rosemary chicken with roasted lemons

rosemary chicken with roasted lemons

What’s the secret to juicy chicken? It’s in the Top Five list of age-old questions.

We all want the answer to that one, along with:

What’s the secret to erasing wrinkles?

What’s the secret to inner peace?

What’s the secret to sweet old doggie breath?

I know I’ve only listed four of the top five. I’ll bet you can imagine what the other one is.

I doubt I’ll be eligible for a Nobel prize, but I have good news – I know the answer to the very first question. Hurray!
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fava bean ravioli

fava bean ravioli

It’s been raining so much where I live that the grass seems to have Green Giant superpowers and I’m starting to have a tiny inkling what it could be like to live in the Pacific Northwest. Notice I said “tiny”.

I realize that 2 or 3 days of back-to-back misty gray couldn’t ever compare to seemingly endless months without blue skies. It’s just that when the sun has popped out for a few minutes lately, it’s been notable. In the lights blinking on in the middle of the night during a power outage kind of way. But the upside is that the world outdoors is such a Technicolor shade of green, actually shades of green with all the chartreuse new growth exploding everywhere, that it hurts my eyes a little. In a good way, of course.

fava beans shelling and peeling fava beans
fava bean ravioli fava_bean

Verdant shades of green have been part of my cooking lately too, and I don’t expect that will fade anytime soon. And just wait – ramps are coming!

Fava beans are one of those harbingers of spring I like to grab while they last. Usually at this early point in the season favas are still pretty tiny and tender, but the ones I brought home recently were more manly in stature – big boys.  I have a feeling they were grown somewhere south of California, if you know what I mean. When the beans are bigger than a thumbnail – 1/2  inch or so – they develop more starch. Which makes them a perfect filling for ravioli.

fava bean ravioli recipe

Favas are a bit of work, but not tediously so, as shelling tiny peas can sometimes be. They require a two-step process to prepare for cooking, shucking them first from their thick-skinned velvety pods and then peeling off the tougher outer coat surrounding the bean, which simply means the cook is free to enjoy the Zen-like peaceful place of soothing repetition. If you’re into that sort of thing, I mean.

If you can find fresh pasta sheets at your local store or Italian market, making a batch of these ravioli becomes a few steps simpler.

fava bean ravioli

fava bean ravioli

Yield: about 2 dozen ravioli

Serving Size: 4 - 6

Ingredients

  1. Ravioli dough:
  2. 6 large egg yolks
  3. 3 whole large eggs
  4. 3 cups flour, all-purpose or Italian-style “00”; plus additional
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. Filling:
  7. 2 ½ pounds fava beans in their pods
  8. ¼ cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese, plus additional
  9. 3 tablespoons drained whole milk ricotta cheese
  10. ¼ cup chopped fresh mint or Italian parsley
  11. ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  12. Salt to taste
  13. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  14. 2 tablespoons butter
  15. 2 leeks, sliced into thin matchsticks
  16. ½ pound asparagus, sliced into ½-inch pieces

Instructions

  1. To make the ravioli dough, pulse the egg yolks, whole eggs, 3 cups flour and salt in a food processor until the dough comes together in a ball. Add more flour if the dough seems very sticky. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead briefly until the dough is smooth. Gather into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for an hour at room temperature.
  2. To make the filling, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Shell the favas, then drop them into the water to blanch for 2 minutes; drain. When cool enough to handle, make a small tear on the tough outer skins and peel them off. You should have about 3 cups peeled fava beans.
  3. Reserve ½ cup of the fava beans, and put the rest in a food processor along with the ricotta, grated cheese, mint and pepper. Puree to a thick, smooth consistency. Be sure to taste the mixture for salt as needed.
  4. Divide dough into 4 portions, keeping reserved dough covered while working so it doesn’t dry out. Flour the dough and roll into thin 3-inch wide sheets on a pasta machine (I stop at setting 6 on my hand-cranked Atlas). Trim the sheets into workable sections about 2 feet long and place on a lightly floured surface.
  5. Form the fava filling into small balls about 1-inch in diameter and arrange 1 inch apart in the center of pasta sheet. Make an egg wash with an egg white and a drop of water, and brush over the dough all around the filling. Fold dough lengthwise over the filling, pressing gently between each ravioli and pinching to seal along the open edge.
  6. Cut the ravioli with a fluted cutter or use a pizza cutter if you don’t have one. Transfer the ravioli to a floured tray and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  7. Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Sweat the leeks with a pinch of salt until soft; add the asparagus, cover and cook 2 minutes, until tender but still bright green. Remove from heat and stir in the reserved fava beans.
  8. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the ravioli in about 6 at a time and cook until they float to the surface, usually less than 3 minutes. Remove ravioli using a slotted spoon or mesh skimmer and keep warm; transfer to a serving bowl and combine with the sauce. Serve right away with more grated cheese alongside.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/fava-bean-ravioli/

eggplant parm mac and cheese

eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese-recipe

Eggplants are to Sicilians what potatoes are to the Irish. – Fabrizia Lanza

However you personally define comfort food, somewhere down the line it all comes down to memories of being cooked for and fed before you were able to do so on your own. I can’t help guessing what would trigger my food cravings if I hadn’t grown up in the United States during the sixties and seventies, but rather in a completely different culture; like Japan or India.

Or, a hundred years ago in the areas of Italy where my ancestors lived.

Instead of the sweet, white and starchy things that my generation learned to want as kids (and probably what lots of 21st century ones do, too) my taste buds might have been formed by a another set of flavors and textures. And if I had been a child during my Italian ancestors’ time, those things would have been the stuff of peasant cooking; la cucina povera.

baked-eggplant-parmesan-recipe

I’m drawn to those humble, earthy foods so completely that I wonder if it’s somehow coded in DNA. How else do I have a taste – and even a sense of nostalgia for – a way of eating and living I never experienced? A plain explanation must be just that it TASTES GOOD.  No matter the origins of any person’s family tree, we can all relate to satisfying our hungers with recipes that are grounded in peasant cooking.

I can’t know for sure that my great, great, great grandmothers prepared something similar to what Americans know as Eggplant Parmesan, but it’s safe to say that Neapolitans and Sicilians have definitely been eating eggplant, tomatoes and fresh cheeses like mozzarella for thousands of years.

I was thinking about my take on comfort food when the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board asked me to contribute a macaroni and cheese recipe to the blog 30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni and Cheese. Eggplant Parm plus any kind of pasta with cheese are right at the top of my list of favorites.

My everyday style of cooking doesn’t usually mean deep-frying, which is often a step in classic recipes. So I’ve come up with an oven-roasted method for crusty eggplant  – not exactly old school, but somehow it brings the old world and 21st century comfortably together.

eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese-recipe

eggplant parm mac and cheese

Serving Size: Serves a table of 6

I make my own marinara sauce, but feel free to use your favorite.

Ingredients

  1. 1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed; peeled
  2. 1 egg
  3. 1 teaspoon salt; plus more to taste
  4. ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  5. 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  6. 3 cups Italian-seasoned panko crumbs or bread crumbs
  7. Olive oil
  8. 2 tablespoons butter
  9. 2 tablespoons flour
  10. 2 cups whole milk
  11. ½ cup grated Asiago cheese
  12. 1 pound cooked pasta shells or spirals
  13. 1 cup marinara sauce
  14. 3/4 cup grated Fontina cheese

Instructions

  1. Place a large rimmed baking sheet on an oven rack and turn oven to 450 degrees to preheat.
  2. Slice eggplant in half lengthwise and then into ½-inch wide half-moons.
  3. Whisk together egg, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and garlic in a large bowl; add eggplant and toss to coat. Dredge eggplant in crumbs on a cookie sheet.
  4. Pour enough olive oil over the bottom of the preheated baking sheet to cover to a depth of 1/8-inch. Lay eggplant on pan and roast 10 minutes; flip eggplant slices over and roast an additional 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender and crust is golden. Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  5. Meanwhile, heat a medium saucepan over moderate heat; add butter and heat until foaming subsides and butter is melted. Whisk in flour; cook 1 minute. Slowly pour in milk while whisking. Bring to a simmer; lower heat and cook 5 – 10 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in Asiago cheese; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Combine the pasta with the milk mixture and transfer to a large casserole or baking dish. Top with the eggplant, marinara and Fontina cheese. Bake 15 minutes, until hot and cheese is melted.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese/