Food, Glorious Food

Thanksgiving is almost exactly two weeks away (although, with the sudden appearance of Christmas lights and wintry décor, you might have thought it already passed). Now is the time to start collecting new recipes to mix in with your tried-and-true, traditional favorites.

Lucky for me, I’ve got lots of chefs (and eager PR peops) who are willing to share some of their best-kept secrets so that you—and me—can get our Thanksgiving on in high culinary style.

This week, it’s Thanksgiving with an Italian flair, featuring a four-course meal from self-taught kitchen whiz and Bertolini’s executive chef Leroy Sam.

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The back story on Chef Leroy is that he jumped into the profession in 1979, while his brother was operating the famous Cotton House on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. One of his most illustrious experiences during that time was preparing a meal for the Queen of England when she visited the restaurant, a nice feather in his cap.

In 1982, Leroy was enticed to move to the United States to begin working in a series of restaurants in Chicago and then New York. Currently at Bertolini’s, he’s charged with creating daily specials to complement the regular menu offerings, carefully combining quality ingredients, textures, flavors and presentation to create the perfect dish. His culinary influences from France, Italy and the Caribbean are evident in the special touch he provides to everything that leaves his kitchen.

The menu below is a great option if you’re looking for something different, but not too. And accompaniments to the turkey, such as the butternut squash soup and pumpkin ravioli, can be enjoyed with other bold proteins like lamb, beef or venison for a hearty cold-weather meal anytime during the winter.

As always, I’d love to know how the recipes turn out, so please, don’t be shy.

Starting course: Antipasti freddi (cold) and antipasti caldi (hot); the freddi will include an antipasti plate of assorted Italian cheeses, olives and sliced vegetables, and the hot appetizer will include butternut squash soup (zuppe) with roasted chestnut cream.

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The first course, or primo piatti: Pumpkin ravioli with hazelnut brown butter, garnished with toasted hazelnuts.

The main course, or secondi piatti: Features traditional American favorites like roasted turkey breast stuffed with fennel-scented sausage, apple chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potato puree.

Dessert, or dolce: Ricotta pumpkin cheesecake and biscotti.

Recipes on page 2 …

For the Antipasto

Pasta Salad:
1 lb. campanelle (pasta shaped like a small cone with a ruffled edge; also known as gigli), cooked
4 oz. green peas
4 oz. blanched asparagus tips
4 oz. blanched broccoli florets
2 tbsp. julienne basil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

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• Toss all ingredients until combined.

Marinated Vegetables:
8 oz. roasted zucchini
4 oz. roasted carrots
2 oz. green olives
2 oz. Kalamata olives
8 oz artichoke hearts
4 oz. pepperoncini
6 oz. roasted mushrooms
4 oz. roasted red bell peppers
4 oz. roasted green bell peppers
4 oz. red wine vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. minced garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste

• Toss all ingredients until combined.

To assemble:
• Arrange pasta salad, marinated vegetables, sliced salami, sliced prosciutto, sopressata, fresh mozzarella cheese and sliced Provolone cheese on a platter, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and garnish with fresh basil sprigs.

Continued on page 3 …

Butternut Squash Soup

4 oz. unsalted butter
1 cup onion, finely diced
3 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 large Idaho potato, peeled and diced
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 oz. honey
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
Salt and pepper, to taste

• In a large saucepan, melt butter and add onions. Sweat onion until transparent, about five minutes, then add squash, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, and sauté for another minute.
• Add chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Remove soup from heat and puree.
• Add heavy cream and honey. Stir to combine, and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Hazelnut Brown Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts

2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
Dash of nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste

• Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl until combined. Check consistency and adjust, if necessary.

Fresh Pasta:
20 oz. Durum flour
4 eggs
2 oz. water
1/2 tsp. salt

• In a stainless steel mixing bowl, add flour and make a well in the center.
• Mix together the eggs, water and salt. Add to flour and work toward the center with hands until dough is formed.
• Using a pasta cutter, cut thin sheets.
• Lay one sheet on a lightly floured table. Brush pasta with egg wash. Place 1 teaspoon of ravioli mix on the pasta sheet, about 1 inch apart. Place a second pasta sheet over the ravioli and press the edges to seal. Cut ravioli into desired shape.

Hazelnut Brown Butter

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. hazelnut liquor

• Heat butter in a small saucepan until hot and turns nut-brown. Add hazelnut liquor and swirl. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Chef’s Tip: When cooking with nuts, it’s always great to toast them to enhance their natural flavor. They can be toasted in the oven by placing them on a sheet pan and cooking at 350 degrees F for a couple of minutes. You can also toast the nuts over the stove in a sauté pan at medium heat. The toasting times will vary depending on the type and size of the nuts you are cooking with. You can occasionally give the pan a little shake to move the nuts around, and thus allow for even toasting.

Continued on page 4 …

Roasted Turkey Breast

• Brine turkey for eight hours in salt and herb brine. Remove turkey from brine solution and rinse under cold water.
• Season turkey with rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
• In a roasting pan, place the turkey on a wire rack, and place in the center of a pre-heated 350-degree-F oven.
• Bake turkey breast for about one hour, basting occasionally.
• Check doneness of turkey by inserting a metal skewer into the meat until a clear liquid appears and the bio-thermometer reaches 165 degrees F.

Cranberry Sauce

3 oranges, juiced, and 1 zested
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup sugar
1 lb. cranberries
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water

• Place sugar, orange zest and juice in a non-reactive saucepan. Heat until sugar dissolves. Add all other ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached.

Fennel Scented Sausage

2 lb. mild Italian sausage
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/8 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
2 cups chicken stock
1 lb. Focaccia croutons
Salt and pepper, to taste

• Cook sausage in a large saucepan until done. Remove from heat and pour off excess grease. Break up sausage and return to pot.
• Add onions, celery and herbs. Cook for about five minutes.
• Add croutons and chicken stock as necessary. Allow croutons to soak up stock. Adjust seasoning.

Ricotta Pumpkin Cheesecake

1 lb. cream cheese
1 lb. Ricotta cheese
2 cups pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. lime juice

• Combine cheeses, eggs, sugar and lime juice in a mixer, and mix until smooth.
• Add pumpkin puree and continue to mix until thoroughly incorporated.
• Pour mixture in a 9-inch springform pan and bake in a water bath for about 15-20 minutes in a 325-degree-F oven.

Pizza recipes on page 5 …

Bake at Home

Obligatory holiday entertaining—and spending—combined with current economic trends, can mean only one thing for the next couple of months: your kitchen and your wallet are going to get one helluva workout. (We’ll get to your waistline post-New Year’s.) And even though there are plenty of nights ahead of you when you won’t really feel like cooking, you’re going to have to buck up and put a meal on the table at least five out of seven nights.

Chef Ralph Pallarino of Stella Blu, Gypsy Saloon and Bella Luna Pizza Kitchen (and MLT’s Best Culinary Eye Candy for 2008) has a quick fix: homemade pizza. The best part: Store-bought dough to lighten the workload—and the mess. (He recommends Trader Joe’s, by the way.) And he’s given us two yummy recipes to try at home …

Red Luna

Mixed cheese
San Marzano tomatoes
Fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil

Chef’s Note: We use San Marzano tomatoes for our pizza sauce. They are whole, peeled tomatoes from Italy, packed fresh with basil. Domestic whole peeled tomatoes will work, also. We season our sauce with roasted garlic, shallots, fresh parsley and white wine.

• Starting with the dough tossed and spread for a 16-inch pizza, drizzle the dough with olive oil, and then cover the surface with a four-cheese house blend of aged and shredded Asiago, Fontina, Provolone and Parmesan cheeses.
• Put sauce on top of the cheese with a tablespoon. Don’t cover the top of the pizza with sauce, but rather, dollop it over the pizza to let the cheese stand out.
• Finish this pie with fresh-cut basil.
• Bake at 400 degrees F for 7-10 minutes, or until cheese bubbles.

Harvest Moon

Sautéed spinach
Grilled eggplant
Roasted red peppers
Oven-dried tomatoes

To prepare the spinach:
• Sauté using olive oil, fresh garlic and black pepper to season. Remove from heat once the spinach begins to wilt. You don’t want to overcook the spinach in the sauté pan because it will be going into the oven, as well.

To prepare the eggplant:
• Slice into 1/2-inch pieces, and grill on a charbroil grill. Cube the eggplant slices once they are finished on the grill.

Chef’s Note: Some things to look for when purchasing eggplant: Small eggplants are best as they are younger and tend to have less seeds. They will be less bitter than older, larger eggplants. Also, simply sprinkling the eggplant once it is cut with kosher salt, as opposed to brushing it with olive oil, will release the vegetable’s water content and keep it from getting mushy on the grill.

To prepare the roasted red peppers:
• Using an outdoor grill is probably most convenient when making them at home. Drizzle the peppers with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper before placing on the grill. Turn the peppers frequently, and keep on the grill until the skin starts to char and blister. Remove from the heat and place in a brown paper bag or airtight container; this will allow the steam to finish cooking the vegetable and allow for easier peeling of its skin. Once the peppers are peeled, remove the seeds (you can run them under cool water) and slice lengthwise. (Available in most grocery stores.)

To prepare the oven-dried tomatoes:
• Using plum tomatoes, quarter them and place them on a large cooking sheet. Season the tomatoes evenly with olive oil, chopped fresh garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook the tomatoes at 180 degrees F for about 6-8 hours, or until the tomatoes start to shrivel to about a quarter of their original size. (Available in most grocery stores.)

To assemble:
• Drizzle pizza dough with olive oil, spread cooked vegetables over pizza, and top with approximately a 1/2 cup of cheese mixture (aged and shredded Asiago, Fontina, Provolone and Parmesan cheeses).
• Bake at 400 degrees F for 7-10 minutes, or until cheese bubbles.

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