Cicoria ripassata alla romana

Annnnd we're back! If my calculations are correct it has now been 3 whole days since The Big Meal, aka Thanksgiving, meaning that 1.) you stuffed yourself sufficiently on Thursday and 2.) have consequently been eating your way through those inevitable leftovers. It has thus been 72 + hours of heavy eating, meals laden with potato and gravy and stuffing and for the first day there even pie (everyone knows that any leftover pie is the first thing to go). I imagine you'll be trying to give your digestive system a little break before you begin your next round of holiday eating (gingerbread! panettone! Christmas roast! Christmas parties in general!). I bet you're craving something light, something vegetable-y, something virtuous, something green. Something maybe called cicoria?! Yes, yes, I thought so.

Cicoria -- called dandelion greens in English -- is incredibly popular here in the Eternal City, found year round on restaurant menus, ever present at the local markets. It is pretty to look at, with curly, unruly, emerald leaves -- greens with a perm! I always think -- that give it a festive and almost cheerful air. But not so fast: its friendly appearance contrasts with its flavor, strong and un-apologetically bitter as it is, miles away from more the more mild spinach or chard or any other lettuce you'd ever meet. This bitterness makes cicoria a controversial, love-it-or-hate-it leafy vegetable, and indeed, I have friends that openly wrinkle their noses at the very mention of our friend cicoria. I myself happen to land squarely in the I Love Cicoria! camp along with most Romans I know, finding its flavor deep, complex, and intense, a side dish with a little bite and a little personality. Traditionally, cicoria is eaten as an accompaniment to sausages or meat or in Puglia, as an accompaniment to pureed fava beans, but I've been known to unabashedly order a dish of it to accompany my bucatini all'amatriciana (my Roman friends have pointed out this isn't exactly an authentic or traditional way to eat cicoria -- I feign ignorance and/or emphasize that my American-ness is stronger than my Italian name). I also like it served with a nice helping of salty, pillowy pizza bianca or served just with toasted bread drizzled with a little olive oil. Yummm.

Cicoria ripassata alla romana -- cicoria, sauteed, Roman-style -- is cooked in lots of olive oil with a little garlic and peperoncino, and thus ties in perfectly with this month's round of Cucina Conversations, where our theme is olive oil (to honor November's olive harvest and subsequent pressing!) The recipe requires a bit more cooking time than you'd expect for a green, with 15 minutes of boiling, then 10 minutes of sauteing (as my friend Emily O. so succinctly summarized this cooking process: "I see, I see, so basically, you cook the sh*t out of it!") What Emily meant to say was that this long cooking -- the boiling especially -- helps to soften the bitter edge of the cicoria. The good amount of time in the saute pan allow the greens time to become simultaneously garlicky and spicy, deliciously silky and rich as they sizzle around in the olive oil, turning the leaves into spaghetti-like strands to be twirled gloriously around your fork and eaten with gusto. In other words: this is a side dish that may quite possibly make your main seem like the accompaniment (controversial, delicious, and a scene stealer!

Only a few notes today: Cicoria, like most other greens, shrinks immensely upon cooking. If 2 pounds of cicoria seems like a lot, it won't be when it hits the boiling water. I haven't put specific quantities for the olive oil, garlic, or hot pepper, because I always eyeball it -- enough olive oil to generously coat the pan and then some, and the other ingredients to taste. You can also use fresh or dried chili if you want, but I didn't have any on hand and so spiced things up with red pepper flakes. In the market you will sometimes see cicoria selvatica or cicoria da campo, which is a wild variety of cicoria, but you will more commonly  find cultivated cicoria. I have also used cicorietta here -- see photos below -- which is leafier and a little less unruly, with great results (to be honest, I still have to study up on all the different types of cicoria). In any case, I've used different varieties here all with good results. Finally, if you cannot find cicoria where you are, but are intrigued by the garlic/pepper/olive oil/ leafy green combo, you could also make a similar dish with spinach, kale, escarole, chard, or any other kind of green. Note that for more delicate greens like spinach, you will not to boil them in water first, and they will only need a few minutes in the pan, while a hearty green like kale could be first boiled then sauteed. 

Be sure to check out the other olive oil-centric posts from my fellow bloggers! This month's round-up, below:
Daniela at La Dani Gourmet, who has whipped up la farinata di cavolo nero con olio nuovo;
Flavia of Flavia's Flavors, who has made cannellini all'olio;
Lisa -- The Italian Kiwi -- who is sharing a recipe for patè di olive;

Rosemarie aka Turin Mamma, who will be sharing her recipe for bagna cauda.


CICORIA RIPASSATA

Ingredients:
2 pounds (1 kilo) cicoria
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic
Red pepper flakes or fresh chili
Salt and pepper

Directions:
Rinse the cicoria and pat it dry. Remove any leaves that are brown or no longer fresh and discard them.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then add the cicoria. Boil the cicoria for 10 minutes; drain. In the meantime, when the cicoria is reaching the end of its boiling time, heat a good amount of olive oil -- enough to coat the bottom of the pan, and then some -- in a large pan over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes or sliced chili to taste, as well as a clove or two of garlic. 
Let the olive oil and garlic start cooking and then add the cicoria to the pan. Saute the cicoria for 15 minutes, stirring, until wilted and well mixed with the garlic, olive oil, and chili.  
Season the cicoria to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.



Silver Palate Mashed Potatoes

To my fellow Americans: Last recipe before Thanksgiving, guys! With two days to go I hope you've all purchased your canned pumpkin (you know it will be sold out tomorrow), have calculated how much time the turkey will take to roast, and have coordinated the song-and-dance that is figuring out who is bringing what, what needs reheating, and when and how said dishes will be reheated with just one oven. Good luck!

To my non-Americans: Last recipe before Thanksgiving, guys! The blog will soon be filled once again with dishes that are relevant for everyone, posts that don't speak of mixing vegetables with marshmallows and recipes that are happily devoid of ingredients like corn syrup, maple syrup and pumpkin, plus simple, straightforward Italian recipes, too. Don't worry, there's a light at the end of the Thanksgiving tunnel, I promise. 

Having said that -- today's post is for mashed potatoes, one of those rare, uncontroversial foods like pizza, fries, or ice cream that everyone seems to like (have you ever heard anyone say: oh god, I hate mashed potatoes? No, I haven't either). If you're still on the look-out for the perfect mashed potatoes to bring with you this Thursday, or have yet to find your go-to mashed potato recipe (how have you gotten through without one until now?!) -- let me introduce you to the Silver Palate Mashed Potatoes, aka the very best mashed potatoes you will ever eat, potatoes that you will prepare once and instantly grant a permanent place in your Go-To recipe repertoire, guaranteed. 

I already mentioned the Silver Palate Cookbook in this post way back about Shortbread Hearts, and also this one about Fettuccine with Brie, Basil, and Tomatoes. Authored by the genius Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins was The New Basics: Silver Palate cookbook was the one my mom turned to and continues to turn to most, her Cooking Bible, an enormous, heavy book that I remember was perpetually perched on our kitchen counter, flipped through, referenced, bookmarked. The Silver Palate cookbook is an encyclopedia of reliable, consistently delicious recipes, and the source of my mom's Thanksgiving stuffing, her Strawberry Chocolate Tart, her white chocolate and apricot cantucci, the Thanksgiving turkey itself, and of course these potatoes. The Silver Palate mashed potatoes have been present at every holiday my family has ever hosted, our very favorite side, a stand-by, a go-to, a winner. They are perfectly smooth and extremely rich -- we're dealing with three kinds of dairy here, sour cream, cream cheese, and butter -- thus ticking the boxes of the two most important qualities of any good mashed potato. They are tangy and buttery all at once, with a hint of nutmeg that gives the potatoes a complexity and a little extra dimension of flavor, perfect topped with a spoonful (or two, or three) of gravy. Best of all? These can be made and served right away, or they can be made ahead of time and then baked to reheat -- shocking, given that mashed potatoes are notorious for not taking kindly to reheating or any advance prep.

A few other guaranteed delicious Thanksgiving recipes, if you're still scrambling to figure out what you will be making: All-American Apple PiePumpkin Cheesecake with Praline SaucePumpkin PiePecan PiePecan Pie BarsGreen Beans with Caramelized Shallots and PancettaCornbread Muffins with Maple Butter, Savory Squash Pancakes with Brown Butter and SageSausage, Apple, and Apricot StuffingButternut Squash and Caramelized Onion GaletteHerb Roasted Purple and Orange Carrots, and Lasagne alla Bolognese if you're like my family and always have lasagne at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Only a few notes this time: Can't find sour cream where you are?You can also substitute full-fat plain Greek yogurt. I usually use any leftovers to make little mashed potato cakes -- form the cold mashed potatoes into little pancakes, dredge lightly in flour, and fry in a little oil and butter in a pan until the outsides are brown and crispy. Note that in the photos below, I photographed the halved recipe as my sister and I, hearty eaters though we may be, could not possibly have eaten mashed potatoes for 8 people by ourselves (or could we have?!)

And lastly, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I won't be celebrating until Saturday -- no Thanksgiving holidays here in Rome -- but will be sure to post some photos of our own (20+ person) dinner, where I'll be making the pecan pie, cornbread muffins with maple butter, and a sweet potato casserole. Up ahead: my next post for Cucina Conversations plus lots of Christmas recipes, as we hop from one holiday to the next.

SILVER PALATE MASHED POTATOES

Ingredients:
9 large baking potatoes (about 5 pounds, or 2.3 kilos)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons, 56 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
12 ounces (336 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (about 180 grams) sour cream
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Peel and dice the potatoes. Place them in a large pot and add just enough water to cover. Put the pot on the stove over high heat and let the water come to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the water simmer over medium heat until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes.

Place the potatoes in a large bowl and give them a few mashes with a potato masher to get things going. Cut the butter and cream cheese into small pieces and add to the potatoes. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in sour cream. Season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. (As you can see from the photos I didn't read the recipe correctly -- again -- and just beat everything together at once. They still tasted great!)
Serve immediately or reheat in a buttered casserole dish (or pie plate like I did, if you too went to reach for your casserole dish and promptly dropped it, shattering it to pieces!) at 300° F for 20 minutes, if you want to prepare them in advance. Serves 8. 





All-American Apple Pie

Just in time for November 24th, the Thanksgiving Pie Trinity is now complete -- Pancakes & Biscotti now has recipes for Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pie, and now Apple Pie. You might also have noticed that this blog has been in existence now for over 2 1/2 years, and I'm posting a recipe for Apple Pie -- the quintessential American dessert -- only now. Why is this? Shouldn't a blog that aims to bring you both Italian and American recipes have covered Apple Pie in the very first month of blogging, or at least the very first year?!

Well, here's the thing: I've never been a fan of Apple Pie. I know, I know! What kind of dessert blasphemy is this?! you must be thinking. How can someone not like Apple Pie? Doesn't everyone like Apple Pie? No, no they do not, or at least I don't, and I blame it all on the Johnny Appleseed Day celebrated by my second grade class, way back in 1997. We had done a unit on American pioneers and quite a few readings about Johnny, culminating in a class party where we feasted on not only various kinds of apples, but also a much anticipated apple pie. I wasn't too familiar with apple pie (it wasn't exactly something my Calabrian nonna had ever made for us) but in the end felt this was just as well, as I clearly hadn't missed much. I found the pie, well, disappointing, with an unpleasant filling -- full of slightly mushy apples, a shadow of their crispy, juicy former selves -- that were either too sweet or barely spiced, encased in a bland crust. All the other kids seemed perfectly pleased with the pie, but there was something about it that didn't convince me, or perhaps I just had very high standards for dessert, even then. In any event, I decided that Apple Pie was simply not for me, placing it in the in the Desserts I Do Not Like category along with "flan," and "sachertorte" and "lemon meringue pie" (side note: I've since reevaluated my opinion of lemon meringue; my stance on flan and sachertorte remains unchanged). So, there has been no recipe for Apple Pie on here in the past 36 months because, well, when there are so many other good things to cook, so many recipes on the "To Make!!" list that I want to share on here, I'd been dragging my feet on this one, reluctant to use up a post on Apple Pie, a dessert I didn't even like. 

Still, I felt it was my duty to give you a recipe for this American classic in time for Thanksgiving -- better late than never -- and here's what I've learned through my Apple Pie research: I've found that Apple Pie is a dessert that is a bit more finicky than your average dessert, one that needs a bit of coddling to come out just right. You need to use the right kind of apples, as not all are good for baking; the just amount of sugar (which can change, depending on what apples you use); the correct mix of spices in the appropriate doses; you have to have a good, flaky crust. Now, if finding the right combo of ingredients sounds complicated, don't worry! I've figured it out for you and have found an Apple Pie, this Apple Pie that is that makes me question what I thought I'd learned on that Fall day back in '97. Starting from the inside out of this recipe: this pie crust is melt-in-your-mouth buttery, just the right amount of sweet, and, as all good pie crust should be, incredibly and deliciously flaky. The apples in the filling hold their shape well -- no mushy apples here! -- and are complemented and enhanced, not overwhelmed, by just the right amount of sugar and cozy warming spices, allowing the apple flavor to shine its brightest. A slice of this beauty warm out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream earns Apple Pie its way out of the Desserts I Don't Like category, causing Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie, and Blueberry Pie to shuffle to the right a little as Apple Pie nudges its way in. 

A couple of notes: Not all apples are good for baking -- a few of the ones that hold their shape best for pie are Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Pippin, or Granny Smith apples. If you think that Granny Smith apples are too sour to use, think again! They become sweeter when baking and are of course mixed with sugar and vanilla. If you're interested, Serious Eats has a helpful article breaking it all down for you here. Feel free to use a mix of apples if you want -- this gives the pie filling a bit of complexity. I put 1/2 cup sugar in the pie this time, but have also made it with 2/3 cup of sugar (125 grams) which is also good if you prefer a slightly sweeter filling. Keep an eye on the pie crust and especially the edges of the pie crust, which tend to brown quite quickly, as you can see from my photos below -- cover the edges of the crust with foil or tent the top if the crust is getting too dark. Note that the dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer, wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap To defrost your dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it. 

Looking for other pie recipes? Allow me to suggest this Blueberry Crumble Pie, this Banoffee Pie, this Peanut Butter Pie, this Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie, this Pumpkin Pie, or this Brownie Pie. Want a few other apple recipes? I have Apple Crisp,  Apple Muffins, or this Best Ever Apple Cake. Looking for a few other Thanksgiving dessert ideas? This Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake, Pear and Chocolate Custard Tart, and Pumpkin Cheesecake with swoon-worthy Pecan Praline Sauce are worthy of your feast this year.

ALL-AMERICAN APPLE PIE

Ingredients for the crust:
2 1/2 cups (325 grams) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon 912.5 grams) sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces, 224 grams) unsalted butter, very cold, cut in to small pieces
1 cup (8 ounces, 224 grams) ice-cold water

Ingredients for the filling:
3 pounds (1350 grams) apples, or about 6-8 apples - I used a mix of Gala apples and Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar 
3 tablespoons (24 grams) flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Ingredients for the egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon cream

Directions:
In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with the pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed so all parts are worked evenly. If you don't have a pastry blender, you can also do this with your hands, which takes a little while longer but is equally effective. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas and worked in to the flour, stop. Add 1/2 cup of cold water to the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, gather the dough together. 
You might need an additional 1/4 cup of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. Once the dough starts to form clumps, gather them all together into one mound, kneading them together (I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to do this). Gather the dough together, flatten it in to a disk, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough chill in the fridge for at least one hour, but preferably at least two, before rolling it out. 
Next, make your filling -- if you have a Tiger store in your area, I highly recommend investing in a tagliamela, or apple slicer, see below -- makes apple coring and cutting a breeze!
So, peel, core, and slice your apples (into 1/2 inch thick slices). In a large bowl, stir together the apple slices, the lemon juice, the flour, and the sugar. 
Next, add the spices -- the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice -- plus the vanilla. Stir the apples together until nice and incorporated. Set aside and take the chilled pie dough out of the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the dough in half in to two even pieces. On a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll one piece of the dough out into a 12-14 inch circle (as you can see from my photos below, it doesn't always work out to a perfect circle as it should -- still working on my pie dough rolling out skills!) Transport the crust to a greased 9-inch pie dish, and trim the circle to fit the pan. I usually wrap the dough around the rolling pin for easy transport from counter to pie pan. Pour the apple filling in to the crust.
Next, roll out the second piece of dough to make your top crust in the same way as the first crust. Lay it over the apple filling, leaving a 3/4 inch overhang from the edges of the pie plate. Trim any extra dough off to make the crust fit the pan, and press the edges together with the bottom crust to seal. Cut three slits in the top of the pie to let the steam escape while the pie bakes. Whisk together the egg yolk and cream and brush the top of the pie with the resulting mixture. This will give your pie a nice shine and make it extra nice.
Bake the pie in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking the pie for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until you can see the apples and juices bubbling through the vents in the top crust. When the pie crust has reached a nice brown, tent it loosely with aluminum foil to keep it from browning further. If you see your pie crust is browning too quickly or browning too much around the edges, tent it with foil. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool at least one hour before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream for the best Apple Pie Experience. Serves 8-10.



Crust recipe from www.smittenkitchen.com; filling recipe from www.simplyrecipes.com.