Lovely Limoncello

My hubby and I come from a long line of amateur wine and liquor makers. My dad ferments wine in his garage (and has for as long as I can remember) and the other day offered us a taste of some homemade coffee liquor my aunt had been storing for over 30 years (it was delicious!). We don’t have the room to make wine (no garage and the basement is too packed with stuff) but we do want to make our own contribution to the family liquor cabinet. So after some trial and error and some translating Italian the following is my hubby’s recipe for Limoncello which we bottled (see photo above) and handed out as Christmas gifts this year:

24 lemons

3 liters grain alcohol (must be grain, vodka doesn’t work)

3.25 liters of water

2 liters simple syrup

Yield: 22 bottles (375 ml each) – see note about quantity below

Remove the fragrant zest of the 24 lemons in large strips (be sure not to include any of the white pith) and place into a large glass container (if doing in multiple smaller containers try to evenly distribute the zest). Fill container with the 3 liters of grain alcohol, cover it and place in a cool dark place to steep for 6 weeks.

After the 6 weeks are up remove the skins and add 3.25 liters of water and 2 liters of simple syrup to the lemony alcohol and mix well.  You are now ready to bottle!

Refrigerate before serving (you don’t have to do this but it tastes better cold) and enjoy as an after dinner drink on its own or as I like to – a splash in your espresso.

NOTE: For a smaller batch the ratios of grain to water to sugar are really what matter so here is the ratio: 6 grain, 6.5 water and 4 simple syrup.

A Word on Meatballs and the Resulting Chicken Meatloaf

I have been absent a long long while. And boy have I missed the blogging. I had a baby (boy) in early March and that has eclipsed my free time and basically every other time in between and so I am just now starting to come up for air. Figures that I need to go back to work in 2 weeks. Not a whole lot of quality cooking going on since the bubs arrived but I did stumble upon an accidental improvement to my meatball recipe which I am pleased about. This applies to any sort of meatball too – in fact I was attempting to make chicken meatballs and this is what happened… sorry no photo this time, but I do hope to get back to a semi-regular posting schedule soon. And by soon I mean some time before my son turns 1.

This recipe is essentially a meatball recipe which ended up turning into a chicken meatloaf instead. I was going to make some snacks to go along with the yummy mint juleps we were sipping for the Kentucky Derby  and I thought chicken meatballs would be an interesting alternative, but the chicken sort of broke down and I added an extra egg and viola! SUPER-moist and tasty chicken meatloaf:

1 lb ground chicken (dark meat is better)

1 small onion chopped small

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 eggs

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

2-3 sliced of bread soaked in water

pinch of salt

3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take onion and garlic, lightly salted and saute in the olive oil until soft and lightly browned. I find that cooked garlic and onions adds another dimension of richer flavor versus just adding them raw to the mix. Let the onions and garlic cool slightly. Take the bread and squeeze out the extra water and add it to the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. I like the bread a little chunky and will use whatever we have laying around (rolls, white bread, wheat, egg, etc). You could use breadcrumb instead but I couldn’t tell you what amount to use.

Add the cooled garlic and onions and mix thoroughly. If you can do this in advance and allow the mix to “marinate” in the fridge for an hour or two that is good but it will be fine if made immediately as well.

Pour mix into a loaf pan (I used a glass one but I presume metal would work fine) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and the meat thermometer reads 180 degrees.

The extra egg and the bread soaked in water (you could also use milk) are what make this meatloaf extra moist, and the cooked onion and garlic add that extra kick to the flavor.

I eat mine with a little lemon spritzed on it, but it would be great with some tomato sauce or salsa, or a brown gravy if that’s what you prefer.

Cavatelli From Scratch – My I-talian Sunday

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As an Italian American I am very (almost obsessively) fond of pasta. Especially the freshly made kind. I’ve shared my ravioli and gnudi making adventures in other posts and now I have embarked on a cavatelli adventure as an experiment. I’m hoping to recreate today’s success for my dad (who was born in Italy – Soveria Manelli) on his birthday because he so appreciates these kinds of things, probably even more than I do. For the un-initiated, cavatelli are almost like gnocchi but they’re made from ricotta and a lot of flour, and they have the effective sauce-catching divet in the middle (see photo above) whereas gnocchi are more like little pillows. Though versatile, I really prefer cavatelli served with a hearty meat sauce because this pasta is built to stand up to that kind of task. The homemade version is hardy without being heavy and makes for a really good Sunday meal.

Making cavatelli is easy but very labor intensive. I definitely wouldn’t attempt to make them on your own because it’s a lot of work, but this makes an excellent family bonding activity even if, like me, your family currently just consists of you and your hubby. I imagine a future time when I can do this with the help of the little bun that’s in my oven and my hubby (and a bottle of wine) and lots of good music playing.  But I digress…

The recipe I used is here and it is an excellent one, with step by step instructions and photos. My hat’s off to the author as I didn’t need to modify a single thing. The recipe makes close to 2lbs of cavatelli.  I found that working with the dough in very small pieces was easiest, and everything had to be floured and re-floured, etc, as the dough is a bit sticky.  I used a cheese knife instead of a pastry cutter:

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DSC_1104The important thing is that the utensil you use for shaping the cavatelli is somewhat sharp-edged and metal – the plastic pastry cutter we have didn’t work. We allowed the cavatelli, well floured, to rest and dry out on cookie sheets for at least an hour and then half went into the fridge in a ziploc for dinner and the other half is in the freezer. It took roughly 3 full minutes for the cavatelli to cook and the result was magnificent. We made a simple tomato sauce with lamb sausage simmered in it and topped the finished dish with some grated parm. Heaven.

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Steamed Mussels & Clams in White Wine

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First let me apologize for not getting a shot of the finished product. I was somewhere between punchy and delirious around dinner time last night due to several nights in a row of bad sleep. That being said, I did still manage to crank out a decent steamed mussel + clam dish which is something that used to really intimidate me. I should admit here that I am somewhat afraid of all sea creatures – particularly the live ones – because somewhere deep inside my brain I am convinced that things which aren’t furry can’t be reasoned with. Don’t ask. I don’t know. It’s the sort of thing I categorize with my other irrational fear: clowns.

I still get kind of squeamish about handling the passive creatures, and paranoid about getting a bad one which will give us a wicked case of food poisioning. Whether or not that is rational is debatable, but it’s me so I don’t make this EASY and FAST dish nearly as much as I should. I served the steamed shellfish with a side of greens sauteed in olive oil, shallots and a splash of good red wine vinegar + salt to taste. The greens included some baby chard from our garden:

DSC_0622 You can pick the chard when it’s small like this and it’s very tender. Moreover if you start to pick off the larger leaves, the plants continue to grow and produce more of them, so you can harvest a couple times before having to replant. I also snipped a few of the beet leaves as well to add to the flavor. Aside from the chard and beat greens, the dish included some kale and some arugula.

The mussels and clams were from Maine, purchased at Whole Foods and already mostly clean which was nice. I placed them both in some cold water for about 20 minutes to get off any excess sand which might be lurking. In the meantime, I assembled the ingredients for the broth:

1 leek, chopped

5-6 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 pinch red pepper flakes

4-5 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry white wine

4-5 fresh basil leaves, chopped

4-5 chives, chopped

small handful fresh parsley, chopped

Generous pinch of salt

Start the olive oil, garlic, leeks, salt and pepper flakes in a large deep pot on medium high heat. Saute until the leeks start to soften and the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the wine and the herbs and bring the whole thing to a rapid boil. Add the shellfish and cover immediately. After 2-3 minutes, check the shellfish and give them a stir (or shake the pot to move them around. Replace the cover and continue for another 2-3 minutes. By this time most if not all of the mussels and clams will be open. You should start to remove the ones that have opened and replace the cover to cook the remaining mussels and clams until they open (shouldn’t be more than another minute or 2). Discard any unopened mussels and clams after they have been cooked for more than 7 or 8 minutes as they are likely bad.

We used tongs to remove the mussels and clams into a large bowl so that we could allow the broth to settle and any sand that was in the pot to float to the bottom. We carefully ladled off some broth for dipping the mussels & clams into a bowl and served it on the side. It is fine to do a communal bowl if you are sharing with your hubby, but if it is for other folks who might be less accommodating, ladle the broth into individual bowls along with a portion of the shellfish.

Great to serve also with some crusty bread for soaking up that yummy broth!

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Gnudi – Done well this time

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So you may or may not remember the first time I made gnudi and it was a spectacular failure because I didn’t add flour. After all my hard work getting the water out of the cheese and the spinach and making all the tiny balls of ricotta yumminess I watched in horror as they disintegrated about 2 seconds after hitting the boiling water. I managed to salvage the remaining batter, freeze it, and then use it as ravioli filling, so not a complete failure I guess. I have poked around online and seen the errors of my ways – needing flour – but haven’t come across a compelling recipe until now. I have recently stumbled upon the Delicious Days blog which had this outstandingly easy recipe for gnudi (or ricotta gnocchi) and I tried it out yesterday. I am so freaking excited because not only was this easy but it was FAST too and something that can be modified in many ways to produce light pillows of ricotta fabulousness. Here is the recipe converted into US measure for those of you that don’t have a kitchen scale:

1 cup ricotta

1/2 cup flour + a little extra for flouring work surface

1/3 cup parmesan

1 egg yolk

1 pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of chopped parsley (I added this for extra flavor

I followed the recipe as outlined on the DD blog, so I highly recommend having a read through there first. I combined the ricotta, with the excess water poured out (but no need to wrap it in cheesecloth and drain), with the egg yolk, cheese, salt and parmesan. Stir well so all ingredients are combined. You should start your pot of salted water boiling so it is ready to go before you add the flour.

Add the flour and just stir enough so it is combined but do not try to knead it. The dough will be somewhat wet and sticky but should stick together just fine. Take a large spoonful and place it onto your floured work surface. Roll it out into a long finger-like roll and then cut into bit sized pieces like so:

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Make sure you flour the surface you set them on so they are easy to remove. Once you have cut them all – and it’s important to time this well – put them right into the boiling water. Give it a stir, and watch them float to the top. It took about 3 minutes for them all to float up. Remove with a slotted spoon and add your favorite sauce. I made a crudo tomato sauce using the following ingredients:

1 14.5oz can of diced tomatoes

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic

4-5 tablespoons olive oil

6-7 leaves of fresh basil

Take the garlic and cut it into smallish pieces, and saute it in the olive oil until it is light brown. Turn off the heat. Add the tomatoes to a bowl, pour over the hot oil and garlic, chopped basil and a pinch of salt to taste. Allow this mix to sit for about an hour or so – this allows the flavors to mingle. I placed the bowl in the microwave for 1 minute to heat it up before adding the gnudi.

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Summer Fruit + Herb Salad

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This is a twist on your typical fruit salad and is something I love to serve with brunch. Now that the herbs are going strong in our garden, I am taking full advantage of it.  The idea is very simple – take your favorite fruits and 2-3 herbs, chop and combine. The following is what went into the photo above but you can make a much simpler combination and it works beautifully:

Apples

Strawberries

Blueberries

Raspberries

Mango

Kiwi

Pear

Mint

Chives

Cilantro

Combine the above ingredients, chopped, into a bowl and allow the flavors to mingle for a while before you serve it.  There are a myriad of combinations to the fruit and herb salad, but I would steer clear of using too strong of an herb flavor – like sage or thyme or tarragon, as it will overwhelm the fruit. Mint, cilantro, chives, parsley and basil are all good to use. You can also squeeze a lime over the salad to add additional flavor but it’s not generally necessary.

This salad is especially good spooned over some plain lowfat greek yogurt and drizzled with some honey.

I’d love to hear any favorite fruit + herb combos you’ve tried …

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