Sweet Potato Home fries

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner: the three square meals of the day, each meant to keep you energized, fueled, and able to carry out all your daily tasks. Oh, they can be pretty tasty, if you play your cards right, but in the end I find they're all quite practical, all fulfilling a certain measured purpose to keep you going. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner aside, of course, there are those other sort of non-essential meals, which are more treat than necessity. There's dessert, for starters, whose sole purpose is to reward the palate with something sweet, chocolate-y, or buttery, an indulgent add-on. There's snack, that in-between-meals filler, something extra, sometimes consumed even when there isn't any hunger to keep at bay (afternoon taralli are a good example of this!). And then there is my very, very favorite of all: brunch. 

Ahh, brunch! It's a meal eaten out of of luxury rather than practicality, usually on the weekend, when you've slept in and not bothered to turn your alarm on. Brunch is a big deep edible breath after a long week, one that presents the occasion to eat pancakes and omelets and bacon and other such dishes that you'd be hard-pressed to have time to make on a weekday morning. It is irreverent, rebellious in a way, breaking the usual 3 Square Meal Rules, combining savory and sweet with abandon, compressing two meals in to one, and respecting no real schedule, all because it can, that's why! 

So, to today's brunch recipe, or rather, sweet potato home fries, a riff on your classic home fries. For the non-Americans who might be reading: home fries are potatoes, peeled, diced and fried in a little oil or butter or both, the cousin of the equally delicious hash browns (we in America like our breakfast potatoes). I order them every time I go out for breakfast in the U.S, accompanied by scrambled eggs, toast, and a good helping of leisure and relaxation. These home fries are made with a mix of colorful, bright, and may I add nutritious sweet potatoes, their sweetness tempered nicely by a few mild, crisp, and perfectly golden brown Yukon potatoes. Red peppers and onions add a little complexity to the dish -- no bite here is the same -- and thyme and oregano, the last additions to the party, keep things extra flavorful. From recent experience, I can attest that a big pan of these are fantastic on a lazy Sunday morning, especially when they're accompanied by multi-grain cinnamon pancakes with abundant maple syrup and a couple of strips of bacon (thank god tomorrow is the weekend).

A couple of notes: I got lazy with the chopping and put the onion and red pepper in my food processor to make my work a little quicker, then unfortunately got a bit carried away -- don't chop your onion and red pepper as fine as I did! They should be left a bit chunky (though if you do over-chop, the flavor will be just fine). Feel free to add a jalapeño pepper in here to make things a little spicy, switch up the herbs if you want, or to add a little pancetta to make this more substantial. Add a fried egg on top of these home fires to make an excellent sweet potato and egg hash. Finally, I used 3 Yukon potatoes and 2 sweet potatoes; use however many of each you want, depending on your tastes/whether or not you can find sweet potatoes where you are 
(they're quite rare in Rome, but I am happy to say that the vegetable stand across the street from my apartment always has them -- hurray!)

Looking for some other brunch-appropriate recipes? Allow me to suggest these Bagels, this French Toast, these Pancakes, this Ricotta Pound Cake, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, this Strawberry Jam Crostata, this homemade Hot Chocolate, these Maritozzi, this Gingerbread, these Orange Glazed Poppy seed Muffins, these Basic Waffles, or these Banana Pecan WafflesProsciutto, Egg, and Cheese Waffles, this Frittata with Spinach and Potatoes, this Frittata di Spaghetti con Asparagi, this Greek Panzanella, this Nectarine, Prosciutto, and Burrata Salad, or these Tomato, Basil, and Goat Cheese Shortcakes, among a few others you'll find in the handy dandy blog Recipe Index

SWEET POTATO HOME FRIES 

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and diced
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ­inch dice
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ­inch dice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions: 
In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and peppers and cook until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes, seasoning with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Remove to a separate plate.
Add the remaining oil to the pan, then add the potatoes, oregano, thyme, the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. 
Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring often, until the potatoes are nicely browned and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the peppers and onion back to the pan, and stir to heat everything through. Serves 4.
Barely adapted from www.epicurious.com.

















Frittata di Spaghetti e Asparagi

 
Time for another round of Cucina Conversations! This month all of our recipes are vegetarian, perfect for anyone who is abstaining from or eating less meat in the Lenten season, or for any vegetarians you might find yourself cooking for (I personally can count 6 vegetarian friends off the top of my head). 

Let's talk leftovers! While your instinct may sometimes be to overlook your meal on the second day -- after all, its a bit been there, done that, sometimes not quite as good after a night tucked in to a Tupperware in the fridge -- think again! Leftovers have the potential to be reinvented, becoming the base for a completely different and delicious dish. A surplus of mashed potatoes or squash are excellent when revived as savory pancakes; risotto, never as good as it is when eaten fresh off the stove, makes a surprise comeback as crispy, cheessupplìThis also applies to leftover ingredients -- the now slightly dry loaf of bread you didn't finish at dinner last night can be reborn as canederli, panzanella, french toast, stuffing, croutons, or bread pudding; leftover wine goes great in a hearty ragù or, if you're in the mood for something sweet, a red wine chocolate cake or truffles; that bunch of overly ripe bananas are given a second chance in the form of banana bread. 

The frittata di pasta is a Neapolitan dish, one that came about as a way to, you guessed it, make use of leftover pasta (which I find inevitably dries out in the fridge and is never quite what it was the next day). That being said, I think you'll find yourself making more pasta than necessary on purpose once you've tried it -- it's pretty darn good. Here we've got our aforementioned spaghetti, revitalized and reminiscent of carbonara in its eggy-ness, dotted with pockets of gooey scamorza that contrast nicely with the sharp salty bite of the Parmesan cheese. A sprinkling of Springy green asparagus adds a little freshness and color, and the bits of spaghetti on the top become extra crispy and brown, contrasting splendidly with the fluffy frittata interior. This is perfect served warm or at room temperature, for lunch, dinner, or even brunch, and the leftovers of this frittata made of leftovers are great the next day, too. Bottom line: if you have vegetarian friends who need feeding and pasta to use up, well, then we've killed two birds with one stone. This is the recipe for you. 

A couple of notes: This recipe is super flexible. Feel free to use any cut of long pasta you want here -- bucatini, tagliatelle, or fettuccine should work great. I imagine a shorter cut could work too, but you might want to chop the pasta up a bit. Leave out the lemon zest if you want (I think it adds a nice freshness but you might not have it on hand) or substitute Pecorino for the Parmesan, or mozzarella, provolone, or anything else you want for the scamorza. Use any kind of vegetable you'd like, or use half an onion instead of a shallot. If you're not making this with vegetarians in mind, feel free to add a bit of pancetta, bacon, sausage, or guanciale. If you have leftover pasta that has sauce on it, no matter! The flavor of this frittata will just be different, and you'll want to adapt the other ingredients you add in to match it. Lastly, you can also bake this in greased muffin tins for mini frittate di spaghetti.

Be sure to check out the vegetarian recipes prepared by my fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers!:

Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma has prepared carciofi trifolati which are both vegan and vegetarian!; 

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet is sharing her recipe for farrotto (risotto-style spelt) della Garfagnana, carciofi e pecorino;


Lisa aka Italian Kiwi has made a torta salata con zucca e radicchio;


Carmen at The Heirloom Chronicles has fried up some crochette di patate e cicoria;


Flavia from Flavia's Flavors is sharing a recipe for torta rustica di spinaci;


Last but not least Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made 
pasticcio di bieta e formaggio.

FRITTATA DI SPAGHETTI E ASPARAGI

Ingredients:
1/4 pound (112 grams) uncooked spaghetti (about 1/2 pound or 224 grams cooked)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
8 large spears asparagus, tough ends cut off, and sliced diagonally 
6 eggs
1 cup (110 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (about 85 grams) scamorza cheese, diced
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
If you're starting from scratch here: cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain the pasta and toss it in a bowl with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat another 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and add the shallot and asparagus. Season with a bit of salt and pepper to taste (not the 3/4 teaspoon salt mentioned above -- save that for later) and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Let the vegetables cool slightly. 
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, 3/4 teaspoon salt, a few generous grinds of pepper, and the Parmesan. Add the pasta, asparagus, scamorza, and shallot
 
Toss everything together. Heat two tablespoons of oil in your skillet over low heat, turning the pan to make sure its well greased, and add the resulting egg-pasta mixture to the skillet.  Flatten the top a little with a wooden spoon to even things out. 
 
Let the frittata cook, undisturbed, so that the bottom and sides can begin to set, about 5-7 minutes. When the sides seem to be setting, they'll pull away easily from the sides of the pan if you try and move them with a fork.
 
Transfer the skillet to the oven and let cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until the top of is set and slightly browned. Let the frittata cool slightly. (Special thanks to Kathryn Kepler for the homemade oven mits, in the below photo!)
 
Loosen the sides of the frittata with a spatula and then invert the it on to a plate. Cut in to slices and enjoy immediately. Serves 4-6
 
 




Best Ever Lemon Tart


When I was in college, I ate my fair share of junk food, or, to use the more fun Italian word, schifezze. The consumption of things like ramen noodles, PopTarts, and Easy Mac is after all part of the college experience, the lack of home cooking reminding you that you're off on your own now, fending for yourself and thus making a few questionable food choices, because you can. My roommate and I periodically bought and shared large boxes of Peanut Butter Crunch cereal; the dining hall's most popular dishes were tacos and chicken parmesan; the campus Lobby Shop kept students stocked with candy bars, potato chips, ice cream, and my personal favorite, Golden Graham Treats. You're probably not familiar, so let me explain: the Golden Graham Treat was a large bar of golden graham cereal, held together by melted marshmallows and chocolate, decorated with milk chocolate chips. It was sugary, chewy, and crunchy, all at the same time, and I loved them. They were perfect fuel during exams and paper writing, but when I graduated college and moved to Italy, we lost touch.

I crossed paths again with my beloved GGTs not long ago, during a recent trip to the States. Delighted at our reunion, I bought two, one to enjoy right away and the other to snack on later. As I bit in to my Treat and chewed, I decided the recipe must have changed -- what I was eating was stodgy, too sweet, and artificial tasting, nothing like the GGT of my college days. I wrapped up the rest of the Treat, realizing, as I have more than once, that the recipe for Golden Grahams have not changed, but rather, my taste buds have. My diet in Italy, unlike my college years, consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, pasta, and cheese, and as a result my taste for sugar has waned; I'm no longer used to things are that are processed, packaged, or generally overly sweet. When it comes to desserts in particular, I have found a new appreciation for things that are subdued, on the simple side, and just sweet enough. 

So, what is the connection between Golden Graham Treats and this Lemon Tart?! It is a perfect example of a dessert that I would never have appreciated before, back in my sugar-high days; in fact, the pre-Italy Francesca would pick a milk chocolate-y or frosting-laden dessert over a lemon one any day, finding the flavor too sour and sharp. I only began to notice the beauty of a tangy, citrus-y dessert in the past few years -- discovering things like Lemon Squares and Lemon Poppy seed Cake -- and oh how I've been missing out! 

Now, to today's post! This lemon tart is The Lemon Tart, or rather the lemon tart to beat all other lemon tarts, a tart possessing all of the qualities befitting of a perfect lemon dessert: here we've got a silky smooth, tangy filling, with just enough sweetness to let all the citrus flavor shine, vibrant and sunshine-y and happy (if a dessert could have moods and emotions). The tart crust, so often an afterthought, is crisp and  shortbread-like, capable of complementing but not overwhelming the A+ filling. This tart is a splendid way to celebrate the start of Spring, or to ward off any remaining Winter gloom if temperatures are still chilly where you are (sorry, Rhode Island). It is a lovely end to a fancy meal or just as an afternoon treat with tea. I loved it and I think you will too.

A couple of notes: I find that tarts with a liquid filling such as this can be a bit tricky, as you pour it in to the crust, then have to transport the whole thing to the oven. Learn from my mistakes: place the tart shell and pan on a baking sheet, transport that baking sheet to the oven rack, and pour the filling in directly, then close the oven. I found that the crust here shrinks a bit down the sides of the tart pan when baking, so make sure that it goes all the way up the sides of the tart pan to anticipate this. I found I had a pastry and extra filling (indeed, just pour enough filling up to fill the sides of the tart crust). As you can see in the photos below, I used the excess pastry and filling to make two mini lemon tarts (tiny tart pans purchased at Tiger). You could probably also do this in greased muffin tins.

Looking for other not too sweet desserts? I've also got: Lemon Squares, Lemon Ricotta Olive Cake, Lemon Poppy seed Cake, Chocolate Souffle Cake, Red Wine Chocolate Truffles, Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake, or Chocolate Loaf Cake. In search of other tarts? Check out this Dark Chocolate Tart, this Pear and Chocolate Custard Tart, these Berry Tartlets, this this Honey Pinenut TartStrawberry Jam Tart, or these savory ZucchiniCherry Tomato, or Butternut Squash tarts. Want some more recipes for my picks for the best of the best of their kind? Check out this perfect apple cake, these magnificent brownies, and these spot-on chocolate chip cookies

BEST EVER LEMON TART

Ingredients for the tart crust:
2 cups (250 grams) flour
1/2 cup (70 grams) powdered sugar
8 tablespoons (125 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks

Ingredients for the filling:
5 eggs
3/4 cup (140 grams) sugar
2/3 cup (150ml, 11 tablespoons) heavy cream
Juice from 2-3 lemons (3 1/2 ounces of liquid, or 98 grams)
2 tablespoons lemon zest

Directions:
To make the tart crust: Mix the flour and powdered sugar in a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until crumbly (you can also use a food processor for this if you want -- pulse the flour and butter together a few times). Mix in the egg yolks. If the pastry is still too dry, add 1-2 tbsp water until it comes together. Roll into a ball and flatten out the pastry with your hands. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or aluminium foil, then chill for at least 30 minutes.

While the tart dough is chilling, make the filling: Beat all the ingredients, except for the zest, together. Sieve the mixture (though if you don’t do this step because you don’t have a sieve that’s probably fine) then stir in the zest.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface (to about the thickness of a 1 euro coin, if that helps) then lift into a 23cm tart pan that is lightly buttered. Press down gently on the bottom and sides, then trim off any excess pastry. Stab a few holes in the bottom with a fork and put back in the fridge for 30 mins.
Heat oven the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). Line the tart crust with foil and fill with rice or dried beans. Bake for 10 mins, then remove the tart pan from the oven, discard the foil, and bake for another 15 or so minutes. 
When the pastry is ready, remove it from the oven, pour in the lemon mixture and bake again for 30-35 mins until just set. 
Leave to cool, then remove the tart from the tart pan and serve at room temperature or chilled, dusted with powdered sugar. Serves 10-12.
Recipe from www.bbcgoodfood.com.


























Carciofi alla giudia

 
A few things well within my culinary comfort zone: dessert, especially unadorned, every day-type cakes; pasta; bread; breakfast; roasting, definitely. I gravitate towards these things every time I look for new recipes.

A few things slightly outside my culinary comfort zone: fish and shellfish; the Thanksgiving turkey; crepes (that flipping technique!); grilling; rhubarb; artichokes. I tend to overlook recipes with these things, but I'm working on it!

For the purposes of today's post, let's go back to that last one, artichokes. Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan! - but I'd decided long ago that artichokes, or carciofi, were too cumbersome and complicated to prepare at home. They were beautiful to look at (like overgrown purple green flowers!) but seemed, well, a bit unfriendly, spiky and tough, almost defiant, if a vegetable can be so. I got my fill of the Roman carciofi alla romana and carciofi alla giudia in restaurants, paying a few euros more, yes, but preferring to leave the heavy-lifting to the restaurant chef.

I covered my former hesitations around frying in this post (turns out that huge pot of bubbling oil was a big old softie in the end). Encouraged, I'd thought I'd challenge myself again with some artichokes, but not just any artichokes! I'd also fry them, thus combining two culinary hurdles in one and taking a leap outside my comfort zone. The result were these carciofi alla giudia, a specialty of la cucina ebraica romana, or rather, Roman-Jewish cuisine (indeed, though Catholicism has always been the dominant force in Rome, the city also has a long history of Judaism -- Jewish communities in Rome have been recorded as far back as the second century BC). Roman-Jewish cuisine, like most of Italian cuisine, was born out of poverty and availability (artichokes were abundant and cheap) and a good dose of creativity. 

So, the verdict? In the end, with the help of a good knife and a YouTube tutorial or two, I found that artichokes are quite easy to clean and pare down, and once you get the hang of it, kind of fun, bound to make you feel professional and chef-y. And when you fry them in abundant amounts of oil, they become tender on the inside and gloriously crispy on the outside, akin to a potato chip, luxuriously olive-oily, and perfectly addictive with a sprinkle of salt. They're almost too pretty to eat, rose-like before frying and then bright and sunflower-like after (I'd pick a bouquet of these over a bouquet of roses any day). Make these this Spring when artichokes are at their very best and thank me later.

A couple of notes: A few things I learned frying artichokes for the first time! I would recommend using a thermometer here to measure the oil temperature, if you can; on my guinea pig round, I found I needed to cook the artichokes longer on their second round to achieve the desired deeply brown crispiness rather than the recommended one minute, probably due to the fact that the oil temperature had been off on both the first and second fry (no matter though, in the end!) Note as well that I did not have enough oil on hand when I took these photographs (just 1 liter). This worked out fine, as I just turned the artichokes periodically with a slotted soon to get them fried; if you find yourself in this same situation, be sure to let the artichokes fry, unsettled, for a bit on each side to get them nice and brown -- don't move them around too much! You can strain your leftover oil into a jar and keep, with the lid screwed on tightly, in a cool dry place for your next round of frying -- check out this article on Serious Eats for the details. Check this post for more tips on frying.

For more fried fun, check out these suppli' all'amatriciana and these castagnole di ricotta. Looking for other super Roman recipes? I've got bucatini all'amatriciana, spaghetti alla gricia, tonnarelli cacio e pepecicoria alla romana, and these maritozzi, to name just a few. Looking for other Spring-y recipes? How about these prosciutto wrapped asparagus?

CARCIOFI ALLA GIUDIA

Ingredients:
4 globe artichokes (called mammole if you're in Italy)
1.5 liters extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons
Salt
Pepper

Paper towels or wax paper, to absorb the extra oil

Directions:
Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add to it the juice of two lemons, and then the lemon halves themselves, being sure to rub a little lemon juice on your hands as well -- artichokes have the tendency to turn black when their leaves are removed, and can make the skin on your hands a little black too. Set aside the water and get to cleaning up your artichokes. Start by tearing off the tough outer leaves; you'll know you've reached the more tender ones when the color goes from purple green to pinkish green. Using a sharp knife, remove the tough bases of the leaves you've torn off.

 
Next, use your same sharp knife to remove any leaves and the tough outer layer of skin on the stem of the artichoke. Don't cut too deeply here; you want the stem to still be fairly sturdy so it holds up when it is fried. 
Once this is done, take your knife and carefully, in a circular motion (rotating the artichoke as you go) cut off the tips of the top leaves. This might take a little time as you have to go through the various leaf layers. After all this: this video here is helpful for understanding how to cut the artichokes, if my explanation above is not sufficient. It is in Italian, but just watch what the demonstrator does and you should get it regardless of whether or not you speak the language!
 
The artichoke should at this point look somewhat rose-like. Place your cleaned artichoke in the bowl with the lemon water so it doesn't turn black as you prepare your other artichokes. 
When your ready to fry, remove the artichokes from the lemon water and let them drain a minute on a paper towel; then dry them thoroughly and give them each a few knocks on the counter (or knock them against each other) to remove and water stuck in the leaves and get the leaves to open a little.
 
Your artichokes are now clean and ready to be fried! In a large pot, heat your olive oil over medium heat until it reaches about 145 degrees Celsius. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, place your artichokes in the oil. Let them fry for about 10-15 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce the base of the artichoke (right above the step). Remove the artichokes to a plate lined with paper towels or wax paper, stems up, and let them sit for 20 minutes to let the extra oil drain off and turn off the heat on your pot.
 
When the 20 minutes are up, take each artichoke and, using a fork, open up all of the leaves so it looks even more rose-like. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and let them sit for about a minute.
While your artichokes are being fluffed and seasoned, heat up the oil in the pot again, this time to about 150 degrees Celsius. When the oil is hot enough, put your artichokes back in the pot, one at a time, and let them fry for another minute or so, or until the leaves are very crispy and brown and potato-chip like. Remove them to a plate to drain again, sprinkle with a little more salt, and enjoy while they're still hot. Makes 4 artichokes.