical of the Campania region and where the eggplants are fried, giving a quite different end result, but never the less equally delicious. The melanzane alla parmigiana is a simple light, tasty vegetarian entree that I believe can be presented in every season and during different occasions.


1 1/2 lb of eggplants, sliced
1 oz. of butter
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
half onion diced
1 1/2 oz. of prosciutto crudo
1 1/2 pound of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup of fresh grated parmesan cheese

Slice the eggplants by length about 1/4 inch thick. Boil them in hot, salted water for 2 minutes. Then put them on a tray and let them dry in a warm oven. Meanwhile in a large skillet,  heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, onion and the butter. Add the prosciutto cut into little cubes,  and finally after a few minutes of simmering, add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and let it cook for at least 20 minutes.
In a glass baking dish create a layer of eggplants, cover with the tomato sauce and sprinkle abundantly with grated parmesan cheese. Continue to layer until you used all the ingredients. At the top layer, add a little bit of butter and Parmesan cheese to cover the dish. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes and serve in the same baking dish. Pair up with a nice red Cabernet or Pinot Noir.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Napa Valley, California

Very few places in the United States, and maybe worldwide, are so rich and charming when it comes to food and wine culture. One of the things that I miss the most since I moved from Italy and relocated to California is sometimes the lack of appreciation, or maybe knowledge, of traditional cuisine and food culture in general. I was somewhat disappointed on how the fast food industry was able to establish itself as the mainstream choice, maybe due to convenience, when it comes to enjoying a meal. On this perspective, Napa Valley represents a gem . This incredible viticulture area dates back to the nineteenth century and it is really remarkable how some of the original wineries still fully operate today with success.It wasn't without struggles throughout this long period of time that Napa Valley came to be what it is today. Prohibition certainly didn't help and a lot of wineries were forced to close during that period. NapaValley can also pride itself on being able to be preserved as an agricultural area, while neighboring counties such as Sonoma and Solana have allowed more extensive commercial building through the last few decades.
The first time I went to Napa Valley, the immediate impression was of disbelief of how such a view looked and felt so familiar, in such a remote place away from home. The hills on both sides of the main road are gently sloping down, reveling an endless patters of vines that continue from hill to hill, making almost impossible to define where a winery property starts, and the next one begins.
I also really enjoy the distinctive scent of grapes that permeates the entire valley, from the small city of Napa at one extremity, to the most upper little charming town of Calistoga where I usually stay, home of a nice looking Geyser, worth a visit.
Right between Napa and Calistoga, there is St. Helena, a very cute and small town with little shops and nice walks. It is also probably the most expensive, if you are looking for a place to stay in the valley.
So, since you most probably come here for food and wine, I 'd like to mention a few places that in my opinion stood out during my three trips.
The winery that more than other got my attention is Hess. Their varietal of wines are very enjoyable, especially the reds , and the locations is absolutely beautiful, right in the middle of Mount Veeder. It takes a good 20 minutes of meandering roads to reach the location, but once you get there , you are in for a treat. The building is a mix of modern and traditional architecture and it blends perfectly with the surroundings. The staff is very friendly and professional. Inside the building there are also three floors dedicated to an extensive art gallery, where the exhibitors change quite frequently, something really remarkable  that I have not found in any other winery I visited. The wine is really good, so good that I decided to subscribe to their wine club and receive their monthly shipment at home. This is probably the best and only way to get their Mount Veeder Block Cuvee, definitively my favorite among reds.

Another winery that I liked for the combination of quality of products and scenery was Sterling. The interesting part is that in order to get to the winery, you can choose to go on a small gondola ride, worth it just for the spectacular view which is only a preview of what it will be revealed once you are up the hill. The tasting area is really cozy, on a small patio, where you have a nice view on the north side of the valley. You can also go on a self directed tour, following the well indicated path to follow and see different steps of the wine production, to end up in a beautiful terrace with a 180 degree view of the South side of the Valley ( this is where you want to take your pictures.)
Their variety of wines is also really good. I highly recommend their Chardonnay and Cabernet.
Next I'd like to mention a couple of restaurants. I'd like to point out the fact that I'm a little bias toward Italian food , which I consider one of the most satisfying and complete cuisines worldwide ( but I'm open for a debate..)  .
I really enjoyed a place called TraVigne ( among vines in Italian) located in St Helena. The food is really good traditional Italian and the ambience is really nice with an inviting outdoor area and a side building or "pizzeria" dedicated just for pizza. I really enjoyed their home made mozzarella and the sage infused pappardelle with rabbit ragu'.
Another place that's worth mentioning is Mustard's Grill. As soon as you enter the restaurant the scent of burning oven will hit you right away. I love that, because it remind me of a lot of Trattorias in Italy. Don't escape a drink at the bar. I love the bartender laugh, loud and thundering ! I enjoyed the grilled hanger steak, It was cooked to perfection.
It is really hard for me to sum up in a few paragraph such an incredible place and mention only couple of wineries and restaurant, because, seriously, it is very hard to go wrong once you're up there !!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Piadina romagnola

The piadina is an Italian flatbread which comes from the Romagna region of Italy. It is sort of like an Italian version of fast food, as they are often sold at kiosks or roadside stands. They somewhat resemble a tortilla or pita bread, and are filled with a variety of delicious ingredients. Traditionally, it would be filled with prosciutto, salame, tomato, squaccherone cheese, the possiblities are endless . The piadina dough is quite easy to make, and then it can be cooked on a griddle or on a stone. Piadine lend themselves well to entertaining, because it fun to spread out a variety of toppings, and let your guests try different combinations. As the host you'll have to keep them coming for a while, but the magnificent aroma that will fill the air, and the happy diners with be worth the while. I suggest you serve them with a nice dry Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna. Just when everyone is just about full, it is time to break out the Nutella for the final dessert piadina.


4 1/4 cups of flour
2 tsp of salt
1 tsp baking soda
6 tbsp. high quality lard (I make my own, you can substitute olive oil if you want, not the same though)
1 cup warm water

Your favorite cold cuts, soft cheese, or tomato, arugala as accompaniments.

A note about lard. Some people don't like the idea of eating or cooking with lard, but it really is an essential part of the piadina. Since in the United States it isn't so easy to find high quality lard, you are best off making your own ahead of time. Just get about a half pound of bacon, and cook it in a saute pan until it is crisp. Take the bacon grease it has rendered and put it into a small container. Let it cool, refrigerate if you wish. You will have delicious lard.
I use a stand mixer to make the dough, but you can certainly do it by hand. Combine all of the dry ingredients into your mixing bowl. Crumble the lard into chunks, and knead a little bit by hand. Next add the water, and combine the ingredients with a paddle attachment or a dough hook. The dough should be smooth and elastic. At this point you want to put your dough into a bowl, and cover it with a kitchen towel. The dough needs to rest for at least 30 minutes. If you are making it ahead of time, you can refrigerate it for a few days, but be sure to let it come to room temperature before rolling out.
When you are ready to make the piadine, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll teach piece into a ball. Then with your rolling pin, roll out the dough into a round shape, about 7 inches in diameter.

I usually end up cooking my piadine on a griddle. It is best to let it get nice and hot, at least about 10 minutes over medium high heat. Then cook each piadina for about 45 seconds on each side. If it becomes too crispy, then your heat is too high. It should remain pliable, not hard. Serve immediately, and keep them coming. You may want to have multiple griddles going simultaneously, depending on the number of people you are cooking for.
As soon as the piadina is done, fill it with your favorite accompaniment, like prosciutto and mozzarella, or bresaola, brie, and arrugala. The possibilities are endless. ENJOY!!!!
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rocciata umbra

Rocciata is a traditional round pastry dessert typical of the central regions of Umbria and Marche. Its name can vary according to different areas of these culturally rich regions. For example, around the mountain of Foligno is known as ntorta. Its origins, like most of the culinary traditions around this area, find its roots in old times. Some might speculate that the Rocciata, may have been brought by the Longobards' influence from North Europe, thus the strong similarity with Austrian Strudel. Today this dolce is mostly known around the Foligno area. It is usually made around the beginning or during the fall season, when the walnuts, a major ingredient, are harvested.

3 apples
3 pears
1 banana
5 dried prunes pitted
3/4 cup of walnuts
1/2 cup  of raisins
1/4 cup of pinenuts
2 tsp of cinnamon
3 tb sugar
1 tsp dried anise seeds
1 tb cocoa powder
4 ounces milk chocolate cut in little pieces
1 zested orange peel
1 zested lemon peel
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry thawed at room temperature (you can also make it fresh from scratch)

Prepare all the ingredients in little fine pieces and let them marinate in a large bowl for 45 minutes. Meanwhile take the two puff pastry sheets and roll flat on parchment paper with a little bit of flour to avoid the stickiness. Use one sheet of puff pastry and gently put the filling in the center, paying attention not to put too much. Once the filling is laid, gently wrap the puff pastry around it. With care, shape each section of filled puff pastry into a half circle, and join them at the ends to make a ring shape. Keep the pastry on the parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and carefully transfer the pastry onto a large baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes until it turns lightly brown on top.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Orecchiette con cime di rape

Orecchiette con cime di rape is the signature dish of the Puglia region of southern Italy. Orecchiette literally translates as "little ears". They look like little bowl shaped discs that are ideal for catching the wonderful sauce they are to be tossed with. Every village in the Puglia region has a special way of making them. We were the lucky recipients of some artisan made orecchiette from Alberobello, Bari. It is worth the effort and expense to seek out the best orecchiette you can find to make this dish, but if neccessary DeCecco makes orecchiette that are readily available at most supermarkets. This classic dish features cime di rape, also known as broccoli rabe in English, or sometimes referred to as turnip greens. I was able to find broccoli rabe at a local grocery store, but you may need to go to a local ethnic produce market. Make sure it is nice and fresh, your dish will be a real treat.
2 bunches (about 2-3 pounds) broccoli rabe
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
grated pecorino cheese
1 pound dried orecchiette pasta

First put a large pot of water to boil, add salt generously. Wash your broccoli rabe, and cut off any hard stems.  Put the broccoli rabe to boil in the salted water for about 10 minutes. When it is tender, remove it from the water with a slotted spoon, drain in a collander and set aside. You will use this same water to cook the pasta, so don't pour it out.

Next add the orecchiette to the same boiling water, and cook according to the package directions. You want the orecchiette cooked, but still al dente. While the pasta is cooking, you will prepare the broccoli rabe condiment for your pasta. In order to get the consistency I like, before heating the broccoli rabe with the other ingredients, I put it in the food processor and pulse it a little bit. You can coursely chop it to your desired consistency prior to using. In a large skillet heat about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Add the garlic, and stir until brown. Then put the chopped anchovies and break them up with your spoon. Add the broccoli rabe to the skillet and stir well until all the ingredients have combined. You may want to add a little bit of salt, and perhaps a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.

When the pasta is done, drain it, and add it to the skillet. Toss all the ingredients together over medium heat until they are well blended together. Add more extra virgin olive oil if needed. Serve your orechiette with a sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese on top, and enjoy with a nice red wine. Buon appetito!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Polipo con patate

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the different reasons why Greece left such an indelible memory in my mind. Maybe it was the crystal clear blue water, the beauty of which was lost in the darker blues skies. Or maybe it was the majesty and glory of Greek culture and history. I actually had to stare at the Parthenon for a few minutes to realize that it was the real thing towering in front of me, and not some replica building that most of us encountered around the world. Going out for dinner, however I realized that, like in Spain and Italy, it was the food that glorified and celebrated this wonderful country and its people. You just had to have a big smile after such incredible meals in extremely simple, yet charming restaurants. One thing that I particularly remember were the octopi hanging in perfect symmetry on a clothes line, left to dry, or soak up the flavorful air. And then, right after the foil wrapped feta cheese with rosemary, our first appetizer, which in Greece is called "ορεκτικό" pronounced "O-re-kti-KO" , a sumptuous plate of fresh octopus with potatoes and fresh extra virgin oil of olive; yes, Greek, olive oil...!! 
Thank goodness for friendly people and a semi-decent cook book I picked up from the Athens airport. Now I'm able to try to replicate that memory, even if I know that, no matter how hard I'll try, I'll never get close to it. So let's try !

2 lbs octopus (medium size)
1.5 lb potatoes
 1 clove garlic
 1 bunch of parsley
 3/4 cup olive oil
 Crushed red pepper.
 1 carrot
 1 celery stalk
 1 onion

Defrost the octopus if previously frozen. Peel the garlic and chop finely. Rinse and chop the parsley  In a large sauce pan, stir oil, garlic, parsley and crushed red peppers (I will put ½ teaspoon) and let it simmer. Rinse the octopus and put it in a saucepan with the carrot, celery and onion. Cover them with water and boil for about 40 minutes  (check the with a fork if tender). Let them cool in the cooking water. Drain the octopus and let it dry, then cut into pieces and toss with the flavored oil preheated. Add salt to your taste (do not overdo with the salt because the octopus has already a salty taste.) Rinse the potatoes and boil them whole and then peel. Cut them into pieces and add to the octopus mixture. Serve the octopus warm or cold with the potatoes.I like a chilled white wine, possibly nice dry white wine like a Chardonnay.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Marinated peppers and leek antipasto

If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to integrate more fresh vegetables into the daily diet. I especially love this appetizer because not only is it light and healthy, but it is also bright and flavorful.  It is best when prepared the day before, so that the flavors really come together. This also makes it great for entertaining, because it just needs to be pulled out of the fridge, add your favorite crostini or crackers to accompany, and you are ready to serve.  To get really great peppers and leeks, go to a local farmer's or ranch market.

For the peppers:
6 bell peppers yellow, red and green
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
1 clove of garlic finely minced
sea salt

For the leek:
3 leeks, trimmed and rinsed
6 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
sea salt and pepper

First make the peppers. Get your broiler nice and hot. Put your peppers on a baking sheet, and broil them until they begin to blacken, turning them to broil on all sides. When they are evenly done, put them in a stainless steel bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let the peppers cool enough to handle, then peel the skin off, and remove the seeds. Cut the peppers into 1/4 inch wide strips, and arrange colorfully on your serving dish. Drizzle them with a high quality olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic, parsley and sea salt.

Now you are ready to make the leeks.  Once your leeks are trimmed and washed, put them in a pot of generously salted boiling water for about 8-10 minutes. You want them to be tender, but somewhat firm, not falling apart. When they are done, drain them and cut the leeks in half lengthwise so you have 6 nice pieces.
Arrange them next to the peppers on your serving dish. Finally, you are ready to make the vinaigrette for the leeks. Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar with a little salt and pepper. Once it is well blended, drizzle over the leeks.  Cover your vegetable antipasto and refrigerate until ready to serve. It can be served chilled straight from the fridge, or room temperature. I like to make crostini out of a baguette, or buy them. You can also serve the antipasto with bread or crackers.
Enjoy your beautiful, tasty. healthful appetizer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Costata di Vitello

Veal has been an important ingredient in Italian and French cuisine since ancient times. The veal is often in the form of cutlets, such as the Italian cotoletta or scaloppine or the famous Austrian dish Wiener Schnitzel. Veal is often very tender and easy to cook, but at times can be a little chewy, especially when it curls and releases water during cooking. One of my favorite veal recipes is the "Spezzatino di Vitello" . You have to love your pressure cooker with this and other particular recipes, because it literally takes half the time to tenderize and cook the meat, whether it is veal or beef. The crock pot is also very convenient, especially if there's not a "stay at home chef". One of my favorite aspects of American cuisine is definitively the barbecue and grilling culture. I'm very lucky to live in California, where the weather allows me to be in my backyard basically 10 months a year. For my personal experience, I also think that meat quality is a little better than what I had in Italy growing up, although I'm sure that a nice "Fiorentina" almost has no rival worldwide...This recipe is very simple, because after I have grilled the veal chops, all I have to do is add the mushroom sauce on top, with the potatoes on the side, and pair them with a nice wine.

Ingredients for 2

Two veal chops, 3/4 of a pound each, cut with 1 inch thickness
Mushroom mix ( porcini, shitake, porabella)
2 potatoes
1/4 cup oil of extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 cup of dry red wine

Fire up the grill and cook the two chops to your liking, I like mine medium rare , about 7 minutes each side. keep in mind that they will cook a little more once you put them in the pan to saute with your mushroom sauce. In a pan, let the garlic get golden brown in the oil and then toss the mushroom mix. Let me mushrooms become soft and brown and then pour in the red wine, lowering your fire a little bit. You are trying to create a nice sauce, not too thick, not too liquid, so the wine has to mix with the mushrooms sauce and reduce. Meanwhile, don't forget  to keep an eye on your meat ! As a contorno ( side dish) precook the potatoes in boiled water, peel them thoroughly, cut them in small medallion and brown them on separate pan with olive oil, until both sides of the little medallion get that crispy golden color, make sure you salt them on both sides.

Once your chops are grilled , you can put them in the pan where the mushroom sauce is. Try to cover the meat with the mushrooms and the sauce, but don't keep the chops in the pan for more than one minute. Serve on a nice plate, laying the mushroom sauce on top of the chops , with your golden potatoes on the side. Serve with a nice Cabernet.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lasagna Bolognese

Lasagne comes in so many variations, one could spend hours reading all of the different recipes. For me, this one is the classic. My inspiration is the way it is served in Bologna, Italy, with a savory ragu meat sauce and bechamel sauce. Any lasagne which features ricotta/spinach/or cottage cheese is most likely an American adaptation. This one is simple yet time consuming to make. In my opinion, it is worth every bit of the effort. So give yourself some time, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy the lasagne making experience. Your diners will thank you, and the leftovers will be fabulous.

1 recipe ragu meat sauce (recipe to follow)
2 cups bechamel sauce (recipe to follow)
2 9oz. boxes of Barilla no boil lasagne (one might be enough depending on the size of your casserole dish, but better safe than sorry.
12-16 ounces shredded cheese (I recommend fontina)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

First you need to make the ragu. Here is the recipe:
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 carrot diced
1 celery stick chopped
1 clove garlic minced
4 strips bacon
1 1/2 pound ground beef (or mixture with ground veal or pork)
2/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup milk
grated nutmeg
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp fresh oregano, less if dried
salt to taste
1 lb pasta of choice, tagliatelle or spaghetti
grated parmesan cheese to taste
If you have a chopper, for me this is the easiest way to get started. In your chopper, put the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and bacon. Cut the ingredients into uniform size pieces before putting in chopper. Then pulse the chopper until everything is pretty finely chopped. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and when it is really hot, and the vegetable mixture. Saute over medium high heat until everything becomes nice and golden. Next add the ground meat, and stir occasionally until the meat is nicely browned.
Add the red wine to the meat mixture. Bring to a boil, and stir regularly until most of the wine has been absorbed by the meat mixture. Add salt to taste. Now add the milk, and a little bit of nutmeg. Continue cooking until most of the milk been absorbed. Next add the chopped tomatoes, sugar and oregano. Stir all the ingredients together, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 1-2 hours if you can. The sauce should take on a brick red color. Sauce should be quite thick, but if is too thick, you can add a little bit of canned tomato sauce (puree) until you get your desired consistency. If the sauce will be used for lasagne, you need it to be thicker. Your sauce is ready!

Next you need to make the bechamel (besciamella sauce):

For the besciamella (bechamel) sauce (makes 2 cups)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp butter)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt
dash of ground nutmeg

Melt the butter in a small heavy bottom sauce pan. Add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes over medium heat. In another small sauce pan, heat the milk until almost boiling. Gradually add the milk to the butter/flour mixture, stirring constantly. A wire whisk is helpful to avoid lumps. Once all of the milk has been added, bring to a gentle boil, and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Sauce should be somewhat thick. Season with salt pepper and nutmeg, stir well, then remove from heat.

Once the ragu and bechamel sauce are made you  can assemble your lasagne. First get our your baking dish. I prefer to make a smaller dish with more layers, say 8 x 10 inches. You can use a 9 X 13 baking dish and have fewer layers, or you can make a bigger recipe of sauce or bechamel. It will be delicious in any case. Grease your baking dish generously with butter. Then starting with meat sauce spread a layer at the bottom of the dish. Then place a layer of lasagne noodles on top of that, followed by a layer of bechamel. Top that with a nice sprinkling of the shredded fontina cheese. Continue the layering process, meat sauce, lasagne, bechamel cheese, until you run out of the ingredients, or your dish is full. End with a layer of bechamel, and give that a nice sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top. Your lasagne is now ready to go in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and let the lasagne bake for about 40-45 minutes. Let it stand about 5 minutes before serving. You are now ready to enjoy, perhaps with a nice green salad and a glass of red wine to accompany. Buon Appetito!
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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bollito Misto

It's cold, it's winter time and I cannot think of a better food image than a nice bowl of warm, tasty, comforting chicken soup. My doctor told me that it really can help to get over a very nasty cold...As in many other aspects of cooking, I know there are two ways of doing this: The quick and easy Progresso or Campbell's way, or the long, tedious but definitively more rewarding way of homemade chicken soup with boiled meats and vegetables. Keep in mind that my Bollito Misto described here a very simplified version of a much more meaningful and complete experience. I had Bollito Misto in the past where lots of different parts, from tongue to head were used. The tricky part of this enhanced version is that each type of meat releases its own juice and therefore gives a different flavor to the broth. Traditionally they would be cooked separately with different cooking times. Moreover, each of these nicely cooked pieces of meat should be paired up to a nice homemade salsa to be enjoyed as a second course. The most famous of the sauces is the "salsa verde" made with parsley, garlic, anchovies and other ingredients. Recipes for this type of salsa are readily available. As I mentioned before, I will keep this recipe simple and practical, but feel free to elaborate with different degrees of difficulty as you please:


1 onion
1 celery stalk
1 beefsteak tomato
3 medium pieces of beef, 4 ounces each
1 whole hen cut into pieces or alternatively use chicken
1 chicken bouillon cube

Start by laying all vegetables and meats at the bottom of the pot. Continue by filling the pot with water, do not fill to the top, just 1 inch more than its half. Cover the large pot with a lid, but letting a little gap on the side to let the steam out. Let the soup simmer at low/medium heat for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender to the touch and the vegetables begin to break down in the broth. At this point , I like to transfer my broth to a smaller pot. I will use the broth to cook with small meat tortellini, or ravioloni or filled pasta of choice. (I love fagottini with prosciutto and parmesan cheese filling). When your soup with pasta is ready , you can serve it as a "primo" ( first course), while the boiled meat, with some veggies and sauces to garnish can be served as a "secondo" or second course.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Enchiladas Suizas

Enchiladas suizas have been a part of Mexico's food tradition for a very long time. They are thought to date back to the area which is now Mexico City even before the days of Spaniard Hernan Cortez. The word suiza is Spanish for "Swiss", which refers to the the Swiss immigrants in Mexico who had established dairies and cheese production in the country. Thanks to them, these enchiladas are often topped with a sour cream like sauce, or as I prefer, a generous crumbling of queso fresco or cotija cheese. Enchiladas have three basic components, tortilla, some type of filling, and a spicy sauce. The word "Enchilar" in Spanish means to make spicy. In the case of enchiladas suizas the tortilla should be corn, the filling is chicken, and the sauce is a spicy green tomatillo sauce. The result: delicioso! As are many of my favorites, this is a great make ahead meal, and can be made in large quantities to feed a crowd. When you buy the tomatillos, a strongly advise you to go to an ethnic market or ranch market, you will get fresher tomatillos, and spend half the money. Your mainstream supermarket will consider this a specialty ingredient, charge you twice the price,and the product doesn't move, so you will lose freshness. Venture out! So roll up your sleeves and get started, your enchiladas are going to be tasty.

for the tomatillo sauce:
1 1/2-2 pounds green tomatillos, husked and rinsed
3-4 fresh serrano chiles
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
1 14 oz. can of chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste

Ingredients for the enchiladas:
about 15 corn tortillas, maybe more depending on how big of a batch you want to make
about 3/4 - 1 pound shredded cooked chicken (I go to Costco and buy a rotisserie chicken, and use all the meat from that. Easy, flavorful,and moist.
12 oz. queso fresco or cotija Mexican cheese. Use more or less, depending on your desired taste.

First, prepare the tomatillo sauce. You need to boil the tomatillos and chile. Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling hard, put the tomatillos and the serrano chiles which you have stemmed, and removed seeds. Boil them for about 5 minutes, then drain and cool.

Next, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion becomes nicely golden. Then, put your onion and garlic into your food processor with the tomatillo and chile mixture and blend the mixture until it is a somewhat chunky puree. It should be smooth enough to hold together, but not overly processed.

To finish the sauce, heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet you used to cook the onion and garlic. When it is hot, add the tomatillo/onion puree and stir it constantly for about 5 minutes over medium heat. The sauce should thicken and darken somewhat in color. Now add about a cup of the chicken broth to the sauce, stir well, and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir the sauce ofter. If it seems too watery, continue to simmer until desired consistency is reached. If it is too thick, add additional broth. At the end, stir in the chopped cilantro and salt to taste. You will not need to put much salt,as the sauce is really flavorful, and the broth will have salt already. Your sauce can be made a day in advance if you need.

You are now ready to assemble the enchiladas. I usually use a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish. Use whatever oven proof baking dish you desire. Right before making the enchiladas you need to steam the tortillas, I do them 4 or 5 at a time in the microwave.Just put them in a plastic produce bag with an air hole to vent, and microwave them for 30-45 seconds.
To get the chicken ready, I put the shredded chicken in a mixing bowl, and a add about a cup of the sauce mixture and stir to combine. You want the chicken to be nice and moist with sauce, but not soggy. You also need to save yourself enough sauce to top the enchiladas at the end.
Roll a portion of the chicken filling into your tortillas, and lay them in the baking dish side by side. When done, blanket the tortillas with a nice coat of remaining tomatillo sauce. Generously crumble the queso fresco or cotija cheese over the top. Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes. At the very end, turn on the broiler, and let the cheese on top get that golden brown color. Be careful not to burn. Your enchiladas are now ready to serve. They can be served alone, or with some rice, beans, or salad as a side. Serve with a nice cold Mexican beer like Bohemia or Negra Modelo. Buen Provecho!
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