Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dessert: pears in crust with Baci and amaretti

Who'd come to my funeral if I died today? How sad would my husband be and for how long? If I really love him, I would want him to be happy without me, no? Does harboring the secret hope that he'll mourn indefinitely make me a less than ideal wife?? OMG, can't I see my marriage is in trouble??? These are but an example of the runaway thoughts that plague the recent and unsettling phenomenon of unscheduled early morning risings. I have stopped fighting them and taken the unexpected extra time to the kitchen, where a solid round of experiential cooking can always be counted on to assuage anxiety.

Here are some of the things I am finding in my early morning cooking forays:

Neil Young sounds awesome through fancy noise-canceling headphones. My friend Shakira's recipe for shrub makes the loft smell amazing. Beans simmering on the stove warm much better than a space heater. I can add one more taste memory to Ernesto's rich baggage if he rises to freshly baked cookies. Pears in crust with Baci and amaretti are a task to put together but worth the effort. My husband does love me or he wouldn't put up with this.

The above mentioned pears, which I put together for my collaboration with Perugina Chocolates and are a perfect dessert for the Thanksgiving table, will be featured in an upcoming class, the first featuring a full Baci desserts docket. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am teaching it at the Bristol Farms Cooking School in Newport Beach on December 14.

If you are not in LA, here is the recipes for those pears.

 

Pere ripiene di Baci e amaretti in crosta Baci and amaretti filled pears wrapped in pastry crust

for each 2 juicy and very ripe small to medium pearsPere ripiene Baci e amaretti 3 Baci 3 amaretti cookies 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur 1/2 tablespoon sugar your favorite pastry crust recipe 1 egg 1/2 Perugina Luisa chocolate bar 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts or almonds

Finely chop the Baci and crumble the amaretti cookies. Mix the 2 together and toss with the Amaretto and sugar.

Peel the pears and cut them in half. Using a mellon baller, carefully scoop out the core to make a small hollow on each half.

Fill the hollows with the chocolates and cookies mixture and recompose each pear by reuniting two halves.

Roll the crust to about 1/2” and carefully wrap each pear with it. If you are inclined to do so, you can make some decorations resembling leaves and a stem.

Beat the egg and brush the pastry crust with it. Carefully place the wrapped pears on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350˚F for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden. Let cool completely before serving.

When ready to serve, melt the Perugina Luisa in a double boiler and finely chop the nuts. Place each pear on a plate, top with the melted chocolate and sprinkle with the nuts. Serve right away before the chocolate hardens.

 

More Italian Thanksgiving: chestnuts, porcini and sausage stuffing

This is the Thanksgiving stuffing that convinced my mother-in-law Elisabeth I was worthy of her youngest and sweetest, after all. I don't have a picture of this dish, since last time I made it I was not blogging. In lieu, I thought you might enjoy this candid shot of my delightful mom-in-law outside her London flat with her new youngest and sweetest, my little Ernesto. Note that I do not actually stuff the turkey, but bake the dressing separately using a homemade turkey stock (recipe below) to impart it that due and expected Thanksgiving flavor.

Farcia ai porcini e castagne Porcini and chestnuts stuffing

for 10 to 12 people 1 large sweet yellow onionDSC01554 2 celery stalks 3 to 4 thyme sprigs olive oil salt grated zest of 1 lemon 1/2 cup dry porcini 2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms 2 sweet Italian sausage links 4 slices stale country bread 1/2 cup grated parmigiano + 1 handful 2 cups cooked and peeled chestnuts (see note) pepper to taste nutmeg to taste 1 stick butter + 3 tablespoons 1 quart turkey stock (see recipe below)

Slice the onion in thin half moons. Peel and slice the celery thinly. Pick the leaves off the thyme sprigs and mince.

In a sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and soften the onion in it seasoned with a very generous pinch of salt.

Add the celery, thyme and lemon zest. Cover and braise slowly over low heat for about 30 minutes, adding liquid if necessary, until the onions are fully caramelized and a light golden brown.

In the meantime, soak the porcini in boiling water. Clean and slice the wild mushrooms.

Place the fresh mushrooms in a sauté pan with a very generous amount of salt. Cover and place over high heat. They will sweat lots of liquid, let them braise completely in it. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes.

In the meantime, drain the porcini and chop them roughly. Keep the soaking liquid and filter it through a fine sieve to eliminate any grit.

Remove the sausage from the casing and tear in small pieces with your hands. Cube and toast the stale bread.

Add the porcini to the wild mushroom with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, finish cooking adding the porcini soaking liquid if necessary. Deglaze with a bit of white wine and let all the liquid evaporate.

Crumble the chestnuts with your hands and place in a bowl. Add the caramelized onions, mushrooms, bread cubes, sausage, and grated parmigiano. Season to taste with pepper and nutmeg and adjust salt.

Melt the stick of butter rest and pour it and the stock over of the ingredients combined in the bowl. Toss well.

Grease a lasagna baking dish with one tablespoon of butter. Pour the stuffing in the dish and press it down lightly. Dust with the handful of grated parmigiano and dot with the last 2 tablespoons of butter.

Bake at 375˚F for about 40 minutes, until the sausage is fully cooked and slightly browned on top.

NOTES:

  • You can use fresh chestnuts if you have the time and patience to score, roast and peel them, while cursing yourself all the way through this endeavor. Or you can do as I do, and get precooked and peeled vacuum sealed chestnuts easily found in many markets.
  • Making the fresh turkey stock really does make a difference to the end result and it is so easy and fast, it is worth it. If you are, however, cinched for time, get a good chicken stock, prepacked or made fresh by your local butcher.

 

Brodo di tacchino Turkey stock

for 2 to 3 quarts of stock turkey neck turkey wingtips turkey gizzards (not the liver, keep that for the gravy) 1 carrot 1 celery stalk 1 yellow onion 5 to 6 cloves 2 bay leaves 2 lemon slices 4 peppercorns 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt

Crack the bones of the neck and wingtips with a cleaver. Peel the carrot and snap it in two pieces. Wash and snap the celery stalk. Peel the onion and spike it with the cloves. Throw everything in a stock pot.

Add the rest of the ingredients and cover with cold water up to almost the brim of the pot.

Bring to a boil and turn down the heat. Simmer for about 2 hours, skimming the top often to ensure a clear stock.

Strain the stock through a fine sieve. Discard the vegetables, but keep the neck.

You can serve that tender, tasty bit to your mother in law with some salsa verde or homemade mayonnaise and make her just a little happier about how well her son married every year...

My Italian Thanksgiving: tortelli or risotto. Or maybe both...

The richness of my life humbles me into thankfulness year round. Right now, for example, I am thankful that I get to write my first Thanksgiving blog entry. On Thursday I will be even more thankful to choose between pumpkin and amaretti tortelli OR risotto with squash, sage and taleggio. Maybe I even get to eat them both, and that will make me thankful the most.

Tortelli di zucca e amaretti Pumpkin and amaretti ravioli

kneading the dough

for 8 people Dough 5 eggs 1 generous pound flour salt

Filling 1 medium size squash or pumpkin with dense flesh and nutty flavor (butternut, kabocha, sugar pie, cinderella all work) 4 or 5 amaretti mostarda di frutta (see notes) grated zest of 1/2 an orange 1 egg 2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano ReggianoMaking tortelli zucca I nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Dressing 1/2 stick of butter 1 handful grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1 amaretto 1 pinch grated orange zest

Salt the flour and mound it in a well on a wooden board. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using a fork, start working the eggs gradually incorporating the flour while keeping the well from falling and the eggs from running.

When the dough and flour become too dense to work with a fork, bring the dough together by pressing it with your hands.

When you have a somewhat shaggy ball of dough, start kneading by stretching the dough, folding and pressing it into itself. Continue kneading until the dough is somewhat smooth and elastic and quickly snaps back into place when pulled. It will take about 15 minutes.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic.

Wrap tightly and let the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, sprinkle with salt and place in the oven to roast cut side up. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a knife. Scoop the flesh out into a bowl, mash and let cool.

Crumble the amaretti. Take a small piece of fruit out of the mostarda and mince finely. Combine the pumpkin, amaretti, mostarda, egg and parmigiano. Season with nutmeg salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the pasta into strips, they must be very thin, so that you are able to see the outline of your hand through them. Line small mounds of filling just above the center line of each pasta strip, 1” apart from each other.

Dip a pastry brush in water or egg wash. Brush in between each mound of filling and above the whole row.

the tortelli will look like this

Fold the strip of pasta in half and seal along the top where you brushed with water. Starting from one end and moving toward the other, seal in between the filling, paying mind to pushing out excess air.

With a fluted pastry wheel cut along the top edge, leaving a half inch margin of pasta, then cut in between each little ball of filling to obtain square ravioli.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Arrange the ravioli on it so that they do not overlap. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

To cook, drop the tortelli in boiling salted water. When they float to the surface, give them 3 to 4 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter, crumble the amaretti and mix it with the parmigiano and zest.

Douse about half the butter on the bottom of a warm platter. Drain the tortelli with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the platter. Douse them with the remaining butter and dust the dressed parmigiano all over them.

Serve immediately.

NOTES:

  • Mostarda di frutta is candied fruit in a mustard sauce. It is a condiment typical of some Northeastern areas of Italy, typically served along side salumi, boiled meats and aged cheeses. It has a spicy and sweet character, reminding of a chutney. This is a good one for this recipe and Formaggio Kitchen happens to be one of my favorite online places for difficult-to-purvey ingredients for my Italian pantry

 

Risotto alla zucca con taleggio e salvia al profumo di arancio Squash risotto with taleggio and sage with hint of orange

for 6 people 1 small acorn squash 6 to 8 sage leaves 1/4 pound taleggio cheese (see note) 2 quarts stock (chicken or vegetable) 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons minced onion grated zest of 1/2 an orange 7 handfuls of risotto rice splash of dry white wine 1 small handful of grated parmigiano salt and pepper to taste

Split the squash in half. Place one half on a sheet pan cut side up and sprinkle with salt. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a fork. Scoop out the flesh and puree it.

In the meantime, peel and dice small the remaining half of the squash. Stack the sage leaves and cut them in very thin ribbons. Dice the taleggio. Bring the stock to a boil and keep hot.

Soften the onion in the butter with the grated zest with half the sage. Add the diced squash and braise for about 5 minutes. Add the risotto and toast it.

Deglaze it with the wine. Stir in the squash pure and some stock.

Stir continuously while adding stock until the risotto is ready, generally 20 minutes from when the rice first touches heat, adjust salt and pepper as you move along the cooking process.

When ready, remove from the heat and quickly stir in the cheeses. Garnish with the remaining sage and serve immediately.

NOTES:

  • Taleggio is a delicious creamy cheese from Lombardia which is fairly easy to find in any well stocked cheese counter
  • If you are in San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery carries a good farmhouse one, or a less expensive one can be found at Lucca Ravioli on Valencia at 22nd. Any Whole Foods is likely to carry it