Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking

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August 21, 2015
paninigirl

8 comments

You Say Tomato, I Say Pomodoro

tomatoes

I think tomatoes are absolutely my favorite thing about summer. I can’t seem to get my fill and never tire of serving them at every meal. As soon as they start showing up at the farmers’ market I go from stand to stand buying more than I probably really need. I just can’t help myself.

We’re not what I would call gardeners, not in the least. Our very small backyard is overgrown with lavender (watch out-5 plants can take over very quickly) and what started as an olive tree in a small pot suddenly grew two stories high once it was put in the ground. Other than that, we’re not really growing much, well, except for tomatoes in pots.

Every summer we do a few pots with tomatoes, but this year J. went all out and planted 12 different varieties. I have to give him all the credit as he did the planting, the watering and and the general care of the plants. It’s been a tomato fest since June (we plant at the beginning of April here in southern CA) and I couldn’t be happier. I have to admit that some days were daunting when 20-30 tomatoes were placed on the kitchen counter.

The most prolific plants were our two San Marzanos. I’ve been roasting them, pureeing, making sauce and freezing. Last week I was inspired by Emiko’s blog and followed her recipe for pomarola. It’s an easy way to process a large amount of tomatoes and I plan on making another batch tomorrow. I freeze my sauce in zip lock baggies, rather than canning.

pomodoro

I’m happy to say that all winter long I’ll be pulling sauce from the freezer to top our pasta. Thanks J. for a job well done!

P.S. We are still waiting for tomatoes from seeds brought back from Italy. These were planted much later so I will keep you posted.

cherries

These are not from our garden but I couldn’t resist sharing this photo taken yesterday at our local farmers’ market-wow!

August 14, 2015
paninigirl

8 comments

Blue Cheese Bites With Fig Jam

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Don’t you just love a recipe with four ingredients? This savory cookie comes together in mere moments, so you can whip them up in time for cocktail hour. I was lucky to have a jar of homemade fig jam in the cupboard. Most likely you’ll be able to find it in a cheese shop or specialty food market. I used gorgonzola, but feel free to substitute your favorite crumbly blue cheese.

Keep a batch of these cheesy bites in the freezer and you’ll be ready for an impromptu happy hour. Pop open a bottle of prosecco and you’re all set! If red wine is more to your liking, these are a perfect match.

Blue Cheese Bites With Fig Jam (From Food 52)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
4 ounces blue cheese,crumbled
Ground black pepper
Fig preserves, about 3 Tablespoons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the flour, butter, blue cheese and a few grinds of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dough just comes together and starts to form a ball.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to pull the dough together. Roll out to 1/8 inch thick with a floured rolling pin. Cut rounds out of the dough with a floured 1-inch cutter and transfer the rounds to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Using the back or a round half-teaspoon measure or your knuckle, make an indentation in the top of each dough round. Spoon about ¼ teaspoon of fig preserves into each indentation, using your finger to push the preserves as best as possible into the indentations.

Bake the savories for 10 – 14 minutes, until the preserves are bubbling and the pastry is light golden on the bottom. Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, the remove to a wire rack to cool. You’ll find fig preserves at the grocery – it may be shelved with the “fancy” jams and jellies. You can make these a day ahead and keep them in two layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container.

July 31, 2015
paninigirl

10 comments

Caesar Salad Spring Rolls

salad rolls

Looking for an easy do ahead appetizer? Well here you go. What I love about this recipe is that you use rice paper rounds. In the past I thought this incredible product was relegated to Asian food, but not so. This simple appetizer bears little resemblance to what you’re probably thinking of as a spring roll. When I think of those I’m reminded of shredded carrots, and cucumber with some mint and cilantro and maybe a few shrimp thrown in and then served with that addictive peanut dipping sauce. These use the rice paper as the wrapper, but the filling is quite different.

I was drawn to this hors d’oeuvres for a few reasons. The first being, who doesn’t like caesar salad? A little nibbly with those flavors had to be interesting. Secondly, you can make them a few hours ahead, refrigerate and slice when you’re ready to serve. And last, but not least, I saw the word “prosciutto” in the recipe!

One more thing-the rolls (before slicing) travel well so this is an hors d’oeuvres you can count on when you’re asked to bring a little something to a get together.

Caesar Salad Spring Rolls

Dressing

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon minced anchovies (I used a little anchovy paste)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Croutons

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup of 1/4″ cubes crustless sourdough bread

Spring Rolls

8 8-1/2″ diameter rice paper rounds
16 paper-thin slices prosciutto
4 large romaine lettuce leaves, cut lengthwise into 1/4″ wide strips
1-1/2 cups baby arugula leaves

Whisk dressing ingredients together and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and saute until golden. Turn out onto paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pour some warm water into a large shallow dish (I like to use a large skillet). Submerge one rice paper round in water until it begins to soften, about 45 seconds. Place on a sheet of parchment paper. Top with 2 slices of prosciutto, arranged side by side and covering most of rice paper round. place 1/8 of lettuce and arugula down center. Tightly roll into a cylinder, enclosing filling. Repeat with remaining rounds. Cover with a dampened paper towel or wrap in plastic. Chill. Can be made 4 hours ahead.

When ready to serve, remove from plastic and cut each piece into three 2′ long pieces. Stand upright on platter and top with a dollop of dressing and croutons.

July 23, 2015
paninigirl

7 comments

Grilled Gazpacho Salad

salad

Some years back I was part of a small group of women known as “recipe club”. We tried to meet monthly and as the host you were responsible for the entire meal, from appetizer through dessert. The most interesting thing about our get togethers was that each dish had to be one that you’d never made before. Some of you might find this to be a little intimidating, but actually it was a great way to try out new things without fear of being judged by your guests. I have fond memories of those meals (and the gossip and laughs) and can’t really think of many failures. At the end of the evening the recipes were handed out and some of them got filed away and others became old favorites.

This recipe (adapted from Bon Appetit) came from one of those dinners. With one bite I knew this was a dish that I would be making again. It’s definitely a salad to serve when summer produce is at its peak and yes, the ingredients (except for the shrimp) are what you find in gazpacho. You could certainly leave out the shrimp, but I think they are a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the caramelized vegetables. Call a few friends, pour some chilled wine, head out to the patio and savor this quintessential summery salad.

Grilled Gazpacho Salad

1 medium head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds uncooked large shrimp, deveined but with shells intact
8 firm plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 bunches green onions; root ends trimmed, onions left whole
1 1-pound sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Maui), cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 red bell pepper, quartered, cored
1 yellow bell pepper, quartered, cored
1 1/2 large English hothouse cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise
2 6x3x1-inch slices country-style bread
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (about 1 pint)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Set aside 2 garlic cloves for bread slices. Place remaining garlic on double layer of heavy-duty foil; drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over. Fold up and seal packet. Place directly on grill rack and cook until garlic is very tender and golden, about 20 minutes. Open packet; cool garlic.

Toss shrimp (in shells) and 1 tablespoon oil in medium bowl to coat; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Combine plum tomatoes, green onions, sweet onion, both bell peppers, and 2 tablespoons oil in large bowl; toss to coat. Arrange cucumber halves and bread slices on baking sheet; brush with 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle all vegetables with salt and pepper. Grill shrimp until just opaque, about 2 1/2 minutes per side; transfer to another bowl and cool. Grill vegetables until crisp-tender, turning frequently, about 3 minutes for plum tomatoes and green onions, 5 minutes for cucumbers, and 15 minutes for sweet onion and bell peppers. Transfer to large rimmed baking sheet. Grill bread slices until just beginning to crisp and grill marks appear, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Rub bread with reserved garlic cloves, then discard garlic cloves.

Peel shrimp; transfer to large bowl. Cut all vegetables and bread into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces; add to shrimp along with any accumulated juices. Stir in grilled garlic cloves and grape tomatoes. Whisk vinegar and remaining 4 tablespoons oil in small bowl; pour over salad and toss to coat. Serves: 6

July 11, 2015
paninigirl

3 comments

Brown Butter Blondies

bars

I definitely have a sweet tooth. There’s no denying it and anything with chocolate is on the top of my list. I start each and every day with a cookie alongside my morning cappuccino and always keep the freezer stocked with baked goods.

Of course I have my old favorites, but I’m constantly on the hunt for a new recipe. These remind me of the bars on the back of the chocolate chip bag, but taken to a whole new level. First use the best chocolate that you can (I used Belgian Callebaut) and go with dark brown sugar. Don’t skimp on time when making the brown butter since this adds to the flavor of the finished product. Lastly, do make these in an 8″ square pan which will give you a nice thick bar. You’ll be happy when you bite into a big chunk of chocolate.

Brown Butter Blondies (from Food 52)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
4 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar (light brown is a good second choice)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Swirl it around a few times. It will foam and spatter. After 3 to 4 minutes, it will start to smell nutty. Don’t walk away. It’s ready when the sizzling quiets down and you see little brown bits drop to the bottom of the pan. Pour into a large bowl. Cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Alternatively, if you want a blondie marbled with chocolate, cool butter for only 5 minutes and proceed with the recipe. The warm dough will melt the chocolate chips a bit. Heat oven to 350° F. Prepare your 8 by 8-inch baking pan with butter and flour, parchment paper, or aluminum foil (I find foil to be the easiest: just press it into the pan with a little overhang, no need to grease). Set aside.

Whisk together flour and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Set aside. Add brown sugar to the cooled butter. Mix with a wooden spoon for about a minute. Add egg/vanilla mixture to butter/sugar mixture. Mix until combined and shiny, about 20 seconds. Add flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Mix until there are still a few pockets of flour visible. Add chocolate chips. Mix until evenly distributed and all flour pockets are gone, but be careful not to over-mix! Spoon dough into your prepared baking pan. Spread evenly with the back of your wooden spoon (it will keep its shape).

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. You can’t do the toothpick test with this because it always comes out clean. Instead, look for a crispy top that’s just starting to crack. Firm slightly-browned edges. And when you press on the center, you don’t want it to feel really soft. Don’t stress. You can always throw it back in later. Just know that once it’s cool, it will firm up quite a bit. Remove from the oven. Cool completely before removing from the pan. The blondie block should pop right out (either pull out by parchment/alumninum foil or if in a greased pan, just invert onto a cutting board and carefully flip it back over). Cut into desired portion sizes. These keep for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container. Or you can freeze them for a few months.

July 4, 2015
paninigirl

9 comments

Sformato Di Ricotta

sformata

I’m not sure that this qualifies as an actual “sformato” but it is a dish that I could sit down, grab a spoon and devour. Some of you may be asking “what actually is a sformato“? I know that was my question when I first encountered it on a menu in Acqui Terme in Piemonte. You can read about my first experience here.

Anyway, after doing some research it seemed to me that a traditional sformato involves cream and eggs and is somewhat akin to a souffle, but I dare say that it is easier. There’s no whipping of egg whites and the urgency of getting it on the table asap is not there either. Usually the sformati are cooked in a water bath, whereas this re-creation from London’s famed River Cafe does not require this step. You also don’t have to cook and puree any vegetables for this rendition.

What I love about this recipe is that you need not wait for summer tomatoes to make it. Cherry tomatoes are available at the market year long and once roasted they will pop with flavor. Since it is summer and tomatoes are at their peak, why not try this now? Each and every bite bursts with the perfect combination of the sweet roasted tomatoes and creamy ricotta cheese. Serve alongside roasted meat or fish.

sformato2

Sformato di Ricotta

2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
10 ounces cherry tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 eggs
2 ¼ cups fresh ricotta
1 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (no stems)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add the tomatoes and garlic; drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Shake dish to coat tomatoes with cheese. Bake 15 minutes, until tomatoes are hot and start to split, shaking dish occasionally. Remove tomatoes from oven; cool in dish. Spoon tomatoes and their juices into a bowl; reserve the baking dish but do not wash it out.

When baking dish is cool enough to touch, grease bottom and sides with the remaining butter. Mix the eggs and ricotta in a food processor until smooth.Add the crème fraíche and half the thyme and process until mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the ricotta mixture in the baking dish; scatter the tomatoes and their juices and remaining thyme on top. Sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

June 26, 2015
paninigirl

11 comments

Almond Praline Ice Cream Cake

torte

The year was 1997. I saw this recipe in Gourmet magazine and planned on making it for an upcoming dinner party. I read the recipe over and over, counted the steps involved, placed it back in my file box and decided on something a little simpler.

Time passed, another dinner party in the works and out came the recipe. Once again back into the file. This went on a few more times until last week when I decided to get over my hesitation and make it. Yes, it took eighteen years for me to just do it. In the end it wasn’t as hard as I had thought it would be. This is a dessert that works best if you make it over a few days.. The almond brittle can be done a week ahead. You can turn the brittle into almond butter a few days ahead, the meringue layers the day before.

I’m sending you over to the Epicurious site for the recipe. Don’t wait as long as I did to try it. I will say that it is a rather sweet dessert and can easily serve 12. Leftovers are pretty good too!

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