Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


January 23, 2016


Lentil And Sausage Soup



lentil & sausage


A few weeks ago I was saddened to hear about the passing of famed Babbo pastry chef Gina De Palma. I knew that she had been battling cancer, but it still came as a shock that she was really gone. When I first discovered her book Dolce Italiano some years back I was smitten and began working my way through her recipes.

Today I cooked a dish of Gina’s, but it’s a savory one. Gina shared this hearty soup for blogger Adam Robert’s book Secrets of Best Chefs. I don’t have this book, but feel I should add it to my collection as its premise reminds me of my new favorite Genius Recipes from Food 52.

I hear that it’s going to be a snowy weekend in the northeast. If you have these ingredients in your cupboard this might just be the heartwarming dish that you’ll need to soften the blow.


Lentil Soup with Sausage and Swiss Chard

1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 large links of sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (I used  2)
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced or diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Kosher salt
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups shredded or thinly ribboned Swiss chard leaves or kale
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot) in a large pot on medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and if you like your soup spicy, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, water, more salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. (It might be necessary to add more water if the soup gets too thick.)

When the lentils are cooked, add the chard and cook until the leaves are tender, just a few minutes more. Discard the bay leaves.

To finish, divide soup among bowls, drizzle remaining olive oil over soup bowls, and top with fresh Romano, passing more at the table. Leftovers will keep for several days in the fridge.


Take a look back at some of my favorites from Dolce Italiano. I  think I should get back in the kitchen and bake a little dessert.

Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Glaze

Coconut Shortbread

Almond Fingers

Peach Crostata

Baci di Cioccolato

Venetian Apple Cake

Hazelnut Cookies

Lemony Semolina Cookies


And a few I didn’t blog about – Sicilian Pistachio Squares, Sbrisolona, Ricotta Pound Cake and what may be my favorite recipe – Italian Apple Crumb Tart.

January 9, 2016


Sausage and Escarole


Yes, the holidays are over and I can’t continue to ignore the blog. I have been cooking and baking, but not taking the time to share any of it with you. Hope you enjoyed the festivities and a belated Happy New Year one and all.

There’s something about the New Year that makes me want to clean things up, go through closets and get rid of things. I think part of this comes form my years in retail (Crate & Barrel) where as soon as Christmas was over we reworked the entire store, freshening up all the displays and sending the holiday merchandise off to the outlet locations.

Since I seem to spend most of my free time in the kitchen I decided to start there. I was on the hunt for something in the freezer the other day when I realized that I had a fair amount of items tucked away that could provide some tasty meals. Then and there I vowed to prepare meals from the freezer and the cupboard, trying to only make purchases from the farmers’ market.

I had intended to make a beef and broccoli stir fry for dinner last night when I clicked on a link on Elizabeth Minchilli’s newsletter and ended up on her video for preparing sausage and escarole. I knew there were a few Italian sausages stashed somewhere behind the all of the cookies I’ve been baking and so the dinner plans were changed.

This one dish dinner is simple to prepare and Elizabeth’s video will show you just how easy it can be.

Ingredients you’ll need:

Olive oil
Italian sausage
White wine
Golden raisins
Pine nuts
Fennel pollen
Red wine vinegar

Tonight, the stir fry!

December 20, 2015


Giving Granola


Still looking for a quick and easy homemade gift? Well look no further. This granola will wow your friends, that is if you can bear to part with it once you’ve given it a taste. I know you’re probably thinking that granola is granola, but this one is by far the tastiest that I’ve ever tried. Eaten out of hand or swimming in a bowl of cold milk it’s hard to have just one serving. Sweet without being cloying with just a hint of salt, there’s plenty of crunch. Once you’ve tried it feel free to vary the nuts and seeds that you use.

The recipe comes from a cookbook that was published earlier this year-Genius Recipes-brought to you by the clever crew at Food 52. I had considered buying the book and never got around to it when I was given it as a gift. The idea behind the book is a good one-it’s a collection of special recipes from famous and lesser known chefs-recipes that may be simple, but with a new technique or with a familiar ingredient that is used in a new way. When I first thumbed through the book I thought “this is nice”, but when I actually sat down and started reading the recipes I realized the “genius” of this cookbook. I can only hope that the next recipe I try will be as good as this granola. I have a feeling that I shouldn’t worry about that-I’ll be cooking up the Grilled Pork Burgers from Suzanne Goin-author of one of my favorite books Sunday Suppers at Luques.


3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1cup hulled raw sunflower seeds
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
1-1/4 cups pecans left whole or coarsely chopped
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat oven to 300° F.

Place oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut, pecans, syrup, olive oil, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Spread granola mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until granola is toasted, about 45 minutes. (I put parchment on the baking sheets)

Remove granola from oven and season with more salt to taste. Let cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

December 6, 2015


Fudge Stripe Cookies


The other day J. posed this question to me. “If you had unlimited funds and didn’t really care about how much money you made, what kind of store would you open?” Having been in retail for many years he just assumed I would reply by saying a shop with a few antiques, unique ceramics and maybe some table linens. I didn’t hesitate in saying “a small bakery”. I even surprised myself with my quick response. Some years ago I had a cafe and I swore that I would not have a food business again.

I think I just realized that I truly love baking, although I consider myself a much stronger cook than a baker. Looking back over this blog in search of a cookie recipe I noticed that I do a fair amount of baking, in fact so much that my freezer is packed with cookies and I haven’t even started my holiday baking.

I saw this recipe once again on Food 52 and was immediately transported back to being in the grocery store with my mom and picking out the Keebler fudge stripe cookie. Being a major chocolate fan I was drawn in by the underside of each cookie being coated in chocolate. The cookie is a buttery shortbread and is tasty on its own, but it’s the combination of cookie and chocolate that makes this a winner.

Fudge Stripe Cookies

180 grams (about 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
90 grams (about 1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
270 grams (1 3/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons) all purpose flour
340 grams semisweet chocolate (about 10 oz.), chopped

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-low speed to get it smooth. Add the sugar and salt, and cream together until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour in two additions, mixing until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape into a disc. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325° F and position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line sheet pans with Silicone liners or parchment paper. When the dough has chilled, remove it from the fridge and let it sit on your counter for about 10 minutes, just so that it becomes a little easier to work with. Place the dough between two pieces of wax paper and begin to pound out and roll the dough (the paper will help prevent the dough from cracking too much). Continue to roll out the dough until it’s 1/4-inch thick.

Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as you can, gathering and re-rerolling the scraps to make more cookies. Transfer the rounds to the prepared sheet pans. Using the larger end of a pastry tip, cut out a circle from the center of the cookie rounds (I like to do this when the cookies are already on the sheet pans to ensure that they stay perfectly round). Prick the cookies all over with the tines of a fork. Bake the cookies for 17 to 19 minutes, until they’re a pale golden brown.

Let the cookies cool on the sheet pans for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Once the cookies are completely cool, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave. Dip the bottom of each cookie into the chocolate to coat, scrape the excess off on the side of the bowl, and place on a parchment-paper lined sheet pan, chocolate side up. Repeat with each cookie, and then place them in the fridge to firm up the chocolate (about 5 to 10 minutes). Put remaining melted chocolate in a pastry bag with small round tip. I couldn’t find the right tip to use for the pastry bag so used a plastic bag with corner snipped off. Pipe stripes onto cookies and put in fridge to firm up.

***Next time I would use a pastry bag with tip so the lines are neater. The taste however is exactly what I had hoped for-a grown up version of the packaged cookies from my childhood. Oh and by the way, I have no intention of opening a bakery!

November 30, 2015


Carrot Cupcakes


I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to anything with cream cheese frosting. Red velvet, coconut and of course carrot cakes would be nothing without that topping of sweetened cream cheese. I dare say that the frosting is more important to me than the cake. The beauty of cream cheese frosting is that it’s simply four ingredients whipped together. What could be easier?

This carrot cupcake is moister than most other cupcakes so it definitely can be made a day ahead. I baked these, refrigerated them overnight and frosted them just before serving. Should you have leftovers pop them into a covered container and keep in the fridge. They’ll be good for three days, if they last that long!

Feel free to add chopped nuts to your batter if you prefer a little crunch in your cupcake. By the way, the cream cheese frosting would be the perfect complement to pumpkin or gingerbread cupcakes. ‘Tis the season…

Carrot Cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots (from about 6 medium carrots)

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (8 ounces)


In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar, then beat at high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Preheat the oven to 350° and line 14 muffin cups with paper liners. Spray the liners with vegetable-oil spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the canola oil. Gradually beat in the sugar at medium-high speed and beat until thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula, then fold in the carrots.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Let cool slightly, then transfer the cupcakes to the freezer to chill.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip with the Cream Cheese Frosting. Pipe the frosting onto the carrot cupcakes and serve. Alternatively, use a knife to spread the frosting on the cupcakes and serve.

November 25, 2015


Happy Thanksgiving!


As much as I love to cook, I am happy to say that this year I am only contributing two side dishes to the Thanksgiving celebration. I’ve been making this cranberry sauce for years and I yesterday I whipped up an extra large batch because I love having it around. Try it on your leftover turkey sandwich or serve it alongside a pork roast.

The sweet and sour onion confit is a recent addition to the holiday table and I think it’s definitely a keeper.

And since I’m not responsible for more than these few dishes, I have a little extra time on my hands and I think I might throw together these savory blue cheese bites. I think they would be quite nice with a glass of bubbly before the feast. Don’t you?

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Photo was from last fall at Campo de Fiori, Rome.

November 21, 2015


Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart


As much as I am seduced by a counter chock full of vine ripened tomatoes, I am happy to let go of summer produce and jump right into fall and winter vegetables. The squash varieties (delicata, pumpkin, acorn, kabocha, spaghetti and butternut) that are now readily available at the market can be turned into side dishes, soups, main courses and even desserts. I must say that I cooking enjoy all of them, but have a real fondness for butternut.

Last weekend I had friends in for lunch and knew that I wanted to serve a vegetable tart and a salad. My thoughts turned immediately to using butternut squash, the sweetest of the winter squashes. This recipe from Epicurious was exactly what I had in mind. The creamy filling bursts with the flavor of the caramelized onions and fresh herbs. Don’t even think of foregoing the bread crumbs as they lend a little bit of crunch to the tart.

Take a look at Ciao Chow Linda’s Mac n Cheese with Butternut Squash for a wonderful winter meal and here are a few of my favorite squash recipes:

Kabocha Squash and Fennel Soup
Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut Squash Gratin
Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart

Pastry dough
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil plus about 2 teaspoons for brushing squash
1 small onion
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 whole large egg
1/2 large egg yolk (1/2 tablespoon)
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup grated Italian Fontina cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 ounce)
1/4 cup crumbled mild soft goat cheese (about 1 ounce)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 stick ( 1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup ice water


Cut butter into pieces. In a food processor blend flour, sugar, and salt until combined. Add butter and pulse until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with remainder in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Add 2 tablespoons of water and pulse just until incorporated. Test mixture by gently squeezing a small handful: If it does not hold together, add enough remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing and testing, until mixture just forms a dough. Form dough into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface roll out dough into a 12-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick). Fit dough into an 11-inch tart pan with a removable fluted rim. Freeze shell 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights or raw rice. Bake shell in middle of oven until edge is pale golden, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights or rice and bake shell 10 minutes more, or until bottom is golden. Leave oven on. Cool shell in pan on a rack.

Halve squash and scoop out seeds. Lightly brush each cut side with about 1 teaspoon oil and on a baking sheet roast squash, cut sides down, in middle of oven 40 minutes, or until soft.
While squash is roasting, thinly slice onion and in a heavy skillet cook in 1/2 tablespoon butter and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Cool squash and scoop out flesh. In a food processor purée squash. Add whole egg, egg yolk, and cream and blend well. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and stir in cheeses, herbs, onion, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour filling into shell, smoothing top.

In a small skillet melt remaining tablespoon butter and stir in bread crumbs until combined well. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture evenly over filling. Bake tart in middle of oven 40 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool tart in pan on rack 10 minutes and carefully remove rim.


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