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 ❤

Who Stole the Best Italian Cookie……?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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So who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

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The ones with the sprinkles on top!

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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.

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Kitchen Prayer & Quick Irish Soda Bread

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It’s been 2521 days since I lost my son. It’s been nearly that long since I have been able to pray. Unanswered prayers asking to keep my kids safe just set me off onto a negative path. Crazy mad at God doesn’t accurately describe the feeling of losing my son in a senseless accident, but when a wise and faithful friend named Angie wrote on her FB page “faith does not protect us from our sorrow, but prayer will hold you up” it hit me. I’ve been angry too long and it is of no use. In fact the anger is a complete waste of energy that could be better spent in meditation. Putting spirituality back into my life has been a fine turning point. I thank my friends, Kare, Rebecka, Mark, Hilary and my cousin Carol who have gently nudged me forward to believe that life is better with a higher power in it. How about you?

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You know what else makes life better? Recipe videos. That’s right. If you are a visual learner as I am cookbook photos and on-line videos make cooking and baking so much easier. Today I feature a re-do of this Irish Soda Bread blog from 2016. Click on that link to get the written recipe, turn up the volume and sit back and enjoy the show.

 

Are you serving a corned beef and cabbage dinner or Beef Stew? This Irish soda bread will go great beside either. If you like Guinness check out my beef stew and boxty recipe here.  Happy St. Patrick’s, happy week, happy delicious day in the kitchen with your family.

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