Pasticcio of crêpes, zucchini and ricotta to fill the hearts…

and stomachs of your guests, friends and family! Spring and summer offer many occasions to cook dishes that can stand alone as a light lunch, as a side dish at a barbecue, or at a potluck. Zucchini is beginning to abound once again, so here is a dish I have been tinkering for a while – a “pasticcio” of crespelle or crêpes with zucchini and ricotta. The term “pasticcio” literally meaning mess is a term attributed to many baked dishes or casseroles. This recipe is like a lasagna which is made with flat strips of pasta layered with meat, vegetables, cheese, and besciamella (white sauce). But no pasta here! The recipe calls for crêpes instead!

You can make all the components ahead of time, then pull them together and bake quickly.

Pasticcio di Crespelle con Zucchine e  Ricotta

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana (Febbraio 2002)

First, make the crêpes following your favorite recipe or this one I have on my blog. Crepes and follow #2. Set the crêpes aside as you work on the other ingredients.

Filling

4 large zucchini (600 gr) , sliced thinly

1 large onion, cut in half then sliced thinly

½ cup grated parmigiano

1 egg 

1-2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoons chopped parsley

1-2 tablespoons  butter

2 cups ricotta (I prefer whole milk for this recipe, but lowfat works as well)

1/2 – 1 cup milk (depending on the thickness of the ricotta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. In a pan, lightly sauté the garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until slightly golden. Add the zucchini slices, salt and pepper, stir and cook until gently soft for about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, then set aside.

I cut the zucchini in rounds and very thinly.

2.  In another pan,  sauté the sliced onions in a tablespoon (or two depending on taste) of butter (I also added a tablespoon of olive oil).  Season with salt. Add a ¼  cup of water on the bottom of the pan and watch the onions carefully as they can burn easily. Cover if necessary and lower the heat until the onions have softened. Then cool and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, the egg, the milk and stir until smooth. Season with salt and a little pepper. Add 1/4 cup of the grated parmigiano.

The Assembly!

  1. You can use either a 10 inch round glass pie pan or a an 8×11 rectangular pyrex dish. I have use both and either works well. Lightly grease the pan with softened butter. Form the bottom layer of the lasagna by placing one crêpe in the center and working around the dish place the other crêpes so that their edges overflow the dish.
  2. Add 1/2 of the zucchini and onion mixture and smooth it equally over the crêpes. Add the ricotta mixture enough to moisten, but not overwhelm the zucchini. Dust with a bit of grated parmigiano.
  3. Add another layer of crêpes, this time not worrying about the edges. Repeat with the remaining zucchini mixture and ricotta mixture.
  4. Top with the crêpes and the remaining ricotta mixture. You can add more grated parmigiano and a sprinkle of chopped.thyme. I also experimented with a little grated monterey jack or mozzarella. Fold over the crêpes drapped over the edge to finish. Cook in a 350 (F) or 200 (C) degree oven for 30 minutes. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving or serve lukewarm.

The resulting dish is light, yet satisfying. Enjoy at room temperature or even cold from the fridge!

A dish good enough for summer or any time of the year!

Cheesy Pasta: Move Over Mac!

Americans really do love macaroni and cheese – the dish is ubiquitous in magazines, websites, food blogs. What is there not to love when a pasta is cheesy and baked to perfection with a little crust on top!? With that in mind, I thought I might suggest an alternative to the usual mac and cheese, one that came to me from my brother-in-law Carlo who has made the dish on several occasions and I swooned every time. This is a perfect dish to make for family or other group gatherings as you can make it ahead of time and it presents itself elegantly as well as being oh-so-delicious! Try this baked rigatoni with leeks and Gruyère sauce the next time you are looking for a dish that will please the cheese and pasta lovers in your family.

Carlo’s Pasta al Forno con Salsa Gruviera e Porri

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 lb. package  rigatoni (or 453 gr.) or other short pasta

3-4 leeks (at least 4 cups sliced thinly)

4 oz.  (150 gr.) diced pancetta

4 oz. butter (one stick) or about 90 gr.

¼ cup olive oil

2 ½ cups milk (600 ml.)

2 cups grated Gruyère  (swiss cheese)

½  cup whipping cream (100 ml)

2 tablespoons flour

2 generous tablespoons grated parmigiano

A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

A pinch of freshly grated black pepper and salt

Equipment

1  9×13 inch pyrex  or other oven-proof dish (3 qt  or 2.8 l)

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the baking dish and set aside.

2. Cut the bottom and top ends of the leeks, then wash them making sure no dirt is left between the leaves. Cut them lengthwise and give them another good rinse. Slice thinly. In a sauteé pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons butter and a little olive oil. Add the leeks and cook until softened. Season with salt.

3. In another small pan, cook the pancetta in a little olive oil until golden. Either drain or leave the pancetta to cool in the pan if it is not too fatty.

4. Make a white sauce by melting 2 tablespoons butter in a sauce pan, add 2 tablespoons flour and cook for two minutes.  Heat the milk (in a glass container in the microwave), then whisk  it into the flour and butter mixture, stirring constantly. Once the milk starts to boil gently, turn off the heat, add the whipping cream, the gruyere, and a dash of nutmeg. Stir and set aside.

5. In the meantime, heat the water for the rigatoni and once the water is boiling, salt it, and add the pasta. Cook it until barely al dente, then drain. In a large bowl put the pasta, add the leek mixture, the pancetta, and the cheesy white sauce. Stir until blended, then put it in the baking dish. Sprinkle the grated parmigiano (you may want to put more than 2 tablespoons!) and a light dusting of freshly grated black pepper.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Carlo mentioned to me that other ingredients can be added to this dish – or you can simply add more leeks or pancetta to suit your taste. I think it’s pretty perfect the way it is! You can make a vegetarian friendly version by omitting the pancetta and adding other vegetables. The leeks reign in this dish rendering it so rich tasting and satisfying, its full flavor on display. Thank you, Carlo, for your great dish I’m sure many will enjoy and make it part of their family tradition!

For the Love of Cheese: Robiola

I’m starting a new series dedicated to cheese! – a great favorite of mine and my friends and family. As I write this, I just found out today that my cholesterol level is a bit too high, so I’m a bit bummed. There is no life without cheese! But I think I can manage, cutting back a bit, but enjoying it all the same.

From time to time I’ll write about a certain type of cheese, its provenance in Italy, the particular qualities it has, and of course, some recipes to consider. Some of these cheeses are a little hard to find outside of Italy, so I’ll give you some sites where  you can order online or provide you with some substitutes which work well in recipes.

I’m particularly fond of robiola and somewhat fascinated by it. As I peruse various Italian magazines and cookbooks, what is intended and used by cooks varies enormously. For most it is a soft, fresh cheese, such as Robiola Osella, with a consistency very much like a cross between a cream cheese and a chevre. Other forms of robiola such as Robiola Bosina or Robiola di Roccaverano Dop resemble a camembert with a soft interior and velvety  white rind.

The term “robiola” is derived from the Latin “rubeolus,” an adjective suggesting the “reddish” hue of the more seasoned form of the cheese. Some have also suggested the term comes from a town of Robbio in the province of Pavia in Lombardy. The term Dop means that the product is a Protected Designation of Origin, the real thing. You will will see the seal on many products, such as Parmigiano Reggiano,  from Italy.

Also known as “formaggetta,” the Robiola di Roccaverano comes from the town of the same name, Roccaverano, located in the eastern part of Piedmont, the Langhe, between Asti and Alessandria. This robiola made from cow and goat milk is produced year-round and has two forms, the fresh product which is soft and creamy and the dry seasoned one which has a hard, drier texture and rind. The dry form has a sharp flavor which grows more intense with age.

Many recipes in Italian magazines and online cooking sites call for the fresh robiola with the cream cheese texture. But this type is difficult to find, so I got into my head to try making it myself! I found a recipe through an Italian blogger https://www.laricettadimarco.com/2014/02/robiola-fatta-in-casa.html who offered a simple way to make the cheese at home. So this is what I came up with following his instructions and adapting it to US measurements.

Make-Your-Own Robiola

2 lbs. Non fat yogurt (I used the Straus brand as it is organic and free of additives). It is European style, so it is a bit runny.

1/2 tsp salt (or a large pinch)

1/2 tsp sugar (or a large pinch)

4 Tbl butter softened.

Add the salt and sugar to the yogurt and mix it well. Form a pouch with double folded cheesecloth. Gently pour the yogurt inside it . Tie the notch at the top and hang the pouch over a bowl in the refrigerator. I devised this crazy contraption like this:

Allow the cheese to sit in this way and drain for 18-24 hours. When you take it out of the cheescloth, it will look like this:

Now this is delicious as is; it will resemble and taste like a very thick yogurt. Then whip up 4-5 Tbl. softened butter and add to the cheese. Stir well and adjust the salt. It is now ready for use…to enjoy on crackers, or to make the following dish which inspired me to go down this path in the first place! I found this recipe in the May 2019 edition of Sale e Pepe and was intrigued.

Tortino di Crespelle ai Piselli Farcito Con Robiola

To make the crepes:

2 cups peas (frozen ok), cooked, drained and cooled

3/4 cup milk + 1/4  cup water

1 cup flour

3 eggs

2 tbl butter

In a food processor, use the pulse mechanism to break up the peas until they have the consistency of a paste. Then add the flour, the milk and water, the eggs, and salt. Continue to pulse until somewhat smooth; the peas will give the batter a bit of lumpiness. Allow the batter to rest for about a half hour. It will be thick, so when you begin to make the crepes, you can add a bit more milk as necessary. This recipe makes exactly 8 crepes.

To make the crepes, heat a shallow  8 inch (measure the bottom) non-stick pan at moderate temperature and lightly grease it with butter. With a soup ladle (that measures a little over a 1/4 of a cup), pour the batter onto the pan, swirl it into a light pancake coating the entire bottom of the pan. When the sides seem to brown slightly, flip the crepe. Cook briefly, then turn the crepe onto a towel paper. Prepare the other crepes in the same manner. You should end up with 8 crepes in all. Allow them to cool while you prepare the filling.

The filling

3 cups robiola  – You can use the recipe described above. Substitution:  You can try cream cheese mixed with chevre.  The Nicasio Valley brand cheese called Foggy Morning is very similar to robiola.

However, it is a bit pricey for only 6 oz. I have blended it with my homemade robiola to stretch it a bit.

Add a dash of pepper to the robiola, loosen it up a bit with milk if it seems too stiff. Place one crepe on an oven-proof plate, distribute the robiola over the crepe as if you were icing a cake, then repeat by placing another crepe on top of the other until you have used all eight. Leave the top layer free of cheese. Lightly trim the edges with a sharp knife so you can see the layers. Cover with foil and allow to rest in the fridge. Before serving, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (I used my Breville oven) and place the tortino in the oven for 20 minutes. Decorate with some fresh basil; I also put a few slow-roasted cherry tomatoes to give it color. Cut into wedges and serve as a appetizer or light lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robiola has many uses from gracing a cheese board to being an excellent addition to crepes, cannelloni, pasta, or polenta. Try it in scrambled eggs, top a pizza, add a few dabs in a salad….drizzle with chili oil or fig confit. You won’t be disappointed with it freshness, its mild, yet tangy lightness.

Mazzamurru

Every cook has, at one point or another, a colossal disaster in the kitchen to talk about. Knowing how to deal with it shows quick thinking, creativity, and experience…and an ability to deal with the disaster with a certain sang-froid. Emblazoned in my memory was the time my mother, hosting and cooking an elegant, multi-course dinner for twelve guests in our apartment in Rome. The table was beautifully laid out with the best china and silver, flowers, crystal glasses, and waiters circulated with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. For that occasion, my mother had brought back from Pisa some beautifully cut and tender filet mignon steaks (Tuscan beef being renowned for its high quality) and had placed them in the broiler to be supervised by the wait staff. In the course of the dinner, she was frantically summoned to the kitchen by a horrified server. The scene is seared into my memory of my mother approaching the stove and beholding the blackened lumpy remains of charred meat. Without missing a beat, she turned to the refrigerator and pulled out some veal steakettes, directed one of the waiters to cut the meat in thin slices, flour them and saute quickly in butter with a little added wine. She returned to the dinner table as if nothing had happened and later received high compliments from her dinner guests for the lovely veal dish, how original and tasty it was!. It was a powerful cooking lesson for me about how to manage a disaster…that there is always a solution in the kitchen. And so it happened a week ago when I forgot the bread baking in the oven. I had timed it so that it would be baked and ready to serve with dinner, but  I got distracted by the cheerful banter around me and getting food on the table. We had dinner outside al fresco as usual and as I came inside to clear the dishes, I smelled the familiar aroma of burnt bread. Oh no! IMG_0116

It may not look like a disaster…but it was pretty toasted! I packed the pagnotta in foil  and threw it in the cupboard in disgust. But one thing I hate the most is to throw away food…so I had to find a solution. And I did in ….mazzamurru! It is a Sardinian dish that hails from the Cagliari area, a poor food to be sure, that makes use of scraps of old bread and turns it into a lovely dish that resembles a cross between a bread pudding, a panzanella, and a lasagna. It is a layered bread dish with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. Use a bread that has some heft, such as a focaccia loaf or sourdough. Cut into slices (I took off the crust which was too burnt for use – that will go to feed the chickens) about 1/4 inch thick and soak in milk.

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Tomato Sauce

4 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped coarsely

3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup small diced onion

salt and pepper

Make a light tomato sauce, preferably from fresh tomatoes (I used 4 large). Scald the tomatoes and remove the skin. Chop coarsely. In a heated pan with olive oil and butter, add the onion and saute lightly. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and about a half a cup of water. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is no longer watery. Place one layer of bread soaked in milk in a well oiled baking dish, top with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

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The original recipes call for pecorino, but I used whatever stumps of cheese lay about in my refrigerator. Grate it coarsely (about 2 cups). Layer with more bread, sauce, cheese. I made three layers, but two will work. Bake in a 350 oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden in top. Let it cool a bit before serving.IMG_0131

Some additional thoughts: I think adding some basil leaves or even black olives would work well in this dish.I noticed that some recipes added it to the layers. I wanted to stay as close to tradition as possible. Substituting broth for the milk would work too.

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As you can see, the layers are pretty pronounced. The dish makes an excellent side to meat, chicken, grilled vegetables…easy on a buffet or an idea to use when you are cleaning out your refrigerator!

 

 

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Here is a different, summery and lighter spin on gnocchi, the pillowy potato dumplings that my father adored. I committed the dreadful sin of buying already made packaged ones for the sake of speed. While it isn’t quite the same, you can get the idea from this recipe and adapt it to made-from-scratch gnocchi. This dish hails from Sorrento where ocean, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil all come together in perfect harmony.image_18970789423_o

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Ingredients

1 package gnocchi

2 cups cherry tomatoes (I used heirloom ones)

1 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cubed

2-3 tablespoons butter

a handful of fresh basil coarsely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cook the gnocchi according to package instructions.
  2. While the gnocchi are cooking (and they cook very quickly), melt the butter in a saute’ pan until it is golden, almost brown. As the gnocchi come to the surface of the water, collect them with a slotted spoon and put them directly in the pan. Shake the pan, coating the gnocchi with the butter and keep adding gnocchi until there are no more coming to the surface. Add the cherry tomatoes and give the pan another shake. Add the mozzarella, but don’t let it melt. Place in a serving dish, add the fresh basil, salt and freshly ground pepper and bring to the table. Fast and delicious!