Weekday Dinner, Chicken with Mushroom and Shallot Stuffing and Mustard Pan Sauce

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Since poultry is such a popular form of protein, I am always working to create recipes that offer variety and big, savory flavors without too much fuss. Sometimes the inspiration is found in classics, like duxelle. But, before you turn away at the sound of this French term, trust me–this is an easy technique that you can use often–with beef, pork, and with chicken. Duxelle is a very fine chop of mushrooms and shallots, prepared quickly with a few pulses of the food processor, and sautéed in butter. You may find duxelle coating a beef tenderloin beneath the pastry crust in a fine restaurant, or tucked under the skin of a roast chicken.

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In this case today, duxelle is tucked under the skin of some plump, economical chicken leg quarters, which are then pan seared and then roasted in the oven until they are tender and succulent. The chicken quarters give up their juices that are then combined with some stock, hard cider, crème fraiche and mustard for a quick and flavorful pan sauce, which literally takes about 5 minutes while the chicken rests before serving.

The side dish this evening is a favorite of mine, a brown and red rice pilaf with chopped dried apricots, leeks and pine nuts. This is also a very easy preparation, and it is one of those recipes I love, because you can vary the flavoring agents. You don’t have any apricots on hand, but have dried cranberries? Wonderful! You don’t have leeks but have sweet onions? Great! Pine nuts are pricey–you can use slivered almonds.

Chicken Stuffed with Duxelle, with Crème Fraiche and Mustard Pan Sauce

Serves 4
Total cooking time, 50 minutes
Ingredients

Duxelles
16 ounces fresh mushrooms of your choice
2 large shallots
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Method
Place the mushrooms and shallot into the food processor and pulse just 3-4 times. That’s it! You will have a finely chopped mixture. Do not over-process, or you will have a wet paste created by the mushrooms.

Met the butter in a 12 inch shallow range-top to oven skillet, and cook the duxelle over medium-high heat, seasoning with the salt, pepper and thyme, and stirring for about 5 minutes. What a wonderful, earthy, buttery perfume this gives off! Remove the duxelle to a bowl to cool down.

The Chicken

You need one piece of chicken per serving, and you can use chicken breasts if you prefer, or a combination of large thighs and breast halves, if you wish. Trim away any excess fat.
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons canola oil
salt, pepper, thyme
Duxelle
1 cup hard cider or white wine
1 cup chicken stock
7 ounces crème fraiche
2 heaping soup spoons Dijon mustard

Add the butter and oil to the same 12 inch skillet and heat over medium-high heat til sizzling. Loosen the skin of the chicken pieces and place 1/4 of the duxelles mixture under the skin of each piece. The skin holds it in place nicely.

Place the chicken into the sizzling skillet and brown the stuffed side for about 10 minutes to get some browning action. Them flip the pieces with stuffed side up and place in a 400 degree F oven for about 40 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer registers 165.
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Remove the chicken to a platter to rest, pour the fat out of the skillet leaving just a few tablespoons behind.
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Add 1 cup of hard cider and place the skillet on medium-high heat, stirring up any caramelization in the pan. Cook and stir for just a few minutes. Add 1 cup chicken broth or stock. Cook til bubbling and then stir in the crème fraiche and mustard, whisking until smooth, just a few minutes will do. Initially, the crème fraiche may appear curdled, but with whisking, it becomes smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning. I strained the sauce to remove the brown bits just for a more attractive, smoother appearance. Spoon some over the chicken and serve the remainder in a sauce boat.

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The flavors of this dish are rich with browned, roasted chicken, earthy mushrooms and shallot, the herbaceous thyme, and the sweet-savory pan sauce with subtle apple from the cider and spice or Dijon mustard. The chicken is tender and succulent.

Rice Pilaf with Apricots, Leeks and Pine Nuts

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon butter
1 large leek, sliced thinly
16 dried apricots, chopped coarsely
1 cup mixed red and brown rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons pine nuts

Sauté the leeks in butter in a deep 12 inch skillet for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the pine nuts and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and lower the heat to low and cook for about 65 minutes, or until the rice is tender and liquid has absorbed. Add the pine nuts and fluff with fork. Serve. This is one of those slightly sweet-savory dishes due to the use of the mild, sweet leeks, dried fruit, thyme, and then the nutty flavors of the rice and pine nuts. This is a great side dish for poultry or pork.

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I would love to hear your creative ways with poultry for weekday dinners, or any comments that you have about these recipes. The comments box is just below this post.

Good Reads! Baking with Julia

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Recently, I have been viewing reruns of one of Julia Child’s three Master Chef Series television shows, Baking with Julia, and after watching the episode that featured Nancy Silverton teaching Julia and us how to make Brioche, I decided that I had to have the book that followed this series in my library. The book is written by Dorie Greenspan, James Beard Award Winner for Around My French Table, one of my favorite cookbooks, but Baking with Julia features the recipes of twenty-seven chefs for breads, tarts, pies, cakes, all manner of baked goods, sweet and savory.

There are simple daily breads, as well as traditional, much loved specialty breads, such as Onion Bialys, Challah, beautifully braided Finnish Pulla and Brioche, and the savory and beautiful Fougasse, that leaf-shaped flat loaf that is similar to Italian Foccacia. There are recipes for sweet breads and pastries, with instructions for making puff pastry and croissants, for pies, tarts, and cakes for special occasions.

There is an introductory chapter that is a primer on ingredients and equipment, including a very helpful page on different flours and selecting flours based on the purpose. There is a chapter at the back of the book that gives brief biographies of the chefs/bakers, whose recipes fill this book. The featured bakers are the “cream of the crop,” such as Nancy Silverton, of the renowned La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, and Alice Medrich, twice the winner of the James beard Cookbook of the Year Award, renowned for her chocolate creations. There are recipes by Marion Cunningham, who has written for Bon Appetite, Gourmet, Saveur, and who began her career by assisting James Beard in his cooking classes.

There are many beautiful photographs and helpful introductions to each chapter that highlight the essential techniques and lessons that are taught for particular types of baked products. This is a book for new and experienced bakers. As I reviewed recipes by bakers who were featured on the television series, Baking with Julia, I can see her sometimes quizzical look, hear her lilting voice, and see the look of wonder on her face at times. Even late in life, her passion for cooking, baking and collaborating was very evident. I hope to be similar when I am in my 80s!

But, before then, I plan to begin baking my way through this book, practicing my baking skills and sharing my successes and challenges with you. I have also enrolled in a bread baking class offered by local Master Pastry Chef Michael Ostrander, which will take place October 12, 2014, and the story of that experience, as well as photos, will be posted, so watch for them!

Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan, First Edition, 1996, A La Carte, Inc., Publishing, is available on amazon.com.

Italian-Inspired Sunday Supper: Lamb Sausage and White Bean Soup

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Most often, Sundays were very relaxed days in my childhood home, reserved for church, family gatherings, and mid-afternoon Sunday supper. I have fallen into a similar tradition in recent years, rarely planning any busy-ness or social outings away from home on Sundays. Perhaps a long walk, some gardening, perhaps a day of reading and researching recipes, cooking Sunday supper, and maybe a nap–these are my Sundays now! Today, I was in the mood for a simple, rustic Italian soup, similar to one that my father used to make for us.

Lamb or sausage and white beans, those creamy cannellini beans, and rosemary are classic Italian combinations, the flavor palate originating probably around the area of Tuscany. I am sometimes able to source a sweet, gamey lamb sausage, house-made, at my local Italian market, Mazzaro’s Italian Market.  We love lamb and consider this sausage a delicacy! When that sausage is available, then I like to make a dish with white beans. Here is the recipe that developed once I surveyed my pantry and refrigerator.

Lamb Sausage and White Bean Soup
Serves 10 (it freezes well, and I love having some on hand for a busy day)
Total prep ad cooking time, about 1 hour
I prepare this in a 5 quart round enamel over cast iron pot.

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 fat cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium sweet onions, diced
2 heaping Tablespoons tomato paste
4 ribs celery, diced
1 cup diced fennel
4 large carrots, scrubbed and diced
6 ounces baby spinach
1 pound lamb sausage or Italian sausage of your choice
48 ounces chicken stock
4 – 15 ounce cans cannellini beans, drained (I had only 2 in the pantry, so also used half cannellini, half red kidney beans)
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

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Method

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the 5 quart pot, and add the sausage, cut into 1 inch thick slices, and the chopped onion. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the sausage is browned. Add the tomato paste, and cook, stirring for about 3-5 minutes. If you can caramelize the tomato paste a bit, it deepens the flavor of the broth.
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Add the garlic, fennel, celery, and carrot, and stir, cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the stock and heat, bringing to just a low boil.

 

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Add the beans and the rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. The beans are very bland, so salt well.

Lower the heat to simmer and simmer for about 40 minutes. The celery and carrots should be tender but still have a bit of nice crunch to the texture. Add the spinach and cook for just 5 more minutes.

I served the soup with focaccia, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary.

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This is one of those basic Italian soup recipes that you can tinker with to suit your palate and your approach to food. You can make an entirely vegetarian version by omitting the meat and using a vegetable stock. If you are not a fennel fan, omit it. I most often use chard rather than spinach but had not chard on hand today. You can use kale, but it requires longer cooking time, so should be added with the beans. If you are not a rosemary fan, sage or thyme are good options.

By the way, the slices of pancetta that you see in the photo of my assembled ingredients was utilized in a Brussels Sprouts-Butternut Squash Hash that will appear in a post tomorrow.

This version had the sweet and gamey flavor of lamb, which we love, the savory garlic and rosemary flavors, fresh peppery celery and sweet anise flavor of the fennel, the creaminess of the beans. It was a soul-satisfying Italian-inspired Sunday supper!

What are your Sunday supper traditions? I love hearing your stories, as well as responses to the recipes that you find hear, so please comment below the post.

Celebrating the Feast of San Gennaro! Mussels in White Wine Sauce with Bucatini Pasta

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Although the people that I know who are of Italian descent need no particular reason to savor the pleasure of good food with friends and family, there are Italian traditions that result in festive gatherings around food. The Feast of San Gennaro is celebrated annually from September 19 for 11 days in New York City as a street festival in Little Italy. This has been a tradition in Little Italy since 1926, when Italian immigrants decided to duplicate the tradition that they celebrated in Naples. In Little Italy this week, the 35 Italian restaurants will welcome visitors with traditional foods, and there will be approximately 200 vendors of food and other products on Mulberry and Motts Streets between Broome and Canal Streets. There is live music and a very festive atmosphere. Through the years, the not-for-profit association that hosts this festival has raised nearly 2 million dollars for New York charities that serve families and children.

Although there is this significant secular side to the feast, the Feast of San Gennaro began as a religious commemoration of Saint Januerius, the Patron Saint of Naples, who was martyred for his beliefs around the year 305 A.D. His crystalized blood is said to be hermetically sealed in two ampules, and miraculously liquefies three times each year with the first occurrence falling on September 19. On years when the blood does not liquefy, there are tragic events predicted. Italians around Naples view San Gennaro as a powerful and universal helper. There is a Roman Catholic religious celebration today in Naples.

However, there is little sign of solemnity or worry about tragedy as New Yorkers and visitors enjoy the carnival, with daring rides and Italian as well as other ethnic foods.

So, while New Yorkers are enjoying The Feast of San Gennaro, I will prepare a few Italian-inspired dishes this week, beginning with Mussels in White Wine Sauce with Bucatini. This is an elegant but very easy dish to prepare.
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We have enjoyed mussels in our travels, in Paris in white wine, in Brussels served in a pot steamed in white wine and herbs and served “moules-frites” accompanied by twice fried potatoes and aioli, and in Italy cozze fra diavolo, or mussels in spicy red sauce. In Italy, mussels, cozze, are farm-raised growing on nylon ropes in the Mar Piccolo, or “little sea” in the Gulf of Taranto on the coast of the boot heel of southern Italy. They can be harvested almost year-round.

In the U.S., the blue mussel is farmed in New England and in Washington State. Prince Edward Island, off of the coast of Nova Scotia, produces the bulk of the mussels that we see in the U.S. This aquaculture is highly regulated, and you can actually source some good vacuum-packed frozen mussels in the shell when fresh are not available, which is what I did this time. Frozen mussels are properly cleaned and partially cooked prior to freezing. Look for Canadian or U.S.A. produced mussels and the BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) label so that you are certain the mussels were raised and packaged with the best safety and environmental practices.

Mussels are high in protein, selenium, zinc, and are low in cholesterol. For this recipe, the sauce comes together quickly, within 15 minutes, and the preparation is made easy by the use of frozen mussels, so no scrubbing to remove beards and no worries about gritty sand.

Mussels in White Wine Sauce with Bucatini Pasta
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large leek, cleaned and sliced into thin rings
1 or 2 fresh red chilies, seeded and chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, tomatoes halved
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
Juice of 2 large lemons
1 pound package vacuum packed frozen mussels (do not thaw!)

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To thicken the sauce:
For beurre manie, 2 Tablespoons butter, and 2 Tablespoons flour

1 lb. Bucatini pasta, or spaghetti of your choice (I like Garofalo Bucatini for this dish–Bucatini is a very thick spaghetti with a hole running through the center)

To finish the dish:
1 cup finely chopped parsley
zest of 2 large lemons

Method

Place a large pasta pot filled 3/4 full with water on high heat to bring to a boil.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, place the olive oil in a 12 inch deep skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and leeks and cook until the mushrooms are slightly browned and the leeks softened. Add the chilies and garlic and stir, cooking for just 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes begin to wilt and give off liquid. Add the wine to the skillet and cook for about a minute or two. Then, add the lemon juice and broth, and cook until it just comes to a boil.

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Make a beurre manie, which is a quick method to thicken a sauce. Blend well the butter and flour in a small bowl, using a small whisk or a spoon, until well-combined. Whisk the beurre manie into the tomato, garlic, wine and broth, and whisk until smooth and thickened. Turn the heat down to low. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the sealed package of mussels in the boiling water and cook according to directions. When cooked, the shells will all open. Open the package and discard any shells that did not open. Pour the mussels and any juice into the sauce in the large skillet. Coat all of the mussels with the sauced, which will nuzzle into the shells, flavoring the mussels beautifully. If the sauce seems too thick for your taste, then use a bit of the pasta water to thin it, adding 1 ladle at a time and stirring until you have the desired thickness.

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Cook the pasta according to directions, drain, and toss in a large bowl with the mussels and sauce. Add the parsley and lemon zest and toss. Serve.

The flavors of this dish are briny from the mussels, garlicky, fresh with lemon and parsley, and savory with white wine and broth. There is a mild sweet onion flavor from the leeks, and the earthy flavor of mushrooms. What pleased me was when my husband, who is not as wild about mussels as I am, said, “This is phenomenal!” This made for a rather elegant, romantic little dinner for the two of us, served with white wine and a simple salad on a Friday evening.

What festive occasions are bringing you together with friends and families to celebrate, and what are some of your favorite celebratory dishes?

Fall Is In the Air: Sweet and Spicy Corn Chowder with Chorizo

“I am so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Fall is coming to Florida, and I know this because I can see the constellation Orion in the early morning eastern sky. The color of the sky is a deeper blue. The beautiful Southern magnolias have sprouted their pale red fruits that follow the creamy, sweet-scented waxy blossoms. In fact, on my morning walk today with Bailey, a cone fell and struck me in the forehead! I am taking this as a good omen that fall will come soon, and the daytime highs will no longer reach 90! I am optimistic. The sunlight in early morning no longer floods our northeastern exposure family room, but instead washes over the heartpine floors of our living room.

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So, it is time to pot up some herbs–a variety of sages, with plenty for all of those autumnal dishes that are more savory with sage. Sage adds its woodsy flavor to risotto with butternut squash, and, of course to roast turkey, with whole leaves placed under the skin in a mosaic pattern. Pineapple sage is wonderful for pork and for fruit salads. It’s time to plant thyme, the French variety and lemon thyme, both so good with roast chicken. Sweet basil, rosemary–especially the blue Tuscan variety–chervil, parsley, all of the herbs that I use in great quantities will be planted this month in my neatly contained herb garden in pots that are nestled in my east garden, among the semi-tropical landscaping.

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Soon, it will be October 1, when the Saturday Morning Market returns to its home on the waterfront, and we will rejoice! Here, we can source the freshest, best quality produce from local farms, including Worden Farms. Worden Farms is located about 100 miles south of my home, and produces the best quality organic lettuces, kales, carrots, beets, French butter radishes, squashes, and vegetables too numerous to list. Our market is one of the largest in the southeast, and attracts about 10,000 visitors each Saturday. It is an every Saturday tradition! Here, you can pick up a loaf of artisanal bread baked by a talented baker from Rome, hand-made fresh pastas, beef from grass-fed cows, local fresh fish and seafood, and an amazing array of ingredients or prepared foods. There is live music and a very festive mood, and it takes place on our beautiful waterfront. Expect weekly market reports here beginning October 1!

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The Florida climate stretches the growing season, so that tomatoes, sweet corn, scallions, avocados, and mangos continue to be plentiful. Even so, I have been shucking dozens of ears of sweet corn throughout the summer and freezing it, so that I will have an abundance of it for fall and winter months. Even though the daytime highs are still in the 90s here, we were in the mood for corn chowder. I make many versions of corn chowder, always dependent on market finds and essential ingredients available in the pantry. I had been unable to source fresh chorizo for about a month locally, and finally, it arrived at our usual source. Chorizo is a pork sausage, original to Spain, Portugal and Mexico, which can be fresh or cured, or cured and smoked. Dried, smoked peppers give chorizo its distinctive flavor and color. The Spanish use a smoky paprika in their chorizo, and I love the flavor that this provides in corn chowder.

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Corn Chowder with Chorizo

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Serves 10
Cooking time 1 hour
5 quart round enamel over cast iron dutch oven is perfect for cooking this chowder, but use your preferred soup-pot
You can make an excellent vegetarian variation by omitting the chorizo, using vegetable stock, and adding a Tablespoon of Spanish Paprika to the stock.

Ingredients
8 ounces fresh chorizo, removed from casing
2 medium sweet onions, diced
1 large leek, washed and cut in half lengthwise, then cut into thin slices
5 ribs celery, sliced once lengthwise and then sliced on the diagonal
4 carrots, scrubbed and diced small (I had organic rainbow carrots on hand, purple, deep orange, yellow, so I used these)
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
3 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and diced into 1/2 inch dice (I like russet potatoes for chowders, because they are meaty and have plenty of potato flavor)
2 pounds corn kernels (you can use frozen)
salt and pepper to taste
48 ounces chicken or vegetable stock
1 can green chilies (optional, but I like the sweet-vinegar chilies taste whenever I make this paprika-spiced version of corn chowder)
1/2 pint of heavy cream (You can omit this if you like, but you may want to bake, peel and mash a large russet potato and add it to the cooking liquid to thicken the soup and enrich it a bit)

Method
I like to gather all of the ingredients before I begin, and then I chop all of the vegetables first. Place the pot on medium heat and add the chorizo to the cold pot. Cook over medium heat until it begins to brown and to give off its fat.

Add the chopped sweet onions and stir, cooking until the onions appear translucent, about 7-8 minutes.

Add the leeks and celery, and cook and stir an additional 5 minutes. If it appears that there is insufficient fat given off by the sausage, then add a tablespoon or two of oil or butter. Add the diced red pepper and the carrot, and stir for just a minute or two.

By now, the sausage is cooked, in fine pieces, and there is are brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the stock and stir, scraping up brown bits of flavor. Add the diced potatoes and corn. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste.

When the soup just comes to a boil, turn the heat down to simmer, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Add the cream and stir, heating sufficiently to serve. You can serve this with a drizzle of crème fraiche and chopped chives, if you wish.

This chowder has a rich, savory and sweet flavor. The broth is slightly thick with cream, and the broth is a bit of a rosy color due to the paprika in the chorizo. The broth is savory and spicy but not hot. The corn, onions, leeks and red peppers contribute the sweetness. The potatoes are meaty and creamy, and the celery still has some crunch. This is a very satisfying, hearty, comforting soup that is thick with vegetables, which makes it very nutritious.

This is really a one-pot meal, so I served it simply with Cheddar-Chive Scones.

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This is one of those recipes that you can tinker with to create your own favorite version. At times, I make it with cubes of chicken breast or shredded leftover roast chicken. I sometimes emphasize a Tex-Mex version by adding black beans and some fresh tomato, diced, and some cumin and chipotle chilies in adobo for spice. I make an elegant, less chunky version with crab, sherry, and a larger portion of cream. Let your palate and preferences be your guide, and be creative!

Cheddar-Chive Scones

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These scones are actually savory, buttermilk biscuits flavored with cheddar cheese and chives, and can be prepared with 5 minutes prep time and 15 minutes baking time. They begin with my Basic Buttermilk Scone recipe, which was featured in a previous post.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
You need an ungreased half-sheet pan.
Yields 15 scones

Ingredients
3 cups all purpose flour (I like King Arthur organic, unbleached)
1 teaspoon salt\1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon dried chives
2 and 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 Tablespoons butter, cold, and cut into small cubes (I prefer Kerrygold)
1 cup finely grated cheddar cheese (I used Kerrygold Reserve Aged Cheddar)
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
egg wash, 1 egg beaten with a few tablespoons of buttermilk

Method

Whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl to combine well. Now, cut in the butter using a pastry cutter, or your fingers, which is the method that I prefer. Cut in the butter until you have a coarse mixture with pea-size bits.

Add the grated cheese, and then the buttermilk. Use a wooden spoon to mix the buttermilk and cheese into the flour-butter mixture until wellyou have a well-moistened dough.

Flour your hands, and turn the dough out onto a floured piece of parchment paper. Pat the dough out into either a circle or a rectangle that is evenly 1/2 inch thick. Do not knead or over-handle this dough. Simply insure that the dough has come together and then pat it out. You can use a 2 inch biscuit cutter, or cut a rectangle of dough into squares, using a knife, which is what I elected to do.

Place the scones on the baking sheet and brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for approximately 15 minutes. They should be pale golden brown.

This recipe makes a moist, savory biscuit, with a flaky, buttery exterior and moist interior. It is terrific with soups, chili, or served at brunch. You can vary the cheeses and the herbs utilized–parmesan-thyme is a very tasty combination.

Readers, please share a story about your favorite version of corn chowder, and, as always, share your experiences with my recipes in the Comment section at the end of each post. Thank you for visiting!

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An Italian Feast with Friends: Lasagne all Ricotta e Salsiccia (Lasagna with Ricotta and Sausage)

“Une bella risata e come il sole in casa.”  A good laugh is sunshine in the house.  An Italian proverb.

“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures.  For in the dew little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. ”  Khalil Gibran

Benvenuti, Amici!  Welcome, friends! Although lasagna is a celebratory dish in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy that commemorates the birth of a baby girl, today, we are celebrating friendship! We are preparing a traditional Italian-American feast for a group of friends who meet regularly for conversation and coffee and laughter. The conversations often include stories about food–our food loves, our food histories,  the local food scene, our cuisine explorations, as well as current events and political issues.  One day recently, the discussion became so enthusiastic, that we found ourselves planning a dinner party, and there was a request for lasagna. Lasagna is one of my favorite Italian dishes of childhood.

The lasagna of my childhood is the Italian-American version of lasagna.

 

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Authentic Italian Lasagna originated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, which is just south of the Veneto region and the Lombardy region (which most people know as the Italian Lake District), and is very dissimilar to Italian-American lasagna. Marcella Hazan, in her book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, explains that classic lasagna consists of layers of thin, tender sheets of pasta layered with a fine mixture of artichokes, or mushrooms, or meat. There is no hearty meat and tomato ragu, no ricotta filling, no gooey, melted mozzarella. It may be served in small squares as a primi piatti, or first course. Traditional Bolognese lasagna is yet another dish. Bologna is located in the Emilia-Romagna region, and is the land of fields of vermillion poppies, Parma ham, Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, the Trebbiano grape that becomes balsamic vinegar, and tender tagliatelle and tortellini pastas. It is also a wondrous farming region renowned for pumpkin and porcini mushrooms.

Bolognese lasagna consists of layers of tender pasta, alternating with a small amount of béchamel sauce–a white sauce made with milk and flavored with a bit of nutmeg–and a Bolognese-style light tomato sauce. In the contemporary Italian food scene today, we may see a lasagna with rabbit ragu, as in Todd English’s restaurant, Olives, in Boston. or Mario Batali’s version, which contains veal, pork and spinach.  I have made many contemporary versions of lasagna, including a brunch lasagna that consists of layers of pasta, alternating with soft-boiled eggs, crumbled smoky bacon, asparagus and hollandaise.  For Christmas, a wild mushroom and roasted butternut squash version of lasagna appears on my table, made with béchamel sauce and gruyere cheese.

But, the baked lasagna that Americans are most familiar with is the version that my father made for us in childhood. His father was from Umbria, and I wish that I knew the origins of my father’s method for making lasagna. His version is the one that I am preparing today for friends.   This lasagna has a hearty meat, tomato, vegetable and herb ragu, made with Italian sausage today; layers of thin and tender pasta sheets imported from Italy; and a fresh ricotta cheese filling. There are three steps to preparing this lasagna, but the work can be eased by preparing your sauce a day or two in advance, which is the path that I took in order to make the day of the gathering a bit easier.

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Italian Sausage Ragu

This recipe makes approximately 7 quarts of sauce. Leftovers can be frozen or preserved in jars, if you wish.
Cooking time: about 3.5 hours

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds Italian sausage, cut into 1 inch chunks (I used a combination of mild Italian, a Roma blend that is a Mazzaro product, which has some cappicola ham added to the meat mixture, and a tomato-basil flavored mild Italian. Mazzaro is my local Italian market. Seek a source in your area of the world that makes great sausage! )
3 medium onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
4 fresh carrots, scrubbed and diced small
1 and 1/2 cups full-bodied red wine (I had an Italian Pinot Noir on hand)
4 – 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes (my preference is Muir Glen organics. I realize that most Italian cooks would choose San Marzano tomatoes, but I prefer organic and a non-BPA can and low sodium. Muir Glen tomato products have a great fresh, ripe tomato flavor.)
3 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon dried Basil
1/3 cup each finely chopped Fresh oregano, basil and flat leaf parsley

I used a 7 quart enamel over cast iron dutch oven to make the sauce, as this type of pot is perfect for a slow-cook method. Brown the sausage in the olive oil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until there is little noticeable pink color to the meat. Add the onion and stir, continuing to sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and carrots and stir to combine.

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Next, add the wine, and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom and sides of the pot. Cook for about 3 minutes, and then add the tomatoes and dried herbs. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer.

Simmer for about 3 and 1/2 hours. Taste periodically and adjust seasoning. Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Prior to the last half hour of simmering, add 1/3 cup each finely chopped fresh basil, oregano and flat leaf parsley. Some cooks add sugar to their tomato sauces, reportedly to sweeten the acidic tomatoes, but I find that if you utilize good quality tomatoes, sweet onions, carrots and basil, there is plenty of sweetness. This recipe yields a very hearty, meaty, thick ragu that is both sweet and savory.

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The Lasagna Filling
Ingredients
3 pounds fresh ricotta cheese (this is a soft, milky cheese best purchased from an Italian or specialty grocer, but the name brands commonly found in the supermarket work, too)
5 large eggs
1/3 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 cup finely grated Italian cheese, such as an Asiago or a Pecorino Romano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Method
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until the yolks and whites are very well-combined. Then stir in the ricotta, combining well. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Set aside.

Lasagna Assembly

Serves 8 people generously with leftovers.

15 x 11 x 2 and 1/2 inch baking dish
2 – 500 gram (1.1 pounds) packages of Cara Nonna Lasagne pasta
This is a superior pasta product that is produced in Puglia, Italy from wheat and semolina flour and eggs. The pasta squares are thin and when cooked will provide the closest thing to fresh pasta that you will find. It does not require pre-cooking prior to constructing the lasagna. This is distinctively different than the curly-edged, thick lasagna noodles that the name-brands provide. The pasta is thin and tender. Check your local Italian market or specialty grocer for this product. I used one package of original, and one package of spinach lasagna noodles.
Sauce
Filling
Grated Asiago or Pecorino Roman for the top

Ladle a generous amount of sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. You are going to create 3 layers of pasta and filling. Add a layer of uncooked pasta to the dish, overlapping a bit and breaking to fit so that the bottom is well-covered. Add a light layer of sauce, followed by a layer of approximately a cup and a half of the ricotta filling. Add an additional layer of pasta, then sauce, then filling. Add one additional filled layer, which makes a total or three, ending with pasta, a generous amount of sauce, and the finely grated cheese.

Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Place a rimmed sheet pan on an oven shelf beneath this baking dish to catch any dripping of sauce that may occur. Allow the lasagna to rest for 5-10 minutes prior to cutting and serving. Serve the remaining sauce in a separate bowl.

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This lasagna cuts very easily and holds its shape. The layers of pasta are tender; the filling has the milky flavor of ricotta and herbaceous flavor provided by the parsley; and the meat sauce is sweet, savory and hearty. There is a depth of flavor from the wine, well-spiced sausages, herbs, and vegetables and from the long, slow cooking.

When our guests arrived, we began with a simple antipasto platter to stimulate appetites–some Pinot Grigio-infused salami, some cheeses, a Sicilian olive salad, some sweet red grapes and crusty long Italian loaf.

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For our Primi Piatti, or first plate, we served a simple salad of dark, leafy romaine lettuce; sliced fennel, which has a sweet, licorice-like flavor and crunch like celery; sliced pears; bits of gorgonzola cheese; and walnuts with a simple olive oil-balsamic vinegar and shallot dressing.

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For a vegetable, we served fresh spinach, quickly sautéed with olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper.

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We served a variety of wines with the lasagna to please the palates of our guests. Some prefer whites, so we served a Sauvignon Blanc. For those who like light-bodied reds, we served a Beaujolais that was graciously provided by a guest. For those who love a full-bodied red wine, we offered two Italian reds, a Cabernet and a Pinot Noir.

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Neighbor Jackie, who is perfecting her pie-baking prowess, baked a gorgeous and delectable cherry pie from scratch, using the sweet Bing cherries from the market, and a flaky, tender crust. A bit giddy from the wine, we neglected to photograph that beautiful pie!

This dinner was just as a dinner with friends should be. We lingered for hours, enjoying the pleasure of food, wine, conversation and good company, with much humorous bantering and laughter. Many ideas were tossed about for a menu for the next gathering–perhaps Cassoulet with duck?

Readers, I would love to hear about your feasts with friends and favorite dishes that you share. You can use the Comments box below each post to tell me about your culinary escapades!

 

Composed Dinner Salad, French Concept But Italian Flair

Salade Composee, or Salade Complete, is a French style of composing a salad with a number of components, artfully arranged, because we eat with our eyes first. Adopting this concept is a wonderful way to make an entrée salad (entrée in the American sense and not the French sense, meaning the main course), that is a confluence of textures, flavors, and nutrients. The first Salade Complete that I savored was at a bouchon in Lyon, France, a Salade Lyonnaise, with crisp frisee, smoky lardon, crunchy croutons, topped with a perfectly poached egg. Simple, fresh ingredients, perfect!
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The second Salade Complete that I sampled was in Provence, the familiar Salade Nicoise, crisp greens tossed with tuna, nicoise olives, cooked potatoes and green beans, dressed lightly with olive oil. This is a favorite of mine.

One of the finest things about Salade Complete is that it is really a technique, which means that you can be creative, imaginative, and bring together an entrée salad where the individual components could stand alone, but are so much more as an ensemble cast. When this concept becomes part of your repertoire, then you can shop the markets for fresh, quality ingredients and then develop your salad creatively using your seasonal market finds. So, yesterday, I surveyed my market finds and available sources of protein and created a Salade Compose with a rather Italian flair.
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Entrée Salad with Marinated Kobe London Broil, Roasted Red Peppers, Ceci, and Plum Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves 4

Ingredients

1 head of Red Leaf Butter Lettuce (use the lettuce that you prefer, based on your market finds)
2 15 ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
2 large red bell peppers, roasted and sliced
4 plum tomatoes, quartered (I also threw in a portion of a large, ripe yellow tomato)
1 bunch fresh broccoli florets, steamed
1 and 1/2 pounds London Broil, 1 and 1/2-2 inches thick
1/2 bottle red wine (I had a Mezzacorona Pinot Noir from the Adige near the Italian Alps on hand)
2 Tablespoons Savory Spice Shop Limnos lamb Rub, divided, or your favorite Italian or Mediterranean herb blend
4 slices crusty Italian bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Sharp aged Provolone Cheese
Dressing:
9 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 and 1/2 teaspoons Limnos Lamb Rub

Method

There are a few steps to making this salad, and some can be completed early in the day or the day before. For example, I roasted the red peppers while I enjoyed my morning coffee. I also placed the thawed London Broil in a shallow dish and covered it with red wine, a drizzle of oilive oil and a liberal spread of the Limnos Lamb Rub herb blend. Remember, this particular blend contains garlic, lemon peel, rosemary, basil, thyme, marjoram, and fennel. You can create your own blend, as you wish. Cover, and place in the refrigerator until half hour prior to cooking.
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Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and place the peppers whole on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes until the skin is charred and blistered, and the peppers appear to be collapsing. When they are cool enough to handle, core and peel them over a bowl–it’s messy! Slice them into strips. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and set aside.

For the Dressing, combine all of the dressing ingredients and whisk together. Taste with a piece of lettuce and adjust the seasoning as needed. Set aside.

For the croutons: cut 4 1 inch thick slices of crusty Italian bread into 1 inch cubes; drizzle with oil; sprinkle with Limnos Lamb Rub; bake on a baking sheet in a 425 degree F oven for about 10 minutes, til golden brown. Set aside.

For the Garbanzo Bean Salad: toss the drained garbanzo beans with the diced onion and a few Tablespoons of the balsamic dressing. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Steam the broccoli until just tender and still bright green. Cool and then toss with juice of 1/2 lemon. Set aside.

Compose the Salad

Arrange a layer of the lettuce on a large serving platter, and dress the leaves lightly with some of the dressing.
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Begin to arrange your salad components in an attractive design. Drizzle with additional dressing.

Pat the London Broil dry and either grill it over indirect medium-high heat on your grill, 7-9 minutes each side for medium rare, or broil it for the same amount of time. Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes prior to slicing it on the diagonal across the grain into thin slices.
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Add the sliced beef to the platter; add the toasted croutons; add the shavings of aged Provolone; and drizzle the remaining dressing over all.
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Composed salads are so versatile. You can create ones to please vegetarians. You can alter them seasonally, as I have in the past, to include autumnal produce, such as roasted beets and butternut squash. You can substitute roasted potatoes for the croutons. The creative variations on this technique are infinite!

This particular variation provided buttery, tender lettuce; red-wine and herb-infused tender beef; ripe, sweet tomatoes; tender, lemony broccoli; garbanzos spiced with diced onion; sweet roasted red pepper; crunchy croutons; all punctuated with the fruity olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette and the sharp aged Provolone cheese! It provided a delicious, one-dish weekday summer dinner!

Please share your favorite composed salad variations–would love to hear them!

Playing with Puff Pastry! Apple Tart and a Citrus Mascarpone Cream Tart with Berries

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I have re-watched a pastry chef instructing Julia Child how to make puff pastry from scratch a dozen times, and, although I aspire to do this at least once in my lifetime, I will not do it this weekend! I love puff pastry and am grateful that I can source a good quality French puff pastry ready-made with 100% butter by Dufour. I even picked up a package of their Chocolate Puff pastry, and will save that for another day! When we entertain, which is often, I love the shortcuts that I can take playing with puff pastry for savory or sweet creations. I call it playing with puff pastry, because I find it light-hearted, adventurous, imperfect, sometimes messy, but always delicious in outcome. I have baked fresh sweet turnovers, tarts, jalousies, Danish, savory tarts and strudels, and crisp and flaky finger foods to go with cocktails.

Here are some tips for working with frozen, prepared puff pastry to insure the best results.

  • Thaw the dough in your refrigerator overnight, or on a sheet of parchment on your counter for at least 45 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough on a sheet of parchment paper, floured lightly, to prevent sticking and to contain the mess a bit.
  • Brush off any excess flour before you form the dough.
  • Once you form the dough, refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the structure to return to the pastry dough before baking.
  • To bake prior to filling, either “dock” the dough, meaning to prick the bottom and sides with the tines of a fork, or use dried beans to weight the shell so that it does not shrink as it bakes.
  • If you have scraps of dough after forming your creation, you can refrigerate to chill and then utilize by cutting into strips, twisting, sprinkling with herbs and grated hard, sharp, salty cheese and baking for a savory snack, or cinnamon and sugar for a sweet.

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Easy French Apple Tart with Puff Pastry Crust
Makes 1-9 inch tart
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

Ingredients
1 sheet of puff pastry, half of a 14 ounce package Dufour puff pastry (You can use another known brand, but the product is made with vegetable shortening and does not yield the same flavor or texture)
3 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch crescent-shape slices (I had organic Pink ladies on hand, but use your market find!)
1/4 cup Demera sugar
4 Tablespoons butter cut into small dice

Method

This is so simple! You can roll out the dough on floured parchment to fit a 9 inch tart pan of your choice, pressing the dough down onto the bottom and against the sides. An alternative is to simply roll out the dough so that you can cut a 10 inch round and fold in the edge 1 inch, pleating as you go–this yields a rustic-looking crostata, easy and a bit Italian-inspired!

Peel, core and slice the apples/ Cut the peeled apples in half, core, and slice cut-side down into 1/4 inch thick crescent shapes. Toss them with the sugar. Arrange them in an attractive way in the tart shell. Dot the top with the diced butter. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top to aid in caramelizing. I had some lavender-vanilla infused sugar on hand, and elected to sprinkle a bit over the top prior to baking. It is important to place the tart pan on a rimmed baking tray, because you may have spillage. If you made a crostata, bake on a rimmed baking tray lined with DSCF3283parchment paper.

Bake at 400 F for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown with some caramelized appearance on top. If you wish, for the last 5 minutes of baking, you can glaze the top of the tart with good apricot preserves warmed with a bit of port.

Creations made with puff pastry are always best served warm and on the day of baking. You can embellish it with slightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream of your choice. This is a very simple preparation, but the crust is flaky and buttery, and the apples are cooked perfectly–tender but holding their shape. The flavor profile is simple and delicious. You can be creative and alter the flavor profile by adding cinnamon, ginger and a bit of finely chopped crystallized ginger to the apple slices when you toss them with the sugar. You can use pears rather than apples. You decide!

Citrus Mascarpone Tart with Berries
Makes 1-tart, 9 inch round or an 11 by 8 inch rectangle

This is a very easy tart that provides the creamy decadence of a pastry cream without the fuss of making a pastry cream. The cream filling is made with slightly sweetened mascarpone cheese, which is a rich Italian cream cheese, flavored for this version with pure orange and lemon extracts.

Ingredients
1 sheet thawed puff pastry, half of a 14 ounce package
16 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure orange extract (my preference is organic pure extracts from Savory Spice Shop)
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/4 cup half and half
1 pint of berries, your choice

Roll out the puff pastry dough on floured parchment sheet and form in a tart pan. Prick the bottom and sides with fork tines, or line with foil and dried beans to provide weight that prevents shrinkage. Bake the tart shell at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, til golden brown.

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If you use a removable bottom tart pan, the tart shell comes out perfectly after cooling for 5-10 minutes. Place the shell on a serving dish and cool thoroughly.

In the bowl of your mixer, mix the mascarpone, half and half, flavorings and confectioner’s sugar. Just blend well until smooth. Do not whip this filling. Taste, and adjust the flavor as you like. This is just slightly sweetened, which I prefer. You can alter the extracts as you like.
Spread the filling in the cooled tart shell and decorate with berries of your choice. I then drizzled honey over the top, just 2 Tablespoons.

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Here is a savory tart–Crème Fraiche Caramelized Onion, Bacon, and Mushroom –that was made last autumn for an appetizer for a dinner party, served with a Reisling wine. It all began with convenient, ready-made puff pastry dough!

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This week, I will give you a preview of some favorite autumnal recipes, including the recipe for this luscious savory tart, so please visit again.
And, we still have that chocolate puff pastry dough in the freezer for another day of play!

 

Labor Day Weekend: The Evolution of Macaroni Salad!

Memories of Labor Day and other summery holiday family gatherings always brings to mind potato and macaroni salads. Elbow macaroni, mayonnaise-based dressing, accessorized with celery, diced carrots and sweet peas, perhaps dill, and, on occasion, canned tuna and hard-boiled egg quarters, was the macaroni salad experience of my childhood days. Last week, Tampa Bay Times Food and Travel Editor, and Cook Club founder, Janet K. Keeler, posted a piece on her website about venturing beyond the traditional macaroni salad to many other flavor variations. Very timely, and inspiring! Palates evolve, and sometimes the dishes of childhood continue to appeal to us, sometimes not!

For a casual Sunday supper, I began to think about my market finds from Saturday, and a recipe began to take shape, influenced by some of my favorite Italian-inspired flavors. Creating a one-dish, including protein, macaroni salad appealed to me, so here is the dish that evolved.
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#CookClub, Italian Macaroni Salad with Grilled Sirloin Tips

Serves 6

Ingredients

Dressing
This macaroni salad begins with a dressing that has the fruity flavor of a good extra virgin olive oil; pungent garlic and anchovies, a bit of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard for a bit of creaminess; and lemon juice for that acidic, bright spark.
Makes about 1 about 1/2 cups dressing.
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons
3 Heaping Tablespoons of mayonnaise (not that sweet brand, you know the one)
1 Tablespoon mild Dijon mustard
6 anchovy filets (you can certainly omit this is you are not an anchovy fan, but this really just adds a salty, pungent flavor)
2 fat cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Method
Place all of the ingredients except the olive oil in your blender carafe and pulse until blended. Add the oil in a slow stream while the blender is running. Taste with a bit of lettuce leaf and adjust your seasoning with salt and pepper. That’s it–quick and very flavorful! Set aside, and compose the salad.

The Salad

1 pound macaroni of your choice (I selected an Italian imported Garofalo pasta, an Elicoidale, a shape that I was unfamiliar with, although it looked a bit like a small rigatoni)
2 small red bell peppers, diced
3 purple scallions, diced (the first time that I have found purple scallions at the market! Beautiful and delicious!)
4 ribs celery, diced
1 head of Summer Crisp (a fine-leafed, peppery lettuce, something akin to arugula, which you can use instead)
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and steamed just crisp-tender
1 and 1/2 pounds of bite-size sirloin tip, marinated for 6 hours in full-bodied red wine, garlic, lemon peel, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, , fennel–I use an herb blend from Savory Spice Shop, Limnos Lamb Rub, but you can create your own Italian or Mediterranean blend)

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Bring water to a boil and cook the pasta according to directions, al dente, and drain. Place the drained pasta in a shallow sheet pan to cool and prevent sticking together. Drain the sirloin tip and grill for a total of about 8 minutes for medium rare on direct, high heat. Toss the cooled pasta and vegetables with the dressing in a large serving bowl. Taste, and adjust seasonings. I added a bit of the Limnos Lamb Rub herb blend and freshly ground black tri-color blend peppercorns to mine. Top the salad with the grilled sirloin tip.

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This all-in-one pasta salad is balanced and very satisfying. The sirloin is flavored with red wine, herbs, and the flavor of seared, succulent beef; the vegetables in the salad are crisp and crunchy against the creaminess of the pasta; and the dressing has a Caesar-like punchiness of flavor. If you try this updated and Italian take on pasta salad, please share your experience of it–I invite your feedback.

Mange, buon appetito!

Before you leave, you may like to visit the Fourth of July post for a Warm Potato Salad with Onions, Bacon and Peas for another not-your-mom’s potato salad!
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Cheesemonger’s Choice: Sweet and Earthy Sheep and Mixed-Milk Cheeses

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One of our weekend traditions is to shop our local Italian marketplace, Mazzaro, which has an incredible cheese and wine room with very knowledgeable and friendly specialists. Once you travel a bit and discover your local specialty cheese shop, you may find, as we have, that our palates are now quite adventurous when it comes to cheese. Currently, in our cheese storage, we have a fresh goat cheese, a Greek Feta, a caramel-sweet Norwegian Gjetost, and then four new cheeses that we selected yesterday.

When we shop cheeses, we simply wander in, taste the samples, consider how we may be cooking this week, and then we converse with Charlie, who always has special finds to share with us. Charlie is a very knowledgeable specialist, who speaks with great interest and enthusiasm about cheeses. Charlie can tell us where the cheese was made, the process, the type of rind, the texture and flavor notes, uses, flavors that a cheese will compliment. And, then, we taste! We no longer purchase cheese anywhere where we cannot taste! If you step back into the part of the cheese room with the rather special cheeses, there are wonderful conversations occurring with people passionate about good cheese–our kind of fun on a Saturday morning. While we are sampling cheeses, there is a wine-tasting in the adjacent space, so it is easy to Make your cheese selections and to gain some sage advice about complimentary wines.
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Abbaye de Bellocq
is a sheep’s milk cheese from the western Pyrenees Mountains in the Basque region of France. The milk is from the red-nosed Manech ewes, and this cheese is still made by traditional methods of the Benedictine monks of the Abbaye de Bellocq Notre Dame. It is a semi-hard cheese, with a dense texture, buttery feel on the tongue, and a rich, caramel flavor. All you need is a piece of crusty baguette and a glass of wine!

La Tur is a dense, creamy cheese, young in age, that is made in Italy from the milk of goats, sheep and cows. So, it has a sweet creaminess, a grassy, earthy flavor contributed by the sheep’s milk, and a tang at the finish provided by the goat milk. It has a rind, is packaged in ruffled paper, abd is oozy and runny when you cut into it. This cheese is from the Piedmont region of Italy, and it pairs well with a variety of red and white wines with medium flavor, but none that are aged in oak.

Amanteigado is a sheep’s milk cheese from Portugal, a runny, oozy soft cheese that is mde with the Cardoon thistle, which has a natural rennet and provides an herbaceous flavor. It has a rather unattractive rind, but don’t be dissuaded! The flavor is creamy, rich, earthy, and buttery! Great on very dark rye bread.

Wildspitz Wildspitz is an artisanal, farmstead raw-cow’s milk cheese with just 5% goats milk added from the foothills of the Swiss Alps. This is an award-winning, semi-hard cheese with reddish-brown rind, with the flavors of alpine meadow, mushrooms, hazelnuts and butter, with a bit of tang at the end due to the goat milk. This is not your average Swiss cheese! It calls for a hearty, rustic loaf of bread, perhaps some sweet grapes and apple slices.

CHEESEMONGER'S CHOICE, LABOR DAY 2014

I encourage you to be adventurous and to explore the world of cheeses! It is easy for me to get carried away, so a tip is to consider how much cheese you will consume within the week, and to not over-buy. Consider how you will use your cheeses–charcuterie boards to be shared with guests? as part of salads, sandwiches, or savory tarts? As snacks with fruit and wine in the evening? Make friends with your local cheesemonger, and enjoy!