Italian Easter Sweet Bread

Here is one more Easter recipe. I sometimes make this sweet Easter loaf to go with our Italian Easter dinner. It is moist, soft, and sweet and looks very inviting on a holiday table. The dough is generally easy to work with, but the trick to producing a moist soft bread is to maintain a somewhat sticky dough. Don’t use too much flour, and remember that it is a rustic loaf and does not have to look picture perfect; just colorful and festive. This recipe can easily be made dairy free using almond milk and a butter substitute. It can also be flavored with anise seeds or lemon extract. I often use this dough recipe to make Christmas sweet breads as well.

Italian Easter Sweet Bread
3/4 Tbsp. yeast
generous pinch of sugar
1/2 c. warm water
2/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 c. milk, warmed
1/3 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. orange zest
1-1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3-1/2 – 4 c. flour
1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt for egg wash
colored nonpareil sprinkles
12-14 colored eggs

In a small bowl combine yeast, a pinch of sugar, and warm water. Let sit 5 minutes to foam. Pour yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs, milk, and butter. Mix well. Add citrus zests, vanilla, and salt. Mix. Add 2 cups flour. Mix well. Add another cup of flour and mix. Add about 3/4 cup more flour to make a sticky dough. (You may need a bit more flour.) Knead slightly while still in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1-1/2 hours until doubled. Divide dough into 6 pieces and, on a floured surface, roll each piece into a 14-inch long rope. Cover and let the ropes sit 10 minutes. Take two of the ropes and braid into a long braided loaf, or bring the ends together to make a circular braid. You will make 3 loaves with the 6 ropes. You can also do a three-rope braid for 2 larger loaves if desired. Place loaves on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with a tea towel and let rise 45 minutes. Brush loaves with egg wash and spread sprinkles on the loaves. Tuck 4 colored eggs into the circular loaves or 3 colored eggs into the long loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until golden. Make sure the bread is not raw around the eggs. Remove bread to a rack to cool. Makes 3 loaves.

Formed Loaves

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Baked Easter Loaves

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Moist and Soft Interior of Bread

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Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Christmas, Dairy-free, Desserts, Easter | Leave a comment

Sugar and Spice Spiral-sliced Ham

This is my homemade version of honey-baked ham. The flavor is close to the name brand but without the high price tag. I use Kirkland spiral-sliced ham from Costco and make my own spice coating. You will need a kitchen torch to apply the sugar and spice coating to the ham (my husband’s contribution to the cooking process). It is delicious and is a great recipe for Easter or any other holiday.

Sugar and Spice Spiral-sliced Ham
1 (9 lb.) pre-cooked spiral sliced hickory smoked ham, room temperature
1-1/2 c. apple cider
2 Tbsp. corn syrup, warmed

Sugar and Spice Glaze Mixture
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. granulated honey powder (from an Asian grocery store)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp, ground allspice
generous pinch of ground ginger
generous pinch of fine sea salt

Begin by allowing ham to come to room temperature one hour before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour enough apple cider in a roasting pan to cover the bottom of the pan (depending on its size roughly 1-1/2 cups). Place the ham cut side down into the cider. Cover the roasting pan tightly with a large piece of heavy-duty foil. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the ham is warmed all the way through. While the ham is baking combine the sugar and spice mixture ingredients in a medium-size bowl and whisk to mix well. Warm the corn syrup in the microwave just so it is thin and can be spread onto the ham with a brush. Remove the ham from the oven and place on a baking sheet. Brush the outside of the ham with warmed corn syrup. Using your hands, pack the sugar and spice mixture all around the ham, using most of the spice mixture. When some of it falls off just pack it back on the ham. Light a creme brûlée torch and, holding it one inch from the ham, heat the packed sugar and spice mixture until it begins to brown and caramelize. It should take about 10 minutes to caramelize the entire ham surface. Use a knife to cut the ham slices away from the bone and plate onto a serving platter. Serves 15-18 people. You can serve this with honey mustard if desired, which is equal amounts of Dijon mustard and honey.

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Posted in Christmas, Easter, Meat Dishes, Pork, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

Whenever I am craving cookies but don’t want to fuss with chilling dough, sticky frosting, or sprinkles, I turn to biscotti. This chocolate almond biscotti recipe is one of my favorites. These cookies contain two kinds of chocolate, are dairy-free, and are so addictive I could eat the whole batch myself. They store best in a tin and will last for several weeks and become more flavorful as they age. I like to include them as part of a cookie assortment for any holiday.

Chocolate Almond Biscotti
2 c. flour
1 3/4 c. sugar
1 c. good quality cocoa powder (I use Callebaut brand)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 large whole eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. toasted whole almonds
1/2 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Guittard brand)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper. In a medium size bowl combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In a separate mixing bowl beat whole eggs and yolks. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix well. Add nuts and chocolate chips. Roll into 3 (10″x2″) logs. Place on baking sheets. Flatten tops slightly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan half way through baking. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes. Transfer logs to a sturdy cutting board. Cut logs into slices. Return slices to the baking sheets and bake 5-10 minutes more. Remove biscotti to a rack and cool completely. Store in a cookie tin. Makes 4 dozen biscotti.

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Posted in Chocolate, Christmas, Cookies, Dairy-free, Desserts, Easter | 1 Comment

Italian Easter Rice Pie

Last year I posted our family’s recipe for Italian Easter wheat pie. This year I want to share an Italian-American version made using rice in place of wheat. My own spin is the addition of maraschino cherries. As the pie bakes the filling forms distinct layers that make it interesting and delicious. The top layer is a delicate custard with subtle orange and cinnamon overtones. The second layer is maraschino cherries with chewy flavorful rice. The recipe for the filling makes a bit more than you need for a 9-inch pie crust. Pour the remaining extra filling into individual ramekins and bake ricotta cherry puddings. Make this pie the day before you intend to serve it. Chilling overnight enhances the flavors.

Italian Easter Rice Pie
Sweet Pie Crust (Pasta Frolla)
1-2/3 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
zest of half a medium lemon
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a food processor combine flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Pulse until combined. Add butter and pulse to form pea size crumbs. Combine egg and vanilla to blend. Then add to flour mixture and pulse until it just begins to come together. Pour dough out onto the counter and bring together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour or longer. Roll out and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. There will be extra dough. You can use it to make a few cut-out cookies.

Ricotta and Rice Filling
1 c. fresh ricotta cheese
2/3 c. vanilla granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 a large orange
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. chopped maraschino cherries
1 Tbsp. maraschino cherry juice
3 large eggs
1 c. cooked long grain Jasmine rice
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine ricotta, sugar, orange zest, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt. Mix well. Add chopped cherries, and maraschino cherry juice. Mix. Add eggs and mix well. Add rice, milk and cream. Mix gently. Pour filling into pie crust being careful not to overfill it. Pour extra filling into ramekins and bake alongside pie. Bake pie for 45-55 minutes until filling is set in the middle. If crust begins to get dark, wrap foil around the edges. Cool on rack. Chill overnight. Serves 8.

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Posted in Custards, Desserts, Easter, Grains, Pies | Leave a comment

Spinach with Garlic and Lemon

My CSA share from La Nay Ferme has resumed after a winter hiatus. It is great to have fresh organic greens again, particularly their sweet spinach. This is a simple recipe and may be familiar to many readers. I prefer to grate fresh lemon zest onto the spinach rather than using lemon juice. The flavor is fresh and vibrant. You can also use this spinach as a filling for phyllo pastry or the base of a savory tart. It is also good with pasta.

Spinach with Garlic and Lemon
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
6 c. cleaned and packed fresh spinach leaves
salt and pepper to taste
zest of half a large lemon (about 1 tsp.)

In a sauté pan heat olive oil on medium low heat. When oil is hot add garlic and sauté for 1 minute to soften garlic and it begins to get a little color. Add spinach and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let wilt for 2-3 minutes. Spring with lemon zest and continue cooking covered for 10-15 minutes until spinach is soft and tender. Serves 4.

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Posted in Appetizers, Easter, Pasta, Vegetables, Vegetarian | 2 Comments

Sautéed Rutabagas and Turnips with Onions and Bacon

I am posting a few easy vegetable dishes this week. Rutabagas and turnips when combined with onions and bacon become very sweet as they cook. It is a nice side dish with a roast for a weekend or holiday meal. It is also a good lunch with some bread to dunk in the brothy juices.

3 medium rutabagas, peeled and cubed
3 medium turnips, peeled and cubed
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 large onion, peeled and chopped
3-4 slices bacon, rough chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 c. chicken stock

In a frying pan heat oil on medium heat. Add onions and bacon and sauté for 10 minutes until onions have softened and bacon cooks. Add rutabagas and turnips, salt, and pepper to taste. Stir to coat with onions and bacon. Cook 3 minutes then add chicken stock. Cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes until vegetables are fork tender but not mushy. Serves 4-6.

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Grilled Artichokes with Salmoriglio Sauce

Easter is coming up shortly. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I always make stuffed artichokes for Easter to accompany the lamb, but I also make a pan of grilled artichokes, too, that we serve with salmoriglio. Salmoriglio is an Italian condiment or sauce used for grilled meat and seafood. It is made with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano. It can also contain other fresh herbs, and is a favorite at our house for roasted or grilled vegetables and grilled meats. It is a simple sauce but very addictive. I spoon some of the salmoriglio over the warm artichokes when they come off the grill and serve the rest on the side. It is also delicious drizzled on stuffed artichokes as well as Easter lamb.

Grilled Artichokes with Salmoriglio Sauce
4 medium artichokes, trimmed
6 c. water
1 lemon, quartered
1 tsp. kosher salt

Place 6 cups cold water in a large bowl. Squeeze juice of the lemon into the water and add lemon quarters to it. Rinse artichokes, then cut off stems, peel them, and add stems to lemon water. Cut off the top half-inch or so of each artichoke. Use scissors to cut off the prickly tips of the leaves (1/4 inch). Cut the artichokes into 1/8ths. Remove fuzzy choke with a spoon. Place trimmed artichokes in the acidulated water and let sit for 10 minutes. Bring a 5-quart pot filled with water to a boil. Add kosher salt. Add the artichokes and the stems to the water and boil until they are tender when choke is pierced with a fork (it should take roughly 25-30 minutes). Preheat an outdoor grill to high. Drain the artichokes, then place them cut-side down on the grill and lower heat to medium. Cover and let cook for 5 minutes until you see orange-brown grill marks on the cut side. Turn artichokes over and grill 5-10 more minutes, uncovered, until the edges are crispy. Place artichokes in a serving dish and generously spoon the salmoriglio over them. Serve remaining salmoriglio on the side.

Salmoriglio
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tsp. dried Greek oregano

Whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper. Whisk to mix well. Add garlic and oregano. Spoon over grilled vegetables. Makes 3/4 cup.

Salmoriglio

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Grilled Artichokes with Salmoriglio

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Posted in Appetizers, Easter, Sauces, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Blackberry Jam-filled Muffins

A few months ago I came across a recipe for jam muffins on the blog 66squarefeet. I had never tried filling muffins with jam in place of fresh fruit, but it was very good. I adapted the original recipe by adding a streusel topping and it is now a new favorite for breakfast and snacks. I used Trader Joe’s seedless blackberry jam but you can use any thick jam for this recipe – strawberry, raspberry, cherry, plum, apricot, blueberry. The recipe doubles easily. The batter should be thick to hold the jam. I have made them with dairy and as a dairy-free version (using coconut almond milk), and the streusel topping works well with coconut oil in place of butter.

Blackberry Jam-filled Muffins

Muffin Batter
2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 c. whole milk or coconut almond milk
1/4 c. butter, melted or dairy free margarine
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 (17 oz.) jar seedless blackberry jam (you will not use the whole jar)

Streusel Topping
1/3 c. flour
1/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of kosher salt
3-1/2 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners. Begin by mixing the muffin batter in a medium size bowl by sifting together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. In a larger bowl combine milk, butter, egg, and vanilla. Whisk to mix well. Slowly add the sifted dry ingredients and whisk to combine but do not over mix. Make the streusel topping by combining in a bowl flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Stir together, then cut in butter to form crumbs. Drop a soup spoon full of batter into the bottom of each muffin cup. Spoon a heaping teaspoon full of jam over the batter of each muffin. Top with another spoonful of batter, spreading it out with a spoon to cover the jam. Sprinkle streusel over muffins. Bake for 12-15 minutes until muffins are puffed and spring back when touched. Remove to a rack and let sit 2 minutes, then remove muffins from the tin. Makes 12 medium-size muffins.

Muffin Batter

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Fresh-baked Muffin

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Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Dairy-free, Fruit, Jams and Jellies | Leave a comment

Macaroni with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage

I was at the grocery store today and came across a large and beautifully fresh bunch of broccoli rabe (also known as rapini). I don’t find it in the stores very often here. We grow it in the garden in the spring and freeze it, but I used the last of my supply and we are still months out from our home grown greens, so I was thrilled to find such a fresh bunch. I couldn’t wait to get home and make this dish. It’s one of my favorite pasta dishes, traditional to the region of Puglia, Italy, from which my father’s family immigrated to the US. There is it made with orecchiette pasta, but I prefer ditalini with it because I like it just a little soupy. Many years ago, when I visited the small town of Bovino where my paternal grandparents were born, I was amazed at the variety of greens available at the farmers market. I suspect some were wild, but they all looked so inviting that I was sorry I was in a hotel without a kitchen because I would have liked to sample all the varieties. Very fresh broccoli rabe has a slightly pleasant bitter edge that I enjoy, but if you use greens that are older it may be too bitter and univiting. Fresh is best. This recipe is similar to others online but I like these proportions better, and using Aleppo pepper with its citrus overtones complements the broccoli rabe nicely.

Macaroni with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage
10 c. chopped and packed broccoli rabe (1 large or 2 small bunches)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. sliced red onion
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (casing removed)
1/4 c. pasta cooking water
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. chicken broth
3/4 lb. ditalini pasta

Begin by bringing a 5-quart pot full of water to the boil. Add a bit of kosher salt along with the broccoli rabe. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove the greens with a slotted spoon, saving the water to cook the pasta in. In a sauté pan heat olive oil. When hot, add onions and cook 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute to soften. Add sausage, breaking it up with a spoon into small bits. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the meat is no longer pink. While the sausage is cooking boil the pasta in the broccoli rabe water. Set aside 1/4 cup of the cooking water for the pasta sauce before draining the cooked ditalini. Add broccoli rabe and the pasta cooking water to the cooked sausage, along with a bit of salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Be careful not to add too much salt because you will be adding broth. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring to mix and absorb flavors. Add chicken stock and cheese. Cook 3 more minutes for cheese to melt. Add pasta and stir to coat with broccoli rabe and sausage. Cook a few more minutes. You may want to add more cheese. Pour into a serving bowl. Feel free to add more cheese to individual portions. Serves 6.

Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

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Finished Ditalini with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage

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Posted in Pasta, Pork, Sauces, Vegetables | Leave a comment

My Mother’s Meatballs and Sauce

My mother makes wonderful meatballs. She has just the right touch and I haven’t found any that taste better than hers. I know every Italian thinks their mom makes the best meatballs; this is our family’s version. We called pasta sauce gravy when I was growing up when it had meat in it and sauce if it was meatless like a marinara. It is delicious whatever the name. Italians make meatballs but serve them as a separate course. Italian-Americans, on the other hand, serve them together, and that’s how I grew up eating them. The aroma of meatballs simmering in sauce on a Sunday morning is my favorite smell and my ultimate comfort food. Whenever my mom is making meatballs we can smell their heavenly scent outside the door of her apartment. I walk in and go straight to the kitchen to fork one or two–or three–meatballs directly from the pot. When making this dish always allow for family sampling before dinner begins, and there are rarely any leftovers. Do not try to double the meatball recipe; you must make individual batches for them to taste right. Don’t ask me why, it’s just how it is. Trust me.

My Mother’s Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef (85/15 or 80/20)
1 crustless slice of white bread
1/4 c. warm water (milk is optional)
1/2 c. Progresso Italian style bread crumbs
1/4 c. grated Parmesan or a mix of Parmesan and Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

In a large bowl place ground beef and use your hands to spread it out and break up the large clumps. In a small bowl place the slice of bread, then pour warm water over it and let it sit for a five minutes to absorb the liquid. In a third bowl combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and onion powder. Mix well. In a fourth bowl beat the eggs. Squeeze the bread out, saving the soaking water, and add bread to the meat along with the breadcrumb mixture and the egg. Mix with your hands until ingredients are fully incorporated. Don’t over mix or the meatballs will be tough. Dip hands into the soaking water and form 11-12 golfball-size meatballs. Heat a frying pan with 1/3-1/2 c. olive oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. You don’t need to cook them all the way through. They will continue to cook in the sauce.

My mother’s formula for her sauce: 64 oz. of tomatoes in any combination will yield, after cooking, 8 cups of sauce for 8 people.

My Mother’s Sauce
1/4 c. olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 large bone-in pork chops or a Boston pork butt bone with a bit of meat
1/2-1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 c. red wine (she uses Merlot)
2 (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, puréed in a food processor
1 (8 oz.) can Hunts tomato sauce
Italian seasoning, oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste
sugar to taste if tomatoes are slightly bitter
1 Knorr beef bouillon cube
2 batches prepared meatballs

In a 6-quart pot heat olive oil on medium high heat. When oil is hot, brown pork, seasoned with salt and pepper, on both sides. Remove pork and set aside. Add onions to the oil the pork has browned in and cook for five minutes to soften. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add red wine to deglaze pan, scraping up the brown bits. Let cook 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, herbs and seasonings to taste, sugar, and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil. Return browned pork to the pot. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add prepared meatballs and simmer, covered for 2 hours. You will need to use a spoon to skim the grease that rises to the top of the pot during cooking. You will do this 5-6 times. Stir often to prevent the sauce from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pot. Makes 8 c. sauce, enough for 1-1/2 lbs. of pasta.

Meatball Mixture

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Browning Meatballs

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Meatballs in Sauce

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Posted in Appetizers, Beef, Meat Dishes, Pasta, Sauces | 1 Comment