Monday, November 25, 2013


You're about to walk into some contentious territory, so I suggest you prepare yourself.

Polenta is one of those foods that can be found pretty much anywhere (I mean, it's essentially cornmeal mush), but what you put on it drastically varies by region. Fry it and cover it with milk based beef gravy and you've done it Pennsylvania Dutch style. A tomato sauce? Northern Italian territory.

I know, I betraying my Sicilian roots here, but Polenta is tasty and I think it's status as a "peasant food" to the point where I know people ashamed to make it make it a little less of a betrayal.

There are Polenta stories in my family, though most of them involve my mother carefully explaining to me that my bisnonna would probably have never made polenta

All of this aside, I really enjoy the dish. It is a hearty and warm meal that reheats well and is a perfect dish to make large quantities of on cold night as we approach winter.

[adapted from Food52]

[what you need]
4 cups ricotta whey (you can get the whey by making this recipe)
1 cup ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon basil
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

[what to do]
1. Set up a double boiler. (several cups of water in one pan with another pan or bowl overtop)
2. Put whey, cornmeal and seasonings in the top of the double boiler. Stir carefully.
3. Cook until polenta is thick. This should take between 30-45 minutes.
4. Stir in cheese
5. Either top with gravy/tomato sauce and serve or separate into containers for storage and top with choice toppings later. I like to make large batches ahead of time for hearty lunches.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ricotta Cheese

Ask my madre what my feelings are regarding ricotta cheese and she will probably recall my description of said cheese as "a little piece of heaven." It is, honestly, my favorite cheese of all, and with as much as I love cheese, that's a high honor.

Cheesemaking is a project I have wanted to undergo for some time, but I've been far too nervous. It seemed like quite the undertaking and I just wasn't sure of where to begin. With some help from though, I was well on my way.

Cheese is in my blood. On my father's side of the family, there's a whole branch of cheesemonger types, but because it's my favorite (and honestly, probably the easiest), I went a little more toward madre's Italian side for my first foray into the world of cheese*.

To create a "little piece of heaven" you start with whole milk (making certain it is not ultra pasteurized) in a stainless steel pot. For this recipe, I used a 1/2 gallon.

Stirring frequently, add 1/2 tsp of citric acid and 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt. Then heat the milk to 195 degrees F. Soon you will start to see the curds forming, which (at least to me) is very exciting.

After the curds and whey begin to separate and the milk reaches 195 degrees F, let it sit for at least five minutes. While that's happening, you can prepare fore the next step.

Line a colander with a thin-weave cheesecloth (muslin works well) and ladle the curds into it. Finally let the ricotta drip through for about 30 minutes. I got a little impatient and tried to squeeze mine out. Don't do this. The whey is very hot.

Once separated you will have delicious ricotta cheese and a whole bunch of protein whey, which is not just a by-product; it's totally useful. I made some pizza dough with mine, but the possibilities are endless.

*Well, to be perfectly honest, I was going to start with mozzarella, but I ran into several problems. The largest of which being the only stainless steel pot in my possession was only capable of holding a half gallon, meaning I had to halve the recipe and no one wants to try and cut a rennet tablet into eighths. No one.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cabbage Soup

I'll chalk the invention of this soup up to Nonno. He's the one who deciphered the ingredients, at least. This fact partially explains how this recipe got passed down to me the way it did: as a list of ingredients and nothing more.

This is not an uncommon problem with the recipes I've acquired from my family. Plenty of recipes in The Cookbook have an annotation that essentially tells you to call someone else who might have an idea of the baking temperature or how to combine things, etc. Unfortunately, many of the people referred are also no longer with us.

Luckily in this case, I still had people around who could make heads or tails of things.

We start with a simple head of cabbage and shred it.

Then add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Seriously. That's all you need to do. Well, that and simmer for about 4 hours until the cabbage cooks down.

Cabbage Soup

1 head cabbage
onions, chopped
tomato sauce
1 cube beef bouillon (or one cup beef stock)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Prozia Celi's Chocolate Chip Cookies [The Cookbook]

For many a year, I have been on a mission to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe and for many a year, I have failed miserably. My mother's suggestion to "Just use the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag" only yielded cookies so flat that they might have been good substitutes for hamster frisbees.

I've heard countless suggestions:

  • Use bread flour
  • Use double the amount of flour
  • Use only brown sugar
  • Use only cane sugar
  • Stir the dough as little as possible
  • Use applesauce
The list goes on and on. I still have yet to produce chocolate chips that rival the Toll House ready-bake ones (and I am -seriously- ashamed of this) or my mother's, both of which taste chewy and lovely like they were made by an actually competent baker.

So, of course, when I discovered a chocolate chip recipe in The Cookbook, I simply had to try it. If anyone could solve my chocolate chip cookie dilemma, it had to be Bisnonna.

In some ways she did. These cookies definitely did not turn out flat. They were nice puffy little balls of tasty. They are a little denser and more cake-like that other chocolate chip cookies that I have made in the past, however. I am definitely going to keep this recipe in my arsenal, but the search goes on.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
via The Cookbook (attributed to Prozia Celi)

1 c. crisco, 3/4 c. brown sugar, 3/4 c. white sugar, 1t vanilla, 2 eggs, 3 c. flour, 1 t baking soda, 1/2 t salt, 1 6oz package chocolate chips, 1 c. nuts
Bake 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes

Madre adds: If you want the other recipe for the chocolate chip cookies that Grandma made, look on a bag of chocolate chips. When she didn't use this recipe, she used the original Toll House recipe. 

[Apparently I'm just incapable of recreating the bag of chips recipe.]