Category Archives: Italian Cuisine

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Foccacia 3

Just when I thought we are nearing Spring we got hit with another snow storm. It snowed like crazy yesterday. My husband’s car got stuck in the drive way this morning. We called up for help and the snow plow services came to our rescue. My daughter had to miss her school today. Huh..how much winter affects daily life. Let me not crib again!!

Foccacia 2

As mentioned in my previous post I am busy catching up on events and challenges that I have missed in the past. For the month of January, Aparna made us bake Focaccia Caprese. Focaccia is said to be a true stroke of an Italian genius. It’s incredibly simple to make with just few ingredients. I have baked this bread a few times with different toppings. Do check out my Spice Focaccia with onion and Pepper topping. I used cheese for the first time and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Since I had baked this bread a little longer, the cheese had melted completely.

Foccacia 1

Also, I feel that the secret to a great Focaccia is the Olive oil, it has to be a really good one!  With all the garlic, herbs, olive oil and cheese…this one is fully loaded with flavors and this recipe is a definitely a keeper. The original recipe was adapted from The Kitchen Whisperer.

Focaccia Caprese

Yield: 2 Medium size Bread

Ingredients

  • For the Dough:
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour*
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • A little more olive oil for brushing dough
  • For the Topping:
  • 4-5 larg-ish tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 6-7” round piece of fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut into1/4” slices**
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
  • For the Herbed Oil:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced garlic/ paste
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnishing

Instructions

First make the herbed oil. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. Keep aside till required.

The dough can be mixed and kneaded by hand or machine. Put the yeast, sugar flour, salt and oil in the bowl of the processor and pulse a couple of times to mix well. Then add 1 cup of warm water (and as much more as you need) and knead until you have a soft elastic dough that is just short of sticky.

Remove the dough from the processor bowl, shape into a round and place in a well oiled bowl turning the dough around so it is coated. Cover and let it rise till almost double in volume. This should take about an hour.

You can make this as 2 medium sized Focaccia or 4 smaller ones like I did. For the rectangular Focaccia, take two rectangular pans/ jelly or Swiss roll pans (I used an 11" by 7" tins) and oil them well. Then divide the dough into two equal portions and lightly roll them (or press out) out into approximately 11” by 7”. If making 4 Focaccia, then divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Roll each portion out (or press out) evenly into approximately 5” by 7”. It alright if it’s an odd shape because Focaccia is really a “rustic” bread.

Transfer the dough to the baking tins. The dough will shrink a little. Use your fingers and push it out a bit making sure it’s evenly thick throughout. Let it rise for 20 minutes. Lightly oil your finger tips and press into the dough creating evenly spaced “dimples” in it. Generously brush the surface with oil.

Bake at 410 F for about 18 to 20 minutes till it is almost done and is beginning to turn golden brown. Take the Focaccia out and turn up the heat of your oven to 450F.

Lightly drizzle some of the Herbed Oil over the Focaccia and then evenly arrange some slices of mozzarella over the bread, leaving very little space between them. Arrange the tomato slices over this and a little sprinkle the chopped basil over this. The topping should cover most of the surface of the bread.

Drizzle some more Herbed Oil over the topping and return the bread to the oven. Bake the Focaccia for 5 to 8 minutes or until the cheese has just melted. Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh basil leaves. Cut the Focaccia into slices and serve while it is still hot. This recipe should serve 4 if served alone or 6 if served with a side.

http://www.thefoodielovers.com/2014/02/focaccia-caprese/

 Note – * If you cannot find bread flour, you can add 1 tbsp of Vital Wheat Gluten to 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix together well. Otherwise just use 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.

**If you don’t get fresh buffalo mozzarella use regular mozzarella instead, the kind we use on pizzas. Otherwise, use any “melty/ stringy” kind of cheese you can find.

Thanks Aparna for the recipe:)

Enjoy!

Nina

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Torcettini 2 main

I have been away for long yet again.  This time I do not wish to offer any excuses. It’s sheer LAZINESS. Well if I may say, the weather is also partly to be blamed for my hibernation. I am so frustrated – it is supposed to be Spring but the weather here has been absolutely unforgiving. The snowstorm that concluded yesterday dumped about 8 inches of snow. Can’t wait for sunshine! Anyways, the weekend weather is finally expected to be in 70’s and that is good enough motivation for me to get started with baking.

For this month’s “We need to Bake” Aparna choose a beautiful yeasted cookie – called the Torcettini di Saint Vincent (Sugar crusted Twisted Cookies from the Valle d’Aosta ). This recipe is originally adapted from A Baker’s Tour by Nick Malgieri.

Torcettini 3 main

Torcettini are smaller versions of Torcetti (meaning small twists), and these pear/ teardrop shaped twists are made of a dough of flour, yeast and butter which are shaped and then rolled in sugar before being baked.  These cookies are not too sweet as there is no sugar directly added in the dough. I like recipes which do not use too much of sugar, eggs and butter. This one is just a perfect one with minimal ingredients. 

Torcettini 1 main

They tasted similar to Palmiers. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside,these cookies are truly addictive. No one can have just one:).

Torcettini (Torcettini di Saint Vincent (Sugar Crusted Twisted Cookies)

51

Yield: 24 - 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water, about 110F
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon lime/ lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • about 1/3 cup sugar for rolling the cookies

Instructions

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, in a small bowl and keep aside.

Put the flour and the salt in the food processor bowl (or a largish regular bowl if kneading by hand) and pulse a couple of times to mix. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the butter is well mixed and the flour-butter mixture looks powdery.

If making chocolate Torcetti, remove 2 tbsp all-purpose flour and add the 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder mentioned in the recipe. Don’t add the lemon zest/ anise. Use orange zest and maybe add 1/ 2 tsp instant coffee powder with the flour.

Add the yeast-water mixture and pulse till it all comes together as a ball. Do not over process or knead. Place the ball of dough in a oiled bowl, turning it so it is well coated with the oil. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise quite a bit.

This dough does not really double in volume, but it should look “puffy” after about an hour or so. When you pinch off a bit from the top you can see the interior looking a bit like honeycomb. Press down the dough and deflate it, wrap it in cling warp and refrigerate it for at least one hour or up to 24 hours.

When ready to make the cookies, take the dough out and lightly roll it out into an approximately 6” square. If the dough feels sticky, scatter a little sugar on it. Using a pizza wheel cut the dough into four strips of equal width. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces, by cutting across, making a total of 24 pieces. The measurements are not very critical in this part because this just makes it easier to have 24 equal sized bits of dough, as compared to pinching of bits of the dough.

Roll each piece into a pencil thick “rope” about 5” long. Sprinkle a little sugar on your work surface and roll the “rope” in it so the sugar crusts the dough uniformly. Form the “rope” into a loop crossing it over before the ends.

Place the Torcettini on parchment lined baking sheets, leaving 1 1/2" between them. Leave them for about 20 minutes or so till they rise/ puff up slightly. Don’t worry, they will not “puff up” much.

Bake them at 325 F for about 25 minutes till they’re a nice golden brown. Cool the cookies completely, on a rack. Store them in an air-tight container at room temperature.

http://www.thefoodielovers.com/2013/04/torcettini-di-saint-vincent-sugar-crusted-twisted-cookies/

Thanks Aparna for yet another interesting recipe. I loved it!

Bon Appétit

Nina

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We as a family love Indian food. My sister in law had come over to visit us and I was in a cooking spree. One of the things that she wanted to have before she left was an Indianized Pizza. So I made her a “Vegetable Pizza with Indian spices”. I made the pasta sauce using onion & tomatoes. To give it a little twist I added bell peppers and carrots too. It was a nice change to the usual sauce I’ve made so far. As you would know by now that I am not a big fan of Pizzas. My husband always says that “ only things that are prepared at home are my favorites” and since I don’t like pizzas they are never made in my kitchen:). lol!. The last time I made Pizza was a very long time back, here it is –Pizza Margherita.

The sauce was a very simple one but loaded with veggies,thus making it healthy. Similarly, I replaced half of the all-purpose flour with Whole wheat pastry flour to make it slightly healthy. I had picked up a canned tomato sauce(not the usual Heinz sauce/ketchup) from Trader Joe’s that came handy; it looked more like a paste though. It gave the sauce a nice red color and tasted great too. Everyone was happy with the pizza, it had the perfect crunchy base, loaded with veggies and not to forget the main ingredient Cheese. It was super cheesy and delicious!

VEGETABLE PIZZA WITH INDIAN SPICES

PIZZA BASE
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon yeast
2/3 cup warm milk plus as required
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1.5 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Make the dough – In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 2/3 cup warm milk and yeast. Set it aside for about 10 minutes. Add all the other ingredients and mix on low speed. Gradually add more milk if required to make a soft dough. Knead for about a minute. Transfer to a greased glass bowl, cover with plastic and let It rise for about 1.5 – 2 hours, until doubled in size.

PIZZA SAUCE
Ingredients:

1.5 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1/3 cup bell pepper chopped
¼ cup carrot grated
½ cup tomato paste/sauce
½ teaspoon chili powder/ cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala/pav bhaji masala
Salt as per taste
Topping – Onions, bell pepper, corn, pineapple, spinach and mozzarella cheese
Blanch the tomatoes for about ten minutes. Peel the skin and mash it. Heat oil in a pan, add onions and sauté until light brown. Slowly add the paste and tomatoes. Mix in the bell pepper and carrot. Allow it to cook for a bit,until all the water evaporates. Lastly, add the salt, chili powder and garam masala. Mix and set it aside.

Base – When the dough has risen, knock it back and divide into six balls and roll out each onto a work surface. Spread the sauce over each pizza base and top with the vegetables (topping ingredients).
Preheat the oven at 400F. Bake the pizzas in the oven until the bases are crisp ; golden brown around the edges and cheese has melted.

Bon Apetite!

Nina

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We got our little one’s ears pierced when she turned one. Much to my surprise, it was rather a simple process that took less than a minute. She being asleep made the job even easier. Just when I thought that I had knocked off an important milestone in my daughter’s life, one of her earrings fell off in less than 2 weeks. We had to go through another round of ear piercing and this time the “ear piercer” assured us that he had done a thorough job!!

Well, that wasn’t the case! My daughter managed to lose her pair of earrings again. This time my husband wasn’t keen on getting it done again and argued saying that the decision to pierce her ears is entirely hers. Well the truth was he did not want to see his precious darling cry in pain. Last week we had been to Mall of America. While my husband was busy in his favorite apple store, I decided to take little A to Claire’s to get her ear’s pierced again. The lady at the shop did it so quickly even before li’l A realized it. I was glad I got it done when my husband wasn’t around. If not I would have to deal with two kids:).I hope the earrings stay in place at least for some time!

We got back home, and our quick fix dinner was Pizza. I have always been wanting to make it from scratch for a long time but somehow never got around it. They were never amongst my favorite and perhaps that kept me away from trying it out! As far as possible, I make things from scratch. So that’s how the pizza base happened. I adapted the recipe from my favorite author James Peterson’s book Baking.

Pizzas are the one of the most recognizable symbol of Italian food culture in the world. I believe many years back, Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of king Umberto I, Chef of Pizzeria Brandi and his wife created a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flagred(tomato),White(mozzarella) and green(basil).They named it after the Queen – Pizza Margherita.

PIZZA MARGHERITA
Makes two 11 inch Pizza crusts

Ingredients for the Pizza Dough

3 cups flour
¾ cup barely warm water
½ teaspoon active dry yeast proofed in 1 tablespoon barely warm water
¾ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoon extra – virgin olive oil

For the Pizza

Extra virgin olive oil for brushing
Pizza dough ( recipe below)
4 medium tomatoes, sliced
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced
6 large basil leaves

For the Dough – Mix the flour, water, and yeast in a bowl. Add the salt and mix, then add the oil. Knead the dough with a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook on medium speed for about 7 minutes. Turn the mixer to high speed if needed to get the dough to slap against the sides of the bowl. You may also during this time, pull the dough off the hook a couple of times so that the dough is mixed evenly. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to double in volume at room temperature for about 4hours. Or at room temperature for 1 hour and then overnight in the refrigerator.

For the Pizza – Brush two – 11 inch Pizza pans with olive oil. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball, shaping the dough with your fingers, pressing and turning, until the dough is somewhat round. Put on ball on each of the pizza pans. Put the pans in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Shape the dough nby pressing on it and pressing on it and stretching it with your fingers or with a rolling pin until it covers the pizza pan. You may have to press and stretch the dough 2 or 3 times,with a 15 minute rest between each time to get the dough to cover the pizza pans. Press up the edges of the round from the inside to form a border. Brush the dough with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 500F. Coat the basil leaves with olive oil,roll them up,slice the roll so you end up with strips. Arrange the tomato slices and cheese slices in the pizza.Bake for about 15 minutes,or until the crust is brown. Just before the pizza is done,sprinkle the basil strips over the top,and bake until done.

I had already made the dough before I stepped out, so it was easy to bake once I got back. The pizza crust was crunchy and the topping fills you right up and you don’t feel too heavy. Simple topping yet truly delicious because its CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE:).

The second time I made this I didn’t follow all of the method above. Once the dough had risen, I simple rolled it over, placed it in a baking sheet(yeah not a pizza stone),spread the topping and baked it immediately. It still tasted the same. I guess this is an easy approach.

Bon Appetit!

Nina

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