experiments in cooking

Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Italian Ribbon Twists

I don’t have any idea what makes these cookies Italian, but I got them from an Italian recipe web site, Mangia Bene Pasta, so I guess they are. The “ribbon twists” part of their name is self explanatory.

These ribbon twists are made by twisting strips of pastry filled with fruit preserves and sugar, cinnamon, and chopped nuts. The process was similar to the way I twist the homemade breadsticks I’ve been making, but messier because of the preserves.

I made the pastry on a Thursday afternoon, left it in the refrigerator overnight, and baked the cookies on Friday afternoon. I had never before made a filled cookie of any kind, so I was excited to try this recipe. Everything went really well, except that when the cookies were done and I’d pulled them out of the oven, I had to leave the house for a couple of hours. When I came back, the cookies were stuck to the wax paper I’d baked them on. I tried really, really hard to get all the wax paper off the cookies. I tried to slip a spatula beneath them, I tried to peel the paper off gently, and I also tried trying to rip it off quickly, like a scab off a wound. (Yes, I have a fondness for unappetizing similes.) But I only managed to save about a dozen, plus a handful of cookie scraps that I’ll make my family eat for Thanksgiving.

From this process, I learned:

Do not leave the cookies sitting in jam that will harden. If you bake cookies filled with jam, and the jam leaks out of the cookie while it’s baking, you absolutely must remove the cookie from the baking pan (and any paper you baked it on) before the jam hardens.

Apricot jam is not weird after all. I have never, ever tried apricot jam. I’ve always steered away from light-colored jams. I don’t know why, I just found darker jams more appealing. And less “out there.” Well, I used a jar of apricot jam my mother-in-law let me have—only because it was recommended by the recipe—and they tasted really good in this cookie. So I’m a convert.

Pie pastry is not as hard to make as I thought it was. When I taste tested one of the cookies, I realized that the cookie was basically pie pastry with jam on it. I had made pie pastry without even realizing it. What was I so afraid of? Well, apparently all anyone would have had to do to get me to try pie pastry would have been to call it “cookie pastry.”

This was a fun cookie, and I will make the recipe again, because I really want to get the process right at the very end.

I took the dozen pretty ones to our church potluck Thanksgiving dinner, and they did get eaten. I hope people liked them.

Ribbon Twists from http://www.mangiabenepasta.com
(Should make about 36 cookies)

Pastry:
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour

Filling:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (or other nut)
1/4 cup apricot (or other flavor) preserves

Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the egg yolk and mix until incorporated. Add the flour and beat just until combined. Form dough into a disk, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. Set aside.

Divide the chilled dough in half. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 20 x 6-inches.

Spread a thin layer of preserves on the dough. Sprinkle half of the sugar mixture on top.

Take one of the long edges of the dough and fold to down to meet the other long side.
Gently press down on the dough to seal the top to the bottom.

Using a pastry cutter [I used a pizza wheel], cut the dough into strips 1/2-inch wide by 3 inches long. Take the strip of filled dough and gently twist. Place the twisted strips on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Repeat the procedure with the second half of dough.

Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the baking sheets from the oven. Allow the cookies to cool approximately 10 minutes [but no so long that they stick to the paper on the pan] and then transfer the cookies to wire racks [or a cloth or fresh wax paper] to cool completely.

Advertisements

French Almond Wafers (tuiles)

I have made these thin, almond-flavored cookies twice now. Both times, they came out looking nothing like they were supposed to. They are supposed to be round, but I just can’t seem to manage it. Yet with all the trouble I’ve had making these, they are so delicious that I am going to keep making them until I get it right. 

This is a wafer that spreads when you bake it, so much so that both times the wafers have run together and spread all over the pan, so that I had to cut them into slices with a pizza cutter. And I made a big mess both times too. And yes, I yelled a lot. But regardless of how they look, they taste yummy.

When I made them for friends a couple of weeks ago, as a back-up dessert for a cake that didn’t rise properly, my friends ate every wafer in the dish. Actually, they tried to hide the few they didn’t eat, but their four-year-old daughter found them and ate the rest while we were sitting at the table playing Scrabble.

Then I made the wafers for a church Thanksgiving meal last night, and again, they disappeared. (It sure is a thrill to pick up your dish after a potluck and discover that the crowd ate everything you brought.)

I’ve got to admit, when I made the wafers on Saturday, I was pretty fed up. The first sheet of wafers I had to throw out because I forgot to top them with almonds, and as a result they spread so thin I couldn’t make anything out of them. And I also dropped the cookie sheet face down on the open oven door. Then the second sheet of wafers spread together and had to be sliced into pieces. Also, you are supposed to drape the wafers over bottles or rolling pins to curl them, and my bottles and pins kept rolling around on the counter. Only the third sheet of wafers looked okay, but there were only four of them. I had produced four correct wafers out of a batch that should have made two dozen.

I was almost ready to throw out all my odd-shaped wafers, but I picked up a scrap to eat and realized that they just tasted too good to throw away. So I piled them in a pretty, but small, serving dish, twined artificial autumn leaves around the dish, and confidently labeled them “French Almond Wafers (tuiles).”

You have got to try these yourself. And if they don’t look the recipe says they should—well, no one but you and I will know what they are supposed to look like.

 

Tuiles (French Almond Wafers) from the Joy of Cooking

These curled wafers are often brought to the table at the end of a special dinner and served with chocolate truffles, coffee, and brandy. Their name is the French word for tiles, because they are shaped like the curved terra-cotta roof tiles so prevalent in the south of France. Almost paper thin, with a subtle almond flavor, tuiles are curled by being draped, while still warm and pliable, over a rolling pin until cool and firm. The step that requires attention is removing them form the baking sheet. The trick is to use a wide spatula with a very thin blade and to work very quickly. Cookie sheets need to be clean and cool before you make a new batch.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70 degrees. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Very generously grease cookie sheets or cover with parchment paper or well-greased aluminum foil. Have ready several rolling pins or bottles the same width as the rolling pin to shape the wafers.

Warm, stirring constantly, over very low heat until very soft but not thin and runny:

5 tbsp unsalted butter

Whisk together until very frothy:

2 large egg whites

1/8 tsp salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp almond extract

¼ tsp vanilla

Gradually whisk in:

½ cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

A bit a time, whisk in the softened butter until the mixture is well blended and smooth.

Drop the batter by heaping measuring teaspoonfuls

onto the sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart. Don’t crowd, as the wafers will spread a great deal. [Note: the only time I’ve kept the cookies from spreading together, I placed only four on the plan.] Using the tip of a knife and working in a circular motion, spread each portion into a [3-inch] round. Very generously sprinkle the rounds with:

½ to 2/3 cup sliced almonds, coarsely chopped [Note: I did not chop the sliced almonds]

Bake 1 sheet at a time until the wafers are rimmed with ½ inch of golden brown, 6 to 9 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand for a few seconds. As soon as the wafers can be lifted without tearing, loosen them with a thin-bladed wide metal spatula and slide them, bottom side down, onto rolling pins or bottles. (Remove the wafers to the rolling pins 1 at a time, so the others remain warm and pliable. If some of the wafers cool too quickly to shape on the rolling pins, return the sheet to the oven briefly to warm and soften them.) As soon as the tuiles are firm, transfer to racks [or wax paper] to cool.

Easy Italian Meatballs You Can’t Mess Up … and I’ve Tried

Sometimes I wish I were Italian and had a family cookbook of heirloom Italian recipes brought over by a great grandmother from the old country who shared her secrets with her daughters who taught them to their daughters who in turn passed them on to future generations.

But, sadly, I am not Italian. Not one little bit.

Fortunately, my Aunt Grace married an Italian man from Philadelphia, who brought his family’s Italian meatball recipe into our family. Thank you, Uncle Ed.

I serve these meatballs with spaghetti on a regular basis. As someone who has messed up a lot of meals in the past, when I say this recipe is easy, I mean it. I have never had a problem with this recipe. Even when I’ve realized I didn’t have enough of a particular ingredient, or forgot one, it has still turned out tasty. Even when I’ve overcooked the meatballs a little, they’ve still tasted good once they’re covered in spaghetti sauce.

For example, when I was preparing the meatballs one night and discovered I had only half as much breadcrumbs as I needed, I used matzo meal (kept around for matzo soup) to complete the measurement and added a little bit of Italian seasoning. The meatballs tasted fine. And when I forgot to add any parmesan cheese, the meatballs tasted fine. When I cooked them almost to a crisp because I suddenly got worried about the meat being raw, in spite of having made them a dozen times before with no problem, the meatballs tasted fine. When I’ve used a lean grade of beef or a fattier grade of beef, the meatballs have tasted fine.

You get the message. These meatballs turn out fine, in spite of my best efforts to mess them up.

The recipe below is easily doubled—in fact, the original recipe my mom gave me was double these amounts. Making it my way, you’ll get between 20 and 24 meatballs. If you double the recipe, you’ll have enough to freeze for another meal.

Italian Meatballs

1 lb ground beef

1 egg

¾ cup Italian breadcrumbs (or use oatmeal or matzo meal and 1 T Italian seasoning)

1 tsp garlic powder

¼ to ½ cup grated parmesan

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

Mix ingredients well. Place teaspoon-size meatballs on a baking sheet. (You may wish to use one with a rim as the meatballs will release grease.) Bake at 400 degrees for 12–15 minutes.

Who Needs Meat When You’ve Got Homemade Soup and Breadsticks?

Soup, Salad, and Breadsticks


In my house, we eat a lot of meat. Pork chops, bacon, sausage, chicken, steak, roast, hamburger, bologna, ham, salami … the list goes on and on.

Yes, I will admit, we are one of those households that eats meat for two out of three meals every day. But I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to have some meals in my repertoire that don’t involve meat.

Why?

Why would I want to eat a meal without meat when bacon tastes so, so good?

I know that’s what my husband wonders. And if I wanted to serve a meal without meat, I knew I’d have to make it a meal so tasty that Chris wouldn’t even notice there was no steak or pork chop on his plate.

Back to why I would want to prepare a meal with no meat main dish: First, meat costs a lot, and there are times at the end of the month when nothing is on sale and I could save a little money if I didn’t have to run out to the store to buy high-priced chicken or beef or whatever. Second, eating meat makes calories add up fast, and I like to have some “light” suppers on my list for days when I’ve had a big lunch or when I’d like to indulge a little for dessert after supper. Third, I know that decades ago, people ate a lot of meals without meat, largely because of reason #1 above (they couldn’t afford it), and now and then I like to experience what things were like for previous generations. Although I must admit my personal journey back in time would only be a partial historical re-creation; I wasn’t planning to shut off our electricity or move the bathroom out to the backyard for the night of the big Meatless Dinner.

Anyway, for my meatless meal experiment, I settled on a menu of soup, salad, and homemade breadsticks. I figured, if the breadsticks and soup turned out great, we could stuff ourselves with bread and allow the aroma of the chicken stock-based soup to fool our brains into thinking we’d feasted on chicken.

Would it work?

My Joy of Cooking includes a simple recipe for stracciatella, or Italian parmesan and egg soup that I decided to try. It’s essentially a deconstructed matzo ball soup, with egg, parmesan, breadcrumbs, and spices cooked just a couple of minutes in a simmering chicken stock.

Garnished with the magical spice nutmeg, my current favorite, the soup turned out pretty yummy. No, it wasn’t filling, but for that purpose we had—oh, yes!—steaming, buttery, parmesan-sprinkled hot homemade breadsticks.

They were beautiful. They smelled heavenly. They tasted delicious. And, as Chris pointed out, they looked, smelled, and tasted a fair bit like Crazy Bread from Little Caesar’s, the cheapest pizza chain in America.

“Is that a compliment?” I asked. I wasn’t sure.

“Well, you love Crazy Bread,” he said.

It’s true, I do.

I ate four breadsticks, one bowl of soup, and a simple side salad. And guess what? I did not miss the meat. I really didn’t.

But I have a confession to make.

While the chicken stock was coming to a simmer, while the breadsticks were baking, before the salads were made, I got worried that Chris would freak out when he figured out there wasn’t any meat for dinner. So I sliced up some summer sausage to put on his plate next to the soup. And I ate a slice myself. So help me, I did.

Below are the recipes needed to make for this simple soup and homemade breadsticks (which, incidentally, reheated well for a meal the next day).

I have left out any reference to the pre-meal summer sausage snack. I was weak … but you don’t have to be.

Italian Parmesan and Egg Soup (Stracciatella)

A Roman specialty, stracciatella derives its name from the word straccetti, little rags—describing the strands of egg that float in the broth.

Bring to a simmer in a medium saucepan:

3 cups chicken stock

Meanwhile, whisk together until blended:

1 large egg

1 ½ tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dry unseasoned breadcrumbs (I had only Italian breadcrumbs and used them instead)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I didn’t have any so I left this out)

1 small clove garlic, finely minced

Stir this mixture rapidly into the simmering stock and stir until the egg is set, 30 to 60 seconds. Garnish with:

Freshly grated or ground nutmeg or grated lemon zest

Ladle into warmed bowls

Homemade Pizza or Breadstick Dough (from Aunt Marilyn Hill)

1 1/3 cup warm water

1 pkg (2 ¼ tsp yeast)

1 ½ tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in salt, sugar, and oil. Add flour one cup at a time. Mix well. Add ½ cup flour if dough is too sticky. Allow to rise for 30–45 minutes. (You may freeze the dough at this point.)

For breadsticks (from Our Best Bites):

Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Roll into a rectangle and cut into 12 strips with a pizza cutter.

Roll out each piece of dough into a snake and then drape over your forefinger and twist the dough. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining 11 pieces of dough. Try to space them evenly, but it’s okay if they’re close.

Cover pan and allow dough to rise for another 30 minutes. When there’s about 15 minutes to go, preheat your oven to 425. When done rising, bake for 10–12 minutes or until golden brown. Rub some butter on top of the breadsticks (just put a Ziploc bag on your hand, grab some softened butter, and have at it) and sprinkle with garlic bread seasoning or the powdery Parmesan cheese in a can and garlic salt. Or you could sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar.

Tag Cloud