Friday, May 28, 2010


Many years ago on CityLine - Canada's longest running lifestyle show - Sandra Pittana, the fashion expert who is a regular guest on the show, deviated from the norm of fashionista and from her kitchen showed how she made her favourite recipe for biscotti. This particular recipe yields quite of lot of cookies so the dough can be divided into two or three bowls to which you can add different ingredients such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, cranberries, dried cherries, chocolate chips or any combination thereof, and end up with three different flavoured biscotti. Of course I knew that I would try this recipe, and although I’d been making biscotti for a while, after trying these any prior recipe became history and this one became my favourite. Until recently.

As Ontarians we have to buy our liquor from the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). Yes, our government has total control of the liquor sold here, and why would they give that up to privatization? After all, the LCBO is a cash cow for them. Now that I got that off my chest, I will say that the LCBO has two pluses: one is that the stores are really beautiful and wonderful to shop from (not like the old dowdy establishments they use to run years ago, where you would hand a requisition with a list of liquor you wanted to purchase to a clerk who in turn would go to the back to retrieve your bottles) with well stocked aisles of every kind of liquor and wine you might want, including a vintage section. Some of the stores offer taste samples and run cooking classes as well. The second is that they put out the Food and Drink magazine about six times a year, a beautiful glossy magazine with great recipes and gorgeous mouth watering photos to whet your appetite and it’s free. You can check out their website for all their past issues’ recipes.

In the recent “Early Summer 2010” issue in the Techniques 101 section of the magazine was a recipe for Biscotti. The photos begged to be made and it was an easy recipe to put together as well. This recipe called for dried cherries but since I’m not so crazy about them, I thought I would substitute them with cranberries which I prefer. When I started the recipe, I realized I didn’t have any on hand, so I opted for currants instead which I like as well and thankfully had on hand.
You basically mix the dry ingredients along with the nuts and fruit in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another and mix the two together. The dough is slightly wetter than the one in Sandra Pittana’s recipe so I found that rubbing some oil on your hands before shaping helps to keep all the sticky dough off your hands. After you have shaped them into two ovals along the width of the sheet pan you bake them for about 35 minutes. After cooling slightly you cut them into 1/2” slices and bake again to dry them, very easy. The biscotti were delicious and a couple of days later I made them again with cranberries. This time I shaped the dough along the length of the pan so that when you sliced the loaves the biscotti were a bit smaller in length. They were also very good.
So now I have two recipes for biscotti that I love. One yields more biscotti and you can easily divide the dough to add different nuts and fruit or chocolate to have a variety of flavours. The other is just slightly easier to mix together because you use oil instead of butter. I’ve included recipes for both.
Best Biscotti
Sandra Pittana

4 eggs
2 tbsp. liqueur (brandy, amaretto, etc)
2 tbsp. vanilla
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

Wisk together eggs, liqueur and vanilla.

Sift together, flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Gradually beat in egg
mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in flour mixture. Divide into 3 or 4 equal

Add flavourings to each individual dough, enough that there are lots of chunks but not so much that the dough can’t hold together. (Between ¾ cup and 1 cup total per dough if divided in four pieces 1-1/3 cups if divided into three pieces.)

On two parchment-lined baking sheets, shape into 12 by 1-1/2 inch logs for 4 pieces, or 16 x 1-1/2 inch logs for 3 pieces.
Bake in a preheated 325 F. oven for 30 minutes or until firm and golden. Let cool on baking sheet 15 minutes; transfer to a cutting board.
Cut diagonally into ½ inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Lay cookies flat in baking sheets; bake about 25 minutes longer or until golden brown and crisp, turning once during baking.
Makes about 5 dozen biscotti.

Suggested flavours for additions:

• Pistachio, dried cranberries or cherries, white chocolate and orange zest.

• Orange zest, cinnamon, dried cranberries and toasted pecans.

• Almonds, white and dark chocolate chunks or chips.

• Orange zest, almonds or pecans, and cranberries.

Cherry Almond Biscotti
Food & Drink Magazine
Butter, to grease cookie sheet (I used parchment paper)
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
½ cup dried cherries (cranberries, currants, chocolate)
1 tbsp. grated orange rind
3 large eggs
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh orange juice or amaretto
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of Salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, chopped almonds, cherries, and orange rind.
3. Whisk together eggs and olive oil. Stir in orange juice. Make a well in middle of dry ingredients and slowly stir in liquid ingredients to form a dough.
4. Divide dough and place on cookie sheet. Shape into 2 loaves, about 9 x 5 inches. Brush on beaten egg and sprinkle with salt and sugar. Bake for 30 minutes or until dough is a golden colour with cracks on top. It will not be firm to the touch.
5. Cool on racks for 20 minutes, then cut into ½-inch slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes on each side or until golden brown and dried out. Cool on racks.
Makes 24 pieces.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Nonna's Lasagna

Without doubt or bias my mother’s lasagna is the best darn lasagna you will ever taste and that’s not just my opinion. Just ask anyone who has had the pleasure of savouring a plate of this stuff and they will salivate at any mention of it. My son always asks his grandmother if lasagna will be served for a special dinner, though he need not ask as it always is the first course of a celebration dinner. On the rare occasions that lasagna isn’t served, my husband has become quite indignant at its absence. My son and my nephew, both huge fans of this dish, will gladly forego the second course for a second helping.

My mother will gladly share her recipe, with pride, to anyone who asks, and as a matter of fact she might just volunteer to show you how. She doesn't have this recipe written anywhere, and as a matter of fact, unlike me, she rarely cooks with a recipe. My nephew Rob and his girlfriend Chantal recently went over for a lesson and wrote all about it You can just imagine how happy my mother was when after she taught them how, they volunteered to make lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner. It was delicious! So where did my mother learn to make such amazing lasagna? The story I was told long, long ago was that my uncle, a pastry chef, who lived with us at the time, had a chef friend who came over for dinner and volunteered to cook a lasagna for dinner for us. Not a bad little deal, and in the process my mother learned to make it.
This lasagna is made up of four components; the pasta, a really simple but flavourful bolognese sauce, a bechamel sauce, and two cheeses, parmigiano and mozzerella.
What really surprised me was that she had never heard of lasagna when she lived in Italy over 55 years ago. Maybe it was a southern Italian specialty that just hadn't made it up north at that time. With my curiosity peaked, I googled “origins of lasagna” and was surprised that a recipe for loseyn, pronounced lasan was found in what is believed to be the first cookbook written in England back in the 14th century, a dish of layers of pasta, sauce, and meat. There would not have been a tomato based sauce here as the tomato would not be imported to England for another two hundred years. Did the English really have pasta back then? It is highly unlikely that it all started in England as there is evidence of similar layering of pasta and cheese recipes prior to the 14th century from Italy. The latin word lasanum translates to cooking chamber and the dish that was prepared in it later took the name of the vessel in which it was cooked in.

However it came to be I’m just glad that the chef who came over all those years ago decided to make lasagna for us because we have been enjoying it ever since. I don't make lasagna nearly as often as my mother does, but I made this one a few weeks ago and although my son insists that nobody makes it like Nonna, it didn't stop him from going for seconds.

Nonna's Lasagna

2 pkg. Lasagna Noodles
1 recipe of meat sauce
1 recipe of Béchamel sauce
1b. Mozzarella cheese
Parmigiano cheese
2 tbsp. butter

Bolognese Sauce

2 oz. Olive oil
1 Onion, chopped
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Stalk celery, diced
1 Carrot, chopped very fine
2 lbs. Ground beef, veal and pork
2 tbsp. Tomato paste
2 Bay leaves
Pinch Nutmeg
6 oz. Red wine
3 – 28 oz cans Peeled tomatoes, crushed
1 cup Beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté the onion, garlic, celery and carrot for about 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in tomato paste. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

Béchamel Sauce

4 tbsp. Butter
4 tbsp. Flour
1/8 tsp. Nutmeg
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan melt butter and add the flour stirring for a few minutes. Do not allow to brown or you will have to start over again. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper and add milk stirring constantly with a whisk to eliminate lumps. When the sauce is thickened and bubbly remove from the heat. If the sauce thicken as it sits just add more milk.

Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water until cooked to desired doneness.
Drain in colander and rinse with cold water and lay out noodles on a piece of parchment paper or waxed paper or a clean tablecloth.

Grease a 9” x 13” baking pan. Lightly coat the bottom with a few spoonfuls of sauce. Then top with a single layer of lasagna then a light coat of béchamel sauce and a few tablespoon of meat sauce to cover pasta evenly and top the sauce with a sprinkling of grated mozzarella cheese and parmigiano cheese. Continue this layering until you reach the top of the pan ending with sauce and a light sprinkling of cheese and then dot with butter. At this point it can be covered and refrigerated until ready to bake or covered with plastic and aluminum foil and put into the freezer.
Remove from freezer remove the plastic and thaw before baking.

Bake at 350 F. for about 1 hour.

Let cool ten minutes so that it doesn’t fall apart when serving.