I am not cooking today, well not for a crowd, but I am going to give you two starters and a dessert that are easy and can be made in record time. All of these are from, where else, Italy. The first is called Pinzimonio and hails from the Tuscan region of the boot. It is a mixture of raw veggies: fennel, cucumber, radish, celery, whatever you like but make it colorful. The vegetables are is served with a mixture of best olive oil with flaky salt (Malden if you have it) freshly ground pepper, and a mix of your favorite spices or herbs. That’s it. The biggest dilemma of this nibble is what service piece to use. The second is a staple appetizer in Rome. For this you need a freshly sliced baguette or whatever your favorite bakery bread is, some unsalted butter, and anchovies. Butter the bread slices and top with the anchovies. Eat. This always makes an appearance at my Christmas Eve fish festa. Now the dessert. I call this the “idiot proof cake” because I am an idiot when it comes to baking and even I can make this. It is from the late Marcella Hazan who was Venetian, so we have made a small visit to the land of divine gastronomy, not to mention art, music, and style. Ingredients are fun ingredients to follow, 1/4 cup milk, 2 eggs, pinch of salt, 1 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of flour, 4 Tablespoons butter plus some for greasing the cake pan and some Panko. What are the fun ingredients? Whatever you want. I have made this cake with a mixture of plums, a mixture of berries, chopped apples, I have added mint, nuts, but today, because it is Thanksgiving and they are in season, I made with pomegranate seeds and blueberries. Beat the milk and eggs, add the salt, the sugar, and the flour and mix until combined, then add your fun ingredients. Preheat your oven to 375. Butter a springform pan or a tart pan and sprinkle the Panko on the bottom and the sides. Dump out any of the excess. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and add the 4 Tablespoons of butter in small bits to the mix, pushing them into the batter. Bake for 35-45 minutes. I start testing at 35 minutes, cooking time will vary depending on the heat of your oven. The finished produce is delicious served as is, or can be topped with ice cream, whipped cream, powdered sugar, fruit syrups, whatever suits your taste. So there you have it. Two before and one after the big meal bits and bites. What you serve in between, well that’s up to you. Once last thing. Many thanks to all who are following me. I am so grateful for your support and encouragement. Buona Festa Di Ringraziamento

Kale. The vegetable everyone loves to hate. You’ve juiced it, mashed it, eaten it raw for salad; heavens knows what other abuse you’ve inflicted on this beleaguered green. I am going to give you an idea gleaned from Jacques Pepin ages ago. And if you are quick, you can have it ready before the o’clock kickoff to go with your chips and dip. Crispy Roasted Kale Leaves. Easy. Healthy. Cheap. You need a head of kale, stripped of the leaves and leaves torn into bite sized pieces as shown, a splash of olive oil, Kosher salt (or flaky sea salt such as Maldon), pepper, and an oven set at 350. Lay the leaves on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil, a tablespoon or so. Now, place the kale leaves on a rack and place the rack onto the baking sheet. Make sure there is space between the leaves–they won’t get crunchy if layered on top of each other. Place the pan into the oven and roast about 10 minutes until crispy. You want them to keep some of the green color so watch that they don’t burn. When done, place into a serving bowl, toss with the salt and pepper and serve. That’s it. See, even kale can be made lovable with some olive oil and salt. And here is a freebie, you can do the same thing with Brussel Sprout leaves. Separate the heads and treat the same way. Now about that kickoff…..

Yotem Ottolenghi, the master of many ingredients, has published a new book called SIMPLE. It is a beautiful text and in fact does have many simple and ingredient pared recipes. Among them, I found this, and with the preponderance of beautiful mini cauliflowers of many colors still in the green markets, I was inspired to make it. It is indeed simple: ingredients-the aforementioned cauliflower, a Tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and flaky sea salt, Maldon if you have it. He adds a green dipping sauce, but I found the sweetness and crunchiness of the cauliflower more than enough (I did serve some Greek yogurt alongside because I had a purple cauliflower and it looked so beautiful). I made this with a mini sized head, but the recipe works for any size. Here are the directions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the cauliflower, trim the stem to flatten it, but do not remove the leaves (they get crunchy and delicious in the roasting process) and place in salted boiling water head down for 5-6 minutes. Don’t worry if the head is not completely immersed. After 6 minutes, remove and place head down in a colander to drain for 10 minutes. Place drained and cooled head on a sheet pan or an oven proof dish head side up (you can use the dish for serving) and top with butter, olive oil, and a sprinkle of the the sea salt. Roast in oven for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the head. Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper. Serve as is either on the sheet pan or on the dish. Just break off the florets and eat. It is crunchy on the top, and creamy in the middle, the leaves get potato chip like, just a great vegetarian lunch or dinner side. And so much more inventive than the tiresome cauliflower rice.

This is a one ingredient appetizer. It isn’t Potato Chips. It isn’t olives. It’s Frico! What is Frico? It is a nibble made from cheese. Hard cheese, like Parmigiano Reggiano, or Manchego, or Asiago. It isn’t much in terms of a recipe, it is more about technique and a tiny bit of practice, but once mastered, you will find yourself making them often for aperitivi hour. Grate cheese so that you have 2 Tablespoons per bite. If you are only doing two, you can use a non stick pan, but for more than that it’s easier to use a rimmed baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or silpat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure your cheese and lay on baking sheet and flatten to rounds of about 3 1/2 inches leaving space between each round. Place in oven and bake for about 2 minutes. Watch carefully, you want them to be golden, if they brown too much they become bitter. When done, remove from pan with a spatula and place on a plate to serve. Once you get the hang of it, and while the Frico are still warm, you can drape the finished rounds over a bowl or a rolling pin to create a shape as shown below. If you want to jazz up your Frico, you can add some fennel or ground black pepper, some cayenne if you want some kick, its really a matter of taste. Don’t be discouraged if the first one doesn’t work. Once you get the hang of it, they go really fast, in the oven AND into your tummy.

Mommy’s Christmas Party Cheddar Puffs. I didn’t know what else to call these. In my teen years, my parents would host a Christmas Party for their neighbors and friends a week before the holiday, a tradition I continued for years as an adult. There would be a lot of items served that we never saw on a regular basis (or any basis), Mama Leone Shrimp, rumaki, different kind of preparations on toothpicks, all very exotic stuff for a teenager. One items that would appear at the last minute were these puff appetizers. Mom would take a loaf of white bread, cut off the crusts, quarter the slices into triangles to make it more “party-like”, give the bread a quick toast in the oven, and finish them with all matters of whipped egg whites tossed with crab meat or cheddar cheese or clams and a dash of paprika. They would be popped under the broiler at the last minute to be served hot. I loved them. Here is the recipe: two egg whites whipped up, a dash of cream of tartar to stabilize them, and grated cheddar cheese folded in. I had some mushrooms in the fridge, so I filled them with the mixture, but truth be told, my mother’s 1965 version with white bread was much better. Sometimes, retro is just what you need. Here’s to mom on this Columbus Day Observance.

This is a great recipe for a spread or something more exotic (that comes later). When I a make my weekly visits to Chinatown, I always end up buying more mushrooms than I need. So there are always packages clogging up the veggie drawer in the fridge. Here is a really tasty and easy way to use them. The finished product can either be used immediately or can be frozen to reuse at a future date. MUSHROOM DUXELLES. What you need for 1 cup of duxelles are 8 ounces of mushrooms of any type or a combination thereof. An aside here–mushrooms generally come in 5 ounce packages so a couple of packages will suffice with a bit left over. Just use the whole package. You won’t go to Duxelles Jail, I promise. Also you will need 2-3 Tablespoons butter, a garlic clove, minced, 2 large shallots, minced (about 3 Tablespoons) and a Tablespoon of chopped parsley. Shallots are the traditional ingredient, but if you don’t have shallots, a small white onion or a few chopped scallions will work to the same quantity. See above comment re Duxelles jail. Now on to how to make. First, chop the mushrooms. I generally do this in the food processor with a few pulses, much easier. You need a fine chop, don’t go overboard and make mush, see photo below. Remove and set aside. Next, also in the food processor, chop the garlic and shallots. You want as fine a mince as you can get, again , see below. At medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet large enough to hold your ingredients, add the garlic and shallots and sweat, don’t brown. The best way to do this is to add some water to the pan with the butter and the garlic/shallot mixture. The water will boil away and while it does that, it will sweat the vegetables. Listen for a sizzle, the louder the sizzle, the closer you are to the right stage. Now add the mushrooms, another pinch of salt and pepper and cook down for about 10 minutes. The mushrooms have alot of water, you need to cook all that out. You want a dried finished product. Stir occasionally and scrape the bottom of pan to avoid burning the mushrooms. After 10 minutes or when mushrooms are dried (see below), add the parsley. Stir through and take off heat. Set aside to cool. At this point, the duxelles can be frozen if not used right away. I generally store in 2 Tablespoon servings in a freezer bag. Here are some great ways to eat. Idea 1: Mushroom crostini are a very popular snack to go with aperitivi in Tuscan cuisine. Just toast some baguette slices and top with duxelles. Idea 2: Seve to your vegetarian friends as mushroom fried rice. Why not, cauliflower fried rice is all the rage, and this is soooo much better! Idea 3: use as a filling for Sunday brunch omelets. Idea 4: thicken gravy to use with roast chicken or for whatever you may be making gravy (that Thanksgiving turkey comes to mind). And now for the mother of all uses. At the beginning of this post I promised you something exotic. As a topping for beef. But not just any beef, easy Beef Wellington. Remember those sheets of puff pastry we used to make straws the other day? Here is another use for them. Traditional Beef Wellington utilizes a large and costly cut of meat. Rather than buying the “chateaubriand”, buy individual filet mignons, one per serving. Cook in your traditional manner until the steaks are 1/2 done. Allow steaks to cool completely. You can do this hours even a day before serving. You need the beef cool because it will help the puff pastry puff and you don’t want to over cook the beef when it goes into the oven a second time. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350. Melt some butter to top the Wellingtons. Lightly roll out a one of your squares, one for each serving. Place a tablespoon of duxelles on top of each steak and lay a square of pastry on top of all. You can fuss with wrapping if you like, but I promised easy. Place each Wellington on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and top with melted butter. If you are artsy, you can slice a design on top of the pastry but DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH! Also, if you have cooked your steak for different degrees of doneness for your guests, you can mark the Wellingtons with either their initials or R for rare, M for medium, or, God forgive me, W for well. Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until pastry is golden and cooked through. Pour yourself a glass of Gigondas, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Cabernet, whatever you like. You’ve earned it. Your dinner will be gorgeous, easy to prepare, and you will look like a rock star. Bon Appetit!

Mommy’s Cocktail Cigars. Actually, my mother called these ham roll-ups but that just doesn’t sound cool. They were made to go with pre-dinner cocktails for her and my dad. She would make one and cut into 4 pieces, but you can expand your serving size. In fact I would encourage you to do so. So what are they? Slices of ham spread with cream cheese and topped with horseradish. Roll, cut, and skewer (or not). Great item to make in advance for pre game nibbles at a tailgate party. I make them now with marscapone because it is so 2018 and not so 1960. And since horseradish root is readily available now, use that if you prefer a stronger taste. It keeps forever in the fridge and can be used for other dishes. Want to make it richer? Mix some heavy cream into the cheese and top the slices with that. Don’t like ham? Use turkey and mix a bit of chopped cranberry into the cheese before spreading on the slice. Roast beef is a great pair with horseradish if you are a beef eater and I would definitely mix the heavy cream into the cheese if I were using beef. Don’t eat meat? Use smoked salmon. Delicious. Or make a platter using all of the above. it will look beautiful and suit pretty much all appetites. My parents’ cocktails of choice were Martinis or Manhattans (think 1960), but you can serve these with Aperol Spritzes or white white spritzers if that is your choice. No offense will be taken.

IMG_0825 (1)

Taking a time out from posting nibbles to give you a recipe for all those end of season tomatoes that are still available. Most vendors now will bag the round or sometimes Roma tomatoes and sell in bulk. Really cheaply. At my market, 4 pounds for 5 dollars. So this is a fool proof idea for tomato sauce that can be made in bulk and frozen in baggies for the winter when the tomatoes are not really good and the jarred sauce is just too expensive. For this recipe which uses 4 pounds and will make roughly 6 cups of puree, you will need tomatoes, freezer quart sized baggies, a covered pot large enough to hold the raw tomatoes, a big bowl, a food mill, some wax or parchment paper (or a silpat if you have), and a cookie sheet. You really do need a food mill for this. You can use a blender, but the seeds will be incorporated into the finished product and make the puree bitter. No one likes bitter tomato sauce (or soup or Bloody Marys). No seasoning whatsoever, you will do that later when you actually put the puree to use. Quarter the tomatoes and put into the pot. The tomatoes will give off enough water as they steam so you do not need any additional liquid which would only dilute the puree. Cover and put on medium heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. They will melt down into kind of mush as shown. When done, place your food mill over the large bowl and mill the tomatoes in batches. Include the tomato water. Allow the puree to cool and put 2 cups into each baggie. Lay a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet (so the baggies don’t stick) and then lay the baggies flat on top. Add another sheet of wax paper and repeat until all the puree is used. Place sheet into freezer. When the sauce has frozen, remove from the cookie sheet and place upright to store (doesn’t take up much freezer space that way). For extra protection, if you want, you can place the bags into a larger baggie. This puree can be used to make your favorite sauce, as a base for tomato soup, and for those boozy brunch Sundays, Bloody Mary mix. It keeps well and the taste of fresh tomatoes in January, when summer seems to be an eternity away, is bliss.

Grilled Cheese and Bacon with a twist because white bread, Kraft American slices and Hormel bacon are soooo yesterday. This little bite incorporates butter, gluten free corn tortillas, Boursin Cheese (you know you have it somewhere in the back of the fridge), and leftover prosciutto from the melon salad you served over the weekend. Let the cheese come to room temperature. Melt some butter in a non stick pan. While the butter is melting, slather two tortillas with Boursin cheese. Place a slice of prosciutto between the two slices and press together. Now place the “sandwich” on the butter and cook until toasty, turn and repeat. Slice into quarters and there you have it! If you prefer, you can use a neutral oil in place of the butter, but why? If you want to use those little prosciutto bits, brown them first before adding to the tortilla. You can even serve it for breakfast which is what I have done for the past two mornings. For those of you who do classy tailgate parties, these can be made ahead of time and wrapped in wax paper or clear wrap until ready to cook. Easy to cook, virtually no clean up, makes room in the fridge, and really tasty.

This Chili Pepper Jam recipe is drawn from DAVID ROCCO’S “LA DOLCE VITA” series. It is another use for all those peppers arriving at the farmer’s markets. And might be a good project for a rainy weekend. The end product will last for quite a while and has so many uses. First the recipe. These dimensions will yield roughly 4 cups of jam. I generally divide them into 4 x 1 cup jars. You will need 1 1/2 pounds of a mix mix of red and yellow bell peppers (roughly 4 peppers), 1/2 pound mix of spicy peppers, the milder spiced peppers like jalapeno will give you a milder finish-I use a mix of jalapeno, Serrano and habanero but it is a matter of taste, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, and 4 cups sugar. Two bits of advice before proceeding. Use rubber gloves to work with the peppers, and if you have one, use a food mill to puree the peppers. You can use a blender, the texture won’t be the same but it isn’t critical. Ok. Put on the gloves. Seed and halve all the peppers. Did I say to use gloves? Add them to a pot with the apple cider vinegar and cook for about 20 minutes or until the peppers are very soft. Remove the peppers, rinse out the pot and set the pot aside for later use. Put the peppers into a colander to drain and press out as much of the liquid as possible and discard it. Now puree the peppers either with a food mill or in a blender. If using a food mill, discard the skins. Don’t taste it at this point, it is very bitter and not very appealing. Be patient, the good part is coming. Return the pepper puree back to the pot and bring the heat up to medium. Add the sugar a bit at a time, stirring after each addition to dissolve until all the sugar has been used. Cook for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers have a jelly like appearance. The the color of the resulting product will range from gold to garnet depending on the colors of peppers you use. Allow to cool and transfer to jars. Store at room temperature. Now, what to do with this yummy stuff? Top your buttered toast with it. Top your favorite cheese with it. Eat it with dark chocolate for dessert (a personal favorite). Do you top your bacon with syrup? Use this instead. You can use it to coat a pork tenderloin or chops or ribs for grilling. The uses are only limited by your imagination. And, if you make a lot of it, give some to your friends. Sharing is a good thing. One more thing. Don’t forget to wear the gloves.