Jorj’s Greatest Hits Inspired by Little Italy + Bakery Recommendation

Jorj’s Greatest Hits Inspired by Little Italy + Bakery Recommendation

There are over fifty Little Italy neighborhoods in the U.S., and today, Columbus Day, is a big deal for all of them. The celebrations marking the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America over 500 years ago began with weekend parades, and are being sucked up – sometimes in the form of pasta drowning in Italian style gravy  – all day today.

I am familiar with and love quite a few of the big ones: the Little Italy of Cleveland, Ohio (close to where I grew up), Manhattan, The Hill in St. Louis, and handful of Little Italy’s out west where the cannoli and baked lasagna make you happy to be alive…I could spend hours studying old family recipes from these bakeries and romantic restaurants that burn away the hours on a Roman candle…. Here are my greatest Italian hits in pictures.

While I was dunking my favorite Italian cookie into a mug of espresso, I called up a Sicilian chef I met on an historic food tour of Boynton Beach this summer. Here she is in front of some goodies.

Chef Anna is from a village near Sicily. She and her family have managed Palermo’s in Boynton for decades. The bakery draws in all kinds of customers. Once, Charlotte York (actress, Kristin Davis) walked out of Sex & the City’s nearest Little Italy and straight into Palermo’s — celebrity photo on their site.

You can come into this colorful bakery and see a lot of history hanging on the walls. I asked Chef Anna what her favorite Italian dessert is, and she answered with one sweet word and this picture of it:

Cassata. It is a tort cake filled with ricotta cheese that involves a detailed process to cook, then intricately decorate.  In fact, the making of the Cassata is considered a specialty talent done by skilled pastry chefs.

“The essence of Italian sweets goes back our ancestors, our grandmothers in Sicily who made sweets using naturally produced ingredients like honey,” said Chef Anna, adding that she just did a Cassata cake making demo in the culinary department at Macy’s.

Hmm…well, that’s food for thought. I love to bake and teach, so perhaps I will do a pastry inspired lesson with my next cooking class at the Diamond Creek Golf Club in Boone, NC.

Don’t forget, my cookbook, SUNDAY BEST DISHES: A Cookbook for Passionate Cooks has quite a few of Italy’s greatest hits.

My family style recipes, most ideally suited for culinary exploration on a leisurely weekend at home, can be purchased at Dorrance or Amazon, and is also available, with audio by me, at iTunes.  Aaaaand…in my upcoming cookbook, CANVAS & CUISINE, the best culinary stops under the Tuscan sun are featured in chapter after chapter.

Caio – Happy Columbus Day!  I leave you with my recipe for pumpkin risotto!

Pumpkin Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

MAKES 6 SERVINGS

1 quart home made chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces assorted wild mushrooms, chopped

1 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 cup Arborio rice

½ cup Marsala wine

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons half and half

4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1 cup

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Whisk the chicken broth and pumpkin puree in a pot over low heat.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Season with sage, salt and pepper. Stir in the rice and cook to toast, about 2 to 3 minutes more.  Pour in the wine and cook until the liquid disappears. Stir in a ladleful of warmed broth.  When the liquid is absorbed, add another ladleful of broth.  Continue until all of the broth has been absorbed.  This should take about 20 minutes.  The risotto will be wet, not sticky, chewy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Stir in the butter, half and half and Parmesan cheese.  Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with fresh parsley.

 

Rise Up Risotto!

Rise Up Risotto!

Risotto

I love creamy, cheesy, richly flavored risotto. I love everything about it. I also love tapioca pudding and rich, runny cream of wheat. It’s a thing……. But, my new favorite craving is cauliflower risotto. The dish gives you all the feel of those creamy dishes, and adds just a bit of “it’s good for you” by substituting starch with veg. I must admit, I make this dish about once a week., and in the coming weeks of Autumn am going to ramp things up by using a wide variety of squash at mealtime.

Now that Fall’s in the air, we can’t get away from it: pumpkins, delicatas, acorn squash, and of course, butternut. My favorite way to elevate a squash’s flavor, is to roast it with chili and cinnamon. Squash is simply the perfect canvas for these spices. Combining the two, cauliflower and roasted, spiced squash creates a company-worthy dish that you can make in minutes, and even freeze for later use.

Yes, you heard me right: FREEZE for later use. I never would have thought of this, but ran across a great article on GroomandStyle.com on 10 Awesome Recipes That Freeze Well.

One of the dishes they claim freezes well, is their bacon risotto. While it’s on my to-do list to try that particular recipe, Groom & Style’s freezing technique worked wonders for my healthy risotto recipe, given below. If you visit GroomandStyle, be sure to look at the recipe for Freezer-Friendly Bagel Bombs, too. I may have to get to that one immediately!

Cauliflower Risotto

With Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash

Serves 6

30 Minute Cuisine

Roasting butternut squash, with chili and cinnamon, flavors this entire risotto dish. The creamy texture of the cauliflower is developed by slowly simmering the ingredients in a rich chicken stock.  

For squash

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into ½-inch squares (about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse ground pepper

For risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ yellow onion, peeled and chopped

1 head cauliflower, chopped into coarse crumbs, about 6 cups

3 cups homemade chicken stock or prepared low sodium broth

½ cup half and half

2 tablespoons butter

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about ½ cup

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the butternut squash chunks onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chili powder, cinnamon, garlic and onion powders, and season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to toss the squash with the seasonings to coat every piece. Bake until the squash is soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes. You can use a spatula to move the squash pieces around about halfway through baking.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring so that the cauliflower does not burn. Add one cup of chicken stock and stir. When the liquid is absorbed, add another cup. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the cauliflower for 5 minutes. Add the remaining cup of chicken stock, and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. Scrape the squash into the cauliflower. Stir in the half and half, and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Swirl in the Parmesan cheese.

Cook’s Tip

You can purchase cauliflower that has already been chopped into rice-size pieces. Or, you can use a food processor to chop a whole head of cauliflower. Remove the leaves, stem and core. Cut into large chunks, and place into the bowl of your machine. Pulse until the pieces resemble crumbs.

After Market Leftovers

If you have leftovers (and I really doubt that you will), you can freeze cauliflower risotto. Bring to room temperature before you gently reheat.