Tag Archives: Italian

Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorn

24 Dec

Yesterday was one of those days on which I simply did not feel festive. I suffered from a serious case of the ‘holiday blues’, and on top of that, my uterus decided that it was time to go Beowulf.

So when I drove home with a plan to stop by the grocery store and grab whatever I felt could ‘pass’ as an acceptable dinner in my book, I didn’t expect to be roasting parsnips and cracking peppercorns. As a matter of fact, I was thinking more frozen pizza middle aisle than outer periphery… By divine intervention, I opened Pinterest and saw a recipe for what looked like a simple cracked pepper pasta dish. Tasty & cheap? Why, yes please!

$16.25 later, me & my bah humbug attitude drove home and strapped on the apron. Let me tell you, whacking the living daylights out of whole peppercorns with a rolling pin is seriously therapeutic during that time of the month!

As stated above, I saw the recipe below on Pinterest and was intrigued by the earthiness of the dish. It just looked really appealing and it seemed to be a play on a traditional pasta ‘cacio e pepe’, or a simple cracked pepper pasta. Yesterday was the perfect day to make this. I changed the recipe only slightly by adding cream and garlic, but I think that originally it was a Mario Batali creation.

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Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorns.
(Adapted from a Mario Batali recipe I found on ‘Pinterest’)
– 1 lbs of orecchiette
– 1 Tbsp of pink peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of green peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of black peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of white peppercorns
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced
– 3 cups of roughly chopped kale, approx. 6-8 stems
– 3/4 cup of heavy cream
– 1/2 cup of white wine
– 4 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
– 1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)
– olive oil
– salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Place peppercorns in a ziplock baggy, and whack them until you achieve a rough texture. Some of the peppercorns will still be semi-whole, and that’s what we want.

Peel & cube parsnips, toss with olive oil and spread out over a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Roast in the hot oven for approx. 20 min, until tender and slightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

In the meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water. When you have a rolling boil, add orecchiette and boil according to box directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a heavy skillet, heat 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil with chopped garlic & cracked peppercorn. When oil is hot, add chopped kale, toss and sauté for a few minutes until the kale starts to wilt a bit. Add wine and cream, and simmer over low heat to allow the liquid to reduce by approx. half.

When sauce with kale has reduced and thickened a bit, add 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano. Add reserved pasta liquid until sauce is the right texture and coats evenly. Test with the back of a wooden spoon: if you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of your spoon, and the ‘edges’ stay put and don’t run, it means your sauce is the perfect thickness.

Add drained pasta and roasted parsnips to the pan with the sauce. Toss and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Serve hot.

** You can also add some cooked Italian sausage, if you like.

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Lemony Pasta with Peas & Mint

3 Oct

Back in 2010/11, Belgium went without a government for 589 days. Five hundred and eighty nine days! Parks remained open. Government agencies functioned. And our senators tightened their suspenders and showed up for congressional meetings with or without a chip on their shoulder. There was juvenile bickering and fighting amongst members of the congress. There was finger pointing, name calling, red-faced huffing and puffing. There was a 589 day governmental stalemate.

… so what do you do?

You cork a few vats of beer and PARTY! After all, breaking a ‘Guinness World Record’ for being the country with the longest ever recorded absence of Government in the history of civilized mankind, calls for fanciful fireworks and drunken city-wide celebrations. You invite the international press to the festivities, you show off your patriotic colors… on body parts we can’t show on national TV… and you make your mark on global history by displaying loud ridiculous behavior and madly proudly waving your country’s flag whilst yelling nonsensical talk at cameras, in a language nobody but Holland understands. This, is how Belgium handles political strife.

The Belgians aren’t entirely hitting a foul ball with their seemingly ludicrous celebrations… In times like these, what else is there to do but to laugh at your own misery and indulge in good food and a few libations among friends and family? And what better dish to bring people together than delicious and effortless pasta? Pasta is both heartwarming for the soul as well as your wallet’s bottom line. It’s a culinary super hero and a beacon of happiness during hard economic times. So instead of making lemonade with all the sour lemons Congress is throwing at us, why not make a creamy lemony pasta instead?

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LEMONY PASTA WITH PEAS AND MINT
– 1 package of fettucinni, or a pasta of your choice
– 2 cups of fresh English peas, par-boiled (or 2 cups of frozen peas, uncooked)
– 1/2 cup of crème fraiche
– zest of 2 lemons
– 2 Tbsp of chopped fresh mint
– a handful of chunks of Gran Padano cheese or another salty hard cheese of your choice
– salt & pepper to taste
– smoked salmon (optional)

Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until almost cooked through. Rather than drain the pasta, take the pasta out of the pasta water with tongs and transfer it to a shallow pan, and don’t worry if some of the pasta water comes with it. We need this extra bit of wetness to create our sauce.

While the pasta cooks, boil some water in a small sauce pan and par-boil fresh English peas in boiling water for approx. 2 min, until almost tender. Shock in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking process. If using frozen peas, there is no need to par-boil those.

Stir the peas in the hot pasta, along with the crème fraiche, lemon zest & mint. Season with salt & pepper. Add a splash of olive oil to finish.

Serve with chunks or slivers of cheese sprinkled over the top… and/or for extra protein, add sliced smoked salmon.

Mama’s Tiramisu

3 Aug

In my post about lasagna, I’ve hinted before that mom was mystifyingly Italian, for a Belgian. While she not only was is a passionate believer in enhancing verbal communication with dramatic facial expressions and/or hand gestures, she also prepared certain Italian staples like a real ‘Mama Gina’, with ‘passione’ and the prerequisite matriarchal dominance of the kitchen quarters.

As a child, I recall there were many times I’d be perched on the kitchen counters, intrigued by the tantalizing smells and mom’s busy activity, but there were an equal number of times where our mere presence in the kitchen would catapult her into a peppered tizzy and we instinctively knew to keep our distance. On ‘tiramisu-days’, we’d be lucky if we were even allowed to stand in the doorframe and watch… And even then, the sight of us would often result in an annoyed hand gesture and a quick dismissal, as though tiramisu was top secret and you needed special Governmental clearance before you could watch.

I’m not even sure where mom got the recipe below from, but if you’ve ever had the opportunity to savor the ‘real thing’ from a sun-drenched patio in Napoli, you’d instantly recognize that mom was on to something with this recipe. It’s so creamy and velvety, that the first bite of this deliciousness sends you straight to a cobblestone piazza somewhere in Rome. Furthermore, tiramisu is so easy to make, it should be a mortal sin, really.

While it takes some advance planning since tiramisu needs 8-10 hours in the refrigerator, it’s a ‘no bake’, foolproof dessert that is a real show-stopper. Heck, even your teenage daughter may briefly forget about your ‘lameness’ and kiss you on the cheek for this one. And wouldn’t that be worth it???

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MAMA’S TIRAMISU
(As per my mom’s top secret instructions… Sshhh!!!)
– 10.5 oz of ladyfinger cookies (*)
– 9 oz of mascarpone
– 3 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz Amaretto liquor
– 7 oz of very strong cold coffee (coffee that is so strong, you can’t drink it!)
– 2 Tbsp of golden brown sugar
– 1/3 cup of sweetened cocoa powder (Nesquick works great!)
(*) The trick to a great tiramisu is using ‘real’ ladyfinger cookies like they sell in most of Europe. They are crunchy and light, and dusted with a bit of crystal sugar on the outside. The American ladyfinger cookies are too ‘cakey’ and not crunchy at all. If you can’t find Italian ladyfinger cookies or ‘savoiarde’, use Nilla wafers instead.If you don’t know what ladyfinger cookies look like, you can see some of them in the picture of my chocolate mousse post.

Beat egg yolks, mascarpone and sugar into a smooth consistency with your electric, handheld mixer.
In a clean, oil free bowl, beat egg whites into stiff peaks and gently fold into the egg/mascarpone mixture by hand.

Combine coffee and Amaretto liquor.

Take a 9×13 oven dish (or similar in size). No need to butter or flour, because this is a no-bake dessert!

Dip ladyfinger cookies quickly in coffee mixture one-by-one, and place in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Don’t make the mistake I made once and drop your entire package of cookies all at once in the coffee, as you will not have enough time to take them out and they’ll disintegrate into a sloppy coffee mess before your thy very eyes. You need to really do this one by one, and dunk ’em, don’t let them ‘sit’ for too long in the liquid, as they will start to fall apart.

When you’ve completed a layer of coffee-dunked cookies, spread a 1/4 thick layer of the mascarpone mixture over the top with a spatula. Place another layer of coffee-dipped cookies on the top, and repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Finish with a layer of the mascarpone mixture.

Dust the top layer of the mascarpone mixture liberally with the powdered cocoa, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8-10 hours. This will allow the cookies to soften and absorb the creaminess of the mascarpone. In the morning, the cocoa on the top will have melted into a shimmering layer of chocolatey goodness. If you like, you can sprinkle some shaved milk chocolate over the top right before serving.

Now go and make this. Do it now. Really, your family will love you.

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