Monday, March 10, 2014

Sicilian Stuffed Artichokes

When we came across some artichokes at the market, I was suddenly struck with a memory.

I said, "I'm going to make something really good, I just...have to remember how to make it."

And I tried. I checked the cookbook and was shocked by the lack of recipe (I'm still tagging this with "The Cookbook" because as far as I'm concerned it should be in there). I scoured the internet. I called my madre. All were a little stumped on one detail or another. But eventually we worked out something that I think was just right or close enough. It brought back a slew of memories and was just as divine as I had hoped.

Sicilian Stuffed Artichokes
inspired by a memory of something Bisnonna used to make

[What You Need]
Italian Breadcrumbs
Ground red pepper flakes
Grated Parmesan cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Tomato sauce
1 egg

[What To Do]
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking dish.
  2. Steam artichokes briefly using your preferred method. (I cheat and use the microwave method which involves placing the artichokes in a shallow dish of water in the microwave for about five minutes). The artichokes should be tender enough to pull the leaves apart gently.
  3. Mix stuffing: breadcrumbs, spices, parmesan cheese, and egg
  4. Taking a deep breath and guarding against burning your hands, slowly pry the leaves apart and put stuffing inside. This step has me convinced that Bisnonna could not feel pain from heat (the story of the cannoli molds and no means of removing the shells from them after frying will be related at a later date). Place artichokes in baking dish as you do this.
  5. Cover artichokes in tomato sauce to taste. In my memories, Bisnonna flooded them with sauce and sopped it up using bread. I didn't use quite that much and some of my outer leaves were a little dry, so take that as you will.
  6. Sprinkle some mozzarella on top.
  7. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Paczki Day!

"I'm going to make pączki."
"What's that?"
"They' doughnuts, but...a million times better."

I know a lot of this blog is mostly dedicated to my Sicilian heritage, but there's a lot of Polish going on in my background too, and I am just as proud of, if not nearly as knowledgeable about, it. Pączki (plural of  pączek, fyi) are a Polish doughnut of sorts, a deep fried treat for Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Tuesday), and one of my favorite things in the world. I seek them out annually. I make sure that I get one of these babies every year on Pączki Day. This year, I decided to make my own.

They are -fattening-, not even slightly healthy. However, as far as I'm concerned, that's okay. Pączki are not meant to be eaten every day. They are meant to be a moment of joy before 40 long days of fasting and contemplation. Sometimes you need a little dose of joy.

I warn you, this is an endeavor. It takes all day. But it's worth it. It's so worth it.

Whether you're celebrating Fat Tuesday tomorrow or you're just looking for a delicious treat, this recipe is just the thing you need.

inspired by traditional recipes in the Polish American Journal and this one from Serious Eats

[What You Need]
2 cups whole milk (full fat)
4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup + 1 T. sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup rye flour (optional - if you want you can just use 5 cups of all purpose)
4 eggs yolks
1 whole egg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 oz. rum
1 tsp honey
Oil for frying (I used canola because it was what I had on hand, but anything with a high smoke point should work)
Filling of choice (optional)

1 cup powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
orange rind (optional)

[What to do]
1. Melt butter and set aside to cool.
2. Heat milk to ~115 degrees F.
3. Stir in yeast and give them a tablespoon of sugar to eat. When you see the yeast is active, stir in 2 cups of flour, cover with a moist dishcloth and set aside for 30 minutes. (Essentially, you are creating a starter here)
4. Whisk the eggs together with the rest of the sugar, honey, vanilla, and salt.
5. Add melted butter and egg mixture to starter, combine slowly and stir only as much as needed to combine the ingredients.
6. Finally, slowly add the rest of the flour. It will form a very sticky, but soft, smooth dough. Cover and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 hours.
7. On a floured surface, knead the rum into the dough (the alcohol content keeps the oil from absorbing too deeply into the dough while frying), then roll it out until ~1 in thick.
8. Cut out circles of dough. For me, this recipe made about 30 circles, but if you roll it out thinner, it may make more. Set the circles aside to rise for an 1 1/2 hours.
9. Heat oil for frying: I keep a small amount of dough to test for this.
10. Fry the circles (which will have risen to twice their size) and let them cool.
11. (optional): using a pastry filling pipe, fill with your choice of filling (traditional fillings [filling is controversial, though] include rose custard, plum, etc. I used raspberry for 1/2 and did not fill the rest.)
12. (optional): fill a shallow bowl with powdered sugar and/or orange zest and roll pączki in it to cover them. (I used sugar for unfilled and zest for raspberry to distinguish the two types.)

So there you have it. My most complex recipe to date. Enjoy! Happy Mardi Gras!