Eggplant Parmesan with Sausage – another Keto friendly recipe

My wife, Rhonda, and I have been on a Keto diet for a couple of months now. The things we miss most are pizza and pasta. As many of you know, we owned an Italian restaurant, Frankie’s Pizza and Pasta, for 24 years … born out of our love for those amazing foods. So now I am on a mission to satiate my Italian cravings while on Keto. This recipe was another success on that journey.

The Keto diet allows for a lot of fat. Thus, the addition of the sausage and I did not skimp on the cheese.

Mis en Place: I always start with mis en place, the French term for “everything in place”. Doing this before you start cooking helps to ensure that you do not burn something while chopping something else or leave out any ingredients. After I assembled everything, I went on to chop my onions, garlic, and herbs before proceeding.

Sweating the eggplant: I started the process by slicing the eggplant about 3/8 inch thick. I then laid the slices on paper towels on a baking sheet.

I salted the eggplant, then covered this with a second layer of paper towels. On top of that I placed a second baking sheet and weighed it down with a can of tomatoes. The idea is to sweat some of the moisture from the eggplant which removes some of its bitterness. This is completely optional. In my experience, the difference is not significant.

A Possible Shortcut: If you don’t want to make your own sauce, feel free to substitute a jar of your favorite Marinara. If you use this method, I would still sauté onions and sausage as described below and add those to the sauce.

Making the sauce: While my eggplant was sweating, I began my sauce, which was simply my marinara (what many Italians would call Sugo Pomodoro), with the addition of Italian Sausage. One of the keys to good marinara is high quality tomatoes. I used Cento brand San Marzano tomatoes. The best price I found for these is at Trader Joe’s. I like the Cento Italian Plum tomatoes (that are not designated as San Marzano) just as well. I used whole plum tomatoes which I crushed myself. An alternative is to use Crushed Tomatoes if you prefer a smoother sauce. When I make a double batch, I usually use one can of each.

I began by sweating the onions, then adding my garlic, then the sausage. Once the pink was gone, I added my herbs. I used dried oregano and Italian parsley–both grown in my garden. Fresh basil would be perfect, but my basil is dying now that autumn has arrived. Another option is to use dried basil or marjoram.

Next, I added a little white wine to deglaze (completely optional), and some extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. If you find the sauce to be more bitter than you like, feel free to add a little sugar. Once the flavor was to my liking, I turned the flame to the lowest setting and allowed the sauce to simmer.

Cooking the Eggplant: There are a variety of ways you can cook the eggplant. It was a beautiful day, and I was cooking in my outdoor kitchen, so I decided to grill them on my gas grill. First, I brushed them with olive oil.

Other options include baking them in the oven. To do so, remove the paper towels and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or silicone baking mat). Bake at 425 F. for 15-20 minutes or until tender. You can also bread them and fry them. I personally don’t like this method as they really soak up the oil!

An option with the eggplant: Some people (my wife included I found out afterword), don’t care for the skin on the eggplant which can be tough. Feel free to remove the skin with a sharp peeler or paring knife. Or I have at times removed part of it (in stripes), which can be a happy medium).

Assembling the Dish: The assembly is simple. Select an appropriate baking dish. I have this cool cast iron one I used. It wasn’t quite big enough, so I also did a separate one in a smaller rarebit. This worked out great because my wife wanted less cheese on hers : )

Place a layer of sauce in the bottom. Top that with eggplant. If needed, you can slice it to fit. Top with more sauce, then a layer of mozzarella and grated parmesan. Repeat with eggplant, sauce, and additional cheese. I chose to top mine with some Italian parsley. You can add that before or after baking.

Baking: All that was left now was to bake the casserole. I prepared mine earlier in the afternoon, then placed it in the refrigerator to bake later. If you do so, I suggest pulling it out at least a half-hour before baking to allow it to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 425 F. Cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Then remove foil and bake further until nicely browned (another 10-12 minutes). Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4 as a main course / 6 as a first course:

For Eggplant:
1 large globe eggplant–sliced approximately 3/8 inch thick
1 teaspoon salt
1/ cup olive oil
For Sauce:
1/2 medium onion
3-5 cloves garlic-minced
1/2-pound Italian sausage
1/4 cup white wine
28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbls. tomato paste
fresh or dried herbs (see Frankie’s Tips)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
To Finish:
1-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (or fresh mozzarella—diced small)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano- Reggiano (lightly packed)

Procedure:

  • Read Frankie’s Tips regarding sweating eggplant (optional), and methods of cooking. If roasting eggplant in the oven, preheat to 425 F. Brush baking sheet with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the trays in a single layer. Lightly brush the top side of the eggplant slices with remaining oil. If you did not sweat the eggplant, sprinkle with salt now.
  • Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes until tender and lightly browned. When eggplants are done cooking, remove and reduce oven to 400 F. Allow eggplant to rest until cool enough to handle.
  • While eggplants are baking and cooling, prepare the sauce. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to skillet and heat over medium until oil begins to shimmer. Sauté onions until they begin to soften. Add garlic and sausage. Chop sausage as it cooks and sauté until all pink is gone.
  • Add wine and deglaze skillet (scrape brown bits from bottom of pan). Cook until wine is reduced by half.
  • Crush canned tomatoes by hand and add to the skillet along with their juices. Add paste.
  • Add the remaining olive oil. Add herbs (see Frankie’s Tips), and salt and pepper to taste.
  • You’re now ready to assemble. Place a layer of the meat sauce in the bottom of the baking dish (9×9 would be a good size). Place a single layer of eggplant on top of the sauce.
  • Top with half of your cheese.
  • For the second layer, do a layer of sauce, then eggplant, a little more sauce, then top with cheeses.
  • Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-12 minutes until cheese is bubbly and nicely browned.
  • Allow to rest ten minutes before slicing.
  • Put on some nice Italian music, pour a glass of your favorite dinner beverage (I like with a nice Italian red wine), and give thanks to God for his bountiful gifts! Buon appetite!

Keto friendly Zucchini Lasagne – It’s delicious!

For the first time ever, I shot all the photos with my cell phone.

My wife and I are experimenting with the Keto diet, trying to shed some stubborn fat that gets harder to lose when you get older. If you’re not familiar with the diet, it is a high fat, super low-carb diet. So, in this recipe I substituted zucchini for the lasagna noodles. The good news is it was every bit as good as my regular Lasagna recipe.

This was a bit of an improv recipe. I’ve made lasagna enough times that I was able to guess on some of the quantities. I’ve done my best to quantify them for you in the recipe. Don’t worry if not exact. I listed a couple of my improv shortcuts below.

I started with mis-en-place which is the French term for putting everything in place–before beginning. I started by dicing some onions and slicing mushrooms and garlic. I then used a chef’s knife to slice the zucchini into long strips, less than a quarter inch thick. A mandolin might work even better if you have one.

I grilled my zucchini. I did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to make sure it was fully cooked and tender. Secondly, vegetables can give off a lot of water when cooking. I didn’t want my lasagna to end up a soupy mess. It worked perfectly.

While I was grilling my zucchini, I had a second pan going. I sauteed my onions and mushrooms together until both were softened. I then added my garlic and cooked for another couple of minutes (you never want to burn garlic!). I set them aside and cooked my sausage. I drained the sausage then added the mushrooms, onions, and garlic back to the sausage.

IMPROV SHORTCUT TIPS:

I had a couple of cheats going for me. I used a jar of good Marinara sauce. Certainly, you could make your own! I usually do. But on this day, I was trying to keep this recipe simple.

I also happened to have some cheese mixture left over from when we made calzones for a family birthday party recently. Don’t worry … It’s easy … it was a simple mixture of Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I could have added an egg, which helps bind the mixture together when baking. I left it out and it was fine.

With this done, I began to assemble my lasagna. I put down a layer of marinara on the bottom, then a layer of zucchini. I then added a layer (half) of my sausage, onions, mushroom mixture. I topped that with a layer of cheese mixture. Repeat for a second layer, then top it with additional mozzarella.

All that remained was to bake and enjoy. We covered it with foil for the first 40 minutes. Then remove it for the final ten minutes so the cheese could brown. It’s best to then let it rest for about fifteen minutes. You’ll see that it looked delicious. And it was!

Buon Appetito! Frankie

It’s Tomato Time! Try this Tuscan Bread Salad

Tuscan Bread Salad

In Tuscany, as in other parts of Italy, leftover bread rarely goes to waste. This tradition hearkens back to the days when poverty made it a necessity to use every morsel. The Italians, being a crafty sort, developed many delicious ways to use their old bread, including this heavenly salad. It is best of course with fresh summer tomatoes from your garden or farmer’s market.

4-5 servings

Vinaigrette Dressing:

3 tablespoons red wine (or Sherry) vinegar

juice of 1 medium lemon

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 cloves garlic-pressed

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

fresh ground black pepper—several grinds

Salad:

4 cups day-old rustic Italian bread—cut into 1-inch cubes

2-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes (consider using red cherry tomatoes and yellow teardrop tomatoes)

1 small red onion—cut into thin slivers

3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

2 cups fresh salad greens or arugula

shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

Procedure:

  • If your bread is too fresh, cut it up early and let it sit for a few hours, or put the cut-up bread on a tray in a slightly warm oven to speed the process.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Reserve about 3 tablespoons of the dressing and set aside.
  • Add the bread to the large mixing bowl with the dressing. Toss well and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, red onion, parsley and remaining dressing and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
  • Spread salad greens on a serving platter. Place bread atop salad greens. Top with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and serve.

Frankie’s Tips:
I’ve thoroughly researched traditional Bread Salads and found that there are many other ingredients which are frequently used. Feel free to add any of these that suit your fancy…
~ Calamata or other olives (such as Nicoise)
~ Chopped cucumber
~ Capers (drained and rinsed of brine)
~ Fresh basil
~ Garbanzo beans
~ Hard boiled eggs
~ Shaved Ricotta Salata cheese (which is a pressed, salted, and dried version of ricotta), to replace the Parmigiano-Reggiano
~ You can even turn this into an entrée salad by adding tuna (I would recommend the good white tuna in the foil pouch) or by adding pancetta (Italian style bacon) or regular bacon chopped and crumbled over the top.

Frankie’s Pasta Bolognese

This recipe is featured in my novel, Missing in Firenze, book #2 in the Antonio Cortese Mysteries. In the story it is served to the family in the trattoria owned by a friend.in Firenze. For more information on my novels, check out my author website: frankcurtiss.com

This recipe was originally published in my cookbook, Frankie at Home in the Kitchen, available as an eBook on Amazon:

I don’t want to boast, but I spent much time fine-tuning this sauce, and I must say; that it is one of the best pasta sauces I have ever tasted. It was so good I almost wanted to cry!

About Bolognese:

Bolognese sauce originates from the proud city of Bologna (thus the name), which lies in the heart of the fertile Po Valley in Emilia-Romagna, in north-central Italy. It is a very cultured city which many consider to be the culinary capitol of Italy. If this sauce is any indication, I would agree. Bolognese is different from other meat sauces in that the meat is the star of the show, with the tomatoes in a supporting role. But there is one catch, you must start this sauce early in the afternoon, because it needs more than an hour to prepare and another three hours to simmer very slowly. This tenderizes the meat, so it melts in your mouth, causing your taste buds to scream bravo, bravo!


Makes 5-6 Servings

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup onion—chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup carrot—chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup celery—chopped fine
  • 6 ounces Pancetta—diced in small
  • pieces (1/4” or smaller)
  • 1 clove garlic—minced
  • 3/4-pound ground beef*
  • 3/4-pound ground veal*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1-1/4 cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
  • 28 oz. can Whole Peeled Tomatoes—broken up with your hands
  • 3/4 cup canned Tomato Sauce
  • pinch crushed red peppers (optional)
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pound hearty pasta—such as rigatoni (my favorite), fettuccine or tagliatelle
  • parmesan (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano) – grated or curled
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley—chopped
  1. Heat the butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed
    Dutch oven or a large deep skillet. Sauté the onion,
    carrots and celery until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add Pancetta and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and
    cook until onions begin to brown and garlic is softened and
    fragrant—2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the ground meats and 1/2 teaspoon salt. As meat
    cooks, chop it relatively fine with the back of a wooden
    spoon, until it just loses its raw color, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Add the milk and simmer until it evaporates, about 10 to
    12 minutes (there will still be some clear liquid visible from
    the fats).
  5. Add the white wine and simmer until it evaporates, 12
    to 15 minutes. Use your wooden spoon to scrape any
    browned-bits from the bottom of the pan (lot’s of flavor!).
  6. Add the Whole Peeled Tomatoes with their juices, the
    Tomato Sauce, the chicken stock, and a pinch of crushed
    red peppers if desired. Bring to a simmer. Then reduce
    heat as low as it will go and simmer, stirring occasionally,
    for 3 hours (see Frankie’s Tip’s).
  7. Add several twists of fresh ground black pepper. Taste
    and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
  8. When the sauce is almost done cooking, bring a large
    pot to a boil over high heat and add a tablespoon of salt.
    Cook your pasta until nearly al dente. Reserve about a
    1/4 cup of pasta water before draining.
  9. Drain pasta and return to the pasta pot. Stir the sauce into
    the pasta and pour in the reserved pasta water. Cook over
    medium heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  10. Serve up with parmesan and garnish with Italian parsley.

Pasta Giardiniera AKA Farmer’s Market Pasta

Penne Giardiniera

Pasta Giardiniera translates Garden Pasta. It is a vegetarian (and vegan) pasta, but of course you can always add some meat if you prefer. Feel free to use any pasta you like.

In my first novel, Deception in Siena, Antonio Cortese and his Aunt Chiara go to the garden to see what they can find. If you don’t have your own vegetable garden, the next best option is to go to your local Farmer’s Market and see what fresh, seasonal produce is available.

I’ve named my version “Farmer’s Market Pasta” because I love to support the local farmers and believe that local farmer’s markets are one of the best places to buy fresh, full-flavored local produce.

Recipes for Giardiniera sauces are very flexible. You can use whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables that you like. Often the base sauce would be a standard tomato or Marinara sauce. I’ve chosen to do this version with our un-cooked Pomodoro sauce which is a little lighter and fresher.

Fresh Asparagus
Farfalle (Bow-tie) Giardiniera
Crook neck zucchini

Frankie’s Tips:
♦ If the weather is nice, consider grilling your
vegetables on the barbecue! This is my favorite
way to cook them for optimal flavor. If you don’t
have a vegetable grilling pan for your barbecue,
then cut the vegetables in larger slices for grilling and then cut them smaller afterwards. You could also skewer them.
♦ Another good method is to cook them in a grill
pan with raised ridges. If you don’t have one, any sauté pan will work.
♦ Depending on the season, some of my favorite
veggies for this are asparagus, peppers, zucchini or other squash, eggplant, broccoli raab, and onions (small onions like Cipollini’s are perfect).

Heirloom Tomatoes

Suggested Wine: Nebbiolo
The name Nebbiolo comes from the root word nebbia which means fog in Italian. It hales from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. There, the fog sits upon the valleys and hillsides throughout the autumn, slowing the ripening process, and developing great depth of character.


Giardiniera Recipe – serves 5-6:

  • 1-pound pasta of your choice
  • 1 recipe Pomodoro Sauce (recipe below)
  • Fresh vegetables of your choice–cut into bite size pieces
  • Extra Virgin olive oil (to toss vegetables with)
  • Parmesan or other hard Italian cheese–grated or curled
  • Fresh herb of your choice for garnish

Giardiniera Procedure:

  1. Prepare Pomodoro sauce and set aside. It’s even better if made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.
  2. Toss vegetables with olive oil and cook until tender (See Frankie’s Tips above).
  3. Heat 4 quarts of water and add a tablespoon of salt when it begins to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water before draining.
  4. While pasta is cooking, combine sauce and veggies and warm gently over low heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. When pasta is al dente, add to sauce along with the 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water. Toss together.
  6. Garnish with cheese and herbs.
  7. Tell God “mille grazie” for the delicious meal that is going to make you vibrant and healthy!
Pomodoro Sauce

Pomodoro Sauce recipe – makes 5-6 servings

  • 1 – 28 oz. can Whole Peeled Tomatoes
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic—pressed
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil—julienned
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (preferably Sea Salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pomodoro Sauce Procedure:

  • Smell the fresh basil and say “thank you” to God for the good things in life.
  • Place tomatoes with their juice in a large bowl. Crush tomatoes with your hands.
  • Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate. I told you this was quick and easy!

Printable PDF for Pasta Giardiniera (AKA Farmer’s Market Pasta)

Printable PDF for Pomodoro Sauce

Pasta al Limone con Gamberi

Pasta with Lemon & Shrimp: An Antonio Cortese Mystery Recipe

This is my first post in a long time. For those who don’t know, I have begun to write mystery-detective novels set in Italy. The protagonist is an Italian American, an ex-detective who now owns an Italian restaurant. He has a lot of family in Tuscany (where his mother comes from), so when he returns, a lot of cooking and eating takes place. People have started to ask me for the recipes of foods featured in the stories, so I decided to begin posting them here on my food blog.

Find out more about my novels at…

https://www.frankcurtiss.com/

This recipe is featured in my second novel, Missing in Firenze, of the Antonio Cortese Mystery series. In the novel, this dish is prepared by Antonio’s Zio (Uncle) Pasquale and Zia Frankie.

Pasquale and Frankie are the owners of a lovely little boutique hotel in Positano on the Amalfi Coast. This is a traditional recipe from that area, where lemon trees abound. It is often made without the addition any meat or seafood, but it is not uncommon for the locals to add seafood of some kind. Feel free to make it either way, or with any other seafood that appeals to you. Buon appetito!

As with any recipe I highly recommend you do your Mis en Place (French term for pre-prep, meaning Everything in Place) before you start the actually cooking.

You’ll be using every part of the lemons for this recipe. The lemons I used were very large, so I zested and juiced two instead of the three medium lemons called for in the recipe. After zesting and juicing, throw the lemon rinds in the pasta water.

Now it’s time to start cooking. This is just an overview. Check the recipe for the details. First, start your pasta water heating. Next, heat your butter and olive oil until it begins to shimmer. Add your shrimp and capers, cook some, then add your garlic. Next add the white wine.

I like to use a high-quality, grass-fed butter, such as Kerrygold.

It’s important not to overcook the shrimp or they will become rubbery. When they are ALMOST fully cooked turn off the heat.

Cook your pasta a little less than al dente (about 1 minute less than package instructions). Don’t forget to reserve some starchy pasta water before you drain your pasta! It is used to add viscosity and thicken your sauce. Combine it with your lemon juice mixture.

Now, turn the heat back on under shrimp. Add pasta. Pour the lemon juice mixture over the top and toss furiously. Cook one to two minutes until pasta is al dente and shrimp are properly cooked. Platter and garnish with Italian parsley.

Raise a glass and toast those whom God has given you to love. Buon appetito!

Wine Recommendation: This pasta would pair beautifully with a white wine from Campania, such as Fiano di Avellina. If you can’t find one, I suggest a good Pinot Grigio

5-6 servings:

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound pasta (spaghetti or linguine)

4 medium size lemons

Fresh ground black pepper—coarse ground

sea salt (or other high quality salt)

2 ounces butter (preferably grass fed)

2 ounces extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup capers (rinsed and drained)

3-4 cloves of garlic

3 ounces white wine

Italian parsley—chopped (for garnish)

12-16 ounces shrimp—peeled & deveined (and at least partially thawed if frozen)

PROCEDURE:

1. Cut one of the lemons into wedges and set aside.

2. Zest the remaining three lemons into a bowl.

3. Juice those same three lemons into the bowl with the lemon zest. Add lemon rinds to the pasta water.

4. Rinse and drain capers and set aside.

5. Slice garlic thin. Set aside.

6. Chop parsley and set aside.

7. Grind a generous amount of pepper into the lemon mixture. Add salt (start with 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon).

8. Begin to heat 4 quarts of water. When water begins to boil, add a tablespoon of salt.  

9. Add butter and oil to a skillet and heat over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer.

10. Add shrimp and capers. Sauté for about two minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute.

11. Add white wine and allow to simmer (watch out for flame-up!). Turn off heat when shrimp are almost fully cooked.

12. When water is boiling, cook pasta until nearly “al dente” (about one minute less than package instructions).

13. Before you drain the pasta, ladle 3-4 ounces of starchy pasta water into lemon mixture. Drain pasta.

14. Turn the heat back on under shrimp. Add pasta. Pour the lemon juice mixture over the top and toss furiously. Cook one to two minutes until pasta is al dente and shrimp are properly cooked.

15. Platter and garnish with Italian parsley.

16. Raise a glass and toast those whom God has given you to love.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi… a perfect comfort food for Autumn

Happy chef!

Autumn has already arrived here in the Pacific Northwest.  Not many leaves have changed color yet but we’re getting plenty of cool and wet days.  So let’s warm you up with some comfort food.  This dish feels like Autumn to me.  Maybe it’s the color of the sweet potatoes that make it feel that way.

Making your own gnocchi takes a little time and practice but it really is not difficult and once you start to get the hang of it, it is great fun. If you want to double or triple the fun, make them with some friends or family.  Or even more fun still, hire me (Frankie) to come and do a cooking class party in your home!

Peeled sweet potatoes

There are really two different recipes here, one for making the gnocchi, and the other for the way I recently made mine with Butter, Pancetta, Onions and fresh Sage.  I wanted something that would complement, not overwhelm, the flavor of the sweet potatoes, and this really turned out great.  If you wanted to make this vegetarian you could leave out the pancetta; and if you wanted it completely vegan, leave out the butter and use only a good extra virgin olive oil.

Using a potato ricer

If you’ve never made gnocchi be sure to read the Tips for Making Homemade Gnocchi  before you launch into the recipe.

The key is getting the dough right… not too moist… not too dry.  I instruct you add most of the flour but then you add more as needed until you get just past the point of the dough being sticky. You don’t want to overwork it or it will get tough.  You want it

Adding flour

to be no longer sticky but still supple, workable, and holding together (not crumbly).  I can’t tell you exactly how much flour because different potatoes will have different moisture levels depending on the type of potato, the baking, etc.  Besides, the amount of potato may vary also.  If your weight is a little over or under, just adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

Mixing dough

A Couple of tools are really handy when making gnocchi.  Using a potato ricer helps so the potatoes are not lumpy which will cause them to crumble.  Most cost under $25 and they are awesome to use when making mashed potatoes.  If you don’t have one, just mash the potatoes well.

Form a ball

Rolling dough

Cutting dough

Adding ridges with gnocchi board

The other tool is a gnocchi board, used for putting ridges on the gnocchi.  These are only about $6 on Amazon.  Order it today and you’ll have it in a day.  Here is the one I bought…

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Fantes-Gnocchi-Beechwood-8-Inches-Original/dp/B0019R7SPS/ref=sr_1_2?crid=15YRPY0G6TRGD&keywords=gnocchi+board&qid=1568750620&s=gateway&sprefix=gnocc%2Caps%2C213&sr=8-2

Finished gnocchi

Another tip or two:
  1. Instead of cutting the dough into balls, it will make it easier to roll out if you cut it in longer, narrower pieces.
  2. Also, if you over-flour the work surface it will make the dough harder to roll.  It will want to just slide around under your hands.

HOW I SERVED MY SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI:

Making the butter, pancetta, onion, sage sauce

As mentioned earlier I wanted something that would complement, not overwhelm, the flavor of the sweet potatoes.  A very common way to serve potato gnocchi in Italy in with a simple butter and sage sauce.  I wanted to take it to another level so I added pancetta (Italian bacon) and onions to that.  There are lots of other good ideas online. A friend told be about a sauce she did with butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, cranberries, and pecans. Sounds great, and the sweetness would work with these.

 

 

Vegetarian Option: Easy just leave out the pancetta.

Vegan Option: Our granddaughter is vegan.  They don’t do butter.  For her’s we simply eliminated that in favor of a good extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil would be excellent).

 

Recipes are following.  If you’d prefer recipes in PDF format click below

Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe PDF

Buona sera.  May God richly bless your table with joy, laughter, and his abundant love!

Frankie

Strawberries in Moscato wine… easiest dessert ever, and so delicious!

Talk about a simple, yet delicious dessert! I’ll give this one the prize.

BEST WITH FRESH SEASONAL BERRIES!  Strawberry season is upon us.  You can get very good berries in the stores… even better in the farmer’s markets… and even better if you grow them yourself or go to a u-pick farm and pick them yourself!  Strawberries bought outside of season lack the sweet, juicy flavors of high-season berries.  But also be aware that there are types of strawberries which ripen later in the summer.  These can often be found in your local farmer’s market.

 

 

Strawberries at Redmond Saturday Market

I RECOMMEND ORGANIC BERRIES:  I like to know that my strawberries are either organic or that they are grown without pesticides.  The reason is little critters love strawberries too so pesticides are often sprayed directly on the berries, and do not wash off easily.  This is why they are listed #1 in the Dirty Dozen list… fruits and vegetables which should not be eaten unless they are organically grown.

Strawberries ripening in Frankie’s garden

MOSCATO D’ASTI is a sweet, sparkling, low-alcohol wine from the area of Asti in Piedmont. It is made from the Moscato (Muscat) grape and is wonderful for an apéritif or a “not too sweet” dessert wine. Pour it over some fresh sliced strawberries and top with whipped cream and anybody will be impressed!

 

A COUPLE OF TIPS: 

  • If you like your whipped cream even a little richer and firmer, try adding some mascarpone cheese to it (that’s what I did here). It makes a good thing taste even better.
  • I left the traditional vanilla out of my whipped cream so as not to compete with the Moscato flavors.

Below is the recipe.  If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Strawberries in Moscato Recipe

Buon appetito!  May God bless your table with good health and his abundant love!

Frankie

 

Making homemade Italian Sausage… it’s fun, and easier than you think!

Making your own sausage is a fun and rewarding adventure!  And it’s easier than you think.

At Frankie’s we made our own bulk sausage from pre-ground pork.  That is super easy!  But I had never ground my own meat or made links.  It only took a little practice until I felt somewhat competent.  I trust you will too.

 

 

 

There are various ways you can make sausage.  Each one creates more work than the previous but gives you greater control over quality and flavor.  And if you are like me… creates more fun.

Do you want to double the fun?  Think about doing this with a friend or family member.

 

 

SAUSAGE MAKING METHODS:

  • Simple Bulk Sausage the simplest way to make sausage is to buy a good quality ground pork (or ground chicken) and mix in your own spices to create a bulk sausage (bulk meaning not in a casing). This is super easy and gives you control over the flavor profile and heat level.
  • Fresh Ground Bulk Sausage this process adds the step of grinding your own meat and mixing in the spices. Fresh ground meat is hard to beat.  And it gives you total control over fat levels.

 

  • Link Sausage ( in casing) includes the step of stuffing the sausage in casings. This is the most complex step but with a little practice becomes quite fun.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED:

  • To make Simple Bulk Sausage… you do not need any special equipment at all.  You can mix it completely by hand or in a stand mixer.
  • To make Fresh Ground Bulk Sausage you will need a meat grinder, or a meat grinding attachment for a stand mixer. I have one for my Kitchenaid mixer.   The Kitchenaid grinder attachment runs from about $40 to $80 or more depending on if you buy the plastic or stainless steel  version and where you buy it.   I have the plastic one and it works fine.  You can buy a well rated manual crank meat grinder for under $40.  If you plan to grind a lot of meat (think ground sirloin burgers too!), you can invest in an electric grinder.  Inexpensive (but not well rated) models are available for under $60 or you can spend up to several hundred dollars.
  • To make Link Sausage… you need a piece of equipment called a Sausage Stuffer, or a Sausage Stuffer attachment such as the one shown which is for my Kitchenaid. Sausage stuffers can range in price from under $50 to well over $100.  The mixer attachment is only about $10 but honestly I found it to be a pain in the rear to use… it was hard to feed the meat.   A friend gave me a Cabela’s Sausage Stuffer which appears to be identical to one made by Weston (I’m pretty sure they make it for Cabela’s).  It is much easier to push the sausage through.

HOW MUCH FAT IN THE MEAT?

Whether you are grinding your own meat or buying it already ground, you need to think about how fatty you want it.  Fat equals flavor, moistness, and tenderness in the meat, but we all know you can have too much of a good thing.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want mine super-greasy and I like to eat reasonably healthy, so…

I’ve heard people saying to use 50/50 lean to fat.  REALLY?!  I’d like to live a few more years.   Totally unnecessary!  Other people try to take the fat total as low as 10%.  I think that is too low myself.  Most sausage makers recommend 30% fat, but you can easily go down to around 20% in my opinion and have a pretty moist and flavorful sausage.

But how do you know how much fat is in the meat?  If you buy ground meat, it should list it.  But if you are grinding your own meat it’s not easy to figure out.  If you use a pork butt or shoulder, as I did, it will probably be in the 25-30 range.  You can always trim off some of the fat if you want.  I did take some of the thick fat off of mine so was probably in the 20% fat range and was very happy with the results.

If you want to get more exacting… well you’ll need to go do your research.  My goal is to keep this process simple.

WHAT KIND OF MEAT TO USE?

If making pork sausage I suggest using a pork shoulder or butt. There is not a lot of difference in the cuts and they will be similar in fat content.  If it seems particularly fatty, feel free to trim off some excess.

If you want to go the chicken route you probably know that dark meat is fattier than white.  I would use about a 60/40, or 70/30 blend of dark to white meat.  Either way you need to incorporate the fat but not the skin.  So if you get chicken which is skinless and trimmed, you may find it difficult to get enough fat.

Alright.  Let’s make some sausage!

HOW TO MAKE SAUSAGE:

NOTE:  If buying pre-ground meat skip to Step 2

Step 1:  GRINDING SAUSAGE.

  1. You want to cut your meat into approximately 1 inch cubes (or some people like to cut it into strips). If you have a larger grinder, adjust the size accordingly. You will find the meat to be easiest to cut if it is super cold, or even partially frozen.  A really sharp knife will also make the job easier.
  2. Grinding meat which is very cold works best. I put mine on an aluminum sheet and placed it in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes before grinding.
  3. Set up your grinder according to manufacturer recommendations. If it has two to three grinding plates, the small one is usually for cheese and breadcrumbs.  Most manufacturers will have youtube videos which can be really helpful to watch if this is your first time grinding meat.
  4. Grind your meat and set aside.

Step 2:  MIXING YOUR SAUSAGE INGREDIENTS.

NOTE:  The recipe below is for 5 pounds of meat.  If you are going to this trouble then you may as well make extra and freeze it.  It will last for months.  If you want to make more or less, you’ll need to adjust the quantities accordingly.

Mix according to the attached recipe.  A stand mixer work best.

But you can mix by hand.  Mix it just long enough to blend well.  DO NOT over-mix!  You don’t want to turn it into a paste.  It will be helpful if you spread the herbs and other ingredients around before mixing (as opposed to dumping all the salt in one spot for instance).

Step 3:  PUTTING SAUSAGE IN CASINGS.

Remember this is an optional step.

You can use your sausage in bulk form for meat sauce or pizza.  But if you want to make it into links you’ll need a Sausage Stuffer as discussed earlier.  You’ll also need Sausage Casings.

Because this is a little more intimidating than making bulk sausage I’ve referred you to a few short videos.  Take a look at those and you will see just how easy it is.

REGARDING SAUSAGE CASINGS:

You can probably purchase casings from your local butcher if you have one who makes sausages.  But probably the easiest way to get casings is to shop online.  There are various types of casing available, including natural hog casing or collagen casings.  I used natural hog casings for mine which I purchased in a home pack size from Amazon.  Here is the link to the casings I bought…

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EZTIGNA/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Rather than me spending a lot of time explaining the pros and cons of each and casing type and how to use them I suggest you watch the following short videos from Meatgistics University which explains it really well.

Te first video is on “Choosing the Right Casing”…                            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AAD8Lx76b0

The second video gives additional info regarding casings for Brats & Italian Sausages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE2spjzTrxQ

 

OKAY, LETS GET STUFFING:

NOTE:  Here is another video I suggest you watch.  It is on stuffing the sausage.  It starts out talking about bratwurst but the same principles apply to your Italian Sausage…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFXPNG0U82o

  1. Once you have your casings you will prepare them per instructions on package (or video). Each casing type is different so I won’t get into the details here.  Natural hog casings like I used must be soaked and rinsed prior to use.
  2. Then you load the casings on the Sausage Stuffer attachment which is basically a hollow nozzle on your Sausage Stuffer which will feed the sausage into your casing. Then you tie off the end of the casing.
  3. Next you feed the sausage into the stuffer which feeds it into the casing. Feed it into a long rope and then twist off the individual sausages.  All of this is shown in the video.

That’s all there is to it.  Now all that’s left is to cook it up and enjoy it in pasta or on a pizza.  Or grill up some links with peppers and onions!

Just think how impressed your friends will be when you grill up some sausages for them and tell them you made them yourself!  I hope some of you will give this a try.  If you do so I’d love to get your feedback on how you did and if my information was helpful.

Below is the recipe for making Homemade Italian Sausage.  If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Homemade Italian Sausage

Click to enlarge

Ciao and buon appetito.  May God richly bless your table with joy, love, laughter, and great food!

Frankie

Pizza Blog #4… finding the best mozzarella for your pizza

This will be my 4th post in my pizza series.  If you have missed my prior posts, I hope you will check them out.  Here is what you will find…

Pizza Blog #1: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2018/11/29/making-amazing-pizza-at-home/

  • A brief history of pizza
  • My Pizza Sauces recipe
  • Recommendations on my favorite brands of tomato products

Pizza Blog #2: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2018/12/17/pizza-blog-2-making-amazing-pizza-at-home/

  • Italian pizza styles
  • Different kinds flours you can use
  • Dough proofing and yeast
  • Ways to mix your dough
  • My Pizza Dough recipe

 

Pizza Blog #3: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

  • American styles of pizza
  • My Basil Pesto recipe
  • Recipes for three of my favorite pesto pizzas

In this 4th Post we will cover the following…

  • Mozzarella Cheese information and recommendations
  • Other excellent pizza cheeses
  • Provide a few more of my favorite pizza combination recipes

Mozzarella Cheese Styles and Information:

You all know that a great crust, properly baked, and an excellent sauce are key to great pizza. The third key in my opinion is high quality cheese.  And mozzarella is king when it comes to pizza.  The melting characteristics and flavor work perfectly.

There are multiple types of mozzarella. The two most common here in the states are…

  • Fresh Mozzarella which has a shorter aging and is considered a High Moisture Mozzarella. Fresh Mozzarella comes in a cow’s milk version which is made worldwide, or a Mozzarella di Bufala, a very rich and creamy version made from the milk of water buffalo in the region of Campania.  The latter is harder to find and more expensive but if you have never tried it you should.  I have found it at Costco as well as at many specialty cheese counters.
  • Standard Shredding (or pre-shredded) Mozzarella, which is usually labeled Low Moisture Mozzarella. This is a cow’s milk mozzarella and comes in Whole Milk (my preference) or Part-Skim versions.

I love both styles of cheese but have a slight preference for, and primarily rely upon, standard shredding mozzarellas, unless I am making Pizza Margherita, in which case I like to use fresh mozzarella.

In the states, I believe that the best mozzarellas come from Wisconsin.  This is based on my personal blind tasting of multiple cheeses over my decades in the pizza business.  Wisconsin cheeses are the most consistent in flavor and moisture content.  That said, there are excellent cheeses from other regions.

For my catering and classes I still buy the cheese I used at Frankie’s, a Wisconsin mozzarella made by a company called Vantaggio.  Because I buy smaller quantities I generally meet my supplier at one of his accounts and we swap from his black SUV to mine.  It feels like I am doing a drug deal! But whatever it takes to get the best cheese on the market.  Unfortunately this cheese is not available to the public.

My mission… a quest to find the best mozzarella available to youthe everyday pizza aficionado who wants that same amazing quality but is consigned to buy their cheese from a grocery store.

So I tested multiple brands of mozzarella available in grocery stores in the area where I live in Redmond, Washington, which is across the lake from Seattle.

My Mozzarella Recommendations:

First, a couple of disclaimers…

The cheeses I tested were all low moisture, shredding style cheeses.  Someday I will do a test of fresh mozzarellas.

I did not purchase every cheese out there.  I stayed away from the low-price cheeses, or one’s which I felt would be inferior.  And I probably missed a couple of good brands because I did not go to every single store in the area.  Nonetheless, here is what I tested and my results.

I tested five brands of mozzarella.  I have rated them on a 10 point scale (using my Vantaggio as the Gold Standard… a perfect 10).  Overall I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

Here are my findings from worst to best:

#5:  Galbani Whole Milk Mozzarella… I had high hopes for this cheese which says on the label “Italy’s Favorite Cheese Brand” (though it also says “Product of USA”).  It was good but not great.  I found it to be a bit lacking in flavor and richness.

 

Score:  7.5    Price:  $5.79 per pound at Fred Meyer though often on sale.

#4:  Trader Joe’s Whole Milk Mozzarella…  I love Trader Joe’s and most of their products.  This cheese is better than the Galbani but did not quite stack up to the other brands.  The flavor was very good but it lacked a little in creaminess.

Score:  8.0    Price:  $4.99 per pound at Trader Joe’s

#3:  Tillamook Part-Skim Mozzarella…  the only version I found from Tillamook was a pre-shredded part-skim.  I am a Tillamook fan and found this to be an excellent cheese for the price.  It was rich and creamy with excellent flavor.  It’s only draw back was it got slightly rubbery as it cooled, probably as a result of the lower fat content.

Score:  9.0    Price:  $4.99 per pound at Freddie’s

#2:  Boar’s Head Whole Milk Mozzarella… I have a friend who operates a Boar’s Head distributorship so I really wanted this to win and it almost did.  This is a rich and creamy mozz with excellent flavor.  It was slightly oilier after cooking but otherwise a superb cheese.

Score:  9.5    Price:  $5.99 per pound at Freddie’s

Drum roll please…

#1:  Rumiano Whole Milk Mozzarella…  I had never heard of this cheese which I found at Whole Foods.  It is expensive at $6.99 per pound.  So the Boar’s Head or Tillamook both represent better values in my view.  Nonetheless, if you don’t mind spending the bucks this cheese had the best overall combination of flavor, texture and mouthfeel.  It was creamy, buttery, and had a great flavor though with a slight herbal flavor.

Score:  9.6    Price:  $6.99 per pound at Whole Foods

Other excellent pizza cheeses:

When it comes to cheese on pizza, the sky is the limit.  Do all the experimenting you want.  If it sounds good to you it probably will be.  Listed below are some of my other favorite pizza cheeses.  It is by no means a comprehensive list.

Provolone:  Provolone comes in a an Italian (aged) version, or a Deli version, usually found in a round log at your deli counter.  The latter is slightly softer and more subtle.  Both are excellent for pizza.  Many pizzerias use a blend of mozzarella with some provolone added. It is one of the cheeses used on this Pizza Calabrese (recipe below).

Fontina:  Fontina comes in an Italian version or a Danish version which is the most common.  The Danish version has the red wax on it and works great for pizza.  The Italian version is even better but hard to find and very expensive.  It is one of the cheeses used on our Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza (recipe below).

 

Smoked Mozzarella (and other smoked cheeses):  I like smoked cheeses in certain applications but in moderation.  If used straight I find it overwhelms the pizza.  At Frankie’s we had a Wild Mushroom Pizza on our Autumn menu to which we added a blend of half smoked and half regular mozzarella.  Smoked Provolone or Smoked Gouda can also be excellent.  We added smoked gouda to our BBQ Chicken Pizza.

 

Asiago:  The salty, nutty, tangy flavor of this cheese is especially great with vegetable pizzas. Look for the fresher version (rather than the harder dry-aged version), which melts super well.

Parmesan:  If you are going to use parmesan I recommend using the King of Cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano.  It is more expensive but a little goes a long way.  The flavor is superior and these days it is easy to find.  I buy it at Costco.  Because aged parmesan is a drier cheese it is not a good melting cheese.  I recommend mixing a little in with mozzarella.

Pecorino:  There are various Pecorino cheeses which are made from sheep’s milk and come in younger, softer versions which are milder, or harder, aged versions.  The most common is Pecorino Romano.  It is very salty so if using it, balance it with a mellower melting cheese.

Goat Cheese:  Goat cheese is very strong.  I don’t care for it solo on a pizza.  But when used as an addition to some mozzarella it creates magic.  One of my favorite pizzas is our Frankie’s Pesto & Goat Cheese Pizza (shown).  The recipe can be found in my Pizza Blog #3 https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

 

 

Ricotta:  Creamy ricotta is very common on calzones (and in lasagna) but can also be excellent on pizza.  If you use it I suggest small spoonfuls atop whatever other cheese you are using such as this Pizza Florentine (recipe below)..

 

Gorgonzola:  Like Goat cheese or Ricotta, I do not recommend this cheese solo.  It should be used in moderation.  Check out my recipe for the Chicken Gorgonzola Pizza also found in my Pizza Blog #3 https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

Manchego:  Manchego, a Spanish cheese, can be delicious on pizza.  At Frankie’s we had a pizza on our Garlic Festival Menu called The Garlic Spaniard.  It was topped with a creamy tomato sauce with a touch of  hot sauce; mozzarella and manchego cheeses, hard Spanish chorizo sausage, Italian sausage, roasted garlic and red onions.

SUMMARY & RECIPES:

So that’s it for cheese suggestions.  Below are a few of my favorite pizza recipes, most of which use combinations of these cheeses.

Buon appetito.  May God richly bless your table with love, laughter, and great food!

Following are recipes for six of the pizzas we served at Frankie’s (2 per page).  If you would prefer the recipes in PDF format, click the links below.

PDF Frankie’s Special & Gourmet Vegetarian

PDF Pizza Florentine & Pizza Calabrese

PDF Passion Pizza of Verona & Wild Mushroom-Sausage Pizza

Frankie’s Special & Gourmet Vegetarian

Pizza Florentine & Pizza Calabrese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passion Pizza of Verona & Wild Mushroom-Sausage Pizza