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

 

Milanesa style thin cut beef (Cotoletta alla milanese): enjoy a non processed fried food. So easy and so good!

The Cotoletta alla Milanese – also called “costoletta” or “fettina panata“- is an exquisite, ancient recipe, appearing in all famous Italian cuisine books and restaurant menus, but also traditionally used in families especially to make meat tasty for children (as meatballs and beef rolls). The Cotoletta is, together with Milanese risotto, ossobuco and panettone, among the most typical dishes of Milanese cuisine. The dish is typically a thin cut (fettina) of milk-fed veal (according to the classic Milanese recipe), but lamb and pork are also common meat alternatives. The beef I use normally, is called “beef top round, extra thin cut for milanesa” which I easily find weekly at Walmart. Honestly, as all the other typical Italian recipes, every family has developed a slightly different way to prepare this dish. While one person may use only eggs yolk, another might fry in butter instead of oil. Others prefer to use just bread crumb for coating, and so on. So, the version I am sharing with you is the one my grandmother and my mom always cooked for us. The beef is quick and easy to cook, absolutely appealing to adults and kids, and not particularly unhealthy (aside from the fact that is fried food)  😉  if you pick a good quality oil for frying (my favorites are olive oil or peanut oil), you use your home-made breadcrumbs (suggested but not required) and a fresh cut of meat. Most of the time I prepare “cotoletta alla Milanese” when I have beef leftovers from  beef and ham lava cheese rolls.

4 servings INGREDIENTS:

4 big slices beef top round, extra thin cut for milanesa, cut in two pieces

1 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/2 cup corn bread flour

1 beaten egg

Vegetable oil (to fry)

black pepper to taste

sea salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

Usually the “milanesa style thin cut” is sold in very big slices of meat. Before starting cooking, cut the slices in two, it will make dredging the meat in the egg and the frying part much easier and less messy.  Beat the egg and add a pinch of black pepper.

Dredge the meat into the eggs beaten in a deep bowl. You can do this many hours in advance if you like, so the egg will get absorbed by the meat evenly and will keep the breading better.

Mix the bread crumbs with the corn meal, and coat evenly the beef slices on both sides. Again, if you need to get dinner ready quickly, once coated, the meat can stay (covered and well stored) in the fridge for about 24 hours (that means you can prepare the slices coated the night before cooking them).

Heat the oil in pan, and when it reaches the cooking point (try with a little piece of crumb or a wooden tool to check) start frying your beef slices. Pay close attention to the color of the crumbs, that should turn golden but not brown. If the oil is hot enough, it would take not more that few minutes per sides.

Drain the meat on a paper towel as you normally do with fried food, dust with sea salt, and serve still warm.

LEARTN IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS: – Serve with mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or vegetables, as preferred, but even French fries would be a delicious choice!

– Many people like to sprinkle few lemon drops on the meat before to eat it, but I don’t since the lemon make the breading become soft and no more crunchy.

– If you like to try the butter instead of the oil for frying, go ahead: the taste will be stronger, and you may like it even better…

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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