Category Archives: Italian cooking

Chocolate Cannoli and the Italian Birthday Feast

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Last weekend I attended the wedding of a childhood friend.  It was wonderful to catch up with the, “old gang” and find out what everyone had been doing in the years after high school.  Some of us moved away and others stayed close to home.  One amusing subject that came up was how we all tell strangers we meet that we are from Baton Rouge.  The fact is that we are from a small town across the river from Baton Rouge, but I have learned that for most people from other states, New Orleans is the only town, “on the map” in Louisiana.  Even so, Baton Rouge is the capitol, and we expect people to have heard of it even if they don’t know where it is.

Almost any woman from Baton Rouge whose mother cooked anything at least had a copy of River Road Recipes.  It is a cookbook published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge and although there have been four different River Road cook books, the first one, published in 1959 is a classic.

Until recently, I always used the River Road lasagna recipe, because that one was the recipe that my mother used.  It’s the one I remember bringing to the Girl Scout potluck suppers when I was growing up.  When I became a mother and started using that recipe, I always doubled the meat sauce, and it was always a hit – especially with the guys.  It was also guaranteed to feed the multitudes.

I mentioned in a recent post that it is a tradition in our family for the, “Birthday Girl/Boy” to choose their birthday meal.  In June, my oldest, “Sweet Thing One”  turned 17 and wanted to invite friends to her birthday dinner.  At first she requested pan sautéed fish.  When I learned that she was inviting six of her friends in addition to the eight family members I’d already invited, I suggested lasagna.  Her response was, “Only if it’s really yummy.”

Always a fan of Italian cuisine, I have recently been watching and learning from the many wonderful Italian chefs on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  I realized that the recipe that I had been using was not traditional, and remembered that my mother-in-law recently gave me an Italian cookbook that she found at the Pottery Barn.  The title is, The Italian Country Table: Simple Recipes for Trattoria Classics, by Maxine Clark.  Although I have not ever heard of Maxine Clark, I decided to try her recipe for, “Oven-baked lasagna” instead of my old tried and true.  I was glad I did.

I remembered that one of  my Sweet Thing One’s favorite Italian desserts is chocolate cannoli.  In fact, we once walked all over Little Italy in New York on a quest for chocolate cannoli and she had to settle for one that had a chocolate dipped cannoli shell and a regular ricotta filling.  A friend of mine who had once made chocolate cannoli shared a recipe with me some time ago, and I thought that this might be a good time to try it.  I gave my daughter a choice – cake or cannoli.  She said, “Can you do both?”  Since the cake she wanted was Italian Cream Cake, I said, “Sure, why not?!”  (Am I a glutton for punishment or what?)  I have used the same recipe for Italian Cream Cake for years, so I knew I could handle it.  Cotton Country Collection, a publication of the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana has a recipe for Italian Cream Cake that turns out very moist, and has a pecan and coconut cream cheese icing that has me licking the bowl, the spoon and the beaters!

My daughter’s 17th birthday turned out to be a memorable one!  I did adjust the lasagna recipe a bit, as I felt that for the crowd I had, I needed more meat and tomato.  The cannoli was a hit, although my daughter’s friend thought they were eggrolls when she first saw those chocolate ricotta filled tubes of deliciousness.  The friend quickly learned what cannoli was.  I used the recipe my friend gave me and combined it with others.  The dough for the shells proved to be the biggest challenge.  I realized as I was working with the dough that it is really a basic pastry dough, such as a pie crust.  A little cold water went a long way in helping me to roll out the dough.  The recipe I have posted is a combination of a recipe given to me by  Matthew Mechana and this one at Cooks.com.

I learned a great deal from that  birthday dinner.  Tradition is important, but the most important thing about tradition is not necessarily doing exactly the same thing over and over again.  It’s about re-creating the feeling that you associate with that warm memory of what happened and that you want to create over and over again!

Chocolate and ricotta filled cannoli
These cannoli tubes filled with chocolate and ricotta fillings were delicious!

Cannoli Shells

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
  • 5 Tablespoons white wine or Marsala wine
  • 2 eggs beaten lightly
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Cannoli molds -- may be purchased at a kitchen store, or you may make them from wooden dowels.

Instructions

  1. Preheat vegetable oil to 375 degrees. (Or, if you do not want to fry them, you may bake these in the oven at 375 for 10 minutes.)
  2. Put flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Add butter and work with fingers until mixture resembles fine meal.
  4. Add wine and 1 egg.
  5. Mix with a fork until dough can be formed into a ball.
  6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until elastic and silky.
  7. Wrap the dough in wax paper and let rest in a cool place for 2 hours.
  8. Divide dough into 8 balls.
  9. When you are working with this dough, remember it is pastry dough. Keep a glass of ice water handy as the dough will dry out. It helps to cover the dough with a damp cloth when you are not working with it. It helps to work in batches, frying around four at a time.
  10. Run 1 dough ball through a pasta roller on its widest setting, then repeat several times, gradually moving to narrower settings, until it can be run through at the narrowest setting.
  11. Or, if you do not have a pasta machine, roll each dough with a rolling pin until it is as thin as you can get it and still work with it.
  12. Cut the dough into 3.5" by 3.5" squares.
  13. Wrap each square around a cannoli form and seal the edges. Fry until golden brown.
  14. Allow to cool before sliding off of the mold. (The metal molds especially can get very hot. Be careful when you're removing the shell from the mold. You may want to use a butter knife to carefully slide the shell from the mold. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
http://www.gumbogoddess.net/?p=226

Cannoli Filling

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of ricotta (I'm told sheep's milk ricotta works well if you can find it)
  • 1 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

Instructions

  1. Beat ricotta with a mixer at high speed until smooth.
  2. Add sugar.
  3. Add vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until thick.
  5. Fold the whipped cream into the ricotta/sugar mixture.
  6. If you want to have both chocolate and vanilla cream filled cannoli, then divide the filling into two bowls. Add cocoa to one of the bowls of filling.
  7. Chill the fillings for 1 hour before filling the shells.
http://www.gumbogoddess.net/?p=226

To assemble the cannoli, spoon a little of each filling into separate pastry bags.  Pipe the filling into each of the shells.  For a garnish, you may dip the tips of the filled shells into shaved chocolate, mini chocolate chips, crushed pistachios or chopped candied citrus peel.

Chill 30 minutes before serving.

Let’s Get Cooking photo contest, or, “The important thing kid, is that you’re doing something you like to do.”

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In the 1980’s there was a movie starring Jobeth Williams entitled American Dreamer.  In the movie, a normal, everyday housewife named Cathy Palmer submits an entry in a writing contest.  In the writing contests, entrants must submit a story in the style of her favorite author’s series.  She wins the contest, and the prize is a trip to Paris.  Her husband says that he can’t take off of work to go to Paris just to watch her get a plaque and a pat on the back.  She summons her nerve and goes alone, against her husband’s wishes.  Her first day in Paris, she’s hit by a car on the way to the award luncheon.  She wakes up in the hospital and thinks that she is the sexy, dangerous Rebecca Ryan, who is the main character in her favorite espionage novels.  The rest of the movie involves Cathy’s entanglement in other people’s reality.  My sisters and I watched this movie so many times that I think we know every single line!

I recently entered a photo contest.  Giada de Laurentiis is sponsoring a photo contest in which entrants must cook one of her recipes, plate it and photograph it.  Judging begins on November 14, 2011 and Facebook users can vote on a photo once per day until December 2.

I just love Italian!  When I read about the contest it inspired me to cook a few different recipes.  I cooked three of her recipes on different nights, and took several photos of each.  I enjoyed the experience.   For the sake of variety, I did not serve these on consecutive nights!

The first recipe I chose was the Penne with vodka sauce.  Because the sauce didn’t have meat in it and it had vodka in it, I knew that it might not be appealing to some of my family members.  I cooked my regular meatballs and served them with the simple tomato sauce that is the base for the Penne with Vodka Sauce recipe.

Penne pasta with a tomato and vodka sauce
Penne with vodka sauce

I served penne as the pasta to accompany both.  I was surprised that everyone tried the Penne with vodka sauce.  Perhaps I did not cook it long enough, because my daughter said that she could taste the vodka.  In any case, I have decided to use that simple tomato sauce recipe again!  It is very similar to the sauce I have been making, but doesn’t call for basil or oregano, two herbs that I usually include in my tomato sauce.  I am going to experiment with this sauce some more, because it really is simple and delicious!

Meatballs with simple tomato sauce
I cooked my regular meatballs and added them to Giada's Simple Tomato Sauce

The following week I cooked Giada’s recipe for chicken saltimbocca.  I absolutely love spinach and prosciutto, and couldn’t wait to try it.  The chicken saltimbocca was a little more time consuming because it requires one to pound out chicken breasts and roll them up with spinach, prociutto and parmesan.  One of the best things about this is that the main dish includes a vegetable.  I served the chicken on a bed of angel hair pasta that had been tossed with olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, capers and basil.  The lemon spaghetti recipe is one that I watched Giada serve with salmon on an episode about spa food at home.  This fresh, lemony whole wheat pasta dish is a great accompaniment to the saltimbocca recipe as well as the third recipe that I photographed.

Chicken piccatta is one of my family favorites, and I have blogged before about a recipe that I have used before.  I was eager to try Giada’s recipe, because it was slightly different than the other recipe that I have used – Giada’s recipe does not use flour.  I altered the recipe slightly and used half wine and half chicken broth, because I was low on chicken broth.  It was delicious!

Chicken Piccatta
Giada's Chicken Piccatta

I photographed all three recipes using different lighting and angles…and even sometimes used different plates.  The deadline to enter the contest was November 11th, and I wanted feedback from my family on the photos as well as the recipes!  It was a crazy week!  A business trip, and then my daughter’s play filled my week.  November 11th came and I told the Loup Garoup that he simply HAD to help me decide.  The day ran away from us, and the next morning as I was about to take a bite of a decadent chocolate doughnut, LG said, “What photo did you decide to enter in that contest?”

I sighed.  I stomped, and I almost cried.  All of that, and I FORGOT to submit my photo?  I had been watching the other entries, and I really thought that I had some good material to submit. “At least we got some yummy meals out of it,” LG said consolingly.  Still.  I just couldn’t believe I had forgotten.  I went to the computer and brought up the contest page.  I couldn’t believe it!  The last date to submit an entry was November 14!!  They must have extended the deadline.  I had no time to waste!  My sister was coming over later that morning, and so was my mother.  I showed my photos to them, and we had a consensus!  We decided that I should submit a photo of the chicken saltimbocca.

Unfortunately, the grand prize is not a trip to Paris, or even Rome.  However, my family got some delicious meals, and I had lots of fun cooking and photographing them!  It will be really exciting if I get to call my sisters and say, “I’ve won!”

Please go to the contest web site and even if you aren’t a Facebook member, look at the many photographs.  You may vote on my entry once per day until December 2 and it may be found here:   http://apps.facebook.com/contestshq/contests/161875/voteable_entries/36142016

Many people put some time and effort into the contest and there are some great photos!  The recipes are great too, and I intend to try some of the others that I did not make for the contest.  Recipes may be found on the Giada de Laurentiis web page at:

http://www.giadadelaurentiis.com/Recipes/RecipeSearch.aspx?terms=LetsGetCooking

 

Chicken Piccata with angel hair pasta is one of our favorites!

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Chicken Piccatta with angel hair pasta
Chicken Piccata with angel hair pasta

 

When Loup Garou and I met, it did not take us long to realize that we shared an interest in food and cooking.  Soon, we were discussing our favorite restaurants and we discovered that we both loved the veal picatta at DiGiulio Brothers in Baton Rouge.  Our next step was to find a recipe that would help us to recreate that dish.  We put together a couple of recipes and came up with something very close!  We have been cooking it for a couple of years now.  We have even cooked it with sliced eye of round instead of veal…of course that takes a little tenderizing!

Recently, I came across this recipe for chicken piccata and found that it is delicious and also very close to the dish we love from Digiulio’s.  It’s become a favorite at our home!

Simply Recipes is a great place to find recipes!

 

For the pasta, I often serve a whole wheat angel hair pasta tossed with basil, lemon, garlic and olive oil — much like this recipe from Giada De Laurentis.

GG