Homemade Focaccia with Sea Salt and Rosemary


3 ½ cups 00 Flour or unbleached flour
1 packet instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt for dough, more for topping
1 1/2 cups warm (100 degree) water, plus extra as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil for the bowl
2-3 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for top of focaccia
Drizzle thick balsamic vinegar

Making the dough:
Place the flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl or use a food processor and pulse. With the machine running, add enough warm water to make soft dough that does not stick to the sides of the processor bowl; pulse for 30-45 seconds. If the dough is dry, add a little more water. When you have dough a formed, transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead 5-8 minutes until the dough bounces back at the tough using your thumb. Shape into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest and rise at room temperature 2-3 hours.

Baking the dough:
When you are ready to bake the focaccia, preheat the oven with a baking stone if available to 500F. It’s best to bake at the convection setting.

Drizzle a little oil on a baking sheet if you don’t have a baking stone.  Stretch the dough  on the baking sheet.  If the dough is not relaxed the dough may not stretch.  Just leave the semi-stretch dough on the baking sheet and cover again with a kitchen towel for about 30-45 minutes.  Uncover and stretch the dough again, it should stretch easily. You do not need to stretch the dough perfectly to fit the shape of the baking sheet, rustic is better!

Once the dough is stretched on the baking sheet, drizzle the olive oil all over the focaccia, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh rosemary.  Transfer the focaccia to the hot oven and bake about 15-20 minutes until the dough is golden on the bottom and lightly golden on the top. Remove from oven and baking sheet and cut into squares.  For a delicious finish, drizzle an aged or thick balsamic on top.
00 flour

Tip: if the dough is still a little sticky when removed from the bowl or processor, sprinkle some flour on the surface and knead the flour in. Keep repeating this process until you have supple dough. 
Fig Marmalade or Preserve
I love adding fig preserve on top of the focaccia when it comes out of the oven hot, and then serving it as a dessert with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Enjoy!

Ricotta and Strawberry Filled Croissants

Ricotta Filled Croissant (French Toast)

6 small croissants
1 small container whole ricotta, drained overnight
4 tablespoons whole milk, or almond milk
Zest 1 orange
4 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons rum, optional
2-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, dried, diced (some whole for decoration)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
Powdered sugar for decorating

In a bowl add the ricotta, zest, sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix well until creamy. Add the diced strawberries.

With a sharp knife cut the croissant in the center leaving the ends uncut (pockets to be filled).  Fill each croissant with the ricotta mixture. Do not overfill, or the filling may come out during cooking.

In a deep dish, add the eggs, milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and rum if using. Mix well.

Heat a large skillet with a little butter. Dip each croissant in the egg mixture; cook in the skillet on medium heat until just golden on both sides, turning only once.  Transfer to a serving dish.

Continue cooking the rest of the French toast using the butter as needed in the skillet and not all at once. When ready, sprinkle with powdered sugar or honey, and fresh sliced strawberries on top.

Straining the ricotta

I recently was asked to do French toast for a brunch. I wanted to come up with an Italian version that is slightly enriched from the classic French toast recipe. I decided to stuff them first with fresh strawberries and mascarpone; however after testing with ricotta I found it to be lighter and more delicious. This recipe is easy to prepare and I serve it not just for brunch, as a dessert as well.

Lentil Soup in Red Wine and Broccoli

Lentil Soup in Red Wine and Broccoli 

10 ounces fresh broccoli florets
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cup red wine, divided
1 medium sweet onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery stalk, minced
8 ounces small lentils, rinsed                                                                                                   
2 bay leaves                                                                                                                 
6 ounces tomato sauce    
4-5 cups broccoli water
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes                                                 
Pinch ground coriander
Small Brown Lentils

Steam or boil the broccoli florets for 2-3 minutes.  Strain reserving all of the broccoli water and set aside.

In a small skillet, add a few drops of olive oil and coriander seeds on low heat; stir until just fragrant.  Add the broccoli florets; cook on medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup of wine and cook to reduce by half.

In a large pan, on medium-low heat, add the 2 tablespoons oil. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook 8-10 minutes or until soft. Add the lentils; cook 10 minutes. Add ½ cup wine and reduce slightly.  Add the bay leaves, tomato sauce, and some of the broccoli water; Cover and cook 10-15 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Remove the bay leaves and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes as needed.

Serve the soup in bowls with a tablespoon of hot broccoli in the center, a thread of olive oil, and a sprinkle of ground coriander.

Broccoli Florets

Lentils are legumes rich in nutrients, which are typically enjoyed as a side dish or a main soup entrée.  These lentils are cooked in sautéed vegetables, flavored with aromatic bay leaves and coriander seeds, and with a rich red wine reduction. In Italy, when lentils are prepared in larger quantity, it symbolizes good fortune and abundance coming throughout the year, especially if they are cooked for New Year’s Eve.

Have fun discovering my Lentils Soup in Red Wine and Broccoli recipe. 

Vellutata of Potatoes with Spinach Polpettine

Vellutata of Potatoes with Spinach Polpettine (Velvety Potato Soup with Spinach Balls)
1 large sweet onion, diced        
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil                                                            
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced                                                         
3 carrots, peeled and diced                                                                        
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper          
Pinch red pepper flakes
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese      
Drizzle thick aged balsamic                                                                             
Spinach Polpettini:
1 pound fresh spinach, roughly chopped
¼ - ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
5 ounces grated parmesan
6-8 ounces breadcrumbs
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper          

Diced Potato

For the Vellutata: In a saucepan, sauté the onion in oil until just golden on medium low heat. Add the potatoes and carrots, sauté 2-3 minutes. Add warm water about 2 inches over the potatoes. Cook until it boils; reduce to a simmer and cook about 25-30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. When the Vellutata is ready, blend with stick blender.  Taste, add the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Taste again.  Cook 5 more minutes, adding a little water if the vellutata is too thick. Stir the grated Parmesan cheese.  

Spinach Polpettini: In a skillet, drizzle a few drops of olive oil, add spinach and nutmeg; cook spinach until it just wilts.  Transfer to a strainer for a few minutes to cool. When cool, press to remove any excess liquid.

Place the spinach in a bowl; add the eggs, parmesan and half of the breadcrumbs. Knead the dough so that it is compact.  If too soft add more breadcrumbs. Form small balls.  Cook the spinach polpettini in a skillet with a few drops of olive oil until just crispy on all sides.

Pour the velvety soup in the dishes, then complete by adding the spinach balls on top, and a drizzle of thick balsamic.
Sweet Onion

No cream required!
This potato soup is an easy recipe to prepare and perfect for the cold winter months: a first course for everyone, even for vegetarians.

If using a stick blender, the soup will become very velvety no cream is required.  If the soup is too thick for you, just add a little more liquid.  If it’s too watery, warm without a lid for a few minutes until the liquid reduces. For added flavor, replace the warm water with either vegetable or chicken broth.

Easy Corn Soufflé for the Holidays

Baked Corn Souffle 

3 cups corn (fresh) sweet corn, husked
1/2 cup diced or shredded Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons diced poblano pepper, or to taste
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Unsalted butter, for the soufflé molds
4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Butter four (3/4 to 1 cup) soufflé molds. Sprinkle each mold with Parmesan cheese.

In a small skillet add the oil. When hot, sauté poblano pepper to just golden. Cool and set aside.

Using a sharp knife, cut the corn kernels off the cobs. Put the corn, Gruyère , half-and-half, eggs, poblano pepper, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes in a food processor, pulse a few times until fairly smooth. Add the chives and pulse to mix. Sprinkle with extra pepper and grated cheese on top.

Fill with the molds with corn mixture and place on a baking sheet. Bake the soufflés 10-25 minutes, until puffy, golden, and set. Serve right away.
Fresh Corn on the Husk

Note:  if you cannot find fresh corn, use frozen corn.  Put the frozen corn in a strainer and over a bowl and place in the refrigerator to thaw out overnight.  Before using the corn, dry with a dish towel to remove any excess water. 

This recipe has been adapted from Jacque Pepin Corn Souffle 

A Great Chef Knife for the Perfect Meal

Choosing a quality chef knife

Many of you have asked me which knife is best to use for cooking at home. Here is some information that may help you choose:

Quality chef’s tools are the most important part of preparing the perfect meal. There’s no doubt that foremost among tools is a quality chef’s knife. A chef’s knife works as an extension of the arm in every step of the cooking process from prep to plating. The perfect knife needs to be able to handle big, bulky foods but also be delicate enough to handle smaller, more fragile foods.

The team at Reviews.com recently looked at leading knife brands to find which performed the best, ultimately hand-testing 11 models. While some knives rose to the top as great performers, one of the most important things they found was that there is no one perfect knife for everyone. The best way to go about finding a great knife is to get an idea of your preferences and then handle knives in-store to find what feels best.

Knife framework:
Those who are newer in the kitchen or who may not have formal training may want to familiarize themselves with the anatomy of a kitchen knife. This will help you understand what you’re reading about different knife specs and make communication easier with salespeople you may run into.

Butt - the back end of the handle
Heel - the back end of the blade, close to the fingers
Tip - the front half of the blade (not to be confused with the point)
Point - the pointy part at the end of the knife
Edge - the sharp side of the blade.
Spine - the top of the blade, this part isn’t sharp
Tang - the steel that extends past your knife and into the handle
Bolster - the thick band of steel between the handle and the heel
Granton Edge - the dimpling on the blade to keep food from sticking

Knife anatomy

Other Considerations
Now that you’re familiar with the knife’s different parts, there are a few key questions to ask yourself:

How long should the knife be?
There is a huge variety of knife lengths available for purchase. For a great multitasking knife (known as a chef’s knife or a kitchen knife), look for an 8” model. Experts like Epicurious agree that this is a great standard size that is big enough to tackle most jobs but small enough to handle for delicate movements. Smaller and larger knives than these definitely have their own place in the kitchen and are even more important in professional cooking environments, but experts like Huffington Post agree that an 8” knife is a great place to start.

How much should it weigh?
While it’s easy enough to recommend a knife length to start at, weight is much more up to the individual. These tools should be light enough to perform delicate tasks, but large enough to accomplish large prep jobs. Of course, the weight of a knife model is relative to the size of the person handling it, so this is another aspect that’s up to personal preference. 

How much should I spend?
Your choice of budget will depend very much on your own personal needs. How often will you be using it? Are you a professional or recreational chef? Are you a master culinarian or still working on your knife skills? A bigger investment doesn’t always mean a vastly better knife, but price loosely follows quality. For those who are less frequent users and have less demanding needs in the kitchen, a lower-priced option may be ideal. For professionals who need a high-performing knife, a bigger investment may be appropriate.

For additional information or to see which model may be the best fit for you,  please visit here: https://www.reviews.com/chef-knife/

Aegean Beef Kebabs with Yogurt Sauce

Aegean Beef Kebabs 

1 pound ground beef (80-85 %)
1 onion, grated
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 tablespoon red pepper paste or tomato paste
Ground Paprika
1 teaspoon dried mint, optional
1-2 tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, kneading well with hands.

Divide the meat into 10 balls and shape like a burger. Place on skewer and stretch and pull the patty to the length of skewer.  Repeat the process.

Slightly oil a frying pan or stove top grill.  Cook turning only once until the meat begins to lightly char.

Yogurt sauce
In a bowl, mix: 1 cup strained yogurt, 2 garlic cloves mashed to a paste, pinch paprika, ½ teaspoon dry mint, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. 

Aegean Kebabs with 2 skewers

I use 2 skewers for each kebab, it holds the meat in place without any worries.  These Kebabs can be made the day before.  You can also freeze them easily for future use.  

Orange and Fennel Salad

Orange and Fennel Salad

3 large juicy organic oranges
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
1 bulb fresh fennel (reserve the greens)
A drizzle Champagne vinegar
A drizzle extra virgin olive oil
Cracked pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fennel greens, roughly chopped

Peel the oranges, and slice to thin round. Place the slices on a serving platter overlapping each other slightly. Cut the fennel into thin slices. Place on top of orange slices. Finely slice or dice the red onion and place on top of orange and fennel slices.

Drizzle the salad with olive oil and vinegar and season with cracked pepper.

Top with fennel greens.  Let it stand for about 20-30 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy the wonderful juice this salad will produce.

This recipe brings back sweet memories of my dear grandfather; it was his favorite fresh salad and mine to make. I can still swell the sweet fragrance of the oranges as we peeled them. 

Maghreb Hummus and Olive Salad

Hummus and Olive Salad

1 large (28 ounces) can garbanzo beans, drained
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest 1 lemon, and juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup tahini (ground sesame paste)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 - 1/3 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
Warm water, as needed
Olive Salad
20-30 mixed green and black olives (with pits)
1-2 tablespoons minced roasted red peppers
1-2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/3 – 1/2 cup robust extra virgin olive oil
Ground paprika for decoration
Ground cumin for decoration

Combine the chickpeas, garlic, zest, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, and salt in a food processor and pulse. Gradually add some warm water a little at a time, scraping the sides of processor. Pulse again. Add the oil. Keep blending until you get a smooth consistency.  Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, spices, or lemon juice as needed. (Note: mix the tahini in jar well before using)

Place hummus in a medium-sized round plate or bowl, and create a shallow well in the center to make room for the olive salad.  Run a small fork around the edges (rim) of the hummus to create ridges.  Drizzle a thread of olive oil on the ridges.

Place olives, roasted peppers and parsley in the well. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into it. Sprinkle and alternate pinches of paprika and cumin on ridges as a decoration for color.  Serve with pita, naan bread, or any flat bread of your choice.
olive bar

This chickpea hummus is a typical appetizer in the Maghreb and the Middle East. It is colorful, easy to make, and really flavorful.  I add olive in the middle so that I have two appetizers in one dish.  It is usually accompanied at a table with other vibrant appetizers, bread, and raw vegetables. 

Magical Eggs in Balsamic

Balsamic Hard-boiled Eggs

12 hard- boiled eggs
1 – ½ cups Secolari California Balsamic vinegar

Warm the balsamic vinegar. Place the eggs in glass container. Pour the warm balsamic vinegar over the eggs.  Let cool and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Be sure to turn the eggs occasionally so that they will be evenly colored. When you have the desired color, remove eggs from balsamic.  The eggs can be served on a salad, for Easter, or to decorate an antipasto platter.

You can also reserve the balsamic and make another batch before discarding.

The balsamic vinegar is a popular condiment on our Italian table. In Italy we are fortunate enough to be able to count on high quality balsamic made with cooked must of grapes that come exclusively from the province of Modela and Eggio Emilia. 

Traditionally the balsamic vinegar is used for salads, vegetables, sauces, dips and marinades. It is served as a condiment for appetizers and sometimes used in drops on cheeses such as Parmesan and Mozzarella. It is also used to garnish ice cream and sweets.

For this recipe, I used a medium quality California balsamic vinegar because of the large quantity I needed.  I save the luxurious Modena balsamic for more cherished drizzling's.

Leeks and Cheese Pie

Leeks and Cheese Pie

2 ready-made pie crusts
2-3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 large leeks, cleaned thoroughly**
Sea salt
Black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons golden raisins
1 ½ cups shredded Gruyere or Fontina 
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

To clean the leeks, loosen the outer leaves, cut off the tough green leaves and root, on the opposite side. Open them with a sharp knife.  Cut  first, then rinse them several times. I also soak them in a large bowl of cold water for 15-20 minutes. Then I rinse them one more time.  To cook these leeks just dry them with paper towel to remove excess water before cooking. 
Fresh leek
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium size skillet, add the oil and leeks on medium-low heat.  Cook until the leeks are soft and barely golden.  Add the salt, pepper, and spices and combine.  Lastly combine the raisins and cook another minutes. 

Place the first pie crust on the parchment paper.  Spread the leek mixture on the pie leaving about an inch gap. Sprinkle the cheeses on top. Place the other pie crust on top. With a fork or with fingers bring the edges together to close.  Brush with egg wash and bake about 30 minutes or until the top is golden.

Leeks, golden raisins, and spices
 The leek is a tasty and versatile vegetable, a little treasure that can be used in cooking to flavor recipes in place of onion.  It is more delicate in taste.  

Halloumi and Endive Salad

Halloumi and Endive Salad

3 endives, cut in cubes (diced)
Juice ½ lemon
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided  
Flour for dredging
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 halloumi cheese, thinly sliced

Mix the lemon juice, 2-3 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper in a bowl; mix well. Add the cut endives and mix again.

Dredge the halloumi slices in flour, shaking off any excess flour.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, when hot at the halloumi cheese and cook until golden brown on both sides, turning only once.

When ready, transfer the endive salt to a serving plate, add the cooked cheese. Serve warm.

Halloumi is a Cypriot firm, brined, slightly springy white cheese, traditionally made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk, or cow’s milk. It has a high melting point so it can be fried or grilled. The texture of Halloumi changes when grilled or pan fried from strong salty flavor to a creamier texture.

This is a delicious treat when you are looking to change up a routine salad dish. This recipe can be served as a Tapas, Meze, or Salad. 

Sweet Onion and Fennel Frittata

Sweet Onion and Fennel Frittata

1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
4 tablespoons minced fresh fennel greens, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced
Fresh Fennel
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, 3 tablespoons fennel greens, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and grated cheese. Stir to combine.

In 8-inch non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion and fennel, stirring occasionally, until softened and barely golden, about 7-10 minutes. Gently add the egg mixture; cook over medium-low heat until bottom is set, about 10 minutes. Flip over carefully, and cook a few more minutes until the other side is set.  Remove from heat, cut into wedges, sprinkle 1 tablespoon fresh fennel greens on top, and serve warm.