Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Asparagus Puff

It took me years to realize how rare and precious a flourishing asparagus bed can be. I was fortunate enough to buy a farmhouse that had a well established asparagus bed on it. It had been so well cared for over the years--free of weeds and with three different varieties of asparagus growing to choose from. Just the sight of those beautiful spears breaking through the soil in the Spring is one of nature's wonders. Maybe secretly I was drawn to this farm just because it had these beds :)

Growing asparagus requires patience and restraint--three to four years of growing is needed but will reward you with beautifully formed spears that will allow you at least six weeks of harvest each year thereafter, and even better-- a well established asparagus bed will produce for decades to come! At just about the same time of the year the spring nettles and fiddleheads are are also at their best, so I like to prepare dishes using these ingredients as often as I can during their short season here in New England.

Asparagus is extremely high in vitamins A, C and E. It's not only delicious but really good for you too. You can find fresh asparagus all year but it is the most affordable in the springtime, that's why it's so popular at Easter.

Fresh asparagus is delicious on it's own but by adding a few simple ingredients you can turn a simple side dish that your entire family will adore. This recipe is light, very tasty, a breeze to prepare and oh so good! The mildness of Muenster and goat cheese will accent, but not overpower the delicate asparagus flavor.

1 lb asparagus
3 TBL unsalted butter
2 TBLS olive oil
2 TBL shallots, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup dried nettles (found at any health store if you don't grow & dry your own)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp sugar
5 eggs
1/3 cup cream
1 cup Muenster cheese, grated
1/4 cup herbed goat cheese, crumbled *opt
sea salt & ground pepper to taste

Rinse,roll and cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces. You should end up with 2 cups. Melt 1 TBLS butter and olive in a saute' pan and saute onion, shallots until soft and golden. Add asparagus--sprinkle with sugar, cover and steam cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and cook until liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool slightly.

Beat together, eggs, cream, dried nettles, thyme, sea salt & ground pepper to taste. Melt and put remaining butter in a two inch high baking dish. Pour in egg mixture and bake in pre-heated 400 degree oven until it just begins to set(about 3 minutes). Remove from oven and arrange asparagus and onions on top of the eggs. Back into the oven, bake another 5 minutes. Remove from oven once more and cover asparagus layer with grated cheese and goat milk crumbles. then bake an additional 10 minutes . When the eggs have puffed and the cheese is lightly browned, this dish is finished. Let it set a few moments before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Split Pea Soup

I woke up yesterday craving split pea soup. Why not? It's hearty, filling, delicious and a breeze to prepare, even if it isn't a dish one would ordinarily think of as Spring awakens. But it was so very cold and windy and cravings are cravings and usually nonsensical when it comes to foods. At least this craving is good for me and healthy, and really hit the spot!

1 TBL Olive oil
1 TBL unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, diced
2 oz prosciutto, diced
3/4 cup onions, diced fine
1 cup carrots, grated
1 hamhock or hambone
3 cup chicken stock
2 cup water
32 oz dried split peas
ground pepper
1 TBL dried savory

In a large pot heat the olive oil and butter. Add onions, garlic, carrots and prosciutto. Saute until slightly tender, 10 minutes or so. Add rinsed dried peas, chicken stock, water, and ham hock to the soup.

Bring soup to a boil and then simmer covered until peas are very tender and breaking up--about 2 hours.

Serve warm with a nice crusty bread and dig in! Enjoy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Seafood Pie

Here's a dish that I typically make often, but for some reason haven't made it all winter. You may use any seafood you would prefer. Sometimes I make it with only shrimp or lobster, but this week I used some lobster meat, shrimp, and haddock pieces. It's easily assembled, and even better served the next day.

1 cup lobster meat, cut into pieces
1 cup shrimp or more
1 pound fresh haddock or any white fish cut into 2 inch pieces
2 cups Ritz crackers, crushed fine
1 cup corn flakes, crumbled w/ rolling pin
1 TBL cornstarch mixed w/ a few tsps of milk
2 TBLS flour
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
3-4 drops tobasco sauce
1/2 pint cream
1/2 cup diced scallions
ground pepper to taste-NO salt needed
olive oil

Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees

Melt butter and pour over crumbs into a bowl. Reserve the other half. In a separate bowl mix together all the ingredients and seasonings.. adding seafood lastly, mixing in well. Make a layer of blended crumbs in the bottom of a greased baking pan or brownie pan. Spread mixed batter next layer. Sprinkle remaining buttered crumb mixture on top. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a few shakes of paprika. Bake uncovered 20-25 minutes or until there are no liquids remaining. Allow to set before serving. Enjoy!

Kitchen Helper

Isn't she sweet? A friend sent her to me to help out around the kitchen... Now if I could only get her to do the laundry and run the vacuum around, she'd be just perfect! :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Baked Artichoke Pesto Dip

2 cans artichokes in water
1 cup mayonaisse
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup fontina cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
2 TBLS basil pesto (I had a few packages left in the freezer from last summer's garden so I used my own)
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp minced hot peppers (opt)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain the artichoke hearts, and chop them up. Mix them with all the other ingredients except the paprika, combining well. Put it in a small, oven-proof casserole dish, some paprika on top to make it look nice, and bake for 30-45 minutes until very bubbly and just browned on top. Serve warm and scoop this with crusty bread slices or fresh vegetables.. sticks of pepper strips, cucumbers, or celery sticks.

** This recipe doubles very easily. Try adding some spinach to the mix and just watch it disappear :D

Friday, March 6, 2009

Braised Haddock

For many Italian families Fridays menu during Lent is oftentimes fish. Living in Maine you can imagine how much seafood we can consume here, and for us fresh haddock is right up there on our hit parade of choices. Typically served baked or fried, up and down our coastline, but the delicate texture and flavor is lost due to cooking it this way. For me simpler is even better. Gently poaching haddock in a flavorful broth is one of the ways to really enjoy this wonderful fish. I seldom prepare my haddock the same way twice with the exception of this dish--braised haddock. It was a favorite of my Dads.. very simple to prepare, and just oh so good!

1 TBLS unsalted butter
1TBLS olive oil
2 slices pancetta, diced
1 shallot, diced
1 small onion, sliced
1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 small zucchini, sliced thin
2 tsp savory
1 tsp basil
1 1/2 cups diced plum tomatoes
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
1 1/2 pounds fresh haddock filets
coarse ground pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a large skillet melt butter with olive oil and sautee pancetta until just crisp. Add onions, shallot, fennel, herbs and sautee until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes. Add wine, stir in tomatoes and olives and simmer 5 minutes to thicken slightly. Place the haddock filets on top and to the side of the vegetable mix and top with zucchini slices. Ladle the sauce over fish pieces and a grind of pepper. Cover skillet and slowly cook for another 10-12 minutes over medium heat until fish flakes. Uncover and top with grated cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This & that, a contest and an award

Many have noticed I'm taking a mini break from posting on Cucina Panzano. I'm still cooking and trying to take photographs, I just need to focus my time just now that usually goes into blog entries to focus on another passion and livelihood right now, and that's making soap.

It's hard for me to believe how quickly the past year has simply flown by and how busy we all become with real life, while time just slips away. I've been so busy I even missed my own first blog anniversay! Yikes! Thanks to all the well wishers, I was reminded and remembered. What a great community of foodie friendships I've come to know by way of this blog. Thanks so much for all the support, assistance and comments as well as your friendship in this past year.

I started this blog primarily for my family who all enjoy eating as much as I love cooking. As passionate as I am about food--I am equally passionate about making herbal soaps. Make no mistake, I'll still be cooking, just not posting as often as I'd least not for a couple of more weeks. But I'll be around to see what you have all been up to.

While I'm at it here, my friend Karen at Karen Cooks gave me this Honest Scrap award and because I have been so darn busy hadn't seen it until now. Thanks so much! Karen has many interests and enjoys cooking as much as the rest of us and brings to the table some really yummy recipes. She's also repsonsible for me gaining two pounds in this last month after introducing me to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Her posts always bring a smile to my face. I just love her wicked great sense of humor!
I'm suppose to list 10 honest things about me and pass it along. So here goes:

1. I'm an avid kayaker and walker, barring nor'easters.
2. I love to eat! My faves- Italian, Asian & Seafood. I'll try any food at least once.
3. I love conversationalists and people with a great sense of humor.
4. I'm not much of a TV watcher, but love movies. I adore reading. I'm a rug hooker.
5. I've been a cookbook collector far too long. My great grandmothers was my first.
6. I had an herb farm for twenty years, and supplied local restaurants with fresh herbs daily. So gardening is another passion of mine.
7. I am a natural herbal soapmaker. Last year I made nearly 12K bars - see why I am so busy? And why I go through so much Olive oil Joe! LOL
8. My favorite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude.
9. I'm a retired nurse and still miss my pediatric patients.
10. My family means the world to me and I'm a pretty private person.

Whew! I can't believe I just finished this-- LOL! You're bad Karen :) so now I'll be just as bad and will pass this award on to:

Maryann at Finding La Dolce Vita who was my first visitor to this blog, who has a great sense of 'family' and one fabulous cookin' Mama xoxo Maryann is also co-hosting the 2nd Annual Festa Italiana roundup.. stop by for some absolutely scrumptious recipes.

Chuck at Chef Chucks Cucina who's very passionate about cooking and gardening too! I just love to see what he's cooking up next.

Andy at Andy's Diner who's a single Dad and his menu revolves around his beautiful children and the closeness they share.

I'd pass this on to Joe at Italyville too, but I know he's on his way to Calabria.. I wonder if he needs any help with his luggage?! LOL No doubt he will bring home many foods, memories and share pictures of his travel. Have a super trip Joe!

Please take a minute to visit these blogs and tell them Jady sent you! :)

And now for a fun contest.
If you love animals as much as we do, hop on over to my friends at Maggie Mae's-A Dog's Life, and follow the antics of this fun loving pup and her obsession to catch a squirrel. Or enter their 'You Write the Caption contest'. You'll need a good imagination -- so stop on by and take a peek for a fun way to brighten your day!