Spaghetti squash, Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

photo (7)

It’s been a looong time readers!  I apologize for my absence, but life gets in the way sometimes.   Over in our household, things have changed radically!  In November our little girl was born, and you know what newborns mean!  Amazement, happiness, wonder, lack of sleep and no time.  Yet, I have to say that we are lucky, she sleeps through the night already and is a pretty easy baby, so that has freed up some time for me to be able to cook again.  Granted, not much time, but on weekends I get to make nice comfort food because the hubby and my eldest daughter are around to give me a hand.

Since the birth of our little one, I have started to eat more vegetables, in preparation for starting her off on the right foot.  What I didn’t expect, is how much better I feel, and how heavy and bloated I get when I eat meat.  Now, don´t get me wrong, I looove meat, but I think I am going to do weekday vegetarianism and save the meat for the weekends!

Just recently I started seeing spaghetti squash at the market, and its been two weeks in a row that I cook it at home.  This recipe was inspired by a Jamie Oliver show I saw last week, but he used butternut squash instead.  This recipe is mine, because I know he didn’t use any béchamel and his was a sort of rotolo, like a rolled up pasta.  I don´t get to watch too much tv now and when I do, I usually don’t get to see the whole program!

I wasn’t sure about this combination of veggies, but it works marvelously and is going to be a repeat offender in our house!  My daughter who only ate spinach in spanakopita, now loves this dish and bonus she gets squash and  spinach!  This is a sunday type meal, since it does take a little bit of extra time to make it.  But please, do try it, I guarantee you will not miss the meat and will keep this recipe to use again and again!

Spaghetti Squash, Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Serves 8

12 sheets precooked lasagna sheets

1 recipe garlic spinach (below)

1 small spaghetti squash, roasted and seeded, peeled and mashed

1 recipe tomato sauce (below)

1 recipe béchamel (below)

1 small tub of ricotta cheese

1 mozzarella, chopped

2 tbsp grated Parmigiano Reggiano

To make the lasagna, preheat your oven to 190C (375F).  In a large bowl, mix the squash, spinach and ricotta, try it to see if it needs any more salt or pepper. In a baking dish, spoon some of your tomato sauce on the bottom so the pasta sheets won’t stick.  Then lay 3 lasagna sheets down, and top each with a large spoonful of the squash mixture, a little bit of the mozzarella, béchamel sauce, and then some tomato sauce.  Repeat 3 times until you get to your last layer, which you only top with the remaining béchamel, tomato, mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Take off the aluminum foil, raise the heat to 200C (400F) and cook for another 10 minutes.  Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving (or you WILL burn your tongue off!)

For the garlic spinach recipe:

300 g frozen baby spinach

1 tbsp of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

water, to defrost spinach

In a large sauté pan, add the frozen spinach, garlic, oil and water (just enough to cover the spinach, like half a cup).  Over medium high heat, cook the spinach until it defrosts and the water has evaporated.  Add salt and pepper and then place in a fine mesh colander to strain the cooking water out of the spinach.  Place in a large bowl to cool, set aside.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce…

Tomato Sauce recipe:

2 400g tins of pureed tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 dried red chili pepper

1/4 tsp of oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp of olive oil

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic, chili, and oregano.  Heat until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, 3/4 of the can full of water, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile make the béchamel sauce….

Béchamel Recipe:

4 tbsp unsalted butter

4 tbsp flour

3 cups cold milk

dash of white pepper

dash of freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat, add the butter and melt.  When foamy, add the flour and whisk until completely incorporated and let cook for about 4 minutes, whisking constantly.  In a constant drizzle add the cold milk and keep whisking until added.  Continue to cook, whisking to make sure you have no lumps until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.  Take off heat and add the pepper, nutmeg and salt.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Advertisements

Stracotto Al Barolo – Braised Beef in Red Wine

Stracotto al Barolo

I know, I know.  I suck.  Not having posted a thing since October is terrible.  But, sometimes life gets in the way, holidays, etc. etc.  But, I am back!  This year, I wanted to do something that I had read about a year ago, it was a group of people who chose a cook book and did a recipe or two from it.  I really can’t remember the fundamentals, but at home I decided it would be a great way to expand my knowledge, and to actually crack open my cook books and magazines.  It also think it will be quite fun because it’s a great way to involve the whole family.  My way of doing it is this: Every month, one of us chooses a cookbook.  I chose this months, “Italy – The Beautiful Cookbook”.  Then, we choose 9 recipes, 3 recipes each, to make in one month.  Obviously, I am going to try to stay true to the ingredients, but will omit or swap some ingredients that I simply can’t find here.

So, today is one of my recipe choices, only because its Sunday and it is a time-consuming recipe, the beef has to marinate overnight.  I chose this recipe because the picture in the book looked divine and the ingredients were promising.  This recipe hails from Piedmont, a northern region in Italy bordering France, so I am not surprised that it is basically like a Beef Bourguignon, but with Barolo wine and different herbs and spices.  That suits me just fine, I basically kind of wanted something heart and belly warming since I am sure we all can agree that this is one helluva cold winter!  This dish is simply delicious.  As the beef is cooking, your house will smell incredible, really mouthwatering.  I could hardly wait until the beef was done!  Rich and complex, it is a perfect sunday lunch meal.  I am absolutely positive it will become a favorite of yours too….my family devoured it!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

2lb (1kg) braising beef (I used eye of round)

2 carrots, cut into several pieces each

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

2 celery stalks, cut into several pieces

1/2 cup parsley

2 bay leaves

1 tsp juniper berries (which I didn’t find)

1/2 cup diced lard

1/2 bottle aged Barolo wine (or any other full bodied red you have on hand, I used Rioja)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

Combine the meat, all the vegetables, the herbs, and the wine in a large bowl.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Remove the meat and dry well; reserve marinade.  Make little cuts on the surface of the meat and fill them with lard.  Brown the meat thoroughly in the butter and oil in a flame proof casserole.  Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  Lift out the marinade vegetables with a slotted spoon and add to the meat.  Add 1 cup of the wine and salt to taste.  ( I added all the wine from the marinade).  Cover and braise in the oven for about 3 hours, adding more wine as needed to keep meat from drying out.  Halfway through the cooking time, take out the meat, slice thinly, and put back into the wine, with any juice on the cutting board.

Remove meat when done and place on a platter.  Put the vegetables and wine through a food mill or grind to a textured purée in a food processor.  Reheat this and pour over the meat.  Serve at once,  with potatoes, but I chose polenta.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Pane Siciliano – Sicilian Bread

Rustic Bread

There is something utterly rewarding about making bread at home.  Whenever I pass by a bread bakery, I swoon at the smells wafting from inside, just wanting to dive into the dough, and lie in a puddle of happiness.

Unfortunately, making good bread isn’t easy.  It is alchemy, turning base ingredients into something worth raving about.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like bread, but I completely understand that it isn’t something you want to tackle unless you have plenty of time and patience.  This recipe isn’t easy, but if you are up to the challenge, you will not be disappointed.

It is three days work, you can cheat a little bit by omitting one of the steps, yet you would be cheating yourself out of an opportunity to taste something utterly delicious.  I think the most important step is preparation, considering you have to bake the bread emulating a steam hearth.  So, I suggest you read through the recipe once or twice, and make sure you have all the tools necessary.  Don’t worry, they are not some confounding instruments you’ve never heard of, but it does make a difference to have everything on hand once you begin to cook.

bread

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Courtesy of “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”

Makes 3 loaves

3 cups pâté fermentee (recipe follows)

1 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour

1 3/4 cups semolina flour

1 1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 tsp instant yeast

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp honey

1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water, lukewarm

Natural brown or black sesame seeds for topping (optional)

1. Remove the pâté fermentee from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough to take off the chill.  Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife.  Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

2. Stir together the bread flour, semolina flour, salt, and yeast in a 4 qt bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer).  Add the pâté fermentee pieces, the oil, the honey, and 1 1/4 cups water.  Stir with a large spoon until the dough forms a ball (or mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment).  If the dough seems too stiff, dribble in water 1 tsp at a time until all the flour is gathered and the dough feels soft and pliable.  If the dough seems sticky, don’t worry; you can adjust the flour while kneading or mixing.

3.  Sprinkle bread flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and knead (or mix on medium – low speed with the dough hook).  Add flour as needed, sprinkling in a small amount at a time to make a smooth dough that is tacky but not sticky and has the same pliability and suppleness as French bread dough.  Knead for about 10 minutes ( or for 6 to 8 minutes by machine).  The dough should pass the windowpane test.  (Grabbing a piece of the dough, stretch it out, and if it forms a “pane” and doesn’t break, that is slightly translucent, then it is done) It should register 77 – 81 degrees F.  Form the dough into a ball, lightly oil a large bowl, and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

4.  Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

5.  Gently divide the dough into 3 equal pieces.  Shape as for baguette into long cylinders, extending each piece to about 24 inches in length and taking care to degas the dough as little as possible.  Then, working from each end simultaneously, coil the dough toward the center, forming an S shape.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and sprinkle some semolina flour on the parchment.  Place each loaf on the pan, mist the loaves with water and sprinkle sesame seeds on the top of each loaf.  Then mist the tops with vegetable spray oil and place the pan in a food-grade plastic bag or loosely cover with plastic wrap.

6.  Place the pan in the refrigerator overnight. (This is a step you can omit, but don’t, it is totally worth it.  If you do, let rise for at least 2 hours before baking.)

7.  The next day, remove the pan from the refrigerator and determine whether the loaves have risen enough to bake or if they need additional proofing time.  Gently poke the dough.  If it springs back quickly, leave the pans out, still covered, for a couple of hours, or until it wakes up and rises more.  The dough should stay dimpled when poked, and the loaves should be nearly twice as large as when first baked.

8.  Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to place an empty steam pan in place.  You do not need a baking stone.  Preheat the oven to 500F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

9.  Uncover the bread dough and place the pan in the oven.  Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door.  After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls using a plant mister with water and close the door.  Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals.  After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450F and bake for about 15 minutes.  Rotate the pans 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 10-15 minutes more, or until the loaves are a rich golden brown all over.  If there are still light or white segments of the dough extend the baking time for a few extra minutes to maximize color and flavor.  The internal temperature of the bread should register 200-205 F.

10.  Remove the pan from the oven and transfer loaves to a baking rack.  Cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Pate Fermentee Recipe

(enough for one batch of this bread)

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/8 cups bread flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp instant yeast

3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water, at room temperature

1.  Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4 qt. bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer).  Add 3/4 cups water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low-speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment).  Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff.

2.  Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for 4 to 6 minutes ( or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.

3.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1.5 times its size.

4.  Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.  You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Saveur Magazine Classic Recipes No. 61 – Carbonnade (Flemish Beef and Beer Stew)

Beef and Beer Stew

I had heard about this dish a log time ago.  My friend Kiana, who lives in Brussels, was always posting on Facebook that she was making it.  Initially, I thought she was talking about Carbonara, a.k.a, spaghetti carbonara.  Then, I humbly learned that not only was it not even close to carbonara, but the only thing similar is that it both has bacon in it, at least according to this recipe.

I was obviously intrigued about making this, and was quite pleased upon seeing it in the magazine.  This became a no-brainer, since the weather is quite accommodating here in Madrid at the moment.  This beef stew begs for rainy or snowy days and toasty evenings snuggled under a blankie.  This is the stuff of wood chalets and fire places my friends.  Unfortunately, I don’t have either.  But, I can imagine my friend Kiana and her gorgeous family eating it a-la-ski-lodge, in their pj’s all snuggled around their fire.  Dreamy!

Anyhow, I digress.  The stew is quite easy, and the ingredients readily available.  It is imperative that you use a nice dark beer, preferably Belgian.  I used Chimay Red Cap, in absence of any other type of Belgian beer here in Spain. Kiana recommended Rochefort……if you can find it, use it.  But, what I thought gave this dish such an elegant and nuanced flavor, was the tarragon.  Oh, my beating heart.  The sauce, well, it speaks for itself.  If you don’t make this, you’ll be sorry.  Really.  I’m that serious.

So, on to the ratings:

Overall Points:  8.9/10 – the most points yet!

Difficulty:  Easy to medium, just cause it takes a long time

Availability of ingredients:  Readily available, except maybe for the tarragon

2 lb beef chuck, cut into 2″ x 1/2″ thick slices

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup flour

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

4 slices bacon, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 cups Belgian – Style ale, like Ommengang Abbey Ale

1 cup beef stock

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

3 sprigs thyme

3 sprigs parsley

2 sprigs tarragon

1 bay leaf

Bread, for serving

Season beef with salt and pepper in a bowl; add flour and toss to coat.  Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Working in batches, add beef; cook, turning, until browned, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a plate; set aside.  Add bacon; cook until its fat renders, about 8 minutes.  Add remaining butter, garlic, and onions; cook until caramelized, about 30 minutes.  Add half the beer; cook, scraping bottom of pot, until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.  Return beef to pot with remaining beer, stock, sugar, vinegar, thyme, parsley, tarragon, bay leaf, and salt and pepper; boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until beef is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.  Serve with bread.  Serves 4.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Zucchini and Jamon Iberico Risotto with Manchego Cheese

Risotto

 

I love risotto.  I love the variety of ingredients you can add  to the humble rice, and make it a truly gourmet meal.  Plain, with just saffron, or loaded with veggies, it really is a crowd pleaser.  I love also that you have to dedicate your time to risotto, it makes me feel like I am making something with a lot of love and patience.  Mind you, it isn’t the longest dish to prepare, but it is constant.

I remember I didn’t particularly like risotto when I first tried it.  I thought it wasn’t cooked properly.  But, of course, I later realized that like pasta in Italy, the rice has to be al dente too.  Risotto is also a tricky dish, in so that you really have to practice a few times to get it to be perfect.  My first attempts were complete disasters.  One turned out to be a sticky mess, that you could plaster walls with, the next one, watery and runny.  Only with practice and the guide of my fantastic Zio Gianni did I learn how to really cook food, with mastery and patience.  Now, I can basically make it with my eyes closed, since it was a dish that I prepared daily at my restaurant.  I can tell by sight when I am going to add the last spoonful of stock, and if you pay attention, and practice, you will too.

photo125

I decided to use some Spanish ingredients, to mix it up a bit.  I love that risotto is a blank canvas, where you as the artist can create your own masterpiece.

So, if you fancy trying this version of mine, here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 2

1 tbsp Olive oil

2 tbsp Butter

1/2 Onion, finely minced

1 glass Dry White Wine

120 g Carnaroli rice

6 cups Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Jamon Iberico or Prosciutto, julienned, plus a tsp for garnish

1/4 Zucchini, julienned

1 cup Manchego Cheese, grated

1 tsp Chives, minced, for garnish

In a stock pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Lower the heat to simmer.  Keep hot.  In a large and deep sauté pan, add the tbsp of olive oil and tbsp of butter, over low heat.  When melted, add the onion and sauté, until very soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Raise the heat to high, and add the rice, and salt; cook, stirring constantly, until the rice starts to become translucent, 2-3 minutes.  Add the white wine, and let it evaporate.  Add enough stock to fully cover the rice, about 3 ladles full.  Lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring constantly.  (Until you get the hang of it, and so it won’t over cook, taste the rice after each addition until it is almost fully cooked, but has just a little bit of bite. )  When the stock has evaporated, but there is just a little bit of film on top, add another ladle full of stock, trying the rice, and continue stirring.  This should take between 10-12 minutes approx.  On your last ladle full of stock, add the zucchini and ham.  Cook, stirring until the stock is almost completely evaporated, but still creamy.  Turn off heat, and add the remaining tbsp of butter and the cheese, and mix.  Cover and let it sit for about 2-3 minutes.  This part is called mantecare.  Mix well again, add the pepper and more salt if needed, and serve with the ham and chives to garnish.  Buon Appetitto!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

 

 

Ragu Alla Bolognese del mio Zio – Bolognese Sauce

Spaghetti Bolognese

Everybody has their own version of Bolognese, or Ragu as we call it in my house.  My recipe, handed down from three generations, stays true to my uncle Gianni’s version.  As I’ve mentioned before, my family is from Ferrara and Bologna, the food capital of Italy.  With such amazing products as Parmigiano, Mortadella, Balsamic Vinegar, Tortellini and Ravioli coming from my region, Emilia-Romagna, it indeed is a wonderful place to visit and have family!

One of my first food memories is Ragu, my mother made it every week, and when I met my uncle in 1986, I also tasted his version, passed down to him from his mother, who owned a restaurant in a little town outside of Bologna.  Cut to 26 years later, I now make it very often, because alas, it is my daughter’s favorite (along with Carbonara).  So needless to say, I can make this with my eyes closed.

There is something so comforting to me about Ragu.  Just the cooking process screams comfort, and time-honored tradition.  I like to use a mix of pork and veal, pancetta, and white wine.  And I let it simmer for three hours or more, if I have the time.  As my uncle explained to me, his mother taught him how to make this when he was 12 years old, and said, start out on a large flame, and keep moving it to smaller, and smaller flames so it can simmer delicately for hours.  And the smells wafting from the kitchen….divine.  For me, it always tastes better than next day, when the flavors have fully developed, but my daughter can’t wait to have it the moment it’s done.

Ragu Bolognese

It seems like a daunting long process, but actually, once you are done with the preparation, all you have to do is sit back and let it bubble, and just enjoy the warmth in your kitchen like I do.

Ragu alla Bolognese

2 slices pancetta, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, minced finely

1 large carrot, minced finely or grated

1 celery rib (0ptional….some people don’t like the taste) minced finely

1 heaping tbsp tomato paste

1 garlic clove, with skin

300 g ground veal (or 600 g ground veal if you don’t eat pork)

300 g ground pork

1 large glass white wine (if you don’t have white, or it’s really cold, you can add red)

425 ml pureed tomatoes

4 cups beef stock

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, over medium low heat, warm up your olive oil.  Add the pancetta, onion, carrot and celery (if using).  Add the salt and  cook for about 10-15 minutes, until softened and translucent.  Add the tomato paste, garlic and mix well.  Cook for another 5 minutes, to let it caramelize.  Add the veal and pork, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring constantly to break it up and make sure it cooks through.  Add the wine, and let it reduce, stirring to remove all the brown bits, about 8-10 minutes.

When the wine is completely reduced, add the tomatoes and beef stock, mix well.  Let it come to a boil, let boil for about 5 minutes, and lower the heat to medium low, and cook covered for about 30 minutes.  Switch it to your lowest flame, uncover, and let simmer for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.  Adjust the seasonings, and add the fresh cracked pepper.

Let cool and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld.  If you can’t wait, by all means, serve it up over your favorite pasta.  Mine is tagliatelle or pappardelle, but over spaghetti is perfect, or rigatoni.  It is also heavenly in Lasagna or cannelloni.  Or you can reduce it further to use it as a filling for ravioli, which would be the Brasato filling (braised beef).

 

From my zio’s kitchen to yours,

Carla