Italian Easter Dinner

fullsizeoutput_5473

Some of my mom’s best recipes were served at Easter Sunday dinner. One of her specialties was manicotti. She would prepare the meal days in advance starting with a thick gravy (AKA tomato sauce with meat in it) loaded with meatballs, spareribs, braciole, chicken wings and this weird stuffed pigskin thing called “goo-din-na”. It was full of robust flavor, sweet tomatoes and fresh basil. Next came the pasta which was really a homemade crepe. She’d make dozens of them often having two pans swirling at the same time. The delicate pasta pancakes were then loaded with a ricotta filling and smothered in that sauce.

fullsizeoutput_5463

This is my favorite meat sauce from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book

If you happen to be hosting Easter dinner (or any other dinner for that matter) or lucky enough to be invited to a potluck supper then this recipe is for you. The sauce and crepes can be made a few days in advance and the dish assembled the day before. In addition, I hide a little spinach in the filling making it a bit healthier.

IMG_9576

The rumors are true. Italians don’t buy those hard pasta tubes in the box. After you try this recipe featuring these very thin pancakes you will understand why. It makes the dish so much lighter. Double bonus is that the crepes can be made in advanced and stored in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for months. Just stack the cooled crepes separating each with a square of wax paper and then wrap tightly in plastic wrap or in a freezer bag. Don’t fret if the crepes are not perfectly round. No one will know! Trust me.

 

For assembly, I usually lay out every crepe on the counter. Divide the filling evenly among them spooning it down the center. Fold the sides up and over enclosing the filling.

IMG_1346

Manicotti

1 cup milk, skim milk or water

¾ cup all purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

butter for greasing pan

Ricotta Filling

1 pound ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella

½ cup chopped cooked spinach, well drained

2 eggs

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

pinch of nutmeg

2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce or “gravy” (recipe follows)

Prepare crepes. In bowl, whisk milk , flour and salt until smooth. Add eggs; blend well. Heat a crepe pan or 8-inch round non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Melt just enough butter in pan to lightly grease it. Using a 2-tablespoon measure pour crepe batter into pan swirling to spread batter over bottom of pan. Cook until edges appear dry and crepe appears set. Turn and cook other side maybe 20 seconds. Both sides should be slightly golden in color but not brown. Transfer crepe to cooling rack. Repeat with remaining batter, buttering pan as needed. Makes about 16 crepes.

Prepare filling. Combine ricotta, mozzarella, spinach, egg, parmesan, basil, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl; blend well. Heat oven 400F. To assemble: spread 1 cup of tomato sauce over bottom of a buttered baking dish. Fill each crepe with 3 tablespoons of ricotta filling. Roll loosely to enclose filling and place seam side down in prepared baking dish. Spread remaining sauce over top. Sprinkle with additional parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Prepare meat sauce. In stock pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup each diced onion, small dice carrot and chopped celery; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until softened. Add 1-pound ground beef breaking up meat with a wooden spoon and cooking until no longer pink. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Add 1-cup dry white wine. Increase heat to medium-high and continue cooking until wine has evaporated. Add ½ cup of milk, reduce heat and cook until mixture again appears dry. Add 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, on very low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. 

fullsizeoutput_b3

My mom & William celebrating his homecoming

Happy Easter and Happy Spring ❤

Who Stole the Best Italian Cookie……?

fullsizeoutput_5438

Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Remember this sing-song rhyme? Bakers with kids know it well. It’s sweet and fun just like my all time favorite Italian cookie which just happens to make the perfect dessert bite for an Easter or Mother’s Day celebration.

fullsizeoutput_542f

Made with ricotta cheese these cookies are soft and cake-like. They absolutely melt in the mouth. Recently, I made them for a bridal shower. I had many requests for the recipe which brings me to their decorating versatility. They can be dressed up for any occasion and so not limited to Easter or Christmas when typically eaten in my family.

fullsizeoutput_5439

The cookies  featured here are dressed for Easter, but add a little gel color to the icing and/or make a topping change and they can easily be featured at a baby shower or Mother’s Day brunch. Don’t hesitate to change up the flavoring, too. Any extract or citrus zest will play well.

fullsizeoutput_5435

So who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

fullsizeoutput_543b

The ones with the sprinkles on top!

fullsizeoutput_5433

Annabelle stole the cookie from the cookie jar. Nice breakfast, huh? Grandma’s privilege.

Italian Ricotta Cookies

  • Servings: 3 dozen cookies
  • Print

1/2 (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon coconut extract

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

Icing

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon vanilla or coconut extract

2 teaspoons buttermilk or lime juice

Toppings

Sprinkles, coconut, finely chopped nuts

Heat oven 350F. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light. Add ricotta and zest; blend well. Add egg, vanilla and extract; blend again. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt; add to dry ingredients and blend well. Chill dough for 30 minutes. Drop cookie batter by tablespoonfuls or use a cookie scoop onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. The cookies will look pale on top. Cool. For icing, mash powdered sugar, butter and salt together with the back of a spoon until butter is well incorporated into the sugar. Add flavoring and just enough buttermilk or lime juice to get a light icing consistency…more of a glaze than a thick icing. One at a time, dip top of cooled cookies into icing, letting excess drip off, and then immediately dip into one of the toppings. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

IMG_9533.jpg

 

 

 

 

A Good Gift? & Pie

fullsizeoutput_5234

What is a good gift for one who is grieving? Acknowledgement of how hard it must be for them during the holidays. Just a simple heartfelt statement about how much that person must be missed. It doesn’t matter how long the person has been gone. The longing for them to be at the table or searching for the pickle on the tree or exchanging gifts is the same. Just a simple statement and a warm embrace will make a difference. No festive wrapping paper or bow required.

fullsizeoutput_5239

The recognition of a person’s grief allows them to relax a bit. It allows them to remove the happy mask and just be themselves. It releases that tension in the jaw and that need to escape to a quiet place where tears can be shed alone. No one wants to be “Debbie Downer” this time of year, so help release the sorrow and fine the joy. Just a few simple words are all it takes. Trust me.

100_1912

Happy New Year. I hope so. Out with the old and in with the new. A purge. I usually start by cleaning out my pantry, my fridge and my freezer. A fresh start with a hearty meal to brave the cold weather ahead.

fullsizeoutput_5237

Here is a recipe I created cleaning out all my holiday leftovers. A most delicious pie I enjoyed a few years back from a local food truck inspires it. A savory combination of beef, cheese and onions in a flaky crust will do nicely with the addition of some mushrooms. The food truck, “Nomadic Pies” enjoyed such success that they were able to open up a brick and mortar store in my sweet town of Kennett Square. If you’re not a baker (you should be) try a Nomadic pie. Every flavor is delicious and makes a great gift if you want to spread a little comfort and joy in the new year.

fullsizeoutput_522c

A great piecrust recipe is crucial to a great pie. The standard is a mix of flour, salt, fat and water, but I usually try and change it up a bit wanting the crust to enhance the filling. Since I am baking a beef pie I change out the water for beef broth. It offers a subtle flavor and golden color change to the crust I like very much. Before starting make sure all your ingredients are icy cold to insure that flaky crust. I like to grate my butter into the flour and salt mixture.

Savory Pie Crust Dough

Makes enough dough for 4 (5-inch) or 1 (10-inch) double crust pies

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

4 grinds fresh black pepper

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (very cold or frozen)

6 tablespoons low sodium beef broth

Whisk flour, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Grate butter over the top. Toss it well with a fork insuring the butter gets separated into bits and coated with the dry mixture. Add broth, two tablespoons at a time, tossing mixture around with the fork. Using your hands, bring the dough together into a ball. Flatten like a pancake and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes which allows the dough to hydrate evenly. Roll out your dough to fit your pie pans. 

Now for the filling.

fullsizeoutput_522b

Beefy Mushroom & Gruyere Pie

2 sweet onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups sliced cremini (baby bella) mushrooms

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1-cup low sodium beef broth

½ cup heavy cream plus additional for brushing over pies before baking

2 cups diced leftover cooked beef (prime rib, steak whatever you have)

salt and pepper

2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese

2 chopped green onions

finishing salt of your choice (I used The Spice Lab Hickory Smoked)

In a skillet, cook onions in 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes or until golden brown and caramelized. Transfer onions to a bowl. In same skillet, cook mushrooms in remaining butter until they have released their liquid and brown. Sprinkle with flour, cook 2 minutes, stirring. Stir in broth and cream; bring to a boil. Let mixture reduce until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in beef. Season well with salt and pepper. Line Pie plate with pastry. Spread half the cheese over bottom of pastry. Top with an even layer of onions. Spoon mushroom-beef mixture evenly over onions. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and green onions. Dab a small amount of cold water on bottom crust edge. Cover pie with top crust. Seal and flute edges. Brush top of pie lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle with finishing salt. Cut slits in top of pie for steam to escape while baking. Bake at 400F for 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling hot.

fullsizeoutput_5238

Finishing off the crust before baking with a light glaze of cream and salt

The products featured in this blog post are things I actually like and use all the time. I was not paid to feature or endorse them. This is not a sponsored post.

fullsizeoutput_5236

These pies went into the freezer for future meals. Do not make steam vents or glaze if the plan is to freeze them for later.