Easter Cheese Bread

March 31, 2012 Appetizer, Menu 1 Comment

Of all the recipes that I have featured on my blog, this is one that I am most excited to share with you. Not only is it another fine example of an Italian delicacy that is enjoyed during the Easter season, it is also a recipe that I have been searching out for years! A few years back we were visiting our friend at her parents’ house. Her mom, who is from Italy, shared with us an Easter cheese bread that she made. She called it ‘pastiche’ (pronounced pas-teech). It was a savory bread that had cheese baked into the texture, and it was one of the most delicious breads I’ve ever tasted. When I asked if she would share the recipe, she looked at me, smirked and said in her slight broken English, “nah, you can’t make this.” As it turns out, this recipe was a special recipe that came from her home town, and it was something that I figured was just guarded by those who learned how to make it over the years. Honestly, it was like a punch to the gut being told ‘no’.

Never being one that is told that I can’t do something, I spent the next few years searching out the recipe, but with no luck. There were no recipes online for ‘pastiche’, and the most results I would find for a search on Italian cheese bread was for Domino’s bread sticks. Epic fail.

But finally, this year I found a lead. Apparently, our neighbors’ friends, who are also from Italy, make a bread this time of year that they call pastiche. I also found out that they are from Abruzzi. My friend’s parents are from Abruzzi. I begin to think “hey, this is all starting to add up!” I searched out Abruzzi cheese bread and..BINGO! I finally found what I was looking for.

Crescia al formaggio is a traditional savory Umbrian bread that is made during Easter time with various cheeses, specifically grated Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano, along with chunks of a semi-sharp-or sharp cheese (such as provolone or fontina) folded into the dough. Although quite flavorful on its own, it can also be served  during any meal along with eggs, prosciutto and other Italian meats, or even with peppers.

To say that I was happy when I found this recipe would be an understatement. As soon as I read the description and saw a photo online, I knew that I had finally found what I was looking for. And, to my my surprise, there were quite a few variations that I found of this bread. Some were honestly more difficult than others, incorporating home-made cheeses. I now understand why my friend’s mom doubted my skills. But I also found some other less complicated versions. One that specifically intrigued me was at Italian Food Forever. I gave the recipe a try, and it tastes exactly how I remembered. Pure heaven. I reached out to Deborah Mele of the website, and she graciously agreed to allow me to share her recipe here. Thank you very much, Deborah!

But what about the mystery of ‘pastiche’?

Of all the recipes that I found, none of them refer to it as pastiche. I’ve tried various searches over the years on the word (not eve sure if I were spelling it correctly). Nada. I have also since found out that our neighbors friends do not use flour in their recipe. Only eggs and home made cheese. So while theirs may not be the same ‘pastiche’ as I’ve had before, it was enough to lead me to a solution. But finally, after a little deep digging, I did come across one possible answer. According to Wikipedia, pastiche (which aslo means hodge -podge) is the French version of the Greco-Roman dish pastitsio or pasticcio, a kind of pie made of many different ingredients. I guess this is the Easter bread version of the Gravy vs. Sauce argument.

Whatever you choose to call it, definitely add this recipe to your Easter menu.

Buona Pasqua!

CRESCIA – UMBRIAN CHEESE BREAD
Courtesy of Deborah Mele at Italian Food Forever

Yield: 1 Large Loaf

Prep Time: 2 1/2 hrs

Cook Time: 40 mins

A cheese packed bread traditional to Umbria often served with cured meats.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 Cup Warm Water
1 Tablespoon Active Dry Yeast
6 Extra Large Eggs
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Coarse Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Sea Salt
2 Cups Grated Pecorino Cheese
8 Cups All-purpose Flour (Or Tipo 0)
8 Ounces Young Pecorino Cheese Cut Into 1/2 Inch Dice

Directions:

(Note – this recipe calls for a soufflé dish, but I used a spring form pan and it worked fine).

Spray a large soufflé dish with oil, and using a strip of parchment paper, line the top of the dish adding an additional 2 to 3 inches of height.
Add the yeast to the water in a bowl and mix, then let sit 5 minutes until bubbly.
In another bowl, beat first the 6 eggs, then add the olive oil, salt, pepper, and grated cheese.
Add the yeast mixture to the egg mixture and stir until combined.
Add half the flour and stir, and then continue to add flour one cup at a time until you create a firm dough that is not too sticky.
Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand, folding in the diced cheese as you work the dough.
Knead for about 5 minutes or until the cheese has been incorporated into the dough, and the dough is smooth.
Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil and let the dough rise until doubled, covered, in a warm spot.
Punch down the dough and form it into a ball and place it into the prepared soufflé dish.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cover the bread with a kitchen towel and let it rise for about 30 minutes.
Bake the bread for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees F.
Let the bread cool for 10 minutes, remove it from the baking dish and let cool to room temperature before cutting into it.

Adapted From Mary Ann Esposito

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Polenta with Greens

March 21, 2012 Appetizer, Menu No Comments

One of my favorite parts of a traditional Italian meal is the side dishes. Some of the most popular traditional side dishes consist of a fresh-picked green (mostly either broccoli rabe, swiss chard, escarole or spinach), usually sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Today, I’m showing you how you can double your pleasure by simply combining Italian greens with my other favorite side dish…polenta! Polenta of course, is a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal that is made by stirring together cornmeal and heated liquid, until you get a thick, slightly creamy, slightly mushy consistency. By adding greens to polenta, you not only get a good balance of hearty and healthy, but you also get a tasty old world combination that in my opinion goes toe-to-toe with any other traditional dish that you could name.

The prepping and serving of this dish is incredibly simple…once you get past the 20+ minute marathon of stirring and mixing the polenta (you can click here for Giada DeLaurentiis’ step-by-step instructions on how to prepare polenta). Once you have gotten past the polenta preparation, the rest is simple. Just steam and sauté your greens, and serve on top of a bed of polenta. If you’re feeling rustic, just mix it all together. If you’re going for presentation, gently pile the greens on top of the polenta and top with some fresh shaved parmesan cheese.

My personal favorite green to cook with, especially for this dish, is broccoli rabe. The slight bitterness is the perfect combination for the sweet, creamy polenta. You can add some tasty accent to the rabe by cooking it up with some onion and garlic, and even a little pancetta or bacon for an extra treat.

If you’re looking to make this during the week but don’t have the time to prepare a fresh batch of polenta, simply pick up one of the pre-cooked polenta tubes that are located in the produce section of your grocery store. I use these often, as they are very easy to prepare. Simply slice the polenta up into 1/2 inch slices, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 350˚ for about 10 minutes, or until crispy enough to your likeness. You can prepare the broccoli rabe on the stove top at the same time, and have this delicious meal on your table within 15 minutes!

POLENTA WITH GREENS

1. Preparing the Polenta
Courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis
• 6 cups water
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.

2. Preparing the Greens
• 2 lbs broccoli rabe, cut into 2-inch lengths, thick stems discarded
• 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• (Optional – 1/4 lb pancetta, sliced 1/8 inch thick and cut into tiny cubes)

In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, shaking off the excess water. Wipe out the saucepan.

Add two tablespoons olive oil and pancetta to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring often, until the pancetta is golden, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the garlic to pancetta and cook, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe to the pancetta, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

Again, pancetta is optional – you can skip adding if you prefer.

3. Combining the Polenta and the Greens
When polenta and greens are done, you can either plate individual servings, by placing some greens on a bed of polenta, or you can serve family style by combining both in to a large serving bowl.

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Zucchini Carpaccio

This week, health and wellness expert Joe Sammartino shares with us an incredibly simple recipe for zucchini squash. By using just a handful of everyday ingredients, the end result is a delicious and fresh-tasting zucchini salad that is packed with lots of healthy benefits. I have tried this dish and have to agree with Joe…it is unbelievably tasty! You can take it a few steps further than the recipe below by adding crushed red pepper for spice, or fresh shaved parmesan for a beautiful accent. You can also substitute lemon or lime juice for the red wine vinegar if you wish. Try it first as is, then adjust to your liking. If you like zucchini, you’ll love this dish!

ZUCCHINI CARPACCIO
Submitted by Joe Sammartino

Here is something you can do to spice up some summer squash First off it is high in vitamins and minerals. It’s high in vitamin A (for eye site), vitamin C (for tissue growth and repair), Riboflavin (for red blood cell production), and Manganese (for immune system). Just some nutrition info!!

Ingredients:
3 zucchini squash
2 tbspn olive oil
1 tbson red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbspn chopped fresh mint

Directions:
Take a serrated knife to thinly slice 3 zucchini lengthwise. Arrange slices on a salad plate; drizzle on 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, and add salt and pepper to your taste. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint. Let the slices marinate about 20 min at room temp before serving.

This will make 4 servings.

I have had Zucchini so many ways but, this was tasty.

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