Rustica.

I’m going to make this one short and sweet, unlike the recipe below, but I’m all about irony and opposites, so who cares.

I’m going to guess that this is going to be my last post for a while. We are headed to Greece (GREECE!!!!!) on Saturday, and you best believe, I won’t be bloggin’ over there. Plus, I swear I haven’t cooked much of anything lately, and I had to dig into a rough draft of this recipe from like, I dunno, a couple of months ago, to have something to share with you today.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made some stuff – but typically it’s a piece of toasted bread, a fried egg, some cheese, and a couple of slices of avocado (you don’t need a recipe and pictures for that, right?!) or maybe a throw-together version of the best thing in my life food-wise, chilaquiles.

We even went to Portland the other week, and camping/backpacking again (first time since the Lost Coast!) this past weekend, and I could probably share some pictures with you, but I didn’t take that many.

Man, I’m slack.

But if I had a little time on my hands, a little snippet of a morning where I could plan a little, I’d totally make this pie again. If I had any veggies in my fridge, it would totally be the way to use them all up, but I doubt a bunch of celery would be all that good by itself…

I’m hoping you do have a little more time at home this week to make this, because I promise it’s totally worth a little bit of preparation. When I made this thing ages ago (or at least it seems like ages), I made the dough the day before, and when it came time to roll that stuff out and stuff the pie, I added every little piece of veggie that I had left into that thing. Lots of cheese, too. It was marvelous, and we ate it for three days straight, which might be boring to some of you, but to me, it was just delightful each and every time.

And with that, adio! I promise to take pictures in Greece, and maybe make some baklava again, or in the least, something with a good Greek olive oil ;).

Pizza Rustica
adapted from Cooking Light, April 2012; serves 8

time commitment:  2 hours, 30 minutes (about 1 hour active time, includes refrigeration of dough and baking time)

printable version

ingredients
crust
7 3/4 oz all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups), divided
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c water

torta
2 medium red bell peppers
2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb kale, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 T chopped shallots
2 t minced garlic
2 (8-ounce) packages cremini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
2 oz fontina cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
1 T fat-free milk

instructions
To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon 7.25 ounces flour (about 1 2/3 cups) into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 7.25 ounces flour, 1/2 t salt, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Combine 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute, and process just until dough begins to form a ball (dough will be crumbly). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 3 minutes; add enough of the remaining 2 tablespoons flour to prevent dough from sticking to hands. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Press each portion into a 5-inch circle on plastic wrap. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes.
To prepare torta, preheat broiler to high. Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a ziploc bag and seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add kale to pan; cook 1 minute or until greens begin to wilt. Place kale and bell peppers in a large bowl. Return pan to medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots and garlic to pan; cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place mushroom mixture and kale mixture in a fine sieve; let drain 5 minutes. Place vegetable mixture in a large bowl. Add ricotta and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) to vegetable mixture, stirring to combine.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface. Unwrap one dough portion, and place on plastic wrap. Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Place the dough in freezer for 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap; fit dough, plastic wrap side up, into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Spoon vegetable mixture into prepared pie plate.
Repeat with remaining dough and then place over vegetable mixture. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Press the edges of dough together. Fold edges under, and flute. Brush top of dough with milk. Cut several slits in top of dough to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Cut into 8 wedges.

easy cheesy

Shortly after Chris and I officially started dating, we went on a road trip with his parents up to Pennsylvania to visit family. His parents grew up in the Northeast, so the area up there is special to them. I remember that Chris was pretty excited about it, and I remember Barry, my now-father-in-law, teaching us the “ways of the road” – things like freeway etiquette and so forth.

One of the basic tenets of freeway etiquette is this: when lanes are merging, each car in the merged lane lets one car from the merging lane in. It keeps traffic flowing as smoothly as possible. The douchebags trying to speed past and butt in are otherwise honked at, flipped the bird, or if it’s warm enough outside, you roll your window down and yell all sorts of obscenities at them. Welcome to the Northeast.

Needless to say, the “foreigners” always get yelled at. Most people unfamiliar with city driving will undoubtedly let cars and cars and cars in, especially the nice Southern folk. The Midwesterners are the ones who cut people off, as do the New Yorkers. The West Coasters? I dunno, maybe they just stay on the West Coast (I can’t blame them). Don’t you just love stereotypes?

Speaking of stereotypes, Philadelphia has always been stereotyped as the place to go for cheesesteak. This is something I’d think of as a pretty freakin’ awesome stereotype, sorta like saying that Southerners give the best hugs (it’s true), that Italians make the best pasta (also true, in my experience), and that San Francisco has a lot of hipsters (generally awesome, but sometimes annoying).

It was almost 10 years ago that we went on this road trip, so I can’t for the life of me remember where we went to eat, but I know they insisted on going to one specific place for a Philly cheesesteak. I don’t think it was in Philadelphia, since I don’t think we went to Philadelphia on that trip. I remember Barry really hyping this place up, and getting more and more excited about it the closer we got. And even though it wasn’t in Philly proper (I think), I remember being pretty blown away by the caliber of meat-filled sandwich goodness. I remember a lot of gooey cheese and if my memory isn’t failing me and instead plugging in nonexistent happenings, I think Chris’ parents even came across someone they knew in the restaurant, which to me, further solidifies the awesomeness of a place. So forgive me if I made that up, but I really don’t think I did.

I’m not sayin’ this recipe I’m sharing is the same caliber of awesomeness as a Philly cheesesteak. First, it needs three times as much cheese, then twice as much steak, and less veggies. I think I’ve even heard that some Philly cheesesteak places use Cheese Whiz now, and that’s definitely not going on with this sandwich. But at the end of the day, when you live on the other side of the country amidst, let’s face it, restaurants with a greater focus on avocado and turkey sandwiches (which are nothing to ignore out here), it gets the job done.

And for sure, that’s a memory I know is accurate. Probably because it only happened a couple of weeks ago, but still, it’s true.

Philly Cheesesteak
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; makes 4

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 (12-ounce) flank steak, trimmed
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
2 portobello mushroom caps
2 t olive oil, divided
1 c thinly sliced onion
1 1/2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 t minced garlic
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t lower-sodium soy sauce
2 t all-purpose flour
1/2 c skim milk
1 oz provolone cheese, torn into small pieces
2 T grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 t dry mustard
4 (3-ounce) hoagie rolls, toasted

instructions
Place beef in freezer for 15 minutes. Cut beef across the grain into thin slices. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Remove brown gills from the undersides of mushroom caps using a spoon; discard gills. Remove stems and discard. Thinly slice mushroom caps and cut slices in half crosswise.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add beef to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until beef loses its pink color, stirring constantly. Remove beef from pan. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion and sauté 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté 6 minutes. Return beef to pan and sauté 1 minute or until thoroughly heated and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Stir in Worcestershire and soy sauce and keep warm.

Place flour in a small saucepan, and gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Add cheeses and mustard, stirring until smooth. Keep warm (mixture will thicken as it cools).

Hollow out top and bottom halves of bread, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell; reserve torn bread for another use. Divide the beef mixture evenly among bottom halves of hoagies. Drizzle sauce evenly over beef mixture; replace top halves.

Love at First Sight

I’m sorry if I’m about to repeat myself here, but I’m going to tell you a little bit about how Chris and I met. I swear I’ve done it already (more than just little snippets), but I’m in no mood to read through every last post to double check. So there.

I’m thinking I used to have a section about it on the “About” page, and when I just went to update it a little (yeah, finally!) I realized it wasn’t there anymore. So maybe some of you don’t know the story.

Anyway, away we go.

I applied for a study abroad trip in Italy in the winter of 2000 after a pretty shitty year (see link #1 above). I got “picked” to go (although I’m sure it wasn’t that hard…), so after pinching myself a few times, asking my parents over and over for money (because I didn’t believe them the first time they said they’d pay for it), and getting all my shit together (vacation from the soap store, finding a place for my cat to live, etc), I was finally set. There were only a couple of “orientation meetings” to attend, and then I’d be on my way to Florence.

Chris would tell you that we met at one of those orientation sessions. He’d also tell you that I was a royal bitch to him when he tried to make small talk from the row behind me; apparently I was annoyed that he didn’t know we’d be 6 hours ahead of North Carolina time and snapped at him, but I swear I don’t remember it. I mean seriously, when do I ever snap at people? And of course, he’d tell you that he noticed all the cornbread I’d eaten, and that he may have fallen in love with me at first sight. Again, I remember none of this.

Chris would also tell you that he found out pretty quickly that I had a super-serious boyfriend at home and that his heart was crushed. There was one drunken night (of many, because it was Italy for cryin’ out loud! that means cheap-ass wine!) that many of us distinctly remember a phrase slurred from Chris’ lips: “My girlfriend! She has a boyfriend!”. Ah, the memories.

Anyways, even though it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, Chris and I definitely hung out together quite a bit in Italy and in a matter or months (or weeks…) upon returning from said country, we were pretty much walking to each other’s houses every day after class. Three years later we were moving to Chicago together, and two years after that we got hitched. Five years after that, here we are in California. How time flies.

It just so happened that an Italian cooking class was offered as part of our study abroad curriculum. I’d initially enrolled in some nerdy educational something-or-other class, but once I realized the cooking class was offered, I quickly jumped ship and opted for the more ‘leisurely’ course. I may or may not have known that Chris was already taking the cooking class, too ;). As a result, we got to spend even more time together, and while I barely remember what we cooked, I do remember one little detail.

There was rabbit.

Okay, two details. The rabbit was really tasty. I have no idea how we prepared it, but maybe it was something like this? Ragù is Italian-derived, after all.

Either way, it’s a ragù you should certainly make, even if you do have to drive around to all your city’s butcher shops to find a rabbit. Rabbit is lean, totally flavor-filled, and a meat you’ll fall in love with the second you taste the result. It may not be love at first sight, but that doesn’t ever truly happen anyway, does it?

Rabbit Ragù with Soppressata
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2009; serves 4-6 

time commitment: 2 1/2 hours (more like 1 hour active)

printable version

ingredients
2 3/4 pounds plum tomatoes (or 3 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes)
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole 2-3 lb rabbit*
salt & pepper
1 onion, medium dice
2 stalks of celery, medium dice
2 carrots, medium dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c hefty red wine (I used a 2004 Syrah)
4 c low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1 T finely chopped rosemary
4 oz soppressata, finely diced
3/4 lb tagliatelle
1/4 c Parmigiano-Regianno cheese, grated
1 T chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

*Rabbit is pretty difficult to locate since the demand is relatively low in most places. For those in San Francisco, I found mine at Bi-Rite, but Drewes Bros usually carries a few frozen rabbits and I know the meat shop at the Ferry Bldg carries it. Many butcher shops can order one for you at your request. D’artagnan is an online meat market and they sell it too for reasonable prices. If you buy it locally, you can probably have the butcher butcher it for you.

instructions
Butcher your rabbit if the market didn’t do it for you. I cut mine into 8 pieces, sorta following these instructions.

If using fresh tomatoes, you’ll get the best results if you peel your tomatoes. You can leave them peeled and loaded with seeds if you want, though, to save time. If you’re using canned tomatoes, you can obviously skip this step. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice water. Score the bottom of each tomato with a shallow X. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer the tomatoes to the ice water bath to cool. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Scoop the seeds and pulp into a strainer set over a bowl. Press the pulp and juice through the strainer and discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them to the strained pulp and juice.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Add them to the Dutch oven and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until lightly browned all over, about 6 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to a plate.

Toss the onions, celery, and carrots into the Dutch oven and cook over moderate-high heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add red wine and bring to boil to deglaze (removed browned bits).

Once most of the wine has evaporated, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, red wine vinegar, rosemary and the browned rabbit and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rabbit is tender, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to a plate. Boil the sauce until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Pull the rabbit meat from the bones and shred it. Return the rabbit meat to the Dutch oven, add the diced soppressata and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta well and divide among shallow bowls. Spoon the rabbit ragù over the pasta, top with cheese and parsley, and serve hot.

Ragù: It’s in there

I’m sure many of you are trying your damnedest to not turn on a single heat source, right? Facebook and Twitter are loaded with complaints about the hot weather in most parts of the country. In fact, my pops told me today that he almost breaks out in a sweat on the way to the mailbox (he was exaggerating, but only slightly).

But I have to be truthful – the only time I sweat in this city is during a jog, a painful bike ride, or walking up a huge hill or two; there is certainly no heat-induced sweating going on. I’m sorry, really, because I just can’t relate to most of you right about now. But I do remember it – I’ve always lived in humid areas, until now, remember?

In fact, Chris is in Austin right now on a business trip, and I’m sure he’s sweating through his t-shirt, and the fact that he’s bald won’t help the sweat rolling off of his head, either. And to be frank, I do miss that sometimes; I mean, it is August, right? Why did I wear a hoodie yesterday and wish I had on gloves when I got to the top of Turtle Hill? One word: microclimate.

My point here, is please forgive me for what I’m doing right about now which is one – making you wish you lived here and two – making you angry that I’m about to ask you to simmer a ragù for 2 hours. Trust me – you’ll want to crank up the A/C for this (or if you’re in San Francisco, you can open a window and take off your hoodie).

I made this dish a couple of months ago; I remember buying all the ingredients, and then putting them together in the fridge the Friday morning before heading out to work, Dutch oven waiting on the countertop. I came home, grabbed the heap of meats and produce, and happily chopped carrots, celery, and onions into tiny cubes. I cracked open a nice bottle of Malbec, pouring the obligatory amount into the pot, stirring and waiting, knowing that something absolutely scrumptious was simmering away.

I remember putting together a cheese plate to tide us over, since dinner was happening at 9:00 that night. Some things are worth the wait – this was one of them. And even today, I remember eating slowly, trying to make dinner last longer than usual. While this is definitely a pasta dish with what might appear to be a regular ol’ meat sauce, it is easily more than that. And it’s far more than the quick throw-together pasta meals from the jars in Safeway. In short – there’s stuff in it – good stuff, and you should make some of it, like yesterday, hot weather or not.

Classic Ragù Bolognese
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2011; serves 6

time commitment: 3 hours (half active)

printable version

ingredients
2 T evoo
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
6 oz ground beef (85% lean)
6 oz ground veal
3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, finely chopped
1/2 c dry red wine
3 c beef stock, divided
4 T tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 c milk
1 pound of tagliatelle
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (for serving)

instructions
Heat oil in a large heavy pot (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté until soft, 8-10 minutes. Add beef, veal, and prosciutto; sauté, breaking up with the back of a spoon, until browned, about 15 minutes. Add wine; boil 1 minute, stirring often and scraping up browned bits. Add 2 1/2 cups stock and tomato paste; stir to blend. Reduce heat to very low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan; gradually add to sauce. Cover sauce with lid slightly ajar and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until milk is absorbed, about 45 minutes, adding more stock by 1/4-cupfuls to thin if needed. (if you wish, you can make this in advance and rewarm it over the stove the night you plan to serve it.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute before al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Transfer ragù to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pasta and toss to coat. Stir in some of the reserved pasta water by tablespoonfuls if sauce seems dry. Divide pasta among warm plates. Serve with grated cheese.

Awesomely Overwhelming

Moving to a new city is so surreal. For starters, it’s an incredibly ginormous amount of work. You have to register your car (or just buy a new one and get your stuff in the mail!), change your address (which took 2 months to successfully complete, thanks to the Chicago post office), find all the nearby necessities, watch your husband near ’bout reach full panic mode when setting up the surround sound (that we need! we need!), sell and purchase furniture, deal with ‘craigslist crazies’, find a new home for the litter boxes, figure out the neighbors’ schedules so you know when they’re going to play their techno and when you get to play yours (well, not techno, but real music), and by now you probably get the point:

Moving is not something I hope to do again any time soon.

On top of the general logistics that are thankfully nearing an end, you get some fun things too – especially here in San Francisco, where fun seems somewhat contagious; if you don’t believe me, take a gander at the happenings of this past weekend. You get a brand new food culture: new restaurants to try, new delivery options (Indian! Mexican! Japanese! Burmese!), new farmers’ markets, and new seasonal produce. It’s awesomely overwhelming. But in a totally good way.

Last week, I realized that I am having a really hard time with the latter though; I can’t for the life of me adjust to the multitude of fresh produce, the differences in timing of say, the availability of ramps (I missed them this year – damnation!) or avocado (all year compared to never in the Midwest) or cherries (now! – I don’t have to wait until July/August!). I can’t figure it all out, at least not yet. But that’s probably because I’ve been buried under a box or two, or refinishing a desk, or putting the mattress I was conceived on out front for the Salvation Army pickup (too much?).

Either way, I am definitely thankful for the cheat-sheets. Luckily for me, a fellow Chicagoan to SF transplant and culinary school classmate moved out here about 6 months before me, and she’s found a handy guide to Bay Area produce that I plan to procure soon. And while the ones pictured here aren’t, I am excited about buying fresh peas, and berries, and avocado, and next April, those damn ramps I so sadly missed out on because I was busy doing, you know, other things.

But now, now I’m ready for the produce. I’m ready for the good food, the grilling out and having a drink on the back deck, the (hopefully soon) lazy Saturday that just begs for a trip out to an oil store or a new cheese shop (of which there are many), and the Sundays that are meant for bike rides through our neighbor, Golden Gate Park, or along the ocean, or maybe even just down the street for coffee.

Pea & Bacon Risotto
adapted from Food & Wine, May 2011; serves 6

Risotto, I have missed you. It’s been a while, but for some reason I had the urge to stand at the counter and stir, stir, stir. This is probably one of the best risottos I’ve had: the salty bacon, the squishy peas, and the rich cheesy, buttery finish – it deserves the time it takes, and even more.

time commitment: 50 minutes

printable version

ingredients
6 oz lean bacon, diced
2 c frozen baby peas, thawed
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 c carnaroli rice (arborio works fine, too)
1/2 c dry white wine
7 c simmering chicken broth
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 T fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

instructions
In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, 6 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels; reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, puree half of the peas with 1/2 cup of water. Heat the chicken broth in a large saucepan and keep at a low simmer.

In the same Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is evenly coated with the oil. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated, 3 minutes.

Add chicken broth, 1/2 cup at a time, to the rice mixture and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the broth has been absorbed. Add more stock to cover the rice. Continue cooking and stirring, adding more broth as it is absorbed, until the rice is al dente and suspended in a creamy sauce, ~25 minutes. Add the pea puree, the remaining peas and the bacon and cook, stirring, until hot. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the butter, reserved bacon fat, cheese and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Shelled In

Hello. Hi there. How’s it goin’? It’s nice to see you here. It’s nice to know I can move across the country, start a new job, move again, unpack, unpack some more, and then get my internets hooked up and see your smiling faces. Well, not really see you, but you get my drift, yes?

I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad I’m here.

I’m also glad to have my kitchen back. As of Sunday night, all boxes are unpacked. Now, this doesn’t mean everything is in its place, but great progress has been made on the home front. I will say that it’s hard to move to a smaller place, but I think we’ll manage just fine here.

I think we’ll eat a lot of good dinners together, and I think that, once we procure another dining room table (and chairs of course. chairs are good here.), we’ll eat a lot of dinners with other people too.

But for now, it’s just the two of us (we can make it if we try; just the two of us). That works out  nicely when I make a dish I don’t enjoy sharing, which happens often. Of course, stuffed shells aren’t exactly a novelty, but considering I had an unopened box of jumbo shells in my pantry that made it’s way here all the way from Chicago, I felt it worthy of a housebreaking meal.

Also, my favorite mother-and-father-in-law mailed me some extra-tasty fine Italian cheeses for my birthday, and I took this as an opportunity to use some of them. Now, you don’t have to go all out and put your best cheese on this dish, but you could if you wanted. In our house, cheese has to get used quickly, or else it risks getting eaten by a certain cheese-lovin’ boy.

But why eat cheese alone with you can eat it with more cheese, the best tomatoes ever, and pasta? No brainer.

Swiss Chard Stuffed Shells
serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
20 jumbo shells (~1/2 box)
1 15-oz container part-skim ricotta cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 bunch swiss chard, chopped
salt and pepper
1 28-oz can San Marzano tomato puree
1/3 c Asiago cheese, shredded
1/3 c Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. bring a large pot of water to boil. cook pasta shells according to package directions, being careful not to overcook them. drain and rinse with cold water; pat dry.

meanwhile, make filling. in a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese through chard. season with salt and pepper.

taking one shell at a time, stuff with filling until overflowing. place in small baking dish (you want them to all be touching one another, not spread out). pour tomato puree atop stuffed shells and top with the two cheeses. bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. uncover, and bake another 5 minutes.

Battle Strawberry: Life is Delicious

Strawberry Shortcake


What comes to mind when you hear the word childhood? Thanks be to that wee ol’ hippocampus (or maybe photography), a number of distinct memories comes to my mind. A favorite: riding shotgun with my daddy to the beach, top down in the Triumph, blonde hair blowing carelessly in the salty wind. Let’s not forget organizing the treehouse-building club (which now, knowing a treehouse was never built, I realize this was my parents’ way of “keeping us busy and outta their hair”), or making a music video with my bro using our first family camcorder (in the dinosaur 80’s when they weighed 50 lbs) that was an adaptation of “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” with a pair of boots moving, step by endless step, across the green shaggy carpet of our living room.


Last night was the third installment of the Iron Chef pot-luck party, and the reigning IC, Terri, had chosen ‘strawberries’ as the theme ingredient. Having quite an affinity to the juicy red ‘berry’, I considered it an excellent choice. And while thinking of things to make, a number of other childhood memories came into mind. In addition to my Strawberry Shortcake sheet set, complete with Custard, I also remembered those damned strawberry fields my parents made us visit every summer, and countless times. You see, strawberry pickin’ was a family event – the five of us would head over to the Cottle Farms location on Airport Road for a sweat-inducing, dirt-in-all-crevices-producing, hour of loading up those wooden gallon-sized baskets with tasty juicy, fresh-off-the-vine strawberries. They made their way into our fridge, our freezer, and of course, our bellies. And boy were they good. My favorite version of strawberries is simple – macerated in sugar, eaten plain or perhaps on top of vanilla ice cream or on those cake things you buy in packs of 6, topped with strawberries & whipped cream. We always had sugar-soaked strawberries in our fridge – and if we didn’t, gramma did. And hers were great on gramma’s pound cake.


Battle Strawberry Competitors

While I toyed with the idea of bringing a bowl of macerated strawberries to the Battle (I would have classed it up a bit with some Meyer lemon juice), I knew it wouldn’t win back the title of Reigning Iron Chef. Knowing that creativity was part of the scoring, I went for something out of the box completely and then went for another, more basic dish.


baked brie with strawberry preserves


This time we had a more intimate gathering, with 7 competitors and 14 dishes in the running. Just as before, each dish was awesome, and we had a balanced selection of savories vs sweets. My favorite this time was Lindsay’s baked brie w/ homemade strawberry preserves. mmmmmmm….. And my favorite for the theme was Terri’s strawberry soup. I tell ya, for a group of girls who (some) claimed intimidation in cooking with a chef-in-training, you’d never know it by the look and taste of everyones’ creations. I feel lucky to get to hang out with such a lovely group of girls, and the fact that they are all great cooks is just the icing on the cake!

mini strawberry shortcakes


Without further adieu, I’m proud to say I was able to win back my title as the Reigning Iron Chef, but Terri said the numbers were close! Everyone continues to bring their A-game, so the competition is definitely fierce! I already can’t wait for the next get-together – although having now been on both sides, I must say I enjoy the anticipation of finding out the theme ingredient more than doing the choosing. and so, the Countdown begins! (More photos)


strawberry mascarpone tart


The Top Three:
1st Place: Heather’s Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
2nd Place: Heather’s Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze
3rd Place: Rachel’s Mini Strawberry Shortcakes


strawberry pizza


The Winning Recipe:

Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
adapted from Cooking Light magazine – measurements are definitely estimated, and although the original recipe called for store-bought pizza crust, I made my own and will include those instructions as well.


printable recipe

ingredients
One batch pizza dough (recipe below; can also used store-bought 12oz crust)
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup trimmed watercress
1/2 t EVOO
1 t lemon juice (I used Meyer, can use regular)
salt & pepper
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 T shelled, toasted pistachios, chopped


Basic pizza dough:
3/4 c warm water
1 envelope dry yeast
2 cups (or more) AP flour
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
3 T olive oil


instructions
Basic pizza dough
Combine water & yeast; let sit for about 5 minutes.


By hand or w/ stand mixer (paddle attachment), combine flour, sugar, salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until sticky ball forms. Transfer to floured counter and knead until smooth (will probably add more flour as you go because the counter gets sticky and the dough is sticky; add by tablespoons). Total kneading time is 1-2 minutes. Put in large bowl that is oiled or sprayed and turn down over to cover with oil/spray. Cover w/ plastic and let rise in warm place (I preheat oven to lowest possible temp, like 100, and then open door to let heat out before putting in; best is about 80 degrees) for an hour, or until about doubled in size. Take dough out, back on floured surface and deflate dough. Roll out to desired shape.


pizza
Preheat oven to 425 F


Place crust on baking sheet or stone. Bake for ~8-12 minutes. Remove and sprinkle goat cheese on crust.


Mix strawberries through s&p in bowl and arrange over pizza. Top with nuts and shaved cheese. Top with additional fresh grated pepper if desired.


Notes: you can store dough after deflated in an airtight container to use later. You could even make extra and freeze it. Also, pizza dough is super glutenous and might be hard to work with at times. If so, let it sit and “rest” before rolling out.