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

 

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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

 

Witch’s fingers: you are still in time for a creepy but cool Halloween treat!

Although I usually have a lot of Halloween spirit (no pun intended!) 😉 this year I have been quite indifferent to it all, a little bit as if I still lived in Italy. I think it is because we’ve been seeing Halloween decorations, costumes, and candy in the stores since the day after “unpack your backpack” night at the kids’ school. Lucky my little girls brought me back to reality, reminding me that in the next few days there will be Halloween parties at schools and daycares.  And although treats are not expected, they’re definitely welcomed!

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So, I decided to give this very popular recipe a try (I bet you have  already seen these cookies in  Halloween articles, blogs or magazines.)  After picking this one from my favorite Italian cooking blog (giallo zafferano),  I created these (BELIEVE ME!) super fast, easy, and awesome creepy butter cookies! Well, truth to be told, I should not take all the merit, since Letizia (6 years old), Livia (almost 4 years old) and Lorenza (almost 2 years old) helped a lot! Because this recipe requires very few steps, and the modelling part (I mean to give the dough a finger shape) is really easy, the kids loved helping! Plus, the pastry doesn’t need to rest in the refrigerator before to be worked: you can start making the cookies right away!

If you’d like to to refresh your memory on how Italians celebrate Halloween, take a quick look at my past post about Black cats and Ghosts Halloween pastry cookies.

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INGREDIENTS FOR ABOUT 20-22 FINGERS

1 stick of butter (cut into pieces)

14 oz. (or 1 and 3/4 cup) all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 medium sized egg

3/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

1 pinch of salt

22 blanched almonds

1 Tbs. light colored preserve (apricot, orange or peach) to attach the almonds to the cookies

strawberry preserve for the pretend “blood”

DIRECTION

In a big bowl, mix the sifted flour with the baking powder, powder sugar, butter pieces, egg, salt, and vanilla or almond extract. USE YOUR HANDS!

Once the dough reaches a compact and uniform consistency, form a loaf and make small balls of dough, using about 0.8 (25 gr.) of dough for each one. I have to be honest: since it was the first time I’ve tried this recipe, I use the kitchen scale to make balls of the right weigh/dimension.. ERGO, my daughters helped me ONLY in the next steps.

Now, you (and your kids!) can start rolling the dough balls into fingers. With the palms of the hands, roll each ball until it creates a tube shape of about 4 inches (10-12 cm). I have to be honest again: I didn’t have the patience to take out the ruler, so I used MY index finger as a model! To make the fingers look lifelike, I suggest making them thinner just before and after the knuckle joint and then, to add detail, using the dull edge of a knife to create the wrinkles in the knuckles. Again: I used my index finger as model. You can do the same!

To finish the fingers, take one of the peeled, blanched almonds and dip one side in the light colored preserve of your choice, and apply it to the tip of the cookie finger with a little pressure: it will look like a fingernail.

Pre-heat the oven to 365 F. (180 C.).  Cover a baking sheet with parchment and arrange the fingers at least one inch apart.

Cook for no more than 12 minutes…. and before serving, dip the end of the fingers in strawberry preserves to make it appear even more horrific!!!

HOW COOL! YOUR KIDS WILL ADORE THESE COOKIES!!! Now it will be even more fun deciding how to present your cookies… Arranged next to a skeleton skull? Covered with creepy spiders? Your choice!

LEARN IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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 Tip: – These cookies can last a week if stored in a cookie jar or in a dry and cool room.

          – My favorite way to enjoy these cookies is soaking them in warm milk or tea, for a perfect SPOOKY HALLOWEEN TEA PARTY!

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

Orange creamy butternut squash soup, energize your mood and satisfy your palate!

When fall approaches, I always feel the urge to start decorating my house and front door with pumpkins, hay, cute fall-colored ribbons and wreaths, scarecrows, and corn. I love this period of the year, when all the leaves change and nature gives its last blast of colors before winter comes.  I also start finding more pleasure in cooking warm and comforting food, and bringing some of these colors to the table! Orange, especially, is a lovely bright color that represents strength and endurance. The spectrum of this sunny color can enhance a bright and energizing mood as well as richly warm the comforts of home. And the healthy aura of orange doesn’t stop there – thanks to the plethora of nutrients associated with orange-colored fruits and vegetables, consuming them can help your overall health.  The abundance of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients in orange foods are good for your skin, eyes and heart, and they may also decrease your risk of cancer.

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If I haven’t convinced you to try this recipe by listing all the good effects of orange food (here more specifically, the 10 reasons orange food is good for you), well, at least try this soup for the following two reasons:

  • because after Halloween, or rather, in between the Halloween candy and Thanksgiving pie 😉 you will need to depurate yourself or perhaps just like to look and feel your best going into the Christmas holidays, and eating this low carb (but absolutely delicious) soup will help cut down the daily calories. (This soup would be perfect to alternate with my other favorite vegetable soup to achieve this health goal.)
  • because it is really delicious, creamy, quick and easy to make, and, especially this time of the year, absolutely cheap, with squash and other such vegetables in-season!

About the cooking time: to cook the vegetable soup takes no more than 30 minutes, but you’ll need a little bit of extra time before, to chop the veggies.

INGREDIENTS for a 1/2 gallon pot

1 big sized white onion, finely chopped

1 big carrot

2 medium sized yellow squash

1 medium sized butternut squash

2 tbs. olive oil

sea salt  to taste

2 tsp. dried or fresh rosemary (plus a pinch to dust each serving)

1 vegetable bouillon (you can find it in the organic section of the grocery store)

parmesan cheese (for dusting)

1/2 gallon of water

optional: 1 Tbs. cream cheese per bowl

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 (being careful not to cut yourself!), scooping out the seeds, and cutting it into little cubes. Leave the peel on the zucchini and chop these as well.

In a big pot (I use a steel one), heat about 2 Tbs. olive oil on medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, and then add the chopped carrots.

Wait a little until the carrots brown with the onion, stir a few times and then add the chopped yellow squash and butternut squash.

Let the vegetables cook few minutes and then cover with the water, add the vegetable broth seasoning (buillon), and the rosemary .

Cover the pot with the lid and as soon as the water starts boiling, put the pot at lower heat for not more than 30 minutes.

Your soup is ready!

Actually, since the best characteristic of this soup, in my opinion, is its velvety consistency, before serving, I recommend blending it with an immersion blender to make it nice and creamy…

Considering the amount of water you use, and all the vegetables, you will obtain enough soup to eat all week (unless you are a 10-person family ;-)). If refrigerated, this soup can keep up to a week, and can be frozen too.

When you serve it, remember to offer at least one tablespoon per soup bowl of the best grated parmesan, and (for whom like the idea), a dusting of black pepper.

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LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS: – If you are not struggling with calories, once you’ve blended the soup, dish up what you wish to eat immediately, add 1 Tbs. cream cheese, and let it melt before serving the soup. It will turn the soup into a sweet, irresistible cream!!!

– What is really great about this soup is that you can make it anytime of the day, and just reheat it before your meal.

-Even if I prefer my soup just dusted with parmesan cheese, when dinner time comes close I usually cook inside the soup some small pasta (i.e. rigatini, small soup shells, or Acini di pepe) so it will be more sustaining for the rest of the members of the family (men’s bellies are not so easy to fill up!) ;-).

– Be aware of one thing: once frozen and thawed, the taste of the soup won’t change, but it won’t be as creamy and velvety as it was fresh.

 

            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!

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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).

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LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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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.