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 ❤

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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Two Roads & A Recipe with Yakisoba

IMG_1402This week while sifting through more of my son’s things I found two memory cards in a camera hard case. As I dusted some fine golden sand out of the case I remembered sending him the cards in a care package while he was stationed in Afghanistan.DSCN0487

Seeing more than a hundred photos up on the screen it reminded me of the adventurous boy whose travels took him far and wide to some places I did not recognize. The photos of him and the places he had left a footprint on tugged at my heart, but only a smile emerged. His story may have been short, but his journey so full. I am thankful for that. Yes, I have travelled a long way, too. So, I continue to share.DSCN0459

In light of recent events in Orlando the only advice I have for parents who have lost their loved ones is to hold tight to each other. You will travel the grief road as individuals, but you will need the support of each other to keep you on the path to peace. Honor your loved one, have Courage and make a Commitment to love and kindness always. Share it.DSCN0367

Time to share some good food. Two roads and a recipe is always a fun challenge especially when fusion of foreign cuisines is involved. It’s a wonderful creative distraction that I get to share with all of you in this blogger’s challenge contest. It makes me smile. I hope you like what I prepared with Fortune Brand Yakisoba Noodles. Coming in a variety of flavors check the refrigerated section of your grocery store (Von’s, Pavilions and Safeway in Pennsylvania) for this easy to prepare product that inspired so many other recipes that I had to share at least two of these new family favorites. Today, it’s Asian gone Italian in two tasty noodle dishes. First up is a mandarin orange stir-fry twist on chicken picatta. Enjoy the harmony.

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Citrus Chicken Picatta & Noodle Stir-Fry

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 Package Fortune Brand Yakisoba Noodles with Mandarin Orange Flavor Packet

2 cups diced boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

¼ cup dry white wine or chicken broth*

½ cup chicken broth

1-tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1-tablespoon small capers, rinsed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Garnish: fresh lemon and oranges slices and fresh herbs, optional

Puncture inner bag of noodles a few times with the tip of a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Microwave noodles on HIGH for 1 minute; set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper and toss with flour to coat. Heat olive oil over medium-high. Add chicken; stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes or until no longer pink. Add garlic, shallots and pepper flakes; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add wine; cook for 2 minutes or until reduced by half stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom of skillet. Add loosened noodles, Mandarin Orange flavor packet, chicken broth, lemon juice and capers; stirring for 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Garnish with lemon and orange slices and fresh herbs, if desired.

*Note: If you prefer not to use wine use additional chicken broth as a substitute

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caprese noodle burger

 

My second recipe includes a classic summer Italian salad topping your favorite burger on a most surprising noodle bun. The bun is a play on an omelet my mom used to make with leftover spaghetti. They not only make a great burger bun, but also delicious as the base for an opened-faced sandwich, too. The noodle buns can even be made ahead and re-warmed on the grill, stove-top or in the microwave.

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Caprese Noodle Burger

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 package Fortune Brand Yokisoba Stir Fry Noodle Mandarin Orange

¼ cup water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

8 leaves shredded fresh basil

½ cup diced vine ripened tomatoes

2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-teaspoon balsamic syrup

2 hamburger patties

4 slices fresh mozzarella

Place the noodles, water and half the sauce base in a microwave safe dish. Cover and microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes. Mix well and spread out on a plate to cool. When noodles are cool mix with eggs, parmesan and 2 leaves of shredded basil. Divide noodles into 4 portions and shape each portion into a 4-inch “bun” on plastic wrap lined plates. Bring plastic wrap up and over the buns to cover. Weight down with another plate and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, basil, 2 teaspoons olive oil and balsamic syrup in a bowl; mix well. Sprinkle hamburger patties evenly with remaining sauce mix; grill or pan-fry to desired doneness topping with mozzarella during last few minutes of cooking time. In a large skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Unwrap noodle buns and add to skillet. Cook, 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown and cooked through. Arrange a noodle bun on each plate. Top with a burger and some tomato-basil salad. Cover with remaining noodle buns.

For more delicious yakisoba noodle ideas check out JSL Foods on Twitter and Facebook

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My son’s favorite poem inspired “Two Roads and a Recipe”