Baked Cauliflower au gratin: A Light Delight!

Lately I realized how rarely I publish side dish recipes. Maybe in my mind side dishes seem less than exciting, or something I assume everyone either already knows how to prepare, or just doesn’t give much thought to. Well, the recipe I am writing about today is not only my favorite way to cook cauliflower, but also a “skinny” and “low carb” one! I don’t much care for raw or unseasoned cauliflower, but this cooking technique makes it so delicious! I learnt it a few years ago when I was following a sort of diet (the Zone Diet), in an effort to eat better and get in shape. Well, even when I stopped being quite so careful with my diet, I kept cooking this dish for me and my family because is really so tasty and healthy, and super easy to prepare. Cauliflower is so very good for our health that finding a way to make eating it a pleasure is a total “win-win!”

Gratin” is a widespread culinary technique in which an ingredient is topped with a browned crust, often using breadcrumbs, grated cheese, egg and/or butter, or béchamel sauce (white sauce). So generally it means a dish pretty heavy on calories and fat. However in this specific case, the crunchy brown crust is created by covering the boiled cauliflower with mozzarella cheese cubes and grated parmesan (in a precise ratio, of course, if you want it to be a ZONE DIET meal) and then baking at 400 F for about one hour. The method to prepare this plate is quite simple, it only takes a little patience to boil the cauliflower first, and bake it after.

INGREDIENTS for a 10′ x 8′ pan

1 medium sized cauliflower

2-3 handful mozzarella cheese cubes (I buy the one in slices and make the cubes out of it)

grated parmesan cheese (for dusting)

sea salt to taste

red wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS

Start by cleaning the cauliflower. Separate the heads from the steams, and wash.

Arrange the cauliflower in a stainless steel pot, with just an inch or so of water. Drizzle the vegetable with red wine vinegar. (It will not leave any taste, it is just a tip to avoid your kitchen smelling of cauliflower the entire week!). In my pot, I put the lid on, let the water reach the boiling point, then move the pot to low heat and let the cauliflower steam for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to overcook it; the cauliflower should become tender but keep its shape- not become mush.

Once the cauliflower is steamed, arrange it neatly in a 10′ x 8′ pan (my favorite, in this case, is a glass one). Cover it with the mozzarella cubes, and then sea salt to taste and a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.

Bake at 400 F for an hour… and you’ll obtain this appealing crust on top…

Looks yummy, huh? Oh, I assure you, it IS!!!

Serve it still warm and enjoy! Even the pickiest kid will love it!

LEARNT IT! MADE IT! LOVED IT!

TIPS :

– If you want to give even more flavor to your cauliflower, you can use different kind of cheese like Provolone or Asigo for the topping.

– If you have leftovers, the cauliflower will be delicious even the day after (up to five days if properly stored and refrigerated), but of course it will loose the crunchiness.

– I called this a “side dish” but honestly, considering that it contains proteins, carbs, and fats, you can just eat it as a “complete meal” if accompanied by a portion of fresh fruit.

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

 

 

Advertisements

PIADINA ROMAGNOLA: like a tortilla bread filled with delicious cheese and deli

Piadina is an Italian flatbread which comes from the Romagna region of Italy. It is sort of like an Italian version of fast food, as they are often sold at kiosks or roadside stands, even if some Italians – of course – prefer to make it from scratch. I am not from Emilia Romagna Region (but from Veneto), so it was not in my family tradition to make “piadina” from scratch. But my mom used the pre-made ones to make us happy when we wanted something appealing for dinner that did not require more than two minutes to make- and since “piadina” somewhat resembles a tortilla filled with a variety of cheese and deli meat, it is a simple go-to. Today I’ll share with you the version I make here in US for my family, but, if you prefer to stay close to the “made from scratch” version, here is the link to a very good piadina bread recipe. There is one very important point to make: Piadina was born as a frugal food and its deliciousness depends first and foremost on the variety of delicious cheese (especially fresh varieties like stracchino and squaccherone) and deli meat (prosciutto cotto, prosciutto crudo, speck, mortadella, pancetta etc.) that Italy can offer. By using tortilla bread and local cheese and deli, you can obtain a pretty great taste, but promise me: if you ever get the chance to go to Italy, don’t miss the opportunity to sample this simple but scrumptious meal! And better if you get to sample them while visiting the Emilia Romagna Region, which has a lot of Historical places (among them, Bologna and Parma), and is particularly famous for the great beaches, entertainment, night life, and “movida”.

I will give quickly the directions to make a piadina filled with mozzarella cheese and prosciutto. But some other nice combo would be for sure: – provolone and capocollo;  – ham, cream cheese and mayo (or ham and stracchino if you can buy it online); – pepperoni and asiago cheese; – grilled veggies and cream cheese (or squaquerone if you are lucky to find it around!), or any other ingredients that you could imagine (my daughters also like using Nutella… but let’s keep this option for the most glutton eaters :-).

INGREDIENTS

tortilla breads

shredded mozzarella cheese

prosciutto slices

(Be aware: to fill the belly, I recommend at least two “piadine” per person)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat a skillet on medium to low heat, and place one tortilla. Be very careful just to warm the tortilla, watching it closely to avoid burning it.  Flip the tortilla (to warm up the other side) and arrange neatly the mozzarella cheese on a half of it.

 

When the mozzarella cheese looks melted, switch off the heat, and arrange the prosciutto slices on top of the mozzarella cheese.

 

Fold the tortilla, and serve it still warm!!!

YUMMMMM, so so easy, so so good!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS: depending on how you most like the tortilla cooked, I would keep it longer on the heat if you want to obtain a crispy piadina. On the opposite, if you like the bread to be soft, just warm it up long enough to melt the cheese, and take it away from the heat as soon as possible. This is an example of a “crisp” Piadina.

I am seriously curious to  know if this Italian “fast food” would be liked by my American followers… do you mind letting me know what do you think about this recipe? And if you try it, why don’t you leave a comment and possibly a picture of your Piadina? That would be awesome!

Thank you so much,

Silvia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jalapenos Popper Dip: add a spicy kick to your kick-off!

I know this blog is supposed to be all about Italian food and culture, but let me say this: I love food, I live in the USA, and I, of course, appreciate traditions and food from other country!    I have no idea where this amazingly good appetizer finds its origin, but when I tasted it at a friend’s party, I couldn’t help but ask for the recipe so I could share it with you!

img_3929

What mostly impressed me about this super easy and fast cheese dip (besides the facts that it makes a great  impression on the table, with very little effort),  is that its spicy taste goes wonderfully along with tortilla chips, but turns out VERY good even with celery! So you can feel less guilty when you snack with a high fat & calories appetizer, if combined with a bunch of veggies 😉 (or at least, that logic works for me, LOL).    So, be sure to make this snack for your Super Bowl fun day, and your friends (and YOU) won’t be disappointed!

INGREDIENTS for a 9” ROUND PAN

For the mix:

2 blocks (2 x 8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

1 cup (200 gr.) mayonnaise

1 cup  (100 gr.) shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup (100 gr.) Parmesan, Asiago, Reggiano shredded cheese blend

1 small can (4 0z.) diced jalapeños (drained)

1 small can (4 oz.) diced green chilies (drained)

For the topping:

1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup Parmesan, Asiago, Reggiano cheese blend.

TORTILLA CHIPS and

if you like the a idea of a little “healthy touch”

remember to wash your celery sticks and arrange them in a nice dish

img_3925

DIRECTION

Mix cream cheese, mayo, shredded cheddar, Parmesan/Asiago/Reggiano blend, drained diced green chilies, and jalapeños in a bowl using first a spoon and then an electric mixer.

Grease the round pan and pour in the mixture.

img_3922

Mix Panko bread crumbs with Parmesan/Asiago/Reggiano blend and sprinkle over the dip.

Bake at 375 F. for about 20-25 minutes, or until it’s bubbling on the sides and looks golden brown.

Serve it warm with tortilla chips and/or celery sticks and enjoy the game!

Learnt it, made it, loved it!

img_3930

TIP: – You can moderate the spiciness of the dip, by choosing between hot or medium jalapeños. I am usually not a person that likes too spicy food, but I don’t mind this dip even in it hottest version..

          – As you have probably noticed, this recipe contains Parmesan and Asiago cheese.. Indeed,  I would say that it can be considered a “little bit Italian” !

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

 

Chocolate and Ricotta Tart: let’s try to sweeten the end of summer!

Here I am, posting for the second week in a row, a cake recipe! I blame the approach of summer’s end, the shortening of the daylight, and the turning of tree’s leaves, that lately I have been really craving comfort foods! Or perhaps, making this recipe, which has been in my mom’s recipe book as long as I can remember, is my way of overcoming my recurrent homesickness. This ricotta tart is, without a doubt, a fond memory of my Italian youth. It’s the cake my mom use to make for my birthday, since it was (actually, it still is) my favorite. This is the cake that, on my birthday, I now prepare for myself!! I know the recipe by heart, and I can not help but make it at least one a month… because it’s that good!

img_2271

The combination of crust pastry and sweet, creamy, intense ricotta cream make this seemingly simple and frugal  tart a real surprise to the palate.  And here is a bonus… I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but occasionally I forget a package of ricotta in the very back of the refrigerator, only to find it once it’s already expired. Super frustrating, if you hate to waste food as much as I do. Well, this tart is the perfect solution. If the ricotta hasn’t really gone bad yet, but you don’t trust eating it raw, make this tart, and not only will you avoid the food-waste guilt, but you’ll also be guaranteed a delicious outcome! And that is a WIN-WIN!! Absolutely easy to be prepared, it takes very little “hands-on” time. However, the crust pastry needs to chill in the refrigerator at least half hour before assembling the tart, and it does need to bake for about 40 minutes.

INGREDIENTS for a 9″ round pan

FOR THE PASTRY

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter – 100 gr. burro a temperature ambiente

1 egg – 1 uovo intero

4 Tbs. sugar – Quattro cucchiai di zucchero

1 Tbs. vanilla extract – 1 fialetta aroma alla vaniglia

2 cups all purpose flour – 300 gr. di farina

FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM

15 oz. (1 small package) ricotta cheese – 500 gr. ricotta

1 yolk – 1 tuorlo

1 tbs. melted unsalted butter – 20 gr. burro fuso

1/2 cup (4 oz.) sugar – 100 gr. zucchero

FOR THE DECORATION

dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips

SUGGESTION

If you can, use a springform cake pan.

DIRECTIONS

At least half hour before assembling the cake, prepare the crust pastry: In a bowl, combine the butter and sugar first until they are well mixed. Then add the egg and keep stirring. Add now the flour. Stir until all the egg, sugar, and butter have been absorbed into the flour and the mixture has a crumbly texture.

THE MIXTURE WILL BE LUMPY and that is right and normal. Put the bowl in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (no covering is needed).  Now you can go for a thirty-minute walk (so you will gain the right to eat a piece of this delicious cake :-)!). Whenever you are ready, in a food processor mix together the ricotta cheese with the sugar and the vanilla extract. Then add the yolk, and finally the melted butter (be careful not to add a too-warmed butter: you will cook the yolk!). You will obtain a velvety and dense cream (absolutely good to be eaten raw!).

Now arrange the pie: Butter the pan and sprinkle with flour (or breadcrumbs). Spoon 3/4 of the crumbly dough mixture into the prepared pan (you will keep the rest to decorate the top of the cake). Spread the dough evenly, completely covering the bottom of the pan. Then, using your fingers, press the dough to create a firm crust. Be sure to press the dough up the sides of the pan at least 1/4 inch. This is important to contain the ricotta cream while it bakes.

Pour the ricotta cheese cream on top of the firmed crust, then sprinkle the top with chocolate chips or dark chocolate shavings. Decorate the sides of the cake using the tines of a fork. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the cream.

Bake at 365 F. (180 C.) for about 40 minutes. It will be ready when the crust becomes golden and the ricotta cream changes color.

Let the cake cool off before taking it out of the springform pan infact, even if the temptation to eat a piece right away is strong, this tart tastes better at room temperature (not too warm or too cool).

img_2271

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

img_2272

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

Tips: – If you want to make a less fat tart, you can use partskim ricotta cheese. Of course the taste would not be as delicious as the regular cream, but good enough to be enjoyed;

– This cake can last up to one week, even if not refrigerated.

Spaghetti alla CARBONARA: one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes

Although the target audience of this blog is intended to be Americans and those not already familiar with Italian cooking and customs, a consistent part of my audience is, in fact, Italian! And it has been a while since my Italian followers made fun of me because I haven’t yet published the recipe of Carbonara Pasta. You see, together with “Spaghetti al pomodoro, bucatini all’amatriciana, e tagliatelle al Ragu”, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the most famous pasta dishes in Italy! So now that the taunting has subsided, 😉 I will share with all of you the recipe for this Italian classic!

Like many other popular Italian dishes, this pasta dish requires just few fresh ingredients (bacon or better- pork jowl, eggs, spaghetti and parmesan cheese).  It’s super-easy, quick to prepare (ready in 20 minutes), and would be perfect for any kind of occasion. It is absolutely “kid friendly” (my daughters love it), appealing to even the pickiest eaters. I mean, who- especially in the U.S.- doesn’t love bacon and cheese?!?

Just like the Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, the main ingredient of this sauce should be pork cheek or jowl (“guanciale”). However, it could be hard to find or a bit expensive. So since bacon here in the U.S. is really DELICIOUS, you have my blessing to go ahead and make it with bacon! Even Italians often make it simply with bacon! Whichever you choose, I assure you that by making this spaghetti sauce you will for sure bring a breeze of Italy to your table!

Since this recipe is pretty popular, before writing my post, I pried on some American cooking websites to see how knowledgeable the American audience is of how to make an authentic Carbonara. Well, no matter what you may read, Italians don’t use any parsley, onion, peas or tomatoes in this recipe. The only variant I’ve known (typical from Rome’s area) is that you can use Pecorino cheese instead of Parmesan.

IMG_3177

4 serving INGREDIENTS

1 package spaghetti

3 egg yolks (of medium-sized eggs)

1 medium sized egg

about 10 slices bacon (approximately half a pound)

1 tsp. black pepper

3 handfuls of parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Start heating a pot of salted water to cook the spaghetti (if you want to be sure to cook your pasta in the authentic Italian Style, follow these easy directions).

In the meanwhile, cut the bacon into small cubes.

When the water reaches boiling, toss the spaghetti in to cook. Then move the bacon into a pan (no oil or butter, just let the bacon cook in its own grease) and saute at medium heat for about five minutes, or until it looks crisp and the fat is rendered.

Drain the fat from the bacon, throwing away the grease.

IMG_3768

 

In a good sized bowl (you will need to fit all the spaghetti and bacon in it) beat the yolks and the egg. Add the parmesan cheese and the black pepper and mix altogether, stirring very well. Honestly, when I cook for my family, I avoid the black pepper at this stage, and instead my husband and I just add it on top of our spaghetti once it’s plated.

When the spaghetti is cooked, drain well. Then, while the pasta is still very hot, mix it into the bowl with the egg mixture using a fork. The heat of the pasta will cook the raw eggs into a creamy sauce. (Be sure you do NOT do this in the pot or on the stove or you will be eating “Spaghetti alla Frittata” 😉 instead of Carbonara!) Add in the bacon and continue mixing quickly, until the eggs thicken.

That’s it!

Serve your Carbonara with some extra parmesan cheese and black pepper on the table (in case somebody would like to add a bit more) and Enjoy!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

Tips:

– Prepare the dressing while the pasta is cooking,  to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready at the same time as the dressing.

– It is very important that the pasta is still very hot when you add it to the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs, and just as important, that the beaten eggs are never combined with pasta on the stove because the eggs would cook too quickly on the bottom of the pot, ruining the creaminess of the sauce. The eggs MUST be mixed with the drained pasta, in the bowl where they were beaten.

– This pasta is very rich- both in taste and calories- so it would work perfectly as a complete meal.

– If you enjoy having a breakfast of bacon and eggs, this could also be considered as a “parachutes” choice when you have no idea what’s for dinner, or a way to use some leftovers.

 

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia