Italian Easter Dinner

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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My mom & William celebrating his homecoming

Happy Easter and Happy Spring ❤

Blend & Build A Better Burger

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These are not edible mushrooms but a beautiful capture from Will’s Bench at Lake Elise

Living in Kennett Square, AKA, “the mushroom capital of the world” I can’t help but get up close and personal with a variety of deliciously cultivated fresh picked mushrooms. Today, I want to encourage you to start blending your meat with mushrooms, if you aren’t already.

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It’s a super simple process and once you taste the combination I am certain you will never turn back to a full meat burger, sauce, ball or filling. For more umami flavor and juicer and lighter texture start blending mushrooms to meat 1:2. For every pound of ground meat include 8 ounces of mushrooms is what’s recommended, but I find myself doing an even 1:1 blend as we love mushrooms that much.

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After rinsing your mushrooms and spinning them dry in a salad spinner I quarter them and then grind them in a food processor. I then sauté them until they have released all their liquid and begin to brown. Stir them often at this point.fullsizeoutput_5319

Season the mushrooms any way you like and let them cool.

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Add to your ground beef, chicken, pork or lamb and shape into burgers or meatballs. You can also replace some of the meat in your favorite bolognese sauce or add to a filling to make ravioli.

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mushroom burgers stuffed with fresh mozzarella

I hope you will give the mushroom blend a try; let me know if you do. It’s a healthy and delicious option and just for the record my family will not eat a burger any other way. BTW, it works with all kinds of mushrooms, but my favorite for the most flavor are cremini and shiitake.

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Will’s Bench Lake Elise

Philly Italian Market

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Need a little ethnic inspiration? Take a tour of the 9th Street Market in Philadelphia. One piece of advice….arrive hungry and preferably with a brother who has completely mapped out all the stores and restaurants he wants to see.

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Our first stop was Fante’s Kitchen store. Filled with quality products from all over the world I quickly gathered up a few things I did not know I needed including this adorable heart-shaped cutter. Suffice to say I felt like a kid in a candy store.

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The streets are lined with vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables among other things. It feels a little bit like a flea market married a farmer’s market and this is their baby. Prices are competitive. Locals are sniffing melons and filling bags with beans, mushrooms and blueberries. One can even buy mangoes by the crate. I just loved this box full of baby eggplants. Bring cash.

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By now we are getting hungry. Family owned Isgro’s Italian pastries are in order. Eat dessert first. My niece shares a bite of her chocolate mascarpone cannoli and my brother shares his sfogiatella. It makes sense why this bakery has been in business since 1904. These pastries are pure perfection and bring me back to just about every extended family gathering  I have ever enjoyed my whole life.

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Cheese, meatballs and pasta follow. Further, we enjoy a chocolate shop, spice shop and more than one butcher. Take your pick of restaurants and bring a cooler bag to take home fresh pasta and other delicacies.

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Still hungry? Feel free to wait in line for this guy’s recommendation.

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Completely inspired I knocked out a big pile of fettuccine for Sunday dinner. Making fresh pasta is easy. For every pound of semolina flour mix in 2 to 3 eggs, a pinch of salt, a touch of olive oil and some water to mix into a smooth dough. Knead the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then, crank it out. It cooks in just a few minutes in boiling salted water.

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