Friday, September 23, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Fettuccine in Foil

Lately we've been loving roasted red pepper sauce, a simple combination of homemade marinara blended with roasted red peppers creates a dynamic flavor combination, toss it in some pasta and it is hard to resist!

Every couple of weeks or so I make a huge pot of marinara, I buy a 6lb can of San Marzano tomatoes, saute 12 to 15 cloves of chopped garlic in 3/4 cup of olive oil, 5 teaspoons of salt, pepper and lots of basil, sometimes I might add a small onion but most times I don't.

After it simmers for a good while I let it cool down, pour it into containers and stick it in the freezer for when ever I need it. In this case I held one out to make my roasted red pepper sauce.

I suggest roasting your own peppers, I personally don't like the flavor of the jarred ones and besides, they're too watery for this recipe. I put mine which were drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper under the broiler, keep watching them until they're soft and slightly charred. Peel the skin off and whirl them in your food processor.

Look at that color isn't it beautiful? Now all you have to do is spoon your already highly flavored marinara into the mix, as much as you want accordingly to your own taste, until you reach the perfect balance of pepper verses tomato. The more pepper flavor the better, that's what you're aiming for here.
My al' dente cooked fettuccine was then tossed with that luscious roasted red pepper sauce, pre roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and artichokes, I added in some olives, lots of basil and parsley.

For a rustic presentation I placed it into individual foil packets and top it with a few pieces of fresh mozzarella, seal it tight and put it in a 350F oven for 15 minutes until cheese gets gooey and heated through.
So Good!

Buon Appetito!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Strudel and A Farewell to the Garden

I can't believe how brave I'm getting with phyllo dough, I used to be so afraid to use it, but after my last post I realized just how forgiving it really is. It's so easy to patch it up if you make a mistake and you'd never even see your blooper after it's all baked up.

In my last post I made a "pie" so this time I decided to make a "strudel", a roasted vegetable strudel. It was amazingly easy to make and it tasted phenomenal!

Roast your vegetables ahead of time, I used 2 zucchini, 1 large eggplant, 1 large red pepper, 1 small onion, 3 garlic cloves and a half a bag of frozen artichoke hearts. Dice the veggies, drizzle with olive oil, S&P and roast at 425F until tender and golden.

The most important thing I can say about using phyllo is to keep it covered with a damp cloth as you go layering it. For this recipe I used 6 sheets, I did not drench them in melted butter either, instead I sprayed olive oil over each sheet with my olive oil mister as well as a sprinkling of grated romano cheese on each layer.

When you reach the 6th sheet spread your vegetables all over leaving about a 2" border all the way around. Scatter your favorite cheese combination on top of the veggies, I used fresh mozzarella, grated fontina, asiago and romano. Fold up the border ends over the vegetables then carefully roll up starting up on the longer side until it becomes into a log.

I sprayed olive oil on top of the log along with grated cheese and black pepper and baked it for around 20 minutes at 400F until golden.

Let it cool down a little before you slice into it. This was so good I can't wait to make it again! You can really choose any veggies you like as well as cheese. I served a little dipping sauce made of leftover marinara and roasted red peppers that I swirled in my food processor! What a great combination!

Yesterday I went out and grabbed everything that was left in my garden, the last of my tomatoes and the rest of the kale, the weather is definitly changing here dipping down to the 40's at night.

I gathered all my beloved basil and picked the very best leaves for my pesto, I will miss you!

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kale Made Three Ways

Three flavors that I adore together are caramelized onions, kale and butternut squash, there's something about the sweetness of the onions, the slightly bitterness of the greens and the buttery squash, it just creates the perfect balance! I was inspired to make this pie after I had a slice for lunch from my local Whole Foods deli. They added pancetta but honestly you don't need it, I think my version with out it was better, plus I added the caramelized onions which made it irresistible!

Our garden soil must be good for kale because it keeps growing and growing so I'm constantly thinking of ways to use it. I recently started freezing it and it's actually nice to be able to reach in the bag and take out just what I need.

After I give it a good wash and snip off the stems I rough chop the leaves and place them into boiling water for a quick 3 minutes, drain and let it cool down on a baking sheet then pack it in a freezer bag for future use.

For my version of the Kale and Butternut Squash Pie I roasted the squash ahead of time and I slow cooked the onions and leeks for around 40 minutes until golden brown and sweet, don't rush them, low and slow, and be generous with the grated parmesan cheese!

I used this recipe which is close to the Whole Foods version I had, it also helped me figure out the phyllo part, which btw, was very easy and forgiving.

All that goodness contained in crispy phyllo dough makes the perfect dinner or lunch!

I had leftover ingredients from the pie so I made this Kale and Butternut Squash Soup, light and not too heavy, perfect for the cool autumn weather we're recently experiencing.

Ingredients were: kale, butternut squash, caramelized onions and leeks, garlic, cherry tomatoes, a can of chickpeas or beans cooked in a vegetable broth, if you have cheese rinds throw them in all the better! In no time you'll have a comforting bowl of good for you soup!

I've made this Kale Pizza several times already, this is a favorite of my husband and BIL and they request it often, again it's just those flavor combinations that go so well together. No butternut squash here just kale, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes and fontina cheese.

Baked on top of a crispy pizza crust. Two big burly guys didn't even miss the meat!

Now for the winner of the signed copy of Cucina Povera!

The winner is... Barbara F.
Barb congrats! Please email me with your address to

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cooking Class with Pamela Sheldon Johns author of "Cucina Povera"

Last week on a beautiful September evening my friends and I headed into the city to attend a private cooking class with Pamela Sheldon Johns, well known cooking instructor and author of 16 cookbooks. We couldn't ask for better weather, the sky was bright blue and the views of the city were absolutely gorgeous from the 52nd floor condo we were in.

It was a small intimate group of ten lively women and Pamela made us all feel welcome the minute we arrived, popping open bottles of Prosecco as we were getting to know each other.

Our menu for the night was coming straight out of Pamela's new cookbook, Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking. Simple and delicious food born from hard times when nothing was ever wasted and leftovers were recreated over again.

In the beginning of the book you'll read a collection of stories from neighbors and locals that Pamela interviewed throughout her 20 years living in Tuscany, those who have experienced first hand the "poor kitchen" before, during, and just after World War II. The book has more than 60 dishes that bring to life the Cucina Povera philosophy focusing on making great food out of very little using simple quality ingredients.

Our first appetizer was Pinzimonio, quite simply, vegetables dipped in seasoned olive oil fresh pressed straight from Pamela's Tuscan farm.

Next up was Frittura Mista di Verdure, fried flowers and vegetables. A batter is made from flour, eggs and prosecco, the vegetables are then dipped and fried, sort of like tempura, light and crispy. The favorite among all was the fried sage leaves!

Another favorite was Pan' Santo or holy bread, a crostini topped with sauteed mixed greens "anointed" with olive oil.

Ribollita, a classic Tuscan vegetable-bread soup made with beans, greens, an assortment of vegetables, herbs and day old bread. Ribollita was a dish were the leftovers got extended and recreated into other dishes, for instance, day 1, it was a vegetable soup, day 2, a bread soup, day 3, a baked bread soup, and finally on day 4, it became a recooked vegetable stew.

This is a hearty dish especially when the bread is layered in between, it will fill your stomach in no time, a little goes along way!

Other dishes Pamela made were Stewed Beef braised with a hearty red wine served over Polenta, Roasted Tomatoes with Beans and Onions, and for dessert, warm Baked Apples. This is humble comfort food at it's finest!

As night fell the city glowed with all the lights, from our balcony we could even see the fireworks coming from Navy Pier. Beautiful, but a little scary if you don't like heights! ( I stayed close to the door).

Thank you Pamela for a very memorable night. I felt like I was invited over to a friends house for dinner.

The next day I was invited to a blogger event for Cucina Povera taken place at the beautiful and huge Whole Foods in Schaumburg, Il. What a great space they have for cooking demos and classes.
Of course Pamela was again behind the stove cooking up her Farmyard Crostini, a big pot of Farro Soup and a Panzanella Salad with Baked Figs for dessert. I need to stop eating for a week... I'll start tomarrow!

Cucina Povera will be released on Sept 13, but I have a signed copy ready to be shipped out to one of my readers, just leave a comment on my blog from now until Thursday midnight and I will announce the winner on Friday, Sept 9th.

Buon Appetito!