Monthly Archives: February 2016

TOASTED RAVIOLI FROM ST.LOUIS

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American cuisine is a mashup of practically every food culture on Earth.  There’s nowhere else that can boast so many layers of immigrant cuisines that make up the very complex notion of the United States of America.  Take one immigrant group..the Italians.  They came in droves to the USA in search of better lives and many times fleeing abject poverty and oppression.  Wherever the Italian settled in the USA there was lots of employment and it  certainly did not stop in NYC or the other usual suspects.  Italian immigrants settled all over the US and one midwest city, St. Louis, Missouri was certainly no exception.  Italians from the far North, from Milan and Lombardia  were the majority but there were sizable immigrations from Sicily and other parts of the south.  The Milanese settled in the area still called the Hill and the southern Italians settled along the river.  Eventually the river area was fully claimed for warehouse and businesses and the old Italian enclave there was destroyed and scattered the rest of St.Louis’ downtown Italians around the area.  Notable St.Louis Italians are Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, American Baseball greats.  Many of the displaced Italians moved up to the Hill which is still a great place to walk around and sample some of St.Louis’ particular brand of Italian-American food.  Like the TOASTED RAVIOLI.  It’s just a fried ravioli served with sauce.  I’m sure you’ve seen them in places other than St. Louis, but here they are called TOASTED rather than Fried (which is what you’ll see elsewhere). They are generally a locally or house made meat, parmigiano, spinach and other vegetable filled small square.  One of the finest versions, and the one used in many of St.Louis’ eateries is made by the Mama Toscano Company.  They contain an old family recipe of Beef, pork, spinach, carrots, onions, celery, Parmigiano and eggs and they are fantastic.  For those outside of St.Louis you can order on line.

http://mamatoscano.com/store/

Back to the Toasted Ravioli story…During an evening in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s the new cook at Oldani’s, now called Mama’s on the Hill mistakenly dropped some ravioli into hot oil. The owner tried to salvage them with some Parmigiano on top…and so the story goes, and so the legend goes.  I love to have my Toasted Ravioli (they are on EVERY MENU in St.Louis, Italian and non-Italian restaurants) at Charlie Gitto’s “Pasta House” downtown.  It’s the epitome of an old school Italian American restaurant.  It’s a movie set.  It’s just perfect.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Now doesn’t that say old school?  Family owned, local workers and a mix of traditional Italian American food with the St.Louis twist.  Meat Ravioli with that greens and beef filling are more “Northern”.  To “Milanese” a dish is to flour, bread and fry it.  So you see those characteristics here in the “toasted” ravioli.  The addition of the Marinara to dip in is most likely a Southern Italian influence.  Together they make a fantastic appetizer, a party food, a first course or an entree.  More importantly the dish is a living legacy of an immigrant story coming to the United States.  Let go to St.Louis now and make some TOASTED RAVIOLI.

SERVES: 4-6                                TIME: 45 minutes-1 hour

3/4 to 1 pound small  square  FROZEN MEAT Ravioli
3 large  organic eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk or half n half
2 cups  plain breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh  Italian parsley
1/2 tsp. oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Mix the cheese with the breadcrumbs, oregano and parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

1/2 cup sifted flour
Marinara sauce, for dipping. about 3 cups

Lay out in pans or trays one with flour and one with the breadcrumbs. Dust the ravioli with the flour, then into the egg letting excess run off, then fully coat in the breadcrumbs completely covering them.  Lay them out on a baking tray.  When completely done place them into the fridge to stay cold.  Heat a heavy pan with high sides, a cast iron pan works great for this, with about 2 inches of oil.  Bring to 400 degrees if you have a thermometer or test with a cube of bread.  It will “dance”  (i love that..lol) and start to toast immediately if the oil is at the right temperature.  Make sure you have pans with paper towels or racks over them and take the ravioli out of the fridge.  Now start frying.  This should take about 1 1/2 minutes total..and they need to be turned after the first minute to make sure they don’t burn.  Only add about 5 at a time or you will reduce the oil temperature too much and then they don’t cook evenly. Serve with extra chopped parsley and Parmigiano over them along with a small cup of warm Marinara.

 

There…done.  Just like Charlie Gitto’s, Mama’s, Kemoll’s, and all the other classic and new restaurants in St.Louis do.  Enjoy this recipe.  SIZE IS EVERYTHING.  Stick with the meat…stick with the regular square size, not the big round ones or the tiny soup ones.

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Buon Appetito!!

 

 

 

POULET BASQUAISE, FRENCH BASQUE STYLE CHICKEN

156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_nChicken braises are so delicious.  POULET BASQUAISE is one of my favorite chicken braises.  It comes from the border area FRANCE shares with SPAIN and there are many regional dishes which cross over even though Spanish Basques and French Basques can be different in many ways.  Chicken Basque style is the Basque cousin of Italy’s Pollo alla Cacciatora (Chicken Cacciatore)since it’s a whole cut chicken, browned in Olive Oil, then braised in a “Piperade”, a Basque specialty of slow cooked peppers, tomatoes,onions, garlic, and many times ham.  The ham is really a prosciutto type of ham..cured not smoked and is a specialty of BAYONNE , France.  Bayonne Ham is not readily available so you can use Prosciutto, just not smoked ham.  The ham is sliced, or diced and tossed into the saute’ at the beginning so it imparts some of that porky flavor to the chicken.. VERY NICE!! Today is Februrary 11 and in the French Catholic Calendar it’s the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes which is a small town just outside the PAYS BASQUE but close enough for me to tie in blogging this dish today.  Many vacationers to the PAYS BASQUE will make a close side trip to Lourdes and maybe have a plate of POULET BASQUAISE.  On a trip to Provence a few years ago I saw this dish on the menu and had to order it.  I’ve had it in NYC before and Provence was as close to Pays Basque as I was getting.  I’ve also made the dish in my kitchen so I wanted to see if I was close to the French versions.  I was.  004  I wonder if any of those pilgrims in that engraving of the Shrine of Lourdes fortified their bodies with Poulet Basquaise after fortifying their souls at the shrine?  A Food Obsession wonders these things..just sayin.  A great dish for the middle of the Winter and a great add to your list of dishes, ESPECIALLY when you’re moaning…”CHICKEN AGAIN, I’M SO SICK OF CHICKEN…I DON’T WANT TO MAKE IT THE SAME OLD WAY!” I’ll be your Tired Kitchen 911. Here to keep your kitchen vibrant and happy!!

SERVES: 4-5                                                 TIME: 1 Hour 20 minutes to prep and cook.  3hours to let sit before serving.

1 ORGANIC OR NATURAL CHICKEN, cut into 10 pieces

2 ONIONS, sliced

2 RED PEPPERS , sliced

2 GREEN PEPPERS, sliced

1/4 lb diced BAYONNE HAM or PROSCIUTTO (NOT SMOKED)

2 CLOVES GARLIC, sliced

1 28 oz CAN IMPORTED PLUM TOMATOES (like San Marzanos)

1/2 TSP. ESPLETTE PEPPER or HOT HUNGARIAN PAPRIKA

1/2 CUP WHITE WINE

1/8 CUP OLIVE OIL

SEA SALT

BAY LEAF, PARSLEY SPRIG, 3 THYME SPRIGS TIED TOGETHER

Heat 1/2 the oil in a dutch oven.  Season the chicken pieces with the Espelette or Cayenne pepper (ok, calm down, i’ll give you a nice side note on the bottom about Espelette) and Salt.  Brown the chicken, skin side down first.  About 10 minutes to get the skin rendered and colored nicely.  Flip and cook another 7 minutes.  With tongs, remove the chicken to a bowl.  Deglaze the pan with the wine scraping up all those delicious bits from the bottom . THAT IS PART OF THE FLAVOR OF YOUR SAUCE! Pour this over the chicken in the bowl and cover.  Add the balance of the olive oil to the pan and saute’ the ham until it gets slightly caramelized.  Take about 5 minutes, now add the Peppers and Onions and lightly salt this. Cook for a at least 8 minutes until the peppers and onions are soft. Add the chicken to the pot.162885_1500720160349_5853202_n  Pour the bowl juices over the chicken, then the tomatoes. Stir. Add the herbs.  Cover and let this cook for 20 minutes on medium.  Now uncover and let this cook for another 20 minutes.  The sauce will reduce and concentrate with all those flavors and the chicken will be fork tender.  Taste…TASTE TASTE TASTE!!!! Check for seasoning,  Remove the herbs.  Important step here…close the pot and let it sit on the back of the stove for at least 3 hours.  Then reheat and serve. There’s magic in all those steps.165994_3211681293308_1441686714_n (1)  OH the aroma from these herbs, spices, wine, chicken , and vegetables!  Let’s talk ESPELETTE.  It’s a chile pepper that is grown in the PAYS BASQUE region of France in the town of ESPELETTE, funny how that happens!  It’s sweet and spicy and smoky, sort of like Hot Hungarian Paprika which is why it’s a decent substitute. It’s available at well stocked spice markets or on line.  Cayenne works too.

I was served my Poulet Basquaise with linguine, maybe because I was eating it in Provence?  Closer to Italy?  I think roasted potatoes go nice with this along with a side salad with some goat cheese and pears or apples, frisee or chicory, and a dijon vinaigrette.  Rice is another choice. Up to you.    HAPPY COOKING!!!0041Don’t forget some sliced baguettes to pick up that sauce.  BON APPETIT!!!

 

 

 

 

PASTA WITH MUSHROOM CREAM AND GREEN ONION SAUCE..ON THE ROAD

156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_n  One of the best parts of traveling for pleasure or business is the introduction to new and different regional foods. Sometimes that dish might be a transplant that follows a formula from it’s point of origin but then makes use of local products and produce.  It’s a fantastic part of the travel experience.  My recent vacation (July 2015) was a Train and Drive Roadtrip through Central Europe ending with a 3 day stay in Istanbul, Turkey.  A bit of an updated version of the old GRAND tours d’Europe, only this one came with casual clothes and WiFi. It’s taken me all of these past 7 months since vacation to find the right time or words to start sharing the trip with you, especially through the food.  And since it’s mid-winter time talking about Summer vacations is a sunny spot on a cold day.  So what do we have to talk about today?  We are talking about this Pasta dish I had at a premier autogrill spot along the highway from Vienna to Salzburg.  The Landzeit chain is dotted along Austria’s Autobahns.  We stopped on our way into Salzburg for a bite at the Landzeit in Strengberg.  I can’t report on the town, but I can tell you that for someone who loves food this was paradise.  Spotless, fresh, amazing selection and care in it’s preparation, this is very good dining.  This would be a great concept to see on our U.S. highways which are anything but food savvy.  Can you recall the last CRACKER BARREL or ARBY’S where you saw a pile of CHANTERELLES????  Don’t go crazy.  I can answer for you, and the answer is no.  European food culture, on average, is what Americans consider “foodie” or “gourmet” for lack of better terms.  I love chanterelles and love to cook with them when they are available in our markets, generally farm or gourmet markets.  A wild mushroom they are a bit pricey and very delicious.  Imagine my excited when this appeared in front of me at the Landzeit Strengberg:162885_1500720160349_5853202_n No need for further commentary because THAT picture says it all.  Farm fresh local abundance.  Austria LOVES it’s EIERSCHWAMMERL…the days we spent in Austria there were piles of them everywhere and they turned up in so many of the dishes, especially in Salzburg.  At the Thursday morning “SCHRANNE SALZBURGER” which  I literally FELL into while walking that morning around the hotel area before the family woke up, I was greeting with the most amazing local farmer’s market I’ve ever been to.  I’ll be talking more about this in future blogposts.  The produce. The meat and sausages. The Poultry. The baked goods.  Special in everyway AND there were the ever present Chanterelles.  I sampled some that came from the LUNGAU section just to the south of Salzburg.  I could only dream of loading my suitcases up with this pile and taking it back to the Jersey Shore with me.0041 Amazing display of local Chanterelles from Lungau (LUNGAUER EIRSCHWAMMERL). Things always taste BETTER to me or are more exciting when I call them in their native language.  Delicious.  Italian food is global.  Everyone loves pasta made in various Italian styles and Austria is no different.  This dish we will make is a pasta dish using Cream, Parmigiano, Green Onions, wine, and Chanterelles.  The Pasta choice will be up to you as the CRESTE DI GALLO, Cockscomb shaped pasta are not readily available even in Italian-centric neighborhood, but they certainly work wonderfully with the sauce.  The restaurant we were at was making them fresh infront of us.  165994_3211681293308_1441686714_n (1)  Another item I wished I could have filled my suitcases with, but, not possible.  You can use any of the cut tubed pastas for this, ZITI, PENNE, MOSTACCIOLE, PENNE RIGATE, SHELLS. There’s just an added level of enjoyment when the creamy sauce gets trapped in the pasta.  Add Campanelle (Gigli) to this list.  They work well too.  LET’S COOK!!

SERVES: 4-6                              TIME: 1 HOUR

1 LB  IMPORTED ITALIAN PASTA (Penne, Ziti, Creste di Gallo, Campanelle, Cavatappi, Shells) cooked al dente according to package .  DeCecco, DelVerde, Cocco, are all good choices. They hold up well to the sauce.

1 1/2 LBS CHANTERELLES (OR OTHER WILD MUSHROOM)  well cleaned and patted dry.  Wild mushrooms can hold onto dirt and sand so take care with cleaning them. Then chop them and reserve.

3 TBS UNSALTED BUTTER

1/4 CUP SLICED GREEN ONION

1/8 CUP WHITE WINE

3/4 CUP HEAVY CREAM, ORGANIC IS BEST,and must be full fat

1/4 TSP. GOOD HUNGARIAN SWEET PAPRIKA

1/8 CUP FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE, plus more for serving

KOSHER SALT, FRESH GROUND PEPPER

 

In a large heavy skillet/frying pan heat the butter.  Add the mushrooms and 1/2 the green onions, season with salt and let this saute’ for at least 10 minutes. Shake the pan a few times to allow the mushrooms to cook evenly.  Now add the wine and stir the mushrooms. This will pull up any caramelized bits on the bottom and add flavor to the sauce. Bring to a boil.  Then reduce to a siimmer.  Now add the heavy cream and paprika and blend.  Keep this on a simmer , do not let this boil. Boiling will cause possible curdling and separation. It should take about 20 minutes to thicken and reduce.  Organic cream is suggested not because it just sounds good but because it’s somewhat richer and that helps it be more like the rich European creams.  Add the drained Al Dente Pasta to the pan and continue to cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.   Stir in the 1/8 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Now taste for seasoning and add the salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/2 the remaining Green Onion.  Blend. Serve. Each serving should get additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a garnish of Green Onion.  Why green onion (scallion) ?  Because it showed up in most of the dishses we had in Austria. Rather than move into a more Italian aromatic like onion or garlic this kind of makes it unique and rather Austrian.  The VonTrapp Family would be proud.

Now you are eating like you’re driving thru Austria in the Salzburger region.  Isn’t travel delicious???

HAPPY COOKING!!001 Thanks for traveling to the land of EDELWEISS with me today and bringing it into your kitchen!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OLD FASHIONED APPLESAUCE CAKE

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It’s almost sinful to call something OLD FASHIONED today but I’ll gladly use that term to describe this sinfully delicious APPLESAUCE CAKE I made.  What makes it so good?  Attention to sticking to a tried and true formula that will spark all your memories of applesauce cakes of your youth.  If you don’t have that shared history it’s time to make Applesauce cake memories of your own.   As always I reach into that memory box of mine and pull down from it’s shelf the aroma of my mother’s Applesauce cake.  This isn’t technically hers because I never knew how she made it.  Mom had lots of apple cake recipes.  Crisps, PanDowdies, Cobblers, Pies, Loaves, Cakes.  Some were a blend of All purpose flour and other pantry staples,  some were part of that BISQUICK family of cakes, others were simply using a commercial Spice Cake mix and adding apples.  Her Applesauce cake, unlike mine, was made in those Round Tube Pans.  Peppery, spicy, warm and aromatic, she sometimes added diced apples to applesauce batter and would glaze it.  There’s an idea,  a glazed one but I’d add diced crystallized ginger to the top.  Back to the style that I make..it’s baked in a rectangular pan and cut into squares.  It can be frosted, left plain, glazed, or a simple dusting of powdered sugar.   Out here in Monmouth County New Jersey where I live we have a few really nice “farm” and gourmet markets with in house bakeries.  One of them,  Delicious Orchards of Colts Neck N.J. makes a delicious apple spice cake with a white icing on it that is just about one of my favorites.  If you want to make homemade applesauce for this cake recipe I am giving you, this is the Delicious Orchards recipe:

Delicious Orchards Applesauce

 

Or you can simply use your own or a good brand.    My cake uses the spicy mix of my mom’s with the white icing of Delicious Orchards, but I do a basic Cream Cheese Icing.  It’s awesome.  I must tell you, I screwed up when making this.  The crushed walnuts and the raisins get folded in after you have finished the batter.  Well…even with the bag and box of the two ingredients RIGHT NEXT TO THE MIXER, I was so excited to get this cake made…um…they are still not in the cake.  Still delicious.  I wound up just sprinkling some of the crushed walnuts over the frosted cake.  It’s a win-win regardless of including the fruit and nuts or not.  Successful recipe anyway.  I base my recipe off of the Land O’Lakes Applesauce cake recipe with a few changes.  Ready to bake?  Let’s go…preheat that oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 13 X 9 ” pan well, then lightly flour it.

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar, I used Vanilla Sugar  (see note on bottom)
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1/2 cup Butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup  raisins dusted with some flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
ICING
1 stick butter (1/4 lb)
8 oz REAL Cream Cheese Not a spread, the bar type
3 cups Confectioner’s Sugar
2 tbs. Vanilla Paste (or 1 1/2 tsp. extract)  PLEASE USE THE REAL STUFF, NOT IMITATION
1/8 Tsp. salt
Add all the ingredients into the Mixer bowl for the cake EXCEPT the raisins and nuts.  Mix on low till all is well blended scraping down on the sides.  Then beat on High Speed stopping to again scrape down the sides until the batter is smooth.  Now fold in the nuts and the raisins.  The flour you shook the raisins up with helps to suspend the raisins in the batter and keep them from sinking to the bottom.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. The sides should have pulled away a bit from the pan and the center will be springy when done.  Let this cool COMPLETELY on a rack for 3 hours.  I hurried the process by sticking it out the window and right into the 30 inches of snow that came up to the sills of the kitchen windows.  Chilled that cake RIGHT down.  LOL…but one doesn’t always have a quick chill handy like that, so wait the 3 hours.  applesauce cake 005  Can you smell that?? It’s spice heaven.  NOW, onto the icing.  While your cake is cooling or while you were baking it, add the butter and creamcheese to the mixing bowl and slowly cream the two.  When they are blended start to slowly increase the beating to medium and slowly add in the sugar and the salt.  Add the vanilla and beat on high until it’s completely blended and it of nice firm consistency.  Place in a cool spot, covered until your cake is ready to frost.
Simply frost the top till it’s all covered.  Crumble toasted walnuts over the top if you like.
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applesauce cake 003  I used the paste and you can see the Vanilla Beans in the frosting.  Delicious. CHILL THE CAKE FOR 1 hour before serving.  Then slice into squares and serve.  It’s amazing.
So, here’s the note about Vanilla Sugar..I was in Central Europe this Summer and of course was picking up ideas and recipes.  Almost all of their sweet baked items use Vanilla Sugar which is simply made by slipping a whole Vanilla bean into a canister of regular sugar.  Let it sit for 5 days before you use it.  Keeps for a long time and the vanilla essence is really great.
Now time for a glass of milk or a nice Black Coffee (only black for me thank you) and a square of my Applesauce Cake.  Happy Cooking!!
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