Italian Harvest Table
We are moving away from fall and “falling” straight into winter here in northeast Pennsylvania. In my hometown…they predicted 2-4 inches and we got a foot of snow instead. Many people were so happy to arrive home in their cozy homes and reminded of how lucky we are to have shelter and food!!
I was so grateful that the roads cleared up for me to venture a little over two hours to my favorite cooking class venue, Sur La Table. I stayed the entire weekend and had a class each day. The first class was an Italian Harvest. My absolute favorite meal is chicken cacciatore! My mother used to cook it for us when we were growing up and I always felt so loved when she’d make it! We would take the huge pot of chicken and sauce as she slaved over a hot stove…and we’d bring it down to our huge family table and pass it along. I would always take too much sauce, because her sauce was red gold to me! It took me at least 39 years to figure out how to get close to making her sauce. She puts love in everything she makes…and you can just feel it when we’d share meals together as a family. As we chopped capers, tomatoes, stuck a few bay leaves in there along with other spices…then the final sprinkle of dark green parsley over the entire dish…it brought back so many memories of cooking with her.
We started chopping some Delicata, sweet squash that has a thin skin, so we didn’t need to peel it. You can use any squash you like, but this one has edible skin. We whisked some mustard, soft gorgonzola cheese, oil, lemon juice and maple syrup to make the dressing….but we needed a pop of color and acid. They brought over the pomegranates! I am just now realizing that I need to have more of these in my life. You get the juice, you get the flavor, you get the crunch and the color…what else can you possible need in a salad? It cut the richness of the gorgonzola dressing perfectly and created such a delicate balance. I tossed it with some greens and made sure each bite contained every element of this squash salad.
The side dish was a simple parmesan polenta with some milk, broth, quick cooking polenta and butter. You can make polenta in so many ways and be creative with the ingredients. This was a staple in the diet of the peasants of Italy.
Our dessert custard was processed the same way in the beginning as if we were making an ice cream base. We tempered the eggs in the heavy whipping cream and added a beautiful, yet expensive ingredient of vanilla bean paste. You know those intensely flavored goodness that comes out of a vanilla bean? We folded it in the luscious custard and we added it to the whipped cream that we placed on top of the dessert.
One of the many things I love about taking these cooking classes is they use the finest ingredients. I learn new ways to cook comforting foods and it inspires me to be more creative in my own kitchen. I hope this inspires you to take a comforting meal that you love and make it your own!
Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Arugula and Gorgonzola
1 medium Delicata squash (halved lengthwise, seeded, sliced crosswise into ¼ inch slices
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
5 oz baby arugula (5 cups)
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
To roast squash – Place squash in a large bowl and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the squash in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast squash until golden brown and tender, about 15 minutes.
Vinaigrette: To a medium bowl, add mustard, lemon juice and maple syrup and whisk to combine. While vigorously whisking, drizzle in remaining 2 tbsp of oil until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Add arugula to a large bowl and toss with roasted squash and pomegranate seeds. Add enough vinaigrette to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide salad smong plates and top with crumbled cheese.
Classic Chicken Cacciatore
8 bone in chicken thighs, skin removed, about 2 ½ pounds
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 large garlic cloves (minced)
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28 oz) can San Marzano tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (juice reserved)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves (minced)
2 tablespoons capers (rinsed and drained)
¼ cup flat leaf parsley (minced)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (more if needed)
Generously season chicken with salt and pepper. In a large pan or Dutch oven, set over medium-high heat and add oil. When oil is shimmering, work in batches and sear thighs on both sides until golden brown (5 minutes per side).
Transfer thighs to a plate. Add onions to skillet and saute, stirring occasionally until tender (about 7 minutes). Add the garlic and saute until fragrant (about 1 minute).
Add wine, scaping any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon and cook until the liquid is reduced to a couple of tablespoons (about 5 minutes). Return chicken to the skillet and add the tomatoes, reserved tomato juice, bay leaf, rosemary and capers. Partially cover skillet and simmer, adding chicken to broth gradually as the tomato juice evaporates, for about 45 minutes. Stir in parsley and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups whole milk
1 ½ cups quick-cooking polenta
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
To a large saucepan, set over medium-high heat, add broth and milk, bring to a boil. While whisking vigorously, slowly pour polenta into boiling milk mixture. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook polenta stirring often with a wooden spoon, until grains are completely tender, for about 5 minutes.
To serve: Remove saucepan from heat and stir in Parmesan and butter. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Maple Budino with Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
6 large egg yolks
½ cup maple syrup, plus more for topping
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp vanilla bean paste
Flaky sea salt, for garnish
Whipped cream, for serving
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 6 (4 oz) ramekins into a baking dish large enough to fit the ramekins. Fill a kettle with enough water to fill your baking dish halfway and set aside until needed.
To a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add cream and bring to a simmer, being careful to not let the cream boil over.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, maple syrup, brown sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste. Gradually wisk the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture through the fin-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup with a spout. Using a spoon, remove any foam or bubbles that may have accumulated on the top to ensure the budino has a smooth surface.
Divide custard among the ramekins, leaving a ¼ -inch space at the top. Heat the kettle and pour enough boiling water into the baking dish to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the baking dish with a large piece of aluminum foil and bake the custard until set (no longer liquid) but still wobbly when gently shaken, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove ramekins from the water bath and place onto a wire rack to cool, about 30 minutes; cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferable overnight.
To serve: Top each budino with a dollop of whipped cream, a teaspoon of maple syrup and a pinch of flaky sea salt; serve chilled.