Monday, March 26, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-Seven (Pizza Rustica)

I recently made a few recipes that clearly were not my typical fare. They were ladened with fat and all sorts of unthinkables – full cream homemade ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and parmesan reggianno. One recipe, Pizza Rustica not only had the cheeses, but Italian sausages of all varieties. The other recipe, eggplant rolotini, was made with fried eggplant stuffed with the cheese mixture. Each is the subject of separate sinful post.

Neither recipe is something that I would make or eat often for fear that my back-side might start to expand beyond recognition, but these meals were good and worth making at least once.

Pizza Rustica, a traditional Italian Easter dish, was recommended to me by Mike at Teitel’s (of Arthur Ave in the Bronx fame). Mike was way too busy on Saturday to write down a recipe, but he grabbed all the necessary ingredients and tossed them on the counter for me: fresh strained ricotta, fresh mozzarella, parmesan reggiano and a pound or so of a variety of meat ends (various sausages the likes of which I am unfamiliar and fearful to know the ingredients) and said to me slightly miffed “Pizza Rustica, you haven’t heard of it?” “Look it up on the internet; you’ll find a recipe!”

So, that’s what we did. Tim did a quick search and came up with a recipe that I modified to suit the ingredients that I had purchased.


1.5 lbs of mixed Italian meats (go to your l0ocal Italian grocery and ask your personal “Mike” for a mix of the meat ends)

1 lb- ricotta cheese- (get the fresh strained variety and strain again so that the mix won’t come out too wet)

12 ounces-fresh mozzarella cheese- (medium diced)

5-6 eggs- room temperature

1 tablespoon-Italian flat leaf parsley- chopped fine

1/4 cup-fresh Parmesan cheese ( freshly grated)

1/2 teaspoon- salt

15-20 turns- ground black pepper.

· Cut the meats into small pieces, place in frying pan and brown lightly. Set aside and cool.

· In a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, salt and pepper; add eggs one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition.

· Add cooked meats, chopped parsley and grated cheese to ricotta mixture. Blend well.

Make it easy on yourself (and add the only bit of nutritional value to this recipe) and use ONE Spelt Right Pizza Dough – fully thawed and risen.

Cut the dough in two – making one piece slightly larger than the other.

Lightly coat a pie dish (I used a stoneware pie dish) with olive oil. Stretch the larger piece of dough and form to the bottom of the dish all the way to the edges.

Line the pastry crust with a nice single layer of the sliced meat, all around including the edges. Bake at 400 for about 5-10 minutes. Take out of oven.

Take the crust out of the oven and fill the dough lined pan with the ricotta and diced meat mixture.

After filling the dough lined pan, stretch second piece of dough and place over the filling, pressing the edges closed. Be careful not to tear the dough. The top must be sealed.

Pierce dough with a fork several times.

Bake in oven preheated to 375°F, 45 minutes to an hour. We took ours out too soon and cut a piece. It became liquidy, so we drained some of the liquid and popped it back in the oven. .

Pizza Rustica, can be served warm or cold. It is actually pretty tasty and certainly pleased the folks at work who hail from a range of ethnic backgrounds, Italian, Polish, Lebanese, Puerto Rican, and Taiwanese.

Regardless of the great taste and broad appeal, this meal should be followed by a full hour of exercise of your choice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-Seven (On Cellular Memory and My Grandfather's Cuisine)

Is there such a thing as a cellular memory in which your body, heart, and soul remembers something, not because you personally have ever had the experience to remember, but somewhere in your ancestral past, someone that preceded you, had the experience and your body remembers it?

Bizarre, no? But, I swear I have had this experience with food, and I witnessed something similar with my youngest daughter.
Several years ago, I frequented a now closed Persian restaurant in Portland, Maine, and had a dish that I had never tasted before – Fesenjan. I was immediately taken by the first bite. I absolutely loved it! Despite never having tasted anything like this before, it tasted like home, transported me back in time, and created a sense of déjà vu.

It was a Mediterranean dish made with ground walnuts, pomegranate paste, onions, sugar, salt and pepper blended together. I couldn’t get enough. I was enthralled; I brought my 8o year old mother to the restaurant to sample the dish. “Mom, try this. It is so good.” She tasted it and gave me this faraway look, “Yes, yes,” she said, “I know this dish, my papa use to make it; he brought the recipe from the old country.”

But, her papa had died years before I was born, and I never met him. The recipe was lost with him. My mother did not carry that recipe forward. It was something tucked away in the past. “But, mom,” I protested, “How come you never made this for me?” She lamented, “With 9 kids in the house during the Depression, we needed to stay out of the kitchen and leave the cooking to mama and papa. When I was older, I learned a few recipes, but not this one.”

Now having tasted Fesenjen, it was a part of my present sense. I wanted it again, but the Persian restaurant closed, and I became wrapped up in daily life, and the longing for the taste was tucked away.
Yet, last month, my recent memory was sparked, and my cellular memory went into overdrive when I happened upon a bottle of pomegranate paste in an international grocery store. “I’ve got to have that bottle!” I proclaimed to my business partner. A little perplexed, and slightly amused, he took out $5 to buy the bottle of the mystery syrup, the likes of which he had never previously seen.

I scanned the internet and found a recipe for Fesenjen. I was worried that my expectations would not be met, but I made the dish, tasted it with delight, and gave it to my family with great anticipation as to what they would think of this exotic dish. 

The appearance is brown and grainy with a tart, sweet, and tangy flavor. Certainly, something that typically does not appeal to the average American kid.

And yet, when 9 year-old Olivia gave it a try, her face lit up. “This is one of the best things I have ever tasted!” It was as familiar and comforting to her as a hug from a grandparent or a great grandparent. She knew this taste; she loved this taste; but she only now first experienced it. Like I did several years earlier, she too was experiencing a cellular memory of her ancestral past.

And, here is the recipe for generations to come, borrowed from Whats4Eats website.
4 to 6 servings
Butter or oil -- 1/4 cup (I used extra virgin olive oil)
Chicken, cut into serving pieces -- 2 1/2 to 3 pounds (I used boneless chicken)
Onions, thinly sliced – 2 (I chopped the onions finely)
Walnuts, finely ground in a food processor -- 2 cups
Stock or water -- 1 1/2 to 2 cups (I suggest the lesser amount)
Sugar -- 1-3 tablespoons
Salt and pepper -- to taste
1. Heat the butter or oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium flame. Add the chicken pieces a few at a time and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
2. Add the onions to the pot and sauté until translucent.
3. Stir in the ground walnuts and stock or water and return the browned chicken pieces to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Stir in the pomegranate juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the chicken is tender, the sauce is somewhat thickened and the walnuts begin to give off their oil. Adjust seasoning and serve with plain white rice.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-Six (On the Need for a Clean-Up Crew and Roasted Rosemary Chicken)

So, on this most recent Sunday, I did one of my all out baking bashes. The big difference, however, was that my husband was not home. He was traveling back from Maine with the kids. I foolishly thought to myself “What an opportunity! Cooking without distraction.” Indeed, I was without distraction, but I was also without my most faithful clean-up crew of one, my husband, Tim.

I expected the brood to be home 2 hours later than they arrived, but with a combination of no traffic and free sailing on their trek south, they traveled from Maine to NYC in a record 4.5 hours. When I heard the knock on the door, I was convinced it was a neighbor seeking spelt bread. But, no!! It was the family ready to be nourished after a long, but not long-enough trip.

“Yikes!” I said, “DO NOT go in the kitchen. It is a disaster!” My creations for the evening included meatballs, homemade sauce, farro pasta, Spelt Right Pizza Dough stuffed with the meatballs, and chicken stew. Definitely too much even for this mult-tasker.

I managed to trip over the table and chairs (which I moved for a food photo op) and meander around the pots, pans and half opened ingredients in order to throw together plates of homemade madness for the kids.

I was so exhausted from the making of the meals that I could barely partake in the eating of it. “Jees,” I said to Tim, with my feet up on the couch, “I don’t usually make such a mess!”

He gently corrected me. “Umm, maybe you do, but I’m usually right behind you cleaning up.”

By George! Tim is right! And, despite being exhausted from his trip from Maine (and his 2 hour round-trip within Maine to bring Emma back to college), Tim rolled up his sleeves and went to work unwinding the disaster I had created. There are many reasons to love this man and this is one of them.

Bon Appetit. Here is the recipe for chicken stew, one of the recipes of the night. Recommendation: do not attempt this without your clean-up crew.

Roasted Chicken

One Chicken Cut-Up

2 Potatoes cut in chunks (or in 1/4 longs)

2-3 Carrots cut in 3” pieces

1-2 Celery Stalks cut in 3” pieces

1 onion – cut in 1/6 wedges

Lemon juice (juice of 1-2 lemons)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup of liquid (chicken stock or red or white wine)

3 gloves of garlic chopped finely and blended with sea salt

1/4 bunch fresh Italian parsley

rosemary, salt and pepper to taste

Place all solid ingredients in roasting pan. Cover with EVOO, hand rub seasonings. Add garlic. Add liquid (I had only red wine in the house and it worked fine, though I would have preferred a chicken stock or white wine).

Cover pan, and bake at 425 for 30 min – 1 hour until chicken is done and vegetables are soft.