Tuesday, June 21, 2011

If You Haven't Noticed...

...I am obsessed with lemon.  All citrus, really....but lemon really floats my boat.  My favourite cookies, Italian Polenta Cookies, have lemon in them...I think the original intention was a whiff of lemon.  Mine kind of slap you in the face (in a good way!).  Last year, my birthday cupcakes were lemon-lavender.  Two batches of lemon curd have been made and consumed in as many months.  I've made blueberry-lemon scones, lemon-lavender cookies and candied lemon peel (hands down better than orange and the best candy EVER!).  Hell, even the ricotta I made over the weekend has lemon juice in it.  And yes, I added a touch more to the point where with a bite here and there, you catch that tangy zing of lemon.

So this should come as no surprise to you that I made another baked good with lemon.  Lemon Olive Oil cake.  This has also been an obsession of mine.  Just the idea of using olive oil in a cake seemed so...well...Italian!  I had to make it.  (Shocking I know!)  It's going to be a go-to recipe for me.  Simple.  Delicious.  I kept the lemon to a whisper...okay, okay...in the cake it's a whisper, I won't even talk about the lemon glaze on top.

I have to sheepishly admit that I ate not one...but TWO slices the night I made it.  It's that good.

Thanks to Annalise from 'And Now for Something Completely Delicious' and her adapted recipe from Epicurious.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Take One....

I know there are whole cookbooks out there that try to replicate dishes from various restaurants.  I don't know if I really believe it's necessary, because isn't that part of the thrill of going out to a restaurant?  You go and typically order something you cannot get at home.

Aaaannnnd maybe I'm a liar.  Well...not totally.  There are dishes that I crave.  So good I can't stop thinking about them.  This is where my head was at over the weekend.  I was craving pizza.  But not just any pizza.  I wanted The Burrata Pie from Pit Fire Pizza.  The great part is that it's just down the street.  The not-so-great part is that it's a luxury to go out to dinner.  Being broke budget-conscious as I am, I just don't spend the money to eat out. What to do?  What to do?  I know!  I'll try to make it myself.  At home.  I'll slide that crust topped with burrata, pesto, carmelized onions and hazelnuts right into my wood-fired oven.  Right.  :::sigh:::

I remember the first time I had the Burrata Pie.  I read the description and was fascinated by the use of arugula.  I thought it would be similar to a spinach pizza.  Nope.  Not even.  The arugula goes on top of the pizza after it's taken out of the oven.  So it's still crisp.  A touch cool.  The perfect foil for the warmth radiating from the crust and melted cheese.  I tried to be dainty that night and refrain from eating the whole thing.  I failed.  Miserably.

I cheated a little bit.  I stopped at Trader Joe's after work and picked up their pizza dough instead of making it myself.  It was a matter of whether I wanted to have dinner at 9 pm or 10:30 pm.  I opted for the earlier.  With a bag of herb dough in my hand, I decided I wasn't going to try to make it exactly like Pitfire.  That would only bring disappointment, since I had the taste in my mouth just thinking about it.  I bought fresh mozzarella instead of burrata and arugula.  It is my current obsession of the vegetable world.  CANNOT get enough.  Instead of hazelnuts, I opted for walnuts and happily had roasted red pepper pesto at home.

Let me tell you...I tried to be dainty and not eat the whole thing.  I failed again.  Miserably.

Fresh Mozzarella and Arugula Pizza
(loosely based on the Burrata Pie from Pitfire Pizza)

Pizza dough (homemade or store bought)
Fresh Mozzarella
Walnuts, about 3 tablespoons
Arugula, about 1-1 1/2 cups

Pour yourself a glass of wine.  Preheat oven at 400 degrees.  Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes on a floured board.  I used half to make a pizza for one (or two).  Save the rest for breadsticks or as I made the next day, stromboli!  Roll the dough out and place on baking sheet.  I baked the crust alone for about 8 minutes, then took it out of the oven and topped it with about 2 tablespoons pesto, sliced fresh mozzarella and crushed walnuts.  Bake for about 16 minutes.  In a bowl, add arugula with a drizzle of olive oil.  Toss to coat lightly.  Top pizza with arugula when you take it out of the oven and sprinkle with more walnuts.  Cut, pour another glass of wine, sit and eat.  Try not to eat the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Showing my Roots...

I'm Italian.  'Duh' some of you are thinking, 'we know that.'  All right, fine...you know that.  I'm proud of it...damn proud.  So much so that I downplay the Polish heritage in me (which is bad).  I don't do it on purpose. Maybe it's because I always felt that the Italian side was at the forefront growing up.  Living in an Italian neighbourhood.  Having a dad that actually came from ITALY.  Across the ocean, for god's sake! Hearing dad talk to his sisters, brother, parents, nephews, etc in Italian.  Even though I didn't understand a word of it (and only learned Italian a couple of years ago), I loved hearing it.  I was fascinated.  It was romantic...foreign...strange.

One of my aunts had two kitchens.  The 'normal' one upstairs that was adjacent to the dining room, then the one in the basement where ALL the good stuff happened.  The baking of bread, the making of pasta and huge pots of sauce.  I remember a big table in that kitchen.  At least it was big to an 8-year old.   The door leading out to the small back yard where you could see the garden with its tomatoes, peppers, zucchini.  The ubiquitous glasses of 7-Up offered to me.  It was all so magical.  Like you had to be 'in' on the secret.  How to bake the best loaf of bread.  Crusty outside, soft and airy inside.  How to make the perfect pasta.  Semolina dough rolled and cut to the right proportions.  The Old Country Secret Sauce. The slow simmer of sauce on the stove, the air laden with the scent of ripe tomatoes and garlic.

Maybe that's why I never tried making pasta before.  I didn't know if I would be able to capture the magic.  It was always one of those things that seemed out of reach in all the cooking I've done.  I used the excuse that I didn't have a pasta machine.  (Though at one point over the years I did and never did a damn thing with it other than donate it to the Goodwill during a Spring Cleaning binge).  Guess what?  You don't need a pasta machine to make pasta.  Shocking.  Or maybe I just realised that I was ready to give it a shot.  Hell, if it turned out crappy, you'd never be the wiser.  No mention would be made.  No pictures taken.  There would be no evidence of my kitchen covered in flour.

I bought a bag of semolina a couple of months ago.  I'm still going to make pasta with it...someday.  Probably sooner than later now that I know I can make the easy stuff.  Gnocchi...those little pillows of dough.  Chewy, dense and delicious.  Ricotta gnocchi.  I'll still have to make potato gnocchi, but when you have ricotta in the fridge, well, seriously....food with cheese is always better than food without, right?

Ricotta gnocchi....and to take it that one Italian notch higher....with homemade pasta sauce (one of the first things I ever learned to make on my own).

Easy Ricotta Gnocchi
From The Kitchn

*Note:  I used a combination of grated Pecorino Romano and Aged Asiago for the half cup of cheese.

Little Pillows of Dough

Covered in Secret Pasta Sauce
After Cooking