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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Two Roads & A Recipe

Ricotta chive gnocchi with brown butter, lemon and chive sauce

Ricotta chive gnocchi with brown butter, lemon and chive sauce

Moving forward on this grief journey I am taking a bend in the road and celebrating my William and his favorite Robert Frost poem……..

Two roads...photo by William Keys

Two roads…photo by William Keys

…..with the concept of “two roads and a recipe”. If ever there was a book title that is it. I will be twisting up one recipe and featuring it in two ways. In addition, I hope to highlight what is growing in my garden path. While the poem may highlight looking back with regret these recipes will only have you sighing with satisfaction. Which sauce do you choose?

gnocchi with meat sauce

gnocchi with meat sauce

And while we are out in the garden lets pick some joyful moments to add to the menu. The more joy you add the better life tastes.

beautiful, fresh from the garden, chives

beautiful, fresh from the garden, chives

Caitlin and Sam are celebrating their 2nd wedding anniversary next week. I wish them a long life of commitment to each other and no regrets. May they make each other better people every single day. Thanks for bringing such joy to our families. They love gnocchi and I love them, so from my heart to yours enjoy.

Wedding Day photo by Campli Photography

Wedding Day photo by Campli Photography

Ricotta Chive Gnocchi with Two Sauces

1 (15 oz) container part-skim ricotta

3 egg yolks

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons finely snipped chives

few grinds grated nutmeg

pinch white pepper

1¼ cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting board

the dough

the dough

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper and sprinkle with semolina flour. In a bowl, combine all ingredients adding just enough flour for dough to hold together. It will be a bit sticky. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Cut dough into 6 portions. With floured hands and using just enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking, roll each dough piece into a rope about ½-inch thick. Cut the rope into ½-inch pieces. Roll each cut piece on the tines of a fork or a gnocchi board. Place on prepared baking sheet making sure gnocchi don’t touch each other. Cover and chill until ready to cook. Can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen up to a month. Cook gnocchi in boiling salted water for about 1 minute or until they are floating. Serve with lemon brown butter or bolognase sauce.

gnocchi board is made in Philadelphia by

gnocchi board is made in Philadelphia by

To make Lemon-Chive Brown Butter: melt 1 stick of unsalted butter over medium-low heat until it turns a toasty brown color, about 6 minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a tablespoon of snipped chives and a pinch of salt and ground pepper. Add cooked gnocchi, tossing to coat. Serve immediately.

To make Bolognese Sauce: In stock pot, melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add ½ 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 and few grind of pepper. Add 1-cup dry white wine. Increase heat to high and continue cooking until wine has evaporated. Add ½ cup of milk; cook until mixture again appears dry. Add 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, on very low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Spoon over cooked gnocchi. Sprinkle with shards of parmesan cheese.

the ridges create places for the sauce to cling onto the dumplings

the ridges create places for the sauce to cling onto the dumplings