Spinach Semolina GnocchiBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterSemolina Gnocchi is a specialty of Rome, and does go back to ancient Roman times. It was at first a very simple combination of Semolina, and milk or water. Now this classic dish contains eggs and grated cheese. Most of us are familiar with gnocchi made from potatoes, but that version was not until the 16th century when potatoes were introduced to Europe. My version is just a bit different with the addition of spinach and ricotta. Thus combining the ancient Roman dish and add a bit of my Northern Italian heritage. These are simple to make, and one of really great things is that the gnocchi dough can be made several days in advance and baked when needed. This recipe will serve 8 as a side dish or 6 as a main course with a nice green salad.Date Filled Princess BarsBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterPrincess Bars are those jam filled sweet, crumbly, coconutty encased treats that have been around forever. The bars are great for tea, picnics, in lunch boxes or a late night snack. They were a constant at our bakery and my father would cook dates with just a touch of lemon and some sugar for the center filling. This recipe was not in his journal, but I was very fortunate to find that my sister's friend, Carol had gotten a copy from my parents. They are really easy to make and will stay fresh for several days. French Savory Shortbread CookiesBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterI found this recipe for French Shortbread Cookies in my Dad's journal, but do not remember him every making them. The original recipe had a very low ratio of sugar, and I liked that as so many cookie recipes are just loaded with sugar. The rice flour and cornstarch give them that slightly sandy crunch that I find so appealing in shortbreads and sables. I also wanted to make them a bit different, so I added the lavender blossoms, along with the sprinkling of flaky Maldon salt across the tops. You could also try a bit of chopped Rosemary and a sprinkling a Black Lava Salt for an even different twist. These savory shortbread cookies are equally good with a coffee or a glass of wine. Store them in an airtight container or ziplock bag. They are best eaten within 4 to 5 days.Buttery Raisin BreadBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterThis Raisin Bread recipe is rich in flavor, with the addition of butter and egg and the touch of cinnamon and sugar that clings to the raisins. It's great plain, or toasted with or without butter. If after a day or two you have any left over it also makes fabulous French Toast.Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and SausageBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterOrecchiette shaped pasta (Little Ears) is typical of Apulia in the Southern region of Italy. Many of the traditional recipes include bitter type greens, like this recipe with Broccoli Rabe, but Arugula works well too. The greens are often combined with red pepper flakes, spicy sausage or Anchovy fillets. The thin little shells cradle all the flavors added to any sauce. DeCecco is my favorite brand followed closely by Montebello, and both are generally available in better stores.Braised Fennel – Finocchio BrasatoBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterBraised fennel, and fennel in general is a vegetable that I use on a regular basis. It's great raw in green salads, tossed with olive oil and slices of oranges, part of seafood stews, or braised as it is in this recipe. This super simple, super fast recipe is good served with just about any grilled chicken, pork or fish dish. In addition, fennel, well very low in calories is a good source of vitamin C, Magnesium and Potassium. Escarole Sautè with Bacon & PinenutsBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterEscarole is a slightly bitter leafy green vegetable. It's part of the chicory family along with endive, frisée and radicchio. Growing up in an Italian family, leafy green vegetables, especially those of the slightly bitter category were often part of our meal. Escarole can be eaten raw as a salad or, as in this recipe, sautéed with added flavorful enhancements. In Italy one would probably use Pancetta, and it could certainly be used in this recipe. However, I like the slightly smokey taste and the crispy texture that bacon adds. The toasted pine nuts add a nice crunch and a drizzle of a very good extra virgin olive oil at the end is an important finish. Warm Spinach SaladBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterSpinach is such a versatile, healthy, year-round vegetable. It can be steamed, sautéed, put in soups, soufflés, pastas or eaten raw in salads or on sandwiches. This version has it tossed with a warm balsamic dressing that has not only the olive oil, but the added flavor of bacon drippings. The spinach is just slightly wilted, the parsnips and bacon are crunchy, the mushrooms are earthy, the onions add bit of sweetness and the toasted pine nuts are buttery. I think a good rich balsamic (and I really love the Olivier VSOP brand from Napa) adds just the right tartness to the dressing. There is so much going on with this salad that with a slice of a good crusty bread it can easily be the main course. Cara Cara Oranges with Rosewater MeringueBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterThis is an easy, light dessert that takes advantage of our Winter/Spring citrus season. I love the juicy citrus flavors of the Cara Cara combined with the crunch and floral flavor of the Rose Water meringues and all topped with the slightly tart cream topping. If you make the meringues a day or several days before, you can put this together in just a few minutes. As the seasons progress, you can use other fruits, and other flavors in the meringues. Try berries with cocoa meringues and chocolate shavings on top of the whipped cream, or peaches with almond extract meringues topped with whipped cream and crumbled candied almonds. The preparation time shown for this recipe includes the two hours to bake the meringues.Meringue Cookies and ShellsBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterMeringue cookies or shells are so easy to make, can be used in a variety of ways, and keep for weeks when stored in an air tight container. This recipe calls for vanilla extract, but any flavor may be used. I love adding Nielsen & Massey Rosewater Extract, or their Orange Blossom Extract. You may also add a bit of instant Espresso powder of finely chopped chocolate. Get as creative as you like, just remember to add the extracts towards the last part of the preparation. Adding any extracts too early in the process can keep the egg white from forming nice stiff peaks. When forming the cookies or the shells, it's easiest to use a pastry bag fitted with either a plain or star tip. If you feel you need a bit extra help in forming somewhat exact sizes, try drawing circles of ovals of the desired size on the underside of your parchment paper and use that as a template when piping the meringue.Hot Cross BunsBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterHot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but actually most bakeries in the United States make them starting on Ash Wednesday and bake their last batch for Easter Sunday. There are several versions of this Easter treat, some have no fruit, others have raisin, and some, like these from my Father's recipes have raisins, orange peel and citron. The cross on the top is generally made from a slurry of mixing flour and water, which I don't think is great tasting, so my father always made the cross on top using his custard recipe, which I have included.
Hot Cross buns have a history that goes back centuries. We tend to think of them as an Easter pastry, but have origins that go much further back to pre-christian times. A very early version of of the buns were baked to celebrate Eostre, a Germanic Goddess of Fertility. The symbolism for the Christian version has the cross on the top as a symbol of the crucification, the spices used to signify the spices used in embalming and the orange peel reflecting the bitterness of his time on the cross. Galette des Rois – Puff Pastry with Almond Cream CenterBy Marjorie Perotti-BrewsterGalette des Rios or "Kings Cake" is a classic French pastry that was traditionally shared at Epiphany on January 6th to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem. However, you will find that this delightful creation combining buttery, crispy, flakey puff pastry with a creamy rich almond filling is served year round. If you choose to make your own puff pastry, it takes a bit more time and skill, but with store bought puff pastry it's quite simple. This is a fantastic after dinner dessert, good after lunch, wonderful with coffee for breakfast, or actually at any time. It's best when it's still a bit warm from the oven. However, if there is any left for the following day, I suggest warming it bit in the oven to re-crisp the pastry. Prep time and difficulty level was based on using pre-made puff pastry.