Friday, July 24, 2015

Crespelle alla Fiorentina

This is a Tuscan favorite dating back to the middle ages. The French claim the crepe's origin but the Tuscans claim that Catherine Medici introduced it to the French Court. This dish is often served on Christmas.

Crepe Batter
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons melted sweet butter
2/3 cup luke warm milk
Pinch of salt
Butter to grease the pan

1 1/2 pounds ricotta (sheep or buffalo preferred)
2 1/2 pounds stemmed spinach, wilted1
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
A pinch nutmeg
White pepper
Sea salt to taste

Italian White Sauce with Cheese

This sauce is especially used for crepes, cannelloni or lasagna.

8 tablespoons of unsalted butter
8 tablespoons “00” flour
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
1 cup on onion stock (see below)
1 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
White pepper

Onion Stock
Add one whole onion, cut up and one whole bay leaf to 2 ½ cups of cold water. Boil until onion is tender. Strain. Use this clear onion stock for this recipe.

Melt over low heat unsalted butter add and blend over low heat for 3 - 5 minutes flour. Slowly add cream, onion stock, chicken stock. Cook and whisk the sauce until it thickens. Season with white pepper. Add grated Parmesan cheese. Correct the seasoning. If the sauce has to stand for an extended period, it may be re-heated and strained through a medium strainer.

Passata di Pomodoro
3 ripe, peeled and seeded vine ripened tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
A small bunch of Italian sweet basil

Prepare a passata of tomatoes. Heat oil and simmer tomatoes with basil covered on medium low. Stir occasionally, mashing any parts that have not broken down. Cool and set aside until needed

Make the batter. Let batter rest in the refrigerator for an hour before using.

Make the crepes using either a well seasoned or a non-stick pan using a patty of butter for each crepe. Cook on both sides. No need to brown.  Hold cooked crepes layered between parchment papers until needed.

Prepare filling in a food processor. Taste it, add salt as needed. Crepes are delicate so the filling that is spread should not be too stiff. It may be softened by adding a bit of cream in the processor.

Assemble crepes each in its own 10 inch buttered oval Au Gratin pan. Roll cheese-spinach filling in crepe. Lay filled crepe lengthwise in pan, and then cover each crepe with white sauce. Top crepe with grated pecorino Romano cheese and a bit of passata.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake for 20 minutes until done.  Remove from oven and serve hot garnished with a sprig of fresh basil.


1.      You may use pasta to make these, and in that case, they would be called Cannelloni or manicotti. If using fresh pasta, there is no need to boil it. The moisture in the sauce will cook it in 20 minutes. Manicotti, however, need be pre-boiled.

Squash with Shallots and Garlic served with a Tarragon White Wine Sauce

2 yellow squash, end removed, cut into ¼ thick lengthwise strips
2 Cloves minced garlic
2 small shallots, diced
2 tablespoon butter

Béchamel sauce
3 Tablespoons butter
2 ½ Tablespoons flour
¼ cup dry white wine1
½ Cup Half and Half
Chiffonade of fresh tarragon
White pepper and sea salt to taste

Sauté squash in butter with shallots and garlic on medium. Until lightly browned. Drain pieces on paper towels then season with salt and pepper. Keep in warm oven.

Make Béchamel sauce by whisking over medium heat butter and flour. When roué is beginning to turn light tan. Remove from heat and whisk in wine. Return to heat, adding half and half or cream along with fresh tarragon. Correct seasoning when thickened.

Plate squash and garnished with béchamel sauce. Garnish with a sprig of basil.

  1. Wine choice is up to you. You may use part vermoth and part sherry or even a White Zinfandel. Add a pinch of sugar and a touch of vinegar or lemon can heighten the flavor of the sauce. Including finely chopped sorrel will add a lemony tinge.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pear and Ginger Cake

Based on Penny Stephens What's Cooking Italian .

The taste is subtle. If you want to moderate the ginger, use 2 teaspoons. Pears are not a prominent flavor in this recipe. You may want to try adding vanilla or even orange extract. 

14 tablespoons Cup sweet butter softened
7/8 Cup white sugar
¾ Cup  flour
2 Teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
2~3 Teaspoons grated ginger
3 eggs, room temperature
3 pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar

Grease and line the base of a springform cake tin with buttered parchment. (If you like, line the sides of the pan with parchement as well. The cake shrinks when done so the side parchment is really not necessary.) Preheat the oven to 325 F*.
Cream together 12 Tablespoon of the butter with the white sugar on low speed. Wisk in eggs, one at a time. Sift baking powder and flour together. Add flour mixture, and ginger.Whisk mixture 2 minutes to a smooth consistency. Add a pinch of salt.
Sprinkle well buttered bottom parchment paper with brown sugar. Cover the bottom surface with uniformly thin pear slices. Use all of them; it does not matter if they are overlapping. Dot with butter.
Pour the mixture into the cake tin, making sure it is roughly level. Put a wrap of tin foil on the bottom of the springform to prevent butter leak from the topping.

Bake in a preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

This cake is delicious served warm with cream or vanilla ice cream. Best eaten within a day or two of baking.

1.       The baking temperature varies with the depth of the pan. Changing the pan size alters both the baking temperature and time. Larger, more shallow pans need increased heat; smaller, deeper pans need decreased heat. The size of a baking pan or dish is measured across the top of the container from the inside edge to inside edge. The depth also is measured on the inside of the pan or dish from the bottom to the top of the rim.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gifts from the Sea Risotto (Frutta de Mare)

This is a Venetian dish and very often, it is made with mussels, clams, squid and shrimp. You can use what is on hand in your area. Normally, tomatoes and mushrooms are omitted. It does not take long to make, and, most chefs to take advantage of the seafood’s freshness, prepare this the day they shop the ingredients.  The better the seafood or Premium Fish Stock (see, the better the risotto. The Bar Harbor Seafood Stock is sold online at Amazon

4 Tablespoons very flavorful extra virgin olive oil
2 Shallots finely chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small stock of peeled celery, chopped, optional
1 Mediterranean Bay leaf
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (Carnaroli rice)
1 cup Sauvignon Blanc
4 cups prepared seafood stock (boil shrimp shells to help flavor this stock)
2 Cup chicken stock
1 pound shelled white ocean shrimp
2 baby lobsters, 3 ounce, slit shells down lengthwise
1 pound diver scallops
Sea Salt
1 clove crushed garlic, minced
Crushed red pepper optional
White Ground Pepper
Pinch or Italian oregano
1 level teaspoon of sugar
Halved Sun Gold Tomatoes or other ripe baby tomatoes
Cremini mushrooms sliced thin
Garnish chiffonade of fresh basil and diced chives for

Keep the stock warm in a separate pan. Boil shrimp shells, a bay leaf, and some threads of saffron to help flavor this stock. Skim out bay leaf and shells before using stock.

In a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped shallots, optionally a pinch of red pepper, celery if you are adding it and chopped carrot. Cook just until shallots clear but do not brown. Add the rice. Stir and toast until all kernels are coated and fragrant about 2~3 minutes stir constantly.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Allow wine to cook down and then ladle in the stock to just cover the rice. Add crushed garlic, sliced mushrooms. Cook and stir ten minutes, stirring frequently, maintaining a level liquid by adding more stock.

Add the scallops, tomato halves, oregano, lobster tails, and continue cooking covered until rice is soft but still very al dente. If too dry, add more stock. Add the shrimp, cook for just two more minutes covered. Remove from heat. Season with sea salt and white pepper. Garnish with basil and chives. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mesquite and Chilies Seasoned Rub

A good rub is a combination of fresh spices, seasonings and herbs that add flavor to meats, fish or fowl. Fish needs only half an hour while meat and fowl benefit from longer treatments. Overnight is often convenient and the prep time is the same but the depth of flavor is more.

Brown sugar
Mesquite Smoke Flavoring
Sweet paprika
Merken1 Mapuche Chile
Ground Pasilla Chile
Chile chipotle
Garlic powder
Black and white pepper
Onion powder
Ground Makrut2 lime powder
Cascabel Chile

  1. Merken is a traditional Chilean seasoning created by the indigenous Mapuche people. The local version is made from Goat’s Horn chile (aji cacho de cabra), which is mildly spicy and smoky, but not nearly as strong as chipotle chile are.
  2. Makrut lime leaves are indigenous to Southeast Asia. Many of the trees now thrive in Hawaii. They have a citrus-like, floral aroma and impart a unique flavor.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nani’s Cioppino or Cacciucco alla Livornese

Nani, a family friend, was an Italian doctor and former paratrooper and under water demolition expert for the Allied forces in World War Two.  He taught me and my sister how to snorkel and deep free dive. He was a tremendous success anytime he entered a kitchen. I first met him on the Isle of Giglio off the coast of Pisa, Italy in 1960.

This is an expensive dish and it takes a while to prepare. It is well worth it and your guest will beg you for it over and over, once they have tried it. Use this for a big crowd. Serve with two loaves of the finest sourdough bread you can find. You need a very big stock pot (12-14 quart or larger) for this dish. I do not prepare this often due to the cost. See notes below for more advice.

In Italy, the Cacciucco alla Livornese (in the USA Cioppino) is made with Slipper lobster, mantis shrimp, Moscardini (little octopuses), Baby Cuttlefish, mussels, large clawed ocean prawns and the catch of the day which could include the varieties: branzino (striped Sea Bass), Scorfano (Scorpion fish), Orata (Gilthead Sea bream), Gallinella (tub gurnard) Triglia (Red Fish) and Monkfish. Cioppino  is not unlike bouillabaisse, a French seafood stew, but it does not include saffron or fennel. Said to have its origins from “ciuppin"- a fish stew from the Liguria region of Italy and is very similar to Cacciucco Livornese. The word Cioppino is more identified with San Francisco where the Italian fisherman introduced it.

This recipe is a thicker version than the watery offering served in many “so called” Italian fish resturants in San Francisco, more like a sauce than a soup.  If you want more liquid, do not reduce the fish stock as much, or add additional white wine and chicken stock.

1 1/2 large onions, sweet, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 pound finely diced salt pork
5 or more cloves garlic, chopped
1 tube triple concentrated Italian tomato paste
2 large cans of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 dry whole hot red pepper
3 Tablespoons chopped basil
1 Tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 Tablespoon chopped thyme
1 Tablespoon chopped sage
1 Tablespoon chopped oregano
2 Cups fish stock
6 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil in two portions, 3 tablespoons each
16~25 clams
16~25 black mussels
8~16 large sea scallops
8~16 large prawns
8~12 ounces monkfish, boned
8~12 ounces red snapper, boned
1/4 pound sweet butter
2~4 lobster tails, cut up
2~3 Large steamed Dungeness crabs, bodies, cut into chunks
1 ½ cups white wine
2 tablespoons sweet butter

Fish Stock
2 cups dry white wine
1 quart of unsalted chicken stock
1 rock cod head
Assorted fish carcasses and bones
12 Coriander seeds
1 onion chopped coarsely or 2 whites of leek
2 ribs of celery, chopped coarsely
1 large carrot, chopped
10 dried Mexican bay leaves
10 peppercorns crushed

Sprigs of fresh basil and chopped chives

Wash and rinse both the clams and mussels in cold water several times. Discard any dead or open clams or mussels. Cover them in a bowl with cold water, stir in a tablespoon of cornstarch. Set them on the counter for several hours untouched. The cornstarch will entice them to open, which may allow them to drop some sand and shed salt from the salted water they were raise in. Rewash in cold water before using.

Clean the cooked crab bodies. Discard small useless small leg joints, retain large leg pieces, crack these so their easier to eat, clean and cut up the crab main bodies into 4 main chunks per crab. You can have the butcher do this for you either for free or maybe an additional small incremental fee. Clean the lobster, cut off and retain the tail and large claws (if it has claws). Cut the lobster in half length wise. The cross cut the lobster tail meat into chunks. Remove and discard any loose shell bits. Place shellfish in the refrigerator until a half an hour before cooking. Now bring out shellfish and fish and allow them warm up some, a half an hour before the final cooking stage.
Fish Stock:
Prepare this 3-4 hours ahead of when it’s needed. Combine all fish stock ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook on high covered for 5 minutes, remove lid, cook another 25 minutes. Cool, then strain first through a course sieve then again through a fine sieve. Discard all fish stock solids. Return all the liquid to the large stock pot, simmer on low, and reduce until half its volume. Next prepare tomato base.

Tomato Base:
Sauté onions, celery, carrots, salt pork and the red pepper in 3 tablespoons of your best olive oil on moderate heat in a sauce pan until onions are clear but do not brown. Add chopped spices. Add 5 cloves of chopped garlic; cook on high 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook on high stirring constantly until the paste darkens which helps deepens its flavor. Stir in 1 cup white wine. Stir and cook uncovered on low for five minutes, then add chopped tomatoes. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add a ladle or two of fish stock as required as sauce thickens. Pour tomato base into the fish stock pot. If you are several hours ahead, cover stockpot and turn off heat.

To Finish the Cioppino:
Bring up heat under stock pot so it comes to a low boil.

Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and butter in a hot 12" skillet and add drained washed clams and mussels.  When the shellfish barely begin to open, deglaze with ½ cup white wine. Examine pan for sand from the shellfish. Strain pan to remove any sand. Taste the broth and note its salt content. If it super salty from the ocean salt water, you will need to add less salt to the cioppino later. Then add the filtered3 broth from the pan into the main stockpot.  Bring stock pot to a boil.

Add uncooked lobster pieces and cook 8 minutes with the lid on. (If you add the lobster whole (not recommended) they will take longer to cook, may cook unevenly, and be difficult to serve individual portions.) If you managed to find baby slipper lobsters, you may leave the tail shells on and cook them whole as long as they are 3 ounces or smaller.

(For more pronounced garlic taste, one could add more finely minced fresh garlic at this point.) Now add the crab, scallops and shrimp. Boil for exactly five minutes with the lid on then add all other fish into the liquid, boil for 4 minutes with the lid on. In the last two minutes, add back the clams and mussels pushing them into the stock. Turn off heat, leave lid on. Let the pot rest covered for five minutes. As the stock cools, fish will continue to cook. There is a lot of stored heat in the soup stock liquid. (Notice that the fish goes in whole which is ok as the process of serving and stirring the soup will break then fish up enough.)

Just before serving, check salt and add pepper to taste. 

Serving individual portions in a large soup bowl and garnish with a sprig of basil and finely chopped chives.

  1. A word about the lobster.
Pacific spiny lobsters ($$$) or slipper lobsters are preferred over all others but Maine lobsters, if bought live are ok. If you are squeamish, have the butcher tail and claw them for you. Keep them on ice (do not freeze) until ½ hour before ready to cook, then bring to room temperature. If you place too many really cold things in the pot, the temperature will drop too much. We are timing things so we avoid overcooking items hence we allow things to warm up a bit just before cooking them, which is just fine.
  1. Controlling quality and cost.  You need a good fish market. (Asian markets have a good assortment and are less expensive.) Prepare fish from whole fresh fish. Use the carcass and bones for stock. Fresh fish have clear eyes, bright red gills, and smell like the sea.
  2. Filtering removes any possible sand dropped from the clams or mussels.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Chiles Rellenos Burritos

This burrito is based on the Guadalajara Market Special burrito that is renown in San Jose for an extraordinarily good burrito. The perfect chili is the Poblano. It is a shiny dark green triangular shaped chile 3” to 4” long that varies in their hotness from mild to somewhat hot. These are always roasted and stuffed with their seeds and stems intact. The stem is only pulled off when assembling the burrito. The seeds and what cling to them have most of the heat and some more of the flavor. Pre-roasting the chilies insures a deep toasty flavor. This recipe also relies on Mexican rice, and refried pinto beans. (See recipes)


2 Poblano green chilies per person, fire roasted, peeled
A brick of queso fresco1
1 cup flour
Pinch salt
Pinch garlic powder
Pinch ground red pepper
Corn oil, to coat skillet
1 room temperature egg per relleno, beaten until super frothy

Turn broiler on high.

Line a shallow roasting pan with tin foil. Place Poblano chilies on their flattest side to broil and, later, turn once to cook the other side. This usually takes 5~10 minutes per side depending on the distance of the pan to the broiler head and the BTU output of the broiler.

After roasting Poblano chilies until they are black on both sides, remove from broiler and cover the chilies with newspaper or place in a brown paper bag to sweat. After 20 to 30 minutes you can start peeling away the black heavy paper like skin. Try to remove most of it. If needed, use a small paring knife to lift the edge of the skins. Don’t worry about the blacken surface; it’s fine. This chile is naturally dark to begin with.

Turn on oven to bake at 250 F. The oven is used to keep batches of cooked rellenos warm as they are batch fried 3 or 4 at a time.

Using some tin foil and cover a dinner plate to make cleanup easy. Put a cup of flour spread out on the tin-foiled-plate for dredging the chilies. Make a small slit in each chili and fill the chilies with a slug of cheese. Don’t worry if the cheese is a hump in the middle – it’s going to melt and fill the chilie’s cavity. Dredge each chili in the flour on both sides until well covered. Add room temperature eggs to a mixer with a pinch each of salt, red pepper, and garlic powder and beat eggs until super frothy and very pale.

Place a large frying pan on high heat. When the pan is hot (350 F) add a few tablespoons of oil.
Using your hand, dip each floured chili into the egg batter to cover it well then carefully lower it to the hot pan surface. Use a spatula to move some of the egg mixture back over the edges of the chilies. When rellenos are well browned on one side, turn gently over to brown the other side. Rellenos should be golden brown when done with the cheese well melted. Place rellenos on a platter and put them in the oven while finishing the next batch of chilies. When done, assemble the burritos with 2 rellenos per burrito. Pull off rellenos’s stems when assembling burritos.

Burrito ingredients per person

2 rellenos, while still warm
2 tablespoons refried beans per burrito, heated
2 tablespoons Spanish rice per burrito, heated
2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco or Chihuahua
1 tablespoon fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
1 tablespoons Guacamole or chunks of avacado
1 tablespoons hot sauce
1 large flour super burritos-size (13~14 inch) hot tortilla

The beans and rice are hot when you assemble the burritos. The flour tortillas may be heated in a direct flame on the stove top turning frequently until very warm on both sides.
Alternatively, heat each tortilla in the microwave on high for 25~30 seconds one at a time as they are needed.

  1. Queso fresco is the most widely used cheese in Mexican cooking. The firm-textured fresh white cheese (its name translates as "fresh cheese") is slightly salty, with a mild, tangy taste similar to farmer's cheese. It melts well and does not run.