Blame it on January...
I find motivation difficult this time of year and feel like I accomplish very little. January is the perfect time for projects; paint a room, organize, clean or plan the summer garden, right? But I don't. That may be because I tend to go full throttle during the holidays and I need an effortless January to even me out. I take a break from everything... even cooking and my beloved baking. But with time, that changes. This week I prepared several old favorites, but I also made, for the first time, this recipe for Baked Crusty Pasta Shells and Cauliflower that came across in an email from Food & Wine recently. It's fabulous on a cold, dark January night in Minnesota, and for those in my family that are eating less meat or none whatsoever. Anything made with salty capers, lemon zest and fresh ricotta is a winner, as far as I'm concerned. Yes... I'll be making Pasta Shells with Cauliflower again.
(NOTE) When purchasing the ingredients for this recipe, my cheesemonger suggested I cut back on the Fontina Val d'Aosta, which is pricey. I used half the amount that is shown in the original recipe below, and replaced the remaining 5 ounces with a container of pre-grated cheeses that included fontina in the mix. I had no complaint with doing that nor with the results. I loved this pasta.
Ina Garten | Food & Wine, November 2016, slightly adapted
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 3/4 pound medium pasta shells
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into small florets (1 large head)
• 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage leaves (I substituted 2 tablespoons rubbed sage)
• 2 tablespoons capers, drained
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• 2 cups freshly grated Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta cheese (10 ounces with rind)... see NOTE above
• 1 cup (8 ounces) fresh ricotta
• 1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread flakes)
• 6 tablespoons freshly grated Italian Pecorino cheese
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2. Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the instructions on package. Drain and pour into a very large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cauliflower in one layer and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Pour the cauliflower into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 additional tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the remaining cauliflower. Cook until browned and tender; add to the bowl.
4. Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl; stir gently to combine. Stir in the Fontina. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2-inch baking dish. Spoon rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Serve hot.
TAKE a LOOK:
How could I resist baking this tart? It's full of all the things I love... and ingredients that I usually have on hand, making it very easy to assemble for last night's dinner. This recipe is from the book, Pie by Angela Boggiano. I found the book at a local discount/used bookstore and purchased it originally for the "noble" or "raised" pie recipes that are baked in tall, decorative pans or molds. They are works of art, and although I can't see myself searching for pigeon breasts or pigs feet, that are called for in some of the fillings, I'm instead envisioning layers of roasted vegetables and hard-boiled eggs encased in walls of golden pastry... more to my liking.
But, back to the ricotta tart... If you follow LivingTastefully, you already know that I love using my homemade fresh ricotta (recipe HERE) in just about everything. And, although it's easy to make, don't feel like you must do that. Purchased fresh ricotta is absolutely fine. I also have candied orange rind (recipe HERE) on hand most of the time... for my favorite cookies and alongside an afternoon espresso!
The author compares this filling to Sicilian cannoli pastry desserts and that is exactly the memory I have when eating this ricotta tart. Plus, Boggiano recommends always preheating a baking sheet to place your pies and tarts on; a little trick than ensures a well-baked bottom crust.
I did several things differently than in the original recipe. • I used a favorite tart pastry. It was enough dough to line the deep tart pan, but wasn't enough for a lattice topping. If you would like lattice on the top of your pie, increase the pastry recipe, below, by half. The white looking dots on the top of the filling are from a piece of the pastry dough that remained and I cut into small circles... wouldn't do that again. • The recipe called for 3 extra-large eggs, which I did not have. I substituted 4 of the smallest large eggs I could find. • And, the last thing, I increased the oven temperature by 25 degrees which was perfect.
• 1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 teaspoons sugar
• 8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 4 tablespoons ice water
• extra flour for rolling pastry
• 1 pound fresh ricotta (recipe HERE)
• 1/3 cup superfine sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3 extra-large or 4 large eggs (see • above in text)
• 1/2 cup candied orange rind (recipe HERE)
• 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1/3 cup currants
• Grated zest of 1 lemon
• Confectioner's sugar for dusting
TO MAKE THE PASTRY
1. Pulse 1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, the salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter; pulse until pea-size lumps form. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture. Pulse until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by drips if dry. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic; chill 2 hours.
2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a 9-inch x 1 3/4-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press onto bottom and up sides of the tart pan. Trim. Refrigerate until needed.
TO MAKE THE FILLING
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Place a baking sheet on bottom shelf of oven to preheat.
2. Place the ricotta in a large bowl and whip with a wire whisk until smooth. Beat in the sugar, vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, until combined.
3. Stir in the candied orange rind, chocolate chips, currants and lemon zest. Pour into the pastry shell.
4. Place tart pan on the preheated baking sheet on the lowest oven shelf and bake for 55 minutes until golden. Set aside for 15 minutes to cool in the pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioner's sugar before serving.
TAKE a LOOK:
A friend just returned from California and brought me back a carton of dates. On a snowy, January day, I think that calls for a date quick bread with nuts.
... and, for hot chocolate!
(adapted) from Modern Classics 2 | Donna Hay
• 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for the pan
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 2/3 cup superfine sugar (I put my organic cane sugar in food processor for several seconds)
• 1 cup roughly chopped pitted dates
• 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecan nuts
• 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, plus additional for the pan
• 1/4 cup milk
• 2 eggs, slightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Rub butter generously over the entire inside surface of the baking pan. Dust with flour, shaking out excess.
2. Sift flour and bakiing powder into a large bowl. Add the sugar, dates and pecans; mix to combine. Set aside.
3. Place the butter and milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook until just melted. Add to the flour mixture with the eggs and stir until combined. Spoon the mixture into a greased 4-inch x 8-inch loaf pan (I used a 2 3/4-inch x 9 1/2-inch pan).
4. Place the loaf pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the loaf tests done.
5. Transfer the loaf pan to a cooling rack. When cooled, run a sharp knife around the edges and invert date loaf onto a plate or cutting board. Serve with salted butter.
TAKE a LOOK:
This is usually the way it goes...
Two, maybe three, or even four months before New Years Day, I start thinking about the brunch menu. I piece together the different courses, in my head, of what I'm going to prepare for the first day of the new year. I'm confident about all of the details, so... I stop thinking about it. That, however, never seems to be the New Year's Day brunch menu I end up preparing. At the last minute I usually change everything.
I hosted a time consuming luncheon plus a dinner the week between Christmas and New Years... I ended up taking a more relaxed approach to my brunch. Below are photos of New Year's Day and the recipe for our main course.
Bisous taking a break while the rest of us are eating our meal...