Monday, October 27, 2008

Brussels Sprouts with Sausage

This dish is fast, easy, and supremely satisfying during these cold, dark Autumn evenings (of course, here in California 'cold' is a relative term). You can serve it as an accompaniment to a main dish or just eat it on its own with some good bread and perhaps a nice glass of wine.

You will need:
Brussels sprouts - the amount will vary of course by how much you want to make. I like brussels sprouts a lot so I use about 10 per person.
Good sausage - 1 round slice for every 2 brussels sprouts*.
Juice of one lemon
A couple cloves of garlic
Olive oil

*It is imperative that you use a sausage you actually like and not just any old sausage! This dish is not a good place to experiment as a bad sausage will ruin everything. My favorite sausage to date is a kind my boyfriend would bring back from Kosovo. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it's called and I doubt it would be easy to find here. We did find one that was similarly good in a Russian grocery once...but anyways, back to the recipe:

Wash the brussels sprouts and remove the outermost leaves. Chop off the bottom-most part of the stems and carve a small x in the remaining stem part. Bring some water to a boil and when it's ready, add some lemon juice (to keep the brussels sprouts from turning brown and to prevent them from stinking up the kitchen) and then add the brussels sprouts. Let them boil for 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, crush the garlic cloves and chop each slice of sausage into quarters. When the brussels sprouts are done cooking, drain them and let them sit. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when it's hot, add the garlic. After about 20 seconds, add the brussels sprouts and the sausage. Sprinkle salt and pepper over everything and let cook a couple minutes, just until everything starts to brown.

Serve warm, ideally slicing each brussels sprout in half so that each brussels sprout half goes with one quarter of sausage!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spinach Erbazzone

Erbazzone is a savory pastry typical of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. I first discovered it while I was living in Milan (even though Milan is in Lombardy and not Emilia-Romagna). It was on display at my favorite bakery, and after the first time I tried it, I came back for more pretty much every week!

When I decided to finally try to make my own, I started looking up recipes online trying to find the right way to do it, but the recipes varied quite a bit. So, after reading through to get a general idea, I decided to just sort of make my own version, and it worked out wonderfully - almost as good as the one from my favorite Milanese bakery, though I don't think I could ever beat theirs!

I'll write below what I did, along with some of the ideas I gathered from other recipes, so that you can experiment and come up with your own special type of erbazzone.

For the pastry:
100 g pastry flour
A small spoonful of salt
A couple largish spoonfuls of extra-virgin olive oil
Water (room temperature), as much as necessary

For the filling:
250 g spinach - the traditional version is actually made with swiss chard, but I only had spinach on hand, and some recipes now use only spinach or a combination of spinach and chard
1 egg
A few cloves of garlic
1 large shallot or 3-4 small ones (many recipes don't use garlic and use onions or onions and shallots or even leeks - take your pick!)
A couple slices of sausage (again, traditional recipes call for pancetta which is similar to bacon, but I had sausage and no pancetta)
Parmesan (or alternatively grana padano)
Hard pecorino (my addition - didn't see this in any recipes)
Fresh parsley
Olive oil
Butter (for the pan)

To make the pastry, mix together the flour, salt, olive oil, and water until you get a smooth ball of dough. Place the dough in some sort of covered bowl and let it sit in a warm, undrafty place while you prepare the filling.

Wash the spinach (or chard) thoroughly and tear the leaves up, discarding any hard stems and squeezing out the excess water. Crush the garlic and chop up the shallots and sausage.

Heat some olive oil in a large pan and when the oil is hot, add the garlic. After a short time (maybe 20 seconds), add the shallots or onions or whatever you chose to use. After a couple more minutes, add the spinach, in parts if necessary, so that you only add as much as can cover the surface of the pan at any one time. Once the spinach has all been added, throw in the sausage and let everything cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

When everything has cooked, turn the stove off and let it cool for a bit. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to about 180º C / 355º F. Butter a tart pan on the bottom and sides. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is fairly thin and then place the dough into the pan, poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. There should be a good amount of excess dough, which you should use for the top crust. Most recipes I saw actually have you cover the filling entirely with a second circle of dough and they also have you place the pancetta/sausage in strips on the top instead of mixing it in with the filling, but I liked the pretty lattice pattern I got doing it this way!

Beat the egg and then add in the spinach mixture. Grate generous amounts of parmesan and pecorino over the mixture and then add salt and pepper. Finally, wash the parsley, tear or chop it up, and add that in too. Stir everything together until it's well-mixed and then spoon it over the bottom crust.

Roll out the remaining dough into thin strips and lay these over the top. Place in the oven and let bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool and then eat up!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Squash Ravioli

I had made squash ravioli a few times before, but I'd never made the authentic, Mantovan (or Mantuan I suppose) kind, because it requires a few somewhat-difficult-to-obtain ingredients. However, this evening when I got home from work, I looked at my acorn squash which had been sitting forlornly on the counter for about a month, and decided tonight would be the night! Real, authentic, squash ravioli!

The two difficult-to-obtain ingredients were amaretti, a light little meringuey almond cookie, and mostarda di cremona, which is a sort of combination between a jam and a mustard and tastes much better than that description makes it sound!

Well, I hopped down over to my local Italian imports grocery store and wonderfully enough, they had both the amaretti and the mostarda (see below). As I had feared, the mostarda cost an exorbitant sum, but I decided it was worth it for the purposes of making real authentic squash ravioli.

And it was. The ravioli I had made on previous occasions were pretty good, but these ones were absolutely amazing. Please, some day when you have lots of time, make these! They're actually pretty simple to make, but it does require a bit of patience to form all the little ravioli - but that's the fun of it! So, to make Mantovan Squash Ravioli...

For the pasta:
100-150 g. of pasta (for about 20-25 medium-small ravioli)
1 egg (if you want to make more ravioli simply add one egg for every 100 g of flour)
A pinch of salt

For the filling:
One small squash or half a larger one. The official squash to use is what is unsurprisingly called in Italian a Mantuan squash (Zucca Mantovana)! I'm not sure what its English name is, but it looks like a dark greenish nubbly pumpkin, though a bit smaller usually. In any event, I used my acorn squash and it was fine. Butternut squash would also work well here.
About 8-10 amaretti
A small cupful of mostarda di cremona
About 25 g parmesan

For the condiment:
A pat of butter
More parmesan

Begin by washing off the squash and cutting it into small pieces. Bring some water to a boil and throw the pieces of squash in. Let them boil for about 15-20 minutes. Alternately, you can bake the squash in the oven. You can also chop off the peel before cooking, but it's so much easier to take off after the squash has cooked that I generally don't bother peeling first.

While the squash is cooking, grind the amaretti to a fine powder and grate the parmesan cheese. Dice the mostarda di cremona into very fine pieces (the mostarda comes with whole fruit candied in it, so that's what you dice and then you pour in the liquid too).

Once the squash is nice and soft and cooked, let it dry off and cool enough for you to remove the peel. Mash the squash up and then stir in the mostarda, the ground-up amaretti, the parmesan, the salt and the pepper. I've seen recipes that call for adding a bit of lemon peel and also some nutmeg; though I didn't do that this time, it probably would be a good thing to try.

Once you have your filling, cover it and let it sit in the fridge for any time period upwards of an hour, even overnight if you want.

When you want to finally make your ravioli, prepare the pasta dough in the following manner: pour the flour into a bowl, leaving a depression in the center. Add the salt to the flour and then beat the egg in, mixing everything together until you get a nice smooth dough. If necessary, add some tepid water.

When everything is well mixed, turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead it for several minutes. Form a ball with the dough and wrap the ball in plastic wrap (make sure the whole thing is well-covered so it doesn't dry out!). Let the dough sit for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature.

After the time is up, cut off small bits of the dough and roll them out into long thinnish strips. Spoon the filling onto the strips, placing little balls of it along the dough, evenly spaced from one another.

Carefully fold the dough lengthwise over the filling so that it closes neatly. One thing to be careful of is to not put too much filling in. I've made this mistake before and you end up with filling oozing out all over the place and tearing dough and other such mishaps. Be conservative. You can always save the leftover filling and come up with some creative uses for it the next day!

After you've folded the dough over, wet your finger and use it to press along the edges of the ravioli to make the edges flat and the middles lumpish. Cut off any excess dough and then cut the ravioli apart from each other. As you finish with one set, place them onto a floured surface while you work on the rest. Try to move the finished ravioli around from time to time to keep them from sticking to the plate.

Once you've made all your little ravioli, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and then the ravioli, making sure not to put in too many at once (this you have to judge by the size of the ravioli and of the pot but I usually put in between 10-15 of the medium-small type at once).

While the ravioli are cooking, heat the butter in a small pan until it melts and grate the parmesan. Once the ravioli have floated to the top (in Italian salgono a galla), remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on your serving plate (heated if possible). When all the ravioli are done, pour the melted butter over them and then the parmesan. Eat warm!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Baba Ghanoush

I just got back from a short trip (to Rome... sigh), and since the farmer's markets are only on weekends here and I arrived in the middle of the week, my mother was kind enough to load me down with all sorts of vegetables upon my arrival, including two lovely little eggplants. I'd been meaning to make baba ghanoush for awhile, so this weekend seemed like a good time to try.

Baba ghanoush is a Middle Eastern spread, pretty similar to Hummus, except you use eggplants instead of chickpeas. It's usually served cold, as an appetizer, but since I made mine fresh it was still warm from the roasted eggplants, and it was really good! I didn't make enough to have any left over, but if you refrigerate it for a day or so it probably tastes just as good, if not better.

You will need:
2 small or 1 medium eggplant
A large spoonful of tahini
Juice of half a lemon
Some fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to about 355º F/180º C. While it's preheating, wash and dry the eggplant(s), tear off any large leaves at the top, and poke holes in the skins with a fork. When the oven is hot, place the eggplants on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and put them in the oven. Let them bake about 30 minutes or so, turning them every so often so that they bake evenly.

When the skin of the eggplants is all black and wrinkly, take them out of the oven and let them cool for about 15 minutes. While they are cooling, rinse and chop up the parsley.

Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and place the inside (pulp? innards?) on a cutting board. Chop up the eggplant into smallish chunks. Though you could also mash the eggplant or use a food processor, leaving the eggplant in chunks gives the whole thing a more rough-hewn, fresh from the fields (do eggplants grow in fields? probably not) sort of look.

Mix up the eggplants with the tahini, lemon juice, and parsley, and sprinkle everything with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with bread/crackers/grain-based food of your choice or else refrigerate and eat later.