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

 

 

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Butternut squash and porcini mushroom in disguise soup

October and November in northern Italy and southern Austria are the months of mushroom picking. There are actually special trips to the Alps, organized by mushroom enthusiasts, for picking many different kinds of mushrooms, but Porcini in particular. These mushrooms are so prized, that in order to preserve the natural environment, authorities in some areas put in place a licensure requirement in order to gather them. They grant only a limited number of licenses, and restrict the quantities each person can harvest for personal use.

My parents love walking in the woods and picking mushrooms, and my mom is one of the best porcini soup makers. Porcini soup though, requires several pounds of fresh porcini and could be considered a quite expensive dish, if you don’t have the chance to get the “raw material” direct from mother nature! The arrival of fall made me miss so much this kind of dish, since I am no longer in Italy with the luxury of this mushroom bounty, or my mother’s splendid cooking. So after some considering, I decided that since porcini and squash are a pretty delicious combo (see my dried porcini and squash risotto) I came up with an easy, less expensive, and fabulous way to make the porcini soup, on a base of butternut squash. The ingredients required by this recipe, indeed, are exactly the same as my simple butternut squash soup (with all the good benefits coming from eating orange and yellow food) BUT a pack of dried porcini mushrooms, some nutmeg  and possibly (but not necessarily) a mushroom bouillon. The taste and texture of this “porcini mushroom soup in disguise” is pretty similar to the Italian version, and I assure you that just its smell will conquer your senses and bring your thoughts to the Alps!

INGREDIENTS FOR A 1/2 GALLON POT

1 big sized white onion, finely chopped

1 big carrot (or two little ones)

2 medium sized yellow squash (sometimes called summer squash, or a yellow zucchini)

1 medium sized butternut squash

1 pack dried porcini mushrooms

2 Tbs. olive oil

sea salt to taste

2 tsp. dried or fresh rosemary

2 tsp. powdered nutmeg

1 mushroom bouillon or vegetable bouillon cube

grated parmesan cheese (for dusting)

1/2 gallon water

DIRECTIONS

Start by washing and cutting all of your vegetables: peel and chop both the onion and carrots; clean up the butternut squash by taking away the hard skin, scooping the seeds and cutting into little cubes. Leave the peel on the yellow squash and chop these as well. Do not do anything with the porcini yet (for this recipe they don’t need to be previously soaked in water). In a big pot (I use a steel one) heat about 2 Tbs. olive oil on medium heat and add the chopped onion and cook until translucent and then add the chopped carrot.  Wait a little until the carrots brown with the onion, stir a few times and then add the chopped yellow squash and butternut squash  (for the pictures step by step of this phases, look at my Butternut squash soup recipe).  Let the vegetables cook few minutes (never lowering the heat) and then add the bouillon, the nutmeg, the rosemary and cover with water.

Cover the pot with the lid and as soon as the water starts boiling, put the pot at lower heat for 30 minutes. At this point, add the dried porcini, cover with the lid and let the soup cook for another ten minutes.


 

Blend the soup with an immersion blender to make it nice and creamy (if you like, before doing that, set aside few porcini to decorate the bowl when you’ll serve it).

When you serve the soup, remember to offer at least one tablespoon per soup bowl of the best grated parmesan.

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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

 

HAM AND WHITE CREAM FUSILLI: a fast, easy, tasty and family friendly Italian style pasta

My American friends often ask me how it is that we never get tired of eating pasta. The truth is that of course during the week I try to alternate “pasta dinner” with “alternative meals” (meat, seafood or cheese), AND we have such a variety of dressings and so many different shapes of pasta that it is really hard to get bored eating it. A few of these different kinds of dressings have already been mentioned in my blog (pasta all’amatricinana , pasta alla carbonara, pasta with vegetables, fresh tomatoes sauce pasta, pasta aglio olio e peperoncino, prosciutto and tomaotes sauce pasta) and many more will be the subject of my future posts: ragu’ pasta, leeks and sausage pasta, tomato sauce pasta, tuna and tomatoes sauce pasta, ricotta and parmesan pasta, four cheese pasta, pasta with eggplant, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, and… well, I could just keep going on and on!!!

Today I would like to share with you one of my “SAVE DINNER” recipes, one of those meals you can fix in 20 minutes or less, and for which I always keep the few necessary ingredients in the pantry! I have to be clear that, in Italy, we have an ingredient called “panna da cucina” which is a kind of cream used very often for pasta sauces, risotto, and other dishes, and that, here in the U.S., I have learnt to substitute with something quite similar called “MEDIA CREMA” that can easily be found in the Mexican food department of any groceries store.

As I’ve already mentioned, this meal requires not more that the cooking time of the pasta (I would say between 15 to 20 minutes), it’s very rich, and is usually loved by kids. The flavor of the ham is amplified by the “crema”, and the pasta is creamy and appealing to even the pickiest eater.

 4-5 servings INGREDIENTS

1 pack fusilli (about 1 lb.)

1 pack boneless ham steak

3 tbs. olive oil

1 small can (225 ml. or 7.6 Fl. oz.) Crema Media

optional: 2 cloves of garlic peeled

black pepper

grated parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Start heating a pot of salted water to cook the fusilli (if you want to be sure to cook your pasta in the authentic Italian Style, follow these easy directions).  In the meanwhile, cut the ham into small cubes.

When the water reaches boiling, toss the fusilli in to cook. Then, in a pan, add the olive oil and the garlic cloves. When it looks warm, add the ham cubes and sauté at medium heat for about five minutes, or until it looks lightly browned.

At this point, take away the garlic cloves, and add the “media crema”, stir and let it cook for a couple of minutes, always at medium heat until it gets dense. Switch off the heat and wait until the fusilli are completed cooked.

When the fusilli are cooked, drain them very well in the colander, but set aside a few tbs. of the hot water to mix with the sauce if, in the mean time, it has became too thick or dry (it must keep a creamy consistency). Then add a handful of grated parmesan cheese.

Pour  the fusilli in the sauce pan, mix very well to dress all the pasta evenly, and serve it, suggesting your guest to sprinkle a pinch of black pepper and another dust of parmesan cheese!

Easy, isn’t it?

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS: for my post I picked the fusilli shaped pasta, but every kind of short shaped pasta (penne, farfalle, maccheroni etc.) would fit perfectly with this sauce.

Here how penne would look like:-)

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

Butternut Squash and Porcini risotto

In the five years I’ve lived in eastern Iowa, I’ve never found dried porcini mushrooms anywhere. So, I hesitated to post this recipe, since it felt wrong to be publishing a recipe that not all my followers could cook. However, the other day at the grocery store, while I was walking trough the veggies department I found many varieties of dried mushrooms, porcini included!

So finally I can share with you this amazing recipe, absolutely delicious and perfect for the fall (both in taste and in color!). And just to make it clear, even if your kids don’t like mushrooms, they will love the delicate sweet taste of this risotto (even if they will probably eat it by setting aside on the plate the porcini 🙂 ).

Just to satisfy some curiosity you may have, in Italy finding mushrooms is pretty easy: mushrooms love moist, temperate climes, and since Italy has plenty of mountains (Alpi and Appennini) we can proudly grow about a large variety of mushrooms. Aside from porcini, other famous species are chiodini (honey mushrooms) and finferli. Plus there are many more! If you like risotto, I definitely suggest you try this one; you’ll be pleasantly surprised with its “goodness.” 🙂  It takes not more that 30 minutes to make, with the only foresight to dump the dried mushrooms in water at least 20 minutes before you start cooking.

4 servings INGREDIENTS

2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

1 pack or 60 gr. dried porcini mushrooms

1/2 medium sized butternut squash peeled and chopped in small cubes

1/2 medium sized white onion

4 tsp. rosmary (better if fresh)

1 cloves garlic

about 5 tbs. olive oil

1 tsp. nutmeg

5 tbs. parmesan cheese

pepper to taste

salt to taste

about 64 oz. hot chicken broth (better if homemade) or vegetable buillon

optional: 1 Tbs. butter or mascarpone cheese and 1 handful of parmesan cheese  for the “mantecatura” (click here for the meaning)

Grated Parmesan cheese for dusting.

DIRECTIONS

Soak the porcini in about 1 cup of warm water at least 15 minutes before to cook them. Or, if the directions on the packaging indicate something different, it is best to prepare them accordingly.

Clean the butternut squash, removing the skin and the seeds, and cut it into very thin cubes.

 

Drain the mushrooms, but keep some of the water used to soak them. Strain it through a fine mesh sieve or even coffee filter to avoid sand. If some mushrooms looks too big in size, feel free to cut them in two with a kitchen scissors. Warm up the broth for the risotto (or the water, in case you decide to use a vegetable bouillon).In a skillet heat 2 tbs. of olive oil, then add garlic, rosemary and the chopped onion and cook them until the onion becomes translucent (be careful not to burn). At this point, add the porcini, a pinch of sea salt and 1 tsp. nutmeg. Let the mushrooms cook for about ten minutes at medium heat, being careful not to burn them, stirring once in a while. You’ll know they are cooked once they become tender.

In the meanwhile, in a pan, add 3 tbs. olive oil and when the oil gets hot, add the chopped butternut squash, 2 tsp. rosemary and a pinch of sea salt and cook until  becomes brownish and tender. It would take about  ten to fifteen minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally, and always be careful not to burn.

(At this point the broth in the other pot should have reached the boiling point. Lower the heat and keep it on hand, you will use it soon!). Now that mushrooms and squash are cooked, move the squash into the mushrooms skillet. Start the heat, and when it seems the mix is hot, add the risotto rice and let “fry” for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Try  not to stir immediately. Only when it seems like the mixture starts sticking to the pan, add 1 ladle of porcini soaking water. As a rule for a perfect risotto “al dente” I start the 20 minutes cooking timer in the precise moment I add the first ladle of liquid to the rice. Once that water has been absorbed, add salt as desired, and keep adding broth (best 1 ladle at a time until liquid has been absorbed by rice.) and  repeat until there are just three minutes left on the timer. At this point, switch off the heat, add another ladle of broth, the butter (or mascarpone cheese) and the parmesan. Stir ingredients together and then cover the pot with a lid until the end of the 20 minutes, for the MANTECATURA phase. This process will make your risotto creamy and dense, in other words “all’onda”. At the end of the twenty minutes, serve your risotto still warm, and suggest your guests to sprinkle some grated parmesan on the top of it, if they like.

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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

 

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!

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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

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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.

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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!

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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