Cannelloni (Crespelle)

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My second favorite Italian chef is Mary Ann Espositto. Like my first favorite Biba Caggiano, Mary Ann is very serious about her work. This recipe is influenced by Mary Ann.  Most of this recipe came from a book she wrote in 1991. I tweaked it but not by much. There is something about the “Old School” Italian cooks. My great Grandma was from a town near Naples, Italy and cooked big like this pretty much every night.  These people are serious about food and so am I.  Cooking is relaxing to me.

Typically, these dishes are made with pasta shells but I made this one using a crespelle (crêpe). It is pronounced [krehs-PEHL-leh]. This dish doesn’t look like much b/c it is covered in a besciamella sauce (Béchamel sauce), but I assure you, it is one of the most tasty dishes you will ever eat. And, it has a great cheese aroma.

The Crespelle

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1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cup milk
1 TBSP melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 extra egg yolk, beaten
Salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
4 TBSP grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese

Mix all in a bowl. Pour ¼ cup in a 6 or 8 inch non-stick pan and cook for a minute or two on medium high heat. Flip, cook for 30 seconds and slide on a plate.

Besciamella Sauce

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4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP flour
1 ½ cup heated milk
½ cup onions chopped
1 cup shredded white Italian cheeses, your choice (I use the 5 Italian cheeses from the store.)

In a 2 quart pot melt butter and add the flour. Cook like a white roux for several minutes before it starts to turn brown. Add milk, ½ cup at a time until the sauce gets thick. Add onions, stir, add cheeses, melt, then remove from heat. It should be a thick silky sauce.

Meat Stuffing

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1 Lb. ground meat (or veal)
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 garlic, chopped
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
4 TBSP dry red wine (Chianti preferred)
1 TBSP olive oil
1 cup fresh spinach, steamed (or frozen)
½ cup Besciamella Sauce
3 TBSP grated Fontina cheese

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I browned the meat in olive oil in a hot wok b/c I wanted to get the meat cooked and browned and the moisture burned off quickly. I added rosemary and garlic. I moved the meat into a large bowl. I added 1 egg beaten and a cup of besciamella. I wanted the spinach like a pesto so I steamed it a long time, but you might want it more whole so you might want to just add frozen spinach. Ladle in the besciamella to bind the meat and combine.

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Spoon the filling onto the Crespelle. Roll and place in a cooking pan.

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When done filling the Cannelloni, ladle the Besciamella Sauce over the top and then grate Fontina on top of the sauce. When done, you will have almost 7 different cheeses in this dish.

Preheat oven 350⁰, cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook 35 to 40 minutes. Serve.

Can it be that good?

Someone say yes.

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Turkey Tetrazzini

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The chicken version of this dish was named after Luisa Tetrazzini, an opera singer in about 1910 or something like that. The only reason this dish is not considered a casserole is b/c they didn’t make casseroles back then and it is served with sherry. Otherwise, this is a very tasty dish. The thing that makes this dish like über feastiality is the Béchamel cheese sauce.

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Turkey Stock
1 lb. turkey thigh
1 celery
1 carrot
½ onion
1 TBSP pepper corns
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups water

Put all in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Strain the stock and shred the meat.

Béchamel Cheese Sauce
4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP flour
½ cup chopped onions
1 cup milk
1 cup mixed Italian cheeses
1 cup turkey stock
Salt and pepper

Melt butter, add flour and mix. Fry the flour for several minutes then add onions and fry a few more minutes. Add milk a ¼ cup at a time and whisk thick. Add the cheese and melt and whisk. Salt and pepper. Add stock and whisk. Turn off heat and remove from heat.

Pasta
8 oz. Linguine

Boil in water 9 minutes, then drain.

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Veggies
1 cup frozen peas
½ red bell pepper (chopped)
1 carrot (use a Julienne peeler and chop)
1 garlic (sliced)
1 cup mushrooms (sliced)

2 TBSP butter

Saute’ all in butter in a non–stick fry pan.

Topping
½ cup Italian bread crumbs
½ grated Parmesan cheese

Mix in a bowl.

4 TBSP sherry

In a covered non-stock 2 ½ quart Corning ware pan add pasta, veggies, meat, cheese sauce, topping mix and then add the sherry.

Preheat oven to 350° and cook 1 hour covered. Serve.

Roman Ragù

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This is one of my favorite dishes.  While it cooks slowly for 1 ½ hours, it takes all of 20 minutes to put together.  The only challenge is finding a store that sells pancetta.  I found one here and had them cut a ¼” thick slice.

~~~

I have to give props to my favorite Italian chef Biba Caggiano for this dish.  She has a restaurant in Sacramento (Biba’s).  I own several of her cookbooks and met her many times.  Until I went to her restaurant, I always thought Italian food was spaghetti and meatballs.  But Italian food has many facets from seafood to different kinds of pork like pancetta and prosciutto, simple cuts of beef like Ossobuco, thick sauces and light sauces, wild game, birds and northern Italian food including dishes like Jewish Hamim, a Kosher Jewish dish from northern Italy near Venice made with three kinds of beef, beans and fruit like prunes and apricots.  Name the ingredient and Italian food has a recipe for it.

When asking about Italian food it would be more exact to ask from which region are you speaking?  While I live in Cajun country, my recipe blog has more Italian recipes.  Cajun food is wonderful but is the food of one region.  It is a food largely influenced by France, Italy and Germany.  True Cajun foods are variations on a Roux gravy (fried flour and oil).  Fried Cajun seafood is nothing more than a Piccata.  When adding Creole food to the list of Cajun dishes then the menu begins to expand.  But, as Italian food does, almost all Cajun and Creole foods center around that wonderful fruit/berry called the tomato.  If you can master the tomato, you have a good dish.   It blends well with so many other ingredients.

The other berry that is a compliment to all food is the grape.  Grapes from regions in France, Germany, Italy, Napa Valley and the Central Coast of California are my preferred wines.  There is this one Italian wine the beats all; I call it “God’s Nectar”.  It is a dessert wine called Madiera.  This dessert wine is divinely fortified with brandy, almonds and lemon zest.  My favorite bottle is made at V. Sattui Winery in Napa Valley and is now $50 a bottle.  I remember buying it for $15 a bottle – back in the day.

We can’t forget the all-important and healthy for your body – the olive.  What would Italian food and Cajun food for that matter be without olive oil?

~~~

Back to the Ragù:

Defined:  Ragù is a meat-based sauce commonly served with pasta.

Serves 2 -4

Meat:

  • 1 – ¼” slice of pancetta (diced)
  • ½ Lb. of ground pork
  • ½ Lb. of ground beef

Sauce:

  • 3 large Roma tomatoes (chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (sliced cross ways into little dimes)
  • 1 cup of dry red wine (Chianti or Burgundy)
  • ½ cup veal stock (beef stock will do)
  • Fresh oregano leaves – 2 stalks (or a pinch of dried)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP olive oil

Soffritto:

Note:  The French call this a Mirepoix, the Germans call this a Suppengrün and the Italians call it a Soffritto.  It’s the same thing.  These are complimentary vegetables that add sugary flavor to the dish.

  • 1 carrot (minced)
  • 1 celery stalk (minced)
  • ½ onion (minced)
  • I mince the Soffritto beforehand in a food processor.

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I also use fresh oregano from my garden.

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Cooking Steps:

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Chop the pancetta.  In a 3 quart sauce pot add one TBSP olive oil and get hot.  Add the pancetta and sauté several minutes, and then add the pork and beef and brown for maybe five minutes.  Remove meat with a slotted spoon leaving the liquid and the oil.

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Add the Soffritto and sauté five to eight minutes and then add the tomatoes and butter. Return the meat to the pot and add the wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the oregano leaves.  Mix.  Add a little beef broth if necessary just to make more gravy.  It doesn’t need much, maybe a quarter cup.

Bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook for 1 ½ hours.

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Serve over thin spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.

Make sure to place your spaghetti in boiling water and cook exactly 12 minutes.

Can it be that easy?

(Someone say yes!)

Picture of my kitties.  They both like pancetta BTW.

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Sweet Onion and Spinach Frittata

 

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This is a good lunchtime or breakfast dish. I use my grandmother’s old frying pan.  As of this writing I am an inch and one-half away from being 60 years old.  This frying pan is WAY older than that.  I think maybe 80 years possibly.  I love these old cast iron pans.

The reason I prefer this dish over a tart or a Quiche is I don’t have to mess with a puff pastry crust, which I like but requires more butter and takes away from the filling and needs a lot more effort to do it right.

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Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 TBSP cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 onion sliced
  • ½ cup frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 1 thick slice of your favorite ham (cut into cubes)
  • 3 TBSP butter

Preheat oven 375°.

In a large bowl add eggs, cream, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese and whisk.

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In an oven-proof pan sauté the ham in the butter 5 to 8 minutes.  Add onions one handful at a time and sauté.  The reason I say add the onion a handful at a time is the onion will have a lot of water in it and the water will steam the onions and cool the pan.  It’s better to brown the onions slightly picking up the flavors of the ham.  Add the bay leaf.  Add spinach. Stir and sauté the ingredients a little more.  Turn off heat and let the onions cool a little.

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Add the onions a large spoonful at a time to the egg mixture.  As you add the onions whisk.  Repeat this until all the onions are added to the mixture.

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Pour the onion/egg mixture back into the pan add more Parmesan cheese on top.

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Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve.

I love this dish.  It makes me feel so, shall we how should I say, Italian…ish.

Mediterranean Chicken (aka Chicken Audubon Ron)

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Finally this is a dish I can call my own invention, albeit, it strikes a similar chord to Mediterranean Chicken so I feel a need to at least give props to that dish. The reason is it calls for Greek Kalamata olives and Italian herbs and other Italian ingredients.

This weekend I went into the kitchen seeking what was available and created this dish. Largely, the flavor of this dish is owing to the fresh herbs (basil, rosemary and oregano) I have growing in my garden.

Ingredients proportional for a serving of 2:

3 – 6″ strips bacon, soaked in hot water 10 minutes, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
½ yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
1 Roma tomato (aka Italian plum tomato), chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
4 medium chicken breasts, boneless/skinless
½ cup white wine (plus 3 TBSP)
1 TBSP butter
2 TBSP olive oil
8 Kalamata olives, sliced
5 fresh basil leaves
½ sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only
5 sprigs of oregano, leaves only
McCormick’s Montreal Chicken seasoning
Cooked angel hair pasta for two

Cooking:

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Add bacon to a medium hot pan and sauté for about 8 minutes then remove.  (Note:  I soak the bacon in hot water first for about 10 minutes to reduce the smoky flavor.  Then I cook it in the frying pan)

Add two TBSP olive oil to bacon oil and then sprinkle Montreal seasoning on chicken and brown chicken both sides in the oil, maybe five minutes, remove chicken and cut into cubes.

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In the pan add 3 TBSP white wine and deglaze the pan. 3 or 4 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon.

Add butter and add shallot and yellow bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes. Add tomato and garlic and sauté 3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, return chicken and bacon, mix, cover and simmer on low 30 minutes.

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While cooking boil water for the pasta, cook pasta exactly 12 minutes, rinse in hot water.

Serve the chicken with pan drippings over pasta.

That.is.it. LITE, TASTY, EASY!!!

Damn I’m good.