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Emilian Spinach Pie (Erbazzone)

In Pizzas, Savory Tarts & Quiches On May 13, 2010 3 Comments

Popularized in the Middle Ages, the culinary tradition of making savory pies continued throughout the Renaissance (1400’s to 1500’s). Nobility would be served pies filled with meats, poultry and fish at dinner and at banquets. Other varieties were made with spinach or chard. In the northern region of Emilia Romagna in Italy, cooks would go out to the “orto” or garden and pick these leafy plants.  The leaves were combined with cheese, eggs and herbs and cooked in pastry shells.

This Renaissance pie or “erbazzone”, derives its name from “erba” (Italian for “grasses” and “plants with stalks”). In this day and age, my yummy Emilian Spinach Pie can be served at lunch with a green salad or as an appetizer at dinner time.

Prep time: 20 minutes (with ready-made pie pastry); 45 minutes (with Pate Brisee)
Bake time: 30 minutes
Makes: One 9-inch pie

PREPARE THE PASTRY:
Two readymade pastries for one 9-inch pie
-OR-
One recipe for Pate Brisee, found in this website’s Recipe Category “Pastry for Sweet & Savory Pies”

1. Roll out 2 readymade pie pastries for a 9-inch pie (according to package directions). Alternatively, use one  Pate Brisee recipe (found in our Recipes under Pastry for Sweet & Savory Pies.

2. Set the rolled-out pastries aside.

3. Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set aside. Gently fit one pastry sheet into the plate and trim edges to a one-inch overhang. With a fork, make random holes in pastry and set it aside.

PREPARE THE SPINACH-LEEK FILLING:
2 pounds fresh spinach, boiled (drained and cooled) and finely chopped
-or-
2 pounds frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 small white or brown onion, finely chopped
1 large leek, white parts only, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (about 3 to 4 ounces)
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 to 1-1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Dash each ground pepper and nutmeg
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water (for egg wash)
One 9-inch pie plate

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Melt the butter in a 14-inch skillet set over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and leek; stir fry until onion is clear.

3. Combine the onion mixture and the spinach in a large porcelain, glass or stainless steel bowl.

4. Stir in the cheese, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and nutmeg until mixture is uniform; transfer the spinach filling to pastry-lined pie plate.

5. Top the filling with second pastry sheet, trimming it to a one-inch overhang. Pinch and seal the edges.

6. With a fork, make random holes over top of sealed pie and brush with egg wash. Cover and seal pie edges with one-inch aluminum foil strips.

7. Transfer pie to a rack placed in center of preheated oven.

8. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil during last 5 minutes of baking.

Serve warm.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Chocolate Pastry Cream with Berries

In Desserts, Creams & Sauces On May 6, 2010 0 Comments

Catherine de’ Medici, an Italian noblewoman, introduced pastry cream or “crema pasticciera” to the French court in the sixteenth century. In turn, the French called it “creme patissiere”. While traditional pastry cream is made with eggs, sugar, flour and milk, contemporary versions of this recipe have added flavorings.

As a chocoholic, I created this pastry cream to satisfy my palate. I use this rich chocolate cream as a filling for cakes or simply served with berries. Rest assured that this is a definite crowd pleaser.

Active prep time: 3 hours (chill time)
Inactive prep time: 3 hours (chill time)
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups milk (2% is best – not too heavy and not too light)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh strawberries, stems removed and cut into fourths lengthwise
1 cup fresh blueberries
Powdered sugar and cocoa, for dusting
1. In a 3-quart sauce pot, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until well-blended.

2. Gradually and vigorously whisk in the flour, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, making sure that each addition is completely absorbed.

3. In a slow and steady stream, pour in the milk while whisking continuously until all the milk is absorbed.

4. Transfer the sauce pot containing the milk mixture to a stove burner set on medium-low heat.

5. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly.

6. Cook and stir the cream for 1 to 2 minutes or until it has thickened.

7. Remove the saucepot from heat and stir the melted chocolate chips and the vanilla into the cream. Mix until the mixture is uniform.

8.Divide the chocolate pastry cream evenly among four 4-ounce ramekins. Immediately cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

9. At serving time, top the chocolate pastry cream with berries and powdered sugar.

10. Set each ramekin on a flat dessert plate. Dust each plate with powdered cocoa and garnish with a strawberry and some blueberries.

Note: For more servings, just double or triple the recipe. Pour the cooked pastry cream into a porcelain or glass serving bowl, cool and refrigerate. At serving time, spoon the cream into individual bowls; dust with powdered sugar and cocoa. Garnish with fresh berries and mint leaves.

Variation: The milk can be substituted with soy milk, but the flavor will be different.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce

In Salad Dressings, Salsas & Savory Sauces On May 1, 2010 0 Comments

In Italian cuisine, the ingredients must be fresh and simple. This traditional tomato sauce comes from the region of Campania in southern Italy – where I was an apprentice to my maestra and grandmother – Nonna Annunziata. This classic recipe is delicious with any type of pasta.

Prep time: 40 to 45 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
3 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (8 or 9 count)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 small onion, finely chopped
¾ to 1 teaspoon sea salt
¾ teaspoon sugar
Dash nutmeg
6 to 8 fresh large basil leaves
1. Place tomatoes in a 5 or 6-quart saucepot; cover with cold water and bring to a boil.

2. Uncover and continue boiling on medium-high heat, about 5 to 7 minutes or until skins crack.

3. Drain tomatoes and cool to lukewarm, about 15 minutes.

4. Peel tomatoes and transfer to a blender; liquefy and set aside.

5. In the meantime, wash and dry the saucepot. In same saucepot, heat the oil and stir-fry the garlic and onion on medium heat until onion is translucent, about 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Remove saucepot with onion mixture from hot burner.

7. Transfer the liquefied tomatoes to the saucepot and return to the hot burner.

8. Bring tomato sauce to a boil. Stir in the salt, sugar and nutmeg; simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust salt level. Cover the sauce and set aside.

9. Meanwhile, fill a 5 to 6-quart saucepot with cold water and bring to a boil.

10. Cook one pound of pasta (any variety) per manufacturer’s instructions (to avoid overcooking, begin tasting pasta after 6 minutes). Cook until pasta is “al dente” or crunchy-tender.

11. Drain pasta and transfer to a large bowl or pot. Add 2 to 4 ladles of warm sauce to the pasta and serve in individual bowls.

12. Top each serving with a half ladle of sauce followed by slivered basil leaves. Add freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese.

Serve with your favorite wine.

Buon Appetito!

Text ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Nopales Frittata Burrito

In Eggs Selections On April 30, 2010 0 Comments

Nopales (cactus) and scrambled eggs are an important food staple in Mexico. I admit that the first time I was offered a scramble of nopales I thought it was unusual to eat a food with cactus leaves in it.

Believe it or not, nopales, onion, eggs and tomatoes wrapped into a burrito make for a nutritional breakfast that everyone will enjoy.

In my bicultural home I created the Nopales Frittata Burrito, enjoyed immensely by my Italian Mexican son and all his friends. Try this recipe – the burritos won’t last very long!

Prep time: 35 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

FIRST, COOK THE NOPALES:
2 to 3 large fresh nopales (cactus leaves), without thorns and cut into 1/2-inch squares, rinsed and drained
-OR-
One 15-ounce jar cooked nopales, rinsed, drained and cut into 1/2-inch squares

1. To cook fresh nopales: In a 5-quart saucepot bring 12 cups water and half the onion to a boil.

2. Add the fresh cut nopales and cook on medium-low heat, uncovered, 3 to 4 minutes or until nopales turn a lime green color.

3. Drain and rinse the nopales in a colander under cold water.

4. Discard onion, drain nopales again and set aside.

NEXT, PREPARE THE NOPALES FRITTATA:
1 medium brown or white onion, peeled and halved
3 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 vine-ripened tomato, quartered, pulp removed and flesh cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Meanwhile, chop the remaining onion in 1/2-inch pieces and set aside in a small bowl.

2. In a separate 4-cup mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks, egg whites and salt together; set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Stir fry either fresh or jarred nopales with the chopped onion on medium heat, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the tomato pieces and stir fry an additional 2 minutes or until onion is translucent and mixture begins drying out. Set heat on low and pour the egg mixture over the nopales, onion and tomato in skillet.

5. Cover and cook about 2 minutes or until underside of frittata looks golden when lifted with a spatula.

6. Divide frittata into 4 to 6 wedges and flip each wedge over. Cook on low heat an additional 1 to 2 minutes.

7. Transfer the frittata pieces to a flat plate and set aside.

FINALLY, HEAT THE TORTILLAS & ASSEMBLE THE BURRITOS:
Four to six 8-inch flour tortillas

1. In the same skillet set over medium-low heat, warm two tortillas at a time, turning them over every 30 seconds until warmed through.

2. Repeat with remaining tortillas while beginning to assemble the burritos.

3. Place a warm tortilla on an individual plate and set a frittata wedge in its center horizontally.

4. Roll up one-third of the tortilla, folding in the sides to seal and roll up completely. Repeat with remaining tortillas and frittata wedges.

Serve with a favorite salsa or garnish with tomato slices.

Note: Fresh nopales (cactus leaves) are sold at farmers’ markets or Latin American markets, flesh cut into squares and bagged. If buying whole cactus leaves with thorns, place one leaf at a time in a large paper bag set on a counter and scrape off the thorns with a knife. The bag will prevent thorns from flying towards you or all over your kitchen.

Text ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real
Burrito Photograph Only ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Kitchen Trick – Reading a Recipe

In Kitchen Tricks On April 28, 2010 0 Comments

Always read a recipe completely before diving into it. As you read the recipe, it will become virtual reality. For example, if reading, “Take one stick of butter at room temperature and mix it with 1/2 cup of sugar,” imagine the mixture in a bowl, turning into a cream …

Later on, when really mixing the two ingredients, it won’t feel so unfamiliar because you already played it out in your mind.

Text ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real