Limoncello

Limoncello and I go way back. My father used to travel a lot for his job and often found himself working in northern Italy, where he became good friends with his business counterpart in the local office. My mom accompanied him whenever possible (because, Italy), and they’d enjoy a nice vacation on the company dime. This was back in the ’90s when flying wasn’t such a slog, so they’d return with all sorts of goodies, including homemade limoncello, which the ladies in our town really loved. I have to say, it wasn’t really my thing at the time, but I’ve grown to appreciate it over the years. Bright and scented by the sun, with sweetness on a sliding scale according to your taste, it’s an amazing way to use an abundance of Meyer lemons if you’re lucky enough to have a tree, or just a good way to indulge if you want to go the supermarket route.

Please check out Darcie’s post for her personal take on limoncello via Perth, Australia. I don’t know about you, but I get a serious case of wanderlust whenever I read her posts. Her limoncello recipe is so similar to The Kitchn‘s that we simply adapted it for you here.

Remember: Drink responsibly and please designate a driver if you plan to indulge!

For a roundup of all of our Advent Calendar posts for the year, click here.
Darcie can be found at her website, Gourmet Creative and on Instagram at @darcie_hunter.
Find me on Instagram at @amyrothphoto, Pinterest at @amyrothphoto and my portfolio at (you guessed it) Amy Roth Photo.

Limoncello 2 - Amy Roth Photo

 

Limoncello

Meal type Beverage
Misc Serve Cold
Bright, scented by the sun, and just as sweet as you’d like, homemade limoncello is a special treat.

Ingredients

  • 10 organic Meyer lemons (washed and dried)
  • 1 bottle vodka (750-ml; 100-proof preferred, or 80-proof)
  • 1-4 cup sugar (to taste)

Note

Adapted from The Kitchn.

Directions

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peel from the lemons, taking care not to include the white pith. Place peels in a large glass jar and cover with vodka. (The remaining lemons can be used to make lemonade- yum!) Allow the peels to steep for about a month (at least 4 days, but longer is definitely better).
Make a simple syrup by combining equal parts water and sugar. Heat until fully dissolved and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, strain the vodka, removing all peels and sediment. Combine simple syrup and infused vodka until you reach desired sweetness and concentration.
Pour into a bottle. Chill and serve the limoncello on its own, or in a cocktail.

From the Pinterest Files: Roman Summer Salad

I can’t promise that From the Pinterest Files will become a weekly feature, but I do plan to cook from my Pinterest board more often, so who knows? Whenever I do, though, I promise to let you know what I think, good or bad.

This Roman Summer Salad by Giada De Laurentiis is perfect for me, and you too, if big, bold flavors are your thing. It’s basically a salad version of pasta puttanesca, with tomatoes, olives, capers and garlic swimming around with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. To make it a touch more salad-y, I added chopped spinach and red komatsuna, both from Bialas Farms. Granted, it’s nowhere near tomato season here yet, but this recipe really made its presence known, and I just couldn’t wait a month to give it a try. And now that you know about it, you’ll be ready when tomato season comes your way, if it hasn’t already!

Roman Salad | Minimally Invasive

 

Cup4Cup Week: The Bread

FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL!

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Even though the taint of the Saints’ scandal lingers and I’m still smarting from the BCS championship game last January, I can’t help but be excited for the start of the season. We Saints/Tigers fans are an optimistic lot. The booze helps.

Of course, you’ll need good food for the games this weekend, and you could do so much worse than a muffuletta, the Sicilian-by-way-of-New-Orleans sandwich invented by Salvatore Lupo at Central Grocery. It shares a meat-and-cheese situation with the Italian sub, but goes above and beyond in two important ways — the bread (a soft, round Italian loaf that’s light but substantial enough to take on the filling) and olive salad (with pickled vegetables and heavy on the garlic). Since I have no hope of ordering the sandwich in north Jersey or of getting a gluten-free muffuletta loaf at the bakery, I made my own.

And, well, I have to say the bread was not great. Looked nice, though:

I really don’t know if it was the flour, the recipe, my own incompetence, or some combination of those factors, but it didn’t work for me at all. The bread rose — more than I expected, actually — but emerged from the oven dense as dwarf star matter. Still, I had loads of meats and cheeses and a ridiculous amount of olive salad in the fridge, so I plowed ahead with the muffulettas, hoping a good soaking with olive salad oil would render the bread pliable enough for ingestion.

I used Emeril’s recipe and thought his olive salad was delicious, but lacked garlic. I KNOW, RIGHT? Craziness. Emeril is garlic’s ambassador, its Kris Kardashian. He revels in garlic the way David Foster Wallace reveled in footnotes — unashamedly and without regard for the reader. “Perhaps you could add another footnote or five, David?” The effrontery! But this is no time for balance and restraint; the more garlic you throw at olive salad, the clearer its point becomes.

If not for the bread issue, it would’ve been a damned fine sandwich even with the garlic paucity. Each muffuletta probably was less than a quarter of the Central Grocery sandwich, but I still only managed to eat a half, and that without the top of the bread which threatened to destroy the roof of my mouth. No thank you, bread; my Cap’n Crunch days are long behind me.

So all good experiments must come to an end. I’ll look for a new bread recipe with the Cup4Cup and let you know how it turns out. But do give the muffuletta a try if you have access to good bread and a cast iron stomach.

And happy footballing!

Italian Sunday

Update (1/22/11): This short rib ragu won Food52‘s contest for Your Best Short Ribs, and will be included in their next cookbook, out later this year!

Maybe it’s the tomato tooth I was born with instead of a sweet tooth, maybe it’s the towering heels I rock when my old bones let me, or maybe it’s only that Marcello Mastroianni was perfection on two legs, but I’ve always wanted to be Italian, just a little bit.


Exhibit A: Photographic evidence of alleged perfection, minus corroborating proof of two legs.

It isn’t that I don’t love a good bowl of shrimp & grits or that I don’t get a nostalgic glow from a breakfast of couche-couche and cane syrup, but polenta has been my go-to corn base of late. And after a long work week, what could be a more welcome sight or more soul-satisfying over cheesy, buttery polenta than a ragu of braised short ribs, I ask you?

It’s a dish that’s nearly impossible to mess up, which I think we all can appreciate in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. With so much else on the mind, it’s nice to throw something into the oven for a few hours and get on with other things. Of course, the initial prep work takes some time — chopping the vegetables, trimming and searing the beef, getting all of the elements in balance before the extended stay in the oven — but your time and patience will be well-rewarded by the outcome.

If you can manage not to devour it right away, let the ribs sit overnight in the refrigerator. This serves two purposes: as we all know, this type of dish is always better on the second day, and you’ll be able to remove some of the ungodly amount of fat the ribs throw off so much easier than if you only skimmed the surface while it was still hot. Of course, chilling the ragu overnight doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a little quality control while it’s still hot, just to put your mind at ease that you have, in fact, made something that will be worth the wait.

Too bad I didn't make more.

But woman cannot live by polenta and short ribs alone. As a nod to the tables of so many of my fellow North Jerseyans, I made a Sunday gravy recently. It’s not something I tackle more than once a year because of the sheer effort and number of calories involved, but man, this makes for a pleasant food coma. I make no claims to authenticity, but I’m not sure too many others can either; it’s one of those dishes that seems to have as many variations as people who make it. The recipes may disagree on specifics, but all are unified in the insistence on Meat And Lots Of It. Me? I only used a paltry four types — pepperoni (not too much of it), sweet Italian sausage, pork butt and beef & pork meatballs. I browned everything but the pepperoni, then simmered it all for hours in tomatoes swimming with garlic until we were going mad (in the best possible way) from the smell.

not perfected yet

My gluten-free adaptation of this polenta cake didn’t quite pass muster, but with a little creme fraiche, it was still a nice way to end the meal. I’ll keep working on it and report back when I’ve found success.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Italian Sunday”

Pizza, My Endless Love

smoked trout & roasted garlic vs. pepperoni & roasted red peppers

Most days, I’ll hit the gym at lunch if I have the time to spare at work. With my commute, it’s the only chance I ever have for a real workout and I always feel better when I manage to do it. But Friday, I just wasn’t feeling it, so I hiked over to Chelsea Market instead. I’ve read great things about the gluten-free offerings at Friedman’s Lunch and wanted to try out one of their sandwiches after picking up some pantry staples at Buon Italia. The reuben from Friedman’s came back to work with me, and it was really, truly delicious, so much so that I didn’t miss the “real” bread one bit. Of course, I was ready to nap within 15 minutes of finishing it, but what a happy food coma it was.

My heavenly sandwich notwithstanding, the best part of my shopping expedition was scoring The Last Package of sheep’s milk ricotta at Buon Italia. They were out the last few times I’ve been, so my search started to feel a little like Woody Harrelson’s eternal quest for Twinkies in Zombieland. But then that lone package appeared before me, like a cream-covered grail.

Ummm yeah, you could say I love the stuff.

Anyway, the wheels started spinning even before I left the building . . . pasta would be good, maybe with some butternut squash. My old standby — ravioli stuffed with ricotta and an egg yolk — wasn’t something I wanted to waste this precious bundle on during my first attempt at making a fresh gluten-free pasta, so that was out. But how about pizza? Gluten-Free Girl‘s pizza crust was just featured on Michael Ruhlman’s blog, so I could share the recipe. And from there, I was off, doing taste tests in my imagination, adding/rejecting toppings based on how they’d play with the ricotta. I finally settled upon a recipe that, while simple, worked perfectly, with roasted garlic, smoked trout, a touch of parmesan and baby arugula. The ingredients married well, without any one component overshadowing the others.

I went with bolder toppings for the second pizza, adding muenster cheese (we had no mozzarella), plum tomatoes, sliced pepperoni, roasted red peppers, more ricotta, parmesan, red pepper flakes and the few remaining leaves of basil from my plant on the deck. Neither Gil nor I could decide which pizza we liked more, even after taste testing until we nearly burst. The only thing I’d change for next time would be to roll out the crust as thin as possible, till it’s almost crackly, but that’s just a personal preference.

So remember, kids:
1. Friedman’s Lunch = awesome, but plan for a nap.
2. Try to take my sheep’s milk ricotta and you’ll lose a hand.

recipes after the jump

Continue reading “Pizza, My Endless Love”

This & that, on my first snow day

The day started with this:

Which was followed by this:


Mushroom ragu with no-stir polenta.

While all around, this was happening:

All of that, combined with Monday’s personal day makes this the best work week ever.

Amy’s first risotto

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So… yeah. It’s been a while. How’ve you been? You’re looking great — have you lost weight? My apologies for abandoning this site, but things got seriously out of hand at work those last few weeks leading up to Christmas, and I couldn’t find time to do any cooking at all, and what’s a food blog without food? Keeping quiet seemed like the way to go.

The weekend before Christmas was a little less hectic, so I did manage to cook something before taking off for Louisiana — a risotto. Actually, my FIRST risotto. (Oh, stop your gasping.) I’ve always avoided it because the thought of standing in one spot stirring for so long didn’t appeal, but it was snowing and I had a bunch of mismatched ingredients in the house that didn’t add up to much else, so hey. Why not? It was that or shovel the driveway.

My parents sent me back to Jersey with about five pounds of frozen shrimp and crab meat the last time I visited. All that was left in our freezer was one container of crab, so I set my sights on turning out a delicately-seasoned risotto. (Going easy on seasonings isn’t something that comes naturally to me, but crab requires a light hand.) It couldn’t have been easier, really. I sweated some onion in a decent amount of olive oil and butter with 4 bay leaves, added a little garlic once the onion was translucent and cooked it for 30 seconds or so, then added a cup and a half of arborio rice, stirring it in the fat until the grains were just starting to look chalky. Then the laborious process (or so I imagined it would be) of adding liquids and stirring, stirring, stirring started. I began with 1/2 cup of dry white wine, cooking until it was absorbed, then added warmed shrimp stock one ladle at a time, until the rice was creamy and cooked through.

At this point, I stirred in about 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, then folded in the crab and some finely chopped green onions. And you know what? It blew my mind. I really thought that making a passable risotto would be beyond me, but when you start with great ingredients, I guess it isn’t so hard.

091222_arancini

Of course, I made extra so we could have arancini with the leftovers the following day. To start, I made a quick tomato sauce with another freezer find — a Ziploc bag containing about half of a large can of crushed tomatoes. (I don’t throw anything away if I can help it.) I added it to some sauteed onions and garlic, then hit it with a shot of sherry vinegar, a pinch of sugar and some crushed red pepper, before setting it aside to simmer while I finished up the rest of the meal.

The spinach was simply wilted with some olive oil and green onions. It would’ve been heavy on the garlic if only I had some in the house, but no. Rassafrassin’ snowstorm.

For the arancini itself, I mixed in a little more cheese and some milk to the cold risotto and formed it into golf ball-sized portions, stuffed with a small piece of cheese. (Which I think was taleggio, but can’t say positively. We always have a few types of cheese in the fridge at any given time.) The rice balls went into flour, then egg wash, then panko bread crumbs before spending about 15 minutes in the freezer to firm up.

Now, for someone raised on deep fried foods, I have a distinct fear of frying on two fronts: leaden, soggy food and an oily smell permeating the house. So this was the first time in maybe 20 years I’ve actually fried anything in more than a few tablespoons of oil. Heating the oil to 375F helped with the leaden aspect, and the fact that each batch took only a minute or so to fry didn’t leave my house smelling like a fast food joint. Can’t say deep fried stuff will appear on the menu very often, but I’m much more comfortable preparing it now.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Due to circumstances beyond my control, there wasn’t much in the way of cooking at Christmas, either. My parents are renovating their kitchen (and it looks AMAZING), but the appliances didn’t make it on time, so we ate out. A lot. Not a problem if you like fried seafood (which I do), but let’s just say it’s good to be back in my own kitchen, reacquainting myself with green vegetables and whole grains.

It was a difficult Christmas, to be honest. Everyone was “off,” as we had an unexpected death in the family just a few weeks ago and, as always in such a large extended family, someone’s going to be in terribly poor health. But it wasn’t all bleak by any means and there were many bright spots to be found — laughing with my cousin over her mother-in-law woes, watching a young cousin pulling a flaming barbecue pit on a toy wagon tied to a modified big wheel (no, seriously, I was crying with laughter and yes, I have pictures, but I’m pretty sure his mom would kill me if I published them), talking food and dogs with one of the best cooks in my family (who promises to give me his recipe for pickled mirliton, mmmm). But the icing on the cake was seeing two of my oldest and dearest friends from high school again, one for the first time in about 20 years. I can’t even tell you how happy Facebook makes me at times.

Because we ate out so much, I have almost no food pictures, but did snap a few of my dad shucking oysters on Christmas Eve. Good stuff.

091228_oysters

091228_shucking

091228_shells

Hope you all had a great holiday. Here’s to 2010 and wishing you all a happy turning of the page. Thanks for stopping by in 2009!

Another orangey post

091108_lasagna_small
Double-decker lasagna

Because the farmers’ market gods do not see fit to bestow seasonable, local produce upon us between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I stocked up on storage items last weekend — onions, potatoes and all manner of squash, plus another frozen tongue. It’ll be a long winter. But look, I’ve just gotta say: We need some new squash recipes around these parts. Roasted squash — excellent in a pinch. Good old squash soup — fine. It’s reliable, it’s easy, delicious and mostly unobjectionable, but I’m still kinda sick of it from last year, truth be told, so it might be a while before it graces my table and blog again.

In the interest of not boring myself or you (too late, they cry!) to death, I went all out and made a lasagna — something I never do. All those layers just kill me, but I was won over by this one. It was adapted from Giada’s recipe and was so good, I’ve got plans to make a few more updates and serve it as our Thanksgiving main course. This lasagna’s charms are subtle, but once it has you, it won’t let you go.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Another orangey post”

Pastalaya, crawfish frittata, buffet at Pancho’s

The Hank Williams classic updated for 2009, which is a roundabout way of saying I spent last weekend visiting family in Des Allemands for my nephew’s 7th birthday. The food was terrific (as usual), and the company even more so, though the birthday boy completely ignored his auntie. Oh, well. That’s a little boy for you.

I didn’t take many pictures this time around, but did manage to snap this one, which is quickly becoming a favorite:

090613_deighton
My new cousin, who couldn’t quite decide about me.

While I was away, Gil and The Ambassador stopped by the farmers’ market to pick up a few things for me, but I didn’t have a chance to use all of the spinach and arugula during the week. After getting fresh supplies this Saturday, I decided to use the week-old produce in one shot with a pesto to go with some leftover whole wheat pasta. It was all very free-form, but here’s how it went.

I toasted two handfuls of walnuts until they were warm and fragrant, then put them in the food processor to cool while I worked on the the rest of the pesto.

090613_walnuts_processor

After they’d cooled somewhat, I pulsed them with a clove of garlic until the whole thing smelled like heaven, assuming your idea of heaven is warm walnuts and garlic.

090613_walnuts_garlic

I added about one part spinach to two parts arugula, filling the bowl of the processor twice before pulsing; that’s the amount of the greens I had on hand, but you can adjust to taste.

090613_pesto

There was also quite a bit of Parmesan, good olive oil, zest from 1/2 lemon, and salt & pepper, all blended together until I was left with a satisfyingly bright green mess.

090613_pesto2

Which, when tossed with leftover whole wheat pasta, became an easy, light lunch, perfect for the oppressively humid day.

090613_pestopasta

Rufus after the jump.

Continue reading “Pastalaya, crawfish frittata, buffet at Pancho’s”

On the shoulders of giants

090322_bolognese

You guys know I usually like to wing it in the kitchen, right? It’s certainly not a surprise to poor Gil, who has to deal with my creations. (Btw — sorry for that particularly meh quinoa salad I made for dinner recently, honey!) But sometimes I do the thing up proper-like and follow real recipes from people who know what they’re doing — people like Mario Batali, Patricia Wells and Giuliano Bugialli.

Above, you see the first of two pasta dishes we’ve had in the last couple of weeks. Ground veal and ground pork sang a song of ragu from the freezer, and at their insistence, I did a web search for a real recipe to follow. The first link I clicked featured a video of Mario Batali making a traditional Ragu Bolognese. I’m so happy I followed the video’s instructions instead of the written recipe below; I never, ever, would have thought to cook each stage of the recipe for as long as instructed. But the prolonged cooking added a depth of flavor I’ve never achieved in my years of sauce-making. I might use slightly less wine next time because that flavor was especially strong (and not my favorite thing in the world, to be honest), but diffused with ample amounts of pasta, it was phenomenal.

090330_pasta

A few weeks ago, Gil and I got to spend three whole nights in the city during a pharmaceutical conference he attended for his magazine. I took full advantage of my time there and met up with friends on three consecutive nights for dinner and drinks. The first night I didn’t venture out of my work neighborhood, meeting my friend Scott at Bar Stuzzichini. I went mainly for the small plates (the arancini were disappointing this time, but I plan to recreate the zucchini alla scapece just as soon as my grill comes out for the season — possibly this very weekend), but the pasta dish we shared was the real revelation: macherroni alla chitarra, or pasta with pistachio and lemon cream sauce.

Once we made it home, I started researching recipes in my Italian cookbooks and decided to use a simple lemon-cream sauce adapted from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria and Giuliano Bugialli’s Bugialli On Pasta. I toasted shelled pistachios, cooled and chopped them, the steeped the smaller bits (pistachio dust, really) in lemon juice and cream while I made the pasta with my brand new Kitchenaid Pasta Rollers. (I happened to find them fairly heavily discounted on Amazon, but they’re worth paying an everyday price for.) After cooking the pasta, I tossed it with the cream sauce and grated Parmesan over a low flame until the sauce had thickened. Just before serving, I added more Parmesan, chopped parsley and more chopped pistachios. It was a great success, but not quite as pistachio-infused as the original. I have more experimenting to do before I give you a real recipe, but I’m pretty happy with the results of my first go-round. It’s hard to go wrong when you listen to the experts.