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Spicy Herb Cheese (Homemade)

In Appetizers / Starters, Holidays On December 12, 2014 0 Comments

Think it’s challenging to make homemade cheese? Not at all. For the holidays this year, instead of buying a ready made cheese ball, buy a cheesecloth, whole, organic milk, distilled vinegar and voila! You’ve churned out fresh, homemade cheese!

This recipe is easy since it only requires a one-hour wait time with hardly any labor. The cheese contains fresh oregano leaves and a chili pepper. This exquisite cheese has a consistency that is between burrata and ricotta. Impress them all – Happy Holidays!

Note: Red dots in the photographed cheese are chili peppers.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Wait time: 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes (for cheese curds to set)

1 gallon whole, organic milk
1/2 cup distilled, white vinegar
1 cheesecloth, set in a medium-mesh, metal strainer over a medium glass or porcelain bowl or saucepot
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped Serrano or dried red chili pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano leaves or fresh chives
1 cup walnut meats
Assorted crackers or mini-toasts and raw vegetables

Boil Milk & Let Curds Set:

1. Pour 1 gallon milk into an 6 to 8-quart sauce pot.

2. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, warm the milk until it almost comes to a boil. The milk should not boil.

3. When the milk is hot and has almost come to a boil, set the sauce pot with the milk aside on a cold burner or a trivet set on a countertop.

4. Pour the vinegar into the milk – DO NOT STIR. Set the milk/vinegar mixture in sauce pot aside to sit for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, making sure to trim the cheesecloth so that you can push it down into a strainer set over a bowl or sauce pot; allow an overhang of about 8 inches.

6. After 10 minutes, you will see curds setting in the milk/vinegar mixture.

7. At this time, gently pour the milk-vinegar mixture into the strainer set with a cheesecloth over bowl or sauce pot.

8. If the sauce pot underneath the strainer is not large enough to take all the liquid, pour only half of the milk-vinegar mixture over cheesecloth.

9. It will take a few minutes for half of the liquid to go through completely.

10. When half of the liquid has gone through the cheesecloth and if bowl underneath does not look large enough to take all the liquid, set the strainer over another bowl or sauce pot.

11. Pour the remaining liquid over the curds in strainer set over bowl or sauce pot.

12. This procedure may take a few minutes.

13. When all the liquid (this is the whey) has been drained and collected in the 2 bowl(s) or sauce pot(s), transfer all the whey to a large sauce pot.

14. Add the salt, black pepper and chopped chili pepper to the whey.

15. Immediately pour they whey with the salt, pepper and chili pepper over the curds in strainer.

16. You may have to wait a few minutes for part of the whey to go through the curds in strainer.

17. As the whey goes through, keep adding the remaining whey mixture until you have poured all of it over the curds.

18. Set the curds/strainer aside to drain for 1 hour.

Form the Cheese & Refrigerate:

1. After 1 hour, scatter the chopped oregano leaves over cheese curds.

2. Lift the sides of the cheesecloth, bringing it up and around the cheese curds and slightly tighten it. If the cheese curds still appear wet, let them finish draining for an additional 10 minutes.

3. After 10 minutes, tighten the cheesecloth around the cheese, gathering it at the center top.

4. Carefully peel off the cheesecloth from the cheese and place the cheese in a 5 to 6-inch round bowl lined with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap has a 6-inch overhang.

5. Tighten the plastic wrap up and around the cheese and secure it with twine or an elastic band.

6. Cover the cheese in bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 4 hours.

Unmold the Cheese & Serve:

1. TO UNMOLD THE CHEESE: Carefully peel off and unwrap the top part of the plastic wrap.

2. Open up the plastic wrap around the cheese, creating an overhang outside the bowl.

3. Place serving plate over cheese and quickly invert it.

4. Remove the bowl and peel off the plastic wrap.

5. Decorate the cheese with walnuts and serve with crackers, mini-toasts or celery and carrots.

Note: Homemade cheese will keep, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, up to 5 days.

Text and Photograph ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Valentine Asiago with Cranberry-Cherry Coulis

In Appetizers / Starters, Holidays On February 6, 2013 0 Comments

This savory/sweet appetizer is a perfect intro to a romantic evening. I’m sure you won’t forget to complement the Asiago cheese with a yummy flatbread and a nice wine (see suggestion below). Happy Valentine’s Day!

Prep time: 45 to 55 mins (for the coulis)
Makes: 3 to 3-1/2 cups

3 cups unsweetened cranberry juice (not to be confused with cranberry juice cocktail)
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark Balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup dried, pitted cherries
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl
One 6-ounce Asiago cheese wedge
3 to 6 fresh cherries (for garnish)
Flatbread or your favorite crackers

1. In a 4-quart saucepot, stir together the cranberry juice, sugar and Balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for approximately 45 to 50 minutes or until mixture reduces to about 2-1/2 cups.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir to combine the dried cherries with 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Add the cherry mixture to the cranberry juice and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until cherries puff up.

3. Gradually stir in the cornstarch-water mixture and cook for about 1 minute or until the coulis has thickened. If a thicker sauce is desired, stir in an additional teaspoon of cornstarch premixed with cold water.

4. Set the hot coulis in the saucepot aside, covered, on a kitchen counter to cool completely. Refrigerate the coulis for at least 4 hours or overnight.

At serving time, place cheese wedge on a plate and drizzle the coulis over it. Garnish the plate with fresh cherries; serve with flatbread or crackers and lots of wine!

Red Wine suggestion: Bordeaux or Brunello
Text and Photograph ©2013 Nancy DeLucia Real

Caprese Salad with Basil Almond Pesto

In Appetizers / Starters, Fun Foods, Salads On July 12, 2012 0 Comments

The classic Caprese Salad consists of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and basil leaves. I’ve changed this recipe because I like tweaking and creating new recipes.

My version has some fresh pesto sandwiched between the tomato and mozzarella. There are no words or emotions to describe the luscious flavors of this Caprese with Basil Almond Pesto!

Prep time: 7 to 10 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

2 to 3 ripe tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
salt and pepper, to taste
6 to 8 teaspoons Basil Almond Pesto (found in our Recipes, under “Salad Dressings, Salsas & Savory Sauces)
1 pound fresh mozzarella balls (these are called “bocconcini” or small bites)
4 to 6 large, fresh basil leaves

1. Slice the tomatoes in 1/4-inch thick slices and lay on a serving platter.

2. Drizzle the oil over tomato slices, followed by salt and pepper, to taste.

3. Spread 1 teaspoon Basil Almond Pesto on each tomato slice.

4. Drain all water from the mozzarella bocconcini and, on a cutting board, gently cut them in half.

5. Lay each one, flat side down, over the pesto and tomato (the rounded side of bocconcini should be face-up).

5. Drizzle some olive oil over each tomato-bocconcini component, followed by salt and pepper, to taste.

6. Cut the basil leaves in slivers and use them to decorate the plate or to decorate the salad.

Enjoy as a starter or salad course.

Text and Photograph © 2012 Nancy DeLucia Real.

Stuffed Artichokes (Vegetarian)

In Vegetables On May 4, 2012 1 Comment

Since moving back to the United States from Italy, I often remember all the delicious vegetable recipes my Nonna Annunziata taught me to make. Believe it or not, one of these marvels is the artichoke.

Let me show you how to transform this rough, prickly vegetable into a Campania-style delicacy: Stuffed Artichokes. You stuff the artichokes with a fresh breadcrumb, Pecorino Romano cheese mixture and then stew them in some olive oil, onion, wine and small amounts of water added.

Without a doubt, this recipe is one of my best. Buon Appetito!

Prep time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

4 medium globe artichokes (they should measure 4 to 5 inches in diameter)
1 lemon
3 to 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup grated, imported Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Dash each ground black pepper and grated nutmeg

4 to 4-1/2 cups breadcrumbs, hand-shredded & made from three-day old white or wheat bread
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium brown or white onion, chopped
3-1/2 cups cold water
1 cup white wine

1. Fill an 8-quart sauce pot with 5-1/2 cups cold water.

2. Add the juice of one lemon to water in pot (this liquid prevents artichokes from blackening); set aside.

3. Meanwhile, place one artichoke on its side; trim and discard its bottom stem.

4. Trim and discard 1/2-inch from artichoke top. Remove outer layer of leaves and discard.

5. Place artichoke in water, and gently open up or loosen the outer leaves, taking care not to break them off.

6. Carefully loosen the inner rows of leaves up to the artichoke heart and open it up with your thumbs. Let artichoke soak in lemon water.

7. Repeat above trimming and opening of leaves with remaining 3 artichokes; set aside.

In the meantime, prepare the stuffing:

1. In a 6-quart mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, cheese, parsley, black pepper and nutmeg.

2. Stir in the breadcrumbs and crushed garlic.

3. Divide the stuffing into four (4) parts and set them aside on a plate.

4. Remove artichokes from lemon water.

5. Drain artichokes by shaking them upside down. Place them on a flat working surface (a cutting board) and pat dry.

6. Carefully and slightly open the leaves of one artichoke.

7. Using 1/4 of the stuffing and beginning in center of artichoke, slightly pack some stuffing inside its core.

8. Gently working your way outwards, place a little stuffing in between the next two layers of leaves and continue until you have reached the last two layers of exterior leaves.

9. Set the artichoke aside and repeat stuffing technique with remaining three (3) artichokes.

10. In a clean 8-quart sauce pot, heat the oil. Place the artichokes, face down, in hot oil and let them brown on medium-high heat, about 3 to 4 minutes.

11. After 3 to 4 minutes, carefully slide a spatula underneath each artichoke to separate it from bottom of sauce pot. Flip the artichokes over, face up.

12. Stir in the chopped onion to fit all around and in between the artichokes.

13. Saute the onion on medium heat for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent.

14. Carefully pour 2 cups cold water into sauce pot, in between and around the artichokes (never pour liquid over tops of artichokes). Cover and bring to a boil.

15. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.

16. After 3 minutes, slowly pour the wine in between and around artichokes.

17. Cover and cook for 15 to 18 minutes. The artichokes should always sit in liquid which rises halfway up the vegetable.

18. After 15 minutes or so, when liquid has reduced by one-third, stir 1 cup cold water in between and around artichokes. Cover and cook for 10 more minutes.

19. After 10 minutes, taste the cooking liquid; adjust salt, to taste. Taste an exterior leaf. If the leaf is tough and you cannot bite the artichoke flesh off its leaf, cook for an additional 9 to 10 minutes.

20. If liquid reduces during this time, stir in 1 additional cup water and cook for 5 more minutes.

Serve one artichoke per guest or cut each artichoke in half and serve as an appetizer to 6 or more guests.

Wine pairing suggestion: Chilled Pinot Grigio (white).

Text & Photograph ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real

Stracciatella Soup

In Soups and Stews On January 8, 2012 0 Comments

In this quick recipe, beaten eggs, cheese, nutmeg and parsley are transformed into a gourmet Roman soup.

One of my favs, Stracciatella Soup derives from the Italian word “stracciato” or torn. It’s made by beating eggs with Pecorino Romano cheese and then whisking the mixture into simmering chicken broth. As the egg mixture cooks, it turns into “stracciatelle” or torn shreds. Together with the cheese’s sharp flavor, these simple ingredients turn into a soup that’s perfect on a cold, winter night.

How’s that for Roman comfort food?

Prep time: 7 to 8 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

2-1/2 quarts chicken broth (preferably homemade)
5 large eggs
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Dash ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh, flat leaf Italian parsley
Crusty Italian bread, sliced

1. In an 8-quart stockpot, bring the chicken broth to a boil and keep it simmering (this is a light boil).

2. Meanwhile, in a 3 or 4-quart mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until mixture is uniform.

3. Gradually whisk in the cheese and mix well.

4. Pour the egg mixture in a thin stream, constantly whisking, into the simmering chicken broth. In minutes, the egg mixture will turn into little torn shreds.

5. Add a dash of nutmeg and the parsley.

Serve immediately with crusty bread and chilled white wine.

Note: We recommend imported Pecorino Romano cheese because of its sharp bite. When purchased by the piece, the flavor of the cheese is sharper, especially when grated just prior to use.

Text & Photograph ©2011 Nancy DeLucia Real