Sourdough Bread

I have been playing around with sourdough again. I was doing it for years and then I lost my sourdough culture after Superstorm Sandy. I lost my power for two weeks and whatever I had in my refrigerator was gone. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to save anything, other than the essentials, milk, eggs, etc. No power, no water, no heat. I was just trying to get through day by day.  It was at that point I stopped making sourdough.

A couple of weeks ago my son Joseph mentioned some of the best bread he ever ate was my sourdough bread. He planted the seed. I had to start from scratch. If you never had sourdough bread you have missed the way bread was made for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used wild yeast to ferment alcoholic beverages and leaven bread over 5,000 years ago. It wasn’t till the 1860’s and the invention of the microscope did scientist isolate these tiny organisms as yeast. Once they did that they were able to select pure strands of yeast and started to use them in commercial baking. It was a boom for bakers, they were able to produce bread in record time. Only problem was they bypassed the fermentation stages of bread making and lost the amazing taste that came with it.  Wild yeast takes much longer to leaven bread than modern commercial yeast. When the dough sits for 8-16 hours many other things happen. Real sour dough is probiotic, like yogurt. So not only is it better for you, but the taste is unequaled. The lactic acid that is produced during the fermenting period gives the sour dough that tang. I’m not going to get into all the health benefits. Let’s just say the Roman soldiers and Yukon miners all lived off of sourdough bread. It gave them all the protein and nutrients they needed. Sourdough also breaks down the gluten in the grain resulting in bread that gluten sensitive people can eat.

To get myself started, I took a plastic pint container and added a cup of purified water (you don’t want any chlorine or other chemicals in the water) or bottled spring water and added that to the container along with a half cup of bread flour and half cup of whole wheat flour. I mixed it all together well.  I left the container on my window sill with the cover placed loosely on top for 24 hours. The next day the “batter” looked just like flour and water. No activity yet. It takes 4-6 days before you see the bubbles of any active wild yeast. I discarded 1/2 cup of the batter and mixed in another 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour. I placed it back on the window sill and let it sit for another 24 hours. After the second day there still was no activity. I repeated the procedure the third day, empty 1/2 cup of batter and add in 1/2 cup water and 1 cup of flour. By the fourth day I began to see bubbles in the mixture. The wild yeast from the air and flour started growing. If you smell it at this point is has a yeasty smell. I continued emptying a half cup of batter and adding a half cup of water and cup of flour for another three days. By now the starter was fully active. Within 4 to 6 hours of feeding it I was able to see the expansion of the culture. At this point I placed it all in a wide mouth quart Mason jar. This will be my sour dough cultures new home. Will will call this mixture “starter”.Cooking Italian Comfort Food Sourdough Starter

If you left the starter out at room temperature you would have to feed it every 6 hours or so. It would get to the point where it would over flow the glass jar. Being we are not commercial bakers, we might only bake bread once a week. So you have to keep your starter in the refrigerator to slow down the process and “deactivate” the yeast. You need to take the starter out a day or two before your bread making in order to reactivate it. It’s quite simple to do. After the starter has been in the fridge for a week, take it out, stir it up well and empty out and discard a 1/2 cup of starter. Add 1/2 cup of warm water and 1 cup of flour. Stir well and leave at room temperature. At this point you only want the jar 3/4 full. You need the extra space for it to expand without over flowing. NEVER TIGHTEN THE LID. JUST LOOSELY PLACE ON TOP. Other wise the jar could explode from the pressure of the gas released by the yeast. You will notice that within 6 hours or so the starter is expanding to the top of the jar. I keep the consistency of my starter like a really thick pancake batter, not too runny and not too stiff. You should be able to stand a spoon up in it.  You can adjust by adding more or less water till you get to the consistency you want. If you leave the starter in the refrigerator for more than a week you will notice a dark liquid forming on the top. That’s fine. We call that “hooch” . It actually protects the yeast from bad bacteria forming. When you are ready to use it just stir it back into the starter and begin.

So, we begin with a starter that has been dormant for over a week. I take it out about a day before I want to make bread. Stir it up and discard at least a half a cup. I now place in 1/2 cup of warm water and stir it in good. I then add 1 cup of bread flour and stir it in well. I place the lid on loosely  and leave it at room temperature for at least 6 hours. You should notice the starter growing. When it reaches the top of the lid it’s activated and ready to use. At this point whatever you use, replace with 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of flour and leave on the counter to activate for about 4-6 hours before placing it back in the refrigerator and ready for your next loaf of bread. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. If you got the bug to make homemade bread the conventional way, using sourdough starter is just the next logical step. And once you start you will not want to make bread any other way. But remember, real bread making is a time-honored process. And the more time the bread sits, the better it will taste and the better it is for you.

I adapted a recipe I had to make basic white bread using my sourdough starter. This makes 2 loafs of the best tasting, superior toasting sandwich bread you ever had! I also use my KitchenAid stand mixer with the dough hook. Cooking Italian Comfort Food Sourdough Bread

Basic Sourdough White Bread

  • 1/2 cup fully activated Sourdough starter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter (I use Kerrygold butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups of warm water
  • 5-6 cups bread flour

Place milk, sugar, salt and butter in a small saucepan and heat over low flame until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and cool to lukewarm. Place the 1/2 cup of sourdough starter in the mixing bowl. A tablespoon at a time, add flour and mix with a spoon until you have a firm dough that will keep its shape. The flour you use here is in addition to the 5-6 cups.

Add the cooled milk mixture along with the 1 1/2 cups of warm water and mix well dissolving the ball of starter. Place the bowl on the mixer with your dough hook. Add 4 1/2 cups of flour and turn it slowly up to speed 2 and mix for 1 minute. Continue on speed 2, add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time and mix about 2 minutes, or until the dough clings to the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl. Knead on speed 2 about 2 minutes longer, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 6 hours, or until doubled in bulk. I found the best place to make the dough rise in a controlled environment is in my oven. I turn on the oven for about 20 seconds and then turn it off. I keep a thermometer in the oven with the dough to make sure the temperature is within 80-85 degrees F. This is the optimum temperature for the dough to rise in. Another trick to keep the oven at this temperature is to turn on the oven lights. The heat generated from the light will keep the temperature about 85 degrees. Just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t go above that.

Punch the dough down and divide in half. To make a loaf, on a lightly floured surface, roll each half into a rectangle approximately 9×14 inches.  A rolling-pin will smooth dough and remove gas bubbles. Starting at the short end, roll dough tightly. Pinch dough to seal seam. Pinch ends and turn under. Place, seam side down in a greased loaf pan. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place for at least 2 1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Score the top with a serrated knife and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the pans immediately and cool on a wire racks for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

I will share my recipe for sourdough peasant bread on my next blog.DSCN2477

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Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

Here is another classic Sicilian dish that you can throw together with a few seasonal ingredients and walk away with a satisfying meal, that’s tasty and fresh.  This time of year the mint should be plentiful from your garden and the young zucchini is ripe for the picking. If you don’t grow this yourself, farmers markets and grocery stores have all these ingredients fresh this time of year. My son Joseph was surprised that mint would taste this good in a pasta dish. He learned what many Sicilians have known for generations. Don’t be afraid to try this dish. You will be surprised at how great it taste as well.

Summer is no time to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals when the weather outside is so inviting. You can whip this up in minuets and sit on your patio sipping a glass of vino and enjoying this macaroni. Mint is a staple in my kitchen during the summer. Besides being a great ingredient for making a Mojito, I use it in everything from side dishes to dessert. What’s a Mojito you ask? I’m glad you asked. It’s a Cuban cocktail made with fresh mint, white rum, cane sugar, lime juice and seltzer (or 7-UP, depending on how sweet you like it). It’s a great way of using up all that mint over growing in my garden, and relaxing for the evening. Here is the formula: In a tall High Ball glass(remember those?) add about 5 mint leaves, the juice of 1/2 lime and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mull it all together till it’s all mashed up. Add a couple of ounces of light rum and a splash of seltzer. Fill the glass with ice and enjoy. Add more sugar or 7-UP instead of seltzer if you like it sweeter.

Mint. It’s so versatile.

Cooking Italian Comfort Food Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

  • 3-4 small zucchini sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • Fresh mint leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
  • 1/2 cup regular olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 lb macaroni

Cooking Italian Comfort Food Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

Slice the zucchini into 1/8 inch thick rounds. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large frying pan. Add the zucchini and cook till slightly browned on both sides and tender.

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Cook the zucchini in batches so they are in a single layer in the pan. Add the garlic to the oil and cook a couple of minuets. Do not brown the garlic.

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Return all the zucchini to the pan and remove from the heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook the macaroni till desired tenderness.

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Drain the macaroni and add to the zucchini. Add the chopped mint and 1/4 cup of grated cheese. Toss to coat and serve with extra cheese.

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Pasta alla Norma- Macaroni with Eggplant

This has to be one of my all time favorite macaroni dishes. And it’s pure Sicilian.

When I was 14 years old and traveled throughout Italy with my brother Richard we spent two weeks with my Aunt Angie and Uncle Benny in Sicily. We stayed at a small family run resort near the seaside town of Riposto, not far from Taormina. Riposto was the town my Uncle Benny was from.

A memorable dish they served us for dinner one night was a plate of macaroni with a slice of fried eggplant draped over the top. I never tasted something so wonderful in my life. The macaroni was dressed with a simple light marinara sauce made of fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil. And sitting on top of the plate of pasta was two fried slices of eggplant. It couldn’t be more simple than that. We cut the eggplant into the macaroni and sprinkled on some grated cheese. I’ve been making it that way ever since. And each time I dig into that plate I’m eating a slice of Sicily.

Macaroni with Eggplant

  • 1 medium eggplant sliced in 1/4 inch rounds
  • oil for frying
  • 1  28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, passed through a food mill  OXO Good Grips Food Mill  or mashed with a potato masher
    (Kuhn Rikon Potato Masher)
  • 1 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/2 -1 teaspoon of sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound of  macaroni, ziti rigati  or rigatoni

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Place the sliced eggplant , with the skin on, in a colander and sprinkle each layer with kosher salt. Put a plate on top of the eggplant with a heavy weight on top and allow to sit for at least an hour.

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Pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel and heat a large pan with an inch of canola or vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, fry the eggplant till each side is golden brown. Place the fried eggplant in a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the oil and set aside.

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In a large sauce pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and cook till the garlic starts to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper and let the sauce simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. The longer you cook the sauce the more flavor develops. Make sure you stir often when it thickens so you don’t burn the sauce. Taste for seasoning once the sauce is finished.

In the mean time, in a large pot boil 5 quarts of water. Add the  macaroni and cook till al dente.

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When the sauce is cooked turn off the heat and add the torn basil leaves. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the tomato sauce. Toss the pasta to coat it well.  Place the macaroni in a bowl and top it with two slices of the fried eggplant. Sprinkle plenty of grated cheese on top and enjoy.

Pasta alla Norma


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Biscotti Reginella – Giuggiulena- Sesame Cookies

There was a bakery in my Brooklyn neighborhood  called Termini’s Bakery. The store was at 7615 New Utrecht Avenue. Terminis was baking delicious bread, cookies and Italian Terminispecialties decades before I was born. My grandfather used to get his bread from Terminis all the time. There was a woman there that was his contemporary. Sorry to say I didn’t know her name (other than Mrs. Termini). But on a few occasions when I went to pick up bread for my grandfather she knew I was the “butcher’s grandson” and treated me like royalty. Her daughter, which was about my mother’s age, also knew me. They would give me the bread and rolls my grandfather always got and throw in a Taralli Biscotti, which was a plain vanilla cookie ring, or a Regina Biscotti, which was a cookie rolled in sesame seeds. Once in a while I’d get a Lemon Iced Taralli, which was a cookie knot with lemon flavored icing. Half way home the cookies were gone and I would start to eye the tip of the loaf of Italian Bread. I think my grandparents almost expected a piece of the Italian bread to be missing when I brought it home.

Terminis was located under the El (short for elevated railway), convenient for commuters to pick up bread on their way home.  My father would get off the train after work at night and stop at Terminis to pick up the Italian bread for supper. The local bakeries would increase production during the evening commute because they knew people would be picking up fresh Italian bread for dinner.

Termini made the most delicious Italian bread I have ever eaten. It had a unique taste to it, like no other Italian bread I have ever had. I have not found anything like it since they closed. Their cookies were also unique. They made traditional Sicilian cookies but their cookies had a taste all their own. It’s really a shame  when a bakery this good closes and their recipes are lost forever. If there are any living relatives of this family that might have their original recipes I would  love to know about it.

On Saturday the bakery would make their sausage rolls and Sicilian Pizza. When they ran out, that was it. So you had to get there early so you were not disappointed. Their sausage rolls were simple and delicious. It was noting more than a cooked Italian sausage link wrapped in their delicious bread dough and baked till golden brown. No cheese, no peppers, just the great taste of an Italian sausage. Some things should just be left alone.

Like many other things we remember eating as a kid, these sausage rolls were a treat. My mother would on occasion bring some home from her Saturday shopping run. When I was old enough to cross the street I would go there on my own. When I had an extra 50 cents I’d run to Terminis for a sausage roll and a slice of Sicilian. Both were so good you didn’t even need to heat them up. I would eat them cold right out of their display case. They never made it home.

Biscotti Reginella is a very popular and traditional cookie in Sicily. The Sicilian immigrants that came to America thankfully brought this cookie with them.   It’s a simple cookie coated in sesame seeds and baked to a golden brown. They go great with a cup of espresso or a cafe latte, even a glass of Marsala. One of the simple pleasures of life. That’s what good Italian food is. Simple and delicious.

Biscotti Reginella

Biscotti Reginella

  • 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 11 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) **
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 pound of sesame seeds (One 16 oz Bob’s Red Mill – Sesame Seeds White)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract* 
  • 3/4 cup of whole milk

*Flavorings vary from town to town. You can substitute the zest of 1 lemon or 1/4 tsp of saffron dissolved in the milk.

**If you want a crisper cookie you can substitute lard for the butter. I think the butter makes the cookies taste better.

Yields 24 cookies.

If you have a stand mixer (KitchenAid PRO 500 Series 5-Quart Mixers)  use the flat paddle to mix this up. You can also mix this up with your hands, but that will take a little longer. Combine in a large bowl the flour, sugar, and baking powder.

Biscotti Reginella

Cut in the butter until it’s incorporated into the flour mixture. Beat the milk, eggs and salt together. Add the liquid to the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Do not over mix.

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The dough should be soft  but hold together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for two hours.

Making sesame cookies

Cut the dough into four pieces. On a lightly floured board roll each piece into a log about the thickness of your thumb and 18 inches long. Cut the log into 3 inch pieces. You should get 6 pieces per log.  Brush each piece with milk and roll in the sesame seeds to coat.

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Place each cookie on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake in a pre-heated 425 degree over for 10 minuets, then reduce the heat to 300 and bake another 10-15 minuets, or until golden brown. Rotate the cookie sheet half way through so they brown evenly.

Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minuets before placing them on a rack to finish cooling. Once completely cooled you can store these cookies in an air tight container for at least two weeks. They freeze well for future guests.



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Recipes for Super Bowl Party – MY TOP 10 RECIPES FOR YOUR SUPER BOWL PARTY

 The big game is less than a week away and the party has already started in the New York/New Jersey area. Hotels are booked, both teams are already here and attending events all over the  area. I live and work within miles of Met Life Stadium ( I still call it Giant’s Stadium. Sorry Jet Fans). I’m already starting to notice an increase in traffic and activity surrounding the Meadowlands sports complex. This is a great shot of activity and business in the area that we all can use. I’m happy for New York City and New Jersey. We get to showcase the greatest game in the greatest city. I only wish it wasn’t  5 degrees here.

If you are not going to be at the game then chances are you might be hosting a Super Bowl party. Here is a list of great finger food and snacks you can serve with an Italian flair. These aren’t your usual Buffalo Wing/Pig in the Blanket recipes. We know that the game is the most important thing….but what you serve at the party is right up there.

One of my favorite recipe for a party favorite is Scacciata Catanese.

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This is a stuffed bread that is delicious and filled with pepperoni and provolone cheese and fried onions. You you can slice it into individual servings for your guests. Here is the posting with the recipe.

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Wings are also a staple at Super Bowl parties. Here is a recipe for Super Bowl Sicilian Wings.

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These wings are marinated in lemon juice, Italian spices and vinegar and smeared with onions. Finger licking good. Here is the post and recipe.

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Calzones are also great party food.

Calzone Barese

You can stuff a calzone with whatever your heart desires. You can use the traditional ricotta and ham filling, Italian meats and cheeses, Italian sausage and peppers, etc. Here is a sweet and savory calzone that is stuffed with onions and olives and raisins. Here is the recipe

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Pizza is a hit at any party. This Sicilian pizza can be cut into smaller pieces for your party and served on a platter with tooth picks.

Sicilian PizzaYou can either make the dough yourself or buy ready-made pizza dough at your local bakery or supermarket. I prefer my homemade dough but if you need to cut corners, why not? Here is the post with the recipe.

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Eggplant Capanata might not seem like a good party food but it depends on how you serve it.

Eggplant CaponataThis is an ideal bruschetta topping to put on slices of toasted Italian bread. You can top crackers with capanata but it will taste much better on Italian bread. A tray of this will disappear fast. This was one of my first postings and a family favorite. Here is the recipe.

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Sandwiches, or as we like to call them in Brooklyn, “Sangwiches”, are a party favorite. You can make party sandwiches with any filling you want. But here is a little twist. Why not make eggplant sandwiches? Melanzane in Carrozza are little eggplant sandwiches filled with mozzarella or Fontina cheese and fresh sage leaves.

Eggplant sandwichYou can serve these whole or cut them in quarters and serve them with toothpicks. You can find the recipe here.

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A platter of Stuffed Mushrooms goes a long way.

stuffed mushroomsThis is not a vegetarian version. It’s filled with Italian sausage, bell peppers and onions and plenty of Romano cheese. I cook these in white wine, garlic and olive oil. Give your guests some crusty Italian bread to sop up the gravy under these mushrooms. Here is how they are made.

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When you have a party you can’t forget the dessert. Here are three easy to make favorites of mine.

What can be more American than Baseball, Football and Apple Pie?

apple pieAgain, if you want to buy ready-made pie crust to save time you can. Making the filling is easy. Here is the recipe.

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I know it’s a Super Bowl party, but who doesn’t like Italian Cheese Cake?

Italian cheese cakeIf you’re serving coffee or espresso, this creamy ricotta cheese cake will end the evening on a high note. Even if your team didn’t win the game. Here is how it’s made.

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Want to make a dessert to feed a large crowd? This sheet Crumb Cake is a hit at all my family gatherings.

crumb cakeIt’s easy to make and everyone loves crumb cake. Here is the posting and recipe.



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Turkey Pot Pie Recipe – My Way

An Italian Thanksgiving feast never starts with just the Turkey. Although the Turkey is the center of attention, there are other dishes that start the dinner. At our house we usually begin with some antipasto. Cheeses, salami, olives. A platter of shrimp. Just a little something to tease the taste buds. For the first course we usually have soup (that’s a lighter Thanksgiving dish) or lasagna or homemade macaroni or gnocchi. If there was some meat made in the sauce that was also served up. And then came the turkey and baked ham. Not everyone liked turkey so we had to make everyone happy at the dinner table. I will not even get into all the side dishes. (eggplant Parmigiano was always classified a vegetable side dish)  My point here is we always had plenty of Turkey left over for other meals.

Once the turkey was all carved up, we never threw away the carcass. We used that to make delicious Cream of Turkey Soup. In addition to another full turkey dinner after Thanksgiving, I used to make Turkey Pot Pie with the leftovers. I’m sure you all have left over turkey the week after Thanksgiving. Turkey Pot Pie is a great way to use that meat up. This recipe is real simple, except I make my own pastry crust. You can use store-bought pie crust, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. While I still have two hands and can stand I’ll make my own crust, thank you.

I like to add my own touches to this classic American comfort food. (To all you purist, please forgive me for putting pot pie on an Italian cooking blog. It’s all part of who I am). I like to add some chopped fresh parsley to this pie crust. It adds a nice touch to this savory crust. I also mix shortening and butter into the flour. Shortening makes the most flaky crust and butter adds more flavor. The Turkey filling is pretty classic but I like the added flavors of the poultry seasoning thyme and sage. So after your second leftover Thanksgiving dinner and your first turkey and cranberry and stuffing sandwich, give this pot pie a try. It’s sure to please.

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie – My Way

TWO CRUST PASTRY

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup Crisco shortening
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter cut into small cubes
  • 8 tablespoons iced water

Place 2 cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped parsley and salt. Cut into the flour the shortening and butter. You can mix it with your hand, incorporating the flour into the shortening.  Pour the water a tablespoon at a time and mix with your hands just until the flour comes together. Shape into a ball and cut in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

POT PIE FILLING

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1 can (14 ounce) chicken broth, such as Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth, 14 oz
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
  •  2 1/2 cups (or as much as you want to add) cooked turkey, cubed
  • 2 cups peas and carrots, thawed.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for two minuets. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring  for about a minuet. Slowly stir in the broth and milk or half and half and continue stirring until the mixture thickens and comes to a slight boil. Stir in the salt and pepper, thyme and sage. Remove from the heat and add the turkey and vegetables. Mix well.

Roll out one piece of dough onto a floured surface to the size of the deep dish pie pan you are using. Line the pan with the dough, leaving about a half-inch overlap. Spoon the turkey mixture into the prepared pan. Roll out the second piece of dough to fit over the top of the pie. Brush the edges of the bottom crust with a little water to help seal the pie. Add the top crust to the pie and fold the top edge under the bottom edge of the pie crust. Crimp all around the pie to seal and cut 3 or 4 slits on top of the pie to vent.

Bake for 30 to 40 minuets or until golden brown. Let the pie rest for 15 minuets before cutting.


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Gelatina Di Maiale

Sorry I have been away so long, but nothing has excited me enough to post. You might be sorry I’m back after this post.

This delicacy is popular worldwide. It’s also called by many different names. Some of you may know it as Head Cheese or Coppa Di Testa. It comes from the head meat of an animal, in this case a pig, and cooked in a mixture of vinegar and flavorings. Because of the calogen that is abundant in the animal’s head and bones, the liquid turns to gelatin when cooled. It’s also known as aspic.  Grandma Isabella used to make Gelatina with pigs feet and fresh ham hocks and it worked quite well. I used to love eating the gelatina right out of the jar she packed it in. I realize not many of you are lucky enough to have a good friend that raises pigs. My friend Noemi brought her pig to market and I share in half  the pig. But in my half I had her include the head and trotters, pig’s feet.  Great components for Gelatina.

I know this recipe may not be for everyone. As my son Joseph said when he saw the pig’s head in my freezer, “That’s weird! Having what I’m going to eat stare at me.” You can order a pig’s head at your local DSCN3335butcher. I had them cut it in quarters so it’s easier to handle. And it doesn’t quite look like a head if it’s cut up.  If getting a pig’s head is too much for you than you can buy fresh pig’s feet and hocks and cook them in the same way. You really want the full pig’s leg for this, which include the feet and hocks.

I went through my arsenal and the only pot large enough I had to fit this head in was my good old canning pot. Even with the pig’s head cut into quarters it didn’t fit in anything else I had, and I have some largeDSCN3339 pots. I took out the brains and eyes and cut off the ears and gave them to my German Shepherd Bella. She loved them! We all benefit from this feast! Did I just go too far there?

Gelatina di Maiale

  • 1 pig’s head, or fresh pig’s feet and hocks, or a combo of both.
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • salt & pepper to taste

If you are using the pig’s head, remove the brains, ears and eyes. You can discard them. Wash the head and feet well in cold water.

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Place the head and feet in a large pot. Fill the pot with cold water just enough to cover. Add the onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice berries and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slight simmer, skim off the foam that floats to the top. Cover and simmer for 5 hours.

Remove the head and feet from the pot and put aside to cool. Turn up the heat high and reduce the liquid  by a third.

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Remove from the heat and strain the liquid through multiple layers of cheese cloth.

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Pick through and remove all the meat from the bones. You will know what the meat is. Pull out the tongue and peel off the outer layer. Add that to the meat.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Pack the prepared mixture into a loaf pan that’s lined with enough plastic wrap that it hangs over the edges. Ladle spoonfuls of the reduced liquid over the meat. Allow to cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate overnight.

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The next day when the liquid had set to gelatin, you can turn the pan over a dish and pull on the plastic wrap to help get it out of the pan.

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The only way I can describe the flavor of this dish is the meat has a richness to it. It’s very “porky”. The fact my pig was raised organically and locally would have given it a better taste than the soy and corn-fed pigs you buy commercially. Either way, it was a “hoot” trying to make this traditional dish and if you have the heart and stomach (and head) to give it a try, it’s well worth your time.

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